The following article was written in April 2006 by Jennie Jones Giles for the Hendersonville Times-News
When the first settlers arrived to build homes in the French Broad River valley, they built a church on a hill overlooking the river.
Huge trees, more than 100 years old, and spring wildflowers now cover the site, along with an unknown number of graves in a more than 200-year-old cemetery.
This cemetery began in today’s Rugby community, next to the old French Broad Baptist Church, the first organized church west of the Blue Ridge. The first church in Henderson County was founded east of the Blue Ridge, in the Mountain Page community.
Old French Broad Cemetery
The graves of the founders of this church are located on property owned by Dr. Frank M. Brown, who bought it about 25 to 30 years ago, he said.
When he first bought the property, Brown said the old cemetery had been maintained by the previous owner. He had planned to build a house on the property, but, for personal reasons, his plans changed.
Brown had some previous experience restoring historic cemeteries and wanted this cemetery to retain its historical integrity.
“I propped up some of the stones and raked it out,” he said. “My plan was to keep the natural plantings and leave the cemetery in its natural state.”
Since then, he has not had time to maintain the cemetery, he said.
But Brown has no objections to church members, descendants or other groups who want to preserve the county’s history visiting or maintaining the cemetery.
“Descendants and church members are welcome to visit the graveyard at any time during daylight hours,” he said.
He wants people to get advice on how to maintain a historic cemetery, pay close attention so nothing is destroyed and keep it in its natural state.
“I have great respect for old graveyards and I don’t want it desecrated,” Brown said. “I don’t want them to put anything new on the property, such as fences or modern markers.”
At the 200th anniversary of French Broad Baptist Church, members had made a marker to place at the cemetery, commemorating the founders. Brown said the marker is too large and modern and he objected to placing it on the property.
The granite marker now stands next to the church on Grandview Lane.
It reads: “In memory of those who by faith established the French Broad Baptist Church at this site more than 200 years ago and to designate this place as their first burial ground, erected May 20, 1990, by a grateful congregation in honor of the founding members and others who are buried here. Though they be dead, They yet speaketh. Hebrews 11:4”
Some grave stones of those early members are still legible after almost 200 years.
Joseph King was a young adult when members of his family moved from east of the Blue Ridge to newly opened land along the French Broad River in today’s Henderson County. His father, Samuel, who is buried at the Samuel King Historical Cemetery off Finley Cove Road, had fought in the Revolutionary War, spending time at Valley Forge. His first land deed in today’s Henderson County was for land along the west side of the French Broad River.
Some time before 1810, Joseph and his wife, Laodicia Parks Morgan King, moved to the French Broad River valley. They are buried a short distance from the river in the old cemetery.
King’s Bridge was built and operated by King. The bridge allowed travelers to cross the river on the main road, which passed the old church and cemetery in the early 1800s.
At least two of their children, Leah and Joseph Jr., 1807-1818, are also buried at the old cemetery. Leah King Grady, 1796-1829, was the mother of Henry Grady, founder of the Atlanta Constitution and the Grady’s for whom Grady Hospital in Atlanta is named, said George Jones with the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society.
Revolutionary War veteran James Andrew Miller purchased land beginning in 1783 in today’s Henderson County. In 1790 there is a land deed for acreage along the French Broad River.
The story is told that before moving to the river valley, Miller and his first wife, Elizabeth, were friends with Peter Brank and his wife, Rebecca. Brank died in 1780 in the Battle of Kings Mountain. Prior to his death, his wife was scalped and left for dead in an Indian attack. The story is told that Miller led the band of settlers who followed the Indians, capturing them.
Miller served under Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. After the war, his wife died and he married his friend’s widow, Rebecca. The family moved to the newly opened territory along the French Broad.
In 1792, Andrew Miller was one of the men appointed to lay out a road, according to old Buncombe County court minutes.
The graves of Miller and his second wife are found in the old cemetery.
Miller had five daughters with his first wife, Elizabeth. Daughter Mary married a Deaver, whose child is buried at the old cemetery.
Miller’s son, John, built a home in 1802 not far from his father, near today’s N.C. 191. The house was still standing when Frank FitzSimons wrote his book “From the Banks of the Oklawaha.” Miller Hill in Rugby was known then as Grand View, the name of the road on which the present-day French Broad Baptist Church was built.
John Miller was one of the trustees of the Mills River Academy and Mills River Presbyterian Church, established in 1798. He was also one of the 11 men appointed by the legislature to establish the new county of Henderson.
John Miller’s son, Thomas Rhodes Miller, was the first clerk of superior court in Henderson County and was on the committee to lay out a new town for the county if the area of Horse Shoe was selected as the county seat.
In the late 1800s, descendant William D. Miller was the first postmaster of the former Rugby Post Office.
French Broad Baptist Church
French Broad Baptist Church was organized some time prior to 1792. One record indicates the church was organized in 1789. The church records burned in a fire in 1921.
The names of the charter members are not known. It is known from Baptist associational records that the pastor in 1792 was Elder Richard Newport. Later pastors of the old church included James “John” Chastain, Thomas Justice and Benjamin King, brother of Joseph and son of Samuel.
The first building was constructed about 1 mile south of the present French Broad Baptist Church on a ridge near the river where the cemetery is found today.
The church was the “mother” church of the old Salem Baptist Association, said member Nadine Ashe.
As the membership grew and early settlers spread throughout the county, other churches formed from French Broad: Mud Creek, Ebenezer, Beulah, Mills River, Shaw’s Creek and Cathey’s Creek in today’s Transylvania County.
“This was a church-planting church,” said the Rev. Kemuel Pruitt, pastor of French Broad Baptist Church, as he visited the old cemetery.
For many years, church members “had the sense” they were not welcome on the property, Pruitt said.
Pruitt, Ashe and Henderson County Cemetery Advisory Committee member Leon Pace spent time Saturday morning reading the historic grave stones and exploring the site. They began finding more and more old grave stones buried under leaves, soil and downed trees and branches.
“There has not been an accurate count of graves here,” Pace said. “If the downed wood and underbrush is cleared, we will start seeing more field stones. Over time many have been knocked over and are laying flat.”
As in all other early Baptist churches, blacks, whether slave or free, were accepted into membership at French Broad, Jones said.
“It’s almost certain there is a black section in that cemetery,” Jones said.
At some point, the exact year is not known, church members left the old site where the cemetery is located and bought property on today’s Grandview Lane.
“The roads changed and they wanted to get on the main road again,” Jones said.
The present church building is the fourth to house the church. It was built in 1977.
There are more than 23 unmarked graves or fieldstones located at present in the old cemetery.
The following marked stones are located in the cemetery: Rebecca Miller 1745-1825; Isaac Deaver, infant; James Andrew Miller, Mounted Gunman S.C. Troops, Revolutionary War, 1750-1808; Jane King 1811-1886; Leah (King) Grady, mother of Henry Grady, 1796-1829; Rebecca King, born 1809, death year not legible; Joseph King Jr., 1801-1818; Joseph King, 1770-1849; and Laodicea Parks Morgan King, 1772-1849.