“Shayda Vance grew up not thinking much of her last name. She had never lived in Western North Carolina, and although she knew some of her family hailed from Weaverville, her bloodlines were a bit of a mystery.
“Like many of the 42 million African-Americans living in the United States, part of her lineage is a web of unknown trades and transactions that started on the shores of West Africa and ended in 1870, when more than 240 years after their arrival in the American South, slaves were listed by name in a U.S. Census for the first time.
“Now researchers in North Carolina are working to add to those records by amassing a statewide index of slave deeds, inspired in part by Buncombe County’s work in unearthing records of sale in Western North Carolina….”
— From “Buncombe records unearth slave data, expansion planned” by Beth Walton in the Asheville Citizen-Times (Oct. 14)
On this day in 1938: John Early, referred to in newspapers as “the nation’s most famous leper,” dies at the federal leprosarium in Carville, La. Early, 64, was born near Weaverville. He contracted leprosy (later known as Hansen’s disease) while serving in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. On his return he was captured and quarantined — leprosy was widely feared, though only slightly contagious.
After the first of many escapes, he took refuge on a small farm near Tryon. Neighbors objected, however, and he admitted himself to the Carville leper colony, then operated by the Catholic Church. In 1921 he escaped to Washington, where he walked in on a startled congressional committee and spoke for a bill that would put the Carville facility under the U.S. Public Health Service. In large part because of his lobbying, the bill passed.
In 1927 Early again fled to Tryon. This time his neighbors petitioned the surgeon general to suspend the federal law mandating segregation of lepers and to let him live in isolation on his farm. Their effort failed, however, and Early was returned to Carville for the last time.
On this day in 1918: Concluding a rustic road trip that began nine days ago in Pittsburgh, inventor Thomas Edison, automaker Henry Ford, tiremaker Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs check into Asheville’s Grove Park Inn.
The celebrity nature-seekers, who camped in tents by the mountain roads, were delayed along the way by crowds of admirers. In Weaverville, Edison declined calls for a speech but answered the Asheville Citizen’s request for a comment on the world war: “Man’s foolishness. That’s all you can make out of it. Man is a fool.”