Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Going to School in 1866 near the Judson area

I spend a great deal of time searching through old newspaper articles at Newspapers.com.  This site is where I located all the articles used for my last blog entry.  I've come across a plethora of articles recently pertaining to the old communities in Swain County, and thought I'd share one today about a gentleman who went to school in 1866 in the area where the town of Judson later came to be.  (Note: This area would have been part of Macon County at the time, as Swain County was not created until 1871.)   Regrettably, the author of the article is not identified.  However, the article appears to have come from the "Midland Methodist", which was an early newsletter for the Methodist church in the Holston Conference.  

For a point of reference, we have a map of the area dating to 1837, which was provided to me by my excellent friend and research partner, Don Casada.  This map was created by a group led by Captain W.G. Williams, who surveyed the area in preparation for the Cherokee Indian removals in 1838.  Don finds this map of particular interest because the Shearers whose home lies in the area that became Judson were almost certainly his 3rd or 4th great-grandparents.  He obtained this treasure from fellow researcher Lamar Marshall, who has done extensive work on the mapping of Cherokee trails established prior to the removals.  As the land in this area had been legally open to white settlement only since 1819, households other than Indian were few and far between (note that there are only 5 in the immediate Judson area).    In 1866, the population would have been undoubtedly been larger, but not significantly so.  Nevertheless, there were obviously enough children in the area to constitute a school.

Source:  Captain W.G. Williams survey, 1837 (provided by Lamar Marshall)

Returning to the article, this delightful read is quite humorous, and provides an interesting look into early schooling in the area which would become Swain County in 1871.  I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. 

Merry Christmas to all of you!!

'Going to School in the Great Smokies' (From The Midland Methodist)
Source:  The Caucasian (Clinton, NC) March 3, 1910

"I first attended school in the autumn of 1866.  It was taught by Ben Morgan, who is still living, and who has been for many years a Baptist preacher." 

Benjamin Lewis Morgan (1833 - after 1910) and wife Susan (Battles) Morgan in the 1880 Census (Nantahala District, Swain County).  Based on the neighbors listed in the census records, they clearly lived in the area that was to later become Judson.
Source: http://home.ancestry.com/
"It was taught in what was then known as the 'White House', not far from the present town of Judson, Swain County, NC.  I say town with due respect to other such places, and beg their pardon for such familiar and common use of this term; for while Judson is a very large lumber camp, the town is yet to be - mostly.  The white house was on the opposite side of the Little Tennessee River, about half a mile above and about the same distance below the mouth of Alarkee.  I have already stated in a former letter what while on a tramp through the mountains I had the privilege of standing on the spot, though the house is now gone.  It was a frame dwelling house, and at some time had been painted white, and the name stuck long after the paint wore off."

Frame House (Late 1800s, Iowa).  The school described in the article
may have had a similar appearance.
Source:  Herbert Hoover Presidential Library at

"I shall never forget the morning I entered with my blue-back speller.  I had been told about the rules so often and of the dire punishment meted out to other offenders that I fully expected, as I had been often told, I 'would be thrashed within an inch of my life' the first day; and especially when I saw the teacher armed with a good switch about four or five feet long.  It turned out, however, that he was too kind to 'thrash' anyone; and he never whipped a boy through the whole school, although he carried his switch every day.  His kindness was his only fault.  There were a few things worthy of mention in this school.  First, nothing was taught but the spelling book, and each pupil was in a class by himself, except the spelling classes just before dinner and just before night.  Of course some of the pupils read what reading was in the spelling book.  Beyond that there was no reading.  Secondly, those who came to school first were first to recite; and as that was a point of merit, there was great hurrying to school in the morning.  I have been at school by 'sun-up' in order to be first.  When the teacher arrived and 'called books', he gave us a few minutes to spell over our lessons, and then called 'first'; and the first one to arrive went forward to recite.  Then he called 'second', 'third', and so on till every pupil had recited; then he called 'recess' and away went books as we scampered out for a game of 'base' or 'hickory race' or 'jumping the rope', which was only a grape-vine, or jumping 'half-hammond.'....

When recess was over the teacher called 'books.'  Other lessons were recited, and as soon as he was around he cried out, 'Get your spelling lessons,' just as if every lesson was not a spelling lesson!  Another peculiarity about this school was that every pupil studied aloud, and the louder he hollered the better he studied.  When the teacher called, 'Get your spelling lessons,' the fun began in earnest.  The small children were spelling in monosyllables; some were at 'baker,' some at 'horseback,' some at 'botany,' some at 'publication,' and some at 'immateriality,' and everyone spelling as loud as he could scream......."

The "Blue Back Speller" by Noah Webster (1857)
Source:  http://www.alephbet.com/pages/books/32946/noah-webster/elementary-spelling-book-being-an-improvement-on-the-american-spellin

A look inside the "Blue Back Speller"
Source:  https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7201212M/The_elementary_spelling-book.

"But the strangest part of this school was the Friday afternoon exercises.  This consisted in 'making manners.'  This I never witnessed in other schools, though I understand it was quite common up to that time throughout this region.  The object was to teach the pupils polite manners, and these were fashioned after the court manners of England.  When the hour arrived for this exercise, two boys were called out, and each chose a girl who was to act the part of his wife for the time and assist him in the exercise.  The first couple took their seats near the door, and acted the part of host and hostess; while the other couple went into the yard and returned as visitors.  As I remember, the gentlemen were always acquainted, but their wives were supposed to be strangers to each other and to the gentlemen.  When the visiting parties arrived, the host, prompted by the teacher, was to receive them according to the customs of polite and gentle society.  The gentlemen, both standing, shook hands with each other and inquired after each other's welfare in the most elaborate manner possible, making use of terms that neither one had every heard of before in his life.  Then in like manner the host presented his wife to his friend, who in turn presented his wife to the host, and then the host presented his wife to his friend's wife, and the matter was over.....Following this introduction, the visitor and his wife became the host, a second couple retired and came in as visitors, and the whole thing was gone over again; and so on till all had gone through the exercise.

I remember my first experience vividly.  I was asked to choose a partner.  I was short, thick, and fat.  I promptly chose Ann Anderson, who was six years my senior, tall and slim, and tow-headed.  We presented a picture worth seeing.  I was about seven years old, in long pants (never had any other sort) and wore "galluses," and was barefooted.  She was about thirteen years old, wore long skirts and a bib apron, which was nearly as long as her skirts, with her tow hair twisted into a knot and held in place with a horn comb.  We were the long and the short of the occasion.  The sense of shame was the only sense I had.  I pronounced words and inarticulate phrases, or tried to, that I had never heard before, not have I heard since....A boy who would pass that ordeal and live to tell it could face a field of muskets and never bat his eyes."

A Book of Good Manners (1845)
Source:  http://www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spec/exhibits/women/goodman.jpg

"But enough.  This is written only that the public may know something of both the mettle and the mold out of which and through which the men of the mountains were run."


Captain W.G. Williams map (1837), provided by Lamar Marshall
Don Casada
The Caucasian (Clinton, NC), March 3, 1910

Sunday, December 7, 2014

New Tombstones for Ruffin and Susan

In addition to the blog posted yesterday, I wanted to also offer a brief update to the previous blogs on the Ruffin and Susan Dehart family.

Photo by Christine Proctor

Just days after posting the conclusion to the Dehart family's story, I was contacted by my very dear friend Lawrence Hyatt.  Readers may remember that I have previously written about Lawrence's family.  Lawrence and my other wonderful friend Christine Proctor have, for years, donated countless hours and thousands of dollars to provide tombstones for unmarked graves (when the identity of the deceased is known) in both the North Shore cemeteries and in the Lauada Cemetery.  They have also placed stones in other cemeteries throughout the county, including the Watkins Cemetery where the Deharts are buried.

Lawrence wished to purchase new stones for Ruffin and Susan, whose stones are crumbling and will soon be lost to time.  In this way, their new granite markers will ensure their remembrance forever.  I was very touched by this extremely generous gesture.  After verifying the dates of birth and death of each, Lawrence ordered the stones.  On a beautiful day in late summer, he made the trek to the Watkins Cemetery from his home in Farner, Tennessee, and Christine joined us for a reverent placement of the stones.

Photo by Wendy Meyers


Thank you, Lawrence and Christine, for making certain that Ruffin and Susan's presence in this county is preserved for posterity.   I love you both.

Photo by Wendy Meyers
Photo by Wendy Meyers

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Bryson City Race Riots of 1907 - 1908

In light of the race riots originating that are currently sweeping the country, I thought it might be of interest to post a short entry about a little-known fact:  Bryson City had its own race riots in the early 1900s.

Swain County's New Courthouse, early 1900's
Source:  www.courthousehistory.org
Those individuals who do a great deal of genealogical and historical work within Swain County find it a source of frustration that in many cases, priceless documents pre-dating 1908 are unavailable.  The reason for this?  A fire which destroyed the county's courthouse in 1908.  Until the last 2 years, I had always thought it likely that the fire was simply the result of an accident. However, some time ago I had been forwarded a link of interest stating that the courthouse fire was, in fact, the result of arson initiated by some members of the black population.

Upon digging into this and accessing an online archival database of newspapers, I found that this claim appears to have some basis in fact, and was proceeded by a good degree of unrest.  Several newspapers across the country circulated this news brief:

"In a race riot between whites and blacks here yesterday, five men were shot and a number of others badly injured.  Revolvers, iron spikes, and rocks were freely used by both sides. 

The most seriously injured are Elmore Banks, eye shot out; William Jenkins, shot in head; James Shuler, shot in mouth; Frank Williams, shot in back; and Silas Cabe, shot in back.

A dozen or more negroes have been arrested and remanded to jail pending an investigation of the difficulty.  There is much feeling over the occurrence.

The trouble occurred at the Southern Railway Station, where a large number of passengers were in the waiting room of the station.  Bad blood has existed between the whites and blacks for some time.  The negroes have indulged in the practice of throwing heavy iron railroad spikes and rocks at white men at night.  Serious trouble had been momentarily expected and both whites and blacks have been armed for several days.

About twenty white men were standing on the platform of the station when a squad of negroes approached, stopped a short distance away, and without further warning began to shoot into the crowd, five of the men being struck before their companions had grasped the situation sufficiently to prepare for a defense."
                                                                      The Raleigh Evening Times, December 31, 1907

Two of the African-Americans who had participated in the riot, Lawson Howell and Will Trotter, promptly fled and hid out in the Balsam Mountains but were captured shortly thereafter.

Source:  The Raleigh Times, January 1, 1908

Apparently the Bryson City town council and Swain County commissioners took action immediately after the affray, passing a curfew applicable only to the African-American population, requiring them to be off the streets of town by 9:00 pm.  Any who were not would be arrested.  A few days later, this article was circulated:

"A special this afternoon from Bryson City, where occurred a shooting scrape between negroes and whites Sunday night, resulting in the wounding of several, says that Laston Powell (note: this is actually Lawson Howell) and Will Trotter, two of the negroes, believed to be ringleaders, have been held to the grand jury by the mayor of the city.  The negroes were not allowed bond.  Two other negroes, Tom DeHart and Carey Fisher, arrested charged with carrying concealed weapons, have been placed in jail.

The firing on the whites by the negroes Sunday night was sudden and without provocation.  A crowd of 40 or 50 white people were at the railway station while just across the tracks were a dozen or more negroes.  Bad blood had existed between the negroes and the whites for some time but no one expected any trouble.  Suddenly and without warning the negroes opened fire with shotguns and pistols.  The white men took to cover and then made reply with revolvers.  The whole population of Bryson City was aroused and shortly a dozen or more negroes were under arrest.  Feelings ran high and for a time it was feared that there would be serious trouble.  Elmore Banks is the worst hurt.  He received half a dozen shots in the head and face, one of the shots putting out his left eye.  Silas Cabe was shot in the arm and Will Jenkins was shot in the arm and through the lip.  Jim Shuler received a shot in the arm.

All is quiet at Bryson City to-day, so reports, say, and no further trouble is feared.  It is said that for several nights past the negroes have sought to terrorize the whites by throwing railroad spikes.  The people of Bryson City are not going to take the law into their own hands if they can avoid it but they are determined that the negroes shall behave themselves.  It is understood here that the negroes are sufficiently amused and that for a long time in the future they will give no more trouble."

                                                                                The Lenoir Topic, January 3, 1908

Apparently the white population was deceived.  According to several newspapers the following week, the African-American population revolted violently:

Race riots, which have been in progress at Bryson City for several days, culminated in the burning of the Swain County courthouse there.  The building was an old wooden structure and was completely destroyed.  All the records of the town and county were burned.  The fire was undoubtedly of incendiary origin, and it is believed to have been lighted by negroes in revenge for the recent drastic measures which have been taken by the authorities to suppress lawlessness.

                                                                                 The News (Frederick, MD) January 9, 1908

Swain County's Old Courthouse, burned 1908
Source:  Swain County Heritage Book

At this point, all records available in Swain County and online come to an end.  New entries in the town records (which were burned in the fire) are not re-initiated until late February, 1908.  Entries in the County Commissioners ledgers only discuss plans to rebuild the courthouse. 

Other than those African-Americans named above, I have no idea of who the other individuals involved in the riots were.  The only member of the African-American population who can definitively be excluded from the affray at the depot and the burning of the courthouse would seem to be Christenberry Howell.  Mr. Howell was the caretaker for the old courthouse, and was reinstated to his position once the new courthouse was built. 

Christenberry Howell
Source:  Swain County Heritage Book

It is known that Will Trotter was incarcerated for a time.  The Asheville Citizen reported that: 

"Sheriff Hunter will leave today for Clarksville, Georgia to get Will Trotter, alias John Johnson, who made his escape from the chain gang October 20th (1908) and was captured at Clarksville.  Trotter was sentenced in Swain County for a term of two years for assault with a deadly weapon and the Swain authorities asked Buncombe county to take charge of him.  The chain gang life did not suit Trotter and he left camp with 18 months to serve and he will yet have to serve this term because the time during which he has been enjoying freedom will not be counted off.  He does not wish to return and it was necessary for Sheriff Hunter to secure requisition papers."

                                                                                  The Asheville Citizen, February 24, 1909

Other than Will Trotter, the fate of the other defendants involved in the uprising are unknown.  I plan to make a trip to the North Carolina State Archives in the upcoming months and most definitely plan to look up the case.  If I can locate anything of interest, I will most certainly plan to post an update.


There is an odd postscript to this story.  On January 27, 1910, the new courthouse was rocked by a massive explosion resulting from men thawing dynamite over the courthouse stove in order to fish in the Tuckasegee River.  Barrett Banks (brother to Elmore, who was injured in the race riots just two years prior) was nearly killed.  Omar Conley was killed in the explosion; his brother, Clint, had been murdered less than 5 years earlier by Fred Howell, son of Christenberry Howell.

Fred Howell
Source:  Swain County Heritage Book

Individuals named in this blog:

Barrett Banks  (29 Jan 1887 - 11 Dec 1918)
Omar Banks (04 Aug 1884 - 22 Jan 1929)
Silas Cabe  (21 Jan 1876 - 04 Dec 1939)
Clint Conley (06 Jan 1891 - 21 Sep 1905)
Omar Conley  (Oct 1892 - 27 Jan 1910)
Tom Dehart (~1860 - after 1907) *son of Ruffin Dehart
'Bokara' Carey Fisher (~1883 - after 1910)
Christenberry Howell  (10 Apr 1856 - 03 Dec 1938)
Fred Howell  (10 Apr 1892 - 14 Feb 1954)
Landon Wesley Howell (1881 - after 1930)
Will Jenkins:  As there were several William Jenkins's living in Swain County at the time, the one referred to in this article is unknown at this time.
James Shuler (23 Sep 1876 - 12 Feb 1932)
Will Trotter (~ 1881 - after 1920)
Frank Williams:  Information unknown.  An African-American Frank Williams was living in Bryson City in 1910, but would have been a 13 year-old youth at the time of the riots.  Since the injured were said to be white, this does not appear to be the same individual.


Carol Cochran
Swain County Heritage book (1987)
The Charlotte News (Charlotte, NC) January 28, 1910
The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC) September 23, 1905
The News (Frederick MD)  January 9, 1908
The Raleigh Evening Times, December 31, 1907  
The Raleigh Times, January 1, 1908