Sunday, February 21, 2016

Western North Carolina Oral Histories

Oral History Collections   

Special Collections' oral histories contain a wealth of local history and cultural information about Asheville and Western North Carolina. Beginning with two major oral history collections, the Southern Highlands Research Center Oral History collection and the Voices of Asheville Project, the Oral History Collections provide unique insight into a broad range of topics including city and county development issues, segregation and integration of Asheville schools, private education in the region, the diversity of religion throughout the area, changes in farming and subsistence strategies, and the histories of various families and organizations in western North Carolina.
Special Collections is the repository of over 500 Oral Histories, comprised of at least ten different oral history projects, each ranging from four or five interviews to over two hundred interviews. The Oral History Collections continue to grow, offering a continuing picture of Western North Carolina.


Special Collections & University Archives
Ramsey at UNC Asheville

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Shelton Laurel Massacre

by David L. Cockrell, 2006

The Shelton Laurel Massacre, which occurred in January 1863, serves as a graphic illustration of the divided loyalties of North Carolinians during the Civil War as well as the tenuous relationship between state and Confederate military authorities. Throughout the war North Carolina's western counties suffered considerable violence and disorder. Strong Unionist sentiment ran through the Mountains, and there was intermittent fighting between residents loyal to the United States and their pro-Confederate neighbors. This situation was reminiscent of the bitter social divisions during the American Revolution. In fact, at times Unionists were referred to as "Tories" by their enemies. Further adding to the chaotic atmosphere were marauding gangs of both Confederate and Union deserters, who took advantage of undermanned local enforcement and a weak Confederate presence to practice rampant banditry and lawlessness.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Asheville Young Men's Institute

Photograph: The drugstore at the Young Men’s Institute in 1905. Image from the Pack Memorial Library.

On September 5, 1891, George W. Vanderbilt II purchased land for the Young Men’s Institute in Asheville. During construction of his lavish home in Asheville, Vanderbilt decided to establish a community center for his African American workers. The building, constructed in 1892 and 1893, was designed by Richard Sharp Smith, who was also the supervising architect of the Biltmore House.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Asheville Town in the Year 1842

Asheville Town in the Year 1842

Justice Summey Gives Many Interesting Facts.

"Asheville Should Be Proud of the Progress Made Since the Old Days"

Photograph: At the time the street was South Main Street, now named Biltmore Avenue. Note the sign to the left: Patton & Summey. This is believed to be the business owned by Montraville Patton (1806-1896) and Albert T. Summey (1823-1906). Montraville Patton was a brother of Mary (Polly) Patton (1794-1853) who married James McConnell Smith (1787-1856).

Editor The Citizen: -- When I was a young fellow of 18 I accepted a position as clerk in the store of Patton & Osborn. At that time there were seven stores in Asheville: Patton & Osborn, M. Patton, A. B. Chunn, Williams & Roberts, Joseph Dunlap, James M. Smith and N. S. Jarrett. There were two hotels, the Eagle hotel, kept by J. W. Patton, and the Buck hotel kept by James M. Smith. The population was estimated at 600 souls. We had only one street, properly so called, Main street. On it and around the square all the business was transacted. The Asheville merchants did quite a large business, there being at that time only two country stores, J. M. Alexander's, 10 miles north of Asheville, and J. R. Shuford's, 10 miles south of the town, both located on the old Buncombe township road.

We had only three lawyers in town, N. W. Woodfin, John W. Woodfin and Joshua Roberts, and one in the county, Geo. W. Candler. The Highland Messenger, edited by Joshua Roberts and Rev. D. R. McAnally, was the only paper published in the state west of the Blue Ridge. It was a well conducted paper, the editors being both gentlemen of high standing. Of all the white people then living here there are now living only three males, J. L. McKee, Thos. W. Patton, who was about two years old, and myself; and of females, Mrs. Harriett Kerr, Mrs. Sarah L. McDowell, Mrs. Jane Spears and Mrs. Lizzie Smith, and one, or perhaps two, daughters, I am not certain, of N. W. Woodfin.

Monday, November 17, 2014

William Davidson Confusion Continues

Allen Turner Davidson 1898 Newspaper Article

In 1898, Allen Turner Davidson (1819-1905), wrote an article on certain Asheville events of note that was published in the Asheville Citizen:

"Execution of Sneed and Henry," Asheville Citizen (Asheville, North Carolina), Saturday, 26 February 1898, p.3.

The article is interesting but causes a problem with respect to two often confused Buncombe County settlers: Colonel William Davidson (1747-1828) and Major William Davidson (1736-1814).

We thought this confusion finally had been sorted, but Allen Turner Davidson made the following comment in the above-referenced article with respect to the arrest of horse thief Delk:

". . . . I know this fact from the further fact that my father, William M. Davidson, the son of the William Davidson at whose house the first meeting to organize Buncombe county was held, and Goldman Ingram, grandfather of John L. Cathey, clerk of the superior court of Buncombe county at this time, arrested Delk at the Little Tennessee river near where it is now spanned by the iron bridge east of Franklin, after he had crossed the ford to the Franklin side of the river. . . ."

The author, Allen Turner Davidson, is the son of William Mitchell Davidson (1780-1846) and Elizabeth Vance (1787-1861). And, the father of William Mitchell Davidson generally is thought to be Major William Davidson (1736-1814), twin brother of the locally famous Samuel Davidson (1736-1784), whom legend tells was killed by Indians on Jones Mountain near Swannanoa, North Carolina.

The problem is caused by Allen Turner Davidson's reference to his grandfather: ". . . at whose house the first meeting to organize Buncombe county was held . . ."

The ability to discriminate between these two named William Davidson, one Colonel and one Major, had been, in addition to their military titles/ranks, the fact that Colonel William Davidson was the one involved in the creation of Buncombe County and at whose house the first county organizational meeting was held.

Here is Sondley's description of Allen Turner Davidson's ancestry:

"Allen Turner Davidson, another grandson of Colonel David Vance, and a grandson of Major William Davidson, who was one of the first settlers in Buncombe County and lived at the mouth of Bee Tree Creek, was the son of William Mitchell Davidson and was born on Jonathan's Creek in Haywood County, North Carolina, May 9, 1819. . . ."

Source: Asheville and Buncombe County, F. A. Sondley (1922) at 129-130.

However, historian John Preston Arthur agrees with Allen Turner Davidson with respect to which William Davidson was the grandfather:

"He [Allen Turner Davidson] was born on Jonathan's creek, Haywood county, May 9, 1819. His father was William Mitchell Davidson and his mother Elizabeth Vance of Burke county, a daughter of Captain David Vance of Revolutionary fame. William Davidson, first senator from Buncombe county and a soldier of the Revolutionary War, was the father of William Mitchell Davidson, and a cousin of Gen. William Davidson who was killed at Cowan's Ford. . . ."

Source: Western North Carolina: A History from 1730-1913, John Preston Arthur (1914) at 400-403.

Moreover, Sondley recognized this confusion and warned:

"Do not confuse Major William Davidson with Colonel William Davidson, who lived on the south side of Swannanoa, just below the later town of Biltmore and was a member from Rutherford County of the North Carolina House of Commons and introduced a bill to create the County of Buncombe. Afterwards that county was organized at his home and he became in 1792 its first State Senator. He was born in Virginia and was a cousin of Major William Davidson and General William Davidson. He became quite distinguished and influential in the State of Tennessee to which he removed, died, and is buried. . . ."

Source: A History of Buncombe County North Carolina, F. A. Sondley, LL.D. (1930) at 397-398.

Did Allen Turner Davidson not know the history of his grandfather William Davidson? Did he chose the arguably more important Colonel William Davidson to enhance his own stature? Who is more persuasive, John Preston Arthur or Forster Alexander Sondley?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Samuel Davidson Monument

Samuel Davidson (1736-1784)

An address delivered at the commemorative exercises when the monument was unveiled September 25th, 1913 BY F. A. Sondley, LL.D. His Great-Great-Grandnephew Samuel Davidson


In August, 1913, some relatives of Samuel Davidson erected at his grave on the mountain a stone bearing the inscription, "Here Lies Samuel Davidson, First White Settler of Western North Carolina, Killed Here By The Cherokees, 1784." On the morning of September 25th, 1913, this monument was unveiled with commemorative ceremonies. Honorable Theodore F. Davidson, great-grand-nephew of Samuel Davidson, presided at the meeting, and F. A. Sondley, LL.D., great-great-grand-nephew of Samuel Davidson, delivered the address. This address follows hereafter.

Clan Chattan is a celebrated confederation of clans, or confederated clan, of the Scottish Highlands, founded in the reign of David I of Scotland, commonly called Saint David, (i 124- 11 53), and is composed of the clans or septs of Macintosh, MacPherson, MacBean, MacDuff, MacGillivray, MacQueen, MacDhai (or Davidson), Shaw, Farquharson and five others. Its emblem is the boxwood and, later adopted, also the red whortleberry, and its battlecry is "Creag dhubh chloinn ChatJiin" (The black craig of Clan Chattan). In several editions of the Waverley Novels a cut of its coat of arms is placed at the head of the preface to The Fair Maid of Perth. This coat of arms bears the motto of the clan, "Touch not the cat but a glove," and two cats rampant. Every of the confederated septs has its own tartan. That of the Davidsons may be found in "The Scottish Clans and Their Tartans." Clan Chattan derived its name from that of its founder and first chief, Gillecattan Mohr (Gillecattan the Great). Gillecattan is a Gaelic name signifying "Follower of Saint Cattan," a once popular Scottish saint. Cattan means a little cat or a kitten. It is manifest that the coat of arms of the clan, as well as its motto, has reference to the signification of the name of the confederation, Clan Chattan.

Daniel Smith, who is referred to in the following address, was the particular friend and hunting companion of Samuel Davidson. He married Mary Davidson, daughter of Samuel Davidson's brother Colonel [Major] William Davidson; and it is said, (how correctly cannot now be known), that the wife of Samuel Davidson was a sister of Daniel Smith. Prominent among the men who came over the mountains to avenge the death of Samuel Davidson, as mentioned in the address, which follows, was this Daniel Smith. He became Colonel Daniel Smith and was one of the first emigrants to Western North Carolina. His residence stood on the hillside immediately east of the railroad and directly north of the first small branch which runs into the French Broad River above the Passenger Station of the Southern Railway at Asheville, North Carolina. The site of his home is now within the corporate limits of the City of Asheville. Here, on June 14th, 1787, was born his son James M. Smith, the first white child born in North Carolina west of the Blue Ridge. Colonel Daniel Smith died at this place, and was buried, with military honors, on a hill on his farm at the spot where Fernihurst now is, overlooking the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers and their junction. In 1875 his remains were removed to the burying ground at Newton Academy, just south of Asheville, where they now rest. His tombstone bears the following inscription:

"In memory of Col. Daniel Smith: who departed this life on the 17th May 1824 Aged 67. A native of New Jersey, an industrious citizen, an honest man, and a brave soldier. The soil which inurns his ashes is part of the heritage wrested by his valour for his children and his country from a ruthless and savage foe."