Sunday, September 9, 2018

Ripley-Shepherd Building

Click to See Larger Image
Ripley-Shepherd Building

The Ripley family enjoyed early prominence in Hendersonville, especially the colonel himself. According to Lila Ripley Barnwell (the daughter of Col. Valentine Ripley) in an article that appeared in the Times News on August 29, 1938, "Colonel Valentine Ripley, a native of Rockbridge County, Virginia, came to this section in the (eighteen) thirties, settling first in Asheville, where he married Miss Ruth Smith, daughter of James Smith, who was the first white child born west of the Blue Ridge in North Carolina. Shortly afterward Henderson County was cut off from Buncombe, and because of interest in the mail route, Colonel Ripley came here to live. He had large land interests, owning thousands of acres in the county.

No citizen was ever more interested in the progress and development of this section. After the War Between the States, Colonel Ripley formed a partnership with Captain M. C. Toms in the mercantile business. He was too much a lover of the out of doors and fine horses to like the confinement of that life, and while he carefully attended to the business the practical management was left largely in the capable hands of Captain Toms. One of the greatest ambitions of his life was a railroad for Hendersonville and for years he spent time and money for this accomplishment, living to see his dream realized about four months before his death in 1879."

Source: Hendersonville Historic Preservation Commission.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Flood of 1916

Asheville Railroad Yard Flooded 1916
On July 14, 1916, the worst flood in western North Carolina’s history occurred after six days of torrential rain. In one 24-hour period the region saw more than half of a normal year’s total rainfall. The 22 inches of rain that fell that day set the record for the most rainfall in a single day in the United States.

Because the ground was saturated, most of the water immediately filled streams and rivers, causing them to reach flood stage in just a few hours. Eighty people lost their lives and the property damage surpassed $22 million, $1 million of that in Asheville alone. Asheville and Hendersonville were completely cut off from the outside for weeks. Railroad tracks that were not destroyed had their supports washed out from under them, leaving tracks eerily suspended over mud-covered ravines—895 miles of track were rendered useless.

Everyone was taken by surprise at the speed with which the water rose. People were stranded in trees when their cars or homes were overwhelmed and they had nowhere else to go. Industrial plants along the rivers were swept away and landslides engulfed homes. For most of western North Carolina this flood remains the benchmark for disasters.

Silas McDowell (1795-1879)

Click to See Larger Image

On July 14, 1879, Silas McDowell, prolific self-taught scientist and originator of the concept of the thermal belt, died.

Originally from York, South Carolina, McDowell attended school at Asheville's Newton Academy and then began work as a tailor in Charleston. He returned to the North Carolina mountains in 1823 and bought a farm in what's now Macon County. There, in Franklin, he began a long career of farming, viticulture and horticulture, including an extensive apple production operation that developed many new varieties.

McDowell applied science to all his endeavors, published articles on agriculture and began to develop a theory of thermal belts from his observations. In 1861, he published his best-known article, "Theory of the Thermal Zone," in which he proposed the idea of the thermal belt, a mountainside temperate zone ideal for growing crops.

McDowell also made contributions to botany, guiding a number of the day's prominent botanists in explorations of the state's mountains. His wide-ranging interests also included mineralogy, geology and zoology.

In his later years, McDowell retired from farming and turned to history, literature and poetry, penning biographies of prominent local people and accounts of historical events, and writing poetry recalling his youth and the mountain landscape.

Source: "This Day in NC History," North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Vance Civil War Parole (1865)

Click to See Larger Image

On July 5, 1865, ex-Confederate Governor Zebulon Baird Vance was paroled on his honor after imprisonment at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C.

As the end of the Civil War unfolded in North Carolina, Vance played an important role. Fleeing west in advance of General William T. Sherman’s army, Vance stopped in Greensboro and met with Confederate General Joseph Johnston. When Johnston traveled to Charlotte to meet with Confederate president Jefferson Davis, Vance followed. However, Vance returned to Greensboro after agreeing to have no further obligations to the Confederacy.

After relinquishing his ties to the Confederacy, Vance contacted Union General John Schofield and offered to surrender himself. Schofield declined to arrest him, saying he had no orders to do so. Vance informed Schofield that he would return to his home in Statesville. Vance’s stay in Statesville was short-lived. He on May 4 only to be arrested on the orders of General Ulysses S. Grant on May 13. By May 20, he was in Washington.

While he was imprisoned, his wife’s health, usually fragile, took a bad turn. Provisional Governor W.W. Holden sent a telegram on July 4 noting her ill health and asking for Vance’s release.

After the war, Vance practiced law in Charlotte. By terms of the Fourteenth Amendment he was prevented from taking the U.S. Senate seat to which he was elected in 1870, but he worked behind the scenes to develop the Conservative party until he was eligible for office in 1872. Elected governor again in 1876, Vance vacated that office with two years left in his term in 1879 to join the U.S. Senate. He would serve there until his death in 1894.

Source: North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Siler Family Meets Each summer For 165 Years

Siler Family Meeting 1911
Siler Family Meets Each summer For 165 Years

William Siler circled two big dates on his calendar for 2016. On June 23, he celebrated his 100th birthday at his home in Morro Bay, California. And Saturday, he hosts the 165th annual meeting of the Siler family in Macon County. "I've been a strong supporter of this family and our heritage in this part of the state ever since I was a small boy," Siler said. Siler planned to catch a flight to Atlanta where his daughter would drive him to Franklin and his old home place. "I was born seven miles west of Franklin back when there were just dirt roads. Getting to Franklin was an all-day affair and you could figure on getting stuck in the mud. Now it takes just a few minutes."

Early Family Meeting at Cabin of Albert Siler
The Silers and their various descendants are spread nationwide now, but up to 200 family members return each summer in what National Geographic once called the oldest continuously held family reunion in the Appalachian region. Like Bill Siler, they mark their calendar for the first Saturday of every August to congregate at Macon County Middle School. Mind you, it's not a reunion, but a meeting, with minutes taken each and every year and a recitation of the past 12 months' tally of births and deaths, marriages and other family lore.

There is recognition for the oldest family member attending — Bill Siler has that honor sewn up for 2016 —  as well as the youngest. Whoever has traveled the farthest also gets recognition. "I've probably missed just one year when I was overseas," said Richard Jones of Asheville, who serves as the Siler family president this year. "It's pretty much a command performance. With all your cousins coming from California or New Jersey or New York, you certainly better make the effort to be there, especially if you live in Asheville."

Jesse Richardson Siler (1793-1876)

Click to See Larger Image
Jesse Richardson Siler (1793-1876)

Jesse, the fourth child of Weimar and Margaret Siler, was born January 31, 1793, in Pendleton District, S.C. The following sketch of his life was written by himself:

I was brought up by affectionate, and God fearing parents, with four brothers and four sisters. My parents being religious, from my earliest recollection, I was of course restricted in my conduct. I remember very distinctly one violation of their laws. William and I were gathering grapes when little boys. He was in a tree, and I below holding a hat, which had holes in it. As he would throw the grapes in, they would fall through, which aggravated me so much, that, to my shame be it said, I used language which was a very considerable breach of the order of the family. I was aware of the crime, and of the punishment that awaited me if father found out. William availed himself of this advantage and my weakness and kept me "under his thumb" by threatening to report what I had said. So, finding I was in his power or must suffer punishment of my father, I concluded it was a bad business, consequently have never used profanity since to my recollection.

Thus passing through the scenes of childhood and school boy days, I was scarcely ever ten miles from home, until the year 1805. In the spring of that year, my father took me to spend the summer with my brother-in-law, James Lowry, the husband of my sister Esther, who was living in Buncombe county, N.C. This separation from my home, the tender caresses of my mother, and the society of my brothers, from whom I was scarcely ever absent a night in my life, was to me a great trial; but I summoned up fortitude and bore it until the winter of that year, when my father moved to Buncombe county.

In November, 1814, I commenced clerking for J. M. Smith, of Asheville. Being awkward, uncultivated and timid, and unaccustomed to confinement, I would have been much happier with my parents in the country. But having set out with the determination to succeed, I looked forward with bright hopes, and by dint of application, became tolerably expert in business. I determined not to push myself into society, but to act industriously and honestly, with the hope that I should rise by true merit to rank with those of the highest family. I still retained in a good degree, the religious impressions of my education, and, determined not to disgrace myself, or my parents by immoral conduct, I covenanted daily with my Maker, that if He would protect and direct me, and crown my efforts with success in business, I would endeavor to be useful to the church and society.

After serving four years as clerk, Mr. Smith gave me an interest in business for three years, during which time I made the acquaintance of Miss Harriet D. Patton, sister of Mrs. Smith, who became my wife June 23, 1818. At the expiration of the three years, I bought land in the Tennessee Valley, and in the fall of 1821 moved to what is now Franklin, Macon county, and commenced business on my own footing. With gratitude I acknowledge that God's blessings have been showered upon me. In 1829, I joined the Methodist church. We had no house erected for the worship of God, and remembering my promise to Him, I set to work to build a church. I proposed to give the site and build the house. The good people aided me and in 1830, it was dedicated by the Rev. John Barringer. I felt happy in being able to aid in erecting a little monument dedicated to God, where my aged parents, who had moved to Macon county, with my children and friends, could assemble together in a comfortable situation and devote a portion of their time to the worship of God; and where, in the graveyard nearby, out bodies will rest together, when time with us shall be no more.

Mrs. H. T. Sloan adds to this sketch: "My parents lived happily together nearly sixty years, and were ever faithful in their attendance at our family reunions, and while their vacant seats in our family circle cause a pang of sorrow and regret, yet we know they have gone to fairer regions, and await us in the family above."

Harriet Siler died August 19, 1877.

Source: Arthur, Mrs. N. C., Siler, F. L., Jones, Paul, Johnston, T. J., Committee Members. The Siler Family: Being a Compilation of Biographical and Other Historical Sketches Relating to the Descendants of Plikard and Elizabeth Siler and Read at the Jubilee Reunion of the Siler Family Held in Macon County, North Carolina August 28, 1901 (Addition August, 1926). Franklin (North Carolina): Franklin Press, 1906/1926, pp.6-7 [some paragraph breaks added].

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Zeb Vance's "Rough and Ready Guards" (1861)

Click to See Larger Image

"Rough and Ready Guards" Members (1861)


1. William Gudger
2. James M. Smith
3. Perry Gastow
4. William Garrison
5. Riley Powers
6. Governor Zeb B. Vance (1830-1894)
7. David M. Gudger
8. P. J. Pittillo
9. Alfred Walton
10. J. J. White
11. John Step
12. Jim Hughey
13. Bacchus Westall
14. Jesse M. Green
15. Capt. James M. Gudger
16. Wesley Hicks (negro bodyguard)
17. Gay Williams
18. Thomas Brooks
19. Capt. J. B. Baird
20. Merritt Stevens
21. Alfred Hunter
22. William Hunter

Click to See Larger Image
When the North Carolina ordinance of secession was passed May 1861, Vance was already a captain in Raleigh commanding the company he had raised. The company was known as the "Rough and Ready Guards" and Vance and his men soon became part of the Fourteenth Regiment. Subsequently in August he was elected colonel of the Twenty-sixth North Carolina. Colonel Vance led his men in the field for thirteen months and the Regiment distinguished themselves at New Bern in March of 1862 and at Richmond in July of that same year. Governor of North Carolina.

Refusing all overtures to be a candidate for the Confederate Congress Vance raised a company of "Rough and Ready Guards" and on 4 May 1861 marched off to war with a captain's commission. By June the "Guards" had become Company F, Fourteenth North Carolina Regiment, and were on duty in Virginia. In August Vance was elected colonel of the Twenty-sixth North Carolina, which he ably led in battle at New Bern in March 1862 and shortly afterwards in the Seven Days fighting before Richmond.

Asheville Rough & Ready Club 1848

Zachary Taylor
Meeting of the Rough and Ready Club of Asheville, July 22d, 1848

The Club came to order by the appointment of James M. Smith, Esq., President pro tem, and Isaac B. Sawyer, Secretary.

The meeting was addressed by Messrs. Jas. M. Edny, N. W. Woodfin, J. W. Woodfin, A. B. Chunn and Gen. B. M. Edney, urging the claims of Old Zack to the Presidency, and against those of "broken sword memory."

When a Resolution was offered by N. W. Woodfin, Esq., and adopted, expressive of the satisfaction of the Club on learning that our patriotic Volunteers are soon to return to their homes, also tendering them a public dinner on their return.

Club adjourned to meet at the Court House on next Wednesday evening.

J. M. Smith, Pres. pro tem.
I. B. Sawyer, Sec.

Asheville Messenger (Asheville, North Carolina), 27 August 1848, Sunday, Page 3.

The presidential campaign of 1848 saw the first strong electoral challenge to the expansion of slavery in the United States; most historians consider the appearance of the Free Soil Party in that election a major turning point of the nineteenth century. The three-way race capped a decade of political turmoil that had raised the issue of slavery to unprecedented prominence on the national stage and brought about critical splits in the two major parties.

In the first book in four decades devoted to the 1848 election, Joel Silbey clarifies our understanding of a pivotal moment in American history. The election of Whig Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War, over Democrat Lewis Cass and Free Soiler Martin Van Buren followed a particularly bitter contest, a fierce political storm in an already tumultuous year marked by the first significant attempt by antislavery advocates to win the presidency.

Silbey describes what occurred during that election and why it turned out as it did, offering a nuanced look at the interaction of the forces shaping the direction of politics in mid-nineteenth century America. He explains how the Free Soilers went about their reform movement and why they failed as they ran up against the tenacious grip that the existing two-party structure had on the political system and the behavior of the nation's voters.

For Whigs and Democrats it was politics as usual as they stressed economic, cultural, and ideological issues that had divided the country for the previous twenty years. Silbey describes the new confrontation between the force of tradition and a new and different way of thinking about the political world. He shows that ultimately, when America went to the polls, northerners and southerners alike had more on their minds than slavery. Nevertheless, while Van Buren managed to attract only 10 percent of the vote, his party's presence foreshadowed a more successful challenge in the future.

Emphasizing both persistent party commitments and the reformers' lack of political muscle, Silbey expertly delineates the central issues of an election framed by intense partisanship and increasing sectional anger. If 1848 did not yet mark the death rattle of traditional politics, this insightful book shows us its importance as a harbinger of change.

Sibley, Joel H. Party over Section: The Rough and Ready Presidential Election of 1848 (American Presidential Elections). Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2009.