Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Stories of Stones - Oscar Shuler (1906 - 1917)

Indian Creek is likely my favorite spot in the park, and I am either hiking or riding my bike on it at least once a week. Prior to its acquisition by the National Park Service in the late 1920's, the creek once had (according to one of its oldest residents) approximately 30 families living on it at one time. It had its own church and school and at least one mill (written about in this article) and was a small but thriving community. However, Indian Creek, like everywhere else in these mountains, saw its fair share of tragedy and loss, and today I visited the Queen/Styles Cemetery on the creek to pay my respects to a young boy buried there.
Oscar Shuler's stone
Source: (Mike Gourley, 2011)

Queen/Styles Cemetery
Photo by Wendy Meyers (December 25, 2019)
Oscar Shuler was born (likely on Indian Creek) on May 19, 1906, the second documented child of James and Nora (nee' Laney) Shuler. We know almost nothing of his brief life. He is captured in the 1910 census at the age of 4 along with his parents, sister Eva, and brother Robert, with his parents recorded as being subsistence farmers (as were most others living on the creek in the early 1900's). Life was hard for these families, and like all children of the mountains, Oscar would have been expected to contribute heavily to the day-to-day activities required to run the household year round - gardening, cutting firewood, helping with the livestock, and so on. 

His parents were both literate and he does appear to have gone to school for at least a time, as his death certificate records his being a "schoolboy". He lived on the upper end of Indian Creek so his walk to and from school would have likely been around two miles each way. He also likely attended the Indian Creek Church on Sundays. Beyond that, Oscar's life is an enigma. I do not even have a picture of him.

Robert Shuler family in the 1910 Census, Charleston Township
Tragically, Oscar's life came to an end at the tender age of 11 on November 26, 1917, after a devastating 3-day illness. His death certificate records that no doctor attended him, but that per the history given by the parents, it was believed by Dr. James DeHart that he had died of meningitis. With an extant mortality rate for untreated meningitis approaching 70% in the modern day, poor little Oscar stood virtually no chance of surviving this illness over 100 years ago. It is absolutely heartbreaking to imagine the horror faced by Nora and Jim Shuler as they sat watching helplessly as their son succumbed to his illness.
Oscar Shuler's death certificate
As tragic as the circumstances of his death were, they were the grist for the creation of one of the most poignant headstones to be found in the entire park. For Nora, in her grief, decided to handcraft a stone for her son rather than place a simple (unmarked) fieldstone. She is said to have carved an inscription in wood; a framework was then created and concrete poured and allowed to cure to create the stone. The end result is a headstone whose inscription is backwards; however, it matters not, for the love with which it was created resonates in every single letter and number. Turned around, the stone reads as follows (I have not corrected the spelling):

Osker Shuler
Sun if Nora Shuter
Wos Borned May 19 196
Died Nove 20 1917
At Rest

Oscar Shuler's stone - photo is reversed for readability
Photo by Wendy Meyers (2012)
All of Oscar's Indian Creek kin left the area in the late 1920's and early 30's after their land was acquired for the creation of the Park. He has lain quietly for eternity for 102 years now, visited only by the rare curious hiker and by the families that come once a year for Decoration Day on Memorial Day weekend. Time and weather have prevailed and his stone now lies broken on the ground, oddly symbolic of the incomplete life it represents. 

And yet, if you place a hand on the stone and allow your fingers to trace the markings, you can still feel the love and sadness embodied in the hand of the grieving mother who sought to memorialize her child in the only way she could. Through Nora's simple tribute, Oscar's life will always be remembered.....a beautiful and powerful reminder of the tenuous nature of life and death a century ago in these mountains we call home.
Oscar Shuler's broken stone
Photo by Wendy Meyers (December 25, 2019)

For those interested in visiting the Queen/Styles Cemetery, here are the directions:
From the gate at the main Deep Creek trailhead, hike approximately 0.8 miles up the Deep Creek Trail to the intersection with Indian Creek. Turn right on Indian Creek and hike approximately 2.5 miles until you come to the third bridge on Indian Creek itself. Just before you cross the bridge, there is an old road on the right - take this road and hike approximately a quarter of a mile up the road; the road will terminate at the cemetery. The round-trip hike is just over 7 miles.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park archives

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Stories of Stones - U.S. Marshal Noah Hezekiah Burns (1840 - 1874)

Just down the hill from the Swain Memorial Park, on a short ridge behind an abandoned dog lot lies a sad, neglected little cemetery known as the Burns Cemetery. There are nine known burials here; all those lying in eternal repose are believed to be members of the Uriah Charles and Sarah Louise 'Sally' (nee' Burchfield) Burns family (three graves are marked only by fieldstones and therefore the identity of those buried in them is forever lost). What is remarkable about this cemetery, however, is that two of those buried here - Uriah Burns and his son Noah Hezekiah H. Burns - were both murdered. Today's blog will focus on the death of Noah; I may write one in the future on the death of his father Uriah. 
Headstone of Noah Hezekiah H. Burns, Burns Cemetery (Deep Creek Area)
Source: photo by Wendy Meyers
In bringing this story to you, I would like to acknowledge the partnership of my good friend and fellow genealogical researcher, Carol Cochran, who has done extensive and impeccable research on the Burns family. Thanks are also in order to Shirley Crisp, another Burns descendant and avid historian.

Noah Burns was born July 20, 1840, the second documented child of at least 13 born to Uriah and Sally Burns.  He volunteered for service in the Confederate Army at the age of 20, and was mustered as a private into Company A of the 16th regiment of the N.C. Infantry (the famed Thomas' Legion) on April 27, 1861 at Webster. In November 1862 , he was mustered out of the 16th and mustered into Company K of the 39th N.C. Infantry. His service records on show that he was wounded in the Battles of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks (Virginia) (see the bottom of this article for a personal note on this battle), Jackson (Mississippi), and Chickamauga (Georgia). He also was briefly a prisoner of war when his regiment was surrendered at Citronelle, Alabama in May 1865; they were paroled one week later in Meridian, Mississippi. 

Noah Burns Military Record while he was in the 16th regiment of the N.C. Infantry
Noah Burns Roll of Honor Record
While on furlough or leave during the war, he is believed to have fathered a child, Andrew Thomas Lollis, with Elizabeth (nee' Weeks) Lollis, whom he did not marry. After his permanent return home from the war, he married Mary Angeline Cline and they had one child, a daughter they named Mary. At some point, Noah became a Deputy U.S. Marshal during the "Moonshine Wars" (1872 - 1913), a very dangerous time for lawmen in the rural mountains of Appalachia that claimed the lives of at least 21 U.S. Marshals. Sadly, Noah Burns is counted among them.
Illicit Distilling Operation, year and location unknown
In March 1874, the following was reported in a Raleigh newspaper:

"On the 10th  (note to the reader: this was February 10th), instr. Deputy Marshall Burns, in company with Mr. W.P. Allman, left Burns' house in Swain County to execute several warrants and capiases which he had in his hands upon parties living in Graham, and that portion of Swain County which borders upon Graham. They went to Cheoah, in Graham County and found an illicit distillery in full blast, and a lot (of) illicit whisky. While at the still-house they were surrounded by a lot of illicit distillers, and were compelled to remain in the house during the night. An Indian came to the still-house for some whisky, which he violently attempted to carry away, but was knocked down by Burns and prevented from taking the whisky. Burns then told him that if he did not go and tell Ross, an Indian chief with whom Burns was on intimate terms, to come with his Indians and relieve him, he would kill him.

The Indian went to Ross as directed and about daylight Ross and his Indians came and took Burns and Allman out of the way of the threatening mob. After Burns was relieved from the place we have mentioned, he discovered that he had left some important official papers in Swain, and leaving Allman in a safe place he set out home, which he reached in safety, secured his papers and was on his return to Cheoah, where he left Allman.

On Sunday the 15th, as he was traveling on the road 12 miles from Charleston on the Tennessee River, he was shot through the heart and killed instantly by Wm. R. Dills (note to the reader - after consulting with one of his descendants, I feel confident that this was William Rutherford "Black Billy" Dills). The shooting was done with a rifle-gun, and at such close quarters that the patching of the bullet was found in the hole where the ball penetrated the body. There were two men in company with Dills, and the three were removing a cask of illicit whisky. When they discovered these men, Walls and Freeman, pursued their course. They stated that after they had gone about one hundred yards, they heard a gun fire, whereupon they turned to go back where they had left Dills, but met him in a very high state of excitement, moving toward them. He told them not to attempt to go back in that direction or he would kill them, and began reloading his gun.

The above facts in connection with other circumstances appearing at the coroner's inquest. Dills was immediately arrested and taken to Webster, in Jackson County, where he was lodged in jail, and is now held in close confinement."
The Weekly Era (Raleigh, NC)
March 12, 1874

William Rutherford "Black Billy" Dills
Photo provided by my old friend and classmate Tommy Dills
and his brother, Billy. "Black Billy" was their GG grandfather.
The Burns murder case went to trial in October 1874 in Jackson County and Dills was ably represented by 4 attorneys: Allen Turner Davidson and his son Theodore Fulton Davidson (later the North Carolina State Attorney General), W.L. Love, and Kope Elias. After a 3-day trial described as "tedious" by one area newspaper, he was acquitted. On what the basis the acquittal was made, the papers are silent. In May 1875,  Dills pleaded guilty to armed conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice and was sentenced to a year to be served in the federal Albany Penitentiary (in Albany, New York).
Theodore Fulton Davidson, later NC State Attorney General
In a sad postscript to this story, on the night of November 2nd, only weeks after Dills' acquittal for the murder of her husband, Noah's wife Angeline was dragged from her bed and whipped repeatedly with hickory switches. Such was the intensity of her pain and fear that she begged her attackers to kill her but to spare the life of her daughter, Mary, and to raise her. The identity of two of her assailants? Her brothers-in-law Taylor and M.M. Burns. Their motive? To drive her off land that she had an interest in and occupied; Noah had been trying to settle the matter with his brothers at the time of his assassination.  

A personal note: As detailed above, Noah H. H. Burns was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks in Virginia. My 4th great-uncle, Corporal Caroden S. Burge, who was fighting for the Union in Company K of the 2nd Michigan Infantry, was killed in that same battle on May 31, 1862. Click this link to be taken to a picture of him as well as some fascinating letters he wrote during his Civil War service. 

Carol Cochran, Shirley Crisp, Tommy and Billy Dills 
The Asheville Weekly Citizen, October 22, 1874
The Asheville Weekly Citizen, May 20, 1875
The Daily Journal (Wilmington, NC), November 11, 1874
The Weekly Era (Raleigh, NC), March 12, 1874
Wilmington Morning Star, May 20, 1875

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Witcher's Chapel - Easter Morning (April 21, 1889)

This Easter morning service exactly 130 years ago was nothing akin to the type of Easter service typically held at churches in the modern day. However, it also seems entirely appropriate to celebrate the homegoing of a clearly beloved community member on the day of the Resurrection. Best wishes to all my readers for a blessed Easter!
Interior of Palmer Chapel at Cataloochee
"Rev. P.P. McLean held a memorial service in memory of Eli Collins at Witchers Chapel Sunday April 21st 1889.
The morning broke in full splendor, solemn quietude pervaded the land. Before 9 o’clock the stillness was broken by the call to Sabbath school. At 10:15 we repaired to the place appointed where the men of God should stand forth and speak in memory of a sainted brother. The services were opened by appropriate singing after which the minister arose and said, “We might, as one of old, ask what it is that has caused this large assembly to come to the house of God this beautiful Sabbath morning. We presume it is because a servant of God has been called home to rest.”
A very appropriate hymn was then announced which was followed by scriptural reading suitable to the occasion. Then was read the life incidents of the deceased brother, followed by another hymn sung by the minister. He then announced the text and proceeded to its discussion which was clear, able, and forcible, making vivid to the minds of his hearers things that have been passed far down the vale of time.
The audience was large and attentive. A collection amounting to $3 was taken for foreign missions. Reception of members into the church, three. The services were concluded by appropriate singing and prayer.
Witcher’s Chapel was located in close proximity to the area which later became Judson and was almost certainly named for the Methodist Episcopal minister William Witcher, who at one time resided in Macon County.

The Witcher’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church South was located on the south bank of Alarka Creek and on the former Parch Corn Flower/Flour reservation (which Thomas Wentworth Pledge Poindexter purchased prior to the Cherokee removal) – which later became part of Judson. In September 1858, Elizabeth Poindexter, widow of T.W.P. Poindexter sold, for $1, a half-acre parcel to the trustees of the Witcher’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church South (consisting of Joel Sawyer, Edward DeLozier [her son-in-law], John Anderson, and James Ingram) for the purposes of constructing a church house for both school and church purposes. The building served for several decades as a church, school, and meeting-house for the community. 

Newspaper announcement of service times - Witcher's Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church South
Source: Swain County Herald, 24 January 1889

The name “Witcher’s Chapel” disappears from the written record (in the records that I have been able to access) after 1891. It is possible that it later became the Judson Methodist Episopal Church.

Eli Collins (ca. 1807 – 1889) was originally interred in the Judson Public Cemetery. At the time of Fontana Lake’s impoundment, his grave was identified (though was apparently only marked by a fieldstone). No discernible remains were found, therefore, it is likely that a symbolic shovelful of dark earth was dug and placed in a new container, and reinterred in Lauada Cemetery.

Judson, NC (1938). Thanks to Don Casada for identification of the church and cemetery.
Source: NARA Southeast

Sources:, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Cemetery Removal Records
Macon County, NC Register of Deeds
National Archives and Records Administration, Southeast – TVA Records
Swain County Herald, 25 April 1889 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Old Wikle Place

Old, abandoned houses - they capture my imagination. I love to wander through them, placing my hands on the walls......willing them to tell me their stories. All too often those stories remain hidden, but every so often I get lucky and am able find out more about them.  

Sometimes, I enjoy taking a drive out Needmore Road to take some pictures for a friend of mine, Edwin Ammons, who was born on Wiggins Creek and considers the area his home. He lives 2 hours away and has not been home for many years, but any glimpse he can get of his old stomping grounds is deeply meaningful to him. On this day, I drove further up Wiggins Creek than I have ever gone and happened upon an absolute treasure - the home you will see in the ensuing pictures. I shared these pictures with Ed and held my breath in anticipation that perhaps he could tell me something - and he delivered! I thought you'd enjoy what he had to say about this gorgeous place. 

The Jeff and Tiny Wikle home.
Photo by Wendy Meyers
"The old house is the Jeff Wikle place. Thomas Jefferson Wikle (1862 - 1950) and Haseltine "Tiny" Morgan (1869 - 1963) had lived there but he had died before I was born. Aunt Tiny had moved into town (maybe a nursing home) but I can remember her. She died in 1963. 

Jeff and "Tiny" Wikle, circa late 1940s
Source: Swain County Heritage Book
That place was really nice in comparison to others in the area at that time. It was built really well to have survived this long. I remember the living room, bedroom, the stairs and the loft bedrooms. I don't remember the kitchen but I remember the L-shaped back porch that the kitchen door opened out onto. And the long front porch.

Presumed to be the living room
Photo by Wendy Meyers
Stairs to the loft bedrooms. I love the seafoam green color.
Photo by Wendy Meyers
Loft bedroom on chimney wall.
Photo by Wendy Meyesr
Loft bedroom on front of home.
Photo by Wendy Meyers

Over the creek behind the house was the one and only three hole toilet I have ever seen. Two adult seats and one child's if memory serves me correctly. And there were hinged lids on them. 

The branch that runs behind the Wikle home.
Photo by Wendy Meyers

There was a road (probably the original) next to the bedroom end of the house and across it was a neat little workshop with anything and everything a farmer would need. A horse drawn mowing machine and a rake were parked there...the kind you only see as rusty decorations in front of peoples' lovely brick homes these days.

The Wikle home with view of the old road in front of it. 
Photo by Wendy Meyers

A little farther was a little branch that was spanned by a long flat rock. Where most people would have thrown down a log or two or just jumped across Uncle Jeff had made something that would potentially last for eons. The reason for the bridge is because the spring and spring house were up against the mountain where the modern road is. The spring house was as neat and well constructed as the rest of the place. Rock on the bottom where the water was and wood above. There was another smaller version of the rock bridge over the trickle of water that exited the spring. Good water it was! Travelers on the road above had a well used trail over the roadbank down to that little spring and there was always a dipper there. We didn't know about germs back then but fresh air and sunshine on both us and our drinking utensils would have eliminated the threat anyway."

Chimney of Wikle home
Photo by Wendy Meyers
Notes on the Wikles: Jeff Wikle was born in 1862 in Macon County, the son of Andrew Jesse Wikle and Sarah Ann Breedlove. Jesse Wikle enlisted in the Confederacy (the famed Thomas Legion) in 1862 and was never seen again. Jeff, his mother, his sister Arlecy, and brother Allen each went to their graves never knowing what had happened to him. His fate was not known to the family until the late 1960's, at which time it was discovered that he had been captured and transported to Fort Delaware, where he remained until his death in 1865 - less than a month prior to the end of the war. 

Jeff and Tiny married in 1884 when Tiny was but a young girl of 14 or 15 and their first child, Mose (named after Tiny's father), arrived the next year. They went on to raise a fine family of 10 - 6 boys and 4 girls. Jeff was a well-respected leader in his community and in fact served on the death penalty jury for the Ross French trial discussed in last week's blog article. 

 According to their biographer in the Swain County Heritage Book, Jeff and Tiny lived in this home for nearly the entirety of their married lives - over 65 years. 

Asheville Citizen-Times, 09 December 1981
Edwin Ammons
North Carolina Archives

Swain County Heritage Book

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Innocence Lost: The Murder of Ethel Shuler

One thing I love about old and established cemeteries in many places is the presence of grand old oak trees. These can be seen in many cemeteries in Swain County such as the Bryson City Cemetery and Watkins Cemetery.

The primary burying ground in the Birdtown area of Swain County for over a century has been the Birdtown Cemetery. It lies on a quiet hill above the Tsali Care Center on Echota Church Road off Highway 19. On the highest point of the hill upon which the cemetery resides rises an infamous oak, known as the "Chapel Oak", described in an 1892 federal document as ".....a mammoth oak, where in midsummer the Indians gather for church and Sunday-school services in preference to the old church (Note: this was the Echota church) or the schoolhouse a little beyond". 
The Chapel Oak, Birdtown Cemetery
Photo by Wendy Meyers
The Chapel Oak in 1892
Source: Extra Census Bulletin. Eastern Band of Cherokees of North Carolina. 1892  
One of the hundreds of graves the Chapel Oak overlooks is that of a 16 year-old girl, Ethel May Shuler. Ethel was born on May 1, 1895 in the upper Galbreath Creek area to George Ebenezer and Katherine Haseltine (Katie) (nee' Cline) Shuler. She had an older sister, Lettie, and another sibling whose name and gender are unknown but who almost certainly died early in childhood. At some point, she and her family moved to Goose Creek, in the Birdtown Community near Cherokee, where they farmed.

Grave of Ethel Shuler at Birdtown Cemetery. She is buried
beside her father, George, who died in 1910.
Photo by Wendy Meyers
Details of Ethel's early life are obscure, and I have been unable to even obtain a picture of her or of any member of her family. However, on Thursday, October 4, 1911, 16 year-old Ethel had a fateful encounter with infamy that would ensure that her brief and incomplete life was never forgotten - not just for the brutal manner in which she met her demise, but also for the speed with which the wheels of justice turned for her murderer.

On that day, she set out for Trantham's store, where she had an "uncomfortable" encounter with a young "half-breed" Cherokee man named Ross French, who had been in Birdtown playing ball. Unbeknownst to Ethel, as she left the store at approximately 5:00 p.m. to return home, she was followed by French. After she had travelled some distance and was presumably out of sight of anyone else, French seized his opportunity, pulled Ethel into the woods, and attempted to rape her. Ethel managed to hold him off for a time, hitting him on the head with a rock. Ultimately, however, her enraged assailant pulled out his pocket knife and slit her throat "from ear to ear". Ethel's body was found around 8:00 p.m. on the roadside.

Echota Church Road, where Ethel was killed and her body later discovered.
Photo by Wendy Meyers 
French was quickly identified as the perpetrator and arrested the next morning - he had hidden the clothes he was wearing at the time of the attack at his grandparents' house, however, his hat was found covered in blood. A lynch mob of nearly 200 individuals swiftly formed. Sheriff Robert Roane spirited French to Deputy Sheriff Sam Beck, who took him over remote mountain trails to Sylva - a distance of some 18 miles.  He was then transported to Waynesville via horse (which dropped dead en route) but the mob followed him and the Haywood County Sheriff had to call out the local 'military' to finally get him to safety in Asheville. During his circuitous journey to relative safety in Asheville, French confessed his crime to Sam Beck, and asked that his body be sent to his wife in Birdtown "when the law was through with him". Not without irony, however, his wife refused to have anything to do with him after he confessed and never saw him again.
Letter from Melinda French
Source: The Union Republican, 26 October 1911
French later retracted his confession, stating that he had only held Ethel's hand while his friend, Bill Craig, murdered her. He further stated that Bill Craig had paid him $60 to aid his flight from justice. However, no stock was put in this statement and the reporting newspaper stated, "It now appears he would be very glad of Craig's capture." (Note: after reading this article, my good friend and excellent genealogist/author Fran Rogers reached out to let me know that Bill Craig was a member of her extended family. Fran was extremely gracious in providing a picture of him for use on the blog. Thanks so much, my friend!)
Bill Craig (left), the man falsely accused by Ross French of Ethel Shuler's murder.
Photo provided by Fran Rogers
After only three weeks, Ross French was brought back to Bryson City to stand trial for his crime. On October 28th, 1911, after an exceptionally short trial of only two hours, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by a jury consisting of E.A. Bradshaw, John C. DeLozier, Tom Dowdle, W.A. Enloe, G.A. Holloway, W.M. Hoyle, Lee Herron, A.L. Kirkland, J.M. Parker, G.E. Tipton, and T.J. Wikle. There can be little doubt that his prior confession and expressed belief that he should receive the ultimate punishment was a strong factor in his conviction and sentence. On the same day, he was transported to Central Prison in Raleigh to await his execution.

A portion of Ross French's death warrant (November 1, 1911)
Source: North Carolina Archives
In the ensuing weeks, French met with the minister of the local African-American Episcopal Church, was converted to the Episcopal faith, and was baptized. His brokenhearted 82 year-old maternal grandfather, John Talala, and his maternal aunt, Sallie Thompson, arrived on November 21st to visit with him and to assist him in making his final preparations. French had little to his name, but bequeathed his yoke of oxen to his grandfather and the remainder of his estate to his wife. He was said to have made peace with his sentence, believed it to be just and correct, and implored his fellow Cherokees to not follow his example.

North Carolina's Electric Chair, used until 1938
Source: UNC Libraries
On November 24th, French, wearing a dark suit, his long locks shaved, was escorted into the execution chamber at North Carolina's Central Prison, and placed into the electric chair. He was said to have been calm with "typical Indian stoicism" (according to the newspapers) and watched as he was strapped in. At 10:34 a.m., the first jolt of electricity was applied to his body, followed by a second at 10:36 a.m. He was declared dead at 10:40 a.m., dying approximately 7 weeks after having committed his crime. His grandfather and aunt left with his body later that day to bring him home. He was 21 years old. Although his burial location is not fully known, at least one newspaper source places him as being buried in the Birdtown Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Two unmarked graves at the Birdtown Cemetery. Ross French is likely 
buried in one of the unmarked graves in the old section of the cemetery.
Photo by Wendy Meyers
Postscript: Life went on for Ethel's family after the tragic events in the fall of 1911, but they retained her bloody clothing and personal effects in a trunk for decades after she had passed. In 1913, her sister Lettie gave birth to a baby girl whom she named for her late sister. Ethel's sad demise is still spoken of amongst the Birdtown elders and her extended family.

Sadly, among the witnesses to Ross French's execution was Hugh James "Odie" Lambert, Ethel's brother-in-law. According to individuals with whom I communicated, Odie Lambert always regretted being at French's execution. It is little wonder. Twenty-five years before, as a 12 year-old boy, he watched as his wrongfully-convicted father, Andrew Jackson Lambert, was also executed for murder.

Trunk of the Chapel Oak, Birdtown Cemetery
Photo by Wendy Meyers

Asheville Gazette-News 13 October 1911
Extra Census Bulletin. Indians. Eastern Band of Cherokees of North Carolina. (Washington, D.C.; United States Census Printing Office), 1892.
North Carolina Archives
Peggy Lambert
The Charlotte Observer, 25 November 1911
The Daily Times (Wilson, NC), 13 October 1911
The Lexington Dispatch, 11 October 1911
The Raleigh Daily Times, 24 November 1911
The Union Republican, (Winston-Salem, NC) 12 and 26 October 1911
The Western Sentinel (Winston-Salem, NC) 24 November 1911
The Wilmington Dispatch, 21 November 1911

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Spring at the Old Home Place - A Photo Essay

One of my favorite times to visit old home places is in early spring. Flowers are blooming, springs are flowing bountifully, and fields are greening up. I hope you'll enjoy this little sojourn into spring, provided by those who have gone on before us.

Double daffodils in bloom at the old Birch McHan/Doyle Hampton home place (Needmore).

Fields greening up at the McHan/Hampton home place (Needmore). I can sit for hours on the terrace above the old chimney here (the first picture below is taken from this vantage point), taking in the sounds of the spring and Brush Creek, the sight of the lush green fields below, and the slight smell of the wild onions that grow there. It's a very serene experience.

Crocus growing in a field at the old Freeman Mill (Needmore).

Leah Truett Hunnicutt's forsythia is still blooming beautifully more than 100 years after being planted (Deep Creek).

The spring is overflowing at the McHan/Hampton home place (Needmore).

Japonica (also known as quince) is in full bloom at the Othene Carson home place (Stephenson Branch).

This old apple tree is still hanging on, budding out at the very top (Needmore).

Garlic growing at the Jim Stephenson home place (Stephenson Branch).

This periwinkle was growing below the Old Brush Creek Baptist Church/McHan cemetery (Needmore).

While hiking on an abandoned logging road in the area that once surrounded the now-drowned town of Judson, my mother spotted these daffodils far down the hill below us. Upon investigation, we found that they marked the site of an old cabin. The first picture is the daffodil field, the second picture is of the same site, with the chimney fall in the front and the daffodils in back (Greater Judson area).

All photos by Wendy Meyers.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

In Memoriam: Eliza Poindexter Turk - a former slave

Several years ago, when perusing some of the Tennessee Valley Authority cemetery relocation records, I chanced upon a particularly fascinating one. Among the records from the DeLozier Cemetery (located in Judson) was one of a former slave named Eliza - to my knowledge the only officially documented former slave buried in the entire Fontana Reservoir. In honor of Black History Month, I thought I'd share the little we know of her story.

Photo by Tracey McCracken Palmer
Early Life
Eliza was born into slavery in the early 1830s (records vary and ages are notoriously inaccurate, particularly in the case of slaves), likely in Macon County. She is recorded in multiple sources to have been mulatto (half black, half white), and was almost certainly the daughter of a slave woman and a unknown white master. Her first documented master was Thomas Wentworth Pledge Poindexter, who had moved to Macon County from Surry County prior to 1830.

She first appeared on the written record in a slave transaction when she was 8 years old: on January 10th, 1838, Thomas Wentworth Pledge Poindexter (who by then had settled in the area known as the 'Parch Corn Flour' Indian reservation - close to the modern-day Alarka Boat Dock), sold to James Poindexter (likely a close relative), 2 "colored" girls. "Sally" was a black girl 10 years of age, and Eliza was a described as a "yellow" or mulatto girl 8 years of age. Their sale price was $1100, which is nearly $30,000 in modern currency. On January 11, 1838, he purchased them back. The purpose of this odd transaction is unknown.

By 1844, she had come back into the possession of James Poindexter. A deed records him mortgaging Eliza and Sally, along with 217 acres on the "Parched Corn place", a bay mare, and 19 cattle, in order to purchase some land tracts from one Tyra Davis. By 1850, she likely was back in the possession of T.W.P. Poindexter, as the 1850 slave schedule records a 19 year-old female among his slaves.
1850 Slave Schedule showing 3 slaves in the possession of T.W.P. Poindexter.
Eliza is likely the 19 year-old female.
Young Adulthood
In 1851, T.W.P. Poindexter died and Eliza probably passed into the ownership of Edward "Ned" DeLozier, who had married Poindexter's daughter, Betsy, in 1834. This cannot be certain as I have been unable to locate Poindexter's will, however, a 25 year-old female is recorded in the 1860 slave schedule among his 4 slaves, as are a 12 year-old female, a 4 year-old male, and a 3 month-old female. Who were these children?

Between approximately 1855 and freedom, Eliza gave birth to at least 4 children (dates of birth are approximate): Jiff (b. 1855), Jonathan  (b. 1856), Arbazenia "Arvy" (b. 1860), and Caroline "Callie" (b. 1863). The identity of the father(s) of these children is unknown, however, as the children were all mulatto like their mother, it is almost certain that their father was white. Based on birth dates, 2 of the children listed in the 1860 slave schedule may have been Jiff or Jonathan, and Arvy.

After Freedom
It is highly probable that Eliza did not gain her freedom from slavery until sometime in December 1865 or early 1866. Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, however, North Carolina did not approve the 13th Amendment  (that abolished slavery) until December 4th, 1865 - almost 3 years later. On October 1st, 1866, Eliza married (giving her last name as Poindexter) a former slave from Georgia, J. Clark Turk. Though how they met is unknown, he was likely among the many former slaves making their exodus from the farms and plantations of the Deep South toward the North during the early Reconstruction Period.

1870 US Census for Welch's District, Macon County showing Clark and Eliza Turk and children.
Clark and Eliza Turk appear to have settled in the same district in which she had been a slave - the 1870 census shows them in the "Welches" district of Macon County and farming, with property valued at $125 and personal belongings valued at $100. Eliza's 4 living children born prior to her marriage were residing with them at the time, along with a son, Jesse, who had been born in approximately 1867. I do not think it coincidence that he was given this name, as Jesse was also the name of one of Ned DeLozier's sons (Jesse Ridings); he was born in 1847 and Eliza may have cared for him in his childhood.

After 1870, there is no further documentation of Eliza's life. Clark Turk is known to have remarried in 1874. Therefore, as single fathers with young children usually found new spouses quite soon after the death of a wife in that day and age, it is likely that Eliza died sometime around 1873. She was buried in an unmarked grave in the DeLozier Cemetery amongst her former masters, mistresses, acquaintances, and possibly children and former fellow slaves - seemingly lost to history.

Jesse Ridings DeLozier (1847 - 1886)
Source: Elise (DeLozier) Palmer

Bringing Eliza Back to Life
As is well-known, in the early 1940s, Fontana Dam was built by the TVA in order to help power Alcoa's wartime production of aluminum. Prior to the lake being filled, the vast majority of the individuals buried in the cemeteries to be flooded were removed to other cemeteries. The Judson Public Cemetery and the adjacent DeLozier Cemetery were among the cemeteries that now lie under Fontana Lake's waters. Tom DeLozier, son of Jesse Ridings DeLozier, was the individual who identified the graves in the DeLozier Cemetery for TVA. Amongst all the unmarked graves in the cemetery (many of whom were identified as "Unknown DeLozier" or "Unknown Poindexter"), Tom identified the grave of Eliza - noting that she had been a slave. Despite the fact that a number of former slaves are buried in Swain County, very few of their graves are actually known and/or identified. The fact that Eliza's was identified by a member of the family who had had been born in the same year in which she likely died, led the family and I to the supposition that she may have been seen as more of a family member than a slave.

Eliza's grave relocation record
Source: and TVA
Kim Palmer and Scott Evans setting Eliza's stone. Kim is the great-grandchild of Jesse Ridings DeLozier.
Scott is the husband of Amy Palmer Evans, who is also a great-grandchild of Jesse Ridings DeLozier.
Photo by Wendy Meyers

After sharing this amazing finding with the DeLozier family (who has helped me enormously in my Judson research, who is exceptionally invested in their family's history, and of whom I am extremely fond), all agreed that Eliza's grave should have a permanent marker rather than the anonymous white cross currently marking it. After locating her grave via the TVA maps (many thanks to Don Casada) and obtaining a small headstone for her, several members of the DeLozier family (some coming from 2 hours or more away), Christine Proctor (head of the Lauada Cemetery Association and a cousin through the Woody line), and I gathered at the Lauada Cemetery on October 28th, 2018 - a gorgeous fall day - to place her stone. A base was prepared and the stone set, a brief overview of her life was given, a fitting poem was read (below), and flowers were placed on her stone. It was a simple memorial, but deeply meaningful to all those that gathered there.

In quiet contemplation, the life and dignity of this once-unknown former slave was restored, and she will now live on in perpetuity thanks to the family whom she served over 150 years ago.

Perhaps if Death is Kind
(read by Amy Palmer Evans at the dedication)
Perhaps if Death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.

We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.
by Sarah Teasdale

Lily DeLozier Gray placing flowers at Eliza's grave. Her father, Joshua DeLozier Gray,
is behind her. Josh is the 2nd great-grandchild of Jesse Ridings DeLozier; Lily is the 3rd.
Several of the family members have old family names as part of their own.
Photo by Wendy Meyers

L-R: Tracey McCracken Palmer, Christine Proctor, Amy (Palmer) Evans, Elise (DeLozier) Palmer,
and Kim Palmer (Josh and Lily are behind him).
 Elise is the granddaughter of Jesse Ridings DeLozier; her children, Amy and Kim, are his great-grandchildren.
Photo by Wendy Meyers
L-R: Amy (Palmer) Evans and husband Scott; Asa Gray and wife Susan (Williams) Gray.
Susan is also a great-grandchild of Jesse Ridings DeLozier.
Photo by Wendy Meyers

Eliza's Descendants - A postscript for those interested
Jiff - disappeared from the records after the 1870 census. There is a remote possibility that he could be one "Jiff Harris" - a mulatto man living in the Durham area at the time of the 1880 census who was the same age as Eliza's son. This Jiff Harris had a 2 year-old daughter named Callie (and Callie was the name of one of Jiff's sisters). If this Jiff is one and the same, he had obviously changed his name upon departing the area.

Jonathan - disappeared from the records after the 1870 census. Despite much digging, I cannot locate him anywhere.

Arvy - married Wilkes/Wilson M. McCoy on November 22, 1877 in Macon County. They settled amongst the black community that was established (post-Civil War) in the Cowee area of the county. She had at least 7 children (birth dates are approximate): Lassie (b. 1879), Lulu (b. 1882), Charley (b. 1885), Fannie (b. 1886), "J" (b. 1890), Hettie (b. 1891), and Arie (b. 1893). She probably died sometime between 1893 and early 1900 (based on her husband's apparent remarriage in November 1900). She is likely buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery of the Pleasant Hill African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, based on the fact that her husband is known to be buried there.

Callie - married George Conley on December 22, 1883 in Macon County. They settled in the same community that her sister Arvy lived in. She had at least 1 child, a son, Gordia "Gordie" Leander Conley (1885 - 1971). As George was remarried in January 1893, Callie likely died in 1891 or 1892. Since her son is buried there, Callie is also likely buried at the Pleasant Hill A.M.E. church.

Jesse - only 5 or 6 when his mother died, he relocated to Jackson County upon his father's remarriage. Heartbreakingly, he can last be seen at the age of 12 in the 1880 census living in the Webster district and working as a farm laborer for another family. As with his half-brothers, he disappeared from the record after this time. He may be buried in an unmarked grave in the Parris Cemetery in Jackson County, where his father is buried.

Eliza likely has many hundreds of descendants throughout the country, however, as is so common when researching African-American families, most simply vanished from the written record. Sadly, Gordie Conley's line is the only one through which living descendants can be documented.
Mount Pleasant African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Macon County (West's Mill area)
At least one of Eliza's descendants is buried here - likely more.
Photo by Wendy Meyers

DeLozier family (including Malvary Morris Gamble and Lynn Morris Sullivan, who are not pictured above)
Don Casada
Macon County, North Carolina Register of Deeds
Tennessee Valley Authority records