Appalachia Ghosts - Haints - Spooky Pap

Let’s Visit the Harshaw Farm Cemetery

My life in appalachia - lost in memories of childhood days
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.

Pap remembering living at the Harshaw Farm, Murphy NC
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.

Harshaw Cemetary
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.

Steps leading to harshaw family cemetery
On each side of the wall there are steps that lead up and over.

Harshaw Cemetary Brasstown nc
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.

Harshaw Farm Cemetery
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.


old grave at harshaw farm

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.

John Webb 1846 1892
There was John Webb 1846-1892.

Absalom Phiilip Mary Lou Johnson
There was this newer stone-set to represent 3 members of the same family: Absalom, Phillip, and Mary Lou Johnson.

John W Parris 1903 1954
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.


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  • Reply
    November 26, 2020 at 7:36 pm


    My mother, Helen Brown, born in Murphy in 1938 was on the Harshaw Farm around 1945-49 with her family (George Verlin Brown & Radie Lou-Emma Brown) both of which where share croppers on the farm.

    She remembers the Ben H Brown family and Ira Davenport family and the Bessie May Rich family. We are going to drive through there Murphy tomorrow afternoon heading to Asheville and would love to see if anyone knows my mother or of the names/families mentioned?

    Happy Thanksgiving,


  • Reply
    Anna Curran
    October 23, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    Hi Tipper,
    I remember that day! I always had fun on our field trips with you and your dad. He was such a wealth of information!

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    October 21, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Living in this area all my life with a few years in Atlanta and Mo. I never though about a cemetary other than the Harshaw Chapel cementary. I would love to go see this cementary. Are the original owner Harshaws buried there or the Harshaw chapel cementary? Great pictures and mystery behind it as well with one owner killed and never the truth to come forward as to who killed him by beating him to death with his own gun. Great story love this.( the Harshaw chapel cementary has a history too)
    Mary Lou McKillip

  • Reply
    October 21, 2016 at 5:29 am

    Interesting Story, My Dads Family were sharecroppers also, they worked on a farm at the edge of what is now the Bank Head National forest, some of the family still live close by the Old Farm, and has bought land and raised there families, most of the Older ones are all gone, but some of the kids still live there.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 21, 2016 at 1:42 am

    I enjoyed the story and especially the pictures of the Harshaw Cemetery. I thought at first you might show some graves of the Harshaw slaves. Your account of the Harshaw Cemetery reminds me of the Dickey Cemetery in Fannin County, GA. It is high up on a mountain and enclosed by a rock wall, as is the Harshaw Cemetery. However, the only graves with an identifying large stone is that of George Dickey (1776-1862) and Hannah Dickey (1777-1868) and 27 of their slaves, with stones at their graves but no names on their fieldstone markers. George and Hannah Dickey are great, great grandparents of the writer, James Dickey, on whose novel the movie “Deliverance” was based. In 1999, a ceremony of dedication was held at the old Dickey Cemetery, with a large crowd in attendance, among whom were descendants of the Dickeys and of their slaves. It was a beautiful occasion of people coming together to applaud the bravery of early settlers and to celebrate that the slaves were treated well by the Dickeys and freed. Some who received their freedom with the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln, preferred to keep on living on the Dickey property. It is said that when Mrs. Dickey was old and sick, one of the former slaves who had helped her so long slept close beside Mrs. Dickey to take care of her in her last years. This inscription is on a monument erected in 1999 at the Dickey Cemetery:
    Here among the familiar pines,
    rest two pioneers of these hills,
    and more than a score of slaves,
    nameless here, though not the sweat
    and grief they gave to this soil.
    Together, they are equal
    in our hearts and in God’s hands.
    -the Dickey descendants, 1999

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 20, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    Come to think of it b. Ruth may have a point. I have been feeling increasing old lately and was beginning to worry about it. But, no more! After b.’s revelation I realize, I’m not getting older, I’m just drinking too much buttermilk. aaaahhhh!

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    October 20, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    Interesting! I wonder if the ones buried outside the graveyard were unbaptized or were otherwise thought to be unsuitable to be buried in hallowed ground for some reason…something that often happened in the old days. Or it could just be they ran out of room.
    Prayers everyone has a great weekend, and a safe one too.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 20, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    I loved the moss covered steps. Also, your visit in pictures of the cemetery.
    Thanks for this post.
    PS To start moss growing on rock for that old established mountain garden look. Pour buttermilk on the rocks and shake some woodland moss over them. It doesn’t hurt to lay a piece next to the rocks you want moss to grow on! Just sayin’ !

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 20, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    I love old cemeteries like this one. They all have a very peaceful feel to them. I feel as if I listen closely they will talk to me. Reading the names and inscriptions make me wonder about their lives. Looking at the birth and death dates some lived long and some short lives.
    In the cemetery where my grandmother and grandfather are buried there is a little old marker for their son Howard who died in early childhood. He would have been my uncle, wonder what his life would have been.
    So many stories!

  • Reply
    October 20, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    I love reading this story about an historic family cemetery and Pap’s boyhood adventures- and especially that it is kept up.
    About 50 miles from the above cemetery is the Greasy Creek Baptist Cemetery, just off TN Hwy 30 from US 64/74- the beautiful drive along the Ocoee. Here lie the graves of my 5th great- grandparents and many of their descendants. The cemetery slopes up the side of a mountain across the road from the church (a bit of a hike!). Elijah Clayton was a founder and minister of the church and was also a War of 1812 veteran, as well as the Civil War! I’m so glad I was able to take my grandson there over the summer, as it is important to pass on our heritage. And you never know what you might find!

  • Reply
    October 20, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Thanks for all the pictures at the Harshaw Farm Cemetery. Pap was 11 years older than me, but I loved that man, went to every concert I could, and I was impressed with his wisdom. One time he asked me if I was keeping everything straight up at Topton. I
    told him we lost our Mayor a few years ago and just hadn’t replaced Buck Godfrey. He
    studied for a moment and said “when I was just a boy, over at home, it was so cold that someone stole the crossties off the railroad to keep warm. The train couldn’t run for about 3 weeks.” That made me hush…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 20, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    Tipper – I have been reading your blog for a long time and I believe this is the best one yet. The pictures are perfect illustrations of your words and fit right into the Halloween theme.

  • Reply
    October 20, 2016 at 9:41 am

    In reference to the grave outside the walls: Probably a favorite slave – couldn’t be buried with the family but could be close by. There’s some land near me that has a revolutionary officer buried on it. There are several slave graves surrounding it but only the officer has a headstone.

  • Reply
    Pam Danner
    October 20, 2016 at 9:18 am

    I enjoyed your story and photos so much! I love to visit very old cemeteries. The history, the aged headstones, even the landscape I think is a connection of the past. When we are in Murphy we like to head up Joe Brown Highway to Unaka to a cemetery where many of my family members are buried including my Grandmother (she passed away when my Dad was about 4 or 5) and my Great Grandparents, Uncles and Great Aunts and Uncles. They are laid to rest on a sweeping hillside slope with huge oak trees, Such a peaceful place.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 20, 2016 at 8:50 am

    The “Harshaw Plantation” Cemetery is in Find A Grave database with 27 internments but only 4% photographed. Find A Grave is a good resource that represents untold thousands of hours of volunteer work. By the way, sometimes modern stones placed by well-meaning descendants can have incorrect information and really confound genealogy.
    Your story of someone unrelated maintaining the cemetery is instructive about so much change happening over the years. That realization always gives me mixed feelings. So many things move away from us, or we from them, in a lifetime. We can’t hold back the tide of time. It can make us feel awfully small sometimes.

  • Reply
    October 20, 2016 at 8:27 am

    Appalachian folks seem to show a lot of respect for the final resting place of anyone even though no relation. There are, however, many small cemeteries left behind by the many coal mining communities and big timbering companies. We children were very interested in one cemetery we discovered in the mountains. Long forgotten, there were trees growing up through the graves. This always stayed in my mind through the years, and I would make inquiries when I spoke with older folks from the area.
    I was once told when they made a logging road through there they had gone through a cemetery uprooting graves and everything. The result was a cemetery above the road that had been used fairly recent up into the 60’s. The part we discovered was below the road, and had a Civil War soldier buried there with a small metal fence around his grave. His name was Rufus McComas. Sadly, a later visit showed a tree had shattered the tombstone and the fence had apparently been removed for scrap iron. I did send this information in when they were attempting once to document old cemeteries. This has given me renewed interest, and I may make an attempt to get the info on Ancestry, as I know he has descendants in the area.
    For some this is fascinating, but for others eerie. Personally I am interested in all those who went before and paved the way. It is interesting to ponder how they lived, why they died, and if there is anyone left who cares about their grave.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 20, 2016 at 8:09 am

    An interesting story, I have driven by this farm many times and was always impressed by it.
    I love old cemeteries, I find peace among the gravestones and often a bit of humor in what is written there.

  • Reply
    Candy Davis
    October 20, 2016 at 5:52 am

    I loved this story. I am very interested in the history of this area since my mother’s family has lived in the Murphy-Hayesville area for about 180 years. I have always wanted to know about the Harshaw family. My great-grandparents and ggreat grandmother and many other family members are buried in the Harshaw Cemetery in Murphy, where the Harshaw Chapel is. I believe my great-grandfather Davidson was friends with a Harshaw in the mid-1800s. I assume this is the same family. I also remember recently hearing a story about one of their slaves, though I can’t remember the details. I do a lot of genealogical research and love visiting cemeteries. I’m glad this old family cemetery is being kept up. I would love to see it someday.

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