Pen and Plate Club
August 18, 2005
John C. Ager
This essay is a kaleidoscopic collection of stories reflecting the early history of the Fairview section of Buncombe County, NC. In large part, the writer is more journalist than researcher. I am indebted to Bruce Whitaker for his lifetime of effort to document the history of families in my community, and freely credit him as the source of the material that follows
Fairview, NC Settlement and War - Part 1
Like any American community, Fairview was deeply affected by the Civil War, but the roots of the community were first set down in the aftermath of the Revolution.
At the battle of Cowpens (SC), on January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan forged a heroic army out of a motley collection of Americans and led them through one of the most important victories of the American Revolution. He promised these young men that if they would hold up their heads and fire three times, they could then go home and be blessed by the old folks and kissed by the pretty girls.
Eighty years later, the firing on Fort Sumter promised war once again, and the young men began again to dream of glory, uniforms and gallantry on the fields of battle. Oh! how easy it would be to defeat those pallid Yankee boys, and it would serve notice to President Lincoln once and for all that in 1787 each state had ceded to the union its powers of sovereignty only on a conditional basis, reserving the right to reclaim them once again when a tyrannical government reared its usurping head.
The American victory over the British and the defeat of the Cherokee peoples by General Griffith Rutherford opened up the lands beyond the Blue Ridge to settlement. In August 1783, two years after Cowpens, Revolutionary War veteran Adam Cooper recorded a deed for a 600-acre tract in the “Cain” Creek section of Burke County. Cooper, who had served under the celebrated Col. Isaac Shelby, had been captured by the British three years earlier at the Battle of Cedar Springs, SC. His captors cut off his left thumb, mutilated his right hand and chopped his right shoulder blade into little pieces, presumably in an effort to gain military intelligence. By the date of his deed, and according to a letter written by his wife after his death, Adam Cooper arrived and settled in the future Buncombe County a full year before its reputed (and acclaimed) first settler, Col. William Davidson. At the time of the 1790 census, he was still living alone. He had built a house with no door or windows, a house he entered through a hole in the roof and then down a ladder that could then be removed. He feared not only the Cherokee, on whose land he was intruding, but also the authorities in Delaware, where he had been falsely accused of murder. He was cleared of that charge in 1788, and some few years hence, when he was 35, he married Elizabeth Forgay, a fourteen-year old girl whose family lived briefly in the Cane Creek section. Lot Harper, a fifteen-year old boy, also moved into the household around the same time.
Lot Harper, like Adam Cooper, was born in Pennsylvania, and when his family moved south they first went to the Jersey Settlement of Rowan County (now Davidson County), North Carolina. Many other early families of Fairview came from the Jersey Settlement between 1795 and 1805, including, according to James Trantham, a sizable wagon train full of settlers in the fall of 1800. Among Cane Creek’s early residents from Rowan County:
- Miriam Whitaker, whose family relocated in 1800 and who married Lot Harper four years later.
- Jesse Rickman and Mary Trantham, who married in the Jersey Settlement and moved to Fairview in 1802.
- John Lanning, born in 1757 in Bordentown, New Jersey, who moved with his parents to Rowan County and then came to Cane Creek. He joined the North Carolina militia at age 19 as a substitute for his father and served under General Rutherford during his Western North Carolina campaign.
- Other Rowan County natives who settled in Fairview included Eldad Reed and Boyd McCrary and his wife Nancy Anna Merrill.
The Garrens, another early Fairview family, came from Randolph County. They were German ‘Dunkerds,’ from the German word “tunken,” meaning “to dip.” Their Baptismal custom was to be “dunked” three times, face forward. Though third-generation Americans, the Garrens, like many Dunkerds, did not marry outside of the German clan and spoke English with an accent.
While many of the early settlers shared a Quaker heritage, their sons and daughters mostly became Baptists and Methodists in Fairview, and the Baptist Church became a force to be reckoned with. The Rev. Humphrey Posey came in 1804, and two years later chartered the Cane Creek Baptist Church. His arrival caused problems for one Cane Creek family.
John and Nancy Ann Ashworth had been living near present day Tryon for twenty years before buying land at Hickory Nut Gap in 1792. The prospered, there: by 1800 they owned at least 2,250 acres in Cane Creek and had three slaves. Nancy Ann also possessed the gift of healing, as shown by her self-described formula for curing cancer: ‘Go to a Savannah bush and say what did you come here for, to cure a cancer and brake off a twigg, then say who it is on, brake another twigg then say where the cancer is, brake another twigg and go away, this must be done before sunrise three mornings in succession before speaking to any person.”
The Reverend Posey and his board of deacons quickly became suspicious of Nancy Ann’s skill at healing, believing strongly that the source of her power came from the wrong side of the supernatural field of battle. In addition to curing illnesses, the deacons were sure she cast spells and placed curses on people she did not like. They also accused her, with good reason, of being altogether too worldly, at least for a woman of her day: she drank, wore lace and frills on her petticoats, was a tough businesswoman, owned slaves, and craved money and possessions. Perhaps worst of all, she could not care less what people thought of her. So, according to the tale, the Rev. Posey threatened to charge her before a church court for being a witch.
But Nancy Ann was not easily intimidated; the deacons quickly backed down when she threatened to place a curse on Rev. Posey and the entire board of deacons. They did, however, convict her of the lesser charge of “wearing a ruffled petticoat.” That crime she could hardly deny, nor did she bother to try; she paid a small fine and went back to her old ways.
Essay by Pen and Plate Club, Written by John C. Ager, August 18, 2005
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