Monday, December 12, 2016

The "Pleasant Gardens"

"He was a famous hunter, and delighted in 'trapping,' and to a late period of his life, he could be seen on his way to the mountains, with four large bear traps tied behind him on his horse, with his trusty rifle on his shoulder. On these excursions he would go alone, and be absent for a month or more, hunting the deer, turkies, and bears, and in silent communion with nature and with nature’s God."
—John Hill Wheeler, writing of "Hunting John" McDowell*
There was a wrestling match.
Sometime around 1743, Hunting John McDowell of Augusta County, Virginia, and Henry Weidner,*** a McDowell family friend from Philadelphia, crossed the Catawba River together at Sherrill’s Ford in North Carolina. Only one white family, that of Adam Sherrill, had preceded them into that part of the Carolina frontier. McDowell and Weidner continued westward along the Catawba, and came upon a land tract of unparalleled beauty. They called it “the pleasant garden,” and each wanted it for his own. In traditional Scots-Irish custom, they agreed to wrestle to determine whose the land would be. McDowell won, “using the effective ‘knee trip’”** to defeat Weidner. 
"John McDowell built his house on the west side of the Catawba River, on land now called the Hany Field, a part of the fine body of land well known as 'The Pleasant Gardens,' which for fertility of soil, healthfulness of climate and splendor of scenery, cannot be excelled."*
In 1748 Hunting John received his land grant from John Carteret, Earl of Granville (the former Lord Proprietor, who, upon dissolution of the Lords Proprietor, kept his land in lieu of buyout by the Crown.) The tract extended from Swan Ponds up the Catawba River to Garden City and Buck Creek. Swan Ponds was about three miles above what later became the homestead of his uncle Joseph J. McDowell. Hunting John sold Swan Ponds, without ever occupying it, to Colonel Waightstill Avery, and chose to build his home at “the pleasant garden.” In 1753 that area of Anson County became part of Rowan County, then later, in 1777, part of Burke County. (Later still, in 1842, it would become the heart of McDowell County, created to honor Hunting John’s son Joseph “of Pleasant Gardens.”)
Hunting John had married Ann “Annie” Evans while still in Augusta County, Virginia, about 1746. She was the widow of John Edmiston, who died while their only child was still very young. Hunting John took young Nicholas “Edington” into his household to raise as one of his own. John and Annie would have three children, all born at their North Carolina home: Rachel, Joseph, and Ann. Their only son together was born 25 February 1758 and became "Joseph of Pleasant Gardens.” As he gained renown, and to differentiate him from his cousin Joe of Quaker Meadows, many simply would call him “P.G.”
*Source: John Hill Wheeler, Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians, 1884, Columbus Printing Works, Columbus, Ohio
**“The Wrestling Match,” from Father Weidner, The King of the Forks, by R. Vance Whitener, 1916, Spartanburg, South Carolina
***Henry Weidner’s name is also found in documents as Widener, Whitener, and Whitner.