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J.T. Siler,
Merchant

J.T. Siler Bio
Probate 1
Probate 2

An Early Merchant of Franklin, NC

Julius Thomas Siler was born December 23, 1825 in the small frontier town of Franklin. The second son of Jesse R. and Harriet Patton Siler, he grew up in the wealthiest household in Macon County. The Siler home was an hospitable, cultured one and the family maintained close ties of kinship and friendship with much of the Western North Carolina gentry.

On August 22, 1844, Julius married Mary Isabella Coleman. She was a niece of David Swain, who served two terms as Governor of North Carolina and was president of the University of North Carolina for over 30 years. Two of Mary's aunts had married brothers of Jesse Siler, so the families were already related by marriage.

The adult years

Following his father's example, Julius became an important part of the civic and commercial life of Macon County. After his death, the local Masonic Lodge extolled him as "the one man to whom Junaluska Lodge probably owes most." Like most men of his time, he ran a farm. He also served as a postmaster of Franklin. However, his most important enterprise appears to have been his mercantile business.

Dixie Hall, built by J.T. Siler, 1860In 1860, Julius built a fine home - "Dixie Hall" - on Franklin's Main Street. Its unusual architecture was inspired by the Sourth Carolina Sea Islands. The home was a landmark in the town and remained in the family for many years. It fell to make way for the new Macon County Courthouse in the early 1970s.

War

The Silers were slaveowners, as were many wealthy landowners of Western North Carolina. (The 1860 Slave Schedule listed Julius as the owner of six slaves.) Secessionist fever was not strong in this part of the state but when the Civil War broke out some 3000 Macon County men - Julius among them - joined the Confederate Army. He served with the rank of Captain.

Late in the war, Dixie Hall was taken over by Col. George W. Kirk, commander of Union forces in the region. Capt. Julius T. Siler and his son-in-law James L. Robinson were among the wounded Confederates who went into hiding when Kirk arrived with his men. According to Siler family tradition, when Mary Siler confronted Capt. Kirk about the destruction his men were causing to her crops and smokehouse, he ordered them to stop. She was also able to save the family silver, but Yankees took the swords Julius Siler and James Robinson had left in the house.

The final surrender of Confederate forces in North Carolina and perhaps in the East is thought to have taken place at Dixie Hall on May 12, 1865, when Col. Stephen Whitaker surrendered a remnant of the Thomas Legion to Col. Kirk.

An Early Death

Julius did not long survive the war. He died June 8, 1866, age 40. His will, written May 26, 1866 was recorded in Macon County Will Book 1. He left his wife property including their "dwelling house, store house and other buildings" that would allow the family "to live in stile that we have been used to." He divided the rest of his estate equally among his four children, William, Alice L., Ida M. and Timoxena. Alice and her husband James L. Robinson eventually acquired Dixie Hall.

Teresita Press, PO Box 1114, Franklin NC 28744 - bamcrae@smnet.net