- 1 Dividing Up North Carolina: From Albemarle and Clarendon to the Down-Mountain Counties
- 2 Whisnants in the Down-Mountain Counties to 1865
- 3 The Ancient (and Elusive) Austins Before 1865
- 4 The Civil War in the Down-Mountain Counties
- 5 Whisnants and Austins in the Civil War
- 6 A Final Parameter: Whisnants in the Reformed Church (and Others) in North Carolina
- 7 References:
- 8 Share this:
My previous post took the Visinands/Whisnants from Germany to Lancaster County PA, where they lived for (it seems) about thirty years before loading their possessions and progeny into Conestoga wagons and taking the Great Wagon Road south into the North Carolina piedmont.
This current post will situate them (and a crucial few of their North Carolina-born progeny) within several relevant North Carolina counties (Burke, Caldwell, Cleveland, Lincoln, McDowell and Rutherford) between about 1760 and the end of the Civil War. The object is to provide definition for the pre-Asheville world Ella Austin (b. 1869) and Asbury Whisnant (b. 1872) were born into, the families they became part of, and the counties they grew up in.
My questions are simple: How were these families configured? How were they situated socially and economically? Did they own slaves, or not? What did X County (or the part of the state eventually named that) look like in 1750, 1825, or 1860? What about its racial makeup and situation? What economic or other opportunities would have been available (or not)? What sorts of work did the men (as it would have been at the time) do?
Information on these questions for the Whisnants and the Austins specifically is not abundant or detailed, but a few helpful observations are possible. Beyond that, some aggregated data on the state, counties, and townships prove helpful.
Following this present post, one subsequent pre-Asheville post will synopsize Asbury Whisnant’s and Sarah Ella Austin’s lives before they moved to Asheville–he in 1900 at age twenty-eight and she in 1907 at thirty-eight. But for now, the context.
Dividing Up North Carolina: From Albemarle and Clarendon to the Down-Mountain Counties
The main point of looking into this matter in a bit of detail here is that the immigrants we are focusing on here came (inland from the coast, down from Pennsylvania) mostly to find land. By the time the Whisnants came down the Great Wagon Road, pressure on land in Pennsylvania was very high, and Virginia land had been getting scarcer for several decades. So piedmont North Carolina was the next option. Beyond that basic structural fact, how North Carolina lands got marked off into parcels (counties, townships or otherwise) had a great deal to do with who turned out, over the decades, to be winners and losers, well-off or less so.
What I am calling the “down-mountain” counties of specific interest here had not yet been created when the Whisnant wagon[s?] lumbered out onto the Great Wagon Road sometime in the late 1750s. But already for about a century, the large area that became the state of North Carolina in 1789 had been being carved up into provinces, and then counties. It had been surveyed and re-surveyed, sold and re-sold, bequeathed again and again.
So how did this all happen? The first (luckless, as it turned out) British colonists came to Roanoke Island in 1585, and two later attempts also failed. Not until 1663 did the recently re-enthroned Charles II reward his supporters (“Lords Proprietors” he called them) with vast lands, bringing “Carolina” into being. For six rather turbulent decades it was a British colony, until it was split into two states.
The “frontier” started moving from the coast steadily westward from the very beginning, and continued to do so for nearly two centuries. As it moved, the land was carved into
smaller and smaller county pieces–to create manageable administrative units, to allow citizens to record legal documents, to make it easier for sheriffs and others to collect taxes and for courts to operate. A perennial–and far less democratic–dynamic was to
facilitate or respond to the machinations of land speculators, as in the case of mega-manipulator and speculator John Carteret (a.k.a. 2nd Earl Granville) and the creation of the sixty-mile wide Granville District in 1742. Protests against corruption in the land grants process led to the Enfield Riots in the 1750s.
The creation and/or alteration of counties also derived from economic, social, and cultural fissures and dynamics within the state at large: coastal vs. backcountry (see Regulators, Loyalist vs. Patriot), yeoman farmers vs. planters. The key point here is that at the end of their North Carolina-bound journey, the Great Wagon Roaders did not come into a sparsely inhabited or bucolic area. It had long been contended for by many interests, with many perspectives and aims.
Because all of these factors were in the mix, many counties boundaries (even counties themselves) proved short-lived. It took nearly 300 years for the state’s (eventually) 100 counties to settle into their current configurations.
Our focus here is not on the 300-year process, but on the down-mountain counties from the 1750s. The first county west of the coastal tier (Bladen) was formed in 1734, but there
were no others until Anson appeared in 1749 and Rowan carved out of it in 1753, shortly before the Whisnants arrived. Both counties ran (vaguely) all the way to the state’s western boundary. So this is what North Carolina counties looked like in 1753:
By 1783, early versions of three of the down-mountain counties had been formed (Burke in 1777, and Lincoln and Rutherford in 1779). Another six decades passed before Caldwell County (where Sarah Ella Austin’s father Elcanah was born) was formed (1841). McDowell followed the next year. Here are before and after maps:
Not all the westernmost counties were yet in place, and most of those that were (especially the half-dozen that bordered Tennessee) were larger than they would later be, but this is as detailed as we need to get at this point.
Whisnants in the Down-Mountain Counties to 1865
Because not a lot is known about the early (1760s and later) Whisnants in North Carolina–both Pennsylvania- and North Carolina-born, I will briefly summarize what is available in the Whisnant Surname Center, wills, the manuscript census, a few scholarly studies, and a few other sources with regard to marriages, children, land (and slave) holdings, military service and distribution of estates (especially with regard to whether–and how–sons and daughters were treated differently). From a few other sources, I will comment briefly on the family’s involvement in the Reformed Church in North Carolina, since they came out of the Muddy Creek Reformed Church in Lancaster County PA. Why only these parameters? Because those are the ones I could find bits of information about.
It appears that the tally of Whisnants who climbed into Conestoga wagons in Lancaster County may have been about eleven or twelve, divided into two families. Each of them was headed by one of the Hassloch, Germany-born, Snow Lowther-surviving sons of Philip Peter and Anna Visinand: John Peter (b. 1714) and John Adam (b. 1719).
Philip and Anna’s son John Peter married Mary Magdalena Sumi in Lancaster County in 1737. They had at least four (possibly six) children by 1749. It appears that at least four of those children (Paul and three Johns (Nicholas, Peter and Henrich) came to Lincoln County. Paul (1739-1806) moved back north from Lincoln County NC to Washington County VA in the mid-1770s. He was granted at least 200 acres of land on Sinking Creek (a north branch of the Holston River, SW of Roanoke) by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1800.
Philip and Anna’s second, younger, and more precocious (adventuresome?) son John Adam (b. 1719) fathered his first child by the time he was about fifteen, and seven more by 1753 (all in Lancaster County), so his family’s wagon was crowded with (probably) five children from about six to sixteen years old. Three older children (all single at the time) might have been in their early teens to early twenties. John Adam managed to acquire at least several hundred acres in North Carolina, bequeathing all of it (“and the stove”) plus a third of his estate to his wife Anna Barbara, who was instructed to divide her third among his children (“both boys and daughters”) at her death.
John Adam’s first son George Michael (b. 1734) married three times (1762, 1770 and 1781), and fathered nine children (three by Eve, one by Nancy, and five by Elizabeth). Like his father, he obtained land grants, mostly in Randolph County. George’s younger brother Jacob (b. ca. 1763 in Rowan County NC) had seven (possibly nine) children, but not much else is known about him.
John Adam’s next son Philip (1736-1791), a blacksmith, married twice (to Mary Bohelier, the mother of all his children, about 1762, and Ann/Ana Helms in 1788). Along with many other North Carolina Loyalists, he and his son Conrad served in the British army during the Revolution.
Philip’s second wife didn’t fare too well in his 1791 will:
first I give and bequeth unto my Dearly beloved wife Ana Whisanant all my household furnature Enduring her widowhood or her naterl life Likewise I give my wife tow cows and calfs and my Black mare and her owne sattel and briddle and all my sheep to have them Enduring Her naterl life and after her my wifes Deseased her Daughter Barbara Helm is to have one cow and calf and one Bed and jorn pout [pot?] at ten shilling price and one at Eight shilling price and one New Spinging weel.
Ana’s share was then conditional upon her remaining unmarried, but it also included “the plantation I now live on” (no details given). It was to be sold, debts paid, and the balance given to Ana (whether under the same widowhood condition is not specified). Sons and daughters got small sums of money (a few shillings or pounds).
The 1719 John Adam’s son John Nicholas (1743-1831), married Mary Carpenter (also born in Pennsylvania) in 1762. They moved to York County SC about 1770, where he and Mary had eight or nine children. John Nicholas served in the military during the War of 1812, acquired considerable land, and later moved to Georgia. His will left 350 acres to his three sons (116 acres each), and (inequitably) 160 acres and two stills to eight daughters (twenty acres each). “Unto my wife Nancy Whisonant,” mother of his nine children, “in consideration of my love for her,” Nicholas declared magnanimously, “I give the bright bay mare called Ball.” John Nicholas and Mary’s son Adam (1776-1860) kept up the family tradition by siring ten children (including a Peter, a John Nicholas and a Mary Magdeline) and buying hundreds of acres of land.
Adam’s son John George (1749-1833) fathered (at least) nine children, all born in North Carolina. He appears to have done quite well for himself as a land buyer. His 1835 Lincoln County will left 250 acres to his son John, 200 to son Lawson, and 150 to daughter Mary (“joining hir oald plant[tat]ion”). Son Adam fared less well: $150 (“less than his lawful part of my estate”), and son Nicholas (not a favorite of his father, apparently) got $10. Other sons and daughters were willed “an Eaquel part of my Estat.” John George also owned one slave.
Philip’s younger son (yet another) Adam (ca. 1768-after 1860), a farmer, bought 100 acres and several buildings from some of his siblings on Leonard’s Fork of Indian Creek in (it appears) Lincoln County in 1803. In 1841, Cleveland County was carved out of Lincoln and Rutherford, and the Cleveland County slave census of 1850 shows Adam living there and owning a 57 year-old female slave.
At this point we are (finally!) two generations away from Asbury’s birth in 1869, and then we will turn to the relatively little I have been able to learn about the Austins.
Asbury’s grandfather Philip (1803-1880) married Nancy McCurry (1805-1873), a local Rutherford county girl, when he was about twenty, and fathered ten children (1824-1848). By that point, the old Peter/Adam/Philip/Nicholas naming bucket had run dry, so they made up a new (mostly Biblical) list: Ephraim, Migeman, Eli, Isaac, Elcaner [Elcanah], Jackson, Melissa, Mary, Julia and Joseph. The 1850 cenus also lists,Philip as owner of a female slave and her three year-old daughter. Three of his sons (Ephraim, Eli, and Jackson) were to see service in the Civil War.
Mining the census and as many Whisnant wills as I could find, it appears that most of the Whisnant men farmed (though at least one was a blacksmith) while their wives “kept house” (as the census put it) and cared for children. Some of the families came to own moderate amounts of land (up to several hundred acres). The census sheets show that some school-age Whisnant children were attending in 1850, and Jackson Pinkney’s two (Lourany  and Asbury ) attended during the 1880 school year, so formal schooling appears not uncommon in the family.
The Ancient (and Elusive) Austins Before 1865
Fortunately for us all, dear readers, the Austins were already in Lincoln County NC at the time of the 1790 census, and that is sufficient for my purposes. I am not genealogically tempted at this juncture, since the surname is an elided form that goes back to Roman times (Au[gu]stin[e]), and crops up in St. Augustine (605 A.D.). It is encountered widely in western Europe, creating something approaching a genealogical black hole, complete with crest. If you want to hazard that trip on your own, you might start here, or at the Austin Families of America website. I will wait for you at this end, should you ever emerge.
Meanwhile, here is the little bit I have gleaned about my grandmother Sarah Ella Austin (b. 1869)–at least a third-generation Caldwell County Austin. She was the granddaughter of Samuel (b. 1790, probably on Lower Creek in what became Caldwell County a half-century later), and Sarah Bolch (or Bolick) (b. 1792). Samuel and Sarah had ten children (1819-1837), one of whom was Sarah Ella’s father Elcana[h] (b. 1827, also on Lower Creek). He married Rosanna Kaylor (b. 1835, likely in Lenoir). I know nothing of the occupations of her father or grandfather, or whether they owned land (or anything else). Sarah Ella lived the first thirty-eight years of her life–the subject of my next post–in Caldwell and Burke counties before marrying Asbury Whisnant and moving to Asheville.
The Civil War in the Down-Mountain Counties
The motive here is to take note of what aspects of the world Ella and Asbury were born into (four and seven years, respectively, after the Civil War ended) had been introduced or shaped in some way(s) by that war.
To begin with, a snapshot of what sorts of income-producing work most people were doing on the eve of the war: Out of slightly more than 152,000 in the state, the federal Census of Population of 1860 tells us that about half were farmers, farm laborers, or general laborers. Some 21,000 were working as servants, about 5,000 as seamstresses and just over 1,100 as shoemakers. Another 8,000 or so were either blacksmiths, carpenters, clerks, coopers, or wheelwrights, and about 1800 were “overseers” (of what, it doesn’t say). Only about 800 were “factory hands.” Among professionals there were about 1,300 doctors, 500 lawyers and (a key to cultural practices) only nine undertakers.
For our purposes, the first thing to say about the Civil War is that there were no major battles in the western half of the state. But issues and conflicts leading up to the war, and the war itself, had major impacts there, as historians John Inscoe and Gordon McKinney have demonstrated in The Heart of Confederate Appalachia (from which much of what I will say here is drawn).
Contrary to popular myth and the thrust of recent scholarship, the mountains were not at all isolated from slavery and the slave trade. An ellipse stretching from about the center of the map to the northeast, wide enough to include NE Alabama, western North Carolina and east Tennessee, western Virginia and western Pennsylvania gives a rough approximation.
As war approached, politicians staked out and vehemently argued a variety of contrary positions on secession and related issues. And (in some ways most importantly), as the war dragged on, guerrilla warfare plagued them increasingly. Consider:
Burke County: By 1860 Burke had the highest percentage of slaves of any of the down-mountain counties (25.7%), up from about 8% in 1800. A major rise had occurred at the
end of the 1820s when gold was discovered in Burke, McDowell, Polk and Rutherford counties (UNC-TV film here), leading some owners to move slaves out of agriculture into gold mining, and to buy others. By 1833, Inscoe found, the county had some 5,000 slaves in mining alone. In 1844 slave owner W. W. Avery hired slaves from sixteen other owners for the purpose, and after 1849 some owners took slaves to California to join the gold rush there (despite the dangers of disease, escape, or theft by abolitionists).
Caldwell County: Caldwell’s relatively low percentage of slaves in 1850 (19%) did not forestall conflict. Just before Lincoln was elected in November 1860 (aided not insignificantly by the ardently abolitionist Hutchinson Family’s “Lincoln and Liberty“), Inscoe and McKinney relate, Sallie Lenoir wrote that “there seems to be a gloom over every heart. How dark the future!” Barely six months later, 100 volunteers assembled “in feverish excitement” in the county seat of Lenoir, somewhat cockily named themselves the Caldwell Rough and Ready Boys, and declared that they were ready to defend “the rights and honors of the South.”
But not everyone in the county shared their perspective. As in many other places, Union/Confederate sympathies split communities and families years before the war
began. Inscoe and McKinney point out that although Union forces never came to Caldwell, resistance flourished amongst a heavy concentration of Unionists, and several hundred “militant disaffected” anti-Confederate marauders rampaged through farms, villages, and towns. Near the end of the war, Gen. Stoneman’s raid through piedmont and western North Carolina brought moderate property destruction in Caldwell County and Lenoir, though little property was destroyed except for anti-secessionist (although he eventually voted for it) Rufus Lenoir Patterson‘s cotton factory near his Palmyra Plantation.
Rutherford County: The county had had slaves for many decades (nearly 10% by 1800). There had been the two small plantations of Joshua Taylor (built 1765; 19 slaves disposed of in 1827 will) and his father Robert (several slaves disposed of in 1806 will). The county was (like most of the region, historian Wilma Dunaway shows) near national slave-trading routes, and virtually every county courthouse had its slave auction block. But as the war approached, few people in the county had a very grounded sense of what that might mean. Inscoe and McKinney quote an excited teenage girl from Rutherfordton who was practicing shooting with her newly bought pistol and reading about women in the Revolution so as to know “how to act bravely and magnanimously in time of war.”
Whisnants and Austins in the Civil War
The indefatigable Raymond C. Whisnant’s Surname Center lists 199 Whisnants who served in the Civil War. But not to worry: I will look briefly at only three Whisnant brothers and one Austin. No accounts of battles, no clinical descriptions of wounds, no family tales of heroics.
Philip and Nancy’s sixth child (Asbury’s father Jackson Pinkney) and his siblings spent their childhood with their parents at Whiteside in Rutherford County, but the 1860 census reports six of the children at Pigeon in Haywood County, west of Asheville. And then by 1870 they were back in Rutherford County.
Why these repeated moves? Did they do it to avoid the Civil War? If so, three of the Whisnant sons did not avoid it anyway.
The youngest, Jackson Pinkney (1839-1918), enlisted first, in August 1862 (for some reason in Iredell County, northwest of Haywood) A month later he deserted, but returned to the ranks the following September (this time with his older brother Ephraim). Wounded (along with some 10,000 other southern soldiers killed and wounded) in the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864, he was reported absent (deserted again?) until he was retired to the Invalid Corps in late November 1864.
Jackson’s older brother Eli (1827-1905), a thirty-five year-old farmer with four young children, enlisted in McDowell County as a sergeant in March 1862. Promoted to 3rd Lieutenant in mid-1864, he commanded a company until early 1865 and surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9.
teamster. The couple moved back to Rutherford County by 1860, where Ephraim farmed until he enlisted in October 1863 at age thirty-nine, leaving two children behind.
Badly wounded in the Battle of Fort Stedman in March 1865, Ephraim was hospitalized in Richmond and captured from there a few days before Lee’s surrender. Released at war’s end, he went back to Rutherford County, fathered another child, and migrated to Arkansas, where he died at fifty-one.
At war’s end Jackson Pinkney returned to Rutherford County and married Eliza Sims (1844-1924) in 1867. By at least 1870 the couple were settled in Golden Valley township, where my grandfather Asbury, their second child (of six), was born in 1872.
Brother Eli also returned home and fathered five more children. He served as Rutherford County Commissioner (1872-1874), followed by four years in the General Assembly (1874-1878) as a Republican.
So far as I have yet discovered, only one Austin served: Sarah Ella’s father Elcana enlisted as a Corporal in Company A (the “Caldwell Rough and Ready Boys”), 22nd Infantry Regiment on April 30, 1861 (when he was about thirty-three, but still without children). The company was dispatched to Virginia to help guard the Potomac below Washington. Elcana was cited for Distinguished Service and discharged May 12, 1862, a little more than two weeks before the regiment suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Seven Pines (or Fair Oaks). Together the Union and Confederate armies lost over 11,000 men killed, wounded, captured and missing. Both claimed victory, but it was a victory for no one.
In my next post, I examine the post-Civil War, down-mountain world Asbury and Ella were born into and grew up within before moving to Asheville. My discussion will focus more on Ella than Asbury, because I know (at least at this moment), much less about him than I do about her.
A Final Parameter: Whisnants in the Reformed Church (and Others) in North Carolina
The thread from the previous post I have not yet dealt with here is the Reformed Church.
For twenty-five or so years before they headed down the Great Wagon Road, the Whisnants had been christened, married and buried in the Muddy Creek Reformed Church in Pennsylvania. Family patriarch Philip Peter had bought land for his farm adjacent to the church’s land.
So where did they go to church when they got to North Carolina? Were there Reformed churches there in the late 1750s?
Not many, although some adherents had been in the state for decades. Some eighty years before the Whisnants arrived from Lancaster County, a few Huguenot expatriates from Germany had already arrived on the North Carolina coast. Clarence E. Horton, Jr.’s NCpedia article has a brief precís:
In 1690 French Protestants fleeing Catholic persecution migrated to the Pamlico Sound region of North Carolina. They settled in Bath but never organized a congregation. Christoph Graffenreid (later, Baron von Graffenreid) led a contingent of Swiss and German Reformed settlers to the Carolina coast in 1710. They founded a town on the Neuse River, naming it New Berne in honor of Berne, Switzerland. Indian attacks destroyed the colony, however, and the survivors joined the Scottish Reformed (Presbyterian) Church.
As Horton goes on to explain, Reformed Church adherents who arrived later in the piedmont tended to settle near their theological/cultural/German-speaking cousins the Moravians, who established themselves around what later was called Bethabara, Bethania, and Salem, frequently “union” church buildings with them.
Early services were frequently in homes, since a minister’s presence was required to observe the sacraments. By 1759, however, the Swiss minister James Martin arrived, andfive years later a French one. During the ensuing two decades the educated, energetic Reformed minister Samuel Suther, brought broader organization among Reformed adherents in the piedmont, including the Wagon Roaders from Lancaster County PA. Indeed, Cabarrus County-born minister Roger Boger (1782-1865) was the grandson of Mathias Boger, who came into Lancaster County PA in 1732. About 1830, Horton notes, the seventeen Reformed congregations in North Carolina organized themselves into the statewide North Carolina Classis, and by 1843 each congregation had its own pastor. By mid-century the Carolina Classis had affiliated even more broadly with the Synod of the Potomac.
Checking on where North Carolina Whisnants chose to be buried, however, one finds that–perhaps because Reformed congregations were (and, strictly speaking, still are) scarce and scattered–they had gravitated to other churches: Presbyterian (many to Quaker Meadows Presbyterian in Burke County from 1815 on into the 20th century), Methodist and Baptist (in Golden Valley, Rutherford County, for example).
On the whole, then, it would appear that by the mid-nineteenth century at least, the German-speaking, Palatinate-derived, Reformed Church Whisnants had lost some of their linguistic, religious, and cultural markers and practices. What remained is a challenging question. They likely didn’t have Reformed congregations close by, but the Baptists proliferated more quickly, and were at least Protestant and Calvinist, so some Whisnants found them both more available and a better cultural fit.
Sometimes it also has occurred to me that bits of Asbury’s ancestral cultural formation and practice were evident in his meticulously-kept toolbox that I wrote about in one of my opening posts, and lived on in his body every time he took his hedge shears and meticulously manicured the boxwoods he had planted along his sidewalk, or trimmed the apple and cherry trees his grandsons picked from every spring on Brownwood Avenue in West Asheville.
But maybe some of this has more to do with my imagination than with historical/cultural fact. Maybe it is just happenstance that my father had such a feel and appreciation for tools, and skill with them, and that those four cherry-picking-at-Granddaddy’s brothers have always had it, and that now my own sons do. On the other hand, maybe not.
American Memory Collection, Library of Congress; Robert O. DeMond, The Loyalists in North Carolina During the Revolution (1940); Clarence E. Horton, Jr., “Reformed Church in North Carolina, NCpedia (2006); John C. Inscoe, Mountain Masters, Slavery, and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina (1989); John C. Inscoe (ed.), Appalachians and Race: The Mountain South from Slavery to Segregation (2001); John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney, The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War (2000); Laura Morgan and Carole Watterson Troxler, “Loyalists” in NCpedia (2006); Newberry Library (online resources); North Carolina Collection, UNC Library; David Southern and Louis P. Towles, “Land Grants,” NCpedia (2006); Special Collections Research Center, NCSU Libraries; Elaine Sanford Whisnant, Austin and Whisnant genealogical research; Raymond C. Whisnant, Whisnant Surname Center; Wikipedia.