AUTHOR: Amelia R. Phillips (edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter)
I am happy to share these stories and appreciate your willingness to help ensure that they aren’t lost to time and poor memory. I am not accustomed to writing these stories down: They have always been a part of our oral tradition—told to us as bedtime stories instead of the usual fairy tales. Here’s one such family story:
William Wesley Wakester [also spelled Wacaster in some records] had a daughter named Martha, and she married William Haney, who also served in the 49th Infantry (N.C.), like his father-in-law. (Wesley also has his own story in this collection entitled “An Oral History of Assumed Desertion.”)
At some point, there were members of the 49th who were changing into Union uniforms and raiding farms to the south. Haney found out, and some of the soldiers tried to coerce him into joining them. When he refused, they kidnapped his wife, Martha, in an attempt to gain his compliance. Martha was smart, capable, and fortunate, and she managed to escape.
Having had enough, Haney joined the Union and did not return home until well after the war ended. After Haney was released from the Union Army, he made his way home to North Carolina. According to family lure, when he returned home long after the war had officially ended, he was riding a mule. As a child I would ask if the mule made him take so long, which would make my grandma giggle and say, “no.” I was less than six years old.
Unfortunately, this did not end here. A relative of his saw him coming into town as he returned and started teasing him. He picked up a rock and threw it at the young fellow, striking him in just the right spot to kill him. So, the day he returned was the day he went on the run, taking his family with him and changing their surname from Haney to Brooks. To this day, some of their descendants go by Brooks and others by Haney.
And for the sake of future researchers, I will also add that they ran to Henderson County, North Carolina, to Walter Watson “Waddie” Williams’ house, which was where Union Hill Road is now, near Dana, North Carolina. Waddie Williams was Martha’s great-uncle, her father’s—Wesley’s—uncle (his mother was Mary Ann Williams Wacaster). In fact, on the 1870 census (helps determine dates) the residence of Walter Williams includes a twenty-one-year-old male named E. C. Taylor, and in the space for an occupation, Ancestry transcribers claim that it states, “Exhibiting deception.” That man was my great-great-grandfather, John Franklin Wakester, who had run with the Haney family. He was sixteen years old, and even though they were supposed to be hiding, he had followed a pretty girl down the road to the Stepp farm. She was Fannie A. Wright (her mother was a Stepp), and when he returned the census taker was there. The rest of the family hid, but he was caught, so he lied and, apparently, not very well. It worked out because he married Fannie later.
The Haney family successfully got away and ended up in Cocke County, Tennessee, where some of them appear on the Census for 1870. After some time passed, they returned to the Carolinas, some to North Carolina and others, South.
Reading over this it occurs to me that you might wonder why they ran to Walter “Waddie” Williams, so let me tell you his story as well:
He married Amelia “Milly” Green, and she was given two enslaved individuals as a wedding gift, who he promptly made Milly free because married women were not allowed to own property. Waddie Williams was a Union sympathizer and was almost hanged by his neighbors. He was also paid by the Union Army for two horses, and I believe that that is documented. It was also said that he and his sons turned Confederate deserters over to the Union Army; then, they could either fight for the Union or go to prison. Now, what was his property is called Union Hill.
I have been trying to research this family wondering if they may have been part of the underground railroad. The mountains lead to the Ohio River Valley, which was an area well-traveled by many people who had escaped slavery and were searching for a place to live freely. The Williams knew the area, didn’t believe in slavery, actively worked for the Union, knew how to sneak people out, and had a place large enough to hide a whole family.
At the time and place that I was told these stories that would have been omitted. As are many of our ancestors’ stories, these are rather complicated narratives, and there’s so much more to learn from them.
The compiled Confederate military record of William Haney described him as an eighteen-year-old McDowell County native, who was a farmer residing in Yancey County, North Carolina, when he enlisted at McDowell County on March 1, 1862. A month and a half later, on April 15, 1862, he mustered into Company A of the 49th Infantry (North Carolina). He was recorded as having deserted his company on Aug. 15, 1862. (Source: North Carolina Troops 1861-65, A Roster)
On April 12, 1864, William Haney enlisted in the Union Army in Nashville, Tennessee. Haney served in Company H of the 10th Cavalry, Tennessee. According to his records, in March 1865, he fell ill and was hospitalized at Nanchez, Mississippi, and did not return to serve with his regiment again afterward. He was mustered out in August 1865.(Source: Index to Compiled Military Service Records and Fold3)
Re: the 1870 Henderson County Census Transcription: I read “Exhibiting Sceoptican views” [Maybe that second word is meant to be skeptical? I’m not sure, but the first letter definitely looks like an “S” to me]. (Source: 1870 Federal Census, Henderson County, North Carolina)
Re: Walter “Waddie” Williams being paid by the Union for horses: This is accurate. The petition was recorded in the Consolidated Index of Claims Reported by the Commissioners of Claims to the House of Representatives from 1871 to 1880, which is available online.