A Fascinating Historical Short Story

The following was written by Jewel Baldock Israel for presentation at the National Israel Reunion held in Asheville, North Carolina, at the banquet held at the Best Western – Biltmore West on 275 Smoky Park Highway, on August 2, 2003. The presentation was given in a period costume designed and made by Jewel Baldock Israel. The biographical material is factual and is verified in The Children of Israel which was written and published in 1981 by Kenneth Davidson Israel.

The interpretation of the lifestyle of Sarah Graves Israel is based on the feelings and events that a woman of her status in this time period would have experienced. Since Kenneth Davidson Israel is a noted genealogist, geographer, and historian, and Jewel Baldock Israel is an avid reader of Appalachian literature, the interpretations are probably accurate.

Sarah Graves Israel (1822 – two years before her death)
Jewel Baldock Israel, Ed.D.
August 2, 2003

“Hello. Since everybody here is related somehow or other to Michael Israel and me, they asked me to tell you something about our lives together. I’ll do my best, but just remember that at almost 84 years old, my memory isn’t as good as it used to be.

My name is Sarah Graves Israel. Some people have called me Sally and there are so many Sarahs and Sallys in the Israel family that it is mighty easy for people to get confused.

I have lived here in Buncombe County for almost 17 years and it feels like home now.

I grew up in Virginia. When I was a child, we were always glad of an excuse to go to town. My family usually went to town when court days came. Court days were especially exciting because so many other people came to town on those days whether they had court business or not. We bought the supplies we couldn’t make or grow at home, but the best part was seeing the other families that had come to town. We usually spent most of the day there because we enjoyed it so much. One of the people I looked forward to seeing was that handsome Michael Israel, son of Solomon Israel and Mary Johnson Israel, but he didn’t pay much attention to me because I was five years younger than he was.

On one of those court days, Michael finally noticed me and we talked a while. I was glad because I had noticed him and had been day dreaming about him for some time. Soon after that he came courting. We were married in 1760 when he was 21 years old and I was 16. We had been married 59 years when he passed away, and we saw a lot of changes in this old world of ours.

Michael was a hard worker and already owned some land in Albemarle County when we married. We moved to his land which was located at Stockton’s Thoroughfare, a pass through the mountains. The people there now call it Israel Mountain and the pass through it Israel’s Gap. About a year later our daughter Mary was born. Other children followed so that by 1778, we had eight children.

These were happy years for us, but they were troubling times for the colonies. England kept making it harder and harder for the people who lived in the colonies. She put more and more taxes on us that people in England didn’t have to pay. We started trying not to buy things from England. We quit drinking English tea and drank coffee or chicory instead. A rule was passed that the people in the colonies had to quarter English soldiers in their homes. The news we got was pretty sketchy, but feelings were running high against England. We didn’t like not being treated as well as the people who lived in England and a war began.

In 1778, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, Michael entered 300 acres of land in Wilkes County, North Carolina. The land was on the north fork of Warrior Creek, which flows into the Yadkin River at the west end of Happy Valley. Happy Valley is a beautiful land. Michael’s land went from the ridge tops down into the valley and across the Yadkin River. (Webmaster’s note: It is interesting to note that this is the same area of NC/VA in which our senior Andrew Baker, the Reverend Andrew’s father, owned land in and raised his family.)

The move was difficult for me because I was expecting a new baby. My older girls were a big help on the trip. I still got awfully tired. Isom was born in 1780 in Wilkes County, North Carolina.

Once there, Michael, with help from our sons and our slaves, cleared land for pasture and for the crops we needed to feed ourselves and the livestock. We had cattle both for the milk, butter, and cheese, and so that we could have leather for shoes and clothing and a little beef along. Beef doesn’t keep very long, so we usually used it pretty quickly and shared it with family and neighbors. We had some hogs because if you cure it right in the fall, pork will keep a long time. We had sheep for their wool and for food. I kept geese because we needed the goose feathers for pillows and feather beds. We had turkeys and some chickens. We ate most of the roosters and kept the hens for the eggs. Game was plentiful. We had the meat from bear, buffalo, deer, and other wild animals. The wolf was a dreaded animal and we made some bounty money for killing them. We also had plenty of fish from the creeks and rivers.

We grew wheat and corn to feed the livestock and so that we could have cornmeal and flour for bread. Mills grew up in the area and the older children loved to take grain to the mill, hoping to meet other boys and girls. Many a courtship began there.

Michael had some Negro slaves to help him and the boys in the fields and I had some to help in the house. The daily housework took a lot of time and energy. I supervised the house slaves who did most of the house cleaning, the laundry, and some of the cooking. They learned to make soap and candles so well that I didn’t have to supervise that very much. That left me some time to do the spinning and weaving. I made clothes for my family and the slaves and knitted stockings for them. Such a large family surely does need a lot of food and clothing!

We didn’t escape the war, though. Michael and our neighbors were in the Battle of Kings Mountain, and our son John went on several campaigns against the Cherokee Indians who were allies of the British. We were afraid to stay at home with so many of the menfolks gone, so all of our family left everything behind and went to stay at Fort Defiance until the men came back. We hoped and prayed that our house and barns would not be burned and our crops destroyed.

Our area was also dangerous because so many Tories lived all around us and we never could trust some of our neighbors.

I worried about Michael and John the whole time they were gone. It was quite a relief when they came home safely and our house and buildings, the livestock, and the crops were safe.

There were always changes taking place in our family.

In 1782, our oldest daughter, Mary, married Thompson Epperson who served three tours of duty as a soldier in the Revolutionary War. He and Michael both served in Captain Moses Guest’s Company of Horse at the Battle of Kings Mountain. Mary went with Thompson Epperson to the Parson’s house in Amherst County, Virginia, where they married. Then they visited in Albemarle County for two weeks before settling near us in Wilkes County, North Carolina. It was so good to have her close by.

Thompson and Mary Epperson bought some land in Buncombe County near John and Sarah Israel, Jesse and Mary Israel, and Epaphroditus and Sarah Gilliam in the Swannanoa River Valley. They did not settle on the land for they moved to Franklin County, Georgia. I never was sure why he changed his mind.

Mary has seven children – five boys and two girls. The second child was a girl, so she has some help with her young ones. The children are now all grown and I don’t get much news from them. Franklin County, Georgia, is so far from here. I sure would like to see her now and catch up on her life. I do miss them.

Our daughter Sarah, often called Sallie, married a Ballew. There has been a mystery about him and she heard that he was dead, leaving her a young widow with two children – Micajah Ballew and Patsy Ballew. About 1790, Sarah married Epaphroditus Gilliam whom she had known in Albemarle County, Virginia. Then, they lived near us in Wilkes County. They heard about good cheap land west of the Blue Ridge, so, along with her brothers John and Jesse, they moved to land on the north fork of the Swannanoa River in Buncombe County.

By 1800 they moved to a farm on the French Broad River near where I live now. They stayed there several years and I saw them often. Then they moved over to Haywood County, North Carolina, and then to Cocke County, Tennessee. After a couple of years there, they moved on to Missouri.

Besides the Ballew children, Sarah had 13 Gilliam children – five boys and eight girls. I don’t know how she managed. She always had a baby in her arms and another hanging onto her skirt.

Those Gilliams just keep moving and moving further West and I don’t hear much from them. From what I know about Epaphroditus Gilliam, I think he is probably still a strong Methodist. In Buncombe County he was a local Methodist preacher and he arranged for visits from the Methodist circuit rider.

Our son, John, was born in 1765 in Albermarle County, Virginia and moved with us to Wilkes County, North Carolina. He was drafted and served as a private to fight during the Revolutionary War. It’s hard to have a son or a husband in a war, but to have both is awful. I really worried about John and Michael.

In 1797 in Wilkes County, John married Sarah Edmundson whose family lived near us. John and Sarah moved to Buncombe County and settled on the north fork of the Swannanoa River. Then he bought land from Thomas Jones on both sides of the French Broad River just below Long Shoals. They lived near us after we moved to Buncombe County.

So many of our children moved to Buncombe County and Michael and I missed having family anywhere near. Even though Michael was close to 60 years old, we decided to move to Buncombe County to be nearer to our children. Michael sold most of his land in Wilkes County and we moved to Buncombe County in 1806.

On June 3, 1806 Michael sold the rest of the Wilkes County land to William B. Lenoir. On the same date, June 3, 1806, in Buncombe County, Michael bought 480 acres on both sides of Avery’s Creek where it joins the French Broad River. He bought the land from William Lenoir.

That trip up the steep cliffs of the Blue Ridge Mountains was awful. Our children had told us that the road was much improved from the way it was when they moved to Buncombe County earlier. After we left Old Fort, the road was just wide enough for our wagons. It was so narrow that it looked more like a trail to me. The bed of the road was rocky and full of ruts and holes. The wagons were pulled by mules and oxen since horses aren’t sure footed enough for a heavy load on such rough and steep terrain. Even the mules and oxen had to go slowly. Our wagon was full of our household plunder so there wasn’t room for people. We almost didn’t make it for a wheel ran off of one wagon and crashed into a cliff. Another time the brakes did not hold on one of the wagons and, thank goodness, there was a big cliff in a curve that stopped the wagon. We had heard of several people who lost their lives when such things happened.

The other livestock was driven up the mountains by the slaves and our sons who had come to help move us. The cliffs were so high and so straight up and down I was afraid that the wagaons would slip and crash down the mountain side.

Finally, we had climbed up that steep trail and reached the western waters. The going got a little easier. It sure was a welcome sight when Michael and I settled on that beautiful river they call the French Broad and that lovely fertile valley beside it.

It seemed as if we barely got here when John sold his land and moved to Butler County, Ohio. From there, he went to Franklin County, Indiana and then on the Johnson County, Indiana. I really hated to see them leave.

John and Sarah have 10 children – five boys and five girls. Eight of them were born in North Carolina and the last two were born away from here. Most of his children went with John when he moved to Indiana. I don’t hear from them very often.

Our son, Johnson Israel, was born in 1769 In Albemarle County. He married Anna Hisaw after we moved to Wilkes County. They lived on the North Fork of Warrior Creek and were our neighbors.

He moved around awhile, but finally moved near us again and lived in the Avery’s Creek section of Buncombe County. He bought 200 acres on the west side of the French Broad River between the Tumbling Shoals. It was on both sides of Solomon Israel’s Branch. Now he was just a quarter of a mile from us. I was glad because Michael and I were getting older and it was getting harder and harder for us to manage things. I’ve always thought that the real reason Johnson moved was to help take care of us. Johnson was a farmer and he was a big help. He owns a grist mill and saw mill on Avery’s Creek which provides us with meal, flour, and lumber.

Johnson’s wife, Anna, was a midwife and the women around here were really glad to have her in their midst. She was also an herb doctor and she learned a lot from the Indians.

Johnson and Anna had ten children – six boys and four girls. The older children are now married and live near us.

Our son, Jesse Israel, was born in 1769 in Albemarle County. Jesse married Mary Jones, who was a daughter of Joshua and Elender Jones. We knew the Jones family in Albermarle County, Virginia, Wilkes County, North Carolina, and in Buncombe County.

Jesse and Mary stayed in Wilkes County for several years after they married. In 1799 Jesse bought some land on the North Fork of the Swannanoa River near his sister Sally and his brother John. In 1801 Jesse bought land on the west bank of the French Broad River just below the War Ford and on Plateau Branch.

Jesse and Mary had six children – two boys and four girls. They named some of the girls after their grandmothers. One was Elender Medley Israel, named for Mary’s mother. One was named Sarah Graves Israel, named for me. Since that’s my whole name I really felt good about that. Our granddaughter Sarah Graves Israel married John Ledford and they moved west of here.

Jesse Israel died in 1807. It’s mighty hard to have to bury one of your children. Mary had it hard after Jesse died, trying to run the farm and take care of her children. In a few years she married John Rogers. He was several years older than she was. Mary and John Rogers had three children. John Rogers was not kind to his stepchildren and the girls were mostly raised by an old Negro slave that we had given to Mary. We took Jesse’s son Billy Israel and raised him as our own. When Michael died, Billy and my son Michael took care of the property.

It bothered me about Jesse’s girls, but there didn’t seem to be much I could do about it. Mary died in 1821, leaving her young children by John Rogers to be raised by someone else. Jesse and Mary’s girls married young and moved on west. I don’t see much of them. Their husbands seemed like such nice men, and I sure hope their husbands treat them better than their stepfather did.

Our son Solomon was born in Albermarle County. We named him after his grandfather who was also Solomon Israel. Our Solomon grew up in Wilkes County, North Carolina. He married Nancy Alloway Strange, daughter of Abraham Alloway Strange. Our families were close neighbors and Solomon and Nancy had known each other for years.

Solomon and Nancy moved to Buncombe County and settled on Avery’s Creek near where Michael and I live. The branch that runs through his land is called Solomon Israel’s Branch or Israel’s Branch. Solomon ran a ferry across the French Broad River just below our house.

Solomon and Nancy had ten children – seven boys and three girls. Most of them married and moved away. Pleasant Israel is the one I see most often. He married Sarah Wolfe and they live across the French Broad River from us.

Our daughter, Catey Israel, was born in Albemarle County and was still small when we moved to Wilkes County. She married a neighbor, Robert Edmundson. They moved to Buncombe County and then on west somewhere. I don’t hear much about them. I sure wish I did. I miss her.

Our son, Michael Israel Jr., was born in 1778 in Albemarle County, Virginia. In the midst of the Revolutionary War, while he was still a baby in arms, we moved to Wilkes County and settled on Warriors’ Creek.

Michael Jr. married Sarah Coffey in 1800. They had known each other most of their lives in Wilkes County. They moved with us in 1805 to Buncombe County and lived on our farm. He helped manage the Negro slaves.

Michael and Sarah were Baptist in belief and helped establish a Baptist Church in their home. The Coffeys were mostly Baptist and the Israels were mostly Methodists.

Michael Jr. and Sarah had 11 children – five boys and six girls. Some of the older children are now married and live all around us.

Isom Israel, the youngest of our children, was born just after we reached North Carolina in 1780. I did not want to move at that time for Michael Jr. was only two, but Michael wanted to get away from the war and to take advantage of cheaper and better land, so I agreed with him. It is always hard for a woman to move. I always had to leave people and things behind. I always felt like I was leaving part of myself behind. Isom married Judy Alloway Strange. She was a neighbor and a sister to Nancy who married our son Solomon. They came to Buncombe County some time after they married and lived near us. In 1815 they moved to Kentucky. Judy died about 1815 and Isom came back to Buncombe County. Right now, he is thinking about marrying again and moving to Indiana near his brother John.

In 1819 when he was 85 years old Michael passed away. He was buried in a family burying ground on a rolling hillside above the French Broad River near our home. After being together for almost 60 years, I miss Michael and I am lonely without him.

Michael left a large estate and everything was sold. By law, I only had a child’s share of the property and I had to buy my own household furnishings, including the Bible, at a public sale. I also bought a Negro girl and her child, to help me. I am still in comfortable circumstances though.

Now I live quietly with my Negro slave and her daughter to do the cooking and cleaning. I stay at home most of the time, but my children and grandchildren visit me often. I like to sit on the porch in the summer and by the fireplace in the winter. I read my Bible every day. Life has been good to me, but I sure do miss Michael.

Well, folks, I want to thank you for coming to see me. Please have a safe trip home. I do love my family.

It’s getting late for an old woman like me, so I’ll say “Good night and God bless you.”