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


  1. Great research, Wendy! And very interesting! I enjoyed reading this. My neighbors are a black family, Homer and Carole Coleman. Homers family was from here and his grandmother was a slave in Macon County. The best neighbors ever.

    1. Thank you! Homer and Carole ARE wonderful people and I really do need to go talk with him. I really enjoy researching and writing about the roots of the African American community here.

  2. I didn't get a notification that you had posted this and I apologise for not finding it earlier as I check often for new post by you.
    Jesse Ridings DeLozier is in my family tree, father in law of a 3rd cousin so far, maybe closer. I will be actively researching this family as best I can with my limited range.
    I saw your name in the SMT and am tickled that you, David and Bill are collaborating in the Needmore project. I don't know how much of an audience you will attract but I do know that one person will be missing who would like more than anything to be there. I really hope and pray that it is a success and that you three can get more people interested in that piece of history.

    Thanks for all you do! Ed

    1. Hi Ed, we are going to video it so will get it to you, I promise.

  3. Jesse Ridings Delozier is my 2 great grandfather. Are these the same Deloziers from the William Nulin Hemphill story?

  4. Also Edward Delozier is said to have had a silver mine somewhere around Graham county.