William F. Brown III filled my large pine log rocker on the porch of 482 Pheasant Street as he eased into his storytelling mode spinning his family history, blackstrap molasses slow. An imposing figure in stature and knowledge, William, with his wife Ann, had made the one hour drive from Morganton, NC to visit his supposed ancestor’s cabin–potential holy family ground. Throughout the morning Mary, his wife, quietly listened with confirming nods. She knows the story, intimately.
They currently live in McDowell County in his grandfather’s house. It has remained untouched or unaltered from its original inherited state, something he proudly proclaims. Mary rolls her eyes thinking of the decades of old kitchen appliances, along with the indoor toilet that was attached on the back porch. (This addition was a common practice in the early 20th century, as I can attest to, at my grandfather’s farm house.)
As he began, relating his vast research on the Brown family, he stated with authority, “The key to good geneological research and writing is separating truth from story and recognizing the story of the truth.”
I could identify with his idea of separating or extracting truth from story. During my seminary days in the ‘70s, I resonated with the liberal theologian Rudolf Bultmann view of demythologizing the gospels–understanding the truth found within the myths, or stories, of a person and culture foreign to our modern times. Anthropology was going through a similar discussion on interpreting myth (Boas, Malinowski, and Levi-Strauss) and oral tradition.
My own research in the early 1980s of oral spiritual songs in East Africa revealed a remarkable adherence to text, form and style shared from one community to another, generally always with a story of origin. Yet, though there may have been some embellishment of story, personalized with experience, the meaning and purpose remained the same. I also recognized the adaptation to ethnic scales and language.
I was reminded of a recent trip to Israel and the most common word uttered by our historical guide, supposedly–a qualifier.
Having travelled to Egypt a number of times, once with a road trip across the beautiful Negev desert, into Israel. One cannot travel through North Africa, and the Middle East, without an awe of ancient history, and especially the artifacts and significant edifices that resonate through sacred writings and historical accounts. They are markers of history. But are the stories about them true?
During one of the excursions In 2015, I led a group of artists to conduct an arts camp with a Bedouin school in the Negev Desert of Israel.
For this trip, we hired a capable Israeli-Palestinian Christian guide to show us Jerusalem, and eventually the Dead Sea and Palestine. I remember one moment that would mark our entire trip and become an inside joke throughout the trip.
We entered the old city from Jaffa gate with a metal door. Rami, our guide, began to talk about the eye of the needle.
“Oh man,” I thought. ‘I’ve heard my dad preach about that–and many southern preachers–who refer to the problem of wealth, and the wealthy who were respected for what they had, but always held with mistrust and skepticism at how they got their wealth and maintained it.
Taking the Eye of the Needle, as a literal sewing needle. “It is more difficult for a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel through the eye of the needle.”
Then Rami, our guide, explained that the small door in the large gate was for people–not camels. In the evening the gate was closed so camels could not enter the larger gate. The eye of the needle was for people, without their camels, and the material wealth they carried. The wealthy, of course, kept their gold on their person. Nothing wrong with having material (camel) wealth, you just can’t bring it in or take it with you, and it has to have a greater purpose.
As we toured the old city, Bethlehem, and other places, we would visit historic sites attributed to the life of Jesus. “Supposedly” our guide would start, this is where Jesus was born. “Supposedly,” this is where Jesus died. And in most places, supposedly this and supposedly that. Nothing was certain, absolute. But that may not have been important, in the thought of Bultman, it was the meaning of the stories in history and life application.
I turned my attention back to Brown.
He continued, “The Browns immigrated from Ireland, by way of Virginia, into the area during the 1760s when Francis–my great, great, great, great grandfather-passed near Chimney Rock and the Broad River, eventually settling in what is now Polk county. Most are buried in the Cooper’s Gap Baptist Church Cemetery.
It is possible his nephew Posey, for whom someone much later named the cabin, built or lived in the cabin. But since he was born in 1836, chances are he lived there but was built by someone else earlier, or maybe it was built later than believed. Francis Brown had a number of land grants and was quite resourceful. It is a conundrum.”
When I purchased the cabin in 2016, I did so out of a sense of history and the need for a good retirement project. So as I enter the historical search of the cabin, it is with ‘supposedly.’ I suppose some things are truer than others. A story can be told. And, as a fact, the cabin exists–as concrete as a pyramid in Egypt or Old Jerusalem in Israel. And while not as ancient– made from yellow pine logs–there is a historical context in western North Carolina with stories of truth revealed.
So where to begin.
Soon after closing my purchase, and out of that same sense of history, the previous owner Bill Gildens (more on him in another post) shared a number of documents with me. Bill bought the cabin from a Mr. Marcone, an amateur historian, in 2001. Among the papers was a short history. It begins with the word, Probably. [Supposedly]. It is the only written historic record of the cabin. It is the place I begin with finding truth in the story and seeking a story about the cabin and its place in area history. Each statement presents its own questions and directions for finding the truth.
Posey Brown XXXXXX Log Cabin
Attributed to Daniel Marcone (2001), history teacher and former owner
Probably one of the only standing relay stations left in the US.
The early settlement in the 1800’s maybe before that. Several log homes in the area. The cabin was made from hard pine from the property.
Believed to have been built by the Brown family. They farmed there and had a relay station where they switched 4 horses from the stagecoach lines which ran from Asheville to Lincolnton.
Posey Brown and wife Elizabeth are buried at Cooper’s Gap Church. Posey was in Civil War. Many stories about him. He ran the relay station.
There were 7 stage lines in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s when the railroad came through and ended the stagecoach business.
The Justice (sp.?) Family added to rooms to the house during the depression. Also stories of moonshining during the depression.
Barn was located across the street, There was also a bunkhouse on the property. Both were in bad shape and are now gone.