John Harper

by Bruce Whitaker

James Ernest Morgan Sr. was born in Greenville, SC, on April 7, 1900. He was the son of John Wesley Morgan (1871-1938) and Mabel Christine Tate (1879-1937). Ernest was brought to Asheville by train a few weeks after he was born. Ernest’s grandparents, Thomas and Helen Augusta Lankford Tate, lived in Fairview. Tom Tate was famous for being double jointed, which may have led to his death. He was digging a well one day when someone dropped a large rock on his head, killing him instantly. Tate’s body was stolen by grave robbers. The family always believed that Dr. Ben Ashworth killed Tate and stole his body for the large sum of money Johns Hopkins University would pay Ashworth for his rare and unusual skeleton.

Ernest Morgan grew up in Asheville near the French Broad River. He and his brothers loved to swim in the river despite their parents’ strong objections. Morgan grew up to be a very good baseball player, and some thought he could have played in the major leagues if he had desired to.

Ella Mae Ledbetter was born in the Broad River section of what is now Buncombe County on July 2, 1900. She was the daughter of Richard Oscar Ledbetter (1869-1901) and Cora Ellen Whitaker (1878-1965). Ella’s father Richard Ledbetter died from a back injury when she was less than 9 months old. Ella’s mother Cora could not manage their farm by herself, so she decided to move to Asheville and live with her parents, Solomon Whitaker (1849-1928) and Anner Harper Whitaker (1846-1924). Cora and her brother Bascombe were raised in the home of their grandparents.

Solomon Whitaker and his wife Anner Harper were both raised in Fairview. Solomon was a carpenter and a very active member of the Salvation Army. Ella remembered her grandfather as a “Christian gentleman.” He would not allow his grandchildren to play games on Sunday or to read the comic strips in the newspapers. She said her grandfather’s favorite expression when correcting her was “Tut tut, Sister.” Ella Mae attended Asheville City Schools and was later sent to the Dorling Bell School for girls in Hot Springs.

Ernest Morgan and Ella Mae Ledbetter both grew up in the West End section of Asheville. They fell in love and married in 1918. Ernest Morgan worked for Cone Mills in Asheville, starting out as an office boy and working his way up to purchasing agent and then supervisor of shipping. Morgan worked with the company for 45 years.

Morgan and his brothers formed a quartet known as The Morgan Brothers Quartet. The group was one of the first to perform on WWNC when it went on the air in 1927. Ernest could play both the piano and the accordion.

Morgan also recorded the water level of the French Broad for the National Weather Service for almost all of his adult life.

Ella Mae Morgan, besides being a housewife, raised dahlias to use in floral arrangements at her church. Ella and Ernest also hybridized a variety of iris for their garden. When World War II broke out, Ella went to work with the U.S. Army Air Corps with a unit stationed at the weather wing in Asheville. Ella also served as a volunteer at the Veterans Hospital at Oteen. She was a member of Gold Star Mothers, VFW, the American Legion Auxiliaries and the Home Extension Club. Ella was also very active at her church, Haywood Street United Methodist.

James Ernest Morgan died suddenly of a heart attack on January 21, 1961. Ella Mae Ledbetter Morgan died on August 6, 1981. They are buried at Green Hills Cemetery.

The Morgans had two children.

James Ernest Morgan, Jr. was born in Asheville in 1920. He died in March 1943 when the Germans shot down his plane over the North Sea in World War II.

Carolyn Morgan was born in Asheville on September 6, 1921. She married Colonel Luther B. Anderson.

Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. You can reach him at 628-1089 or email him at [email protected].

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