Setting the Record Straight in Ramoth: 52 Weeks, 52 Communities

Unlike most of the communities we’ve covered in this series, the community of Ramoth is in reality, no longer. Once a rather large, and even incorporated suburb of Asheville, most folks living in Buncombe County today have probably never heard of this North Asheville community. Indeed, at one time, Ramoth was so large, they intended to annex Montford!

Asheville Daily Citizen 1898.

That’s an interesting timeline to imagine… What if there was no Montford?

Eventually, the little village of Ramoth voted to change its name to Woolsey, then later Woolsey gave way to become Jackson Park.  The rest as they say, is history.

Although Ramoth doesn’t really exist anymore, I thought it would be interesting to cover, anyway. First, to bring awareness to its existence (and to give folks an idea of where it was), and second, because it was the home of a person I have been researching for some time: a man named Spencer Weaver.

People gathered at “Ramoth Place” the home of Col. Ray in the Ramoth Suburb of Asheville. An older African American man is at the far left, holding the hand of a young girl. G198-5.

Spence Weaver was born as an enslaved man around 1840, probably in Buncombe County, and probably on the farm of Col. James T. Weaver near the present town of Weaverville. Because enslaved people were not documented the same way as their masters, we have very little clear information that helps to confirm this. In fact, at the time of his death in August 1899, two different Asheville Newspapers ran obituaries sharing conflicting information about his birth. One claimed that he was born in South Carolina and later sold to the Weaver family. The other indicated that he was born on the Weaver farm.

Both of these obituaries though, must be called into question, and are the subject of today’s blog, because each of them shares only half truths about the life and deeds of Spencer Weaver and promote the “lost cause” narrative of the Old South popular among wealthy whites and former slave masters of the day.

Spencer Weaver’s life was more than working for the Weaver family.

Spence’s Late Years

The last years of Spencer Weaver’s life (and most years after the Civil War), according to both obituaries, were spent living in the Asheville Suburb of Ramoth, in the employ of W.T. Weaver, the son of his former master. However, I can find no other evidence of this story.

What can be found in the record, however, is Spencer Weaver living just outside Weaverville in both the Reems Creek or Flat Creek townships in the 1870 and 1880 census. In both of those census records his occupation is listed as “farmer.” This is not terribly surprising because the Weaver family originally settled that section of Buncombe County, and the home of Col. James T. Weaver would have been in that section.

Spence died in 1899, and could have gone to live in Ramoth any time in the 1880s or 1890s to begin working for WT Weaver. If Spencer began working for W.T. Weaver as soon as he moved to Ramoth, he would have relocated to the suburb no earlier than 1896 according to city directories.

Spence During the Civil War

Spencer Weaver’s obituary mentions the “war between the states” and describes how Spence remained with Col. James Weaver’s family during the war, even helping them fend off an attempted robbery by Kirk’s raiders. However, the obituary leaves out a very important piece of the story, especially when it comes to Spence’s supposed “fidelity” to the people who enslaved him and his wife.

When we dig into the historical record, we learn that Spence was actually (as one might presume) on the other side of the conflict all together. Like many young African American men in Asheville and Buncombe County in the final days of the Civil War, Spencer Weaver fled those who held him in bondage and followed General Stoneman’s troops out of western North Carolina and into East Tennessee where he enlisted in the 40th United States Colored Infantry Regiment alongside more than 80 other formerly enslaved men from Buncombe County and WNC, including George Avery.

George Avery also served in the 40th US Colored Infantry Regiment with Spencer Weaver. Photo courtesy of the Smith-McDowell House Museum.

At 25 years old, Spencer was officially a free man, and for the first time in his life earned an income of $1.30 per week. When he mustered out in 1866, he was paid an additional $100.

Life as a Free Man

Unfortunately, this is where records become vague. I haven’t been able to learn too much about Spence after his service, save for a few bits and pieces.

According to the register of deeds, Spencer Weaver was one of the founding members of an unnamed AME church that was located on Warm Springs Road just off Lower Flat Creek Road. The Church purchased 3 acres of property from A.M Alexander in 1877.

In September that same year, low on funds, Spencer took out a chattel mortgage for the sum of $27, putting up his mare and cow as collateral. It may have been to pay for a doctor, because his wife, Sallie, is found on the 1880 census as “paralyzed.” Perhaps an illness led to her condition.

Why would the obituary be so wrong?

The Lost Cause myth was and is a powerful narrative. After the Civil War, former Confederates maintained that although the South lost the Civil War, their cause was just and heroic, and that rather than fighting to maintain slavery as an economic institution to benefit the wealthy, those that fought in the war did so to protect the “southern way of life” or a distinct southern heritage from “Northern aggression.”

Confederate Veterans are treated to a party at Ramoth Place July 4, 1889. B711-8.

This Lost Cause narrative often included tales of loyal enslaved or formerly people who might have remained with the family, protected property, or like this obituary mentions, maintained an attitude of servitude and understanding of second class citizenship after emancipation. The obituary is not shy in its white supremacist undertones, praising Spencer Weaver as an “old time darkey” and an “ante-bellum negro.”

Photo titled “The Negro Settlement of Asheville.” Three white citizens are handed a glass of water by a young African American boy while others look on at a distance. G269-8.

The W.T. Weaver family knew that the majority Spencer Weaver’s friends of color and immediate family could not read, nor did they have any social capital to set the record straight at the time. Thus, the white Weavers were able to save face, and promote their own agenda and narrative through the obituary of a person who was still, in 1899, a second class citizen. Indeed, the obituary does not mention any of Spence’s successes as a free man, but places all of the emphasis on his servitude as an enslaved person, and later his employment to his former masters.

We can learn a very important lesson from the residents the bygone Buncombe County community of Ramoth. When we research the past, we ought to question everything. Little by little we can each do our part to set the record straight.

We love sharing our collections and stories with you! We especially like when they get a good workout from researchers, the curious, and even the stray interior designer or stylist! Our 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 Ramoth, Woolsey, Jackson Park, North Asheville or some other Buncombe County community you’d like to let us know about? Do you, your parents or grandparents have a good story to tell? 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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