Introductory comments. What started as my usual whimsical post, as one of my neighbors calls my writing, this one on the Civil War and Posey Brown's Cabin became a little dark, quickly. How do you describe the events of a major destructive war in an area of the south where families had differences of beliefs and livelihood. Life was hard and poverty was rampant in an economic divide between the property rich and farming poor, slaves and owners, educated and uneducated. Besides my usual background research, more extensive than usual, I interviewed local residents, conversed with neighbors, former residents who descended from both slaves and owners, and members associated with the Sons of the Confederacy and Daughters of the Confederacy. I also drew on informal conversations with day laborers and local tradesmen helping on the restoration of the cabin. There is still a divide on the causes of the Civil War that continues in a thread to the politics of today. And yet, it is a peaceful community and changing quickly as outsiders move into a growing resort and retirement community. I especially want to thank William Franklin III of McDowell County for his great assistance in this effort regarding his family. William is the great grandson of "Doc" Brown. In 2019, he and his wife visited my front porch at Posey Brown's cabin. Since then he has shared family records, photographs and responded to numerous questions. Any embellishment of the story is my own. Otherwise, names are withheld out of a concern for personal privacy. Comments and corrections are always welcome.
Part 1: The Stained Glass Window Part 2: Civil War Around Posey Brown's Cabin Part 3: The Tale of Two Mountain Men and Posey Brown Part 4: To Fly or Not to Fly, Bluebellies, Yankees and Rebels
History Not Hate 1 of 4. The Stained Glass Window
A stained glass window seemed out of place in Posey Brown’s Cabin, by maybe 150 years. It was more decorative than functional. Hidden from the dirt road by a thick spruce with roots pushing against the foundation, little light came into the main cabin with its low 6′ 6″ ceiling, unlike the scenic windows and vaulted ceilings of modern day vacation homes made of milled logs and lumber.
What could have been a cozy respite felt more like a damp cave. The fireplace was not functional and only two small lamps with tattered cords illuminated the low rafters, hard pine and hand hewn logs sculpted with a hand axe. The stain glassed window was a historical challenge. Uncover shadowed artifacts and one might discover an ancient lived history. I started with the stained-glass window and uncovered from there.
The stained glass window is simply designed with a single emblem in the center of the window. As I would discover through a comment from the oldest resident down the road from the cabin, and confirmed through some Internet research, the emblem was a chevron worn on the sleeve of the Confederate uniform. I called the former owner’s son. “As far as I know my father made the stained glass window.” he confirmed. A memory to the Civil War Confederate that maybe barracked in the cabin.
Shortly after gaining ownership of the cabin I received a small brown sealed envelop. It contained instructions on winterizing the cabin, an old septic tank permit with water line drawings, and two typed sheets with history notes in bullet-like form. The former owner, Dan Marcone, a history teacher among other careers, had cryptically summarized his own research over his twenty years of ownership. He believed the cabin was held by the Brown family as farm land in the early 19th century, or even earlier by another family, and used as a relay station for wagons and coaches. Posey Brown, who served in the Civil War, manned the relay station along with his wife Elizabeth. “Many stories about him” was his only note.
Could that be true? Was it a relay station? And could it possibly be an outpost for Civil War soldiers? What stories were there about Posey Brown?
If there is an enduring symbol of the south and the Confederacy it is the Confederate Flag of southern states. It still flies today in many parts of the south, in the mountains, and even in the nearby Ingles parking lot near Posey Brown’s Cabin. In fact, and on reflection, I thought about adding all the flags that flew during the life of the cabin and history of the area, including the Confederate flag.
Who flies these flags and what do they mean? I’ve asked several people, but one conversation sticks with me. Honest conversations and intimate confessions take place in the cab of a pick-up.
His life of hell-raisin’ was etched in the deep wrinkles of his sun-scorched face, a gift from decades of manual labor. It wouldn’t take a Chinese face reader to see THAT history, or the future. As he walked to the truck, he pulled his small frame with a forced side-winding limp that served as a badge of bad behavior, and a reminder of why he was on disability. He still tenaciously worked as a plumber–when he could–and picked up extra cash “under the table”.
Bubba and I bounced along in my 20-year old pick-up truck on the way to Posey Brown’s Cabin where he was going to help me assess the plumbing problems. Until 2001, there was no indoor plumbing at the cabin when the former owner added a well, an indoor toilet with septic tank, and water lines to a sink. Then last winter, 15 years later, the pipes froze and water was everywhere. I needed help. Bubba was cheap and reliable, and kind of a distant family member. With his slow southern drawl he qualified his work, “Long as I don’t have to do no crawlin’ round. Can’t do it no more, Nathan.” I assured him I would do the crawling around, if needed.
Bubba continued to tell me his story. “I used to drink a lot. I was drinkin’ all night in a bar and hooked up with this preddy woman. UMM, um, GOOOOD lookin!” He drew the phrase out and smacked his lips. I could sense his anticipation.
“I was followin’ her home–fast–on a back road. It was rainin’. My Harley slid on a curve and I skid into a bob wire fence and smack dab ona post. I. Broke. My. Back. Dayum! Laid there for four hours. And you know what?,” He paused for effect, looking out of the corner of his eye to see if I was listening. I was.
“She didn’t even come back to look for me. Sheeut!” He slapped his knee, shook his head, laughed, and then continued.
“Then, just as I was gettin’ back on my feet, I got ‘ccused of a crime I didn’t commit but got sentenced to four years in prison, anyway. It was tough.” I believed him.
At our destination, there was an old tattered and washed-out Confederate flag flapping in the breeze at the corner of a renovated house leading into the driveway and pointing beyond to several barns.
‘I’m not sure I could buy something from anyone who flies a confederate flag’, I thought. I’ve seen them frequently in Polk and Rutherford Counties, even Spartanburg. I’m a southerner, but I’ve learned that even southerners were in conflict over the Civil War, as they are today. And for southerners, flying a flag carries meaning.
“It’s history–not hate–Nathan,” he responded when I asked him why he had a small metal Confederate flag plague on the barn he was building. And yet, here I was in the cab of my pick-up with a man who honored the history. “I have black friends.” He stated. I got the impression they were still in prison.
I was curious about the expression ‘history not hate.’ I’m still not convinced of that argument, but I let it go. Bubba, in spite of his beliefs and past life, of which I could not identify, was basically a good, generous, and gentle man, and a great plumber with a sense of humor. I decided to go with the history. He was not the first to make this comment and wouldn’t be the last.
One cannot deny that the Confederate Battle Flag (more on this in Part 4) has become synonymous with attitudes of racism–think Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy. Yet, it also symbolizes Southern white beliefs, and rural areas of the north and midwest, about freedoms of independence, rugged individualism, and what has been called a revisionist history including the “Lost Cause.” I will never forget doing a walking community survey through an historic Italian and Irish neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia gentrifying into Black and Hispanic home ownership. In one small home a Confederate Flag was nailed on the garage of the owner, guarded by several large and loudly aggressive pit bulls. My colleague (a black woman) and I decided to move on. It was not a welcome sign.
There are a lot of people–scholars, descendants of veterans, and students of history–who are interested in the War Between the States, along with those who use the flag as a symbol of their beliefs. Whatever the reason, The Civil War between the states gave impetus or origins for the one enduring symbol of the war. I’ll not cover statues in this post, though they are related.
History Not Hate 2 of 4. The Civil War in the Mountains
I admit. I knew relatively little about the Civil War in Uree, the area where the cabin now stands. From all I read, it was relatively untouched with violence, though a number of residents would fight for the Confederacy, and one for the Union. North Carolina was the last State to join the Confederacy. It was not unusual for family members to take opposite sides, yet remain family.
The war between the states, the Civil War, started over the issue of slavery. It was fought between seceding pro-slavery and anti-slavery states amidst economic conflict between a growing industrial north and an agricultural, largely plantation south. But in the back hollers of the hills and mountains it was never so clear. An 1820s gold rush, moonshining, Confederate conscription, a 10% tithe tax on property, and relative isolation–amidst ignorance–family feuds, and poverty–conflicts could get personal. As Trotter aptly summarized,
[Traveling in the hills one had] to be extremely careful about who he spoke to and where he spent the night. Many men took the wrong fork in a road, went a mile too far down an unfamiliar cove, and were never heard from again. It was that kind of war in the mountains: The killer had names, their victims had kin, and everybody owned a gun.(p. 5, Trotter)
Not much has changed in some parts today. Don’t be walking up on someone’s yard who values privacy. As one Confederate flag flyer recently told me, “No one better mess with my flag. I’ll pop off a shot and hit’m in the leg!” He wasn’t laughing. Then he welcomed me to come for a visit at his mountain home. I’ll call first. Yet, Uree was relatively unscathed during the war, though it contributed its men, on both sides, mostly Confederate.
Make no mistake, slavery was part of the land and culture in the valley around Posey Brown’s Cabin. One only need to look at the church member lists from 1827-1869 of the Bill’s Creek Baptist Church role to see a long list of slaves and the owners attending the same church, as many as 90 or more black members. The pastor and a slave owner Rev. William H. Logan, was concerned for the souls of the slaves and invited them for church membership. Common to many southern churches, black slaves would sit on one side of the church and whites on the other. Following the war and the Emancipation Proclamation, Logan encouraged the former slaves to begin their own church and even gave an acre of his land to form Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, a Black church.
In the simple and surprisingly descriptive Diary of Mary Pearl Logan McCormick (Dalton, 2008), A young tomboyish Mary Pearl described life in the surrounding community of Bill’s Creek between 1881 to 1899. [See excerpt below in Historical Notes.] While her writings are post Civil War in the Bill’s Creek community on the edge of Uree and Posey Brown’s cabin, her descriptions of life with her father and grandfather provide a window into life in the foothills twenty years earlier. Servants (former slaves) did most of the manual labor around the main house of the farm (plantation): Planting gardens under the supervision of the grandmother, making bricks for the new house, and serving as ‘servants’ in the general work of the plantation and plantation house. [See excerpt below in Historical Notes.]
Professor Whisnant, scholar and Asheville native, explains slavery in the mountains this way,
No plantations? No matter. There was plenty of money to be made from slave labor on small farms, in domestic service, hotels and inns, mines and foundries, manufacturing plants, and elsewhere. Businessmen knew it. Lawyers and doctors (of whom a third were slaveowners,…knew it. Professional men (a majority of Buncombe County’s slaveowners) knew it.”David. E. Whisnant
My point, as is Whisnant’s, is that there is an untold and unrecognized history of slavery in mountain communities. Slavery existed and was part of the economic development, including Rutherford, McDowell and Polk counties.
Slavery was not the only issue that called men into battle. As Neufeld points out, “The propaganda at the time was that the North was going to take Southerners’ land and inflict colonial rule.” Mountain men were concerned for their own security and their land. They also fought for their own perceived independence and freedom from any control, especially an oppressive government that taxed, conscripted service, and controlled them through legal means. A view that continues to this day.
While the Civil War, as far as we know, was fought West, East, North and South of the little community of Uree and Bills Creek, three conflicts within a 45 mile radius demonstrate how violent the war could be, and yet pass a seemingly peaceful community: The 1864 Columbus Political Murders, The Shelton Laurel Massacre, and Stoneman’s Raid in Rutherfordton through Asheville.
It was not uncommon for families to settle scores, and folks to take revenge on the wealthy during the war, as happened in Columbus, N.C. in 1864. Fourteen miles from Posey Brown’s Cabin seven were murdered in supposed retaliation for a robbery of Dr. Columbus Mills‘ property.
One of the more egregious events, the Shelton Laurel Massacre, took place 45 miles north, a four day march from Posey Brown’s Cabin, in Marshall, N.C., just miles from where I attended college. In 1863, marauding Union soldiers killed locals and ransacked homes, taking important salt and supplies. Remaining Confederate soldiers of the The 64th Infantry (Allen’s) took revenge on the population of supposed Union sympathizers, killing 13 vulnerable women and young boys, among other atrocities. [Read a good summary here]. The 64th Infantry (Allen’s) of which a number were Brown family members, included Posey Brown, William Franklin Taylor Brown and ‘Doc’ Brown. I’ll cover them below and you can watch the documentary of the Shelton Laurel Massacre below, as well.
The Confederates were not the only ones to commit atrocities, as Neufeld describes in Visiting Our Past: Civil War had criminals on both sides. It transpired just fourteen miles down Highway 64/74A, a 30 minute drive partially along the Broad River, and encompassing rich farmland, historic houses, old cabins and new growing developments. In 1865 at the close of the war, General James Stoneman of the Union was tasked with dismantling the South. One of the generals in his command, Gen. Alvan Cullem Gillem, led a calvary brigade into central North Carolina up to Rutherfordton and on to Asheville through the Swannanoa Valley. Their objective: to dismantle the south, to destroy infrastructure including railroads, prisons, and major government buildings, and free slaves in Asheville. Along the way back to Tennessee and Virginia they killed, raped and plundered. Hundreds of freed slaves accompanied them as they left Asheville. They never passed through underdeveloped Uree or Chimney Rock, choosing instead a route along where now I-40 West leads to Asheville, in order to dismantle the railway lines along the route.
That these skirmishes and battles didn’t take place in Uree, Bill’s Creek and Chimney Rock, doesn’t mean that men of the area sat in rocking chairs on their front porches after a hard day of farming. Area men volunteered, and others were conscripted by the newly formed government in Richmond, Virginia under the installed President Jefferson Davis. Several of these men give a more personal view of the war, especially the Browns’ who were one of the first to own what is now called Posey Brown’s Cabin.
[For further reading on the causes of the war read: What Twenty-First-Century Historians Have Said about the Causes of Disunion]
History not Hate Part 3 of 4: The tale of two mountain men and their cousin Posey Brown
One can more than imagine the important location of Posey Brown’s Cabin before 1850 for farming, but also private, secret and potential nefarious activity. Between Rutherfordton and Asheville, it was more likely a small farm with a lone backwater cabin in a heavily wooded section between Grassy Knob and the Broad River where Hickory Nut Gap road wound its way west through valley and gorge–a three day journey to the farm markets of Asheville, NC. A journey that today takes one hour. One had to have a reason to climb the rutted road up the small mountain to find the cabin with several acres of farmland and water catchment on a small stream surrounded by mountain laurels, oak and pitch pine. Logging, a possible revenue source since the mid-1850’s, would have been an industry through the mid-20th Century. An old saw mill was located at the corner of Bill’s Creek Road and Hwy 64 where the Temple of Jesus of Lake Lure now sits, less than a mile from Posey Brown’s Cabin.
Francis Brown (b.1740 in Ireland) entered the area from Virginia and into Rutherford County before it split to form Polk County. The Whitesides, along with others and their slaves, had already settled the fertile farm land along the Broad River and into Bill’s Creek area, through Whiteside valley where Lake Lure now sits. Brown, who was not a slave owner, began amassing land, through grants and purchases south below Grassy Knob to Walnut Creek. As church census and property records show, his family descendants would move between Polk, Rutherfordton and McDowell counties–foothills to the Appalachians, and Smokey Mountains beyond. A few are memorialized at the Cooper’s Gap Baptist Church Cemetery in Polk County, a fifteen minute drive from the cabin, as is Confederate Posey Brown, Co. B 64NC INF CSA–and a number of Whiteside family members.
Twenty (20) Brown extended family members from Polk, Madison and Henderson counties served in the North Carolina 64th Infantry Regiment (Allen’s) of the Confederacy. As one descendent joked, “Don’t throw a rock in any direction, you might hit one of us.” Their neighbors were seven Whitesides who served in the 34th Regiment, North Carolina Confederate Infantry. Posey Brown’s Cabin sat between the two family land holdings. Three of the Brown family are directly related to the cabin.
William Franklin Taylor “Francis” Brown, WFT, (1848-1911) possibly and probably inherited Posey Brow’s Cabin from his father Fielding Brown in 1835, who in turn possibly took ownership from Francis Brown in 1827. WFT served in the 64th Infantry Regiment (Allen’s). Most, if not all, of the fighting took place outside of Polk and Rutherford County where the cabin is located, from Asheville northward and westward across the mountains into Tennessee and the Cumberland Gap. Both WFT and Doc, who I will describe below, were in the “Allen’s” regiment which was involved in the brutal massacre in the rough mountainous area of Madison County. (See documentry below.)
Following the war WFT would serve as a revenuer and part of a new federal agency.
The extension of federal taxing power to cover homemade whiskey was fiercely resisted by mountain people, who had long relied on distilling to produce an easily transported and readily salable product made from their corn. As a result, the collection of the tax required the creation of the most extensive civilian law enforcement agency in the nation’s history, the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The bureau both regulated taxpaying distilleries and combated illicit production. This battle against moonshiners, Miller argues, was implemented by the Republican party’s vision of a federal authority capable of reaching into the most remote parts of the nation. Revenuers and Moonshine
Some say WFT worked both sides of the fence, collecting a whiskey (moonshine) tax, and maybe brewing himself, possibly at Posey Brown’s Cabin. Untaxed moonshine is still available, by the way, on the down-low. Some things never change. Somewhat of a ladies’ man, WFT reportedly had three wives, from his revenuer travels in Western North Carolina, one being a freed slave, and fathering a “mulatto” child, according to census records.
Then, there is Doctor (Doc) Clayton Brown (b.1843). [He was not a doctor but given the name Doctor–a common practice according to WF Brown III.] Living in Polk County he was conscripted by the Confederates at the beginning of the Civil War. After several events for which he objected, he volunteered as a soldier in the Union army, at the age of twenty in October, 1863, as a member of Company H. Second North Carolina Regiment, Mounted Infantry, most of his service was at Cumberland gap. Notably he served in the Confederacy in Madison County and at the time of the Shelton Laurel Massacre.
I include below the writing of WF Brown about his Great Grandfather Doc Brown in response to a question for clarification:
Doc Brown was 18 years old when the Civil War began. He was drafted into the Confederate Army in the 13th call in 1862. There are numerous recorded stories of Doc Brown’s time during the Civil War, as he talked frequently about his experiences to family and friends. One story in particular told by Doc Brown, and recorded and re-told by family members who had direct recollection of Doc telling them, concerned his last days as a Confederate soldier.
While Doc Brown was in the Confederate Army, ten of his Confederate mates were ordered shot by their superior officers, and Doc was one of a group chosen to do the shooting. Doc said the men were innocent, and, at first, he refused to shoot. He was told to either shoot or be shot, so he raised his musket and fired over the heads of the doomed group. Doc recalled that his shooting over the heads of the doomed men was never detected by his superiors.
Another story told by Doc Brown and handed down by family members concerns the time he was assigned to a camp at Hot Springs in Madison County, NC. Doc Brown was again on the firing squad and ordered to take part in the execution of some Confederate deserters. In Doc Brown’s own words:
“It was the custom of the day that the condemned man’s family was allowed to come visit prior to his execution. On one occasion the man to be executed was a friend from Polk County. His wife and young daughter came to see him before the time of his execution. His little daughter looked at me and said, “Please, Mr. Brown, don’t kill my daddy in the morning.”
Doc Brown said that after hearing this little girl’s plea there was absolutely no way he could take part in the planned execution. The incident made him completely sick of the Confederate army. Two of the men who were in the doomed group were sentenced to die, he recalled, simply because they fell asleep at their posts. He was bitterly against such carryings-on, so he made plans to escape and one night ran away with two comrades and crossed the Union line. Doc said, “We told the Sergeant of the Guard that we were going to the spring for water, and when we hit the gate we kept on going and never looked back.”
According to Doc Brown, his intention was to go north and get a job, but he was talked into joining the Union army. This was in October 1863. Doc’s service with the Union Army was in Company H, 2ND North Carolina Mounted Infantry. Most of his service in the Union Army was in or around the Cumberland Gap, and on 16 August 1865, Doc Brown was mustered out of the Army near Knoxville, TN.All of the above information came from documented sources, including newspaper articles that quoted Doc Brown telling the stories and from a diary he kept during his time as a Union soldier (that I have seen and has been transcribed). I also personally recall many of the stories his two daughters, my great aunts, told me while almost every time I visited with them as a youngster. WF Brown III.
“The years of reconstruction were hard on the Doc Clayton Browns, who “went west” to Kansas in 1870 and lived there for eight years. Returning to North Carolina in 1878, the Brown family made the long trip by wagon. Two years they spent in Polk county, after which they purchased a farm in Rutherford County, near Uree in 1880. He settled in McDowell County, was a church deacon and teacher, and died at the age of almost 100.” https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/40007417/doctor-clayton-brown. Doc Clayton’s old cabin still exists above Posey Brown’s Cabin. It has been in a state of disrepair for several decades, though recently purchased by new owners who I hope will consider restoration.
So what about Posey Brown 1836-1929 for whom the cabin was named by Daniel Marcone? Little is known about Posey or his wife Elizabeth. But what we do know may confirm him at least being near the cabin. On June 3, 1922, Posey Brown, who was 86 at the time, appeared before a judge to give an application for a pension for his service in Company B, 64th Regulars, North Carolina State Troops beginning July 12, 1862. At that time he was living in Uree, the community where his namesake cabin sits. It was witnessed by M. A. Searcey of Mill Spring, Polk County, N.C. the area where Posey Brown resided in 1922, and where he died in 1929. It is unknown if he held much property but moved about the two counties living in homes owned by his relatives. He and Elizabeth had seven children. Oral tradition relayed by Marcone says that Posey and Elizabeth lived at the namesake cabin and maintained horses and mules for confederate use, possibly farming family members, but possibly other travelers moving towards Asheville and further west. A now destroyed barn, a barracks, and remaining cedar fence posts give evidence. The one remaining story of him is that he would periodically leave for different campaigns during the war, leaving Elizabeth to maintain the post. When she would hear he was in trouble, she would leave the post to find him, thus angering those needing fresh horses or mules.
Brown Family of Polk, Rutherford and McDowell Counties
History Not Hate Part 4 0f 4: To Fly or Not to Fly
As the war came to a close, some would say there were bad people on both sides, and an opportunity to take advantage of the situation of war. Memories can be long and morph in to new realities and embody myths for generations, especially during Reconstruction and through today. And a symbolic flag would hold the memory as long as it flies.
One descendant of a slaveholder family reflecting on his families’ former slave descendants who lived in the area stated, “It must have not been that bad, they kept our names and still live here.” It is an old trope, even one that was described by slaves on my own distant relative’s tombstone, in eastern North Carolina, “He was a good and kind master.” History not Hate. Both statements may have some truth, but the issue of slavery, the ownership of another human being becomes a moral decision, and taking centuries to come to that decision, including a civil war. It is a moral decision that continues to this day as we work through revisionist history, privilege, the realities of prejudice and discrimination, and overt white supremacy. And, many in recent generations of African-Americans–the name itself a recognition of identity clarification–have taken on new names, including African family names.
While we don’t always outright rewrite history, we do conform it to our own narrative, and changing circumstances–including our cultural symbols. We don’t know or we collectively forget our past. As an example of changing symbols in the U.S., the photo on the left, below, is a 1939 photo of my father’s one-room school class in Southern Illinois saluting the US American flag as part of the morning ritual and pledge of allegiance. Following WWII, and in negative response to the Hitler or sig heil salute, Americans began to place their hands on their hearts as opposed to the outstretched arm to the flag. For further reading: Why Symbols Aren’t Forever.
I took the photo on the right Eastern Sunday morning atop a mountain overlooking Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. Upon first glance, in galleries where it has exhibited, most people look a little shocked as it resembles the Heil Hitler salute of Nazi Germany. Understandably, it never sold. In actuality, at the end of the outdoor Easter Service, the worshippers stood toward each of the “corners” of the earth–east, north, west, south–and prayed for the countries of those around them–Western Europe, Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. Their hands were raised for God’s blessings and peace in and with these countries.
I can respect the history. I cannot support the hate. So will I fly a Confederate flag as part of the history of Posey Brown’s Cabin? I guess I first have to ask, which flag might I fly to signify the history of the cabin? In a few short years during the war, the confederacy seemed to have an identity crisis. Not only were there a variety of Confederate flags, but there were three capitals. (Montgomery, AL, Danville, VA, and Richmond, VA.). Early variations of uniform colors even created a situation where Confederates were firing upon Confederates until Confederate Gray became the standard and differentiated from the Union blue.
During Reconstruction the Confederate Battle Flag became the standard bearer for Southern pride, and racism:
Though never having historically represented the Confederate States of America as a country, nor having been officially recognized as one of its national flags, the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and its variants are now flag types commonly referred to as the Confederate Flag. This design has become a recognized symbol of racism and white supremacy to some, especially in the Southern United States. It is also known as the rebel flag, Dixie flag, and Southern cross. It is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Stars and Bars, the name of the first national Confederate flag. The “rebel flag” is considered by some to be a highly divisive and polarizing symbol in the United States. A June 2020 Politico-Morning Consult poll of 1,995 registered voters reported that 44% viewed it as a symbol of Southern pride while 36% viewed it as a symbol of racism. A July 2020 Quinnipiac poll showed that 55% of Southerners saw the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, with a similar percentage for Americans as a whole. A YouGov poll of over 34,000 Americans reported that 41% viewed the flag as representing racism, and 34% viewed it as symbolizing heritage.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flags_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America#Controversy
I began the post with a conversation with Bubba and a ride in my truck, a bearer of the Confederate war flag with a belief that it was historical and carried no hatred from him. I’ll conclude with another ride-a-long conversation with an African American descendent of a Uree/Bill’s Creek slave holder. This was a man of stature, authority and self-confidence. I was about to learn.
He slowly pulled his large 78-year old frame into the passenger’s side of my big truck by the grab handle above the window. As he slid into the seat beside me, his .45 side arm slipped out of his pocket and fell heavily onto the floor. I checked to see if the trigger hammer was pulled back and ready to fire. “No. Good. I’m safe. No accidents.’ I thought to myself with relief. For a second I wished I had brought along my .9. I wasn’t sure where we were headed with this ride-a-long. He worked the .45 back into his left pocket.
“Okay, let’s go!” He commanded in his former Vietnam war submarine Navy ensign voice. We jostled down the dirt road from the cabin and he settled into his continuous storytelling mode. “I’ve faced those kinds of folks all my life. They learn, eventually. What goes around comes around.” He chuckled. “Most of them came from the deep south–Mississippi and Alabama. One young squirrelly guy approached me at a bar after work and wanted to know what I was doing there. (Meaning it was for whites.) “I let him know…”
“Slow down. Turn here”
“I let him know, I have every right to be here and you better get used to it.” He chuckled with irony. “I got promoted to ensign. I should have stayed in the Navy. Anyway, one day I was at the port, and wouldn’t you know that young man climbed out of the submarine to see me as his new officer. He was shocked. I was professional.” He chuckled with an ‘I gotcha now’ shake of his head.
We turned up a nearby road that led to a hidden–to most people–historic mountain African-American community. It was the kind of road with a long history dotted with falling buildings and covered in thick summer vines – a sign that many in the community had moved on to brighter opportunities, but still held the land.
“Slow down, slow down. Look through there, I was born in that fallen down cabin. “Slow down.” I was creeping along, and there was no traffic. I could barely see a structure. [I’ll stop with the ‘slow downs’ and ‘stop heres’ now. I had not had so much direction since the ninth grade during marching band rehearsal. Just add the commands as you read and imagine an excited person next to you who wants you to see the place of his childhood as he relives his life.]
“I basically raised myself. My dad died when I was three and my mother worked at the hotel in Lake Lure. We moved into that old house over there.” He pointed. I was still having trouble seeing through vines. I imagined what it looked like. He continued, “I worked for a while for the City of Lake Lure. I lost all respect for the police department of the time. Had a bad incident. They knew me and yet could be disrespectful. I attended college for a while and then joined the Navy during the Vietnam War.
We headed slowly up the now paved road into what is called a holler, for good reason. The property was gifted or purchased by his ancestors from the former slave owner. (see 1898 journal entry below). It was a common practice following emancipation as former slave owners often moved west and north looking for better land, and life, where they could manage without servants. Soon thereafter came the Reconstruction Act of 1867 and a growth of outright terrorism by white supremacists who wanted to keep the “negro” in their place, through the organization of the Ku Klux Klan, a loosely organized and decreasing group of folk that exists to this day in Rutherford and surrounding counties, and has morphed into other newly formed supremacist groups who can be threatening in their own way, and often in the same ways.
I entered cautiously into the holler–a rugged crevice between two hills with hidden driveways spidering through a mix of lawns and spotted pastures dotted with large old trees and volunteer pines. No sooner than we made it to a dead end of the pavement, a speeding car came from behind and stopped next to my window.
“Can I help you?” A middle aged polite Black woman guardedly spoke out of her passenger window. I’ve heard that greeting before, especially as a white man in a black neighborhood–for good reason. Back then, I walked through North Philadelphia visiting my friend wearing aviator sunglasses, a black leather jacket and my long hair tied in a long ponytail down my back. I was assumed to be an undercover cop. Maybe I was.
My new friend leaned forward and smiled. Immediately the woman changed mood, “Hey you!! I didn’t know you were in town.” He gave me an aside, “She’s my cousin.”
“How you doin’ girl?” he sang with a robust musical bass voice.
“Oh we are good. We are safe up here.” Referring to the small community in the holler.
“Got your Covid shot yet?” He more than once spoke with the authority of a minister advising his flock.
“Not yet, but I’m thinking about it.”
“Well, it is important.” He emphasized. “Get that shot.”
We continued up driveways passing a group of chained Redbone Coonhound dogs on a hill, barking and pulling their chains across the grassless, worn red earth, both for warning and eager for the hunt. We attentively drove past car packed yards, metal heaps and machinery scattered in piles around the homesteads, living testaments to the place of working folks. “They have a lot of money. Not sure how they make it. But they have a lot.”
“So what about the KKK in the area?” Casting a hook to see if I would catch a bigger story.
“Oh, I remember the stories and my own experience.” His voice was animated. Why do you think they call this a holler? My parents used to talk about them ridin’ up and crackin’ off shots over the hill. They’d yell, ‘KLAN!, KLAN!, KLAN!’, and everyone would run into their houses for safety. In the 60’s we used to go to the Rutherford movie theater and stand in line for tickets. The white boys thought they could just push in front of us, because they had a right to. We all knew the Sherif was a secret member of the Klan.” He shook his head.
“And what about the folks that fly the Confederate Battle Flag today?” I inquired.
“I stay away from those people. You know Rutherford County is one of the reddist counties in North Carolina. I like the county I live in. I moved away a long time ago.” He is not alone.
We drove back on HWY 64 headed for the cabin. “Pull in here!” I did. I parked the truck in front of an old unpainted frame house with five older cars–some still working–almost parked on the front porch.
“Stay here.” I did. He adjusted his .45 and alighted from the cab leaving the door open.
“Keep the truck running.” As if we may need to make a fast get-a-way.
And then he let out a large belly laugh. He was pulling my leg, I knew. It was the home of a long time resident who was dying of cancer and he wanted to pay respects. I appreciated that.
There is a reason housing developments prohibit flying flags and political party signs during elections. They carry meaning. Posey Brown’s Cabin, a remnant of the Civil War sits in Riverbend Lake Lure Property Owners Association. On the south side, anyway, we have a growing diversity of owners and renters from varying nationalities and ethnicities in the four years I have been a resident and restored the cabin. I like my neighbors. Covid has brought most of us out into the road for meaningful conversations. We live and treat each other as good neighbors and interesting people.
I value the stained glass window I now have placed prominently in the cabin, along with replica of a Confederate soldier’s saber. They represent for me one period of history in Uree and Bill’s Creek community.
In another conversational chat, I asked an African American descendant of one of Bill’s Creek early slave holding family about his thoughts and feelings about his heritage. Good advice for us all.
I’m who God made me. HE did not ask me how; what color, race I wanted to be. I have no problem with me, and let others decide for themselves, leaving them in God’s hand.
Historical Notes from the Era of the Civil War
Slavery was common in Asheville and Buncombe County, NC. It also existed in the community around Posey Brown’s Cabin. You can read these newspaper clippings from the Asheville City Times, 1850-1863 in the post Some Notes on Slavery in Asheville and Buncombe County From, Heard Tell: Stories From the North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial Library
“Every person deserves a name on their tombstone,” Charles Wright stated as he instructed about the Whiteside family cemetery between Lake Lure and Rutherfordton . While family members had tall monuments, their family slaves were also buried in the family cemetery, though with humble stones and no markings.
1898 Memories of Reconstruction. Journal of Mary Pearl Logan McCormick in Precious Memories by Virginia Dare Dalton Ware Wilson, 2008, p. 217. When Papa sold the old Logan plantation we improvised beds on the floor, and then finished packing the next day. As we were eating our last meal, Old Uncle George and his wife Old Aunt Cinda appeared. There was a dignity about the old Negro as he made his speech. “I was born a slave on this plantation, raised and freed by my good Master who said in his will we Negroes might always live here, could buy our homes at not more that $3 per foot. Cinda and me saved, bought some 200 acres. Now the mansion has gone out of the Logan family. Me and Cinda feel we still represent the Logan family and as befitten a slave to his Master's grandson and family, we invite you to eat breakfast and listen to a word of prayer at our home. We wait your answer." Dad was moved. With tears in his eyes he said, “Uncle George, our faithful servant and friend, our last breakfast on our old plantation will be in your house." Such a breakfast Aunt Cinda and Sophie prepared. There were seven of us at the table. Old George stood at the head of the table and said grace, while others served. After eating we sat in a circle around the fireplace. Uncle George clasped his hands over his beloved Bible and quoted the longest psalm, then prayed for our guidance in the Far West. Tears streamed from my eyes when I hugged Old Aunt Cinda and said goodbye to our true colored friends.
Tradition has it that the Underground Railroad used the Bat Cave area as a route north to freedom. Some believe that fleeing slaves would spend the night in Bat Cave, possibly passing through Chimney Rock, NC. See interesting timeline of the area around Chimney Rock by the Chimney Rock Village.
Photo Credit: The Nature Conservancy.
This page from Wilson’s Precious Memories shows the partial slave membership list at Bill’s Creek Baptist Church 1827-1869. Slaves attending an owner’s church was common throughout the south (and even in the north).
William Franklin Brown’s Cabin A.K.A. Posey Brown’s Cabin in 1905 Lynch map of Rutherford County. South is the cabin of Clayton “Doc” Brown (C. Brown). Doc Brown purchased the farm in 1880. Notice how close this is to the Polk County line to the south–about 1/2 mile. To the east is Whiteside property. William and Posey served in the Confederate infantry. Doc Brown served in the Union Army.
This cabin at the Hodge Farm in the Piedmont Church Community is similar in style to Posey Brown’s Cabin. “Faulton Hodge says the cabin was built by Joseph Logan in 1749.” Rutherford County Journal 1976. Extension Homemakers Council and Arts and Crafts Guild of Rutherford County, NC.
Bushwhacker Jesse James at 16 in Missouri during the Civil War period in 1864. I included this photo here to show fighters who used bush warfare in more remote and mountainous regions across the south, The photo has some similarity to that of WFT Brown’s above. While bushwhackers were most often Confederates they could also be Unionists. Their reputation grew as thugs as the war ended where they continued to take revenge on neighbors.
The Lost Cause. By Henry Mosler – Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48762662
The Lost Cause of the Confederacy, or simply the Lost Cause, is an Americanpseudo-historical,negationist ideology that advocates the belief that the cause of the Confederate States during the American Civil War was a just and heroic one. This ideology has furthered the belief that slavery was just and moral, because the enslaved were happy, even grateful, and it also brought economic prosperity. The notion was used to perpetuate racism and racist power structures during the Jim Crow era in the American South. It emphasizes the supposed chivalric virtues of the antebellum South. It thus views the war as a struggle primarily waged to save the Southern way of life and to protect “states’ rights”, especially the right to secede from the Union. It casts that attempt as faced with “overwhelming Northern aggression”. At the same time, it minimizes or completely denies the central role of slavery and white supremacy in the build-up to, and outbreak of, the war. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Cause_of_the_Confederacy
In 1852, Pre-Civil War composer Stephen F. Foster wrote a popular song as part of his over 200 songs depicting and popularizing the old south in his parlor and minstrel music (a white musical entertainment presented in imitating black face)–Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground. Possibly, slaves were sad at the death of the “Massa”, as an empathic recognition of the end of life we all face. I have doubts that Stephen Foster’s songs were sung around Posey Brown’s Cabin, but I can imagine his music might have been a part of the more cultured and relative elite homes of the valley.
The Shelton Laurel massacre was the execution of 13 accused Union sympathizers on or about January 18, 1863 by a Confederate regiment in the Shelton Laurel Valley of Madison County, North Carolina at the height of the American Civil War. The event sparked outrage from North Carolina Governor Zebulon B. Vance and Solicitor Augustus Merrimon (the latter of whom investigated the event), and was published in numerous newspapers in northern states and as far away as Europe. While the massacre destroyed the military career and reputation of Lieutenant-Colonel James A. Keith, the adjunct commander who ordered the executions, he was never brought to justice for the incident. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelton_Laurel_massacre.
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is a song written by Robbie Robertson and originally recorded by the Canadian-American roots rock group The Band in 1969 and released on their eponymous second album. Levon Helm provided the lead vocals. The song is a first-person narrative relating the economic and social distress experienced by the protagonist, a poor white Southerner, during the last year of the American Civil War, when George Stoneman was raiding southwest Virginia. The song appeared at number 245 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Joan Baez‘s version peaked at #3 on the Hot 100 on 2 October 1971. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Night_They_Drove_Old_Dixie_Down
Further reading and sources used
- The Home Guard
- Not Very Neighborly: the 1864 Political Murders in Columbus, Polk County, North Carolina
- Historical Rutherfordton County: A Summary
- Tariffs and the American Civil War
- ESSENTIAL CIVIL WAR CURRICULUM
- Trotter, William R. (2013-04-09T23:58:59). Bushwhackers: The Civil War in North Carolina: The Mountains . Blair. Kindle Edition. 1988.
- Retrospective I: A Primer on the Sad Truths of Slavery in Asheville, Buncombe County and Western North Carolina
- Modern display of the Confederate battle flag
- Some Notes on Slavery in Asheville and Buncombe County From, Heard Tell: Stories From the North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial Library
- Arthur, John Preston. Western North Carolina; a history (1730-1913). Raleigh, N.C., Edwards & Broughton printing company.
- Wilson, Virginia Dare Dalton. Precious Memories: Bills Creek Community. Lake Lure, NC. 2008, Self-Published
- Journal of Mary Pearl Logan McCormick: Part I North Carolina 1881 to 1899 in Wilson, Virginia Dare Dalton. Precious Memories: Bills Creek Community. Lake Lure, NC. 2008, Self-Published, pp. 199-217.
- Powell, William H. North Carolina Through Four Centuries. University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
- Stephen Foster
- Minstrel Songs
- The Lyrics And Legacy Of Stephen Foster
- Correspondence and Conversations with William Franklin III, descendant of Francis Brown, 2019-2021
- Wilbur R. Miller. Revenuers and Moonshiners: Enforcing Federal Liquor Law in the Mountain South, 1865-1900. University of North Carolina Press,
- Visiting Our Past: Civil War had criminals on both sides. Asheville Citizen Times. Rob Neufeld
- Rutherford County Journal 1976. Extension Homemakers Council and Arts and Crafts Guild of Rutherford County, NC
- “Forest City Once Named Burnt Chimney.” John Paris, Asheville Citizen Times, Monday June 26, 1995
- Stoneman’s Raid
- Visiting Our Past: Civil War had criminals on both sides
- The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
- Lost Cause of the Confederacy
- Former Slave Cemetery
- Shelton Laurel massacre
- Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy
- Ku Klux Klan
- Flags of the Confederate States of America
- Lost Cause of the Confederacy
- Life of the Civil War Soldier in Camp
- Lt. William Corbitt Sons Of Confederate Veterans Camp 525
- North Carolina Military Installations – Civil War
- Civil War Times in Western North Carolina: An Historical Introduction
- 34th Regiment, North Carolina Infantry
- The Reasons for Secession
- Lost Cause of the Confederacy
- Connecting old Cragmont: DNA RESEARCH PROJECT ROOTED IN BLACK MOUNTAIN COMMUNITY’S AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE
- Rutherford County, North Carolina
- Great Smokies starts to unearth stories of Black and enslaved people in park’s history. Karen Chávez Asheville Citizen Times.
- Andersonville: 26 Acres of Hell | History Traveler Episode 87
- Andersonville Civil War Prison: (Jerry Skinner Documentary)
- Camp Douglas: Eighty Acres of Hell
- Death & Disease at a Union P.O.W. Camp (Civil War) | History Traveler Episode 108
- The Confederacy was a con job on whites. And still is. By Frank Hyman. Raleigh News and Observer.
- The Confederate battle flag, which rioters flew inside the US Capitol, has long been a symbol of white insurrection, January 14, 2021 8.20am EST
- How the Confederate battle flag became an enduring symbol of racism.
- There were once 3 capitals of the Confederacy. All three cities now have black mayors.
- What Twenty-First-Century Historians Have Said about the Causes of Disunion: A Civil War Sesquicentennial Review of the Recent Literature. Michael E. Woods. Journal of American History, Volume 99, Issue 2, September 2012, Pages 415–439, https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/jas272Published: 01 September 2012.
- Salisbury Prison: North Carolina’s Andersonville. http://nccivilwarcenter.org/salisbury-prison-north-carolinas-andersonville/