Pap was born in 1937. He spent the first years of his life on the Harshaw Farm in Cherokee County NC. The farm lies along the banks of the Hiwassee River between Murphy and Hayesville. Pap’s father, Wade, and his grandfather, Benjamin, were sharecroppers for the large plantation.
The Harshaw Farm was established in the 1800’s and has the undesirable moniker of being the largest Slave plantation in the area. According to the Cherokee County Historical Museum’s book: A Pictorial History of Cherokee County Abram Harshaw was the largest slave owner in Cherokee County in the year 1860. He had 43 slaves.
Back in 2011 Pap, my friend Anna, and I spent some time at the old Harshaw Farm. We poked around the woods and met the present owners of the farm, but mostly Anna and I listened to Pap remember what the farm was like when he was a boy.
Pap told us about getting lost in a big snow, actually he wasn’t lost he just didn’t tell his mother he was going to visit the neighbors about a mile away.
He said his mother caught fish from the river and took them to the Big House to trade for things she needed.
He remembered a big long row of outhouses, the farm needed all of them so that the workers didn’t have to wait in line.
Pap shared humorous stories about the escapades him and his Uncle Wayne got into. Uncle Wayne was closer in age to Pap than to his sister who was Pap’s mother.
The Harshaw Family Cemetery is maintained by the present owner of the farm, even though he is no relation to the folks who rest under the trees nor does he have any obligation to keep it up. The family plot is above the farmland as most mountain cemeteries are and it is totally enclosed by a rock wall.
On each side of the wall there are steps that lead up and over.
The steps on the far side of the wall have almost been completely covered by moss and leaves. The huge tree and it’s roots have caused the steps to deteriorate over the years.
The graves inside the wall cover a large portion of time, well over a hundred years. Some are just rocks while others have elaborate engravings. There is one grave as recent as the 1980s.
Especially interesting to me are the few graves that lie outside the enclosed wall. The one above had nothing legible left to read-if there ever was anything to read.
There was John Webb 1846-1892.
There was this newer stone-set to represent 3 members of the same family: Absalom, Phillip, and Mary Lou Johnson.
And there was a man Pap remembered from his time spent at the farm: John W. Parris.
Pap told us he remembered attending a funeral at the cemetery with his mother, but he couldn’t remember who it was for. None of the stones with dates fit into the time frame of when Pap lived on the farm.
Pap was pleased to see an effort was being made to keep up the old cemetery. Over the years the farm has changed hands several times and the owners weren’t always interested in keeping up somebody else’s family plot.
In the late 60’s or early 70’s Pap said the cemetery became a hang out for folks to party at. The area was secluded and out of the way, the perfect place to raise some cain.
One night the party got out of hand. A gentleman who was running the farm took a rifle and went up to the cemetery to run the gang off. No one knows what happened, but the farm representative ended up dead-beaten to death with his own gun. Pap said they had investigations and even a trial, but no one was ever convicted. None of the living ever fessed up to what actually took place and of course none of the dead did either.