James M. Smith, Last Will and Testament, February 9, 1850

February 9, 1850: A man named Alfred is enslaved by James M. Smith.

Not much is known about the “Alfred” who is willed to “Valentine, Wm W [William W. McDowell], + John P. [Smith]” in 1850, but it may be the same Alfred, who told an Asheville Citizen reporter in 1898, when he was 72 years old, that he had been enslaved by James M. Smith and that “I’m the only one left of my master’s 500.”

At 72 years old in 1898, Alfred Walker was born c1826, and would have been enslaved for nearly 40 years.

Asheville Citizen, 02/05/1898
(Thanks to Linda Brown for locating this article.)

He Has Lived in or Near Asheville for 72 Years.

There walked into The Citizen office the other day a gray haired darkey who, on account of his age and past affiliations, deserves a place in the Centenary number of The Citizen. The man was Alfred Walker, who has watched the passing of 72 years, and who was reared by James M. Smith, the first white child born west of the Blue Ridge mountains. Alfred has had a varied career, having served through the war and at last become a minister of the gospel, in the Baptist faith. He lives near Emma, on the Murphy branch of the Southern, but does not come to town often, on account of his health, which is not what it used to be. Some years ago, however, he was engaged in peddling about town.

“Uncle” Alfred, when he looks upon the substantial paving of Asheville’s streets, chuckles to himself over the thought that he was the pioneer in putting down pavements — “palements,” he says. He constructed a walk of cobblestones in front of the Buck hotel on North Main, carting the stones from the hill now crowned by the Battery Park hotel. Speaking of the Buck hotel–which in his young days was the only hostelry in the town, Walker says: “It’s nothing but a log house, covered with planks, and it wouldn’t fall down in a thousand years. And they’s millions o’ rats in it; not thousands, but millions.”

The spot now occupied by Geo. F. Scott & Co.’s lumber yard on College street can claim the distinction of being Walker’s birth place. That far back this country had not arrived at the dignity of flails for threshing purposes, but the operation of separating the wheat berry from the stalk was carried out thus, as Walker describes it: The wheat was placed on the floor of the barn, several horses were rough shod and boys put on their backs to guide them around the room until the wheat had been tramped out. Flax trousers and flax dresses were the height of fashion, and shoes were an unknown quantity except on rare occasions, so Walker says.

“There’s not a darkey of my set here now,” he says; “I’m the only one left of my master’s 500. If times were like they were then and my old master was back here, I’d rather be with him than to be free. He raised me to be truthful and honest, and I never had a mark on my back. Ca’se why? When he tole me to do anything I went right now and done it.”

Walker served through the war in the Union army, Bartley’s Tennessee regiment, and was mustered out at Knoxville. He is expecting a pension any day. He says people ask him how it is that he can preach although unable to read. “Then I asks, Who teached the fust man? Jesus Christ. Well, I’ve got religion: I know it; it keeps a-growing, and I’m richer than Vanderbilt, if he ain’t got it.”

United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934

This pension record identifies Alfred Walker as an alias for Alfred Smith, making it likely that this is the same Alfred Walker who was enslaved by James M. Smith. It identified that Sallie Walker was his wife and that he served in the Union Army in the United States Colored Infantry, Company C, 40 Division.

We now know that Alfred died before this was filed on October 25, 1927.

US Census, Asheville, Buncombe County, 1900

In 1900, the US Census shows Alfred (79) and Sallie (53) living in Asheville. They have been married for 31 years, placing their marriage date c1869. Alfred’s occupation is listed as Brick Mason. Their 1-year-old grandson, Herculius Green, lives with them. The couple have had three children, two of whom are still living. It is likely that Herculius’ mother is their deceased child.

North Carolina Marriages, 1759-1979

State of North Carolina
Haywood County

To any regular Ordained Minister of the Gospel having the care of Souls or to any justice of the Peace of Said County you or either of you are hereby authorized to Solelmize + celebrate the rites of matrimony between Alfred Walker (col), Son of _______ Sarah Campbell (col), Daughter of Andrew Campbell and join them together as Man + Wife

Witness WC Brown Register of Deeds for Haywood County the 27th day of December 1869

US Census, Asheville, Buncombe County, 1880

In 1880, Alfred (59) and Sarah (38) live in Asheville with their children – Monroe (18), Robert (16), Mary J. (12), and Laura (7). Alfred is a farmer. Sarah is “Housekeeping.” Monroe is a laborer.

They live next door to Andy (67) and Emma (50) Campbell, who are likely Sarah’s parents. 

North Carolina Marriages, 1759-1979

Asheville City Directory, 1899-1900

Monroe Walker married Jane Bradley in 1891 in Asheville. 

Though the original death certicate is not available, it appears that Monroe A. Walker’s mother’s name was Jennit Wilson, meaning that Alfred Walker was likely married to Jennit Wilson prior to emancipation.

This also corresponds to the information in the 1900 Census which indicates that Sarah only had 3 children.

Though the original death certificate is not available, it appears that one of Alfred and Sallie’s children, Laura, married a man with the last name Helem and relocated to Detroit, MI, where she died on September 24, 1925.

Laura’s half brother, Monroe, also relocated to Michigan, where he died in 1939.