Reconstruction Days Recalled
by G. A. Burgin
May 17, 1956
I was born nine years after the close of the Civil War, right in the middle of the reconstruction days of the South, when they were trying to come back from their terrible calamity of losing everything they had. The slaves were turned loose without anything or anything to live on. They were in a worse fix than when they were in slavery. Their masters had to feed and clothe them. The slaves did the work inside and out. And the slave owners' children were raised up in leisure to do nothing.
My grandparents on both sides were slave owners. My grandfather on mother's side was Henry Soloman (Salmon) from Virginia. Her mother was a Winters. She was raised at Marion, NC. She got all the slaves her father had. My grandfather did not believe in slavery and he wanted her to free or sell them, and for sentimental reasons she would not because they were her father's. They owned two hundred and ninety acres of land. It took in most of Marion on the south side. My grandfather sold this land and bought big boundary of land from Albertus Murphy on the north prong of Cedar Creek up in the mountains and moved there.
My mother was about 12 years old when they moved to Cedar Creek. There were three girls and five boys in the family. Five of them lived to old age. My grandparents died at old age on Cedar Creek.
My grandfather on my father's side came from Maryland to Old Fort and married his first cousin. She was pioneer Benjamin Burgin's daughter.
Benjamin Burgin was one of the first settlers in Old Fort. He lived right after going through Old Fort east, when you make that turn around the bottoms over next to the railroad. His house was built out of walnut logs. Benjamin Burgin had seven sons and two daughters.
Old Fort was named after the fort that the early settlers built for protection from the Indians. They said my grandmother was born in the Fort. It was on the north side of Mill Creek there where that bridge is in Old Fort.
My father's parents, James and Leah Burgin, settled on Little Crooked Creek near Bethel and Cherry Springs church. They owned a large boundary of land there. They had twelve children, six boys and six girls. They all lived to be grown. The youngest girl died in her twenties and a boy was killed in the Civil War.
McDowell County was at one time part of Burke County. The court records show that James Burgin Sr. was on the grand jury that found a true bill against Frankie Silver, the woman who killed her husband and chopped him up with an axe and burned his body in the fireplace. She was the first woman hanged in North Carolina. She was hanged at Morganton. McDowell was created in 1842.
They claimed the first court ever held in McDowell county was held in that big house on the bank of Buck Creek right below where No. 70 crosses Buck Creek. That was the home of the Carsons, a prominent family of Burke and McDowell Counties.
Samuel Carson was the one that fought the duel with David Vance over in the edge of South Caroline near Tryon. He killed Vance. Dueling had been outlawed in NC but SC still allowed it.
My father, the second James, and Elizabeth Solomon Burgin, when they were married bought a boundary of land with a house and settled on the head of Crooked Creek. Two years after they were married the war broke out between the states. My father did not go until late in the war. He was drafted leaving my mother with three small children to do the best she could, but she said she got through all right. She said she prayed for his safe return. He never even got a scratch. Men fell on both sides of him. He was in some of the biggest battles that were fought in the Civil War. He said some times they would go for two or three days without food.
My father had a good neighbor that he thought a lot of. He said one morning he came to my father and gave him his pocket Testament and his pocketknife and told my father to give it to his wife when he got home. They went into battle that same day and he was killed. His name was Aden Keeter. He was Aden Byrd's grandfather, and the great-grandfather of the Rev. Gene Byrd.
My father got a furlough and came home and while he was at home Lee surrendered to Grant and he never went back. He gave the things to his friend's widow. At the close of the war my father and mother had their home and farm and three small children. That was all they had. They had no money and nothing to live on.
Back in those days there were no hospitals to go to. When a person got sick all the neighbors would come in and give their remedies for the person sick. If they were seriously sick they would get a doctor. He would prescribe a dose of calomel and salts. All the doctors knew then was by experience. People then believed in God as well as the doctor.
When a person died all the neighbors would help out with anything that was needed to be done. If it was a woman that died, all the ladies would come in and do everything that was done about the corpse. They even did the making of the clothes that were put on the body. If it was a man the neighbor men did everything about the corpse. A man that was handy with a saw, plane and hammer would make the casket and not charge for it.
Medical science has made wonderful changes in the last half century. Doctors can do everything for a man, but put breath in him, and keep him going. Now when a baby is born it is in the hospital with doctors and nurses. When they get sick they go to the hospitals, and when they die they are taken to the funeral home, and from there to the cemetery. This is where all people come to a level, at death. From dust we came, to dust we must return.