A History of Ashe County
The act to establish the county of Ashe is one of the shortest on record. It was passed in 1799 (Laws of N. C, p. 98) and provides that "all that part of the county of Wilkes lying west of the extreme height of the Appalachian mountains shall be, and the same is hereby erected into a separate and distinct county by the name of Ashe," followed later by an act to establish permanently the dividing line between Ashe and Buncombe counties, the same to begin at "the Yadkin spring, and thence along the extreme height of the Blue ridge to the head spring of Flat Top fork of Elk creek, thence down the meanders of said creek to the Tennessee line."
The first record of the county court of Ashe is at the May term, 1806, with Alexander Smith, John McBride and Charles Tolliver, esquires, present. The following were the jurors:
Sidniah Maxwell, foreman
Edward King was appointed constable to attend the grand jury. Elisha Collins was excused from road duty "by reason of infirmity." At the February Term, 1807, James Cash recorded his "mark" for stock, being a crop and slit and under keel on the right ear; and Elijah Calloway and Mathias Harmon were qualified as justices of the peace. The jury appointed to "view the road from Daniel Harper's into the Elk spur road" made report that it "was no road."
From the Old Court Records
If there was a term of the Superior Court held in Ashe County prior to the March term, 1807, there is no record of it. On the 9th day of March of that year, however, Francis Locke presided as Judge, and appointed John McMillan, clerk, with bond of £2,000. Thomas McGimsey was appointed clerk and master, but resigned at the September Term, 1807. The grand jurors were:
Nathan Horton, foreman
Samuel C. Cox
Henry Hardin, constable, was sworn to attend the jury. Only two cases were tried, the first of which was John Cox v. Isaac H. Robinett and Nathan Gordon, debt, judgment for £596, 14-6d and costs. At the September term, 1807, Judge Spruce McCay presided and fined the delinquent jurors £10 each, but afterwards released them. Six cases were tried. Judge Francis Locke returned for the Spring Term, 1808, and Judge Samuel Lowrie followed him at the Fall term. At the September term, 1810, on motion of Robert H. Burton, who was to become judge and preside at a future term, Samuel Cox, sheriff, was amerced, nisi, for not returning execution in the case of Robert Nail v. Jno. Burton and others. At the March term, 1811, Peter Hart was committed to jail for 24 hours and fined 40 shillings for making a noise and contempt of court, and Gideon Lewis and John Northern were fined 20 shillings each for not answering when their names were called.
Judge Henderson presided at the March term, 1812, when John A. Johnson resigned his appointment as clerk and master. John Hall presided at the September term, while at the March term, 1813, the jury acquitted Wm. Pennington of rape. At this term Waugh & Findlay recovered judgment for $55.06½ against Elizabeth Humphries, but judgment was arrested and a new trial ordered.
Duncan Cameron presided at the March term, 1814, while at the September term, 1815, the jury found that Wm. Lambeth, indicted for malicious mischief (Betty Young prosscutrix) had taken "a mare from his cornfield to a secret place and stabbed her to prevent a repetition of injuring his crop, but were unable to say whether he was guilty or not and the judge, Hon. Leonard Henderson, ordered that a transcript of the bill of indictment and verdict be sent to the Conference court. At the September term, 1817, Judge Lowery did not get to court on Monday, but arrived the following Tuesday, and ordered Thomas Calloway, county surveyor, to survey the land in dispute between Thomas McGimsey and Elisha Blevins. There is a grant to Gideon Lewis to 200 acres on Spring branch, entered September 16, 1802, of date November 27, 1806, and a grant to Reuben Farthing for 200 acres on Beaver Dams, entered July 4, 1829, of date December 5, 1831. Benjamin Cutbirth conveyed 100 acres on South Fork of New River to Andrew Ferguson, the execution of which deed was proven by the oath of Joseph Couch at the May term, 1800, of the county court.
Second Jail West of the Blue Ridge
The first jail stood behind what is now the Jefferson Bargain store, conducted by Dr. J. C. Testerman, from which some of the logs were removed to and made into the old stable in east Jefferson, where they are still visible. The next jail was of brick and stood on the site of the present jail on Helton road, and was built, probably, about 1833. It was burned in the spring of 1865 by men in the uniform of the United States army. A prisoner set the jail on fire about 1887 and Felix Barr repaired it.
A tract of fifty acres was deeded to Ashe County on which the town of Jefferson was built early in the 18th century; but the records of the grantor and grantee are lost. A map in the possession of G. L. Park, Esq., is supposed to have been made about 1800. It was made by J. Harper and shows the location of all lots, the court house and the crossing of the Helton road. The first court house was of logs and stood at the intersection of this road and the road running east and west, and now known as Main Street. The next court house was of brick, and stood flush with Main Street, in front of the present structure, and was built about 1832 or 1833, according to statement of Edmund C. Bartlett to Felix Barr, who also remembers seeing the date on a tin gutter, the tin work having been done by Lyle & Wilcox of Grayson County, Virginia. The present court house was built in 1904, the old road for Helton still going by it, but passing on both sides now, in narrow alleys or lanes, but coming together again before crossing the gap of the Phoenix mountain, nearly two miles to the north. There is a conflict of opinion as to where the first court was held, some claiming that it was in an old log church in the meadow immediately in front of the present court house and known as the McEwen meadow, and others that it was held in an old Baptist church half a mile from Jefferson on the Beaver creek road, near which a Mr. and Mrs. Smithdeal kept a tavern and on the opposite side of the road. The three rows of black-heart cherry trees on the main street give not only shade but an air of distinction not noticeable in newer towns, while the colonial style of several of the houses indicates a degree of refinement among the earlier inhabitants sadly missing from many places of equal antiquity. Like Charleston, S. C. Jefferson has the air of having been finished years ago; but as the Methodist Conference has appropriated $20,000 and the citizens of Ashe $10,000 to build a school and college, and Mrs. Eula J. Neal, widow of the late J. Z. Neal has conveyed eight or ten acres of choice land for that purpose, and as a railroad from Virginia is expected soon, Jefferson is looking to the future with pride in her past and a determination to achieve greater and greater results. Before the coming of railroads Asheville was no larger than Jefferson is now, nor had it any greater evidences of culture and education than is here indicated by the citizenship of Jefferson. The large numbers of Negroes in and around Jefferson indicate that the former residents were men of wealth and leisure. In 1901, the legislature incorporated the Wilkesboro and Jefferson Turnpike Company and five years later a finely graded road was completed between those two places. By the terms of this act the State furnished the convicts while the stockholders furnished the provisions and paid the expenses. This road has been of greater help to North Wilkesboro than to Jefferson; but if the town of Jefferson and the county of Ashe would secure trackage rights over the narrow gauge road now operated for lumber exclusively between Laurel Bloomery, Tenn., and Hemlock, N. C, and then secure convicts to complete the line to Jefferson, under the same terms as were granted for the building of the turn-pike, and operate it by electricity, it need not wait for the pleasure of lumber companies to construct a standard gauge road at their convenience.
The building now known as Jefferson Inn was built in two parts by the late George Bower. The part used by the Bank of Ashe was built first, but the date cannot be determined definitely, and the eastern part some years later. The frame building next to the east was George Bower's store, in which the post office was kept, and holes in the partitions are still visible which had been used for posting letters. James Gentry was killed one snowy Christmas night about the year 1876, in front of this building while Mont. Hardin was keeping hotel. Douglas Dixon was tried for the murder, but was acquitted. It was in this building also that Judge Robert R. Heath, sick and delirious, inflicted a wound upon himself from which he afterwards died (May 26, 1871). The hand-forged hinges and window fastenings indicate that the building is old.
Waugh and Bartlett Houses
But what is still known as the Bartlett house, east of the present post-office, is probably the oldest house in town. It was occupied by Sheriff E. C. Bartlett, grandfather of the Professors Dougherty of Boone. Another old building is that still known as the Waugh house, notwithstanding its modem appearance. It is now a part of the Masonic building, apparently, but its main body, like the Bartlett house, is of logs. In it Waugh, Poe and Murchison sold goods in the first part of the nineteenth century. Certain it is that to this firm there were grants and deeds to land at a very early date, and the first map of Jefferson was made by J. Harper for Wm. P. Waugh, the senior member of this firm; Mathias Poe, the third member is said to have lived in Tennessee; but Col. Murchison for years occupied the large old residence which still stands on the hill at the eastern end of town.
Early Residents of Jefferson, Ashe County
Nathan H. Waugh moved to Jefferson from Monroe County, Tennessee, in 1845. He was born April 24, 1822. Among those living in Jefferson in 1845 were Col. George Bower, Rev. Dr. Wagg, a Methodist preacher, and the Rev. William Milam, also a Methodist preacher, and the jailer; also Sheriff E. C. Bartlett, Cyrus Wilcox, a tinner, George Houck, blacksmith, whose daughter married Cyrus Grubb of the Bend of New river; and Wm. Wyatt. Daniel Burkett, who lives one mile South of Jefferson and whose daughter married Rev. Dr. J. H. Weaver of the Methodist Church, South. William Willen, an Englishman and a ditcher, lived one mile east of Jefferson on the farm now owned by D. P. Waugh. Mrs. Lucy A Carson moved to Jefferson in 1870, and remembers as residents at that time S. C. Waugh, Wiley P. Thomas, Mrs. America Bower, Dr. L. C. Gentry, Rev. James Wagg, J. E. and N. A. Foster, E. C. Bartlett. The Fosters delivered salt to Ashe County during the Civil War. Mrs. Milam owned a residence opposite J. E. and N. A. Foster's, but gave the lot to Adam Roberts, colored, who subsequently sold it and built the brick house on the hill to the south of town. The Carson house, brick, was built in 1845, Geo. Bower giving John M. Carson, his brother-in-law, the lot on which it stands. Captain Joseph W. Todd built the house to the west of the Carson residence in 1870, and the Henry Rollins house had been built long before that time. The Negro Mountain was so called because a runaway Negro, during or before the Revolutionary War, escaped and hid in a cave on the mountain till his hiding place was discovered and he was recaptured and returned to his master east of the Blue Ridge. The Mulatto Mountain is said to have taken its name from the color of the soil, but no plausible reason was given for the names applied to the Paddy and Phoenix mountains.
Aras B. Cox
Aras B. Cox was born in Floyd County, Virginia, January 25, 1816, and married Phoebe Edwards, February 23, 1845. They settled in Ashe County. In 1849 he was elected clerk of the Superior Court, and also in 1853. He sold his farm in Alleghany County and bought one seven miles from Jefferson. He was in the Confederate War. He was a distinguished physician and the author of "Footprints on the Sands of Time," published at Sparta, N. C, in August, 1900. He died soon after.
Colonel George Bower
So highly regarded was Col. Bower for his wisdom and sagacity that he was almost universally called "Double Headed Bower," or "Two Headed Bower." He was born in Ashe County, January 8, 1788. His father was John Bower, whose will as recorded in Ashe County disposed of considerable property. George was a merchant, farmer, live-stock raiser and hotellist at Jefferson. He married a Miss Bryant first, and after her death Miss America Russeau. He was elected State Senator when Andrew Jackson was elected president both times. He became one of the bondsmen of John McMillan as clerk of the Superior Court as early as the September term, 1813. At sub-sequent terms he was appointed clerk and master and gave bond as such. He owned a large number of slaves and many State bonds. He was drowned in the Yadkin River, October 7, 1861. His will was probated in 1899, Book E, p. 387. His widow married Robert R. Heath, who was born in New Hampshire October 25, 1806, and died at Jefferson, May 26, 1871. "He was an able lawyer and an up-right judge is engraved on his tomb. Mrs. Heath then married Alston Davis. She was born February 26, 1816, and died May 25, 1903. Her will was probated in 1903, Book E, p. 524.
A Tragic Death
In October, 1861, George Bower followed a runaway slave to the ford of the Yadkin River. He was in his carriage, and the Negro driver told him the river was too swollen to admit of fording it at that time. Col. Bower, insisting, however, the colored man drove in. The current took the carriage with its single occupant far beyond the bank. Col. Bower was drowned, but the driver and horses escaped.
This gentleman was a progressive and valuable citizen of Creston, having kept a store and tavern there. He was born in May, 1796, and died in May, 1864. His wife was a daughter of Timothy Perkins. He reared a splendid family.
He was descended from William Worth, who emigrated from England in the reign of Charles the Second. His father had owned considerable property under the Commonwealth, but at the Restoration it had been confiscated, and his family scattered in search of safety. William had a son, Joseph, born in Massachusetts, and Joseph's son Daniel, married Sarah Husey. Daniel Worth was a son of Joseph and was born in Guilford County, October 15, 1810. Daniel Worth was the father of David Worth, who came to Creston about 1828, and died December 10, 1888. He was a tanner by trade. He also was a most valuable citizen and highly respected. He married Miss Elizabeth Thomas, daughter of Stephen Thomas. She was born January 18, 1821, and died October 22, 1895.
He lived at Creston and was a successful farmer and stock raiser. His wife was Miss Zilphea Dickson. They reared a large family of influential and successful citizens. One of his sons, John, married Delilah Eller, and the other, Marshall, married Mary Eller, a daughter of Luke Eller.
They are said to be of Dutch ancestry, are generally thrifty and successful folk, and own much real estate and livestock. They are honest, frugal and among the best citizens of Ashe.
Jacob, Henry and John Eller
They were sons of Christian Eller, once a resident of the Jersey Settlement in Davidson County. The two former came to Ashe and settled on the North Fork of New River, reared large families, and were successful, useful, respected citizens. Their sons were Peter, Luke, William, John, David and Jacob. John settled on the South Fork and later moved to Wilkes. His sons were Simeon, David, Absalom, John and Peter, who reared large families which are scattered over Western North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Iowa and Nebraska.
Some Early Settlers of Ashe
"These noble, self-sacrificing men and women of the early times endangered their lives and braved many hardships in the wild Indian country to open the way to happy homes, schools, churches and the blessings of our present civilization. Some of these were Henry Poe, Martin Gambill, Thomas Sutherland, Timothy Perkins, Captain John Cox, Henry Hardin, Canada Richardson, James Douglas, Daniel Dickson and Elijah Calloway. Besides these were many others whose names awaken much unwritten history: Miller, Blevins, Ham, Reeves, Woodin, Barr, Baker, Eller, Goodman, Ray, Burkett, Graybeal, Houck, Kilby, Ashley, Jones, Gentry, Smith, Plummer, Lewis, Sutherland, McMillan, Colvard, Barker, Senter, Maxwell, Calhoun, Sapp, Thomas, Worth, Oliver and others."
Source: Western North Carolina A History From 1730 to 1913, By John Preston Arthur, Published by Edward Buncombe Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, of Asheville, N. C., 1914