Black history in Edneyville

For almost 170 years, generations of the same families have farmed land from Bearwallow Mountain, along St. Paul Road, Waters Road, Russell Road, Mark Freeman Road and up and down U.S. 64 East to Bat Cave near the old Reedy Patch community.
These farming families and community leaders carried the names of Payne, Owens, Waters, Littlejohn, Russell, Hayden and Laws, sometimes spelled Laus.
“All this land as far as you could see used to be apple trees,” said Ruth Littlejohn Montgomery, as she stood in her yard and looked out across a new subdivision of houses off Mark Freeman Road.
Montgomery and her late husband, John, lived more than 60 years in the old schoolhouse where she attended school.
The couple renovated and remodeled the building that sits on one-half acre. They purchased the property at a public auction from the Henderson County School System about 60 years ago. The couple could not remember the exact year or the price they paid.
The living room and kitchen of the home was the one-room where the black children in Edneyville went to school.
“There was where the old pot-bellied stove stood,” she said pointing to one wall. “We had to burn limbs and wood to stay warm.”
The original tin roof is still on the home.
“We just had it painted,” Mr. Montgomery said in 2004.
“I went to school seven years here,” Mrs. Montgomery said. “We couldn’t go no farther. Then they took us on a bus to East Flat Rock.”
In the back is a shed, which was the outhouse the students used. A chinquapin oak sits in front of it now.
“I went up on the mountain, got that chinquapin bush and set it out,” Mr. Montgomery said. “These woods used to be filled with chinquapins and chestnuts. We used to pick up gallons of chinquapins on the mountain up there. We used to pick up chestnuts, too, all we wanted.”
Where a basketball court now stands is where an Episcopal church once stood, Mrs. Montgomery said.
“And back there on that acre of land was the Methodist church,” she said.
Mrs. Montgomery, one of 11 children in her family, said her father, Richard Littlejohn, a veteran of World War I, was born and raised in the community. Her mother, Odie Mills Littlejohn, and her father both had Indian ancestors.
“We used to go to the fair in Cherokee,” she said. “They (the Cherokee) said we were one of them.”


“All my daddy knew was farming,” she said. “He farmed mostly apples, potatoes and beans. He owned about 45 acres down there at the end of the road, most of it in apple trees. Where Cleo Waters has his apple orchard today was land farmed by my grandfather, J.P. Littlejohn.”
Waters’ father married Mrs. Montgomery’s father’s sister.
“Today, Cleo owns all those apple trees on both sides of St. Paul’s cemetery,” she said.
The Montgomerys also spent many years farming for a living. They sold apples and vegetables at roadside stands and in local stores.
Lillie Mae Payne Russell, who also lives in the community, said all the families farmed.
“If it hadn’t been for that, we’d have starved to death,” she said.
Russell said her son, Norris Russell, is still farming the family land.
“He grows okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and corn and friends take it to the Farmers Market and sell it,” she said.
Mrs. Russell said she and her late husband, William Nelson Russell, were both born and raised in the community. The couple was married 63 years. Her father, Gabe Payne, was raised near Bearwallow Mountain.
“They were black people and Indian and owned land up there,” she said. “They all moved off the mountain. They couldn’t make a living up in there.”
Russell’s aunt and sister-in-law, the late Libby Viola Russell Payne, said her father and her husband farmed for a living. Mrs. Payne married Mrs. Russell’s father’s brother and Mrs. Russell married Mrs. Payne’s brother.
“My daddy (Calvin Russell) farmed everywhere,” she said.

 Family history

Payne was the third of 13 children.
“I started washing baby diapers when I was 6 because I felt sorry for my mother,” she said.
“Daddy never got to go to school,” she said. “His daddy went off and left his mother with four little kids. He carried wood and fed the hogs for John Dalton near Reedy Patch and he would give him a bag of meal and potatoes for the family to eat. And he studied lessons along with the Dalton children.
“He learned so many things and taught me you can do anything if you really want to,” she said.
Payne said her father’s grandmother, Polly, was a Cherokee Indian and his grandfather was a slave, Jim Russell, in Polk County near the South Carolina line.
“She had my granddaddy by a black man and they ran her out of Polk County,” Payne said.
Payne said somewhere near Bearwallow Mountain is the grave of Polly (some people state a surname of George).
“It’s a stone with a big X on it,” she said. “An old fellow knew where it was and took my brother up there.” (This stone is located near the Case Family Cemetery. J.C. Russell placed a new marker near the stone).
In his later years, Payne’s father built a house near Blue Ridge Baptist Church on St. Paul Road.
“He was 80 years old when he put down the foundation,” she said. “He had always wanted a new house.”
In the late 1800s or early 1900s, the blacks in the community left the old Methodist and Episcopal churches and built the Blue Ridge Baptist Church. Tom Littlejohn donated an acre for the church. Many of the families in the community still worship there.
Payne said her grandmother, Jannie Mainor Russell, came here from the eastern part of the state in a covered wagon.
“She lived to be several days over 100 and still had her right mind,” she said. “She was a talking piece of plunder. My daddy was 95 when he died.”
Payne said her husband, Frank Payne, grew up at the foot of Bearwallow Mountain, near where Polly George was buried. She said her husband’s grandmother was also a Cherokee Indian and his mother was an Owens.
“There were three Owens brothers — Butler, Frank and George,” she said. “Their mother was a slave in Rutherford County and their father was the white slave owner. He had a lot of land here, but never lived on it. Somehow the sons got the land.
“Frank’s grandpa, Butler Owens, was over 100 when he died,” she said. “He was born in 1832 and died in 1932.”
Payne said her grandmother, Mary Owens Hooper, also had a white father.

 Leaders in education

Payne and her husband, to whom she was married almost 56 years, moved to the Etowah-Horse Shoe area after their marriage. They worked at the Brightwater Farm and then the Sky Brook Farm for almost 50 years.
The couple’s oldest son, Guy Payne, was the first black student to integrate the Henderson County Public Schools. He entered school at West Henderson High School.
“My husband and I threatened to put in a lawsuit and the minister at St. Paul’s AME Zion and Shaw’s Creek helped us,” she said. “It was the best move I ever made.”
Payne said it was a minister at the Star of Bethel Baptist Church who got the city to change the water fountains in downtown Hendersonville. There used to be separate water fountains for “colored” and white.
Payne taught in the Head Start program in Etowah for 16 years.
“I opened the center in Etowah,” she said. “When I retired, they closed it. Now they’ve made a library out of it.”

 Cemetery, census records

Buried in the St. Paul Cemetery are the ancestors and family members of the families still living in the area. The name Laus is on several tombstones in the cemetery. Payne said the Laws family is related to the Owens, Littlejohns and Haydens.
“John Laws was a preacher,” she said. “He preached at Blue Ridge Baptist a long time.”
In 1861, when the Civil War began, Isaac Arledge was the sheriff of Henderson County. In Deed Book 7 at the Henderson County Courthouse, on several pages, Arledge swore on oath the following:
“Isaac Arledge who maketh oath that he is personally acquainted with Thomas Laws and knew John Laws, the father, and Susie Laws, the reputed mother of the said Thomas Laws and that by reputation they, the said John and Susie Laws, were free persons of color … John and Susie Laws, father and mother by reputation of said Thomas Laws, were formerly citizens of Rutherford County … and afterwards residents of Henderson County. Thomas Laws is 38 years, 5 foot and 7 inches tall, high copper color and heavily built.”
The same wording is used for the following people:

  • James Laws, 36, 5 feet, slenderly built, light color.
  • Joseph Laws, 23, slenderly built, light copper color.
  • Joshua Pain, 30, over 5 feet, high light copper color, whose mother was Sally Pain formerly of Polk County.
  • William Pain, 38, 5 feet 10 inches, heavily built, copper color, whose mother was formerly from Rutherford County.
  • Columbus Pain, 14, mulatto, a boy of good habits.
  • Thomas Pain, 24, 5 feet 7 inches, dark copper color, whose mother was Sally.
  • Mose Owens, 33, 5 feet 8 inches, light copper color, whose mother was Mary Owens.
  • Berry Mitchell, 36 or 37, 5 feet 1 inch, long hair, dark copper color.
  • William Bunch, 48, bright mulatto.

For additional information on George Owens and Butler Owens, see the article on St. Paul Cemetery under the “Historical Cemeteries” icon.