Uncle Fie and Aunt Liz: James Fidella and Elizabeth Whitaker Jenkins Part One by Bruce Whitaker

James Fidella “Fie” Jenkins was born on Reem’s Creek in Buncombe County North Carolina July 1, 1861. He was the son of James Fidella Jenkins Sr. (1812–1900) and Sarah Robinson Jenkins (1814–1896). Fidella Jenkins’s father or grandfather was really a Poston; when his father (likely John Poston) died, his mother married a Jenkins and he took his stepfather’s name. Fidella “Fie” Jenkins was the next to youngest child of J.F. and Sarah Jenkins. Fidella grew up to be mischievous and somewhat of a free spirit. He was somewhat of a lady’s man as well.
Fidella told his nephews that when he was a young man, he found a way to avoid most of the harsh winter weather. In late December he would commit some crime in order to receive a ninetyday jail sentence. Fie said he would lie on his cot in his nice warm jail cell and think of all the fools out there cutting and carrying in wood in the cold wind and snow. Three times a day the jailer would bring him a good hot meal and something to drink just like he was his servant or slave. When spring came his 90 days would be up and he would leave jail and go out into the sunshine. This is still done today; some people still do something to get put in jail in the winter and then reappear in early April.
Fidella Jenkins was a lady’s man indeed. He was married at least four times and engaged to at least two other women during a thirteen and one-half year period. On July 17, 1880 Uncle Fie was issued a marriage license to marry M. Elizabeth Wallen. Elizabeth Wallen was the daughter of Ruben and Minerva Penland Wallen, who lived two farms down the road from the Jenkinses on Reem’s Creek. Evidently Elizabeth Wallen’s parents put a stop to this marriage. Three months later Fidella Jenkins married Martha Lunsford on October 16, 1880. She was the daughter of Homer Lunsford. That marriage did not last long; Fidella Jenkins left her without saying anything to her. It is said that she got some men to try to help her track him down. When she saw the footprints in the sand where Fie crossed Reem’s Creek Martha said, “there is his darling little footprint.”
I only know the names of three of Fidella Jenkins’ wives. I suspect he married the second wife while he lived on Reem’s Creek as well. It was another brief union.
Fidella Jenkins got a job working on Flat Top, probably clearing land or cutting timber; while he still lived on Reem’s Creek. He would walk back and forth from Reem’s Creek to Fairview every day. This may seem impossible for those who have driven to Reem’s Creek to Fairview in a car, but if you walk between the two communities it cuts the distance by half at least. Fie would walk over the mountain to Bull Creek through Riceville and Swannanoa. He would then climb Flat Top from the Swannanoa side of the mountain. This is still a long walk, but much shorter than the roads we take today by car. I have often been told that Fidella would walk home from Flat Top and then play the fiddle for parties almost all night; he would then walk back to work at Flat Top the next day with little or no sleep.
Jenkins met his third wife while working on Flat Top in Fairview. She was America A. “Make” Hamby. America A. Hamby was the daughter of Leander S. Hamby and Mary E. Smart Hamby (1838-1894). America “Make” Hamby’s father died in the 1860’s and is assumed to have died in the Civil War. James Fidella Jenkins and America Hamby were married July 4, 1886. This marriage did not last very long either, but it did produce one child, a daughter named Molly L. After Fidella Jenkins and America “Make” Hamby divorced, “Make” took the name Hamby back. Their daughter also went by Hamby.
Fidella Jenkins next fell in love with Sophia Nesbitt (1869-1944). She was the daughter of Thomas Lafayette “Fate” Nesbitt (1846-1903) and Christina “Tenney” Pinkerton (1844-1927). Fate Nesbitt was well aware of Fidella Jenkins. He knew about his three wives and his womanizer reputation. Fate Nesbitt had no use for Fidella Jenkins and would not let his daughter Sophia go out with Fidella. The couple could only meet at church, someone else’s house or in the woods in secret. Finally they decided to run off and get married. Fie went to the Register of Deeds Office to get a marriage license. Jenkins had been to the Register of Deeds office so often that the Register of Deeds knew him. There weren’t many men in Buncombe County who had gotten four marriage licenses (three marriages and one engagement) in less than 10 years. The Register of Deeds had told Fidella that the next one would be on the house.
Jenkins went and collected his free marriage license, and he and Sophie made plans to run off and get married. On the decided date Sophie slipped her clothes into a sack and snuck outside to meet Fidella Jenkins, who was waiting a short distance from Fate Nesbitt’s house. Fate Nesbitt happened to look out the window and see Sophie carrying a bag and running toward Fie Jenkins in the distance. Nesbitt grabbed his shotgun and took off after Sophie and Fie.
Sophie was wearing a long dress, as was the custom back then. She was crawling through a barbed wire fence when her dress got tangled in the wire. Sophie hollered for Fidella to help her get loose from the fence, but Fie saw Fate Nesbitt closing in fast with his shotgun. Fie looked at Sophie and said, “I believe I will just get me another gal.” He went off and left Sophie tangled in the fence to face her father’s wrath. Sophia Nesbitt married W.H. Dotson (1854-1939) a short time later. A few years later Fidella Jenkins went on to meet his fourth and final wife, Elizabeth Whitaker.
Part Two will appear in the April Town Crier.

Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. Contact Mr. Whitaker by phone at 828 628-1089 or email [email protected]