Part I: A Brief History of Macon County, NC
by the Rev. C.D. Smith
I propose to write a brief history of Macon County so far as I have been able to gather the facts. There has heretofore been, and still exists, an unaccountable indifference in particular communities in regard to their local history- the historic facts showing their rise and progress. This is especially true of this great plateau of country lying west of the Blue Ridge in North Carolina. This neglect on the part of the early settlers to keep a true historic record of the early settlement, progress, development and succeeding changes of population and civilization, is a culpable injustice to the posterity of the strong, resolute men who, on the retirement of the savages, took possession of the county and subjected its lands to the arts of agriculture and civilization.
It is both interesting and instructive to know something of the men who first built habitations in the wild forests of Macon County and introduced Christian civilization and customs where only savage life and customs prevailed from away back beyond the historic era. These sturdy pioneers flocked into this valley in 1820, only seventy years ago, and yet I have found it very difficult to get together the leading facts of history for so short a period.
Paucity of Records
There ought to be in some county department a complete and official report of the commissioners having the matter in hand of the survey of the lands of the county then ordered, the location and survey of the county site (the town of Franklin), and a report of the surveyor-in-chief giving a complete program of the lands surveyed. The commissioners reported to the State authorities and there are some files in the Secretary's office. No such record can be found in the Register's office of Macon County. Such record would, however, make an instructive and attractive feature in our county records and would interest the student of history and the lovers of antiquarian lore. A proud spirited Board of Commissioners ought to take steps to supply this deficiency in our county records.
After what seemed at one time would prove to be a fruitless search, I found the record of the organization of the county, which took place nine years after the survey of the lands and the location of the site for the town of Franklin. all back of this is blank so far as any official record is concerned. And for other valuable information which I now proceed to give I have had to rely mainly upon the statements of the few remaining individuals who were participants in the work of survey and location referred to.
Organization of New Territory
It has been a mooted question as to whether Macon County ever belonged to the territory of Buncombe County. The facts show that it did not, the Buncombe line never having extended further west than the Meigs and Freeman line. The territory now embraced in Macon and a portion of Jackson and Swain, was acquired by treaty from the Cherokee Indians in 1817-19. During the summer and fall of 1819 a few whites came amongst the Indians with a view to purchasing when the lands should come into market. During that fall many of the Indians moved west of the Nantahala chain of mountains but the entire tribe did not leave the Tennessee valley until the fall of 1820.
In the spring of 1820 the State Commissioners Jesse Franklin and James Meabin, in accordance with the provisions of an act of the General Assembly, came to the Tennessee Valley, now the chief part of Macon County, and organized for the survey of lands, a corps of surveyors of whom Capt. Robert Love, a son of Gen. Thomas Love who settled the place at the bridge where Capt. T.M. Angel recently lived, was chief. Robert Love had been an honored and brave Captain in the war of 1812, was much respected on account of his patriotic devotion to American liberty, and was consequently a man of large influence.
Surveyors Select Site of Franklin
The work of survey went rapidly forward, as there were five or six distinct companies in the field. The commissioners first determined upon the Watauga plains where the late Mr. Watson lived for the county site for a court house and four hundred acres (the amount appropriated by the State for that purpose) was located and surveyed. There was, however, a good deal of murmuring and protest among the surveyors, especially by Capt. Love, the chief, who favored the present site or the flat ridge where Mrs. H.T. Sloan now resides.
To harmonize with their employes and to give more general satisfaction, the Commissioners, who had no personal interest in the matter, proposed to call together the entire corps of surveyors and leave it to a majority vote of them. This proposition was agreed to and the respective companies of surveyors were ordered to assemble. On counting the vote the present site of Franklin had a majority. This result was mainly brought about through the influence of Capt. Love, the chief of the corps.
In compliance with their proposed terms a survey was ordered by the commissioners, the four hundred acres were located and a portion of it laid off into lots including the court house square. I obtained a few years ago the foregoing facts from the late Rev. John McDowell, who as a member of Capt Love's corps and a participant in the election. I have been thus particular in giving them in order to settle any dispute that might hereafter arise as to the location of the town of Franklin.
The work of survey as mapped out by the Commissioners having been finished, a general auction sale of the lands to the highest bidder took place at Waynesville in September 1820.
Development of Franklin
The settlement of the town of Franklin commenced at once. The first house built in Franklin was built by Joshua Roberts on the lot now occupied by Mr. Jackson Johnston. It was a small round-log cabin. But the first house proper was one built of hewn logs by Irad S. Hightower on the lot where Mr. N.G. Allman's hotel stands. It now constitutes a part of that building. That first house passed into the hands of the late Capt. N.S. Jarrett, thence to Gideon F. Morris, and from him to John R. Allman and then to the present owner, N.G. Allman.
There were several log cabins built about that time, but the order in which it was done and the claims to priority I have been unable to ascertain. Lindsey Fortune built a cabin on the lot where the Franklin House, or Jarrett Hotel, now stands. Samuel Robinson built on the lot now occupied by Mrs. Robinson. Silas McDowell first built on the lot where stands the residence of D.C. Cunningham. Dillard Love built the first house on Mr. Trotter's lot. N.S. Jarrett built on the lot owned and occupied by Sam L. Rogers. John F. Dobson first improved the corner lot now owned by C.C. Smith. James K. Gray built the second house made of hewn logs on the lot owned by Mrs. Dr. A.W. Bell. Jesse R. Siler, one of the first settlers, built the house at the foot of the town hill where Mr. Geo. A. Jones now resides. He also built the second house on the Gov. Robinson lot and the brick store and dwelling owned at present by Capt. A.P. Munday. James W. Guinn or Mr. Whittaker built the house owned and occupied by Mr. Jackson Johnston.
I am indebted for much of this information about the early settlement of Franklin to the late James K. Gray and Silas McDowell. There is one other fact worthy of notice. John R. Allman operated the first hotel in Franklin. Shortly after this, Jesse R. Siler opened his house at the "foot of the hill" and these two houses furnished the hotel accommodations here for many years. These are facts of history about Franklin so far as they go. Though meager and unsatisfactory, they may be interesting to future generations.