Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Tag: Rutherford County

He is devoted to his call in the ministry.


The subject of this sketch, Franklin Kesler Bird, was born December 1, 1856, at Rutherfordton, N. C. He was the only child of his father, William Bird, who died when young Franklin was two years of age. He and his mother, Mary Martha, lived with his grandfather, the “Blacksmith,” Wylie Morris, until 1867, when his mother was married to Cain Gross.

By early industry and economy Wylie Morris succeeded in purchasing his freedom for $2,000, and marrying a freeborn woman. All of Franklin’s relatives were freeborn, and strict members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, until after the close of the war, when they connected themselves with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which remains the choice of the family. Young Franklin connected himself with the Church of which he is now a member at the age of eleven years, and soon afterward manifested much usefulness and devotion. His stepfather being engaged yearly in a large farming business, in which Franklin was regularly employed, together with the meagre school system of his home section, deprived him of early school advantages, except one or two months occasionally in some private or public school.

In 1869 his grandfather moved and settled at Newport, Tenn. In 1871, while visiting him, he was favored with one year’s instruction in the high school of that place, under Professor William H. McGhee as instructor. On his return to his native home he had made sufficient advancement to obtain a third grade teacher’s certificate, and taught his first school at Mykle’s Chapel Schoolhouse, near his home. This was the small beginning of an eventful life of public usefulness.

It was while teaching this small school that he grasped the opportunities of educating himself. He paid out of his income for private instruction to one Professor –, a white teacher, at the rate of $2 for three recitations each week at night, on condition that he would never divulge his teacher’s name. During this time he succeeded in completing his studies in arithmetic, grammar, geography, history, etc. He also cultivated his talent in vocal music, and while teaching the same his fame had reached Marion, N. C., from which place he received a call to the principalship of a large school, which gave him from five to six months’ employment in each year. He remained at the head of this school for six years consecutively, during which time he found his way to Biddle University, Charlotte, N. C., where he spent four terms, paying for the same with the money he obtained by teaching. He professed faith in Christ June 24, 1874, served in every local official capacity in his church, was licensed to exhort July 4, 1876; received local preacher’s license in November of the same year, and joined the North Carolina Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, at Salisbury, N. C., December 4, 1877. He took his first appointment in the following year at the hands of his Presiding Elder. Rev. S. S. Murdock, to a part of the Marion Circuit.

At the following Conference, Goldsboro, N. C., he was ordained deacon and appointed in charge of the entire circuit. This work was so enlarged that it became the work of two pastors at the end of his two years’ administration. At Lincolnton, N. C., in 1879, when the North Carolina Conference was divided, and the Central and North Carolina Conferences formed, he was appointed to Wilson Station, in the North Carolina Conference. At the end of the year the property, which had been long involved in litigation, was redeemed, and the church doubled in membership. At Tarboro, N. C., 1880, he was ordained to the office of an elder and stationed at Concord, N. C., where he rendered efficient service to Bishop C. R. Harris, as business manager of the Star of Zion. On April 7, of this year, at Wilson, N. C., he was united by marriage to Miss Agnes M. Barnes, a student of St. Augustine Institute, Raleigh, N. C.

During this year he also met President Mattoon, D.D., of Biddle University, with whom he arranged, and in the next year reentered the university, filling at the same time the pastorate at Biddleville Station. He remained in the university five terms, during which he completed the normal course and advanced rapidly in the classical course. He was considered by the faculty as being one of the brightest students in that institution. He is yet a student, and has mastered many of the studies most helpful to him in his work by persistent effort and private instructions.

In February, 1883, Bishop Hood secured his services by transfer, and stationed him at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Exchange Street, Worcester, Mass., where he rendered more than three years’ successful service, to the general satisfaction of the people. He was then removed to the church, corner Broad and Gregory Streets, Bridgeport, Conn. Here he had a splendid financial success. At the end of two years, feeling that his services could be more effective in the Southern field, he transferred back to his native State, and has since filled with success the pastorates at St. Paul Station, Tarboro, N. C., Farmer’s Temple, Washington, N. C., and St. James Station, at Goldsboro, N. C. He has filled the position of secretary in all of his Conferences, receiving all his ordinations under the administration of Bishop Hood, and has been in attendance upon the last three General Conferences, where he was an able representative of his Church and race.

While at the General Conference at Pittsburg, Pa., May, 1892, he received notice from the President of Bethany College, at Lumberton, N. C., that the trustees of said institution had, without solicitation, conferred upon him the degree of Divinitatis Doctor. Upon refusing to accept their proffer he found on his arrival home the certificate awaiting him at the express office. At his Conference on December 6, 1892, he was unanimously elected to the position of presiding elder, as the result of a long-expressed desire upon the part of the ministers, and was appointed Presiding Elder of the Wilmington District of the North Carolina Conference, where he is doing a great work in building up and extending the borders of Zion. He is unassuming in public life, affable, congenial in disposition, self-sacrificing, and devoted to his calling in the ministry.

From J.W. Hood, One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; or, The Centennial of African Methodism (1895).


In the 1860 census of Broad District 2, Rutherford County: Wiley Morris, 57, Louisa, 42, Wily, 23, Mary, 18, Wm., 17, Adelade, 14, David, 11, Franklin Keesler, 3, and Martha Morris, 20.

Surnames: Rutherford County, 1850.


They asked him if he had that gun to shoot Ku-Klux.

Question. I would be glad if you would give us many names as you can recollect of those who have been outraged.

Answer. I have left my best memorandum at the hotel. I will state from memory what I can now recollect. Did I state about Mr. Gillespie being taken out and abused by them and threatened? He is a white man; a gang of disguised men seized him, either the last of March or the first of April, pulled him out of his house, and said that they thought two hundred lashes would make a good conservative of him; that he had been a radical, and had been unpunished for a ling time. There was a colored man we call old issue free negro; that is, he has always been a free negro; he was born free. His name was Jonas Watts; he was whipped by them, and had his gun taken away. They asked if he had that gun to shoot Ku-Klux; he said, No. They took the gun away from him, and said it was a damned good piece they had captured; that is what he says. They told him that it was the way he had been voting that they visited. They visited the house of a colored named T.P. Bradley, committed some insolence about his house and threatened him, but did not whip him.

Testimony of James M. Justice, July 5, 1871, Report of the Joint Select Committee to inquire into the condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, North Carolina (1872).

[Sidenote: Justice testified that he had lived in Rutherfordton since 1865 and was born and raised in neighboring Henderson County. He worked as a mechanic and was elected to the NC legislature in 1868. During that time, he was admitted to the North Carolina Bar and worked as an attorney. — LYH]

I gave him a copy of his indentures.

Haywood Chatham cty. N.C.

I do hereby certify that a coloured Boy, by the name of Banks Evans; that was bound to Col John Farrar of this county, has lived in my employ; for the last three years up to February last; about which time he became Twenty one years of age & in a short time afterward left my employ & hired himself; to a man in my neighborhood in Rutherford county NC. with whom at the time I left in June last he was living as a free man; & receiving pay for his services as a free man; after he became free I gave him a copy of his indentures with the certificate of the clerk of the county court  of Chatham Cty with the county seal thereto attached believing that was sufficient evidence of his freedom.  /s/ Jno. Smith

Sworn & subscribed to before me this 10th July 1837 J.H. Shull J.P.

[On reverse: John Smith affidavit in the case of Banks Evans a free boy of colour — 1837 — August Term]

Horrible outrage.


Three Radicals Murder a Negro, His Wife and Four Children in Their Own Home.

The House Burned to Conceal the Crime – A Mother’s Devotion – The Woman Alarms Neighbors and Secures the Arrest of the Murderers.

RALEIGH, N.C., May 2, 1871.

The Sentinel of to-day has a correspondence from Rutherford Court House, which give the details of one of THE MOST HORRIBLE OUTRAGES that has ever shocked human ears. The perpetrators of the deed are radicals, though it partakes of the nature of Ku Klux Klan outrages. Six souls were, without a word of warning, ushered into eternity, and their slaughtered bodies afterwards consumed in the flames of their burning home. The outrage occurred in Morgan township, on the border of McDowell county, and is as follows:

Silas Weston, a free negro before the war, has for many years been living with Polly Steadman, a white woman of loose character. Polly has or had four children, white, the oldest about fourteen, the youngest nearly two years of age.

SILAS AND POLLY lived peaceably together, and were in better circumstances than most of their class. Some time ago three notorious characters – Govan and Columbus Adair and M. Bernard – were charged with the theft of a quantity of brandy and bound over at McDowell County Court. Silas had seen the thieves carrying off the booty, and was subpoenaed as the principal witness for the prosecution. The Adairs threatened his life if he peached but Silas expressed a determination to bring the rogues to justice. What we now proceed to tell is THE SWORN DEPOSITION of the woman Polly Steadman: — On Wednesday evening, April 26, shortly after nightfall, while the family were preparing to retire to peaceful repose, the dog began to bark violently. Polly, looking through chinks between the logs, received a pistol bullet in the eye. With a wild scream she sprang back, and at that instant the door was broken down and in rushed Govan Adair, Columbus Adair and Bernard FIRING AS THEY CAME. Silas fell dead, with two balls in the head. One of the assassins stood over the children as they lay upon the floor, shooting them through the head like so many pigs. Polly stopped to creep under the bed, but was flung back. Then she began to fight like a tigress. One of the butchers attacked her with a knife. Finally, with five deep cuts on the body, with her throat deeply gashed and a pistol shot through the eye, this poor creature sank to the floor and was kicked into a pile of broom straw preparatory to THE GRAND AUTO DA FE.  Meanwhile every voice in the family had been stilled. Six lifeless bodies lay on the bloody floor – the old man on the hearth, the mother haggled in pieces on the straw, and the children in their night clothes, lying where they fell – all had been jostled by rude feet. The fiends contemplated their work, to make sure it had been done thoroughly, and prepared to hide their tracks. Piling up clothing, straw and other combustible matter they applied the match, and then, with an ineffaceable stain on their souls, fled away into the darkness.

A MOTHER’S DEVOTION. And now occurred what may well sound marvelous. Polly Steadman, scorched by the flames, arouses herself, seizes her youngest child, who gives signs of life, and, crawling towards the door, tries to drag out another child, but nature fails, and the body lies just outside the threshold; then, with supernatural strength, Polly staggers the distance of half a mile to the residence of Mrs. Williams, and gives THE ALARM. It is too late. Three bleached skeletons grin from the ashes,, and a blistered corpse lay without the door.  As soon as possible messengers were dispatched for Sheriff Walker and for medical assistance; but before either arrived, Polly, supposing herself in the last agony of death, solemnly testified against the murderers. She knew them well; they were her near neighbors, and were not disguised. Her testimony was so clear and positive it carried conviction to all who heard it. Accordingly Squire Hanes promptly issued a warrant for THE ARREST of the suspected parties. They were found at home, one of them in bed, though late in the day. Sheriff Walker arrived shortly afterward and conveyed the prisoners to this place, where they are closely confined. Commenting on this horrible affair, it is proper to state with emphasis that all the parties are of the lowest order of society, and that all of them, the slain and the slayers, are radicals of the deepest dye. The Adairs for years have attended the polls for no other purpose than to insult and intimidate conservative voters. So “trooly loil” were they that even with murder in their hearts they sought to make the deed redound for the benefit of the party.

Reading Eagle, Reading, Pennsylvania, 4 May 1871.

In the 1860 census of Catheys Creek, Rutherford County: Cinthia Weston, 41, (described as “idiotic”), Elizabeth, 32, Stephen, 21, and Silas Weston, 20. In the 1870 census of Morgan, Rutherford County: Silus Western 50, farmer, wife Mary, 25, and children Harberd, 10, Docia, 6, David, 4, and Mary, 7 months. Silus, Harberd and baby Mary were described as mulatto; Mary, Docia, and David as white. Nearby, the large household of James H. and Arminta Adair, which included sons Columbus, 26, and Govan, 24.

He once sold a free negro named Wingfield.

State v. John C. Hardin, 19 NC 407 (1837).

John C. Hardin (and John Haney, whose case went to the Supreme Court separately) was indicted for negro-stealing in Rutherford county. Hardin’s trial was removed to Burke County, where he was convicted on both counts in the indictment.   At trial, the State proved that a slave, the property of Nancy Davis, was stolen, or seduced, or went, from Davis’ Rutherford County plantation, on the fourth Saturday of July, 1836.

A witness named Robins testified that on the day after the slave disappeared, he saw Haney at a meeting house in the neighborhood. Haney told him that a negro had come to him the preceding night a little before day and requested that Haney go that evening and tell Hardin to meet him at a place called Webb’s old field that night, about an hour after dark. In the course of the conversation, Haney remarked, “Hardin has missed the one he has been trying to secure; but good luck will come after bad. Tell him, this boy has come to me.” Robins and Hardin went to the place and at the time appointed. Haney whistled and “a large negro-man” When asked where he had come from, Haney said, “He came from the widow Davis.” Haney then remarked, “You, Robins, must take him off. It will be a safe trip, as the widow has not energy to press like some people. In the mean time Hardin will keep him till you get ready to start.” As Haney left, he remarked to Hardin, “You know our agreement,” to which Hardin replied, “yes, it will do.” Hardin, Robins, and the slave then went to a point about a half-mile distant from Hardin’s house.  Hardin thought there might be somebody at his house and directed Robin and the slave to stay in the woods until he checked and returned. Hardin did not return that night, but came with food the next morning. Hardin, Robins and the slave agreed that Robins would take the negro to South Carolina and sell him; that Robins would leave that day and to prepare; and that the enslaved man would meet him the next day at a point designated on the road. All proceeded accordingly, and Robins and another associate, Williams, carried the slave to South Carolina and sold him for nine hundred dollars. Williams was paid part, Haney was paid one hundred and forty-five dollars, and Hardin was paid two hundred and fifty-five dollars. (Hardin insisted upon having the largest share because of “his having tried so long to get a negro, in which he met with bad luck.”) Robins testified that his habits had been moral and upright until he met Hanes and Hardin, who influenced him to join a club that had members spread over the country.  This was his first adventure in selling slaves. However, when further pressed, Robins admitted that he had once sold a free negro named Wingfield for one thousand dollars, of which he gave two hundred dollars to Wingfield himself (for agreeing to be sold); two hundred dollars to a man in South Carolina for helping him to sell Wingfield; one hundred dollars to Haney; ninety dollars to Hardin; and the rest for himself. Robins also stated Haney told him and Hardin, “You know our plan is to steal the negro again and sell him over, so you must make up something to pay for doing that,” and each gave Haney twenty-five more dollars. 

Hardin was found guilty and sentenced to death.  He appealed, arguing  that (1) the jury relied upon the uncorroborated testimony of a co-conspirator, and (2) he had only conveyed away, not stolen, the slave.  The state supreme court rejected the former argument, but agreed with the latter, i.e. that Hardin was a “mere accessory” to the actual theft of the slave.  Venire de novo awarded.

The mulatto man who married my sister did it.

Horrid Murder. – The wife of Jonathan Dalton of Montfort’s Cove, in this County, was committed to jail, in this town, on Wednesday last, charged with shooting her husband, while asleep, on the morning of the previous day.  The evidence against her, we are told, is entirely circumstantial, as no person is known to have been in the house when the deed was perpetrated except herself and husband.  She, however, states that a mulatto man who had married her sister, came to the house during the night, and that he endeavoured to persuade her to leave her husband and go home with him; that she went out of the house early in the morning and left them both within, when she soon heard the discharge of a gun, and without entering the house fled to the neighbors for aid – saying that a mulatto man had killed her husband.  Her tale is by no means consistent. She had been married to him but three or four months, and we are told, that they had not lived together for a considerable portion of the time, and that she had positively declared that she never would live with him. We must forbear to state the circumstance relative to this transaction which have come to us, as they might serve to prejudice her trial, which will probably take place in October next.  Dalton, we are informed, was dead before any of his neighbors arrived.  Suspicion falls on another person as having been an accessory.

Miners’ and Farmers’ Journal, Charlotte, 31 July 1832.

Valid or void?

State v. Alfred Hooper & Elizabeth Suttles, 27 NC 201 (1844).

Alfred Hooper, a free man of color, and Elizabeth Suttles, a white woman, were tried in May, 1842, in Rutherford County on an indictment for adultery.  Their defense?  That they were married.  A jury found that the couple had lived together as man and wife for ten years prior to the indictment and referred to the court the question of whether that marriage was valid or void.  (If valid, they were innocent of adultery.  If not, guilty.)  The court held that, as the marriage took place prior to Act of 1838, chapter 24, which barred marriages between colored and white people.  Hooper and Suttles’ marriage was valid.  On appeal, the State Supreme Court pointed out the 1830 statute that also made it unlawful for a free negro to marry a white person.  Because Hooper and Suttles’ marriage took place while the 1830 statute was in force and, accordingly, was invalid.  And they were adjudged adulterers.

Judgment notwithstanding, the 1850 federal census of Montfords Cove, Rutherford County, lists Alfred Hooper (age 54), wife Elizabeth (36) and their children Toliver (18), Henry (17), Charity (14), Eliza (12), Mahala (10), Martha (8), Amanda (6) and Mary (4).