Politics, Troubles, and Out-Migration
It has been estimated that from 1815 to 1850, North Carolina lost one-third of her population. One historian notes that “In 1829 a newspaper correspondent reported that from eight to fifteen wagons daily passed through Asheville westward bound…” The state in those years was bleeding to death, in large part because poor transportation inland and in the rugged mountains meant high prices for anything that wasn’t produced locally. The crisis created the political will to ratify a new State Constitution in 1835, which, as ever in North Carolina, was an attempt to wrest power from the eastern elites.
Local residents’ perception of Andrew Jackson and the Democratic party as the heroes of the common man shifted as policy decisions showed ever more alignment with the interests of the Southern planter class than the needs of yeoman farmers. In just 12 years, political ferment in Fairview and Buncombe County shifted from strong support of Jackson’s Democrats (in 1828, 87% voted for Jackson, 14% above the state average) to the rise of the Whig party, led locally by Buncombe’s David Swain (in 1840, 80% of Buncombe voted Whig). In Fairview for many years, the loud passing of gas was always followed by the pronouncement, “Andrew Jackson has spoken.”
Many Fairview residents voted with their feet. Boyd McCrary was born around 1754 on Swearing Creek in the Jersey Settlement, where his father owned 2,205 acres of land there and had four slaves. He was listed in the county records as a planter and a storekeeper, as well as an administer of estates, guardian of orphans and road overseer (all common indicators of status). Boyd grew up with his Whitaker and Reed cousins and married Nancy Anna Merrill around 1773. By 1799, and 11 children later, the family moved to Fairview to join prior immigrants from the Reed, Whitaker and Merrill families. And as of 1810, the McCrary Farm was a prosperous enterprise with a large apple and peach orchard, a distillery and a mill on what became known as McCrary’s Mill Creek (now Gravely Branch). He owned two slaves, Henry and Hagar.
In October of 1815, Boyd “being sick in body, but in perfect mind and memory,” signed his will. By then his two oldest children were dead, while daughter Phebe had married Thomas Burton, son of Asheville founder John Burton, and Eleanor seems never to have left Rowan County. And over the years, most of the rest left the County and moved farther west. Five of the eleven settled in Missouri and by 1830, according to that year’s Census, only Boyd’s grandson Silas remained in Fairview.
James Whitaker was born in Fairview in 1805 on his father’s farm on what is now Old Fort Road. By the 1830s he had developed a chronic lung problem, and sought a drier climate. His sister Margaret Whitaker McCrary had written him about the rich soil and healthy air in Davies County, just south of Gallatin, Missouri. On May 7, 1834, James, his wife Melinda, and their six children left Fairview to join McBrayers, Merrills, McCrarys, Woods and others to become a little Fairview on the prairie. Davies County, MO, in the 1830s was also home to Joseph Smith and his Mormon followers.
Once settled in Missouri, James’ wife died, and two years later he married 17-year-old Nancy Woodland to raise his six children and manage the household. He also left his Baptist faith for hers. Nancy was a devout Mormon who at 15 had hidden Joseph Smith in a flour barrel when a mob was after him, probably saving his life. Smith promised her that God would bless her for this act of courage, and told her she would live to be 100 years old. (She nearly made it, dying just eight months shy of the century mark.) But the Whitakers’ life as a Mormon family was not easy: they were driven out of Missouri to Nauvoo, IL, by the massacres and mobs of 1838 and 1839; then to Council Bluff, Iowa, and finally, around 1850, to the ultimate Mormon settlement in the great Salt Lake Valley of Utah.
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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