Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas in Bryson City, 1888

In the past, I have published a blog piece on Christmas in 1929 in Swain County. I thought it would be fun to go back another 41 years to see how Christmas was celebrated in Bryson City's early days.  Happy holidays to you all!

"The Union Sunday School of Charleston (the name of the town was changed to Bryson City in 1889) celebrated Christmas on Christmas evening. The services were held in the court room (see pictures below of the courthouse) which had been tastefully decorated by a committee of citizens, the chief decoration naturally being a tree, which was weighed down with gifts. In addition to those on the tree, two tables were covered and nearly an hour was occupied in the distribution of them.

Second Swain County Courthouse (destroyed by fire, January 1908)
Source: Swain County Genealogical and Historical Society

Second Swain County Courthouse, year unknown
Source: Swain County Genealogical and Historical Society

At seven o'clock  the court room was crowded, the members of the Sunday school occupying seats on the rostrum, the body of the house being filled with their friends and relatives. The services opened with an instrumental duet on the violin and organ by Mr. J.H. Everett and Miss Jennie Collins. Next came a chorus from Gospel Hymns which was received with much satisfaction. Rev. Geo. H. Church read a selection from the Scriptures and led the audience in prayer. Miss Collins and Messrs Everett and Henry McLean rendered another instrumental piece. Rev. Church gave the children a short Christmas sermon and wound up with a chicken story that was received with great hilarity. The choir then sang another selection from Gospel Hymns. H. A. Hodge made a few remarks on the origin of the name Christmas, and the custom of having Christmas trees. 

Jennie (nee' Collins) Bailey (1874 - 1965)
Source: Dawna Carlton

John Henderson Everett (1857 - 1937)
Source: member dwilkins0316

After another instrumental piece, D.K. Collins, superintendent of the school, briefly but feelingly recounted the efforts to build up the Sunday school and spoke of the interest he took in such work. Then came the distribution of gifts, when many hearts were made glad and the audience dispersed in great good humour. Everything passed off quietly and orderly and the committee having the arrangements in charge, and particularly the superintendent of the school are to be congratulated on the success of the evening's entertainment.

Reverend George H. Church (1849 - 1928)
Source: member John M. Campbell

David Kimsey (D.K.) and 'Mattie' (nee' Franks) Collins;
Mattie was his first wife and the mother of Jennie.
Source: Dawna Carlton

A good many humorous hits were made in the selection of gifts. The biggest laugh being raised when Miss Mary Battle opened a large box and a live rabbit popped out. 

Swain County Herald, 03 January 1889


Note: I have embedded active links for some of the individuals named in the article so that the reader may find out more about them. Two links to Friends of the Bryson City Cemetery articles (J.H. Everett and D.K. Collins) are particularly detailed. 


Dawna Carlton
Swain County Genealogical and Historical Society
www.friendsofthe (Swain County Herald, 03 January 1889

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Memorial Day - Remembering Corporal Everett Bates (1895 - 1918)

Two years ago, I published an article on the Tabor Cemetery. One of the graves I visited at the cemetery was that of Everett Robert Bates, a young Needmore-area farmer who died in World War I. Although all war deaths are tragic, his seems particularly so to me. Why? In addition to his youth and the impending birth of his first child at the time of his death, Everett died in the waning hours of the war, quite literally. He perished sometime between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918 - Armistice Day - the very day upon which the war ended. As Memorial Day is nigh, I felt that a remembrance of this brave young man was in order.
Everett Robert Bates (taken September 26, 1917)
Source: David DeHart
Everett Robert Bates was born in the Needmore section of Swain County on September 27, 1895, the fourth child (of at least 13) of William Jefferson and Sally Jane Levinia (nee' DeHart) Bates. Little is known of his young life but it may be assumed it was the typical life of a child of rural Swain County during that time. He likely attended either the Hightower School or the White Oak School as a youngster, as the 1910 census reveals him to have been able to both read and write, and probably attended one of the churches in the area - perhaps Maple Springs or Brush Creek. He appears to have farmed for a living during his brief adult life. In 1917, the 'Great War' in Europe came knocking upon the doors of the young men of Swain County and Everett was required to register for the draft. His draft card (dated June 5, 1917) reveals that at the time, he was single and working as a farmer for Charles Rastus Browning in the Needmore area. He married Lillie May Marr (1899 - 1978) just 3 months later on September 26th. 
Everett Bates draft registration card
Source: and
Everett Bates and Lillie Marr (top row) on their wedding day (September 26, 1917).
Seated in this picture are Lillie's sister Nell and Everett's friend Columbus 'Lum' Winchester.
Source: David DeHart
It is almost certain that Everett and Lillie's marriage occurred when it did due to his being 'called up' for duty. For though he had tried to claim exemption from the draft due to disease, his number had been pulled and he left via train for Camp Jackson in South Carolina, just days later on October 2nd. He was enlisted in Company I of the 321st Infantry Unit (the 'Wildcats'), 81st Division of the U.S. Army. Over the next nine months at Camp Jackson, he actively trained for near-certain deployment to the Western Front in Europe. He appears to have had the chance to return home at least once during his training, as Lillie became pregnant in the spring of 1918 but on July 31, 1918 he embarked on the 'City of Glasgow' to go to Europe with his fellow soldiers, never to return alive. 
The 'City of Glasgow' - the ship which transported Everett Bates to Europe in 1918.
It was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ireland one month later.

Everett Bates embarkation record
Source: and
The activities of Everett's division during the three months prior to his death are recorded elsewhere (link below) and in the interest of saving space, I will not detail them here. However, we are exceptionally privileged to have access to the diary of another soldier in the 321st, who wrote in great detail about the events that transpired on the date of Everett's death at the Battle of Moranville in France. The full diary is located at this link, but I have excerpted small bits and pieces to provide the reader some idea of the awful realities that Everett faced on that last day of his earthly existence.

'About 5 o'clock (am) we walked around and looked at the sleeping company in their little shell holes, every one in a shell of his own. I wondered how many of them would be living at noon that day and I thought how hard it would be to arouse them from a peaceful sleep to go out to kill and be killed. At this time we called the men....the men rubbed their eyes and tightened their belts for there was no water to wash their faces or food to fill their stomachs. The men took it good naturedly and prepared to go over the top.....
The high explosive shells were falling just as though it was raining them from above....we could hear the continuous ring of M.G. (machine gun) fire and every now and then a man could be seen going to the rear carrying a bullet pierced arm or limping back on a leg that had been shot...nothing could stop us as long as life lasted for our orders were to take Attain or die trying. 
We were lost in a fog and wading water waist deep.....we rushed on for some distance and found that we were caught in a trap.....we fought there for some time in the marsh up to our waist and the coldest water I ever felt. We were in an awful fix in a trap sure from all sides and our men were being killed by the M.G. from the front and a box barrage from the rear......Our scouts were out in front of the front wave about 40 yards and the fog was so dense that we couldn't see them at all but we knew very well when they came in contact with the enemy for they opened up with what seemed us a thousand M.G. and a few 77s#'s which they shot whiz bangs point blank at us......
At seven minutes to eleven a runner came up to the Capt. out of breath and handed him an order. I had no idea what the order soon as he read the order he called two runners and told them to go to the platoons and give them orders to cease firing at eleven o'clock. At 11 a.m. we ceased firing and the Germans jumped up, threw their rifles down and came running to meet us....We spent the rest of the day gathering up the dead and wounded of the field and they were plentiful. We hauled many loads of dead bodies up and buried them in a hole dug like a long ditch. The men were laid close together, side by side, and covered up...... 
The Germans celebrated all night long by sending up flares and lights from the trenches and they were so glad they wouldn't sleep at all but we were perfectly willing to rest and sleep.'
Thomas 'Jack' Pinkney Shinn, Co. B, 321st Inf., 81st Div., U.S. Army 

Chaplain B.S. Vaughn presiding over the mass burial of the dead at Moranville on November 12, 1918. The graves are marked by small slabs of wood. Everett was one of the deceased soldiers for whom this service was given.

Everett was originally interred among this sad line of deceased soldiers described by Jack Shinn. It is not known how his demise was conveyed to his wife and family, though it is almost certain they received the news via telegram. His death was announced in the Asheville Citizen-Times on December 10, 1918. 

'America's Honor List'
Source: Asheville Citizen Times, December 10, 1918
On February 27, 1919, Lillie gave birth to Everett's child, a son that she named after his father. Sadly, however, Everett Robert Bates Jr.'s life was to be cut tragically short as he died on January 1, 1921, of meningitis. Lillie, no doubt devastated by the loss of both her husband and son in such a short period of time, married James Floyd Cunningham just a few months later in March.

Everett Sr. remained in France until  July 1921, when his body was repatriated to the United States (unlike many of his comrades, whose bodies remain buried in foreign soil). He was interred in the Tabor Cemetery near the grave of his son. It is a peaceful and beautiful place for his eternal repose, in the mountains of home - far removed from the horrors of the battlefield upon which he died. 

Everett Bates repatriation documentation

Tombstone of Everett Robert Bates, Sr. (Tabor Cemetery)
Source: Felicia Mashburn on
Sadly, for every Everett Bates, whose life is being honored in this article, there are millions more soldiers who were killed in action whose incomplete lives have been long-forgotten over time. Each of them was an Everett with their own story- full of life, with families and friends they loved and who loved them, with plans for a future that they would sadly never see come to fruition. As we celebrate Memorial Day on Monday, May 25th, I would encourage my readers to each take a moment to remember all those soldiers who gave their lives for the freedoms that we and our fellow men around the world enjoy and take for granted. May you each have a blessed holiday.

Notes to the reader: 
  • For those interested in learning more, a full-text file of the book,  'The History of the 321st Infantry' may be found for free at this link
  • The excellent movie, '1917', was released early this year. It won rave reviews for its depictions of the horrors of the Western Front during World War I - I highly recommend it. 

Asheville Citizen-Times, December 10, 1918
David DeHart

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Simple Act of Love - a Civil War Story

On Valentine's Day this year, someone very dear to me who knows well my fondness for history and folk music sent me a beautiful love song set during the Civil War. The song, "Yankee Bayonet", by The Decemberists (click on the link to be taken to a recording of it), tells the story of a Confederate soldier from Oconee County, South Carolina, who fell in love but then went off to war and died at the Battle of Manassas (also known as the Battle of Bull Run). Listening to the song (which I instantly loved) reminded me of a Civil War story I'd researched in 2017 with a family hailing from Swain County, and I thought it would make a great article for this blog.

Elise (nee' DeLozier) Palmer at the grave of her 
great-grandmother, Nancy (nee' Monteith) Hemphill. 
Source: Amy Palmer Evans (daughter of Elise)

Members of the DeLozier Family at the Fryemont Inn, celebrating Elise's 93rd birthday in 2019.
Source: Wendy Meyers
Through my research over the years, I have developed a very close relationship with the DeLozier family whose roots lie deep in the area of Swain County that became Judson. Only one DeLozier born in Swain County remains living, and that is Nina Elise (DeLozier) Palmer, who was born at Judson in 1926. Her parents were John Cleveland and Roxie (nee' Woody) DeLozier, who were merchants in Judson up until 1928, when they moved to Buncombe County. Elise's maternal grandmother, Mary Ellen (nee' Hemphill) Woody, lived with the family much of the time and Elise was privileged to spend a great deal of time with her grandmother as she grew up. Mary Ellen's father, William Nulin Hemphill, was the Civil War soldier about whom this blog article is written.

Mary Ellen (nee' Hemphill) Woody with two of her DeLozier granddaughters
Source: Elise DeLozier Palmer
According to census records, Nulin was born around 1835/1836 and grew up in Haywood County (the reader is reminded that much of far Western North Carolina was part of Haywood County at that time). In 1851, he married Nancy Angeline Monteith and began to raise a family. The 1860 census places he and his family of four (two children, Allen Clingman and Sarah Jane had joined the family by this time) in the Webster district of Jackson County, where he was a farmer. His real estate holdings at that time were worth approximately $200 and his personal assets were worth $125. Little Mary Ellen joined the family on May 11, 1862. Just two months later, the family's lives were uprooted by the Civil War.

Nulin Hemphill family in the 1860 Census
On July 11th, 1862, Company G of the North Carolina 69th Infantry Regiment (better known as Thomas's Legion) was mustered into service, and Nulin would likely have taken leave of his family at that time. In 1863, his unit passed back through the local area and he was able to come home for a brief visit with his family. The story of Nulin's picture, which was taken during that visit, is told by Elise in the video at the link below. (Click on the link to be taken to YouTube, where I have uploaded it. The quality of the video is not high due to my having to compress it, but I think it's still far better to have Elise telling the story on video than for me to present it in a transcription.)

William Nulin Hemphill (c. 1835 - December 20, 1864), great-grandfather of Elise DeLozier Palmer
Source: Elise DeLozier Palmer
Nulin was evidently not well during his brief stay, and soldiers came to the house to retrieve him. As they headed off, Nancy ran out of the house to kiss him and to give him a blanket. That was the last time she saw her husband.

Thomas's Legion was largely charged with defending the passes of the Southern Appalachian mountains. Unfortunately, their defense of one of the most well-known passes in the country, the Cumberland Gap, failed. On September 9th, 1863, Nulin's regiment was surrendered to the Union. From the Cumberland Gap, Nulin's regiment was transported north to the famed Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois. It was an immense prisoner of war camp for Confederate soldiers and was known as the "Andersonville of the North". (For those readers who do not know, Andersonville was a notoriously brutal prisoner of war camp for Union soldiers.). There, Nulin and over 400 other members of Thomas's Legion lived in utter squalor, bitter cold, and brutal conditions until either the end of the Civil War - or their death. Camp statistics indicate than one out of every seven soldiers imprisoned there died.

Sadly, Nulin did not live to see the end of the war, and instead perished 5 days before Christmas on December 20th, 1864, having spent over a year at Camp Douglas. He was initially interred in a grave just outside Camp Douglas, however, after the war, the remains of many of the soldiers who died there were exhumed and re-interred in a mass grave at the Oak Woods Cemetery. There he now lies surrounded by approximately 4,275 other Confederate soldiers; a large memorial marks their final resting place far from their Southern homes.
Marker for Confederate soldiers who perished at Camp Douglas
Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago, IL
Nancy remained a widow until 1870, when she married Edmond Thompson in Jackson County. Together, they had another three children and eventually moved to Swain County, to the area that is now the North Shore of Fontana Lake. There, Mary Ellen Hemphill met and married Augustus Poole Woody (who lived in the greater Forney Creek area) and bore Roxie - mother of Elise.

It is ironic to consider that, had he survived another 5 months to the end of the war, Nulin would likely have made his way back to his family, several other children would likely have been born, and the family may well have stayed in Jackson County. It is almost a certainty that Mary Ellen would never have met Augustus Poole Woody and that the trajectory of generations to come would have been dramatically altered. As such, when one thinks of Nulin, I think it's important to not only honor his service, but also to honor the bittersweet fact that without the loss of his life at the young age of 29, the DeLozier family (and many other families) as we know them would not have come about. And that would be a sad thing indeed.

John Cleveland and Roxanne Myrtle "Roxie" DeLozier
(Parents of Elise DeLozier Palmer)
Source: Elise DeLozier Palmer
Amy Palmer Evans
Elise DeLozier Palmer
Susan Williams Gray