The Burgin House was a center of social life in the community for many years. (Photo courtesy Peggy Silvers)
The Burgin family looms large in McDowell County history as well as in the history of our nation. Along with the Greenlees, Carsons, and McDowells, they were among the first settlers of what is now McDowell County. Phillip Burgin arrived in America in 1677, and his son Benjamin “Pioneer Ben” Burgin made his way to the Old Fort area around 1770. He built a two-story walnut log home in 1779 that was a local landmark until it burned to the ground 150 years later. The Burgin family sent over 30 of its men into service in the Confederate Army, with nearly a third losing their lives.
In the years just before his death, George Aden Burgin (1874-1959) wrote down many of his own memories as well as stories told to him by his father and grandfather. McDowell resident and Burgin family chronicler Peggy Silvers reads one of his heartbreaking Civil War stories for us and then talks about the forgotten victims of the Civil War- the families left behind in these mountains to battle raiders, deserters, outlaws, and starvation. (Peggy is author of Echoes in the Mist: The Burgin Family 1677-1989 and is beginning work on a book about the homefront in the Civil War based on diaries and letters from that era.)
Listen to Peggy Silvers here:
(There is much, much more to learn about the Burgins. A good place to start is their astonishingly detailed family history website.)
Due to the rugged terrain and distance from the closest towns, the North Cove and Ashford communities in the northern tip of McDowell County remained relatively isolated until the mid- twentieth century. Electricity didn’t arrive until 1947, and telephones were rare until about 1960. Nearly everyone farmed and the community was tight-knit.
Cousins and neighbors Clara McCall and Freddie Brown are members of two of the oldest families in the Cove. They came together at the old Brown house to reminisce about the railroad, the yearly arrival of the thrashers, kerosene powered refrigerators, memorable characters, grandma’s cooking and everyday life on the farm.
You can listen to Clara’s and Freddie’s conversation (in three parts) here: Part One:Part TwoPart Three:
Dee Sawyer Daughtridge of Old Fort has deep roots in the Curtis Creek area of McDowell County and can trace her family history back eight generations. She is also fortunate to have come into the possession of letters that her great-grandfather, Green Berry Woody, wrote to his wife and children when he was a soldier in the Confederate Army.
One of Green Berry Woody's letters and a piece of CSA documentation
The letters that Dee reads for us are from October 1862 to September 1863. Civil War buffs will be interested in the comments about troop locations and conditions, and we can all identify with a young man who wants more than anything in the world to come home to his family.
Listen to Dee reading her great-grandfather’s letters by clicking here:
As the Civil War neared an end in 1865, Union cavalry commander Major General George Stoneman mounted a raid from Tennessee across the Blue Ridge Mountains into western North Carolina. His troops passed right through McDowell County and some excellent stories have been handed down about the his raiders’ unwelcome visits to homes in the area. Stoneman’s men made a stop at the Logan/Greenlee place located about three miles east of Old Fort, but encountered a feisty young lady who made the proceedings a little more difficult than they had anticipated. As they hurried away the next day, a Union officer left behind a souvenir that would not be found until over a century later.
Listen to Logan descendants Gwen Bradsher and Nancy Greenlee tell the story here:
Many of the unmarked graves in the Brackettown Cemetery are those of slaves who worked in the gold mines. Nancy and George Wilkerson were also slaves.
Today, many think of the Brackettown Community located in the southeast corner of McDowell County as “the middle of nowhere”. But two centuries ago, the area was the gold mining center of the country and was home to dozens of families engaged in farming and logging as well. Wade Nanney, whose family arrived just over the county line in Rutherford back in the 1700s, shares some gold mining stories, talks about the old Brackettown Cemetery, and relates how the Civil War profoundly affected his family.
Robert Hawkins has deep family roots in McDowell County and was a mailman from 1954 to 1990. He sat down in his rocker by the fireplace in his Marion home to tell us about his father’s eyewitness account of the 1894 fire that destroyed nearly all of downtown, his grandmother’s story of Union raiders passing through her family’s farm during the Civil War and his own remembrances of delivering the mail (and other things) for 36 years.
The Carson House is located on Highway 70, less than five miles west of Marion. Construction of this three-story historic residence began in 1793 by Colonel John Carson on the banks of Buck Creek. In the early 1860s, while the home was occupied by Jonathan Logan Carson and family, a private school for young ladies operated there. It was at that time that Stoneman’s Raiders made their march through the region. As news of their approach was received, all of the students fled, leaving teacher Emma L. Rankin remaining with the Carsons, their children, and the servants.
Miss Rankin wrote this riveting account of the ordeal in 1885, at the urging of many of her students.
Hear Miss Rankin’s story read by actress and former McDowell resident Ellen Pfirrmann: