A Family Mystery: The Andrew Jackson Curtis Story

by | Feb 8, 2017 | Clay, Confederate

Submitted by: Jerry H. Padgett and Willis P. Whichard

Andrew Jackson Curtis was the first son of Madison and Sarah Curtis and the brother of our great-grandmother, Julia. He was the second child in a family of nine surviving children when the war started.

In the fall of 1861, at the age of 23, Andy joined an infantry company comprised of Clay County men. He mustered in as a sergeant and maintained that rank until the end of the War.

Andy fought in several battles, but was absent at least once without leave. He was reported “absent on sick furlough” from September through October 1863, perhaps leaving after the battle of Chickamauga, where his brother Joseph (Joe) was wounded. He was in Citronelle, Alabama on May 4, 1865 when Lieutenant General Richard Taylor surrendered all of the Confederate forces in the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana to Major General Richard Sprigg Canby. From there Andy was transported as a Union prisoner to Meridian, Mississippi, where he was paroled five days later.

Once Andy returned home, he found that both of his brothers had died — one in battle and one from disease — while serving the Confederacy. His sister, Elizabeth Curtis Coleman, had also died. Elizabeth had named her second son Andrew Jackson Coleman after his Uncle Andy; presumably, Andy was close to Elizabeth and to William Coleman, her husband.

On Nov. 4, 1867, Andy married Salina Padgett. The 1870 Census recorded “Andrew J. Curtis” and “Minivina S.” (Salina) living in a house separate from, but adjacent to that of his parents.

In 1874, Madison Curtis died, and Andy was named co-administrator of his father’s large estate. Two years later, his mother died. That year, 1876, he was elected a commissioner of Clay County. He held that position until 1878. However, between 1878 and 1880, his wife Salina died of unknown causes, and Andrew was mysteriously classified as a “lunatic.” The 1880 Census lists “Andrew J. Curtis, age 41, insane,” living with his sister, “Rebecca, age 28”and “Hansby McAfee.” The Census reported that Rebecca was “keeping house” and McAfee was working on Andy’s farm. (In February of 1882, before Andy died in October, his guardian paid McAfee $30 as “payment in full for all of the services heretofore rendered.”)

On June 22, 1880, Andrew Curtis was adjudged a lunatic by an inquisition before the Justices of the Peace for Clay County. Sanders Carter, who had married Andy’s sister, Martha, signed the petition to have him adjudged a lunatic. A year later, on July 7, 1881, Carter, appointed Andy’s guardian, paid $l12.55 in expenses from Andy’s assets for conveying him to the Asylum for the Insane, so it was within this time frame that Andy lost his freedom. County Sheriff J. P. Cherry and Carter accompanied Andy to the State Asylum in Raleigh. They traveled by train, and the fact that two men were required might suggest that there was some danger involved. This is interesting because if Andy were not dangerous to himself or his handlers, his extended family probably would have cared for him at home, following the customs of the day. Andy had a large extended family of married sisters, brothers, and cousins. It seems that efforts would have been made by his family to care for Andy at home if his insanity had been manageable.

It would not be hard to imagine a situation in which Andy suffered what is today called post-traumatic stress disorder. His war experiences, complicated by the reconstruction process in the South, would leave people in sound mind frustrated and confused. Andy might have been angered or embarrassed at having lost the war. Dealing with a culture totally different from that which he had fought to preserve, combined with a feeling of helplessness, would have been depressing. Plus, Andy was grieving the deaths of his wife, mother, father, two brothers, and sister. Mental illness was viewed as a family weakness during those times more so than today, and the family might have covered for many of Andy’s problems. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of a family full of siblings and cousins taking a sick soldier back into its arms with care and concern.

In October 1882, Andrew Jackson Curtis died at the young age of 42 in the North Carolina Asylum for the Insane. His family did not claim his body for burial beside his wife in Hayesville, and he was buried on the grounds of the asylum in what is now known as Dorothea Dix Hospital Cemetery. No records survive about his condition or treatment while at the asylum.

In 1991, a group of volunteers identified and marked the grave with a stone containing Andy’s name and date of death.

According to the documents on file in the N.C. State Archives, there was no administrator approved by the family or the courts for Andy’s estate. Sanders Carter, guardian (not administrator), functioned in that capacity from June 1880 until July 1884. Sanders reported that the worth of the estate was $1,247.81, with disbursements of $650.28 over the two-year period after Andy’s death. The amount distributed to heirs was $597.53. There are lists of farm animals, farming tools, harnesses, wagons, and personal items that Carter sold after Andy died. All of the records indicate that Andy Curtis was a landowner. When Carter was named guardian, one of his first acts was to ask permission to seek a tenant for Andy’s lands. Over the next few years, he kept meticulous records of every penny of income and expense. Yet, nowhere in the records did he mention the sale of land. When he made the final distributions to Andy’s heirs, there was no recorded distribution of land.

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