The RAIL Project


In the News



Thomas H. Lindsey (active Asheville, North Carolina): “Stripes but no Stars” Platinum print, circa 1892, 5 x 8 inches

The construction of the Mountain Division of the Western North Carolina Railroad is widely considered one of the greatest human accomplishments in regards to both engineering and construction ever undertaken at the time it occurred. The project took place over a period of several years in the late 1800s. Many people are aware that the railroad provided the first dependable access to and from much of Western North Carolina for the rest of the state as well as much of the nation. Many also know the names of some of those who were instrumental in seeing through the completion of this ambitious project. Names such as Colonel Alexander Boyd Andrews, of Andrews’ Geyser fame.

However, what most people are unaware of is that at least 95% of the labor which built the railroad across the Blue Ridge Escarpment was completed by inmates from the North Carolina State Penitentiary… and approximately 98% of those inmates were African American men… the majority of whom were unjustly imprisoned…

This project was created to share the true story behind this human endeavor and to honor the memory of those who labored and those who died here.

If you would like to donate to the RAIL project via a secure PayPal transaction, please click the link below:

You may also mail a check made out to WNCHA (with RAIL project in the memo line) to 283 Victoria Road, Asheville, NC 28801.

Asheville Weekly Citizen, May 9, 1878


An Incomplete List of WNC Railroad’s Incarcerated Workers

The following names are listed in the 1880 US Census, Old Fort Township, McDowell County, reproduced below. We have transcribed the names as carefully as possible from the original documents; however, if you see a mistake, please let us know.

A note on demographics: Laborers from the State Prison listed here ranged in age from 14 to 66 years of age. Three were women. 172 were male. Seven are identified as being white. All others are listed as being either Black or mulatto.

Charley Aikins
Henry Adams
Henry Brinson
Alexander Barger
James Barns
Moses Bell
John Brown
Henry Bigger
John Brasswell
Thomas Boyakin
Edward Banner
Richard Baits
Ellen Bell
Daniel Baird
David Brown
Joseph Barnes
Corsey Blair
Degrand Barber
Henry Bobbitt
Daniel Brown
Hampton Best
Sampson Best
James Bost
Edwards Bradly
Pinkney Boyd
Cissiro Bryant
George Bullock
Joseph Cox
Stephen Cannon
Milton Clark
Simon Devenport
Frank Day
S. Dick
Chester Davis
Henderson Dossett
George Fox
John Folk
Gauld Foy
Peter Foy
George Font
David Fitzgerrell
Linsey Green
John Glen
Charly Gaston
Winslow Gush
Henry Gilliam
Webb Gudger
William Hill
John Hargrove
Wilson Hunt
Lorance Hunter
James Hurt
Hampton Holeman
William Davus
Isaac Hunter
William Harris
Charley Hansley
John Hicks
Burley Haywood
Israel Hays
Anderson Harshow
Jeff Hamilton
Charles Harper
Tobe High
Thomas Jones
Jessee Johnson
William Jones
George Johnson
Albert Jessup
William Jones
Samuel Jones
Thomas Jones
Henry Jones
Jones Miller
Alexander Johnson
Benjamin Jones
Noah Kindsey
Henry Knight
John Lamb
George Lamburt
Peter Lathan
Jones Lathauo
Back Lee
Archey Leach
George McEntire
Lucey Morgan
Henry McKee
William Montigue
Israel Morrison
Green McCullep
Thomas Moore
Isaac Mitchell
Tim Newkirk
David Odens
Simon Parrett
David Passmore
Jessie Phillipps
Anderson Pearch
Sandy Pagan
Henry Portner
Zebulen Parker
Cato Peeds
Jessie Johnson
Cornelius Rich
Daniel Richardson
Ranerd Ruffien
George Roundtree
Arch Ragan
Henry Revals
George Rolen
David Rine
Dan Richardson
Norton Roundtree
Robert Roundtree
George Smith
John Simmons
Henry Show
Hardy Sanders
Charley Smith
George Smith
Willis Sprewell
Frank Sikes
Tobe Street
Nedums Sanders
Arch Stewart
Monroe Smith
Moses Smith
Allen Seras
John Suwell
Dan Simmons
Rollay Sanders
David Satchwell
Shephard Smith
Lewis Smith
Joseph Smith
Peter Smith
Fred Satterfield
Robert Sawyer
Armsted Troutman
James Torrance
Arther Timmons
William Turner
Hampton Tompson
George Taylor
John Tompson
Abern Taft
Nash Trollenger
James Vick
Susan Reston
Henry Williams
Pink Wilson
David White
George Willis
Miles Williams
West Word
Abe Watt
Willis Williams
Everett Williams
Thomas Williams
Lee Williams
James Wilson
William Walker
James Warren
William Woodley
Robert Willis
Alfon Wallace
Robert M. Walker
Jessie Williams
Felix Whitson
John Walker
Rufus Young
Levi Yokely
Sam Reid
Frank Johnson
George Parson
Peter Little
Albert Long
Travis Haley
John Brown
Henry Edwards
Dave Jones

Additional Names from newspaper coverage (see below):
Peter Little
Albert Long
Travis Haley
John Brown
Henry Edwards
Dave Jones


Newspaper Coverage 

The Wilmington Morning Star, April 17, 1877

The Charlotte Observer, April 15, 1877

The Wilmington Morning Star, Tuesday, April 17, 1877

Carolina Watchman, (Salisbury, NC), September 7, 1876

Peter Little

Albert Long

The Observer (Raleigh, NC), September 11, 1877

Lucy Morgan (Note: Lucy Morgan is one of the three women listed in the 1880 Census above.)

Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, NC), October 11, 1877

Travis Haley

The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), November 7, 1877

Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, NC), November 22, 1877

Travis Haley

Rufus Young (Note: A man named Rufus Young is also listed in the 1880 Census above.)


The Observer (Raleigh, NC), November 28, 1877

Rufus Young

The Observer (Raleigh, NC), November 28, 1877

John Brown

The Blue Ridge Blade (Morganton, North Carolina), August 23, 1879

The Blue Ridge Blade (Morganton, North Carolina), September 13, 1879

The Daily Review (Wilmington, North Carolina), October 14, 1879

According to the 1880 Census, Daniel Richardson, Charles Harper, Daniel Brown, and Gould Foy all served at least part of their sentences working on the WNCRR.

The Daily Review (Wilmington, North Carolina), February 11, 1881

Statesville Record And Landmark (Statesville, North Carolina), Feburary 18, 1881

Henry Edwards

The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), February 18, 1881

The News and Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina), June 4, 1886

Dave Jones