Thursday, January 07, 2010

Settlement of Buncombe County, North Carolina


Shortly after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, in 1784, or 1785, settlers from the headwaters of the Catawba and the adjacent country, whose frontier establishment was the blockhouse at Old Fort, began to cross the mountains into the Swannanoa valley. Among the first of these was Samuel Davidson, who came in with his wife and infant child and one female negro slave and settled upon Christian Creek of the Swannanoa, a short distance east of Gudger's Ford near the present railroad station called Azalea. He had been here but a short while when one morning he went out to find his horse. Soon his wife heard the report of guns, and, knowing too well what had happened, she took her child and the servant and made her way along the mountains to the Old Fort. An expedition from there at once set out to avenge the death of Davidson. They found him on the mountain near his cabin, killed and scalped, and buried his body on the spot where it was found and where his grave may still be seen. It is further said that they met and conquered the Indians in a battle fought near the Swannanoa River in that neighborhood or about Biltmore.

Probably it is to this pursuing party that the tradition handed down by John S. Rice as received by him from John Rice, David Nelson and William Rhodes, three hunters and Revolutionary soldiers, relates. It is that, at a time prior to white settlement of the lower Swannanoa Valley, some Cherokees were returning from depredations on the whites and being pursued by the latter, were overtaken at about the Cheesborough Place, a mile above Biltmore, where a fight occurred between.the two parties which continued at the canebrakes there at intervals for eleven days, in which many Indians were killed, principally near the ford of Swannanoa River in the neighborhood of the old John Patton House, later known as the Haunted House, where the old Buncombe Turnpike crossed that stream, until the Indians retreated across the French Broad and the fight ended. They crossed the last-named river at a shoal just below the mouth of Swannanoa. During most of this fight the whites encamped at a noted spring just north of Swannanoa River about one hundred yards above the Biltmore Concrete Bridge where there is now a garage. It was an old Indian camping place. The early white hunters in this region went chiefly to the North Fork of Swannanoa.

Soon several white settlements were made on the Swannanoa, the earliest of them being the "Swannanoa Settlement," made in 1784-1785 by the Alexanders, Davidson and others about the mouth of Bee Tree Creek. A little above that place is the old Edmuns or Jordall Field, the first land cleared by a white man in Buncombe County. Soon another company passed over the Bull Mountain and settled upper Reems Creek, while yet another came in by way of what is now Yancey County, and settled on the lower Reems Creek and Flat Creek. At about the same time, or not long afterward, some of the Watauga people who had been with Sevier on some one of his expeditions against the Indians, settled on the French Broad above and below the mouth of the Swannanoa, and on Hominy Creek; while still other settlements appear to have been effected from upper South Carolina, yet higher up on the French Broad.

Colonel William Davidson was the man at whose house the county was organized as above stated. He was a relative of Gen. William Davidson, who succeeded Griffith Rutherford in the generalship when the latter was captured at Camden and who was killed on February 1, 1781, at Cowan's Ford of the Catawba River in attempting to prevent Lord Cornwallis from crossing with his army. Colonel William Davidson was also a relative of the Samuel Davidson who was killed by the Indians as above stated, and of Major William Davidson, a brother of Samuel and who with his brother-in-law, John Alexander, and his nephew, James Alexander, son of his sister Rachel, and with Daniel Smith, a son-in-law, became among the first settlers in Buncombe County. The portion of it where Major Davidson settled was then in Burke County at the mouth of Bee Tree.

Major William Davidson is sometimes confounded with Colonel William Davidson, who was the first representative of Buncombe County in the State Senate to which he was sent in 1792, and removed to Tennessee where he was prominent in public affairs and where he died. It was at the house of Colonel William Davidson that Buncombe County was organized. Colonel William Davidson was born in Virginia and served in the American cause through the Revolutionary War.

Major William Davidson took a prominent part in the preparations made by the North Carolinians for the battle of Kings Mountain. These thwarted Ferguson in his raid which ended in that battle. During the Revolutionary War Major William Davidson lived in what became Burke County on Catawba River near the town now called Greenlee. His place was named The Glades. Colonel Ferguson visited his home there on the raid into North Carolina by Ferguson, which resulted in the Battle of Kings Mountain and in the defeat and death of that distinguished British officer. After that war, Major William Davidson removed with some relatives and friends to the mouth of Bee Tree Creek of Swannanoa River, then in Burke County, but now in Buncombe County, where, in 1784-1785, they formed the famous "Swannanoa Settlement" and where he resided for the remainder of his life and died and is buried.

Colonel John Patton was born April 4, 1765, and was one of Buncombe's first settlers. He removed to that county while it was yet Burke and Rutherford and settled first where Fernihurst now stands. From here he removed to the Whitson place, on Swannanoa above the old water works. After residing here for some while he returned to the vicinity of his former home, and bought and fixed his residence upon the Colonel William Davidson place, where the first County Court was held. At this place he continued to reside until his death on March 17, 183l. He it was who formally opened on April 16, 1792, the first County Court. On the minutes of that court, immediately after the justices were sworn and took their seats, appears this entry: "Silence being commanded and proclamation being made the court was opened in due and solemn form of law by John Patton specially appointed for that purpose."

At that term, on the same day, he was duly elected to the then very important office of county surveyor. N ear his new residence he built, many years ago, a bridge across the Swannanoa River, which remained until about the beginning of the war against the Southern States. His house was for many years famous as a stopping place, being upon the Buncombe Turnpike road, and he raised here a large family of children, many of whose descendants are yet living in Asheville. One of his sons, the late Montraville Patton, represented Buncombe County in the House of Commons in 1836, 1838 and 1840, and subsequently in 1874-1875, and after being for many years a citizen and prominent merchant of Asheville, and in later life the clerk of the Inferior Court of Buncombe County, died in 1896, highly respected by every one who knew him as a kind hearted but determined man of unswerving integrity and unpretentious usefulness. The late residence of Colonel John Patton stood on the southern side of the Swannanoa, at the ford about half a mile above its mouth. until within the last thirty years, when, after bearing for some time the name of the Haunted House, it was removed as being no longer tenantable. His wife, who was, before her marriage, Miss Ann Mallory, a Virginian, was born February 12, 1768, and died on August 31, 1855. She, with her husband, are buried at Newton Academy graveyard.

Edmund Sams married Nancy Young near Wytheville, Virginia. Her sister, Martha Young, married William Gudger, Senior, who also removed to what became Buncombe County and settled on Swannanoa River just below the Old Water Works on land now belonging to Mr. M. L. Reed. These Gudgers became progenitors of the large family of Gudgers and their descendants now living in Western North Carolina. Although James M. Smith was the first white child born in what afterwards became Buncombe County, having been bom June 14, 1787, yet James Gudger, son of William and Martha Gudger, was a little older than Mr. Smith, and was the first white citizen of that same territory who was bom as such. On account of danger from marauding Cherokee Indians, Mrs. Martha Gudger at the time of the birth of her oldest son James Gudger, was on a visit to her parents in Virginia. This Mr. James Gudger married a daughter of Colonel Robert Love, of Haywood County, and lived in the northwestern part of the County of Buncombe, which he represented in the State Senate of North Carolina in 1830 and 1836.

As has been remarked above, Edmund Sams was remarkably fond of military music. He was also fond of church music, which, in his day, was usually sung in a drawling time "in linked sweetness long drawn out." Once a singing master visited his neighborhood and taught a singing school. The choir of young people trained at this school sang a "voluntary" at a church service which Captain Sams attended accompanied by a little great-granddaughter. The singing master led in singing this "voluntary" and sang in better time than was common in the church gatherings, but not without consternation on the part of most of the congregation. Captain Sams listened in amazement. When the song had been finished he turned to his little girl companion and exclaimed: "Well, upon my soul, my little daughter, that was a merry little jig!"

When John Jarrett bought the Sams ferry he kept it for many years as a toll ferry, and it became known as Jarrett's Ferry. Subsequently he sold it with the adjoining land to the late James M. Smith, who built a bridge at the place, which was known for many years, and up till a very late period, as Smith's Bridge. This he continued to keep up as a toll bridge until the latter part of his life, when he sold the bridge to the county, by which it was made a public or county bridge. The eastern end of the bridge was somewhat higher up the river than the eastern end of the iron bridge which succeeded it, but the western ends of the two were at the same place. In 1881 this bridge was removed to make room for an iron structure, which was destroyed by a flood in 1916, but its old foundations were yet plainly to be seen for many years.

Source: Asheville and Buncombe County, F. A. Sondley; Genesis of Buncombe County, Theodore F. Davidson (1922) at 59-61, 87-89, and 97-98.


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