Notable Men of Henderson County: George Mills
By: Dan Gibbs
The story of George Mills is one of the more fascinating story’s to come out of Henderson County during the Civil War. It is a story of friendship, loyalty, and devotion that transcended the social structures that were in place in pre-war United States at the time.
George Mills was born into slavery in Polk County, North Carolina near a community called Mill Springs. His mother was Moriah Mills, a slave belonging to Ambrose Mills who owned a plantation on the Green River in Polk County.
When George was 13 years old, he was sold to prominent Hendersonville attorney William Bryson and young George became the valet to William’s son Walter nicknamed “Watt.” Watt had just graduated from the South Carolina medical school in Charleston when the Civil War broke out. Watt immediately joined the Confederate Army and was mustered into Company G of the 35th North Carolina Regiment where he was elected Captain by his peers.
It was a customary practice in the Confederate Army for the officers to be allowed slaves while they served. William sent George to Camp Mangum in Raleigh, North Carolina to serve with Watt and to look out for him and to “bring him home when the war was over.”
The 35th North Carolina became part of Robert E. Lee’s Army of the Potomac and Watt saw action at Seven Pines and Malvern Hills and he was also with General Lee when Harper’s Ferry was captured by the Confederate Army early in September 1862.
A big battle was brewing at Sharpsburg, Maryland in the middle of September 1862 and the night before the battle Bryson called Mills to his side and gave him his gold watch and $400 with the instructions that these items were to be given to Bryson’s mother should he not survive the battle.
Watt was killed at the Battle of Sharpsburg and after located Watt’s body, a grieving George procured a casket for Watt’s body and he made it by train to Greeneville, Tennessee. It was a trip that took several days. Once arriving in Greeneville, George hired a wagon and a driver to make the rest of the trip home to Hendersonville, taking him three more days. Watt’s body was interred at the Methodist Church in Hendersonville the next day and George helped to dig the grave.
George joined the Henderson County Home Guard to serve out the remainder of the Civil War and he remained active in the Confederate Veterans Association for the remainder of his life. He attended several national Confederate conventions and he also received a Confederate pension for his service.
In 1923, Watt Bryson’s body was moved from the Methodist Church Cemetery to the Oakdale Cemetery in Hendersonville. Once again, George Mills was there to escort Watt Bryson’s coffin to its new resting place thereby keeping his promise to William Bryson to escort his son’s body home.
George Mills died on June 3, 1926 at 82 years old and he is buried in the same Oakdale Cemetery that Watt Bryson is buried in.
An excellent starting point for any history on Henderson County is Frank L. FitzSimons three volume work From the Banks of the Oklawaha. The story on George Mills is found in Volume I pgs. 115-119.
The story of George Mills has also gotten some recent attention in The Fairview Town Crier in an article by local historian Bruce Whitaker “George Mills and Capt. Walter M. “Watt” Bryson in which he gives a more in depth telling of the story. The article was published June 6, 2011.
In an online article published by www.thetribunepapers.com on May 13, 2020 the story of George Mills is detailed in an article entitled “The Matchless Devotion of Black Confederates.”
Notable Men of Henderson County: Charles de Choiseul Part II
By: Dan Gibbs
January 1861 was an important month in the life of former Flat Rock resident and naturalized American citizen Charles de Choiseul. He had joined the New Orleans militia in 1857 and early in January 1861, he passed out ammunition to volunteers and helped Louisiana seize control of the Union arsenal at Baton Rouge.
Shortly after Louisiana seceded from the Union on 22 Jan 1861, de Choiseul climbed to the top of the City Hall in New Orleans and raised the state’s pelican flag to the cheers of the citizens of New Orleans and was followed by a 20-gun salute.
De Choiseul was mustered in as a Lieutenant Colonel when the 7th Louisiana Regiment was formed in June 1861. He was second in command of the Regiment behind fellow New Orleans attorney Harry T. Hays.
They moved to Virginia in July 1861 where they participated in the skirmish at Blackburn’s Ford and on 21 July de Choiseul and the 7th Louisiana Regiment fought in the First Battle of Manassas, the first major battle of the Civil War and a Confederate victory. De Choiseul took temporary command of Colonel Wheat’s Special Battalion after Wheat was injured at Manassas and until Wheat recovered from his wound.
In 1862, the 7th Louisiana was attached to Brigadier General Taylor’s Louisiana Brigade and participated in General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign. They fought in the first Battle of Winchester on 25 June, Jackson’s first major victory in the Shenandoah Valley, and moved on to the Battles of Cross Keys and Fort Republic on 8-9 June.
De Choiseul had been corresponding regularly with a Miss Emma Walton while his Regiment was in Virginia and he had written to her in late 1861 that “I have made up my mind to leave my bones on the sacred soil of Virginia.” He fulfilled his prophecy less than a year later when he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Port Republic. He was shot through the lungs while leading a charge of the 7th Louisiana across a wheat field against a fortified Union position manned by the 7th Ohio Regiment.
He died on June 19 at a Richmond, VA hospital from his wounds. He was about 44 years old. His remains were sent back to his adopted hometown of Flat Rock in North Carolina where he was buried at the St. John’s in the Wilderness Church in the family plot. The French government sent a French flag to be dedicated in his memory to the church where it still hangs today.
A lot of the research I did for part II of the Charles de Choiseul was done online. There are a lot of great websites out there and the essay Ronald S. Coddington did on Find A Grave was a great starting point. He also wrote an article that appeared in the New York Times on 9 June 2012 called “Death on Virginia’s ‘Sacre’ Soil” that was very helpful.
I also made several trips out to the cemetery at St. John’s in the Wilderness Church to see the burial place of Charles de Choiseul. I hope to be able to go back at a later time to check out the French flag in the church.
Notable Men of Henderson County: Charles de Choiseul Part I
By: Dan Gibbs
Charles de Choiseul’s time in Henderson County was short but he had a major impact on the area and was returned to his final resting place at St. John’s in the Wilderness church, a Civil War hero.
He was born in France around 1818 to Xavier comte de Choiseul and Sarah Johnes. He arrived in the United States in 1830 with his family when his father became the French Consulate in Charleston, SC, a position he held until 1856. Charles and his family moved to Flat Rock in 1836 after several visits to the home of the Baring’s and purchasing 200 acres in Flat Rock.
Xavier de Choiseul first built what became called the Saluda Cottages in Flat Rock and then in 1836 Charles moved to Flat Rock with his mother and two sisters, Louisa and Beatrix, to oversee the building of Chanteloupe, their mountain estate built on 3000 acres of land in Flat Rock. Xavier traveled back and forth between Flat Rock and Charleston taking care of his business interests. Chanteloupe was completed around 1840.
In 1841 a location was picked for Henderson County’s county seat to be called Hendersonville. It was to be on 50 acres of land donated by Flat Rock resident Judge Mitchell King.
The location was to be on the sight of what was known as Chinquapin Hill because of a massive grove of Chinquapin trees and bushes in the area. Charles de Choiseul was elected to be the surveyor and lay out the streets for the newly formed Hendersonville. The only stipulation was that Main Street had to be 100 feet wide to allow a horse and buggy to be able to turn around. The streets of Hendersonville today are as Charles de Choiseul laid them out in 1841 with the exception of some aesthetic changes made to Main Street over the years.
Charles de Choiseul made his way to New Orleans by 1850 where he became a naturalized American citizen and an attorney. He was also active in the civic affairs of New Orleans. He was considered a leader of the French Creole citizens in New Orleans. He was invited to join the Pickwick Club in New Orleans in 1857, a club started by six of his fellow attorney’s . The Pickwick Club was a gentleman’s social club that is still in existence today.
He also joined the New Orleans militia in 1857 and came to play a vital role in the defense of New Orleans at the outbreak of the Civil War. He later became a Lieutenant Colonel in the 7th Louisiana Regiment.
Charles de Choiseul is a fascinating character and he wore many hats in his short life. Rodney Coddington’s article on the Find a Grave Memorial website about Charles de Choiseul provided a great starting point for my research and I also made several trips to St. John’s in the Wilderness church to view the de Choiseul’s headstones. The headstones were also valuable in my research.
Notable Men of Henderson County: The Life & Legend of Abraham Kuykendall
By Dan Gibbs
Abraham Kuykendall was born in New York in 1719 and he was in his 60’s when he served in the Revolutionary War. The veteran Kuykendall was one of what was to become Henderson County’s first settlers. He was awarded a land grant of 600 acres by the state of North Carolina in the late 1780’s for his service during the American Revolution. Those 600 acres encompassed a large portion of what is Flat Rock today.
He served in Captain Corbin’s North Carolina Militia where he served as a Corporal from 1770-1783 and as a Justice of the Peace in 1778 in Old Tryon and Rutherford County. Kuykendall migrated to the mountains of western North Carolina with his land grant.
Abraham was an entrepreneur and he saw great opportunity in his land holdings. He eventually acquired over 6000 acres and he built a tavern and an inn on the Old State Road near where Mud Creek Baptist Church sits today. It was the largest inn of its day in the area and he built stables and corrals that could hold the livestock that were being driven to the markets in Columbia, SC and Savannah, GA. The drovers could house their herds and livestock and stay for the night. He served some of the finest whiskey with his own distillery and his inn and tavern quickly gained a good reputation.
Kuykendall’s first wife Elizabeth died around 1800 when Kuykendall was in his early 80’s. He quickly remarried a much younger woman named Bathsheba. She was 20 years younger than Abraham and she quickly gained a reputation for enjoying the finer things in life and she did not seem to mind spending Abraham’s hard-earned money.
Abraham insisted on the patrons of his inn and tavern make their payments in gold and silver coins. Since Abraham did not agree with Bathsheba’s spendthrift way’s he started hiding his gold and silver coins in big iron washpots.
With all of the travelers to the inn and tavern, Kuykendall began to worry about the safety of his gold and silver. According to the legend, one night he woke up two of his servants and made them carry the wash pots of gold and silver coins through the woods near his residence. He blindfolded them first and made them crisscross through the woods until they were completely disoriented.
He took the blindfolds off and made them bury the washpots full of coins. He then blindfolded them for the return trip home. All the servants knew was that the location of the buried pots was near a large oak tree and a small stream.
One night about a year later Kuykendall returned to the woods one night to dig up one of the pots so he could make a large land purchase. He needed a larger sum of money than he had in his house. He went out late at night with a shovel but he never returned home. His servants and neighbors went out the next day looking for him, they found his body lying dead in the stream. There was no sign of foul play and it is believed that he tripped and fell and hit his head against a tree or a rock in the stream and died right there. The shovel was still lying beside him.
The pots of gold and silver were never found and a lot of people believe that it is still buried where he put them in the ground. The creek most associated with this legend is Pheasant Branch in Flat Rock, and once in a great while, someone will conduct another search. The legend of Abraham Kuykendall is the most enduring story of buried gold in Henderson County. Abraham Kuykendall donated the land that Mud Creek Baptist Church sits on today and he is buried in their cemetery that sits on the side of Erkwood Drive. He died in 1812 and his marker is well decorated.
The author of this article is local historian Dan Gibbs. He is a native of Henderson County and developed an interest in history listening to the stories told by his great grandfather Henry Clinton Gibbs.
Some of the websites used were the ncdar.org and Henderson Heritage. There are several newspaper articles on Blue Ridge Now that offer different takes on the legend of Abraham Kuykendall and Michael Sundburg of Hendo.today has a video posted on YouTube about the legend.
Notable Men of Henderson County: Xavier de Choiseul
By Dan Gibbs
Count Marie Joseph Gabriel St. Xavier de Choiseul was born in France in the late 1700’s and was connected to French royalty because he was a cousin to King Louis-Phillippe XV. He was named French consul to Charleston in 1831 and it was a position he held until 1856.
He and his wife Sarah visited their friends the Barings in Flat Rock in 1831. He purchased 205 acres of land from Charles Baring II along Mud Creek in order to build a summer home for he and his wife Sarah, their two daughters, and their son.
He built the Saluda Cottages in 1836 as a temporary residence until what became called Chanteloup could be built around 1839. His wife Sarah oversaw the building of Chanteloup as de Choiseul’s position in Charleston kept him there during the summers. She lived in Flat Rock year-round with her two daughters and son Charles. He sold the Saluda Cottages and acquired the 3000 acres that Chanteloup was built on.
Sarah died in 1859 at the age of 61 and she died under mysterious circumstances. Many historians believe that she and the Count got into an argument in Chanteloup and was pushed off a balcony and fell to her death on the floor below. Some believe that she died of an illness but there are no real facts as to how she died.
Son Charles moved to Louisiana in 1850 when he was about 18 or 19 and he became a lawyer in New Orleans and a militiaman who was very active in the French Creole community in New Orleans. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Charles joined the 7th Louisiana Regiment where he attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was badly wounded at the Battle of Port Republic in Virginia in 1862 and died from his wounds about a week later in a Richmond, VA hospital.
Despondent over the death of his wife and his son, the Count de Choiseul left Charleston late in 1862. He feared a Union blockade of the port of Charleston and he returned to France never to visit the United States again. He died in Cherbourg, France in 1872.
The Count de Choiseul left his legacy in Flat Rock as his estate Chanteloup still stands and just recently sold for $2.2 million although it has been pared down from 3000 acres to less than 20.
When I was growing up in Hendersonville there was a legend that Chanteloup was still haunted by Countess Sarah Choiseul’s ghost who still roamed the gardens of the estate. This was confirmed to me by a previous owner.
My research for this article can be attributed to many sources. As always, Henderson Heritage is a great place to start and Find a Grave Memorial is also a valuable resource. St. John’s in the Wilderness is a short drive from my house and the cemetery to the nearly two hundred-year-old land mark is easily accessible. The cemetery contains the headstones of many of the area’s founders and is a step back in time.
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