AUTHOR: Dallas R Reese Jr. (edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter)
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber. (Psalms 121:1-2)
My great-great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Bathsheba Nicholson Norton, was a fiercely strong, independent woman who was born on January 31, 1788 in the Ninety-Sixth District (Pickens) of South Carolina, where her parents, William Nicholson and Martha Richardson Nicholson, were some of the first European settlers. She was tough as nails and sharp as a tack. Her great-grandson (and my 2nd cousin), Thomas Picklesimer, said as much. Thomas was born in 1907 and lived to be 100 years old. He relayed many tales of our North Carolina Norton family that had been passed down from his mother, Effie Alley Picklesimer (a granddaughter of Mary Bathsheba Nicholson Norton), and his grandmother, Sarah Whiteside Norton Alley (daughter of Mary Bathsheba Nicholson Norton). Sarah Whiteside Norton was named after Whiteside Mountain in Jackson County, N.C. Thomas Picklesimer was a major source of information about our Norton ancestors. Many thanks to Thomas for sharing his knowledge and the history of the Norton family, who were the first settlers in the Whiteside Cove area of then Macon County, North Carolina, in the early 1820s.
I find it interesting that Mary was named Bathsheba because the life of the biblical Bathsheba bore no resemblance to that of Mary Bathsheba Nicholson Norton. If you’re not familiar with the story of Bathsheba from the Bible, here’s a refresher: The prophet Samuel told this story of Bathsheba, the wife of the soldier Uriah: While innocently bathing one day, Bathsheba was seen by a passerby—David, a rich man and the King of Israel. David immediately lusted after Bathsheba. His obsession became so great he was willing to go to any length to have her. And have her he did. He impregnated her, while Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was away at war. David then had Uriah sent to the front lines so he would be killed. After Uriah’s death in battle, David married Bathsheba, and she had their baby. In this story, David’s character flaws are apparent, and Bathsheba is without fault.
I don’t know why Mary Bathsheba Nicholson’s parents gave her that name, but suffice to say, it didn’t fit Mary. Mary was not dainty, nor did she possess great beauty or wealth like Bathsheba did. But Mary did possess great strength, resourcefulness, simplicity, thriftiness, common sense, and an understanding of how to survive, even under the harshest conditions. She was as strong as nails, both mentally and physically.
Mary had a simple, hardscrabble existence carved by life in the Blue Ridge backwoods of upper South Carolina and southwestern North Carolina. She was married at the age of 16, on January 10, 1805, to Barak P. Norton in South Carolina. Her relationship with her husband Barak Norton was born of love and friendship, and they remained together until his death in 1869. This venerable woman raised seven sons and five daughters.
For a little over two decades, the family worked, lived, and prayed together in the Tamassee area of South Carolina. But wanderlust took hold, probably stirred up by the view Mary & Barak had each morning of Wildcat Cliffs and the great Whiteside Mountain, which were eight miles north in the distance, across the state line in North Carolina.
So, the family packed up and left South Carolina in 1827 and came to the wild backwoods of North Carolina, settling beneath the foot of Whiteside Mountain (now Whiteside Cove, Jackson County, N.C.). They were the first non-native settlers in the Cashiers area. The Cherokee Indians helped them learn the area. Barak worked the fields, grew crops, and furiously panned for gold in the area where the Main St. of Cashiers, North Carolina, is now. He never found gold but had plenty of land to farm. The State of North Carolina granted them 640 acres of the land beneath Whiteside, which is now the Norton community, named for Mary and Barak, who were the first settlers there. North Carolina also granted Barak and Mary 50 acres that covered what is now the downtown section of Cashiers.
Mary and Barak suffered many trials and tribulations in their lives, as did most Western North Carolina Mountain families of the 18th and 19th centuries. Life was roughhewn, focused on survival with few comforts. Three of Mary’s sons, Confederate soldiers all, were killed in battle. Her son, Richardson Norton, was killed on Dec. 13, 1862 while defending Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg Virginia. Two of Mary’s other sons returned home after the Civil War ended.
In the Southern Appalachian Mountains, no character was more loved or despised than Union officer George W. Kirk. He led a group of men on numerous raids between Tennessee and North Carolina in the 1860s, committing acts of brutality even after the war ended. The youngest of Mary’s sons, Edward “Ned” Norton, was brutally murdered by Kirk’s gang at his own home at Whiteside Cove in the presence of his wife and children. This happened on May 1, 1865, almost a full month after the Civil War had ended. Kirk and his men almost killed another of Mary’s sons, Rodric, and her son-in-law, Colonel John Alley, who was the husband of Sarah Whiteside Norton Alley. As luck or Providence would have it, they escaped with their lives.
John Preston Arthur, a lawyer turned writer of Ashville, North Carolina, retired from the law around 1898, and not long thereafter, began researching and writing an expansive history of Western North Carolina. He interviewed many citizens across Jackson and Macon Counties, and in this volume stated, “It was the women who were the true heroines of this section. The hardships and constant toil to which they were generally subjected were blighting and exacting in the extreme.” Edgar Stillwell, another writer and historian who was employed by the Cullowhee N.C. Dept. of History (at Western Carolina University) in the early 1900s, added, “[A]t last, tired and worn out with the long day’s duties, [they fell] on the bed for a well-earned night’s repose, which was often broken by the cries of a sick baby or the return of some male member of the family late in the night. Thus, these mountain women served from day to day; thus, they labored without honor, often with little reward, and always unselfishly. Heroines indeed they were.”
In Western North Carolina: A History, 1730–1913, Arthur also noted, “It is a well authenticated fact that Mrs. Mary Norton, then living in Cashier’s Valley, was awakened one night while her husband Barak was away from home by hearing a great commotion and the squealing of hogs at the hog-pen nearby. Her children were small and there was no ‘man pusson’ about the place. The night was cold, and she had no time to clothe herself, but, rushing from the cabin in her night dress and with bare feet, she snatched an axe from the wood-pile, and hastening to the hog-pen, saw a large black bear in the act of killing one of her pet ‘fattening hogs.’ She did not hesitate an instant, but went on and aiming a well-directed blow at Bruin’s cranium, split it from ears to chin and so had bear meat for breakfast instead of furnishing pork for the daring marauder.” Thus, Mary Bathsheba Nicholson Norton felled a bear with just an ax as David slew Goliath with a stone. Now that is a strong woman. This story was also authenticated by her great-grandson, Thomas Picklesimer.
Mary’s husband, Barak Norton, died in 1869 at the age of 92, but Mary lived on ‘til March 28, 1883. She never required the services of a doctor until she was 94 years old. She possessed remarkable strength and physical immunity for that day and age. Some people attributed that to her living in the mountains and that hardscrabble existence she and Barak carved out together. Mary died two months after her 95th birthday and is buried in the Norton family cemetery in Norton, N.C. Mary Norton died near the place she had lived approximately 56 years of her long life. Her final words before she died were “Glory, Glory, Glory.”
My direct line to Grandmother Norton runs through my paternal grandmother, Myrtle Cora Henderson Reese. Myrtle’s father was Deck Henderson. Deck’s mother was Octavia Norton Henderson. Octavia’s parents were Rodric and Dreusilla Norton, and Rodric’s parents were Mary Bathsheba and Barak P. Norton.
Obituary for Mary Bathsheba Nicholson Norton. (April 5, 1883). The Blue Ridge Enterprise.
Arthur, John P. (1914) Western North Carolina: A history, 1730–1913. Edward Buncombe Daughters of the American Revolution: Asheville, N.C.
Picklesimer, Thomas E. (1981) My Life and Times. Jackson County, N.C. Self-Published.
My Great-Aunt, Alma Henderson Keener. Jackson County, N.C. Family genealogy research complied over the past 100 years.
Family Bibles/Census Records/Land/Tax N.C. Records/Family’s Oral Traditions
Cemetery Records. Norton Cemetery, Jackson County N.C.
Dallas Reese Norton Family Research at NC State Archives. Raleigh, N.C.