Friday, September 7, 2012

First Meeting of the Genealogical society.

Because of my renewed passion for genealogy and history, I recently joined the local chapter of our county Genealogical Society. It meets once a month, and I feel like a child in that room. The wealth of knowledge among the members is a treasure.

During my first meeting, a presentation was given by the Curator and Historian of  the Stanly County Museum, Jonathan Underwood. Jonathan is an animated young man, not too long out of college, with deep roots in this county and a knowledge of the local history, that far exceeds his years, in size. 

The subject of this presentation was  'Stanly County during the years 1860-1865'. Of course, this was the Civil War era. Many 'Yankees' sometimes comment on why Southern interests remain so emotional and close to the skin concerning this era. The best remark I could ever give to that is "It's a Southern thang, you wouldn't understand." But the bottom line is, that when you can drive across stretches of land owned by your ancestors, that were burned by Sherman's march: when your grandfather's first cousin still has the wooden leg of their grandfather, who lost his real one in the war while still a teen; when you have female ancestors who were the widows and orphans of these men who were died and find out they were raped, bore a child of that rape, or became the mistress of a married man at 14 to survive, or married a widower old enough to be her grandfather at 15, becoming a stepmother to 12 children, some as old as she was, just to have a roof over her head and something to still cuts to the bone. 

According to Mr. Underwood, the majority of citizens of Stanly County, North Carolina, were reluctant to go to war. There was a small plantation community along the rivers, and concentrating around the Forks, where the majority of my ancestry dervived. However, the larger numbers of German settlers in the Western part of the county and  along the Cabbarrus border, and the Scotch-Irish settlers in the Northern part of the county along the Rowan border, were sustenance farmers, tenants, craftsmen and squatters, and had no reason or desire for a civil war. 
Manlove D Kimrey 1831-1865 Civil War Soldier from Stanly County, North Carolina

Albemarle was but a crossroads with a courthouse, a handful of businesses and a mere scattering of homes at the time. The commercial centers were along the Yadkin/PeeDee and Rocky Rivers that form the Eastern and Southern borders of the county and meet at the 'Forks', a very fertile area where the Rocky River runs into the PeeDee. The main area of commerce at the time was the town of 'Center', which became present day Norwood, and was very close to Allenton, which was the most ancient of communities in Stanly, dating back prior to the Revolutionary War. 
Old Salisbury Civil War Prison, 30 miles north of Albemarle

In 1850, Stanly County had a population of 6922, 1437 being slaves, or 21% of the population. By 1860, the total population had risen to 7801, and  the number of slaves had dropped to 1169 or 15%. Most of the counties voters were Whigs, a rather liberal group, whose main focus was education and transportation issues. Good schools in the rural south were few and far between. Wealthier families had to send their children off to school long distances many times, and poorer children did not go to school at all. Roads were few and in pitiable condition. So resistant to war in this area were the majority of its citizens, that a deserters camp grew up around the conjunction of Randolph, Montgomery and Moore counties, neighboring or adjoining counties to Stanly, that numbered in population at one point, an estimated 5000 to 6000 men. 

Things worsened in the area during 1863. Crop failures plagued the remaining farmers, somewhat due to the weather, and somewhat to the lack of able bodied men, while plagues like the measles, thyphoid and smallpox swept through the ranks at Gettysburg and other battlegrounds. Also in 1863, the transcription age stretched further, down to 16 and up to 45. 

Union generals were flooding through the South.
Stoneman came as close to us as Salisbury, 30 miles north, Sherman came as close as Fayetteville, 93 miles Southeast and across the Trading Ford, just 3 miles northeast of Salisbury. Kirkpatrick was the Union General who stepped foot in Stanly County, crossing the Rocky River just south of present day Oakboro. 
Atlanta after shelling.
Confederate General Joseph Wheeler came through Stanly County along the rivers. By the end of the war, a large number of women, children and the elderly were starving and desparate. Albemarle kept a storehouse in town near the courthouse of foods and grains for the army. Citizens from Southern and Western Stanly came into town in a riot and raided the storehouse. Members of the neighboring Montgomery County Home Guard were warring with men from the deserters camp, who would sneak into surrounding areas and posing as Union soldiers would raid homes and farms for supplies. It was a lawless, desparate time. 

Eventually the surving soldiers would come home or head west and not look back. Those left behind, wives, children, aging parents would do the best they could to survive, or they did not survive. Organizations would form to try to re-establish the status quo, The Masons became prevalent. The Grange, a Pro-Unionist group would form, and the KKK. The latter years of the 1860's, into the 1871's would be one of horrific crimes, lawlessness, and deeds swept under the carpet. There are many personal tales within the families of the citizens of Stanly County and neighboring counties of Rowan, Cabbarus, Union, Anson, Montgomery, Randolph and Davidson. Some will be told. Others will never be known, covered by the dusts of time.

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