From where I was born and raised it was only a short drive down US 52 to Lockhart Gaddy’s Goose Refuge. I can imagine how most sophisticates would react upon arriving at a place like Ansonville, North Carolina. Their words might include:
As we have already established...
I did a Google image search to find a suitable stock photo of Ansonville, NC - to offer a taste of the town. I found one non-descript, fuzzy satellite view of the little town and I found this photo of Ansonvillian Scarlett Howell. A difficult choice! For what it's worth: "A resident of Ansonville, she is active in local and global charitable work. Scarlett helps the elderly and underprivileged children, and works with local missions and churches to try to help meet people’s needs."
...thousands of Canada Geese would beg to differ. And back in 1844, this neck of the woods was an attractive destination, as well, for dozens of South Carolina planters.
More on that in a minute, but I need to talk about my source for this information, North Carolina – A Guide to the Old North State. That volume is also known as the WPA Writer’s Guide and it is one of my most cherished books. Although I added this title to the collection a couple of years ago, I’ve been making my way through it just a little at a time, to prolong the wondrous sense of discovery that it provides. I’m happy to know that great surprises still await me on the pages of the book, and that will be the case for a long time to come (at the rate I'm going).
In an attempt to learn more about Gaddy’s Goose Pond, I took the rare step of pulling the WPA Guide from the shelf. Not surprisingly, Gaddy’s didn’t make it into the 1938 book. The heyday of the Pond would come later. However, I did learn some things I never knew about Ansonville.
Those wealthy planters from the lower Pee Dee had established a summer settlement in Ansonville to escape malaria. Wanting to provide a good education for their daughters, the planters built a college. According to the Guide:
The ruins of the Carolina Female College, on the northern side of town, a three-story red brick building of Classical Revival design…are used for storing cottonseed.
Back in its day, the school granted diplomas for “proficiency in science and polite literature” until two successive epidemics of typhoid led to its closure in 1867.
I did a Google image search to find a suitable archival photo of Carolina Female College. Since I couldn't find one, you'll have to pretend that Scarlett Howell is a typical student at Carolina Female College, circa 1855. With a name like "Scarlett" she has to be antebellum!
The Guide describes the Bethlehem Cemetery, “in a grove of tall pines of the outskirts of Ansonville.” When I do make my trip to the wildlife refuge, I’ll be sure to look for this graveyard. The WPA Guide shares this story:
Tombstones in the cemetery give evidence of the fever epidemic. One bears an epitaph said to have been composed by the departed young lady which reads:
The pursuit of Education led me from home
I bade my Companions Farewell
I met the contagion and sunk to the tomb
And now with my Savior I dwell.
Why would anyone get the impression that Ansonville is an unusually bleak and depressing place? Every old town has its ghosts.
I can’t close this installment without sharing another tidbit from the WPA Guide, which states that the Bethlehem Cemetery also contains:
…a marker honoring Ralph Freeman, generally referred to as Elder Ralph, who was born a slave, joined the Baptists, had “impressions to preach” and received his license from the church of which he was a member. After the Bear Creek Association bought and gave him his freedom, he became an ordained Primitive Baptist minister, traveling and preaching in Anson, Montgomery, Moore, Randolph, and Davidson Counties.
As it turns out, there is much more to the story of Ralph Freeman. I had learned about Elder Ralph last year, and his was quite a life. My grandparents and many of my ancestors attended Kendalls Baptist Church in Stanly County, and Ralph Freeman likely delivered the first sermon at Kendalls in 1830. Knowing the racial attitudes of my grandparents and many of my ancestors, it is almost incomprehensible that a black man ever preached to that lily white congregation.
According to the church history, Ralph (or “Ralf”) Freeman “was a fiery preacher who – although he could not read – quoted the Bible and preached with great strength and conviction."
His twenty years of service in the Baptist church came to an abrupt end. After the Nat Turner Rebellion in August 1831, a nervous North Carolina Legislature made it unlawful for any black person – freed or slave – to speak at any public gathering.
And so, a historical marker beside US 52 in Ansonville informs us:
Ralf Freeman – Free black served as a Baptist pastor at Rocky River Church until law in 1831 barred blacks from public preaching. Buried 500 yards west.
(To be continued.)
[Click here for all stories on Gaddy's Geese.]
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