Last Will and Testament of James M. Smith, Asheville, NC
Codicil dated January 7, 1854

“…I further direct that the girl Caroline in said will given to my daughter Sarah L McDowell be given to my daughter Jane Cordelia and in her stead I give to the said Sarah L a negro woman Rebecca and her child Charlotte which I purchased of William W McDowell and placed in her possession, and further I will and direct that the said girl Caroline together with the Piano Forte in my house + a side board and bureau to be chosen by her of all in my house to be given to my daughter Jane Cordelia….”

Smith referred to the women alongside objects he possessed, even using the pronoun “which” rather than “whom.”


Cohabitation Record from the Buncombe County Register of Deeds noting that James McDowell married Rebecca in 1842.
In 1866, they had been married 24 years.

It is possible that the Rebecca that married James McDowell in 1842 is the same Rebecca that was enslaved by James M. Smith and legally given to his daughter Sarah Lucinda McDowell upon James Smith’s death in 1857.

Because enslaved people sometimes took the last name of their owner, it is possible that James McDowell was enslaved by William Wallace McDowell and met Rebecca at some point after James Smith “placed [her] in [Sarah’s] possession.”

It is also possible that Sarah was given Rebecca by her father before Sarah married William McDowell in 1846. It would seemingly make more sense for Smith to purchase Rebecca from William to give to his daughter before Sarah married William.

Perhaps, then, when Sarah and William were married James and Rebecca were reunited.

It is also possible that Smith gave Rebecca to Sarah so that Rebecca and James could be together. If this was the case, it was likely not out of kindness, but rather because children became the property of their mother’s enslaver, thereby increasing Smith’s wealth with each new birth.

In this same vein, because Smith changed his will in 1854 to give Rebecca and Charlotte to Sarah in lieu of Caroline, it may be that Smith felt the mother and daughter had a similar monetary and work value to Caroline, which could mean that Charlotte was very young in 1854 and needed to be cared for by her mother. Smith does refer to Charlotte as “her child,” which does seem to indicate youth here and throughout his will.

The only thing certain is that Charlotte was born prior to January 7, 1854.

Hester Ada Chambers is born to Charlotte McDowell and Cobb Chambers.
Birth record in the Buncombe County Register of Deeds, 1893.

Is Charlotte McDowell Chambers the child of Rebecca and James?

1900, US Federal Census, Buncombe County

In 1900, Caleb (based on future documentation it is likely that Caleb’s name was miswritten/misread as “Cobb” on Hester’s birth certificate) and Charlotte lived in the Flat Creek area of Buncombe County. They had been married 17 years (since c1883). Charlotte had given birth to 8 children, but only 6 were living. Of their 6 living children, Dulcina, 18, Ethel, 14, Rena, 12, Judson, 9, and Hester, 7, live at home. Caleb worked as a farmer while their four youngest children attended school.

Charlotte reported her birth year as 1855 and her birth place as North Carolina. However, she does not know her birth month or the birth places of her parents. Though this does not help us connect Charlotte to Rebecca, it does indicate that Charlotte was likely born enslaved.

If Charlotte was born c1855, it is possible that she was born when James M. Smith wrote the codicil to his will in January 1854. 

1910, US Federal Census, Buncombe County

In 1910, Caleb and Charlotte Chambers lived on Azalea Road in Buncombe County and had been married 30 years. They had 8 living children, though Charlotte had given birth to 12 children. Bill, 30, Judson, 18, Hester, 17, Ethel, 23, and Reny 21, lived with their parents at that time. Caleb worked at a lumber mill as a laborer and was 54 years old.

Charlotte was 50 years old, placing her birth date c1860, which is a just a little too late for her to be referred to in James M. Smith’s 1857 codicil to his will, but not impossible. Ages listed on the census can be incorrect and many people born enslaved did not know the exact year they were born.

This requires more investigation.


1920, US Federal Census, Buncombe County

In 1920, both Caleb and Charlotte were listed as 64 years old, placing their births c1856. Here Charlotte’s parents were listed as being born in North Carolina.

On August 10, 1922, Charlotte Chambers passed away from Tuberculosis; though her secondary cause of death was listed as “poverty and hard work.” She was “About 60” years old according to her husband, Caleb. The names of her parents and their birth places are listed as “Don’t know.” The only potential clue to Charlotte’s ancestry the listed birth place, “McDowell County, NC.”

On May 7, 1937, Caleb passed away. He was listed as being born in Buncombe County to Robert and Hester Chambers.

It is possible that Rebecca McDowell and Charlotte McDowell Chambers are the same Rebecca and Charlotte who were once enslaved by the McDowell family, but more research into other possibilities is still needed.

A search through the 1870 and 1880 census in Buncombe County shows only one family with a mother named “Rebecca” and a daughter named “Charlotte” – the Baleys.

Are Rebecca and Charlotte Baley the mother and daughter once enslaved by the McDowells?

1870, US Federal Census, Buncombe County

In 1870, Rebecca Baley (44) is married to James Baley (54) and they have six people living in their Asheville household – four that are likely their children – Charlotte, 20, Alcy, 13, Pink, 11, Ellen, 5 and two others – Ziepha Smith, 70, and Lewis Smith, 75 – perhaps the parents of Rebecca or James or even an older sibling and their spouse.

They were all born in North Carolina.

James was a brick mason and Rebecca was “keeping house.” Charlotte is the only other person in the household with employment; she was working out of the house as a “House Domestic.”

At 20 years old in 1870, Charlotte would have been born c1850 – which would have made her 3 or 4 years old when James M. Smith wrote the codicil to his will.



On April 22, 1873, Charlotte Bailey (19) married Walter Scale (21) in Asheville. James Bailey was one of the witnesses.

1880, US Federal Census, Buncombe County

In 1880, James (65) and Rebecca (56) Bailey still lived in Asheville. Their son James (21) and daughter Pink (18) lived in the house along with Charlotte (30) who may have been widowed. Listed as the nieces and nephews of James and Rebecca Bailey were Walter Scales (6), Rebecca Scales (4), and Mary Scales (25). Also in the house was Ellen Smith (15) the grand child of James and Rebecca and George Pearson (9), who is listed as adopted. 

James Sr was still working as a brick mason and Charlotte was working as a cook.

Asheville City Directory, 1883-1884

In 1883, James Bailey Sr. and James Bailey Jr. were both brick layers and residing at a home on South Main Street.

In 1884, William and Sarah L McDowell sold 11.25 acres to James Bailey for $300.

“This Deed made this third day of November 1884 by W.W. McDowell and his wife Sarah L. McDowell at Buncombe County and State of North Carolina of the first part to James Bailey of Buncombe County and State of North Carolina of the second part, Witnesseth that said W.W. + S.L. McDowell in consideration of Three Hundred Dollars to them paid by James Bailey, the reciept of which to hereby acknowledged hath bargained and sold and by the presents do bargain sell and convey to said James Bailey and his heirs all the right title … and estate of the party of the first part in and to a tract of land in Buncombe County – Sate of No Carolina adjoing the lands of Mrs. EA Smith Erwin and others … containing 11 1/4 acres….”

Asheville City Directory, 1887

By 1887, James and Rebecca Bailey along with James Jr. and his wife, Ella, had moved to a residence at 23 McDowell Avenue, likely on the land purchased from WW and Sarah McDowell.

Charlotte Scales was working as a cook and boarding at a home at 35 Woodfin Street.

Asheville City Directory, 1887

Meanwhile, William and Sarah McDowell along with several of their children resided at 420 and 431 South Main Street (now Biltmore Ave.) in Asheville. 

On April 26, 1889, James and Rebecca Bailey sold a tract of land to their daughter, Charlotte Scales, for $5.

This parcel adjoined “the lands of James Bailey Jr. and others” and was one acre in size. 

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, the Baileys gave 1 acre tracts to each of their children.

In 1892, the family even gave a 20-foot-wide right of way to create a public street through their property – which became McDowell Street.

However, “…on the 1st day of August 1892 Charlotte Scales executed and delivered…a certain deed of trust conveying…the lands and premises therein…and whereas deafult was made in the conditions of the said deed of trust…in compliance with the demands of the said…trust, advertised said land according to law and in accordance with the terms of the said deed of trust, and sold the parcel at public auction at the Court House door in the City of Asheville, County of Buncombe and State of North Carolina on the 20th day of July, 1896, for cash, when and where said Mrs. Sarah L. McDowell became the last and highest bidder; And whereas the said Mrs. Sarah L. McDowell has complied with her said bid, and has paid….the sum of Two hundred and sixty dollars.”

The parcel adjoined “the lands of James Bailey and others on McDowell Street” and was 3/4 of an acre.


Asheville City Directory, 1890

In the 1890 City Directory, we find James J. (not sure if this is Sr. or Jr.) and Ella (James Jr.’s wife) living on McDowell Street “near Fitch Planing Mills.” James is working as a brickmason.

It is likely that James Bailey passed away prior to 1890.

And in the South Asheville Cemetery, a cemetery where the McDowell family buried people they enslaved and later deeded to the African American community, is a headstone for James C. (or G.) Bailey that reads “Died Mar. 28, 1886.” His marker appears to be the oldest surviving engraved headstone in the cemetery.


He may also be:


Feb. 17, 1890 [or 1896]


80 years

The Lord that made Heaven
and Earth bless thee out of

[Psalm 134:3, King James]


This seems likely. First, it identifies him as James Bailey Sr. Second, if the gravestone reads 1896, then this James Bailey was born c1816, which is in line with the census data we’ve seen. Also, it does appear that James Bailey, Sr., likely lived past 1888. 

Asheville City Directory, 1896

In 1896, James J. Bailey (Sr. or Jr.?) was living at 68 McDowell St. and working as a grocer. Since he was working, I believe that it is James J. Bailey Jr. However, Ella Bailey, James Jr.’s wife, is living at 278 S Beaumont Strett. Rebecca Bailey lived at 65 McDowell St.

Asheville City Directory, 1896

Charlotte Scales lived at 63 McDowell Ave. Charlotte did laundry for a living. Mary Scales lived with Rebecca at 65 McDowell St. and also did laundry for a living. Mary could be Charlotte’s daughter.

1900, US Federal Census, Buncombe County

In 1900, Rebecca Bailey (75) lived with her daughter Charlotte L. Baily (34) at 63 McDowell Street in Asheville. Also living with them were Maggie (14) and Nellie M (2). Rebecca’s birth date was listed as Jan 1825 and Charlotte’s was listed as June 1865. James had passed away.

Rebecca’s parents, for the first time, were listed as being born in Virginia rather than North Carolina. Charlotte was listed as a “washerwoman.”

Confusingly, both Rebecca and Charlotte were listed as the mother of only one child each. It is also likely that there was some confusion over the address of the home between the census and the City Directories. 

According to the 1900 census, a couple, the Paynes, now rent 65 McDowell Street, possibly from Sarah L. McDowell, who purchased land and premises previously owned by Charlotte at public auction in 1896.

Asheville City Directory, 1899-1900

James Jr. lived at the rear of 22 McDowell Street.

Rebecca washed clothes for a living and resided at 65 McDowell.

Asheville City Directory, 1899-1900

Charlotte Scales was now working as a cook for Mrs. M C Greenlee and living at her home.

According to the same City Directory, Mrs. Minnie C Greenlee lived at 55 College Street and ran a boarding house out of her home.

Asheville Citizen, July 27, 1901

Asheville Citizen, July 17, 1901

Asheville City Directory, 1900-1901

Asheville City Directory, 1900-1901

Rebecca lived at 65 McDowell and Charlotte at 63 McDowell. Charlotte likely still worked as a cook at Victoria Hall.

Asheville City Directory, 1902-1903

Asheville City Directory, 1902-1903

Asheville City Directory, 1904-1905

Neither Rebecca or Charlotte was listed in the 1902-1903 City Directory. However, Charlotte was listed in the 1904-1905 Directory. She lived at 43 Southside Ave.

Learn more about the community here:

It is likely that Rebecca passed away some time between 1900 and 1902.

After Rebecca’s death it appears that the Bailey family moved away from McDowell Street.

Cause of death:
Cancer of Stomache & Chronic Catarrhal Gastritis

On April 19, 1905, in New York City, Charlotte Scales passed away. Widowed and listed as 40 years old, Charlotte’s parents’ names were James J. Bailey and Rebecca Greenly.

It appears that Charlotte left North Carolina for New York City sometime during the winter of 1902-1903.

On April 3, 1912, the 11.25 acres purchased by James Bailey from the McDowells was sold at public auction due to unpaid taxes by Bailey’s heirs. It was purchased by C.B. Justice for $6.00.

On March 13, 1931, J. J. Bailey (James Jr.) passed away at 71 years of age in Asheville. His birth year of 1859 corresponds to the James Bailey Jr.’s birth year in the 1880 census.

According to his death certificate, his parent’s names’ are James Bailey and Rebecca Greenlee. They were both born in Marion, North Carolina.

It seems promising that Rebecca Greenlee Bailey and Charlotte Bailey Scales are the same Rebecca and Charlotte enslaved by James M. Smith and William W. and Sarah L. McDowell. 

It is also possible that James Bailey is the same person as James McDowell in the cohabitation records. 

Could this early 1850s transcription of two letters between James McDowell [we believe the transcriber mistook James for Jane as William McDowell’s mother nor stepmother was named Jane.] and his son, William Wallace McDowell, refer to James Bailey?

“You wright me that you want me to put a Price on boy Jim my Sone I don’t know what to Say if I had the whare wit I would not part with him at no price…. you may have him for seven hundred I want the bank and Whitson payed and the Ballance…in Sutch things as I stand in need of…sugar and coffee…and perhaps a little money to pay my taxes ocationly….”

“…I have a pritty little girle that I could spare but Jim does not like Yancy and I will let him trye some other countrey and he wants to go to Buncombe and he Shall goe if I onley get half price.”

[Have not yet uncovered the original letters.]