In 1850, a woman named Tilda was enslaved by the Smith family of Asheville. It is likely that she and her family were held captive on the grounds of Buck House, our facility.

At this time, Tilda was married to Joe, a wagoner. It is likely that Joe transported goods in a horse-drawn wagon on a daily basis, perhaps transporting tanbark to the Smiths’ tannery.

Joe and Tilda had at least five children by 1850 – Alfred, age 11; Joe, age 8; Mary, age 3; Jane, age 2; and Vina; age 1. It is likely that the family was able to avoid being separated until c1853 when Tilda passed away.

Her cause of death is unknown, but she was likely only in her late 20s or early 30s when she died. Tilda was likely buried in the South Asheville Cemetery in 1853.

Image: Excerpt from James M. Smith’s will, February 9, 1850 

Image: Excerpt from codicil to James M. Smith’s will, January 7, 1854

In 1856, upon the death of James M. Smith, Joe and his children were willed to James’ son, John, along with Buck House. If they were not yet living on the property, it is likely that they were now.

However, when John died in 1857 without leaving a will, Joe, Sr. and his children, Alfred, Joe, Mary, and Vina were sold on the steps of the Buncombe County courthouse to the highest bidder in August 1858.

Joe, Sr. is sold for $501 to Marcus Erwin, a lawyer, state senator, editor of the Asheville News, and ardent secessionist.

Alfred, 19, is sold for $1,275 to G.T. Spears – John’s brother-in-law.

Joe, Jr., 16, is sold for $1,181 to J. Zachary.

Mary, 11, and Vina, 9, are sold to A.W. Cumming for $822 and $795 respectively.

Jane is unaccounted for. 

Asheville News, August 26, 1858

Records from October 1858 Court Session


In the 1860 “Slave Schedules,” G.T. Spears holds 20 people captive including a 21-year-old male, who may be Alfred.

In 1870, we find a man named Alfred Spears living in Asheville. Though his age – as reported on the census – is difficult to decipher, it looks to be 29, which would be about the right age for the Alfred we are searching for. Alfred is a “laborer.”

Though the family relationships are not explicitedly identified here it appears that Alfred is married to Claressa and they have two daughters, Mittie, age 3, and Mary, age 1. A woman whose name is written as “Mauda” Spears, age 25, also lives in the house with her daughter, Maria, age 6.

Alfred Spears marries Jane Burgin in 1877.

In 1880, we find Alfred Spears, age 40, living in Asheville and married to 30-year-old woman named Jane Burgin, who works as a “washer.” He is a “common laborer.” Though he reports being born in North Carolina, he does not know where his parents, Tilda and Joe, were born.

He has an 18-year-old stepdaughter, R.A. Burgin, and a 14-year-old stepson, James Burgin, who works as a “farmhand.”

He also has five children: Delia, 13; Horace, 10; Thomas, 9; Joseph, 7; and Susan V, 1.

No one in the family can read or write.

In 1900, Alfred and Jane have been married 40 years. They’ve had at least five more children – Maggie, 18; Arthur, 14; Marcus, 13; Sonnie, 12; and Mary, 10.

In this census, Alfred reports begin born in April 1829.

Alfred died in 1906.

Alfred and Janie’s son, Sonnie, died in 1951.

Marcus Spears died in 1914.

Arthur Spears died in 1911.

Joseph Henry died in 1927.