First and foremost, I would like this page to serve as a resource for learning about the history of Jackson County's Confederate Monument and the time in which it was dedicated. Furthermore, I would like for this page to also serve as a jumping off point for members of the community to have a discussion about the statue's current context and symbolism. Let's first start with the history because forming an opinion on such an important matter in our community should begin with facts.
HISTORY OF JACKSON COUNTY'S CONFEDERATE STATUE
I am NOT a historian, nor do I pretend to hold any amount of knowledge anywhere close to those of the members of our local genealogical society and other local historians. That being said I'm mostly just going to quote sources such as The History of Jackson County book as well as other publications pulled from WCU's special collections and other online and printed resources.
On the eve of the Civil War: Jackson County and the 1860 Census and 1860 Slave Roster
Total Population: 5515
-White People: 4179
-Native American People: 1062
-Free Black People: 6
(Click HERE For Source)
The 1860 Census was the first census for Jackson County because the county was formed in 1851. (remove the following?)This is unfortunate because it makes it difficult to look for trends in population leading up to the civil war. However, Jackson County was formed from Haywood County and Macon County. Looking backwards for trends in those two counties we can see that the number of slaves was steadily increasing. (Click HERE For Source).
On the eve of the Civil War: Jackson County's Vote to Hold a Convention to Secede
"In February, 1861, North Carolina voters were given the choice of calling for a convention to consider secession from the Union. The campaign was passionate in all parts of the state with those wanting to leave the Union voting for the convention and those in favor of not leaving the Union at that time generally voting against the convention. The vote went against the convention at the state level by a 47,338 to 46,671 margin. The very slim majority against immediate secession was bolstered by a large pro-Union vote in most of the mountain counties. Led by (William) Thomas, however, Jackson County voters overwhelmingly called for a convention and secession by a 435 to 83 count." (From The History of Jackson County book p.231)
This is an important thing to note. North Carolina, overall as a state, originally votes to not hold a convention which signals a desire to remain part of the United States. And that is largely aided by western counties. However, Jackson breaks from the mold and votes overwhelmingly to support secession from the United States. This is very unusual because the western part of the state seems to normally be fairly cohesive in ideology. There is an answer to this riddle though, and his name is William Holland Thomas. He was mentioned in the excerpt above and he's the reason Jackson County departs from its neighbors and votes overwhelmingly to secede from the United States. William Holland Thomas was a "member of the local legal and administrative structure of Jackson County", was instrumental in the forming of Jackson County and was one of its most powerful political leaders. He was also one of the largest slave owners in the mountains. Again from the History of Jackson County book: "Materials from surrounding counties indicate that Jackson County voters of both parties supported the institution of slavery and resented what they perceived as northern efforts to change or abolish human servitude. The election of Republican President Abraham Lincoln and the secession of the neighboring state of South Carolina forced the people of the county to confront the reality of armed conflict. Thomas spoke actively in favor of southern independence saying that he would not "submit to be ruled by a black republican President influenced by hostility" against the South and slavery (p. 231)."
Even though Jackson County enters the civil war with massive confederate support, it doesn't last long. "The harsh realities of the war soon made those who had brought North Carolina into the conflict quite unpopular. Thomas was defeated in his attempt to win a seat in the Confederate Congress in 1862 against an opponent who could not claim to be an original secessionist as could Thomas. That same year, Jackson County voters gave a majority of their votes to gubernatorial candidate Zebulon Baird Vance, who ran as the candidate of those who had originally opposed secession. Part of Vance's popularity was undoubtedly that he was a fellow mountaineer, but the stress of the war was testing loyalty to the Confederacy in Jackson County. Those opposed to the Confederacy grew in numbers and willingness to challenge the Confederacy as the war progressed (p.231)".
The first Jackson County death, W. W. Jones, occurs from Company H of the Sixteenth Regiment. "The closest estimate of the number of men from Jackson County killed seems to be around 84. This figure cannot be regarded as being accurate, and the accounts of the wounded and captured are even less reliable and do not merit reporting." (The History of Jackson County book p.439).
I want to speak a moment to a very important but as yet unanswered question regarding Jackson County's involvement in the Civil War. Exactly how many soldiers from this county fought in the civil war? Without manually going through state archives and looking for people with Jackson County next to their names I haven't found a good way to answer this question. There are no easily searchable online resources. I have only found two references to the number of Jackson County veterans of the confederacy. One source, the most reliable (UNC), sites 164 as the number of confederate veterans from Jackson County. The other source, which has largely been discredited, sites over 1000. The 1000 number certainly isn't accurate. There simply weren't even that many men of "fighting" age in the county at that time. In 1860 there were only 978 men between the age of 15 and 60 in the county (see the link above for census data). So clearly, there couldn't have been over 1000 confederate veterans. However, even though the UNC source is reliable, 164 confederate veterans seems low and there is the other conflicting source to consider. If anybody has an accurate count from a reliable source then please let me know. As of now we'll leave that question unanswered, although it's an important one.
Post-Civil War Reconstruction in Jackson County
Reconstruction was an ugly time for America as the two-party political system really took on an ugly face. The Democratic party was very much the party of racism at this time and its leaders pushed hard for racist policies in the form of literacy tests and other Jim Crow era policies. "In the aftermath of the war, the two modern parties first appeared in Jackson County. The Democratic party claimed to speak for the farmer and Confederate veteran, supported limited government expenditures, and attacked black participation in government. The Republicans claimed to speak for those who supported the Union during the Civil War, promoted business expansion, supported positive government, and accepted the black man as a part of the political system (p232)...The Democratic party completely dominated politics during the 1870's and 80's (in Jackson County)(p.233)." However, towards the end of the 1880's the Democrats made some significant mistakes in maintaining party power in the mountains. In 1886 Democrats passed the Stock Fence Law that saw them lose a lot of democratic support in the mountains. This law restricted access to public lands which upset people in the mountains who used that land for their livelihood.
Jim Crow era
The Jim Crow era in this country, and NC in particular, was defined by a series of overtly racist policies meant to disfranchise African Americans. "The state electoral picture was dramatically changed in 1898. Led by Furnold Simmons, North Carolina Democrats adopted the politics of Jim Crow. Using racial issues as their platform, the party regained power in 1898. The legislature then proposed to use educational tests to eliminate most of the black voters in the state. The Democrats framed a constitutional amendment to that effect and submitted it to the voters in the summer of 1900. The party promised whites that the party would improve educational facilities to insure that they would not lose the right to vote. Republicans in the mountain regions stressed that illiterate whites would be disfranchised and that they should vote against the amendment (p.235)." The final vote count in Jackson County was 1019 for the amendment and 1064 against the amendment. Essentially a split. On the state level the amendment passes. This amendment actually seems to have had the effect of pushing some people in the mountains away from the Democratic party because there weren't enough African Americans in Jackson County to really throw an election so the concern was less about disfranchising African Americans and more about protecting the votes of white people.