ASHE COUNTY — Tucked away in a lush tract of towering pines near the New River lay remnants of an old homestead belonging to one of Ashe County’s early commissioners. A relic of the 19th century, the site was nearly lost to time before members of the Carson family reclaimed the piece of regional history from the forest.
Born in Antrim County, Ireland in 1795, Matthew Carson would immigrate to America as a young man and would eventually settle in Ashe County where he would carve out a life for himself.
According to family history, at the age of 70 Matthew Carson would be appointed as the first county commissioner of Ashe County after the Civil War and would be in charge of administering the amnesty of oaths, as well as swearing in new justices of the peace.
He would be selected to serve on a special three man court in 1865 and would also be elected as Ashe County’s first representative in the NC General Assembly in Raleigh following the Civil War where he would serve two terms, one between 1865-66 and another between 1868-69. Matthew Carson would die at the ripe old age of 86 in 1881, following his wife Jane Carson who had died the previous year.
As the decades have drifted by, the roots placed in Ashe County by the Irish immigrant have remained strong, with many decedents of the Carson family still calling the region home.
One such descendent is Matthew Carson’s great, great, great grandson Rick Carson, who has been spearheading the efforts to rediscover and clean up the old, family homesite.
“It was a lost place, that’s for sure. It was like finding a needle in a haystack, basically a forgotten place,” Carson said. “History is laid out for us to find. As a child I can remember coming back into these woods with my grandfather and he told me the old place was in the area. And so, I just went pioneering and discovered the old chimney.”
Nestled deep in a thick tract of woods and accessible only by foot or ATV, is what remains of the Carson homesite, which now only consist of the cabin’s chimney, a stone foundation and the family cemetery. For the past three summers Carson has been working tirelessly to take back his family history from Mother Nature, clearing away dense brush and fallen timbers and eventually placing a monument honoring Matthew Carson and his wife, Jane.
Despite the threat of heavy rain, an official monument dedication was held on June 12. Likened to a family reunion, decedents of Matthew Carson traveled deep into the woods to observe the new monument, speak about their family’s history and connect with the land.
Representing the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office at the event was Chief Deputy Danny Houck, who lent a hand shuttling members of the Carson family to the historic homesite. William Sand represented the Ashe County Board of Commissioners and also addressed the crowd on the cultural importance of sites such as the Carson homesite to Ashe County.
During the ceremony, Rick Carson was presented with a certificate and small gifts for his efforts in cleaning up the family’s ancestral homestead, and the seventh generation of Matthew Carson decedents was introduced.
Also present during the event was Tristan Ham and Kelley St. Germain of the Appalachian Memory Keepers — an Ashe County based nonprofit dedicated to preserving and sharing Appalachian History & Culture through film, podcast, photos and online articles — who were filming footage of the monument dedication for an upcoming video on the Carson family. The film, a brief documentary, will follow Matthew Carson’s journey from Ireland and the foundation he laid for his family in Ashe County.
“Today’s event was a great event because it was a story about a family reclaiming it’s history, history that was almost lost forever. This history is important because, in a microcosm, it is the history of the founding of this country and of our Appalachian region. For example, an Irish immigrant sails to this country, finds his way deep into the Appalachian Mountains, marries, builds a house and farm, raises a family, participates in his community and watches both his family and community grow and expand over the decades,” said St. Germain. “Knowing your family history is important because it can give you a strong sense of understanding of who you are and where you came from, that you are not alone. It can teach you humbleness and respect for how earlier generations survived and even thrived through difficult times. By saving and passing on your family history, you can have a positive impact not only upon yourself and your family, but also upon future generations of people you may never know.”
“I love the quote from Marcus Garvey, “St.Germain continued. “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Going forward, Carson says that he hopes to preserve the old homestead for future generations and urges folks who have not done so to dig into their own ancestry before their history — like the Matthew Carson homesite — is lost in the thickets of time.
“I don’t want the future generations to have to dig back like I had to,” Carson said. “If you haven’t researched you’re family archives or your ancestors then I encourage you to do it. I encourage people to sit around and talk and research their families. Go to these family reunions and sit down and talk with these people who are elderly and can tell you a whole lot.”
As of now, there is no set date for the release of the Carson family video, however, individuals can receive the most up-to-date information about this film and other Appalachian heritage pieces on the Appalachian Memory Keepers website at appalachianmemorykeepers.org/ or on social media at www.facebook.com/AppalachianMemoryKeepers.