At the end of the Civil War, newly freed slaves had their freedom but little else. They had no land and no money. Some of the black population began sharecropping and others were tenant farmers. Some began working in Hendersonville.
Other former slaves migrated to refugee camps set up by the federal government to start their new lives as freedmen and women. The closest camp to WNC was in Tennessee.
Research is ongoing, but it is believed that a substantial number of newly freed slaves in Henderson County moved North after the Civil War.
In North Carolina, the Freedmen’s Bureau operated from 1866 until the end of 1868. Officially called the “Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands,” the Freedmen’s Bureau had the authority to parcel out 40-acre plots from abandoned and confiscated lands. The Bureau then rented these plots to the recently freed slaves and refugee whites who pledged loyalty to the Union. In North Carolina, the bureau later returned most of these lands to the former owners.
Early in 1866, the North Carolina legislature enacted the Black Code, a series of laws that regulated control of the black population. North Carolina’s code was less rigid than those of other southern states, but it did deny many rights to free blacks. The code placed restrictions on free movement within and outside the state, made it difficult for blacks to purchase and carry firearms, and prohibited interracial marriages.
The Fourteenth Amendment had extended citizenship to the freedmen and guaranteed their rights as citizens of the United States.
In 1875, amendments to the state constitution established separate public schools for black and white children. This was the beginning of the Jim Crow laws in North Carolina.
It is likely that from 1875 to 1900 schools for black children were similar to those of the white children in Henderson County. Schools were poorly funded for both races. Most of the schools were held at churches or in conjunction with churches, in small one-room structures in the small communities, and in homes.
At the start of the Civil War, there were approximately 1,382 slaves and 85 free blacks living in Henderson County.
Research is still ongoing on the black history of Henderson County. “A Brief History of the Black Presence in Henderson County” by the Black History Research Committee and published in 1996 is an excellent beginning point.
Where the largest slave owners lived in Henderson County can tell us where the largest number of freed slaves lived at the end of the Civil War. These communities were generally in Edneyville, Clear Creek, Horse Shoe, Etowah and the Fletcher area. There were also newly freed slaves in the Flat Rock area who were living there at the end of the war with their owners. Some of the “summer” Charlestonians lived in Flat Rock during the war as it was considered safer than their homes in Charleston or on their plantations.
First Black Churches
Shaw’s Creek AME Zion Church in Horse Shoe was the first church in the county organized by newly freed slaves. The church began in 1865. The first trustees were John Wesley Logan, Alex Maxwell and Frank Gash.
Freed slaves in Flat Rock formed Mud Creek Baptist Church by 1867 on land near today’s Bonclarken. Early leaders were William Jenkins, Israel Simons and George Potts. The church later moved, about 1930, to the East Flat Rock community where the families settled.
Some documentation states that about 1867 St. John’s Baptist Church in Fletcher was organized. It was definitely an organized church by 1875.
Slaves had formerly worshiped at the “white” churches of Mud Creek Baptist Church and Old Salem Baptist (forerunner of Fletcher First Baptist). After the war, these churches helped in organizing the black churches.
Kingdom of Happy Land
A group of newly freed slaves arrived in the county between 1867 and 1868. The families began moving North from Mississippi after the Civil War. It appears that others joined the group along the route. They entered the county from South Carolina on the old U.S. 25 North.
At the top of the “winding stairs” they stopped at the Oaklands estate in the Green River community. They were offered work by the Davis family and settled on land owned by the Davis family between Green River and Mountain Page.
They called their community the “Kingdom of the Happy Land.” They later bought 180 acres from the John Davis’ family. One of the leaders of this group was Robert Montgomery. Some members of this group were the Williams family and John Markley, a famous blacksmith in the county. Most of this group later moved to Hendersonville and East Flat Rock.
Churches after 1870
It was in 1873 that the Star of Bethel Baptist Church formed in Hendersonville. This was the first black church formed by newly freed slaves in the town of Hendersonville.
In the 1870s and 1880s, other black churches were organized in the county.
St. Paul Tabernacle AME Zion Church was formed in Hendersonville, Blue Ridge Baptist Church in Edneyville and Mount Zion Baptist Church in the Clear Creek community. Stanford Chapel AME Zion Church also formed in the Clear Creek community. The official date for the church is in the early 1900s, but recent research indicates members began meeting at least in the late 1890s.
It is also known that there were at least two churches formed that are no longer in existence. One was located in Fruitland. The cemetery for this church is now a grassy lot with no markers noting the number of people buried there. Another black church was located in the Mills River area off McDowell Road with only remnants of a cemetery remaining.
In 1900, Conservative Democrats gained control of the governorship and the General Assembly through a harsh white supremacy campaign. They passed the “Suffrage Amendment” to the state constitution that instituted a literacy requirement for voting. It included a “grandfather clause” that allowed illiterate white men to vote but effectively disfranchised blacks.
Keep in mind that American Indians and black and white women were not allowed the right to vote under the 14th Amendment.