Category Archives: Days Gone By

Were Jacob Reed and Johnson Ashworth Brothers? Part 2

by Bruce Whitaker

Part 1 of this article ran in the January 2018 issue.

Jacob Reed remarried several years later to Mary “Polly” Williams. I do not know for sure that she was a Williams and may never know. The information about her I received from Nelia Morgan Merrill (1882-1977) makes me feel this is true. She said Henry Casey and his wife Dicie were very close to Polly Reed. She said they were at Polly Reed’s home very often and were somehow related. Jacob Reed and Henry Casey were the administrators of George Williams’s estate and his sons-in-law. Mary “Polly” Reed  was born in Broad River, Rutherford (now Buncombe) Co., North Carolina on November 13, 1804. Jacob Reed made a bad choice when he married her.

Wicked Stepmother

Reed ruled the household with an iron fist. Jacob could not make any purchase at the store without Polly giving him permission first. Jesse Garren and his wife Mariam Whitaker Garren both testified in court that if Jacob bought anything, no matter how small, without getting Polly’s approval first, she would force him to take it back.

Mary Reed was the storybook wicked stepmother. She detested Jacob’s son Ramie Reed. Everyone in the neighborhood who testified in court said Polly never once had anything good to say about Ramie. Ramie left home at a very young age and went to Henderson County. Jacob’s son Abner Reed was treated little better than his brother. Occasionally Polly would say something nice about Abner but she soon took it back.

Jacob and Polly Reed had one child together, named Jesse Reed. Jesse was born in Fairview on March 20, 1837. He was the apple of Polly Reed’s eye. He was everything and Abner and Ramie Reed were nothing. Abner remained in Buncombe County. He married Mary Matilda “Tilde” Clements. Abner and Matilda Reed moved to Johnson Ashworth’s farm, where they lived in a shack and worked for him. Abner Reed constantly moved around. He lived in Swannanoa in 1860, listed as a renter. He lived in the Flat Creek section of Broad River in McDowell County (now Buncombe). He was still a renter. Reed was still living on Flat Creek in the 1880 census. He was still renting and was listed as being blind. Jacob Reed owned 475 acres of land on Hollywood Road but Polly would never let Abner live on their property.

Jesse Reed was forced to go off and fight in the Civil War. He stayed in the army a few months and was sent home to die. Jesse told his parents that since he was going to die, and thus not recieve any part of his parent’s estate, that his parents must promise not to give his brothers Abner and Ramie anything eithers. Jacob Reed did not want to do what his son requested, but Polly Reed did and her opinion was all that mattered. She insisted that Jacob carry out Jesse Reed’s.

Making a Deal

Jacob Reed went to see Johnson Ashworth (1818-1895). Johnson Ashworth was one of the most well-off men in Fairview. Jacob Reed and Johnson Ashworth worked out a deal. Jacob Reed deeded Johnson Ashworth everything he had – land, livestock, etc. – in return for Ashworth taking care of Jacob and Polly Reed as long as they lived. Jacob and Polly were allowed to live on their farm and in their house until both died. This deed will agreement was signed and recorded around 1864. Johnson Ashworth was not allowed to tell Abner and Ramie Reed about this agreement until after their father’s death.

The agreement never made any sense to me. Jacob Reed had a brother, James Reed, still alive and living in Fairview at this time. He had many nieces and nephews as well, the children of his brother James as well as the children of his deceased sister Susanna Reed Wright. Susanna’s husband john Wright was still alive and living a few miles away on Ballard’s Creek. Why would he leave everything he had to Johnson Ashworth, one of the wealthiest men in Fairview. This all makes sense if Johnson Ashworth was his brother.

“No Tell What You Will Find…”

I went to visit Morgan Ashworth on several occasions. He was Johnson Ashworth’s grandson. He had heard about the Jacob Reed/Johnson Ashworth deal and unlike his Freeman first cousins, he did not get mad and run me off. He just smiled and thought the whole thing was funny. He made a statement at the time that made no sense because I thought he misspoke. He said, “There is no telling what you will find with all that old Ashworth blood following in your veins.” Maybe he knew Jacob Reed and Johnson Ashworth were brothers and was giving me a little hint.

Jacob Reed died November 20, 1875. Abner and Ramie Reed found out what their father had done and they were not happy. Polly Reed soon fell out with Johnson Ashworth and sued him. Abner and Ramie sued him as well. Polly Reed would not work with Abner and Ramie. She wanted the land back from Johnson Ashworth but she still did not want Abner and Ramie to get anything. Working against each other, they had no chance to win against Ashworth. Abner Reed’s and Johnson Ashworth’s families were enemies from then on. Yet Abner Reed’s children would still use Johnson Ashworth’s son Rufus to draw up their legal papers after all this. This all made no sense to me until I found that Johnson Ashworth’s father, John Ashworth, fathered a bastard child the same year Jacob Reed was born.

I belong to I listed John Ashworth Jr. as Jacob Reed’s father. It wasn’t very long before I received a notice that a descendent of John Ashworth Jr. was my cousin. A short time later I was listed as a member of the John Ashworth circle. I belong to many DNA circles – William Whitaker, Lot Harper, John Nicholson, etc. A circle is made up of a group of people whose DNA shows they descend from a common ancestor. My DNA shows that I am related to a group of descendants of John Ashworth. Our DNA is similar enough that the database says we all descend from a common ancestor – in this case, it John Ashworth. This makes a lot of things fit together.

Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. He can be reached at 628-1089 or