Mount Vernon, North Carolina: Part Three

When I was growing up in North Carolina, it was sometimes said that slavery only really existed in the eastern part of the state; the western part was historically a land of small farms, tilled by their owners, a place more like Vermont, geographically and ideologically, than South Carolina.

It was something of a shock, then, to learn how fervid an apologist for slavery was my great great granduncle, Nathan Neely Fleming, born and raised in Mount Vernon, North Carolina, a rural crossroads in the western half of the state, far from the big rice, cotton, and tobacco plantations on the coastal plains.  (There’s more about him, other members of my family, and Mount Vernon itself, in parts one and two of this blog post.)  From 1858-1864, N. N. Fleming represented Rowan County in the North Carolina House of Commons, playing an important role in the secession debates of 1861.  On January 16 of that year, he made a fiery speech in the NC legislature, accusing president-elect Lincoln and his “black republican party” of “violent, vindictive, and fanatical hatred” of Southerners, deriding Lincoln’s speeches against slavery, and calling for North Carolina to secede from the Union.  When the state finally did secede, in May of that year, it was his law partner from Salisbury, Burton Craige, who introduced the Ordinance of Secession.

U.S. Representative Burton Craig from Salisbury, NC

U.S. Representative Burton Craige from Salisbury, NC

But wasn’t Salisbury one of the political and economic centers of western North Carolina?  Hadn’t it been the home of The Western Carolinian, the newspaper co-founded by my great great great grandfather Jacob Krider to champion western interests against the large planters in the eastern part of the state?  Wasn’t Rowan County one of those frontier regions of the South, settled by yeoman farmers of Scotch-Irish and German stock, who came down the Wagon Road from Pennsylvania looking for a place to earn their bread by the sweat of their brows and to worship freely in their own Presbyterian, Moravian, Lutheran, and Baptist churches?  What were Nathan Neely Fleming and Burton Craige, sons of old western NC families, doing defending slavery, aligning themselves with the plantation owners in the eastern part of the state, and pushing for secession from the Union just as South Carolina, Mississippi, and other Deep South states had done?

Of course, the old story of a stark east-west divide in North Carolina history has always been too simplistic; yet even today, it’s said of antebellum North Carolina that “Western settlers owned mostly small farms and businesses, while those in the east often had large plantations and commercial enterprises that afforded them more wealth and power.  Additionally, westerners usually had few slaves or none at all, whereas many leaders in the east were large slaveholders” (Encyclopedia of North Carolina 370).  This ignores, of course, a middle position between those two extremes – a position represented geographically by the broad NC piedmont.  That part of the state had often aligned with the mountains against the coastal counties; but, in 1861, when push came to shove, it sided with the east.

That’s because piedmont NC counties like Rowan, if admittedly different in many ways from eastern parts of the state, were nonetheless deeply implicated in the slave economy of the antebellum South, their leading citizens, like Nathan Neely Fleming and Burton Craige, bona fide “planters” from well-established slaveholding families.


The slave population of NC, by county, in 1860: NCpedia

In the map above, drawn by Mark Anderson Moore,  you can clearly see that the coastal plains of the state did in fact have a higher proportion of enslaved people in 1860 than the piedmont or mountains.  Still, there were significant levels of enslavement in the NC piedmont, in some places between 25-50% of the population.  And the highest levels in that area were in the old Scotch-Irish settlements along the Yadkin and Catawba Rivers, with Rowan County one of the biggest slaveholding regions in that whole part of the state.  According to Davyd Foard Hood, of the 14,589 inhabitants of Rowan County in 1860, 3,930 were slaves, or 27% of the total (56).  This is not much below the 33% figure for the whole state.  Far from a land of small, subsistence farms, tilled by the landowners themselves, the county was a major producer of corn, wheat, tobacco, and livestock, farmed largely by the labor of black slaves on what can only be called “plantations.”

And just to be clear, if the NC mountains look “clean” in the map above, that’s an unfortunate reading of its somewhat misleading design.  There were definitely slaves in the far western counties of the state:  “Even in the North Carolina Mountains, where it was impossible to grow staple crops, slaves engaged in a variety of economic activities, including manufacturing, mining, construction, and livestock management” (Encyclopedia of NC 1046).

Still, the belief that slavery in the NC piedmont was somehow less entrenched, less significant, and less evil than slavery in the eastern part of the state, with its huge plantations, absentee landowners, cruel overseers, and human trafficking up and down the South Atlantic seaboard, is deeply-rooted.  Case in point: the claim made by the Rev. Jethro Rumple, 1850 graduate of Davidson College, pastor of Salisbury’s First Presbyterian Church from 1861 to 1903, and historian of Rowan County, that antebellum slavery there was “mild and paternal” (347).

Even today, discussions of slavery in the NC piedmont often go out of their way to moderate its size and severity.  Architectural historian Hood claims that, since its formation in 1753, “Rowan County has been generally characterized by a society of smaller farmers,” and he contrasts its farmers’ “direct and intimate association with the land” with the experience of antebellum planters in the eastern part of the state.  The history of the county thus reflects for Hood “not a rich planter society but rather the prosperity of a middle-class, agrarian economy” (18).

My research suggests, by contrast, that life in Rowan County in the first half of the nineteenth century was inextricably intertwined with the institution of slavery and that the prosperity of the Third Creek community in those years was completely bound up with the ownership and forced labor of human beings of African descent.  Many of the farms there were, in fact, quite large, and the number of enslaved men, women, and children working them, substantial.

Although John Kerr Fleming’s History of Third Creek Presbyterian Church almost completely ignores the role of African-Americans in the history of the Third Creek community, black people are a “present absence” in the book from beginning to end, essential to nearly everything that happens in the story but rarely acknowledged, let alone treated with any depth or sensitivity.  Even the book’s opening line – “The white population development of Piedmont North Carolina began in the 1740s” (1) – simultaneously implies and ignores a non-white population in the region.  Now, Fleming was a white man raised in a rural Southern community in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, so a neglectful attitude toward blacks is perhaps unsurprising.  But one reads the book today wishing that that part of the story had been given more attention.

Of course, the author occasionally lets us know that that there were other people living, working, and praying alongside the Scotch-Irish settlers and their descendants in the homes, farms, and churches of northwest Rowan County, NC.  There are even occasional glimpses of a plantation society that we usually only associate with coastal counties to the east.  For example, after describing Samuel Young, the first white man to permanently locate in the Third Creek area, as a “Planter” because he eventually amassed 6,600 acres in the region, Fleming adds that Young not only owned large tracts of land in Rowan County but “was also the possessor of 50 or more slaves” (6).  But we rarely hear about slaves themselves in the book, though they must have played a crucial role in building and maintaining the world Fleming depicts.

Take Third Creek Presbyterian Church itself.  No resource I consulted about it – not Fleming’s history, or Davyd Foard Hood’s architectural survey, or the National Register of Historic Places nomination form –  prepared me for seeing the architectural renderings below, which represent vividly the status of African Americans in this congregation before the Civil War.  What everyone else had referred to simply as the “balcony” of the church is here called what it actually was: the slave gallery, a phrase which both reminds us of the presence of African American worshippers in this religious community and literally puts those worshippers in their place.  (After Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831, North Carolina law explicitly forbade any black person, slave or free, from preaching in public, or leading “any prayer meeting, or association for worship where slaves of different families are collected together,” thus effectively banning black churches, though slaves continued to develop their own “invisible” religious institutions.)

Given the silence of Fleming and others on the topic of slavery in antebellum Rowan County, NC, my own understanding of the topic comes mainly from US Census records.  The numbers derived therefrom paint an admittedly incomplete picture of that world.  But they can at least put us on the road to a more complete, and candid, understanding of this corner of the NC piedmont in the years leading up to and following the Civil War – more complete and candid than can be got by simply looking at gravestones or reading histories written by the sons and daughters of local white families.

As I suggested earlier, the belief that the NC piedmont in the antebellum period was entirely a land of small farms, tilled by the owners themselves, is clearly false.  Hood himself, while arguing that farmers here had a more “intimate” association with the land than big planters in the eastern part of the state, acknowledges that there were very large plantations in antebellum Rowan County.  He mentions, for example, Spruce Macay’s “Milford,” west of Salisbury, where 4,200 acres were farmed by 96 slaves in the 1850s (Hood 18, 55).  There were other very large slaveholders in the county: the Chambers, the Steeles, the Hendersons, the Kerrs, etc.

Antebellum northwest Rowan County didn’t have plantations the size of Milford, but the region of Third and Fourth Creeks was clearly an important agricultural production center with very large farms and significant numbers of slaves.  My family was a key player in that world and during the first half of the nineteenth century saw its fortunes rise as its involvement in slavery, and its connections to other slaveholding families, increased.  The earliest sign of this involvement concerns my great great great great grandfather Francis Neely, who, in the 1800 US Census, at age 39, is listed in the Salisbury division of Rowan County with four children (his sons Alexander, Holman, and Nathan, and daughter Elizabeth, my great great great grandmother), all under the age of 10 , a wife, Mary, aged 34, and nine slaves.  By 1820, Francis’ property in human beings had quadrupled.  That year, he is listed in the “Forks of the Yadkin” region of Rowan County, in present-day Davie County, with eight children and 41 slaves.

The eight filled columns on the right-hand side of the census form (shown below) list, first, Francis’ male slaves and then his female slaves in four age categories: under 14, between 14-25, 26-44, and over 45.  You can see that 20 of his slaves were under 14 years old.  And you can get a sense here, clearer when you see the whole page, that he was a large slaveholder in this area.  In fact, with 41 slaves in 1820, Francis would have been a large slaveholder anywhere in NC.


It is dangerous to rely too heavily on genealogical websites and online forums for this kind of research, but it’s hard not to quote here from a 2002 post to a Holman/Holeman family website (accessed August 11, 2013), which says of Francis Neely (Mary Holman’s husband) that he “became so rich that he left a large plantation apiece” to six of his children, the properties together totaling 3,200 acres.  The estate “also included ‘my mills on Third Creek with lands adjoining, all the balance of my real-estate, and all my personal estate, except my negroes,’ and he further directed that these slaves should be sold at public auction and equally divided among the heirs.”  According to the writer, “Somewhat of the immense size of [Neely’s] original plantation may [be] appreciated by the statement that it stretched from north of Salisbury, county seat of Rowan County, to above Mocksville, since established as county seat of Davie County; while private papers handed down to [Francis and Mary’s] great-grandson Alexander Lee Smoot, vice-president of the People’s National Bank of Salisbury, add that ‘Francis Neely’s estate was so extensive, he could ride nine miles in a straight line without getting off his own land.’”

Whatever the size of their father’s holdings, in the 1820s, the Neely children were striking out on their own, albeit with plenty of help from Francis and Mary.  As we’ve seen, in 1822 alone, Elizabeth married my great great great grandfather Robert Nesbit Fleming; Alexander married Margaret Barber; and Rebecca married Samuel Luckey, who came from an old Third Creek Church family.  The young Luckey couple, like the Flemings, settled in the Mount Vernon area and began amassing land and slaves – within a generation, Sam and Rebecca would have 20 of the latter.

Nearby lived Jacob and Sallie Krider, who were also increasing their land and slave holdings during this period (and who are discussed at greater length in part one of this blog post).  Their farm, described in a 1980 National Register of Historic Places nomination as typical of “the medium scale plantation economy of the western Piedmont of North Carolina” (5), eventually amounted to 640 acres, 300 of them under cultivation, producing corn, oats, wheat, and tobacco, as well as livestock.  In addition, Krider’s mill  produced $8,000 a year in flour (6).  Most of this work, of course, was done by slaves.  In the 1830 US Census for Rowan County, Krider is listed as owning 10 slaves; in 1840, he has 17; and, in 1850 and 1860, he has 24 slaves, paralleling almost exactly the rise of the Sam Luckey estate up the road.  By this point, as we’ll see below, both Krider and Luckey officially qualify as “planters,” and their farms as “plantations,” in the terms of the Southern socioeconomic system.  These are not words we usually associate with the western half of antebellum North Carolina, but they are apt.

Krider’s wife, Sallie Wood, came from a local family that also saw both its general fortunes and the number of its slaves soar in the first half of the nineteenth century.  In the 1810 US Census, her father Daniel Wood is listed with 34 slaves in Rowan County, more even than Francis Neely at that point.  A year after his death two decades later, in 1829, when he left his property and mills in the Mount Vernon area to daughter Sallie and her husband Jacob, his sons William B. and Thomas Wood are listed in the 1830 Census with 30 and 31 slaves, respectively.  In the following decade, William B. Wood would figure prominently in the histories of both Third Creek Church and Davidson College; according to John Kerr Fleming, he would also become “one of the largest landowners of his generation in the Third Creek Congregation” (60).  By 1840, the US Census lists him with 41 slaves and, in 1850, three years before he died, with 70.  His son Dr. Daniel Burton Wood, whose life would intersect in multiple ways with that of my family, is listed in 1860 with 19 slaves, though by then his energies were being directed more to his medical practice than to agriculture; he had several siblings, including the Rev. William A. Wood, who also inherited some of their fathers’ property, including slaves.

But whether we’re talking about William B. Wood with 70 slaves in 1850 or Jacob Krider with 24 in 1860, these are very large landowners with substantial investments in human property.  And they were typical, I believe, of the leading families of the Third Creek area in the mid-nineteenth century.  We know, for example, that the median sized farm in NC in 1860 was 50-100 acres in size, with 41% of farms in the state under 50 acres; but we also know that nearly one-third of the state’s farms, including many of those in the Third Creek region, were larger than 100 acres, with 29% in the 100-500 acre range.  Three percent of the state’s farms were larger than 500 acres. (Statistics in this and the following paragraph come from Learn NC.)

As for slaves, we know that, in 1860, 28% of NC households headed by a free person owned slaves, though 89% of those families owned fewer than 20.  In fact, 71% of NC’s slaveholding families owned fewer than 10 slaves, and 47% owned fewer than five.  Still, in 1860, 4,065 NC families, about 12% of the state’s slaveholding class, or 3% of all NC households headed by a free person, owned more than 20 slaves, with 744 families owning more than 50, and four families, more than 300 slaves.

The key dividing line, for historians, however, is the number 20, with landowners holding more than 20 slaves classified as “planters,” regardless of where the “plantation” was located or what was grown there.  (A succinct discussion of the definition of the word “planter” in this context can be found in the Wikipedia article on “Plantations in the American South.”)  Some historians have wanted to use the phrase “large planter” for those owning more than 50 slaves, and “medium planter” for those with between 16 and 50; but David Williams has argued for keeping the minimum requirement at 20 slaves, in part because that was the number used to exempt a landowner or overseer from duty in the Confederate army, the belief being that too many slaves left unsupervised during the war would cause trouble.

We should also recognize the tremendous monetary value of these slaves.  According to the Encyclopedia of North Carolina, a “prime field hand” in 1840 cost about $800; by 1860, the price had doubled: “field hands sold for $1,500 to $1,700, women $1,300 to $1,500, and artisans as much as $2,000” (1047).  A more conservative estimate would put the 1860 figure for a field hand at around $1,000.  In 2002 dollars, according to Alan J. Singer, a professor at Hofstra University, that would translate to about $20,000 for a single slave.  Twenty slaves (assuming they were all “prime field hands”) would thus be worth, in 2002 dollars, about $400,000 total.

We are talking, in other words, about families who must have thought that their fortunes were clearly tied to the interests of their fellow “planters” in the antebellum South, a class literally willing to go to war to protect their property in other human beings.

But what about my family?  In the 1810 US Census for Rowan County, NC, neither Samuel Fleming who might be my great great great great grandfather is listed with any slaves.  And in the 1820 census, the person who is almost certainly my great great great grandfather, Robert N. Fleming, aged 34, is living alone – no wife, no children, and no slaves.  His occupation is listed as “manufacturing.”  His father, who apparently died in 1813 or 14, seems to have left him little, although his actual socioeconomic status at this point is hard to ascertain.


But, as I indicated earlier, Robert’s life changed dramatically between 1820 and 1830.  In 1822, he married Elizabeth Neely and may well have gained considerable financial resources at that point.  Soon, he was living on a farm near Mount Vernon, NC, and building a house on it.  By the end of that decade, in 1830, a year after his father-in-law passed away, he had four young boys (my great great grandfather John Giles Fleming and his brothers Andrew, Nathan, and David).  He also had 16 slaves: eight male and eight female: four under the age of 10, six between 10-23, four between 24-35, and two between 36-54.  Robert Fleming was not yet a “planter,” but he was getting there fast.

Here are the six free white members of Robert Fleming’s family in 1830:


And here are his 16 slaves.  The total number of household members is 22.


How did Robert Fleming go in one decade from having no slaves to having 16?  Did he get the slaves, or money to buy them, from his father-in-law in 1822 when he and Elizabeth married?  Or did prosperity come in 1829 when Francis Neely died?  (As we saw in part two of this blog post, Robert purchased additional property in the Mount Vernon neighborhood in 1831 from his brother-in-law Alexander Smoot, husband of Elizabeth’s sister Temperance).  Or did Robert rise financially on his own, taking advantage of what I described earlier as the open, expanding economy of the United States in the decades after the War of 1812.

In any case, the additional property must have been an incentive to keep expanding his slaveholdings since, just before his death, Robert N. Fleming is listed in the 1840 US Census with 27 slaves, 10 males and 17 females (13 under the age of 10, seven between 10-23, three between 24-35, three between 36-54, and one between 55-99).  He was now officially a “planter” and the farm located  on Cool Springs Road near Mount Vernon, NC, was, properly speaking, a “plantation.”

Here are the six free white people in Robert N. Fleming’s family in 1840:


And here are his 27 slaves:


The Fleming slaveholdings are the second largest on the page, the highest figure (41) belonging to William B. Wood, whom we met above.


Then, in 1841, Robert died.  His eldest child, my great great grandfather John Giles Fleming, aged 18, was now the head of the family.  He was young; one imagines that the swift rise in family fortunes begun by Robert must have slowed a little.  For one thing, there were four younger siblings to take care of.  Within a few years, though, John married neighbor Margaret Clementine Krider, daughter of Jacob and Sallie Krider of Mount Vernon, themselves prosperous slaveholders with close ties to the Woods.  And brothers Andrew, Nathan, and David all struck out on their own.

By 1850, John G. Fleming is listed as a farmer in the US Census with wife Margaret C., both 27 years old, their infant son Robert, and John’s sister Mary E.


For the first time, US Census forms in the South list slaves on a separate form or “schedule.”  For 1850, as shown below, John G. Fleming is listed as a slaveowner with 13 slaves: eight male and five female.  They are listed neatly by age, sex, and color.  Both Andrew, a surveyor and apparently living next door (see both above and below), and David, also still in the neighborhood, are listed with seven slaves each.  My guess is that Nathan, a lawyer and living now in a boarding house in Davie County, had 1 or 2 slaves of his own, perhaps rented out in the neighborhood to provide a little extra income.  If so, that would make 28 or 29 slaves total for the family, nine years after Robert N. Fleming, with 27 slaves, died.


The last US Census that counted slaves in the South took place in 1860.  That year, John G. Fleming, aged 37, was listed on the “free” schedule, again as a farmer, along with the rest of his growing family: wife Margaret C., also 37, sons Robert N. (10), William K. (9), and Nathan N. (2), and daughters Sarah E. (7), Margaret I. (5), and baby Roberta (1 month).


On the “slave” schedule that year (see below), John G. is listed with 20 slaves, returning the family to the “planter” status that his father had achieved by 1840 and giving him exemption later from duty in the Confederate Army, at least once the draft age rose to include him.  There are now 15 male slaves and five female ones living in four slave houses on the property.  Although brother Andrew Fleming had died in 1853, his widow Margaret Emmeline (“Emily”) Fleming is listed nearby with five slaves, and brothers David and Nathan with six and one respectively.


As in the 1850 Census, the slaves are listed here by age, sex, and color.  Thirteen are under 16 years old.  But what I find most disturbing about the document is its almost extravagant refusal to name the slaves.  There is a reason, of course, why Southerners didn’t want slave names recorded in the US Census; after all, from their point of view, the slave schedule was no different than a list of livestock.  But the ample white space to the left of each slave, clearly belonging here to the slaveowner himself, seems to add insult to injury.  There’s plenty of room for names, and one wishes that the slaves being so carefully counted had been accorded that one small dignity.

In the summer of 1865, John Giles Fleming returned from war service to a land of physical and moral devastation.  The old world was clearly gone, but it was unclear what would replace it.  Of his four siblings, only one, David, survived with him into the post war period.  Andrew died in 1853, Mary Elizabeth in 1854, and Nathan in 1864, with not even a grave to remember him by.

Fortunately, John and Margaret had a lively crew in the house on Cool Springs Road – eight children, including my great grandfather Nathan Neely Fleming – and that must have compensated somewhat for the difficulties and uncertainties all around them.  John seems to have taken on new responsibilities at Third Creek Church, where he was named a deacon in the late 1860s.

But try as I might, I cannot find the family in the 1870 U.S. Census.  I have gone page by page through all the northern Rowan County listings but cannot find them anywhere.  Electronic searches have also turned up nothing.  I know they must be there, in the house near Mount Vernon, but there is no official record in the Census.  Perhaps they were all away, in 1870, on the day the enumerator came; perhaps that person somehow missed the house; maybe the forms have been lost; or maybe I just haven’t found them yet.  In any case, it is a gaping hole in my knowledge of family history.  The Third Creek community changed so much between 1860 and 1880; it would be good to see how this family was doing midway.

What we do know is that Margaret Krider Fleming, John’s wife and the mother of his eight children, died on Jan. 26, 1879, and was buried in Third Creek Church cemetery.  In the 1880 US Census, the rest of the family is listed without her – everyone except son William Krider (“Bee”) Fleming, who, in 1878, at the age of 27, married Lillie Burton Wood, daughter of Daniel Burton Wood, and moved to Elmwood, close by Third Creek Church itself, to be near that family.  On Cool Springs Road in Mount Vernon, meanwhile, were the widower John G. Fleming, 57 years old and still listed as a farmer; his oldest child Robert N., 30 years old, a “retired merchant,” also listed as a widower; daughters Sallie E. (25), Maggie I. (23), Roberta (20), and Julia J. (15), all listed as “at home”; and the remaining boys: my great grandfather Nathan N. (22), and Charles J. (“Charly”) (17), both listed as laborers.


Something else caught my eye in the 1880 Census.  Immediately below the listing for John G. Fleming’s household, in the very next residence visited by the enumerator that day, is another Fleming family, one I had not encountered before.


Here are Munroe Fleming, aged 22, his wife Lieunza (?), also 22, and their son John, aged one.  Living with them are Henry Johnston, aged 22 and Ben Fleming, aged 15, perhaps Munroe’s brother or cousin.  Their color is listed as black.

I can’t help but wonder: is Munroe the three-year-old boy in the 1860 slave schedule for John Fleming, shown above?  And if so, what kind of relationship did he have with my great grandfather Nathan Neely Fleming, who was the same age, born on the same property, and raised on the same farm?

After 1880, even more changes came to the Fleming house on Cool Springs Road.   John Giles Fleming, my great great grandfather, died on September 7, 1885, at age 62.  His sons Robert and Nathan became leading figures at Third Creek Church, but both left after awhile.  Mount Vernon was losing its importance as a rural crossroads in northwest Rowan County, and the young people were decamping for other, bigger places.  The widower Robert re-married, moving away to the Davie County home of his new wife.  William remained in Elmwood, near the Wood family; at one point his household included son John Kerr Fleming, future historian of Third Creek Church, and that boy’s grandfather, Daniel Burton Wood.  In 1888, meanwhile, my great grandfather Nathan Neely Fleming married Mary Rosa Wetmore of Woodleaf and soon settled in that town; they had six children together, including my grandfather, the second John Giles Fleming, who left the area as a young man, settling in eastern North Carolina, where most of his descendants live today.  Nathan’s sister Maggie Fleming, whose name appears near Mount Vernon on that hand-drawn map of 1903, shown in part two of this blog post, never married; she is buried in Third Creek Church cemetery, as is her sister Roberta, who, like her brother William, married into the Wood family.  I’m not sure what became of Sarah and Julia.  Charles Jackson Fleming was the last member of the family to live in the house on Cool Springs Road, selling it to the Cartner family in 1906 and moving to nearby Cleveland, NC, with his wife Annie Kincaid and their children, including son Giles M. Fleming, a doctor, who would sign my great grandfather’s death certificate in 1929.

The old Fleming farm near Mount Vernon exists to this day, as can be seen below in this Google Maps street view, looking out from the house on Cool Springs Road.

As for Munroe Fleming and his family, I wish I knew more about them.  I wonder if they worshipped at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church, a black congregation located just down Carson Road (above in the Google Maps street view) from the old Fleming estate.  It’s shown here in this 1910 map of rural delivery routes in Rowan County, where it’s labeled “Mt. Vernon Colored Ch.”

536335_396980230343633_1632740503_nThe church’s Facebook page says that it was founded in 1870 by ex-slaves tired of worshiping in the balcony of local white churches.  According to architectural historian Davyd Foard Hood, the first church building was a log structure, replaced by the present wood frame church in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.  In the photograph shown here, you can see the brick veneer added to the church in 1977.  Hood says that memorial windows inside the church are inscribed in honor of parishioners “having the names of some of the oldest families in western Rowan County, including Heatham, Luckey, Fleming, Knox, and Phifer” (117).

Unfortunately, there’s no Google Maps street view of the church.  It looks like I’ll have to go there myself one day.

US Census records for my family in Rowan County, NC, were accessed, in raw form, through the Internet Archive; searchable census records were also used, through‘s Library Edition (via UMass Amherst, which has a subscription).

For “A Slave State” from Learn NC, click here.

For North Carolina’s antebellum “black codes,” click here.

For Wikipedia’s “Plantations in the American South,” click here; for the “Twenty Negro Law,” click here.

For Alan J. Singer’s conversion table from nineteenth century slave prices to 2002 dollars, click here.

For the 1983 National Register of Historic Places nomination of Third Creek Church (PDF), click here.

For the 1980 National Register of Historic Places nomination of Mount Vernon (Jacob Krider’s homestead) (PDF), click here.

For Jethro Rumple’s History of Rowan County (PDF), originally published in Salisbury in 1881, click here.

John Kerr Fleming’s Historic Third Creek Presbyterian Church was published in Raleigh by the Presbyterian Synod of NC in 1967.

Davyd Foard Hood’s The Architecture of Rowan County, North Carolina: A Catalogue and History of Surviving 18th, 19th and Early 20th Century Structures was published in Salisbury by the Rowan County Historic Properties Commission in 1983.

The Encyclopedia of North Carolina, edited by William S. Powell, was published in Chapel Hill by the University of North Carolina Press in 2006.

9 thoughts on “Mount Vernon, North Carolina: Part Three

  1. Your writings of time and place regarding your family are thought provoking. We all are part of a history that is in the present, at times, invisible to the eye. Learning of our historical time and place can illuminate our present. Your writing has helped me to think about past and present. Best ~ Jean G

  2. I, too, have researched my family. I am the descendant of Rebecca Neely and Samuel Luckey. While not proud of the fact that my paternal ancestors owned slaves, I take consolation in the fact that Rebecca and Sam’s daughter Katie married a Foster, who were of Quaker stock and never owned slaves, yet were prosperous land-owners and farmers going back to the 1700s. Also, my maternal ancestors never owned slaves. It was also against their religion.

    Here’s another anecdote: Francis Neely carried a hollow cane everywhere he went. Inside the cane were gold coins. So, when he bought something, he’d shake the cane and the coins would roll out. They said he liked to “shake a stick at it”. 🙂

  3. Very good read about the Third Creek community. I have strong ties to the community, although I no longer live there. I appreciate that the history won’t be lost.

  4. Hi, My family married into the Lackeys very early on and they also owned quite a few slave in Rowan County, NC. They are also buried at the Third Creed Cemetery. They are Robert and Elizabeth Smiley Johnston. Robert is 1698 – 1778. Our Johnston descendants would sell corn, oats and hire out their wagons to the military back in the Revolutionary War. I am a direct descendant of the Johnston’s all the way to my mother. Through the Lackeys we have some relations. Good deal cousin….
    Cynthia Byrtus

    • Hi, Cynthia
      I am researching Ruth Johnson/Johnston who married Isaac Wilcocks/Wilcockson sometime in the years 1773-1775. They lived either in Rowan Co and/or in Wilkes Co. In 1787, at the death of her husband Ruth is identified as living in Rowan Co. I cannot find Ruth’s parents. Do you have any Ruth in your Johnston line?
      The reason I ask is the following:
      Robert Johnson as well as John Wilcocks, Samuel Luckey, William & James & Morgan Bryan, James Brown, Theops Morgan, Thomas & Will Wilson, and Luke Lee are named as being ordered in 1772 by the Rowen Court “to lay a road leading from Salisbury to the shoals of the Yadkin. Also the same between Second & Third Creek with this road running towards Renshaw’s Ford on the South River, then along the dividing ridge between Rocky and Hunting Creek, until it intersects Hunting Creek, and from the head of the creek to the next ford above Widow Backis on the main Yadkin River, known as Samual Bryant’s Bottom”.
      John Wilcocks/Wilcockson was Isaac’s father or uncle/guardian. A number of the families named in the above group, i.e.,Bryan, Morgan, Wilson, and Lee married into the Wilcocks/Wilcockson family. It would be great to learn that your Johnson line was connected also through Ruth Johnson.
      My name is Jean Steube, email is
      I would love to hear from you if it’s not too much trouble!

  5. I am a direct descendant of the Slaves mentioned (Johnson, Luckey, and Neely). This gave me great insight on our history. It would be a safe assumption that parantage is share as several of my relatives having blue and green eyes including my daughter.

  6. I think the bondsman for Elizabeth Neely and Robert Fleming marriage was Alexander Neely, Elizabeth’s brother. At least that’s what it says on her listing.
    I am a direct descendant of Francis Neely and Mary Holman through their daughter Rebecca Neely Luckey.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s