As part of local commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville worked with the Buncombe County Register of Deeds to compile a database of documents recording the trade of people as slaves in Buncombe County. A video created as part of this project has won two national awards. At buncombecounty.org/slavedeeds you can view this video, as well as the database of Buncombe County slave transfers from 1776 to 1865. This summer Pack Library hosted Forever Free, an exhibit featuring books from the office of the Register of Deeds which contain the actual deeds and wills that record slave transfers. A typical example is from the will of James Patton, who died in 1845.
“I further give and bequeath to my son James W. Patton the following male slaves to wit – Bob, Sam, Leope, Hardin, Felix, Austin, Peter, Anthony, John and Russel & the following female slaves to wit – Celia, Rhoda and her five children, and the future increase of the females.”
The history of the Patton Family [CLICK HERE FOR PHOTO EXHIBIT], taken from materials in the NC Collection, helps us understand the history of slavery in Buncombe County. The sad truth is that the rich and powerful families of Buncombe County were slave owners, and that their wealth depended in large part on their “ownership” of other human beings. James Patton, a penniless immigrant laborer from Ireland, came to Asheville in 1814 and opened Asheville’s second inn, the Eagle Hotel. After the construction of the Buncombe Turnpike in 1828, Patton expanded his resort interests by building with his sons a 350 room hotel in the town of Warm Springs (later renamed Hot Springs) in Madison County. His son James Washington Patton, who inherited the slaves named in the passage above, became one of the largest slave holders in Buncombe County. He helped build Patton Avenue, the first major east-west road in Asheville and in 1857, he built an imposing new home, the first Asheville residence with indoor plumbing.
The Henrietta, named for Patton’s second wife, stood on Main Street (later Biltmore Avenue) south of the Eagle Hotel, about where the French Broad Co-op is today. Many of Patton’s slaves worked at the Eagle Hotel and lived behind the Henrietta in an area that evolved into the Black neighborhood later known as East End. Patton depended on the labor of slaves to run his hotels and build his roads. By the time of his death in 1861, he owned 78 slaves.
In January, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation brought an end to slavery in the South. Thomas Walton Patton, son of James Washington Patton, enlisted in the Confederate army at the age of 19. Both his older brothers died during the war, and he returned to Asheville the head of his family, struggling to care for the survivors and to repair the family fortunes. In the hard days after the Civil War, his young wife and two small children died.
Patton also struggled to understand the total redefinition of life as he had known it before the war. When he left to join the Confederate army, he was accompanied by Sam Cope, one of the Patton slaves. The two young men had grown up together, and Cope continued to serve Patton throughout the war. Patton wrote about his lifetime companion, “The law said he was my slave but often law makes error. Indeed and in fact he was my devoted and loving friend and companion.”
The lower left corner of this 1891 Sanborn map shows the former Patton slave quarters, now labeled “Negro Tenements.” Former slave Isaac Dickson bought land there from Thomas Walton Patton, and the area became known as “Dickson Town.” A man known for service to his community, Patton donated land for Saint Matthias Episcopal Church, the first Black Episcopal church in Asheville.
More information about the Patton family can be viewed as one of our online Photo Exhibits on flicker. Click here to see a history of the Thomas Walton Patton family, featuring material from the NC Collection.