John Preston Arthur
|John Preston Arthur Early Day Scholar, Boone
Resident Historian: Plagued By Loneliness
by Rev. O. L. Brown
|(The Democrat is indebted to the Reverend Mr. Brown
for allowing us to use his biography of the late John Preston
Arthur. We would appreciate the loan of a photograph of Mr.
Arthur if one is extant.)
At the age of sixteen I went from my rural home in Ashe county, North Carolina, to Butler, Tennessee, on the banks of the entrancing Watauga river, to attend school. There I got my first taste of village life. While my world was extended it still was a world made up almost entirely of native stock.
The following year (1912), I entered Appalachian Training School at Boone, North Carolina. Here I again met village life on a livelier scale. Although the place was ringed about with high mountains, and was to be reached only over narrow, dirt roads, more and more people were coming there especially in the summer. Most of these came to attend the Training School (for teachers).
The "outlanders", other than students, who came to Boone then were by and large tourists. Among those who came to stay indefinitely, at about the time I was getting settled in school, was a man who entered forcefully into my life. He was robust, well proportioned and slightly above average height. He had a full face, a ruddy complexion and was bald-headed, except for a fringe of gray hair. His age was above sixty.
His manners and general appearance were enough to attract one's attention. He dressed neatly, always in black or very dark clothes; he was handsome and had the appearance of a cultured man. He seemed not to belong in the little town but evidently he was there to stay.
I had seen this supposed "outlander" around town a few times and occasionally spotted him among the worshippers in our little Methodist Church. That was during my first year at Boone. The next year it was expedient that I work for my room and board. On looking around I found an opening at the old Blair, on Main Street, applied for and got the job.
My room was on the second floor of the two-story, rambling frame structure which fronted the street, near the center of town. As soon as I took over my work at the hotel I learned that the man I had spotted as an "outlander" was rooming and boarding in the building. His room was also on the second floor and was only two doors from mine. He was John Preston Arthur, who was locally known as "Colonel" Arthur.
For some weeks the "Colonel" and I knew little of each other. We sat at the same table in the large dining room at least once a day, sometimes oftener. He was quiet appearing, talked little and was somewhat moody. These things I soon discovered, however, in one way and another: He was originally from "down South" somewhere, her had come from Asheville to Boone, he was an "old bachelor" and by profession he was a lawyer; he had , before coming to Boone, written a "History of Western North Carolina"; he was then engaged in writing a "H[i]story of Watauga County, North Carolina." He had all but given up the practice of law, and now confined himself to civil cases, which almost never came his way. He had, long before this, turned from the practice of criminal law because, as he said, it had become most distasteful to him. I did a little work for him at the Register of Deeds office, trying to "run down" deeds to certain properties. His practice was very small.
The "Colonel" had more expensive clothing that almost any other man in town although he possessed only a suit or two. He was never without his white,
|dog-eared collar and black tie when in public.
He did much walking and kept his sturdy, black shoes well polished.
As he moved along, he kept himself erect and stepped briskly for a
man who was over weight and well past sixty. (In those days a
man was regarded as being old if he had reached his middle fifties).
As he walked alone he often whistled a little tune to himself that
no one could translate. Now and then there came from his
throat a chuckle or two that sometimes indicated cynical humor and
again resembled disgust. His general appearance was that of a
man whose mind was serious if not troubled. The gold-headed
cane he often carried was never used except for twirling once in
awhile or to point out something to the group of children which from
time to time accompanied him.
The "Colonel" loved children, for they were eager and lively and brightened his life. He would shepherd and direct them on walks, tell them stories, and often brought them inexpensive sweets. Mrs. Margaret Linney Coffey, who was one of the little girls that went on these walks, and who still resides in Boone, remembers well the interest he took in the children of her day and the joy she had on their jaunts with the "Colonel." There came a time, however, when children no longer went with him on the outings. The reason why is unknown to me. The "Colonel" was bitter and morose over what had happened and in my hearing said some uncomplimentary things about those who may have cast this shadow over his life.
When the weather was bad or for other reasons he did not go on his accustomed walks, the big upstairs porch, which extended the full length of the hotel, was his walking ground. On those days he would saunter back and forth, back and forth, his eyes usually on the flo[o]r, just as when he walked outside he looked at the ground. Here he covered his limited "ground", occasionally mumbling to himself. Some would ask, "Why does the old man walk so much?" These may not have guessed the secret until they perchance got old and lonely and poor.
As we got better acquainted, I would venture into his room now and then, being attracted by the man himself but perhaps more by his ancient typewriter. The keys were out of line and the platen had and beaten but it was a marvel to me, for it was the first "writing machine" I had ever laid eyes upon. In passing I had heard the irregular pick, peck, pick of the keys as the aging man, with his two forefingers, laboriously slammed them against the paper. Now and then he swore mildly as he punched the wrong keys.
Winter came to this high country by and by, and with it high winds, low temperatures, black clouds and swirling snows. Boone is nearly two thirds of a mile above sea level, and a paralyzing storm can strike within a short time. When the snow piled up between the back steps and the little woodhouse, the "Colonel" would get me carry up wood for the small flash heater in his room. Once in a while I started the fire for him, using my knife to make shavings for lighting to take the place of paper. He laughed at me and commented, with a chuckle, "D-d if he ain't doing it the way primitive way!" But it was the only way I had ever started a fire, and his remarks did not "rile" me. In my home no paper was used to kindle a fire.
At various times I did rather insignificant chores for the aging man. Being empty of pocket book about all the time, it lifted my spirit to earn even a little spending money. A quarter of a dollar was real money for a poor student of those days. In addition to the pieces of money, he now and then gave me a few words of encouragement, and these meant more than coins. Perhaps he had hopes for my future and, as I now clearly see, he also felt the need of my friendship. "You are young and agile," he once said to me, "I am old and my body no longer functions as it should, or at least once did."
Our acquaintance grew to limited companionship but not to intimacy. There was reserve on his part and a reticency on mine that never gave way to a deep, understanding friendship that one might covet. My home training forbade inquiry into other people's affairs, especially if they were older than I. And it was clear that I would be trespassing in this instance if I tried to discover his unrevealed thoughts. It is now quite evident that he was trying to forget about all his past, and that he was not succeeding in his efforts.
As time passed, bits of his life history came out. There was the chance remark, often to himself, some irony and pessimism, a philosophic observation, a brief reference to an unpleasant association, a bitter comment about his oldest sister and the like.
He and his sister, Fannie, had made their home together on College Street, in Asheville, he told me. They could not get along in peace, he declared. Conditions got to the point where he relinquished any claim to the house they were living in (it was jointly owned property), gathered up some books, his typewriter, his meager wardrobe and left the place and the city , never to return, as far as I know. This information concerning his sister was al the knowledge, I can recall, that he ever gave me about his family.
There were no lengthy conversations between me and the "Colonel". Those we had looked
|Page 3||to the past more than the future. A time or
two he mentioned attending a military school, which I found out much
later to be V. M. I. in Lexington, Virginia. He also made a
remark now and then about being in York City, and more will be
revealed about this in the second part of my story. What was
he doing in Boone? was the immediate question.
One day, on his own, he told me that he had come to this not-easily-accessible place, with no railroad and no coal smoke to begrime the atmosphere, in search of quiet. Later it developed that he was not only trying to get away from noise but that he also was hoping to escape from certain things that were destroying his peace of mind. He stressed the point that he was forever through with crowds, supposed friends, advancing "civilization", and the noises and hindrances that attend these.
One of the noises he detested was that of barking dogs. He kept of pile of small rocks on the porch near his door, to throw at dogs across the street - out of his reach! "The wail of cats you can understand, but not a dog's crazy baying as he sits on his tail and disturbs the neighborhood", he complained.
When there was talk of a railroad coming to Boone, he confided to me his plans for seeking another retreat. "It's in your home county", he told me. The place he had in mind was the tiny, secluded village of Creston, beside the North Fork of the New River, not far from my old home, in Ashe the next county north of Watauga. Life there was, at that time, almost at a standstill. The place, surrounded by mountains, with the mile-high peak and beautiful three top mountains looking down upon it, was ideal for the dreamer, the philosopher, the lover of Nature; for the man who could live with considerable loneliness, as far as people were concerned. Here he could have time sufficient to search his soul, to bathe his thoughts in pure mountain air, to cleanse his spirit, if that was what he sought.
It is quite likely that "Colonel" Arthur after coming to Boone, spent only one night away from the place until very near the end of his life. One day he reported to me that he had been in the country, some three or four miles from Boone, and had stayed over-night with a family. "I slept in a side room with a small stream close by it. I could hear the water babbling along, and its music put me to sleep." He was more nearly ecstatic over the experience than I had ever seen him, but that did not enable him to get rid of the gloom that was becoming deeper all the while.
The "Colonel" had his immediate problems, in addition to those he had carried over from a distant, and also a not-too-distant past. The matter of oncoming age and of continuing to provide for himself a mere existence faced him; it made him afraid. Whatever his heritage of property had been he no[w] was all but penniless, and no substance he might draw upon was his. Not one of his several recent ventures into this field and that had been a financial success. His most ambitious undertaking in his lately chosen community was the writing of "A History of Watauga County, North Carolina", which brought him a mere living for a year or more.
The history project was underwritten by twenty-two citizens of the town and county. The book itself, although valuable and authentic, was not a good seller. The men who financed the undertaking found themselves with piles of the volumes on their hands and did not know what to do with them. My father-in-law and his brother were two of the men who owned numerous copies of their county's history. One by one they disappeared, almost without notice, and now the book is a collector's item.
One North Carolina historian, whose name I have lost, wrote years ago, that in the "History of Watauga County" Mr. Arthur had had preserved a wealth of story and tradition that were interwoven with past important events that had occurred in the North Carolina mountains, and which concerned the families of those who had helped to make North Carolina. The same writer said this was also true of Mr. Arthur's "History of Western North Carolina", but that it was somewhat broader in its application.
By this time I had become a sort of "man of the world"; I had married although I was not yet of voting age. The marriage venture had given me a closer connection with Appalachian Training School at Boone, where there was a considerable library in the making. Mr. Arthur knew that the books had been catalogued, and though me applied for the job of doing that which had been omitted, probably because of the lack of funds. Each morning for the days, while the proposition was under advisement, he came early to the west campus entrance, and there paced back and forth while waiting for me to bring him some word of hope.
When he was told "No news yet", the applicant's countenance would change noticeably, and with heavy steps he would turn away. He would be back, morning after morning, usually whistling to himself an untranslatable tune from "out of the blue" briefly glancing in the direction from which I would come. My efforts would have been greater had I then know[n] the anxiety through which he was living and his fear of the tomorrows ahead of him.
In what seemed a short time to me, I was able to tell Mr. Arthur that he had landed the job. The cloud lifted from his countenance and he thanked
|Page 4||me. He understood that the work would not
bring him a great deal of money as only a few weeks of employment
would be required to finish the undertaking. Then he would as
he too well knew, again face the problem of a livelihood. And
it was that way: the task was finished , and he soon after was
back in a state of gloom, wondering how he would live out his days.
The "Colonel's" brooding led him to the verge of a breakdown. He abhorred the thought of his becoming a public charge. Then, one night while tossing in his bed in the little hotel room, he decided to apply for a job as a helper. The stable was just back of the hotel and was, like himself, perishing for lack of business. Surely the man in charge, he thought, would not let him down.
The fall of the year had come and winter was not far behind. Early the next morning, following the "Colonel's" decision, he went to the stable. Pudgy Mark Crist was already there, looking after his few charges. He wondered what was bringing the visitor to him so early, and he soon discovered that he was looking for work, although he had on his immaculate black suit. The truth was that he had no work clothes, and and many who knew him wondered whether he had ever done any manual labor.
Mark looked at him, took note of his tender hands, his cultured bearing, and all that. He had known the "Colonel" for some two or more years and had never seen him in the light of the present moment. He wondered if the desperate man was joking. "You work here, in this place!" he commented with a cynical grin. "Why, "Colonel", you couldn't do this kind of work, it's not for such as you, and I couldn't lower you or myself by letting you work here," Mark continued.
"But I need work, I've got to live", was the pleading answer, "and I'll take any kind of job I can find."
"You'll not starve; you've got friends; you can write or do something," Mark told him. That ended the interview. If Mark had told the whole truth he would have confessed that he was about as hard put to it [a]s the applicant, for the automobiles were rapidly cutting into his business.
The "Colonel" went sadly back to the hotel for breakfast, a meal he could not pay for and therefore could not enjoy. "Nobody," he seemed to be thinking, "understands what I am up against! I am a homeless, penniless man, without friends." And there was nothing in sight for him to do. Like the man in the parable, he could say, "To beg I am ashamed." It was just no in him to beg or to deliberately be a burden on others. The thought of either chilled him.
He was now one of the desperate, but still was searching for a way out, willing to try anything that might bring in an honest dollar. The last venture was practically a gamble; it was an effort to sell stock remedies and tonics. He was totally unprepared in every way for this kind of thing and could not put his heart or mind into it.
He chose Alleghany county, the second one east of Watauga, as his selling field. This was some forty miles from Boone and he had to get there the best way he could, for he had no conveyance of his own. A few days of weary, fruitless tramping from farmer to farmer in that area convinced him that he had chosen a losing proposition.
Within ten days the "Colonel" was in Boone again, utter defeat written on his once round and ruddy face. He was now a wild-looking man as he commented, "Nobody wants that d---d stuff; the farmers have their own remedies. And if they needed anything I couldn't sail it to 'em, for I am not a salesman."
The broken spirited man walked slowly around as in a daze and would talk but little. He complained of being tired and weak. His appetite had completely failed, and he soon took to his bed. He would not talk unless he was spoken to, became very drowsy, and seemed to be moving into a state of coma.
A staunch citizen of the town, Lewis Bryan, who was a "Colonel" also, and who had backed Mr. Arthur in various ways while he was writing the history of Watauga county, and furnished material about his own family, lived near the hotel. He was in and out, keeping up with the sick man's condition. If he complained of being chilly, Mr. Bryan would hurry home, get bottles of hot water and bring them then place them in strategic positions around the patient.
"You must have a doctor," Mr. Bryan told him." The sick man would not agree to have one, saying, "I have no money to pay one." His friend's reply was, "Don't worry about that, I'll see that he gets his pay."
Mr. Arthur still objected, saying that too much had already been
done for him. However, the doctor, whose office was only a
block away, was summoned. H[e] was not long in arriving.
He listened, through his
"It's a strange case," he remarked, aside; "there's every indication of typhoid except temperature; it's normal, and that rules out any kind of fever trouble." At that he left without further comment. If the "Colonel" heard this he paid no attention.
Once he broke into a conversation two visitors were having about the cause of his sickness
|Page 5||to say, "Brown has the right diagnosis of my case:
work is what I need." No one answered him, and no one
understood that he had put his own finger on the "malady" that was
killing him. That was the last time he spoke directly to
The aged hotel keeper, William Blair, and I sat out most of the remaining hours with the failing man. A friend or two came in now and then to see about him. The following morning he was delirious. He tried to sing snatches of a song I had never heard, nor do I yet know where it came from. In a cracked, tuneless voice he began
"We'll gather, we'll gather the flowers in the spring."
I could make out no other words. 'Tis something he learned as a child, I thought. Where did he learn them? Who were his parents, his teachers, his friends of long ago? I was never to know, I decided. But happy to me was the thought that his mind had gone back to those far, care-free days he once had known as he uttered those few words. No other unintelligible words passed his lips.
Old "Colonel" Bryant came again and again bringing a fresh supply of hot water in cans, for the cold lower limbs of the rapidly sinking man. "He's about gone, I think", he commented, adding "but as long as there's life there's hope."
The homeless, penniless, heart-broken man lived through another night. That last day of his survival, it was again the turn of the hotel-keeper and me to sit by. It was past the middle of the morning. Our conversation had lagged and both of us were observing the dying man's somewhat flushed features. Suddenly all the color went out of his face. We got up and stood beside the bed. My aged companion leaned over the still body, felt for the pulse and, looking at me, whispered, "He's dead."
Without a word, I left the room and went outside, down to the creek that flowed southward aimlessly under mild December skies. I was aware of big, white, slow-moving clouds against an infinitely blue sky as a new and frightening experience was burning in my soul.
An aging man, one who had befriended me (I trust that I was as faithful toward him) had just left the earth under tragic conditions. He had died of no disease of the body but of a deadlier malady that overrode body and spirit: hopelessness. That was my first witness of such a death, and when it finally broke onto my mind what had slain him, I was terrified at the thought. It had not been true in my world until then, but I was to live to see other victims of this dread killer.
|ARRIVED IN ASHEVILLE ABOUT 1881
John Preston Arthur Came From S.C.; Was N.Y. Lawyer
By Rev. O. L. Brown
When Part I of this story had been written, some forty years ago, I thought it was the end. At that time it was a hundred or more unimproved, crooked mountain miles from Boone to Asheville. There was no compulsion on my part to go there and search for information on the man whose life for the most part was, to me and not a few others, quite a mystery. None of his people, to my knowledge, ever visited him in Boone; all were absent during his sickness, death and burial. So, I left the matter as it then stood and considered it a closed chapter. However, I often thought of the tragedy of Mr. Arthur's last days, and wondered about his past and his people.
My calling (the ministry) took me to the Piedmont section of North Carolina, in 1924. There I lived until the summer of 1957. Then, almost forty-one years after the death of "Colonel" Arthur, I was unexpectedly transferred to the town of Burnsville, North Carolina, where I am now stationed. Preston Arthur was revived, mainly by the vice-president of the Western North Carolina Historical Association, Professor Edwin S. Dougherty of Appalachian State Teachers College, at Boone. He knew of my association with Mr. Arthur long ago.
Professor Dougherty told me there was great interest among his students in the author of "History of Western North Carolina", and that nobody knew anything about him, and that only one volume of the history he wrote was in the possession of the college in Boone. Then he laid on me the obligation of getting all the information I could on this all-but-forgotten author who had given us the first and most complete history of the western part of our beloved state.
Being now within reach of Asheville, and already inspired to take up a trail that was lost over four decades ago, I soon made my plans and struck out to find whatever I might. One big idea was to save my old friend from an oblivion he did not deserve.
First I went to the Pack Memorial Library in Asheville, and told he librarian what I wanted to undertake. She sent me upstairs to the lady in charge of that part of the library I would need. When I let her know my wants, she soon laid before me all the information she could find, which consisted mainly of newspaper clippings - from the Asheville daily. With nervous delight I dug into it and soon found a summary of Mr. Arthur's life as follows:
John Preston Arthur
He was also the author of "A History of Watauga County, North Carolina" Which has been mentioned in Part I of this account. This history was published in 1915.
Following the summary given above was a notation that more information might be had from Mr. Arthur's niece, Mrs. W. H. Dorrill, Care Jackson Mills, Welford, S. C. Her contribution to this paper will be mentioned later.
Evidently Mr. Arthur did not come to Asheville to live until after 1881, if he served the entire year as "Captain of the Governor's Guard" in Columbia. It is known that he practiced law in New York with a Mr. Phelps, but for how long and at what date is not known. Presumably it was before he left Columbia for Asheville.
Mr. Arthur was partly of Western North Carolina stock. Some of his North Carolina ancestors were prominent in the Revolutionary War. His grandfather on his mother's side, Robert Henry, won distinction in the battle of King's Mountain at the age of fourteen years, and was wounded during the battle. He also fought in the battle of Cowan's Ford. Colonel Robert Love, Mr. Arthur's great-grandfather, was also a distinguished soldier and citizen.
Robert Henry was a very able man who was noted for being eccentric as well as for possessing great talent. According to information uncovered in the
|Page 7||Pack Memorial Library. "After the white
settlement began in what is now Buncombe County, he removed to that
new region and there taught the first school in what is now North
Carolina west of the Blue Ridge." He later took up surveying
which he followed for many years. Among other considerable
jobs along this line, he took an active part in the location and
surveying of the North Carolina-Tennessee line, "working from the
southern border of Virginia southwardly as far as across the Big
Mr. Henry became a lawyer and at the age of 41 was solicitor of Buncombe county. He "soon became the most distinguished practitioner that the county ever had." There is a tradition, according to Mr. Owen Gudger, of Asheville, that he sometimes appeared in court in his bare feet. After his death, in Clay County, N. C., at the age of 98 years, it was written of him that "he was a hunter, pioneer, soldier, school teacher, surveyor, lawyer, farmer, physician, hotel keeper, landlord, historian, politician and frontiersman."
Having exhausted the meager records about Mr. Arthur in the library, I set out to find some of his aged relatives and others who had known him. First, I went to the Carolina Apartments where I found an affable old gentleman who was a partial shut-in, Mr. Owen Gudger. He told me that he was a cousin to Mr. Arthur, and had administered the estate of him and his sister "Miss Fannie," the latter having died in 1929.
Mr. Gudger thought the brother and sister had been the heirs of considerable wealth. According to him, Mr. Arthur made no money and lived the life of "a typical high-class southern gentleman." This, of course, took money and finally dissipated about all his inheritance and his sister's too. She seems to have been free a spender as he was. In his comments, Mr. Gudger said, "The Henrys were a queer kind of people."
My new acquaintance gave me the names of several people he was sure could help me, among them a second cousin of the Arthurs, Mrs. E. L. Gaston of Cumberland Street. Another name was that of one Henry T. Sharpe, a man of 83 years, who was a retired real estate dealer who lived in an apartment on Montford Avenue. He was the nearest one to Mr. Gudger's apartment, so I drove immediately to his address.
It was my good fortune to find Mr. Sharpe in. He was a friendly gentleman who had come to Asheville in 1913, about the time Mr. Arthur left the city. He thought he remembered the name but he could give me no help.
My next move was to call an aged attorney, Thomas J. Harkins, whose name Mr. Gudger had given me. In a telephone conversation, I learned that he knew Mr. Arthur when he lived in Asheville. "I did not see him often," he informed me. He too could tell me nothing of importance about the man.
Next, I undertook to locate Mrs. Gaston. I found her place with ease. It was on a large lot with an iron fence across the front. The house was a large, square, two-storied building and was in bad need of paint. I walked through the rusty gate that was on one hinge and up to the front door. There was no response to my heavy knocking, so I peered through the dingy left front window, and on a small table near the window saw a copy of Mr. Arthur's "History of Western North Carolina." Close by it was a large dictionary and a copy of Life magazine.
Mr. Gudger had told me to see Ed Henry, who worked at the post office, so I left Mrs. Gaston's place, disappointed at not finding her, and went to look for Mr. Henry. I had been assured that he could help me. After some inquiry and a short period of waiting I was directed to the accounting department of the post office. Mr. Henry was cooperative but was unable to give me more light than I already had.
There was one other who might help me, according to both Mr. Gudger and Mr. Henry. He was Albert McLean, who worked at the Biltmore branch of the Asheville office. I decided to call him and save myself a drive [of] several miles. He had information, covering the period almost back to the time Mr. Arthur left Asheville to live in Boone, about other members of the Arthur and Henry families but none on John Preston Arthur.
Other relatives of Mr. Arthur, one of them on Forest Hill Drive who had compiled a history of the family from around 1912 to the present time (summer 1957), knew little about him. The Forest Hill relative said, "You know more about him than I do."
Some two or three weeks later I returned to Cumberland Street in search of Mrs. Gaston. The big house was silent and neglected. After getting no response to insistent rapping on the door at the front, I went to the back of the house. As I peered through the kitchen window, I saw a grizzled, white-haired woman moving around. When I knocked on the door she leisurely opened it then stepped back a safe distance, keeping a quizzical eye on me.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" she asked in a slightly belligerent tone. It was plain that she did not want to be bothered, and that she was unaccustomed to callers.
"My name is Brown", I informed her, adding that I was the Methodist pastor at Burnsville and wanted to talk with her.
"I'm a Presbyterian", she quickly replied, "and it won[']t do you any good to talk to me."
|Page 8||"I don't want to talk to you about that", I assured
her, then I asked, "did you know John Preston Arthur? Were you
any akin to him?"
"Yes", she answered with slight curiosity, "I'm his second cousin. Why do you want to know that?"
The eighty-seven-year old woman was aroused by now and was arming herself for any verbal encounter. Then I told her about my knowing him and being with him during his sickness and death. As I looked at her again I saw plainly that she resembled her long-lost cousin in looks and physique, and probably in disposition. There she stood , nearly at the end of the road, a childless widow, living alone except for a friendly stray cat she fed on her back porch.
Mrs. Gaston became serious as I talked about her cousin's last days, his struggle to live, his poverty and his hopeless attitude. From time to time she would comment, "I didn't know that." Her voice softened as she gave me interesting information about her cousin and his family. A condensed account of her contribution follows.
Mr. Arthur's father and mother had a fine home in Columbia, South Carolina, and before the Civil War had owned lots of slaves. His father, although eccentric, was a fine artist. His ability, and eagerness, to caricature the Yankees and lambast[e] them (through a paper he was then editing - according to Mrs. Dorrill's letter) made it unsafe for him to be around when Sherman's army came to Columbia. Search was made for him but he managed to keep himself hidden and in so doing to save his life. Mrs. Dorrill says in her letter to me that his house was the first one in Columbia that was burned by Sherman's men, and that he ordered it that way.
Martha Ann Henry Arthur, John P's mother, Mrs. Gaston continued, was "a fine woman, king, loving and beautiful. There was some insanity in the family, on the Arthur side." Mrs. Gaston said, then added, "I'm glad it was on the Arthur side." She then informed me that she was akin to John P. through his mother's side of the house.
Mrs. Gaston revealed that her cousin was once an alcoholic. She told me that "he stayed up North with the Prestons, (Mrs. Gaston may have seen in error about this; it could have been the Phelpses.) who had a custom of serving wine at mealtime, and that's the way he got the drinking habit. He took the Keeley treatment at least once." (I never knew Mr. Arthur to take a drink. He must have quit the habit before coming to Boone, probably years before.)
John Preston had a sister named Belle, who was a talented artist. She was "odd", according to Mrs. Gaston, who said, "When anyone admired her work she at once destroyed it. She got in the habit of playing the piano at night, to the dismay and disturbance of the family. This she kept up till late hours, and did her sleeping in the daytime. She was finally sent to the state asylum, where she developed tuberculosis and where she died. She was never married."
Mrs. Gaston did not agree with Mr. Gudger's statement, that John Preston and his sister, Fenia, inherited considerable property or other means. She had never heard of it, she declared.
The time came for me to leave. Mrs. Gaston, looking considerably younger than her years, walked out into the soft, lovely November day with me. The house was hers; she said. She had a nephew or two up East she hoped would see to her burial. I asked about the tall, unfamiliar evergreen tree in the southeast corner of her yard. "It's a Ghinko [sic] tree; my husband got it somewhere; he liked trees", she informed me.
Although she was alone (her husband had died "years ago") and very old, her future was more secure than was that of her now distinguished cousin, in his declining years. He died in poverty and his doctor bills and burial expenses were paid by the people of Boone.
In my little "Arthur Notebook" is this entry: "To Asheville Public Library 11/19/57. Third visit. Got help from workers upstairs. She called present Regent of Edward Buncombe Chapter, D. A. R., but no satisfactory information. She then called Miss Virginia Sevier, a friend and D. A. R. member, who recalled that J. P. A. once taught at a female academy in Asheville. He had wanted, she said, to write a history of Western North Carolina, and finally did, and had no money to pay a publisher. The D. A. R. became interested in the manuscript. Mrs. E. H. D. Morrison was local regent at that time, and partly or wholly financed the book, which was copyrighted by Mrs. Morrison. Mr. Arthur did not want the organization to keep the manuscript or to hold the copyright. In both instances he lost."
Miss Sevier's story immediately brought to mind some things Mr. Arthur had said in my presence about his rounds with the Buncombe County D. A. R. He was bitter about the pressure that was put on him by the organization, and his final but willing accession to its demands. The terms he used are unprintable, and unforgettable. That was in the winter of 1913-1914, and at that time his problems meant little to me as my interests lay elsewhere.
At the library, that same day, I discovered that a Mrs. Gilbert Morris, on Macon Avenue, in Asheville, might throw some
|Page 9||light on the trail I was following. As
twilight approached, I hurried to find her home near Beaucatcher
Mountain. She was a kindly old lady, interested in my visit
but had nothing new about Mr. Arthur. She did have a much-used
copy of Western North Carolina, which definitely was not for sale.
She has known Mrs. E. H. D. Morrison, who had died many years before that, and was related to her. She told me that a son of Mrs. Morrison, Allen T., lived in Biltmore, and gave me his address. It was almost dark and the temperature, already at the chilling point, was dropping, so I left and started for home, an hour's drive away. Only two or three more possibilities of getting further information on Mr. Arthur remained to be followed up.
A letter had already been dispatched to Mrs. M. Ada Arthur Dorrill, a niece of Mr. Arthur, who long before was living at Welford, South Carolina. I had no way of knowing whether she was still alive, and if so whether she lived in that area. Two weeks passed before I received a reply to my letter. It cam[e] from Spartanburg, where Mrs. Dorrill was living. From her aged mother she got valuable information, which she kindly shared with me, part of which had been given.
Her uncle John's father, Mrs. Dorrill wrote, was a graduate of South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina. His mother, as has been noted, was Martha Ann Henry, who came from Sulphur Springs, near Asheville. When Sherman had the elder Arthur's house burned, "everything was destroyed. His splendid library, containing many valuable law books, etc." according to Mrs. Dorrill. She further informed me that her Uncle John graduated from V. M. I. (in 1872) as valedictorian of his class, that he graduated in law at South Carolina College, and after that went to New York City where, for an unknown length of time, he practiced law with a Mr. Phelps. From New York he came to Asheville to continue his practice.
Mrs. Dorrill mentioned that Mr. Arthur and his sister lived on College Street, (Asheville), where he had property. Mr. Gudger told me that when the Arthurs were living at the above-named place, a rock quarry on the property was leased to a Mr. Henry (no akin to the Arthurs). In operating the quarry, Mr. Henry found it necessary to do blasting. Mr. Arthur objected to the rocks falling around his house, and sometimes on it, he claimed. He sought to restrain the blasting. A lawsuit followed and lasted some three years. The superior court judge finally ruled against Arthur, who carried the case to the supreme court of the state. The court's decision was, "No error."
In the answer to my question as to whether Mr. Arthur did any writing before undertaking the writing of history, Mrs. Dorrill said that her mother knew of none. I also asked if she knew why he never married, and got the answer: "Mother said he was very popular with the girls but she doesn't know why he never married." His statements in my presence indicated that he had liberal ideas on free love, and this may have influenced him against undertaking the married life. He talked rather freely about sex, and he once told me that everything worthwhile man has done was motivated by sex. I now think that he must have been acquainted with the Freudian concept of this, for he certainly was in agreement with Freud.
Having told me what he thought about the relation of sex to achievement, Mr. Arthur threw me a "shocker" by declaring, "I will tell God so to his face when I see him." I took this statement to mean that he had the future world in mind.
Mrs. Dorrill also wrote me that her uncle, whom she had visited in the long ago, was a member of the Episcopal Church. This statement sent me to the St. Mary's church, Asheville, which must have been the only Episcopal church there at that time, to see if I could find his name on the roll of members.
It was a disappointment to me to learn that fire, long before that time, had destroyed the records of the church up to the time of the conflagration. This made it impossible for me to determine anything about the status of Mr. Arthur's membership. It is quite evident, however, that he may have been a member of this church at the time he left the city. While living in Boone, he occasionally attended the worship services at the Methodist Church, where I then held my membership. He also now and then attended the infrequent services held in the little Episcopal Church in Boone.
As I continued my search for more information about my old friend, I learned that he had a distinguished nephew living in Union, South Carolina. He was Brigadier General James M. Arthur, USMC, Retired. Off went a letter to him with a battery of questions. It was addressed to Union Mills by mistake, and within a week came back to me bearing the notation, "No such post office in the state."
The correct address was put on a new envelope and an explanatory note in it, to set the brigadier general straight about the date of the letter. Soon a post card, having on it the picture of a magnificent house of ante-bellum style, at Union, came to me. It was from Brigadier General Arthur and the house pictured on it was his home. The message on the card acknowledged the receipt of my letter, and informed me that
|Page 10||the writer had been unexpectedly summoned to the
state of Missouri on business. When he returned, it stated, he
would answer some of my questions.
Finally, the promised letter came from the brigadier. It bore a Lake Worth, Florida, postmark. The writer told me that he could give me no information I had asked for, and that he had a cousin living in Mount Holly, North Carolina, who was well informed on the history of the Arthurs. He should be in a position to enlighten me, the brigadier general thought. He had written to this cousin, he informed me, enclosing my letter with his.
Before very long, a letter came to me from James H. Arthur, the Mount Holly man. Expectantly I opened it only to learn that he, too, was unsure about the life story of his noted kinsman, John Preston Arthur. He wrote me: "I find the following note dated 1/10/28, made by B. F. Arthur, II, an uncle of James H. re: John Preston Arthur: 'He had some family records, but my effort to get data from the administration of his estate was fruitless.'"
My final efforts, with one exception, to obtain more information about Mr. Arthur were directed to 319 Vanderbilt Road, Asheville, where Attorney Allen T. Morrison, a son of the late Mr. and Mrs. E. D. C. Morrison, lived. The first call there brought me the information that Mr. Morrison was in bed upstairs with tonsil[l]itis and was unable to carry on conversation. Could I come back at another time? his gracious wife wanted to know. I assured her that I could; for I had already let her know that I was anxious to hear what her husband might be able to tell me.
My second attempt to interview Mr. Morrison was a gamble: I had supposed the Morrisons would be home, and they were not. An effort, at another time, to reach Mr. Morrison by phone was not successful. After this my decision was to send him an urgent letter telling him what I wanted to know. Perhaps he would write me or would tell me when I could find him home.
Two or three days after the letter was mailed, Mr. Morrison called me by telephone, telling me that he wanted to come to Burnsville right away and talk with me about the Arthur matters. In something less than an hour and a half, with his wife at the wheel, the Morrisons drove up. We had a profitable conversation. His mother, Mr. Morrison told me, was a very energetic woman, public-spirited, and that she was the prime mover in getting Mr. Arthur to write his Western North Carolina history. She was, during this time, Regent of the Edward Buncombe Chapter of the D. A. R.
"It took her some ten years to persuade Mr. Arthur to undertake and finish the book", Mr. Morrison stated. During all that time, she was gathering materials for the volume, and she was also preparing the members of the D. A. R. chapter she headed to give financial backing to the undertaking. His mother felt, Mr. Morrison said, that she had to go ahead and have the manuscript published, although the author insisted that he was not ready for that.
Some weeks after talking with Mr. Morrison I learned this from C. C. Crittenden, head of the Archives of History, in Raleigh, that R. D. W. Con[n]or, who was in charge of the "Archives", at the time the Arthur history was published let Mrs. Morrison have $200.00 to enable her to finish paying for the publication of it. Mr. Connor took a great stack of the history books and sold them at $2.00 a copy, in an effort to get back the money, (which evidently was from the Archives of History.)
"Mr. Arthur clearly deserves the credit for writing the book", Mr. Morrison told me, after relating the part his mother had in the entire matter. He said he knew Mr. Arthur and was fond of him, and that he had lost track of him after he left Asheville. He did not know, until I told him, why Mr. Arthur had left the city or in what spirit, nor did he know where he had gone.
Being anxious to locate the manuscript of the history, I quizzed Mr. Morrison about its possible whereabouts. He said he had no idea what became of it. He did own some copies of the book. he told me, also saying that he was saving them for his grandchildren. My hopes of getting a copy from him for myself faded when he told me that.
In addition to the copies Mr. Morrison had, I know of but six copies in the western part of the state, although I am sure there are quite a few others. Pace Memorial Library has two copies, one copy is in the library of Appalachian State Teachers College, at Boone, and the following, all of Asheville own one copy each: Mrs. E. L. Gaston, Mrs. Gilbert Morris and Miss Virginia Sevier. Only Miss Sevier's copy might be purchased, and the price would not be under $25.00.
It is altogether unlikely that Mr. Arthur so much as thought that his history of the western part of our state ever would become a collector's item. He must have been greatly disappointed because so many were not interested enough to buy a copy after it was ready for sale. With this in mind, we may conclude that he did not foresee a time when the memory of him and his contribution to that part of the Old North State he dearly loved would be revived and rather widely circulated some forty years after his tragic exit from it.
My efforts to find and present more facts about Mr. Arthur's life have quickened my interest in the history of this wonderland of ours. My appreciation is greater than before after having given considerable attention to our past during the last year or more.
|John Preston Arthur Finishes At VMI; Wasn't Good
By Rev. O. L. Brown
Several years after Part II of this brief biography was finished, I began corresponding with Mr. D. Hiden Ramsey of Asheville, North Carolina, about another manuscript I wanted him to read and evaluate. He inadvertently mentioned something about Mr. Arthur in his first letter, although, as far as I know, he was not aware of the fact that I had known the man or had written anything about him.
As it turned out, I sent Mr. Ramsey a copy of my manuscript. After reading it he wrote me a long letter, revealing to my surprise and delight, that he grew up in the same section on Town Mountain where Mr. Arthur and his sister lived and knew them.
Mr. Ramsey is one of Asheville's most prominent and respected elder citizens. For years he was general manager of the Citizen-Times daily papers in that city. He served on the State Board of Education eight years, and also was a member of the state's Higher Board of Education for quite a while.
He wrote up not only his personal knowledge of Mr. Arthur but also did research, which he kindly sent to me. He prevailed upon an old friend of his, Mr. Verne Rhoades, a native of Missouri, and formerly with the United States Forestry Service who became supervisor of the Pisgah National Forests and who has lived in Asheville nearly fifty years, to gather information on Mr. Arthur.
Mr. Ramsey wrote that John Preston Arthur was undoubtedly named for John Preston, the eminent South Carolina orator, statesman and Confederate soldier. "Preston was a Virginian by birth but moved to Columbia after he married a sister or aunt of Wade Hampton. I have not been able to determine whether there was any kinship between Arthur's father and Preston", Mr. Ramsey continued, "If so the kinship would have been through the Hamptons."
Mr. Ramsey also wrote that Robert Henry, Grandfather of Mr. Arthur on his mother's side, discovered the Sulphur Springs on the western outskirts of Asheville, in 1827. Also, that Henry's son-in-law, Colonel Reuben Deaver, built a wooden hotel there.
"The hostelry was quite popular with South Carolina gentry", according to Mr. Ramsey, who further wrote, "It is probably correct to assume that Arthur's father met and courted his mother (the daughter of Robert Henry) while visiting there. It probably was the most famous hotel in Western North Carolina at the time of the outbreak of the Civil War, often accommodating as many as 500 guests."
From the same source came the information that one of Robert Henry's sons was living on the Sulphur Springs property during the war, that he kept a diary journal, a typed copy of which has recently come into the possession of Pack Memorial Library, in Asheville.
In addition to the brief summary of Mr. Arthur's life given in the second part of this paper, I am adding a fuller resume from the research of Mr. Verne Rhoades, which came to me through Mr. Ramsey. Mr. Rhoades got his information from the Sigma Nu Chapter at V. M. I., "the West Point of the South," where the general offices of the fraternity are located. The fraternity secretary also consulted the files of the Institute for Mr. Rhoades.
It is of interest to learn that Edward R. Arthur, brother of John Preston, wrote the original constitution of the fraternity and was the thirteenth initiate. The fraternity was founded on or about January 1, 1869. John Preston Arthur was the thirty-ninth initiate at V. M. I. He tried to establish a chapter at the Baley Law School of Asheville, North Carolina in 1871. For unknown reasons he was not successful in his efforts. He did initiate James G. Martin, and that was as far as the undertaking got.
The biographical sketch given below, is in accordance with the information gathered by Mr. Rhoades.
Mr. Arthur matriculated at V. M. I. in 1866 and graduated in 1871. He was thirty-first of a graduating class of forty-six. He was not a good student, nor was his brother, Edward Robert. Their mother wrote to General Smith that they did not apply themselves. The extra year John Preston took to graduate was probably due to his father's death and the necessity of his being home several months because of it.
Mr. Arthur was a student at the University of South Carolina from December 1871 to May 1872. He received a degree of Bachelor of Laws and was valedictorian of the Euphradian Society. He was admitted to the South Carolina bar in May 1872; some years later he was admitted to practice in the state's Supreme Court.
How varied his career was is indicated by the following: He was a school teacher in Colum-
|Page 12||bia, S. C., 1873 to 1875, Adjutant of the Palmetto
regiment 1881, clerk in the law office of W. W. Phelp in New York
City, December 1881-September 1884, clerk in the law office of J. H.
Hubbell, December 1884-August 1887. He was admitted to the New
York State bar, February 1885, came to Asheville, August 1887.
He was made secretary of the Street Railway Company of Asheville and
later became manager and superintendent until 1894, was admitted to
the North Carolina bar - 1894, and practiced law in Asheville until
1898, after that time doing whatever he could find to do. (Mr.
Ramsey says that as late as 1905 Mr. Arthur was referred to as a
lawyer and must have been practicing at that time.)
Mr. Rhoades' information correctly shows that Mr. Arthur died at Boone, North Carolina, on December 6, 1916, at the age of sixty-five, and that he was in almost abject poverty but (was) too proud to accept assistance even from relatives.
Mr. Arthur had many relatives in and around Asheville who were financially capable of assisting him, in the opinion of Mr. Ramsey who also wrote, "Either he did not appeal to them for assistance or he had alienated them with his irresponsibility. My guess is that he was too proud to appeal to them for succor, and that when he left Asheville he broke off all connections with his Asheville relatives and friends."
I knew Mr. Arthur was bitter toward his sister and the members of the Asheville chapter of the D. A. R. I regarded him as altogether capable of not only bitterness but of prejudice also, to which he held stubbornly.
"John Arthur was a debater and orator, writer, historian, poet and lover of nature", according tot he information provided by Mr. Rhoades. "He was a retiring and timid man and he loved the plain, honest people among whom he lived in later life."
As a poet, he wrote on many subjects, according to Mr. Ramsey, but they were mostly historical. "His poem, 'The Men of Buncombe' was read at the C[e]ntennial Celebration of the creation of Buncombe County, in 1892. His verses, [']Vance's Monument At Asheville', was probably written at the time of the unveiling of Vance's Monument on Pack Square", in the opinion of Mr. Ramsey.
Those who own , or have consulted, Arthur's "History of Western North Carolina," have discovered that both of the poems were reprinted in the appendix of the book. On page eight of the same volume is a tribute in poetry "To Grandfather Mountain." Nothing is said as to its origin. Mr. Ramsey assumes that it was written by Mr. Arthur, in 1898, adding, "It is most definitely in his style," - also that apparently Mr. Arthur tried his hand at poetry long before he produced his history.
I have not found evidence that Mr. Arthur wrote any historical articles before his volume on Western North Carolina was published. That he spent years in research as gathered the facts in this monumental book is quite obvious. In the words of Mr. Ramsey, "More so than any other local historian, he went to the original sources for his facts. He sought out old diaries, journals, letters, and even talked with old citizens, who shared their recollections with him. He preserved much information which, if he had not recorded, would have been lost. He must have done much traveling through Western North Carolina in getting his facts."
As we look back we wonder why the people of this section were not more interested in their history and why they did not buy Mr. Arthur's writings, which now are very rare and almost beyond price. Mr. Ramsey says there are many volumes in Asheville and none for sale. As much as $75.00 has been quoted as the price of a copy.
While getting up material, in Asheville, for Part II of this paper, I was told that Dr. Sondley for a great deal of information for his "History of Buncombe County" from Mr. Arthur's book. I understand that in his volume Dr. Sondley makes only casual reference to Mr. Arthur and his "History of Western North Carolina", which is hard to explain. It has been supposed that there was bitter feeling between the two historians. It has been said that Dr. Sondley was capable of deep prejudice. So also was Mr. Arthur.
In his "History of Watauga County", Mr. Arthur had a big section in which he gave a great deal of information about early Watauga families. For some reason, perhaps known only to himself and another person or two, he left out the name of Daniel Dougherty, who came to Boone soon after the Civil War and bought about 1,000acres of land in and around Boone. He was a prominent citizen of vision and influence. His two sons, Dauphin Disco and Blanford Barnard, together founded what became Appalachian State Teachers College, one of the state's great institutions. It was run by the Dougherty family fifty-five years.
I knew that Mr. Arthur did not have a friendly feeling toward Dr. B. B. Dougherty and gave neither him nor any of his brothers any credit for getting Appalachian established. Their names were mentioned only once, in a brief paragraph. It s supposed that one of Mr. Arthur's benefactors may have influenced him in making such a glaring omission. The Dougherty brothers were among the twenty-two men who underwrote the Watauga County History project. After the book
|Page 13||was published and the author who in need of funds
they employed him to work several weeks in the library, as related
in Part I.
Mr. Rhoades discovered that in one of the last letters Mr. Arthur wrote, which was dated October 19, 1916, and was to Colonel Joseph R. Anderson at V. M. I., he stated he was digging potatoes and gathering apples at fifty cents a day, and that he was looking for a job of any kind. He also wrote in the same letter that he had tried to resume law practice but did not have enough to live on while trying to get established.
"His many friends in the poor mountain region where he lived," Mr. Rhoades source of information reveals "gave him a decent burial," also that "A friend of eighty-five years of age managed to raise enough money to put up a headstone, and with his own hands he hauled gravel and sand from a ruin three miles away to prepare a foundation for the marker."
It might be added that there were a good many well-to-do people living in and around Boone who contributed to the expenses incurred during the sickness, death and burial of Mr. Arthur and that of buying a suitable headstone for his grave.
Some will be interested to know that Mr. Arthur was buried in the Boone City Cemetery, at the western end of it. The cemetery is on a hill just north of Appalachian State Teachers College.