A Trip to the Store in Democrat, 1876: 52 Weeks, 52 Communities


If you were taking a trip to Burnsville from Asheville between 1847 and 1890 there was, for the most part, only one way to get there. Along the road, there would be a few choice places to stop, but the most famous was Carter’s. It was, like most other Stock Stands along the various turnpike roads in WNC, an all-encompassing home-farm-store-inn, and the proprietor, John A. Carter, was well known throughout the county. He was the head of household, a top notch agriculturalist, postmaster, and tanner.

Candidates for office in 1874 announce their “Stumping” schedule. Carter’s Home is on the list of venues.

Carter became the postmaster for Democrat, a small community at the confluence of Sugar Creek and Ivy Creek in 1847 when he was 29 years old. The story goes that Carter named his crossroads  “Democrat” to reflect his strongly held political opinions, those that differed from the majority of his neighbors. During the presidential election of 1848, the Highland Messenger endorsed Zachary Taylor, a Whig. Taylor was the hero of the Mexican-American War, held ambiguous positions about the expansion of slavery into new territories, and rallied voters around internal improvements like railroads and canals. The Democratic candidate in 1848 was Lewis Cass who advocated for popular sovereignty (the expansion of slavery into new territories by referendum).

The Highland Messenger endorsement of Zachary Taylor, ca. 1847

The Carter home (Carter-Swain House, Read more about it HERE.) is a large, two story log cabin on multiple acres of top notch farm land. Besides the house, which is still standing, there is evidence that there was another separate hotel building. Besides serving as the John A. Carter family home and a wayside inn on the way from Asheville to Burnsville, the Carter House was a central gathering place for the Democrat Community. Politicians made stops on the campaign trail at the Carter House, it served as a central place for gathering county taxes, and because John (or one of his daughters) was the postmaster in the Democrat community, it was likely also the community post office. According to newspaper reports, the land was not always so fine, it was John’s efforts that brought the poor land back to life, and made it fertile. John even developed his own strain of corn.

The Highland Messenger praised Carter as an agriculturalist.


Carter was trained as a tanner, a skill he probably learned as an apprentice. In fact, there is evidence he kept the tradition alive by employing an apprentice himself. On the 1850 census a young man named H. Andrews is employed in the Carter Household as a “Laborer.” It could be he is learning the skill of tanning from John.

For all intents and purposes, John Carter was what Dr. John Inscoe describes as a “Mountain Master,”  with the exception that there is no evidence to suggest that Carter ever owned slaves. Even though Carter ran a large farm, a stock stand, a tannery, and supported the expansion of slavery to new territories, none of the typical sources (register of deeds records, census records) shows any evidence John was a slave owner. However, that does not mean that enslaved people did not contribute to his business ventures. In 1872 John and his brother Samuel went into business together, forming the J.A & S.P Carter Co. Samuel was a slave owner, and between 1850 and 1860 enslaved anywhere between 5 and 8 individuals.

John and his brother Samuel announce their new business in the Weekly Pioneer.

Over the course of his several businesses John kept separate account books for his dry goods business and his tannery. As fate would have it, two of those ledgers have landed in the North Carolina Collection here at Pack. These ledgers date from a time after John and his brother had ceased doing business together, and they give us some tremendous insight into the daily life of the members of the Democrat Community just after the Civil War.

Here are just a few of the most common items purchased at Carter’s Store in Democrat in the 1870s and 1880s and the ways (besides cash) folks settled their bills:

Goods Purchased:

  • Tobacco
  • Paper and Ink
  • Caliceo (sic) Fabric
  • Fabric Domestic (homemade cloth)
  • Coffin Screws
  • Nails (sold by the pound)

    The Hotel and Dry Goods Store Portion of Carter’s at Democrat, drawn by Solomon P. Carter, John A. Carter’s Son.
  • Shoes
  • Shirt Fronts
  • Hats
  • Horse Shoes
  • Coffee
  • Sugar
  • Indigo
  • Ginger
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Patterns (Shirts and Pants)
  • Soap

Paid With:

  • Shot (Ammunition)
  • A day’s work at store
  • A trip to Old Fort
  • Halling (sic) Corn
  • Warshing (sic)
  • Raw Hides

The Carter-Swain house remains in the Democrat Community to this day. The home was for sale back in 2011, and so there are some wonderful interior photos that show how this house, dating originally back to about 1849, has been built on to and changed over the years. You can see some of those photos here. 

Inside cover page of one of the J.A. Carter ledgers in the North Carolina Collection.

We love sharing our collections with you! We especially like when they get a good workout from researchers, the curious, and even the stray interior designer or stylist! These images and collections are as much yours as they are the library’s. That’s what public libraries are all about!

Come on in and take a look. You never know what you might find!

As a reminder, this post is a part of our 52 Weeks, 52 Communities Series. In this series, we are covering a different Buncombe County community each week. Do you have materials related to Democrat or Big Ivy you’d like to let us know about? Do you, your parents or grandparents have a good story to tell? Please let us know!!! We want to hear from you! The North Carolina Room is Buncombe County’s Public Archive, we want to help preserve and make accessible the history and culture of Asheville and Buncombe County for all its residents.

This post was authored by Katherine Calhoun Cutshall, a librarian working in the North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial Library.

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