Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Silas McDowell, on Morganton (part 4)

Morganton and its Surroundings Sixty Years Ago, excerpt, by Silas McDowell, c. 1877, manuscript (transcribed by Ann Walker, ©2009)

    ... The old lady remarked, that as my business would bring me in contact with the citizens of Burke, that she would, for my benefit, exhibit to me a kind of portrait gallery of those families who occupied the front rank in Burke's social circle; as well as a kind of rear rank; that is to say, families who were tolerated in consequence of their wealth.

    "I will begin," she continued, "with the old patriarchs of the county—the few survivors from whom have descended the very best families in the county. The oldest man among these is Arthur Erwin, living on Upper creek; he was once a man of sound practical sense, and of amiable character; but a plain unassuming man; is now high up in eighty, and the father of Col W.W. Erwin of Belvidere. The next is Alexander Erwin, brother of Arthur, and two years younger: their farms join. They are quite unlike in character, Alexander having been devoted to books and a thorough knowledge of the current literature of the age, and withall, when young, a wit, and a dandy: his best representative is Col James Erwin, clerk of our county court. He has many daughters and three sons by his last wife, but none of these are of much promise. The next oldest man is Col. Waightstill Avery of Swan Ponds, four miles up the river. He was once a great lawyer, and [an] amiable man, but now confined at home from weakness in his limbs: he is represented by his only son named Isaac, lately married to Harriet, eldest daughter of Col W.W. Erwin.

    "The next is John Rutherford of Muddy creek 12 miles above Morganton, he will be represented by his only surviving son John; two of his sons having died in the state of Mississippi: his son John is a queer man, but said to have brains.

    "The next is Col John Carson of Buck creek, twenty six miles above Morganton: his best representative promises to be his son Joseph, a lawyer of some note living in Rutherford county. Carson's last wife was the widow of Genl Joseph McDowell of Pleasant Gardens, and Joseph McDowell's best representative is his son John, living in Rutherford County. The homestead, the Gardens, are owned by his youngest son James, but he is no Jo, and will never set the world on fire. James Murphey is our next oldest man, and is a good financeer, acquiring fast and holding on to all that he ever grasps. He has an only son named Jack, a dull man.

    "Then, there is Col John McGimsey of Lineville [sic] valley: he has two sons, John and William—clever young men. The there is old Daniel Forney of Upper creek; very clever, yet made a fool of himself by marrying a young girl while he was near sixty—he will be represented by a large family of children. And then, there is old Col Andrew Baird of Gunpowder creek who has a fine family, and makes bar iron; and there is also old Sam [Newland?] that married a Tate, of the same section, twenty miles in the N. East section of the county. And besides these there are on Johns river the three Perkins brothers and their families; but Jo has the most pretty daughters; and there is Major Hiland, who married a Perkins; all respectable, but unkind to their slaves. Also, there is Dr Thos Bouchell and family, they are tip-toppers, and live up to and, perhaps, beyond the Drs income: but the girls marry well, two of them [ . . . ] Lenoir, the first having died. And then there is old Dave Tate of Morganton and his family: Dave is a kind hearted wicked man, in whom evil and good are about equally mixed, and is very popular with the poor, and represents Burke in the legislature.

    "Next, come in the Greenlee brothers, five of them. They hold vast property, but their social position is not what might be expected; but I must say little about that, for Dave Greenlee is master to my niece, while John has for wife one of the best ladies in the country: pious, accomplished, and kind. But the drawbacks on the family are Ephraim, Sam, James and Bill. Ephraim married Sally Howard of Virginia and they commenced a race who could drink the most brandy! She won, but will not live twelve months, while he can drink himself full, and it don't seem to hurt him.

    "Sam keeps a black woman for wife, and that woman is the greatest curiosity I ever beheld. She is coal black; but her form and features that would be a good model for a statuary chiseling out a H___. Jim and Bill are idiots, —nearly.

    "Another batch of wealthy brothers are the Harshaws: they may be called the Arabs of our respectable society, and form no part of it. Now comes in the names of younger men, such as Charles McDowell of Quaker Meadows; Abe Flemming of Flemming island; and indeed I might name scores of others who are amiable men, but I am growing weary of the thing, and will cut short, and let you go to rest."