Enslaved People, Land, Maternal Kin, North Carolina

Between mills.

I was on my way to posting this map when I stumbled across the Welch-Nicholson House application. Back to it:


Historian and genealogist Margaret Miller created and holds the copyright on this map of early Iredell County settlers and landmarks. The county, taller than wide, stands on a narrow foot, and I’ve excerpted a section that covers roughly the top fifth of its territory. The world of my 19th-century Iredell County ancestors was largely contained within the borders of the superimposed red box. There, just south of the Yadkin County line, is the Nicholson Mill that anchored the farm that James Nicholson bought in 1826. His half-brother John Nicholson lived on adjoining land, and their children Thomas A. Nicholson and Rebecca C. Nicholson married in 1839. Thomas and Rebecca reared their children in the house James had owned, and their slaves worked both the mill and the farm. One enslaved woman, Lucinda, likely worked with Rebecca in the house and, in 1861, gave birth to a daughter, Harriet, whose father was Thomas and Rebecca’s son Lee. That same year, Lee married Martha Ann Olivia Colvert.

In the early 1870s, the adolescent Harriet Nicholson met John Walker Colvert, a 22 year-old farmhand still living on the farm at which he had been born a slave. That farm, which is also where Martha “Mattie” Colvert was reared, was near Eagle Mills, the ill-fated cotton mill on Hunting Creek due south of Nicholson Mill. Mattie’s father William I. Colvert, an early small-scale industrialist, had been a partner in the development of Eagle Mills in the 1850s. William’s father John A. Colvert had died just a few years after arriving in Iredell County, and William — still a child — had inherited a boy named Walker Colvert, later the father of John Walker Colvert.

Just a few miles apart as the crow flies, Nicholson Mill and Eagle Mills were the poles of the community in which Harriet Nicholson’s family and John Walker Colvert’s family lived for generations before merging in my great-grandfather, Lon W. Colvert.

Agriculture, Enslaved People, Land, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Other Documents, Photographs

The Welch-Nicholson House and Millsite.

How have I overlooked this?

The house in which Thomas A. Nicholson lived, in which J. Lee Nicholson grew up, in which Lucinda Cowles Nicholson toiled, and in or around which Harriet Nicholson spent her childhood in slavery is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1980. And only today did I find the gloriously detailed nomination report — which includes a photo! And to think that I must have been within a few hundred feet of the place, if it’s still standing, when I nosed around the Nicholson cemetery in the rain last December.

Bear with me. Here’s the entire report, all 13 pages’ worth. I’ve only read it through once, but give me time.













Civil War, Maternal Kin, North Carolina

Oath of allegiance.

Though he was of prime soldiering age, I have found no evidence that James Lee Nicholson, father of my great-great-grandmother Harriet Nicholson Tomlin Hart, ever enlisted or fought in the Civil War. He married in 1861, a few weeks after North Carolina seceded, and his wife Martha “Mattie” Colvert Nicholson gave birth to their first son in 1864. Otherwise, I have no idea how he spent the war years. Today, however, I found an oath he signed a couple of months after the Surrender, promising to abide by all laws made concerning the emancipation of slaves, i.e. those related to the newly won freedom of his four year-old daughter and her mother:

JL Nicholson oath



Births Deaths Marriages, Business, Land, Maternal Kin, Other Documents

How the matter stands about the mill property.

From the Nicholson family file in the local history room at the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville, this letter:

Nicholson’s Mills N.C.

March 4th 1886

Wesley J. Smith & Mary J. Smith

Dear Children we received Your letter of the 4 of Feb and was much rejoiced to hear that You had another fine son and all was doing well, but alas the last mail brough us another letter that give us the painful news that you had met with the sad misfortune to loss the child well my dear children greav not for the child it is gone to a far better state of existance and altho You can not call it back You can go to it where parting will be no more for ever in the sweet groves of bliss.  You wished to know how the matter stands about the mill property I can only say that Anderson Obtained Judgement against me at the last Court at Statesville and it will not be sold in a Short time but I do not know when as he has not Advertised Yet but it will not be long if I do not raise the money and there does not seem to be any Chance to do that.  James A. Barnard has been trying to sell his property ever since las fall so that he could buy mine but he has not met with the chance to do it Yet and I fear he will not find any one to buy his and if he dose not mine will have to go and it will go for nearly nothing.  but I can not help it unless some one would come to my help.  Watsons & family are all well except bad colds Barnard & family are in tolerble health only the baba it is not well nor has not been since xhrismast Wesley’s folks were well when he heard last but that is a month ago.  Sandford Reeces children have the hoopen cough very bad and they have lost little Mattie she died last Sunday morning was a week and they buried her ar Flatrock on monday following Cynthia May had been sick about four months and she died the first of Feb.  Old Miles was sick about two weeks and died the last day of January Jacks wife died the day before christmast.  I am no better off with my rhumatisam but get more and more helpless all the time.  Mama is very poorly at this time with cold but the most of the time she is tolerbly stout for one of her age we can not tell when we can go to see you we are feeble and the weather & the roads are bad,  You must come and see us when You can.

Your Affectionat father & mother     T.A. Nicholson  R.C. Nicholson

Two months later, Thomas Allison Nicholson was dead. The “mill property” — a cotton factory he had announced so confidently in newspapers —
Statesville Record & Landmark, 25 November 1881.
— had been in foreclosure for years.
Nicholson had tried to sell other property to raise cash:
Statesville Record & Landmark, 15 January 1884.
And his creditors had tried repeatedly to unload the factory:
Statesville Record & Landmark, 17 April 1885.
But nothing worked. Thomas Nicholson died with this burden, and soon after, his son’s father-in-law, William I. Colvert, administrator of the estate, announced the liquidation of the cotton factory’s machinery.
Winston-Salem Western Sentinel, 9 December 1886.
The loss of the mill property by no means impoverished the Nicholsons, despite the plaintive tone of Thomas’ letter. When his widow died in 1903, her estate included three large parcels of land on Hunting Creek.
Statesville Record & Landmark, 17 November 1903.
Business, Civil War, Enslaved People, Land, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Photographs

Eagle Mills.

An abstract from Heritage of Iredell County, Vol. I (1980) —

In 1846, peddlar Andrew Baggerly bought the old Francis Barnard mill tract on Hunting Creek in north Iredell County.  In 1849, he placed an ad in Salisbury’s Carolina Watchman: “Capital Wanted And If Not Obtained Then Valuable Property For Sale.”  He described the property as “the most valuable water power in the Southern Country … situated on Hunting Creek in Iredell County, twenty-eight miles west of Salisbury … [on] a never-failing stream, … remarkable for its purity, … [and] adapted to the manufacture of paper, to calico printing, to bleaching etc.”  Baggerly noted that there was a dam in place, an active sawmill, a grist mill soon to open, and a factory building about half-finished.

On 2 Mar 1850, Baggerly, James E.S. Morrison, William T. Gaither, William R. Feimster, William I. Colvert, G. Gaither Sr. and Andrew Morrison filed a deed for a 318 1/4-acre tract called the Eagle Mills place.  By 1852, the factory was operating with William I. Colvert as its agent.  It had 700 spindles and 12 looms and employed an overseer and 22 workers, 20 of whom were women. By 1854 the adjacent former Inscore Mill had been added to the works, and Baggerly claimed the “intrinsic and speculative value” of the complex was $2,700,000.  

In 1855, Baggerly advertised in Charlotte’s North Carolina Whig and in the Carolina Watchman, calling the complex “Eagle City, the Great Point of Attraction, Destined to be the great center of manufacturing interests in Western North Carolina and perhaps the United States.”  He deeded the president and Congress of the United States a ten-acre block in Eagle City called Eagle Square, located on Market Street.  

After Baggerly was forced to liquidate his assets during the Panic of 1857, William Colvert became the owner of his interest in Eagle Mills.  “According to tradition there was a tobacco factory, hotel, oil mill, and general store at Eagle Mills in addition to the grist mill and cotton factory.  A number of homes stood in the horseshoe bend above the mills and a church was eventually constructed on the edge of the settlement.”

In the spring of 1865, Stoneman’s raiders came upon Eagle Mills unexpectedly and burned it to the ground.  The mills were rebuilt, but Eagle Mills never recovered its former prosperity.  The cotton factory and grist mill operated until destroyed by fire in April 1894.  At that time, William I. Colvert, Robert S. Colvert, and James E.S. Morrison were the owners.  

The only remains at the site are gravestones in the church cemetery, traces of the main road to the mill, the grist mill’s foundation stones, and, a short distance upstream, remains of the stone supports where a covered bridge crossed the creek.



Statesville Record & Landmark, 19 April 1894.


When William I. Colvert took charge of Eagle Mills in 1852, my great-grandfather Walker Colvert was in his early 30s and father of a one year-old boy, John Walker Colvert. I don’t know exactly what kind of work Walker did for W.I., but they had grown up together, and Walker was an entrusted slave. Even if his primary labors were not at the cotton factory complex, I am certain that he spent considerable time in and around his master’s largest investment. So, too, would John Walker, who remained with W.I. after Emancipation. He is listed in W.I.’s household in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, and I suspect he stayed at Eagle Mills until the final fire closed down the works.

On a rainy December morning I cruised the backroads of northern Iredell County, drinking in the landscape that was home to my Colverts and Nicholsons for much of the 19th century. I made a left onto Eagle Mills Road, headed north. A sharp bend in the road and there, a bridge over Hunting Creek. I pulled over and, ignoring a No Trespassing sign, clambered down to the sandy bank. The waterway is too shallow and rocky to have been paddled or poled, but I imagine that Walker and John Walker knew its course very well. Hunting Creek powered Eagle Mills and was a direct link between W.I. Colvert’s lands and those of Thomas A. Nicholson, whose son James Lee married W.I.’s daughter and whose granddaughter, Harriet Nicholson, gave birth to John Walker Colvert’s first child.


Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2013.

DNA, Maternal Kin, North Carolina

DNA Definites, no. 13: Nicholson.

For all I malign the inadequacies of Ancestry DNA, it has yielded up distant-relative matches in a way that 23andme has yet to touch. I did a search for “Nicholson” among my matches, and J.W.B. popped up. As I scanned his family tree, the name that snagged my eye first was “Jehu Idol.” I knew that name. I LOVED that name. So economical. So Biblical. So 18th century. And the husband of Hannah Nicholson, sister of John Stockton Nicholson Jr. and half-sister of James Nicholson. J.W.B. and I are 5th cousins, twice removed.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Photographs

Family cemeteries, no. 8: The Nicholsons.

The map was not entirely clear, but the graveyard was definitely on Barnards Mill Road, which branched off Harmony Highway somewhere above Hunting Creek. Though morning, the sky was dark with impending rain. I kept an eye on the left side of the road. A bridge over the creek … an unmarked road … “Bridge Out.”  Wait, wasn’t the cemetery by a bridge?  I backtracked and turned off the highway. After a half-mile or so, the blocked bridge and a path, marked No Trespassing, leading into the woods. I am not a fool. I trotted up to the closest house and knocked. A middle-aged woman peered through a window, then motioned me around to the side door. “I’m looking for a cemetery near here. Welch-Nicholson.” She gestured behind me and smiled. Up the hill across the road, a low stacked-stone wall inset with a simple iron gate surrounded the remains of a hundred years of Nicholsons.


My great-great-great-great-great-grandfather James Nicholson bought a mill on the creek in the late 1820s and probably established the graveyard. His father, Revolutionary War veteran John Stockton Nicholson, who was born 1757 in Princeton, New Jersey, and migrated to North Carolina circa 1800, is buried Muddy Creek Friends cemetery, Kernersville, North Carolina. He died in 1838.


John was married twice, to Mary McComb, then Catherine Anne “Caty” Stevenson. Mary bore one son, the James Nicholson above. Caty bore ten, including John S. Nicholson Jr. Mary McComb Nicholson is buried near John Jr., whose stone is shown above. Caty is buried at Muddy Creek.

James Nicholson married Mary Allison in 1815; their children were Thomas Allison Nicholson and John McComb Nicholson. Thomas A. Nicholson married his first cousin Rebecca Clampett Nicholson, daughter of John S. Nicholson Jr. and Mary Fultz.

Thomas Nicholson’s broken gravestone is propped next to that of Rebecca.



Thomas and Rebecca’s oldest child James Lee Nicholson, my great-great-great-grandfather, is also buried here. He died a few weeks short of his 30th birthday in 1871.

Photos taken by Lisa Y. Henderson in December 2013.

Births Deaths Marriages, Land, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Oral History

Bert’s estate.

She wanted a baby badly.

My grandmother:  … that nephew, Dr. Lord’s son, that was Mr. Hart’s nephew.  He got what Bert had. Yes, indeed. ‘Cause, see, it was heir property. And see that’s why Bert tried so hard to have a child.  Because if she didn’t have a child, it was going to whoever had had a child.  You know. And I guess Alonzo did, you know, he was a nephew.  When Bert died, it went to him. See, all this property and everything that Mr. Hart owned there was his family’s stuff.  Wasn’t Grandma Hart’s.

And in 1941, when she nearly 40 years old, Bertha Hart Murdock had one:


Statesville Landmark, 2 April 1941.

But little William Alonzo Murdock died the day after he was born.

Still, the situation for Bert and her property was not as critical as my grandmother had believed. In Alonzo Hart’s original will, made 15 October 1928 in Statesville, he devised “the home place to my daughter Bertha Mae Hart and her bodily heirs, for ever, never to be sold and if she dies without bodilies heirs. Then it must be in trust for my sisters heirs to hold but never sell same.” The remainder of his property went to his sisters’ heirs.

Thirteen months later, as he languished in the state sanitorium in Quewhiffle, dying of tuberculosis, Hart dictated a codicil.  In somewhat opaque and ungrammatical phrasing, Hart “hereby enlarge[d] the privilege to and use at her own and released to her. In stead of one parcel or tract of land I do bequeath and devise to her following described lands, In Iredell North Carolina, 45 acres in Concord Township (Deatonsville) Also 2 lots with one house Statesville Township also 47 acres in Shiloh township and Crawford near Sumters place 22 acres in above township near home belong to the home resdue. I am in my right presence of mind and know what is best for my only and legal heir Bertha Mae Hart.”

In other words, Bertha’s inheritance was generous and unrestricted, and her cousin Alonzo Lord was not to receive anything at all. Things did not go smoothly, however. Hart’s unconventional wording opened the door to challenge, and Bertha was forced to defend her title.

A Hart Est Suit Landmark 11 21 1935

Statesville Landmark, 21 November 1935.

Incredibly, this case went to the North Carolina Supreme Court: Murdock v. Deal208 N.C. 754, 756, 182 S.E. 466, 467 (1935).

By time Bertha died in 1955, her estate seems to have been much reduced, but still comprised some of Alonzo Hart’s land. The bulk of her estate went to Odessa A. Williams, who may have been her cousin. Her half-brother H. Golar Tomlin inherited only a half-interest in a lot. His daughter Annie LaVaughn Tomlin Schuyler received the other half. Another niece, Mattie Johnson, received the negligible sum of one dollar, which raises questions: who in the world was she? I only know of Golda’s one child. Was this in fact Mattie James, oldest daughter of Bert’s other half-brother, Lon Colvert? Why bother with a dollar? And why not give the other nieces, Louise Colvert Renwick, Margaret Colvert Allen, and Launie Colvert Jones, their own dollars?

Murdock Will 8 Jun 1955 R and L

Statesville Landmark, 8 June 1955.

The drama did not end with Bert’s death. In what looks to be the family’s own Bleak House saga, City of Statesville v. Credit and Loan Company, a corporation of the State of North Carolina; W.S. Nicholson and spouse, if any, and if they be deceased, then their unknown heirs, and if any of said unknown heirs be deceased, then their respective heirs, devisees, assignees, and spouses, if any; and the unknown heirs of Minnie Brawley, Florence Camp, Mollie Alexander, and Lula H. Lord, Deceased, and if any of said unknown heirs be deceased, then their respective heirs, devisees, assignees, and spouses, if any; and all other persons, firms and corporations who now have, or may hereafter have, and right title, claim or interest, in the real estate described herein, whether sane or insane, adult or minor, in esse, or in ventre sa mere, active corporations or dissolved corporations, foreign or domestic, 294 S.E.2nd 405, was not decided in the North Carolina Court of Appeals until 1982.

The first sentence of the decision: “The sole issue is whether plaintiff has a valid avigation easement over land owned by defendant.” An avigation easement is a property right acquired from a landowner for the use of air space above a specified height.  Alonzo Hart’s home property was located a few miles west of Statesville, adjacent to land now home to Statesville Regional Airport. (Brawley, Camp, Alexander and Lord were his sisters.) The City of Statesville’s claim that it held prescriptive easements was rejected, and partial summary judgment entered for the defendants.


Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Photographs, Religion

Church home, no. 7: Center Street African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Statesville NC.

My grandmother:  She was a great Methodist. And she would come down occasionally to go to church, you know.  Have on all them taffeta skirts, and they were shirtwaisted skirts, you know.  And she was pretty, honey.  Have you ever seen any of her pictures?

And another time:

Where did they have that funeral?  They must have brought her down and had her in, at the Methodist Church in Statesville.  She belonged there.  She would come Saturday, get up Sunday morning, honey, and put on those taffeta skirts with those pretty blouses and lace all down the front and ‘round there. 


I had not planned to go to Sunday School. I was on my way home for Christmas and stopped in Statesville just to look for Harriet Nicholson Hart‘s church. I suspected that Center Street AME Zion Church was the same as Mount Pleasant AMEZ, which still meets, but my internet search was inconclusive.

The morning was dreary and chilly when I pulled into a space across from the church. I had snapped a couple of shots with my phone when I saw a woman step from an SUV in the parking lot. “Excuse me,” I called. “I’m looking for Center Street AMEZ.” She tilted her head toward the church behind me. “This is it,” she said. “It’s called Mount Pleasant now.” I explained that my family had been members of the church a hundred years before and my great-great-grandmother had been funeralized there in 1924. We chatted for a couple of minutes, and after asking if I might peek inside, I followed her through a side door — straight into Sunday School.

A junior pastor was addressing a small gathering of adults, and I — acutely conscious of my jeans and hoodie — took a seat just inside the door. As he spoke on the necessity to reach out to youth, I discreetly glanced around. In the nave, dully gleaming brass organ pipes stretched nearly wall-to-wall. At the back of the sanctuary, a large arched tripartite stained glass window brightened the pews. At an opportune time, I introduced myself and expressed my joy at joining in a service at a church that had been so important to my family at one time. “What were their names?” “Nicholson and Colvert and Hart,” I said, “and other family lived in the neighborhood. My great-aunt was Louise Colvert Renwick.” There were nods of familiarity and expressions of welcome.

I slipped out before too long and paused again as I reached my car to gaze back at the building. A woman hurried around the side of the church, calling out for me to wait. She was the pastor’s wife and she had a small gift — a card and a CD of hymns. “Thank you for visiting,” she said. “We’re so glad you found us.”


IMG_4579Mount Pleasant AMEZ Church today, corner of South Center and Garfield Streets.


Center Street AMEZ Church, Sanborn map of Statesville, 1918.


Interviews of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.