Written and Published Online by John Silver

w/contributing articles by various Silver cousins



Many Hellos and Happy Holidays!


I hope all of you are doing well.  We are fine on in this part of the country.  I see from the news that a lot of our cousins in the northwest United States are having their share of misery with the flooding.  We send them our best wishes and hopes for a rapid recovery.

This month I have two or three articles that I think you will find interesting.  Mike Shelton sent the article on the Shelton Laurel Massacre.  I have seen the historic marker several times and wondered just what happened. So, here are the facts.  The article on Charlie Wilson appeared in the Yancey Journal in 1988.  It is a reminder to us of the older generation as to how things used to be.  I hope you enjoy them.

Cousin John


The Shelton Laurel Massacre

Madison County, North Carolina, winter of 1863.


Prepared by: Colonel William R. Shelton, Jr.,

1131 Westwood Avenue, Columbus, Ohio



In reading your history, The Sheltons” by Mr. Z. F. Shelton, you will no doubt note that on page 43, reference is made to the above subject.  It is also referenced on page 264 of your, “History of The Shelton Family of England and America,” and possibly as I did, you may have questions as to the truth and for the reasons for such a horrendous and cowardly act against one’s own people.  This has concerned me to the point of attempting to learn the circumstances of this dastardly act against our own.  I am submitting herewith some notes and a few of the facts that I have been able to accumulate to date.  This is by no means the whole story, but I thought you might also be interested and that you might like to include this paper along with your historical material concerning the Sheltons.  This data I have collected by actual contact with members of the Shelton family descendants that presently live in the Shelton Laurel area of Madison County, North Carolina, the North Carolina State Archives and a long-time friend in the Adjutant General’s Department, Department of the Army, Washington, DC.

In my contact with relatives of the victims, I found them to be as you and I, people with pride as to name and heritage, and their beliefs as strong as yours and mine.  More power to them, as they paid dearly for those beliefs and their actions.

Many of our ancestors had the “wander lust” and they were continually on the move westward, hoping for greater fortunes, and the usual visions that provide the incentives to reach out for better living conditions, richer lands, better crops, etc.  Unfortunately, they were not always able to see the fulfillment of all of their hopes and dreams due to internal struggles within the country, and the resulting wars which occurred all too frequently in those early days.  At times they were forced to delay their marches westward to participate in, or do what ever they were required to do in order to support what they believed to be right.

In the early 1790s, just after the land was taken from the Cherokees, two brothers, David and Martin Shelton came to what is now Laurel Valley, North Carolina, from Virginia.  They were there in the wilderness when the Boundary Commissioners came through in 1799.  They staked their claim on “Lorrel” Creek and it has been known as Shelton Laurel ever since.

Of course these people were not burgesses, councilors, presidents or officials of any rank.  The great majority of them were hard workers, farmers, builders of roads and bridges, of towns, of characters of a great nation.  If they have been worthy we must emulate them and their virtues.  If unworthy then we must avoid their vices.  At least, we must quickly acknowledge that by their hardships and self denials, their rugged and tough lives, they left to us, their descendants, paths to comforts and luxuries, the like of which they had never dreamed.

Madison County, North Carolina, is located in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina where the nature of the terrain is step and rugged.  The nature of the country is such that it would be almost impossible in which to conduct troop movements and/or operate successfully.  As a result, Madison County became from the beginning of the Civil War, a haven for deserters, both Confederate and Union, bushwhackers and Tories as the Union sympathizers in the western North Carolina area were called.

In early 1862, Captain David Fry, (the ring leader of the bridge burners) and a band of men fled from Green County, Tennessee and found refuge on the head of Laurel Creek.  Soon, the Captain and his followers were conducting raids back and forth across the state line, taking money, gunpowder, and salt and threatening death to the natives.  On occasion, they would beat southern men and women severely.  In response to the outcry from both North Carolina and Tennessee residents to suppress this den of marauding thieves, Confederate troops made an attack on the head of Laurel Creek but the result of the skirmish was negligible.  Several days later a detachment of State Militia conducted a more successful operation.  The Militia captured 30 or 40 of the Tory ringleaders.  Following these skirmishes many men in the Shelton Laurel promised to loyal to the South and joined the Confederate Army.  (NOTE: Three Shelton families lived outside the Laurel Valley and twenty Shelton families lived in the Laurel Valley as they had for three generations from the early 1790s.)

As you may remember from your history classes the state of North Carolina did not play a leading role in the great secession drama of 1860 -1861.  While other states were talking secession, North Carolina, for the most part favored the National Union.  Since the soil of the state was not well suited to the growing of cotton there were relatively few wealthy planters with large slave holdings to agitate for a break with the National Government.  The non-slave holders from the mountain districts of the west, the swamp regions of the east and certain Quakers and small farm elements in the central region could see no reason to become vitally concerned with the preservation of a slave system in which they had little part.  These non-slave holding whites had considerable influence in the state and their attitude had to be reckoned with.

Now, back to our subject.  During the early winter of 1863 brutality in the mountain struggle probably reached its height.  In January of that year a band of men raided Marshall, the County Seat of Madison County, to get salt, supposedly being withheld from them due to Union sympathies.  The raiders broke into several stores and took what they wanted.

On hearing of the Marshall raid, Governor Zebulon Vance (who was pro-union) appealed for military aid from General Hoth at Knoxville.  Hoth immediately dispatched General Davis’ Provisional Force to Madison County.  The report submitted by General Davis after his foray into North Carolina, dated 20 January 1863, stated that his men had killed twelve Tories and captured twenty or more.  He also stated that the extent of the disloyalty had been greatly exaggerated.

Subsequent communications to Governor Vance indicated that the General did not know the whole of the Shelton Laurel story.  These letters told how Lt. Col. J.A. Keith, a native of Marshall and member of the 64th North Carolina Regiment had captured thirteen old men and young boys and had them shot under the most cold blooded circumstances.  Although the records are not clear on these points, it appears that the killings took place in February and that periodically since late 1862, Lt. Col. Keith with two hundred men had been on duty in Madison County.  It is said that during this period the soldiers of his command had been harassed by bushwhackers from behind every shrub, tree and shelter.

In order to state the facts simply and as briefly as possible, it is known that Lt. Col. Keith and his troops searched relentlessly for anyone they could blame for their troubles, whether guilty or not, they swept the valley of all menfolk.  The evidence presented related as to how all who were unfortunate enough to be relatives of suspects that the troops could not find were whipped and tortured and hanged until almost dead and then let down for more questioning.  This included an 85-year-old woman who was whipped, hung and robbed, and a seventy-year-old lady who was whipped with hickory rods until blood ran down her back.  A young mother with an infant child was tied in the snow to a tree and the baby placed in the doorway of her cabin. She was then told that unless she talked they would leave them both there to freeze to death.  A young mentally retarded girl was beaten and tied to a tree by the neck for a day.

The fifteen men who had been rounded up by the soldiers were old men too old for military service and young boys not yet old enough to enlist.  They were told they were to be marched to Knoxville, Tennessee, and there turned over to the authorities. They would be tried by a tribunal court. Before dawn they were rousted from their sleep for the march to Knoxville.  During the night two of the prisoners had managed to escape.

On that fateful day the file of soldiers and their prisoners proceeded on the road to Knoxville for a few miles.  Then suddenly the prisoners were halted at an open area along the creek where observers could see what was to happen.  Without warning or explanation, five prisoners were ordered to kneel.  Ten paces away a file of five soldiers stood with their guns ready to fire.  The prisoners cried out that they should be allowed to pray.  Keith was reminded that they had been promised a trial.  He ignored both but ordered his soldiers to fire.  The prisoners put their hands over their faces and begged for mercy.  The soldiers hesitated, despite what they had suffered, some refused to obey the command.  “Fire, or you will take their places,” Keith told them.  The soldiers fired and four of the prisoners died instantly but the fifth was writhing from a stomach wound and begging for mercy.  He was shot in the head to put him out of his misery.  Five more were ordered to kneel.  Among this group was 15-year-old David Shelton.  He pleaded with the soldiers for his life saying, “You have killed my father and brothers, you shot my father in the face; do not shoot me in the face.”  The soldiers fired and the victims fell, but once again, one prisoner was left alive.  It was David Shelton.  He begged to be allowed to go home to his mother and sisters, but they killed him.  The remaining three prisoners took their turn and died.

The killing finished, the soldiers dug a shallow mass grave and dragged the bleeding bodies into it.  The frozen ground, heavy snow and the soldier’s lack of concern about the disposal of the bodies meant that the hole was not large enough to allow the earth to cover the bodies completely.  Some of the bodies actually lay on top of the ground.  The next day the families found their dead and they were buried in a neat row on the hillside near the place where they had been murdered.  An appropriate marker has been erected at the final gravesite.

The Shelton Laurel Massacre was not to become a major incident of the Civil War, although the newspapers and periodicals of that period gave many eyewitness accounts of what had taken place.  The act was described as, “Humanity revolts at such a crime,” “Barbarous conduct … a scene of horror,” “Cold blooded murder,” “butchery.”  “Keith was a disgrace to the Army and to the State of North Carolina.”  “In the name of outraged humanity demand the punishment of the officer who is guilty of these murders.”

The military courts took little or no action, continued delays for little or no reason, until in time the incident was forgotten at that level.  Keith left the area and is believed to have changed his name and gone west.  He was never heard of again.

Despite all the horrible events of that day, life went on in Shelton Laurel.  Surviving casualties of the war were taken in by their kin who cared for them.  Mary Shelton, who had been whipped and hanged for a time by the troops, lived with John and Matilda Shelton who were pretty well off by Shelton standards.  They could provide the special care she required.  Between 1862 and 1870 she had become totally insane.  Martha White, who had married a Shelton had gone back to her parents to live.  James Shelton’s family which had lost the father and two sons was now headed by Patsy Shelton who kept up the home place with the help of two older sisters and younger brothers, John and Calvin.  This family stayed together sustained by kin and love for their home.  James Shelton’s grandson, “Bud” is still there and I have discussed this whole matter with him.

According to the 1870 Census, there were seven Shelton households that were headed by women.  There had only been one in 1860.  There were about ten more kin living in households in which they had not been born as was the case in 1860.  Only four of the 137 Sheltons listed in the 1870 Census were over forty years old.

No evidence was ever presented to show or prove James Shelton and his sons, James and David, their relatives, David Shelton and Roderick Shelton had ever been accused of any of the so called anti-Unionist activities, participated in the raid on Marshall or in any way harassed the troops by bush-whacking, etc.  As a matter of information, John Shelton from that area was a Captain in the Union Army.

Note: Col. Shelton states in a letter to me dated December 1985, that the account of this massacre itself was related to him by Rena Shelton and Mr. Berd Shelton of Marshall, North Carolina.  Since then a book has been published listing him as a source of some of the facts in regards to the Shelton Laurel story.


Shelton Laurel Massacre Historical Marker Photo
courtesy of Glenn Shelton



The David Shelton, age 50, was my G-G-Grandfather and his brother Roderick Shelton, age 52 was my G-G-Uncle.

These are the names of the 13 victims of The Shelton Laurel Massacre:

·         Allison King

·         Jo Woods

·         Avonnata Shelton, age 14

·         David Shelton, age 13

·         James “Old Jim” Shelton, age 56

·         James Shelton Jr., son of Old Jim, age 17

·         James Madcap (Metcalf) age 40

·         David Shelton, Age 50, and his brother

·         Stob Rod (Roderick) Shelton, age 52

·         Helen (?) Moore (this is a male)

·         Wade Moore

·         Joseph Cleandon

This list of names is from the letter sent to Governor Zebulon Baird Vance by the Honorable Judge Augustus Summerfield Merrimon, whom Vance asked to investigate the incident.

Mike Shelton
PO Box 104
Nebo, NC 28761.
e-mail: [email protected]



The Yancey County Journal

Burnsville, NC  May 19, 1988

Charles Wilson Writes Book


Charles H. Wilson of Pensacola recently celebrated his 89th birthday.  Mr. Wilson is busy writing his autobiography.  An excerpt from the book, which he hopes to publish next year, is printed here as a celebration of this remarkable man.  A second installation of Mr. Wilson’s book is about a camping trip to Mount Mitchell which will be published in a future edition of, “The Yancey Journal.”

“I was born March 19th, 1899.  I’ve been told it was a stormy day.  In those days, births were attended by midwives, however, the only people present for mine was my father and half-sister.  Nothing could prevent my coming before help arrived.  My mother was an excellent midwife herself, so I’m sure she supervised my birth.”

“My father, Jacob Wilson, first married Rhoda Ray.  They were the parents of five children, four girls and one boy.  She died from tuberculosis.  My mother’s maiden name was Martha Styles, daughter of Wesley and Martha Hester Ray Styles. She was first married to John Washington Silver.  They also had four girls and one boy.  My mother’s first husband, John Washington Silver was drowned.  My mother and father met three or fours years later and were married.  They had three sons.”


“I was the youngest member of a large and poor family.  I grew up a barefooted but proud boy in the Pensacola community.  I observed and loved everything around me.”

“My parents always taught me to make do with what I had.”

“There was always a market for furs – mink, skunk, opossum and raccoon.  I enjoyed trapping and made box traps or used steel traps.”

“You had to be careful when skinning the animals.  You cut the skin on the back legs then pulled it off the animal keeping it wrong side out.  To stretch the skin, you had to whittle a board just a little bit bigger and longer than the skin.  You then pulled it over the board and hung it up to dry.”

“I remember a story I heard about two hunters at the country store boasting about how good their hunting dogs were at hunting and catching raccoons.  The first man said all he had to do was whittle a drying board and then show it to his dog.  All he had to do then was sit on the back steps while the dog went out hunting for a raccoon that would fit the board.  The second hunter said that his wife had set her ironing board on the back porch last month and his dog had not yet come back.”

“I was always glad to see Mr. Kas Presnell coming to our house.  He was our fur buyer and came once a year.  We didn’t get much for our furs but a little money went a long way back in those days.”

“Even though I couldn’t afford them, I enjoyed looking through all the catalogs and seeing so many tools to work with, as my father didn’t have the tools I needed to make the things I wanted, even as a young boy.”

“Anything with wheels fascinated me.  I can remember the first threshing machine that came to Rocky Fork, the area in Pensacola where we lived.  I made a small threshing machine that operated with a crank.  I also made a waterwheel.  My father’s tools were crude and the materials to make things were hard to come by.”

“Wheelbarrows in those days used all metal wheels.  I found two old discarded wheels at Andrew Boone’s blacksmith shop in Pensacola and I built a bicycle I could ride down Rocky Fork to Cattail Creek Road which was about half a mile.  I found it quite a task to push my bicycle back home but the ride was worth the trouble.”

“Our new neighbors, Crisley and Mirah Rathbone were liking their new home very much.  Their daughter, Joan, would later become my wife.  Joan was two years younger than me and I was liking her very much for my new play-mate.

“Joan would hear me rattling down that rocky road on my bicycle and want to ride with me.  I’d tell her that there wasn’t room for two and I was afraid that she would get hurt riding by herself.  It would also have been too much for her to push the bicycle back home.  I found Joan to be as tough as a hickory knot.  We enjoyed playing together.  She was six years old and hadn’t started to school yet.  I was looking forward to her starting school.  The two mile walk wouldn’t seem so far then.”

“Pensacola had two stores in those days – the Tarp Anglin store and the El Hensley store.  Anglin’s store was the largest and contained the Post Office.  If possible, I liked to be there to meet the mail carrier.  I’d heard the railroad was coming our way and the mailman always had some news of the progress being made.  I could hardly wait for the railroad to come to Pensacola.  We didn’t have any means of transportation at that time so travel was difficult and only undertaken when necessary.”

“My mother took great care in her well being.  She kept telling me that she needed some dental work done.  In those days, dental work was almost unheard of.  If you had a toothache you went to someone in the community to have it pulled.”  Sometimes it was the blacksmith and sometimes the barber.”

“Mother’s youngest daughter, my half sister, Indiana, was married and lived in Burnsville.  Through her, my mother learned that there was a dentist there, a Dr. Gillespie.  Mother called and got an appointment to have her dental work done.”

“Pensacola did not have transportation but it had two magneto powered phones mounted in wooden boxes on walls.  They were powered by turning the hand crank quickly.  I’ve often wondered who maintained ten miles of  phone line for so few telephones.”

“Mother told me that I would have to go with her to Burnsville for her dental appointment.  I was out of school and too young to leave at home.  Mother dreaded the long walk very much and said we would start two days before the appointment.  She wanted a day to rest  at her daughters before going to the dentist.”

“The day came to leave and she was up early packing the things that she and I needed.  She packed sparingly, knowing that we would have to carry it ten or so miles to Burnsville.”

“The day we left was nice for walking.  We would use all the “near way” paths to save time and distance.  We had relatives on Bolen’s Creek and we stopped for a much needed rest with about four miles to go.”

“We finally came to East Main Street, a dirt road.  Walking west we came to a sidewalk made of boards to keep your shoes out of the mud when it rained.

“I remember passing Frank Watson’s lawyer office near the Town Square.  The streets would be pave seventeen years later.  John Evans’ store was on the corner.”

“Several men were working building a new Courthouse on the Square.  I was interested in the work, making those large cement blocks and taking them out of the forms dressing up the beveled edges.  I’m sure it was hard work laying those large blocks.”

“Mother stopped at Zenus Robinson’s Drug Store for a short rest.  That’s where I enjoyed first Coke.  That year was 1908.  I was nine years old. I remembered that I was one year older than the calendar year.”

“My sister lived a little west of Robinson Street, so we had about one half a mile to walk.  People couldn’t visit often because of the lack of transportation, so sister was pleased to see us.”

“I was up early after a good night’s sleep.  My sister’s husband was working on the new Courthouse, so I asked if there were any chores I could do.  Mother finally agreed to let me cut some wood from the nearby pine grove.  My sister used wood for cooking.  The trees were three or four inches in diameter.  I cut several, trimmed them and piled the brush.  My sister’s husband gave me a nickel when he came home from work and I was very pleased.”

“My sister’s first child, Edith, was two years old.  I enjoyed watching her eat in her high chair and mother was enjoying her first grandchild.”

“The next day we went to see Dr. Gillespie.  The walk wasn’t far he had his office in his dwelling house just off Robertson Street and West Main.  We found Dr. Gillespie to be a very nice and kind man. I dreaded the wait.  I didn’t know if they used anything to kill the pain.  Mrs. Gillespie gave me some milk and cookies and some funny books to look at.”

“Mother said that the work was very painful.  She wanted to sit for awhile.  I heard Dr. Gillespie to come back the next day for more work.  I didn’t like that.  I was wanting to get back home so I could have someone to play with.  I was thinking about my neighbor playmate, Joan.  Maybe she was missing me a little bit.”

“I was dreading the walk back home for mother.  I felt I could make it better because of all her dental work, and she had lost a lot of sleep with the pain.”

“Burnsville was a small town and the neighbor’s houses were far apart.  My sister’s husband was Jim McIntosh.  He seemed a promising young man eager to learn the carpentry trade.  There were many McIntoshs in West Burnsville.  I learned my mother was a Styles by birth.  Mother was proud of her Styles family.  Being a midwife she thought a baby born to a Styles mother came with a head full of knowledge.”

“Mother was up early for the long trip home even though she didn’t feel well after her dental work.  I remember walking by the Burton Hotel.  The front porch came near the board sidewalk and some folks seemed to be taking life easy in the several rocking chairs on the front porch.  The hotel was two stories and there was a wooden store building on the corner.  There were people milling around in the town square, several horses were tied to the hitching rails, a few covered wagons and a few buggies.”

“We stopped for a short rest on one of the seats on the Square and heard two men talking about the railroad coming to Yancey County.  I could hardly wait to see my first train.”

“We have rested long enough.  Down at the bottom of the hill we will turn right on the path which will be our first near cut.  Not many families lived on Bolen’s Creek in 1908.  Most of the families were Banks, Rays, Blevins and Presnells.”

“The scene is beautiful from the top of Low Gap looking up Cane River.  When we reached Pensacola, we stopped at Tarp Anglin’s store to see if we had any mail.  We didn’t get much mail in those days.  I remember that one politician sent seeds by mail and we planted them in the garden.”


(Ed.s Note. I am sure that Mr. Wilson has passed on since this article appeared in The Yancey Journal.  I have been unable to find out if his book was ever published and if it was, I wanted to buy a copy.)





Pearl McMahan Harris


Asheville, NC
3 November 2006


Burnsville – Pearl McMahan Harris, 94, of 465 Paradise Lane, passed away at her home on Sunday, October 29, 2006.

A native of Yancey County, she was a daughter of the late Talmadge and Allie Hensley McMahan.  She was the widow of Claude Harris who died in 1982.  She was also preceded in death by three sisters, Johnsie Rathburn, Zula McPeters and Agnes Patton; two brothers, Wade and Earl McMahan.

She was the oldest member of the Low Gap Freewill Baptist Church.

Surviving are her four daughters, Sue Holland and husband Marvin, Janice Wright and husband Danny and Clara Lee Hilemon and husband Dale, all of Burnsville, Louise Davis and husband Douglas “Doug” of Marion; son, Bill Harris and wife Peggy of Marion; three sisters, Kathleen Boone, Clara McPeters and Ruby Honeycutt;  13 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren.

The funeral service was held at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the chapel of Holcombe Brothers Funeral Home.  The Reverend Stanley McMahan officiated.

Burial will be in the Penland Cemetery at Concord.

The family received friends one hour prior to the service at the funeral home.  At other times the family was at home.

Memorials may be made to Hospice of Yancey County, 856 Georges Fork Road, Burnsville, NC  28714.

(George Silver Sr. > George Silver Jr. > Greenberry Silver > David Hamilton Silver > Emma Jane Silver m. Elbert “El” Hensley > Allie G. Hensley m. Talmadge McMahan > Pearl McMahan Harris.)



Lois Josephine Buchanan


Asheville, NC
3 November 2006


Spruce Pine – Lois Josephine Buchanan, 84, of Sunshine Hill, Spruce Pine, passed away Tuesday, October 31, 2006.

She was retired from the Spruce Pine Community Hospital’s Dietary Section.  She was a member of Pine Branch Baptist Church.

Survivors include her sisters, Ruth Greene of Bakersville and Leona Rice of Asheville; brother, Avery Buchanan of Spruce Pine; a host of nieces, nephews and friends; a special caregiver, Marianne Snyder of Spruce Pine.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Homer and Matilda Pittman Buchanan; foster parents, James and Nettie B. Bartlett; sisters, Della Buchanan and Loretta Silver.

The funeral service was held at 11 a.m. Friday in Pine Branch Baptist Church with Kenneth Gaskins and Steve Williams officiating.

The family received friends at one hour prior to the service.

Interment followed in the Church Cemetery.

Memorials may be made to the Pine Branch Baptist Church Building Fund, 48 Church Road, Spruce Pine, NC  28777.

Henline Hughes Funeral Home assisted the family.

(Could someone help me place Loretta in our files?  I have no information whatsoever.)





I received this notice from Dr. Bailey and Nancy Puckett.  I ordered and received this book and I can assure you, it is well worth the price.   Ed. John S.


Greetings to All,

Usually I write to inform you of a new volume of the HERITAGE OF THE TOE RIVER VALLEY SERIES, and I will actually do so in a few weeks. (Volume VI is nearing completion.)

     Instead, I am now writing in behalf of the Yancey History Association to inform you of a book entitled; “MCELROY HOUSE: A GLIMPSE OF YANCEY COUNTY NORTH CAROLINA’S HISTORY.”  It narrates the history of the building which now serves as the County’s museum … a house that was erected by John W. McElroy near the founding of the County (in 1833), served as the western headquarters of the Confederate Home Guard during the Civil War and was inhabited thereafter by a former Captain in the Union Army.  A history of the County is narrated (64 pages), using the house as a focus, and it includes many quality photographs.  Detail, toward the end, is given of the massive (and historically correct) restoration of the house so that it might serve as the center for the collecting the County’s history.

The total cost (including tax and shipping) is $11.00, payable to the Yancey History Association, PO Box 1088, Burnsville, NC  28714.

Many thanks

/s/ Lloyd Bailey



John Silver
Genealogist & Editor
64S Fairfield Drive
Dover, DE 19901
[email protected]

Barney Kaufman
7408 Lake Drive
Manassas, VA 20111-1960
[email protected]