The following article cannot be located on the blueridgenow.com web site. It was published Jan. 18, 2004, in the Hendersonville Times-News. This is an edited and shortened version of the story. It was edited based on new primary source documentation researched by the author, Jennie Jones Giles. Some of the information from the longer version will be placed on this web site at a later date.
By Jennie Jones Giles
Charlotte Mills Rasheed was so excited when she found the gravestone of her ancestor Malorie Mills she called other relatives to verify the find.
“I wanted to find it so bad I thought my eyes were playing tricks,” said Rasheed, a 1985 Hendersonville High School graduate.
Rasheed had spent days going through the old headstones at Ebenezer Baptist Church on U.S. 64 East and Howard Gap Road with chalk and paper, trying to read the faded writing on the old gray headstones.
A young niece, who all agreed had the best eyesight, was called in to make the final determination.
The Rev. Anthony McMinn, director of the Hendersonville Rescue Mission, also found his ancestors buried at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
McMinn said the black community is tired of hearing from some local historians that there was no slavery here among its early settlers.
“I’ve heard people say only the plantation owners living in Flat Rock had slaves,” McMinn said. “They said the early settlers were too poor to have slaves.”
Records show many blacks here today are descendants of the slaves of the early pioneer settlers, not of slaves of the visiting plantation owners from South Carolina, he said.
When the first settlers moved into the county in the late 1700s, traveling through the gaps of the mountains with them were the black ancestors of many of today’s residents.
It is well documented that William Mills, an early pioneer settler and land speculator, brought slaves with him. He gave slaves to his daughters who married Samuel Edney and Asa Edney.
According to slave records on census reports, several of the early pioneer settlers had slaves.
As farms grew and the owners prospered and more settlers began arriving in the early 1800s, the buying, selling and trading of slaves here was common.
The Henderson County Slave Schedule shows most of the settlers who owned slaves had one or two, with some owning 10 to 20.
A legal instrument written in county records concerns a mortgage secured by a slave. It is the first transaction on Page One, Deed Book 1.
“Ruth Cordell, for and in consideration of $50 in hand paid, does bargain, seal and deliver unto John Clayton one Negro girl named Cealia, about 14 years old. The sum to be repaid Jan. 1, 1840.”
The document was recorded Feb. 27, 1839, and signed Feb. 16, 1839.
Following the clues
Today’s black residents trying to trace their ancestry face a challenge.
“The African-American heritage in Henderson County is largely ignored,” said McMinn. “It’s not well documented.”
McMinn began his search at the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society. He used resources and records at the Henderson County Public Library and the Henderson County Courthouse. He talked to family members and others in the community who remembered stories told to them.
“The more information I found, the more I wanted to find,” he said. “I was able to connect with the family who owned my family during slavery and even found a picture. The McMinn family was helpful. They had a great deal of oral tradition and written documentation of my long-lost relatives.”
Emancipated slaves traditionally kept the surnames of their former white owners. After emancipation, former slaves from local families – Mills, McMinn, Maxwell, Drake, Allen, Edney and Featherstone – were given land in the Clear Creek community.
Rasheed and Jennifer McDaniel of the Clear Creek community and Shirley Davidson of Hendersonville are tracing their Mills ancestry.
“Kids need to know where they came from,” Rasheed said. “They need to have something to pass to their children. We’re searching for the history of our people.”
Rasheed and her family are living on land owned by her father’s family.
“This is my father’s homeplace,” she said. “His aunts and family are here.”
She has been researching her family for several years. Her father, Thomas, was the son of Benjamin Mills. Her great-grandfather was Winslow Mills and his father was Benjamin Mills, the son of Malorie Mills.
“I couldn’t get any further,” she said. “I found his gravestone at Ebenezer Baptist Church.”
Rasheed has documents showing Malorie Mills on the school board of a black school in the Clear Creek community. In 1895, a school councilman of School District 11 Colored was Malorie Mills. He would have been 60 years old.
She found documents showing Benjamin Mills, born in 1857, married Nellie Featherstone, born in 1852. In the census of 1870, a Malery Mills as 35, Rose Mills was 35 and son Benjamin was 14. Benjamin and Malorie were both born before the emancipation of the slaves. It is not known if they were free blacks or slaves.
Rasheed has not started researching her mother’s family or the grandmothers on her father’s side.
“There was so much history on my father’s family,” she said. “I’ve gotten to the fifth ancestor.”
And the history of her family is directly related to the history of the white William Mills family.
In the census of 1790 (Rutherford County), Mills is listed as having eight slaves. In 1800 (Old Buncombe County), Mills had 20 slaves. In 1810, 15 slaves belonged to Mills and in 1820 he had 18 slaves. No names or other information is written about slaves in census records. Two may have been Dicey and Andrew.
According to the book Free African Americans of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia and the web site www.freeafricanamericans.com, in 1790 in Anne Arundel County, Md., a free woman named Sara Trout, who was born in 1760, was the head of a household of five “other free.” The term “other free” refers to blacks who were of mixed race. One of the children was Dicey, born May 1789, a 12-year-old “mulatto” who was bound to William Mills by the Buncombe County, N.C., Court in 1801, according to court minutes from 1798-1812.
William Mills died in the mid-1830s. He was 88.
He had eight children – John Columbus Mills, Amelia Mills Yielding, Marvel E. Mills, Mourning Mills Lewis, Sarah Mills Edney, Eleanor “Nellie” Mills Edney, Elizabeth Mills Jones and Phalby Mills Myers. The division of the slaves belonging to Mills and his descendants resulted in court disputes among the heirs.
Only the names of eight of his slaves were found among the court documents – George, two named Nelly, two named Sam, Nancy, James, Ben and Little Jane.
Mills and Edney family
The Rev. Samuel Edney and his brother, Asa Edney, marred two daughters of William Mills. Records and family stories indicate that as soon as legally possible, according to state law and worries about the safety of freed slaves, the Rev. Samuel Edney freed his slaves. He gave each a mule, a pig, a cow, 10 bushels of corn and several bushels of potatoes.
The descendants of slaves freed by Edney continued to live in the Edneyville and Clear Creek communities, and most likely kept the surname Mills.
But his brother, Asa Edney, did not free his slaves. In the 1810 and 1820 censuses, Asa Edney had slaves. He died a few years after his father-in-law, William Mills. He willed to his wife “a Negro girl named Harriett and a Negro boy named Sam.”
After the death of Asa Edney, the legal battles over the slaves became intense, according to court and estate documents.
In 1846, the dispute centered around a slave named Nelly.
Court documents from 1849 show the sale of “a Negro named Chrisy for $771.25” and the sale of “a Negro boy Sam for $400” in November 1848.
In 1855, family members were demanding the sale of certain slaves owned by B.M. “Baylis, Balus, Baylus” Edney, a son of the Rev. Samuel Edney, as payment for judgments rendered by the court – Harriett, 34; Bob, 10; Collier, 7; Charlotte, 5;” and Teny, an infant. The court ordered the slaves sold at the Henderson County Courthouse with the proceeds of the sale to be divided among the Edney and Mills heirs.
Records show that on March 31, 1858, the following were to be sold: Harriett, Negro, aged 36 years; Bob, yellow boy, aged 12 years; Ceil, yellow girl, aged 10 years; Charlotte, yellow girl, aged 8 years; and “Garry,” yellow child, aged 10 months. On May 18, 1858, B.M. Edney bought Harriett, Bob and Tena for $1,900. Charlotte and Sealy were sold to William Featherstone for $1,765.
The census of 1860 shows Eliza Mills owning seven slaves and B.M. Edney owning four slaves. The 1870 census shows an 18-year-old “mulatto” girl named Charlotte Edney as a domestic servant in the household of Burrell Penner in the Blue Ridge Township.
During the legal disputes, most of the slaves owned by the Edney and Mills families were sold or given to others to repay debts.
In the early 1800s, slaves were more valuable than land. An acre of land sold for $1 to $3 an acre. Slaves typically sold for $1,000 to $3,000.
Some of the Mills and Edney slaves were bought or given as payment to William Bryson, according to court documents.
One was George Mills, who brought the body of his owner’s son, Walter Bryson, back from the battlefield at the Battle of Antietam.
Other slaves were bought or given as payment to the Featherstone family.
Sam Mills, the first black person elected to the Hendersonville City Council and who served as vice mayor, was a descendant of the slaves of William Mills.