“True emancipation lies in the acceptance of the whole past…in facing up to the degradation as well as the dignity of my ancestors.” Pauli Murray
The recently published book, The Firebrand and the First Lady- Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Struggle for Social Justice by Patricia Bell-Scott was very favorably reviewed by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Time magazine among others. It is the story of Pauli Murray and her twenty-four year friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. Pauli Murray was a major figure in the civil rights and women’s rights movements of the mid twentieth century. She has been honored by Duke and UNC and she is a Saint in the Episcopal Church. What does that have to do with Galloway Ridge? A few yards south of the Arbor is an old stone wall which encloses a small cemetery with nine tombstones. A worn path leads to the entrance. Pauli Murray’s story doesn’t end in the cemetery, it begins there.
This historic cemetery was concealed by a deep forest until it was exposed when GR expanded south and closer to the cemetery. Resident John Row found it years earlier and began to clean it up. He cut trees, repaired the wall, straightened and supported the headstones, marked the boundaries and still maintains it. John also introduced resident Dr. H.G. Jones to the cemetery. Dr. Jones contacted UNC, the owner of the cemetery, and had them cut down several large overhanging trees. H.G. Jones is an award winning archivist who taught at UNC. In 2015 he published his excellent book, Miss Mary’s Money, which details the life and times of the Jones (no relation to H.G.) and Smith families. “It’s often very disturbing, and sometimes uplifting,” he says, “but I didn’t gloss over anything”.
All of the complexities and contradictions of the southern slave owning society of the 19th century came to bear on the lives of the family in the cemetery. Francis Jones (1760-1844), the patriarch, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and a major land owner in central North Carolina. Jones Grove Plantation was his crown jewel. The southern wing of the Arbor occupies the place where the plantation house once stood. Jones offered to donate part of the land for a college to be built at this location. He was turned down in favor of the small hamlet of Chapel Hill. Mary Parke Jones (1761-1811) was his wife and Ruffin Jones (1794-1836) was their unmarried son. Delia Jones (1787-1854) their daughter, married James Strudwick Smith (1787-1852) from Hillsborough in 1813.
Strudwick Smith was the illegitimate son of William Strudwick. The Strudwicks were a well-to-do family in Hillsborough and were prominent in the upper class of this important town. The Smith family lived nearby but was of a different social class. William Strudwick was seventeen years old and did not marry the mother of his child. Regarding his background Strudwick Smith later said, “Having been born poor, I have had to be the architect of my own future. I procured the means of advancement through my own labor.” Smith was aggressive and ambitious and, because of his blatant self-promotion and brash aggressive style, was unpopular among his colleagues. He studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and became a doctor in Hillsborough but his ambition took him far afield from the medical profession. He owned a general store, distilleries, a copper shop and a substantial amount of land, some of which was inherited from his father-in-law. He was active in the affairs of Hillsborough and served two terms in the US Congress from 1817 to 1821. He became a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina in 1821.
The Smith’s had three children. The oldest, Mary Ruffin Smith (1814-1885) was raised as a refined, educated southern lady of the time. Mary’s father acquired an enslaved fifteen-year-old girl named Harriet to be her personal servant. In the census records Harriet is identified as mulatto, a designation used for men and women of mixed race. Later she married Reuben Day, a freedman, and they had a son Julius, but they were not permitted to live together as a family. Maria Louisa Spear (1804-1881) was brought in to tutor Mary and they formed a friendship that lasted their entire lives. Maria is the only non-family member buried in the cemetery. The sons, Francis Jones “Frank” Smith (1816-1877) and James Sidney Smith (1819-1867) both attended the University of North Carolina. Frank also attended the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and, though he didn’t graduate, he became a doctor, like his father. James Sidney, who was called by his middle name, was high spirited and difficult. He became a well-known politician and lawyer. Sidney developed a serious drinking problem and eventually became known as a “drunkard” in the county.
According to the oral history as recorded by Pauli Murray in her family memoir, Proud Shoes, Sidney began to stalk Harriet who lived in a cabin away from the house in Hillsborough. Reuben, Harriet’s husband, was threatened by Sidney and disappeared from the area. Eventually Sidney went to Harriet’s cabin and assaulted her. Discovering this, Frank, who had his own designs on Harriet, severely beat his brother and left him bleeding on their front lawn. Harriet was pregnant by Sidney and Cornelia was born in 1844. She would become the grandmother of Pauli Murray. But the ordeal was not over for Harriet. Frank developed his own dominant relationship with her and over the next eight years Harriet had three children with Frank – Emma, Annette and Laura.
Strudwick Smith’s aggressive land speculations and other ill-fated business ventures finally caught up with him and he became mired in debt. He astutely sheltered most of his assets within his family before declaring bankruptcy in 1845. The Smiths all lived in Hillsborough but, even in the midst of the bankruptcy and the suits and counter suits, they built a large house at Price Creek Plantation. In 1847 they moved to the new house which they called “Oakland.” It still stands nearby behind a black iron fence on Smith Level Road. They all lived in the house.
Mary raised all four of her brothers’ children as family members in the houses in Hillsborough and Price Creek. Harriet, their mother, continued to be a servant in the house. Mary provided the children with a modest education and every Sunday morning Mary, Miss Spear and the girls would ride to the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill in her beautiful white carriage. The mixed race children sat upstairs in the balcony while Mary and Miss Spear sat in the Smith pew. The children would all be baptized in this church.
So the entire dysfunctional family lived at “Oakland”: Strudwick Smith now mentally and physically incapacitated due to the strain of the bankruptcy; Delia, his wife, worn out from the family misadventures; Frank, the lecherous and now part time doctor who continued his bitterness toward his brother; and the drunkard lawyer-politician Sidney. Mary’s four nieces also lived in the house as family members. Strudwick Smith died in 1852 and Delia in 1854. Both were buried in a small cemetery at Price Creek. The Smith siblings were now one of the wealthiest families in the area. In her book Pauli Murray wrote that Sidney “brooded his life away.” He died in 1867 at the age of 48. He was also buried at Price Creek. Harriet, now free, lived in a cabin near Price Creek. In August 1872 she was struck by lightning while in her cabin and was paralyzed. She became an invalid and Mary provided tender, loving personal care daily until Harriet died in September 1873. Frank Smith spent much of his time in a two room cabin on the Price Creek property. He died in 1877 at the age of 61 from, according to Mary’s friend, Kemp Battle, “a lingering disease passing through violent insanity to death.” Mary had him buried in the Jones Grove cemetery. She also made plans for her burial there and her friend Maria Louisa Spear agreed to do the same.
Mary Ruffin Smith emerged as the savior of the beleaguered family name and now controlled all of the property that the family held. Her four nieces, now legally free, remained in the house with her. Maria Spear finally moved in permanently. Her nieces were courted under Mary’s watchful eye and eventually married – Emma to Henry Morphis a farmer, Annette to farmer Edward Kirby, and Laura to Gray Toole, a barber. Cornelia, the oldest, married Robert Fitzgerald a freedman from the North in 1869. He was a Civil War veteran of the Union Army’s 5th Massachusetts Colored Regiment. He had served at the siege of Petersburg, Virginia. He was educated and moved to the south to help teach the newly freed slaves. He would become Pauli Murray’s grandfather. Maria Spear, in apparent good health, died in her sleep at “Oakland” in 1881. Mary confided to a friend, “I am alone in this world….I miss her too much.”
Mary Ruffin Smith died quietly at “Oakland” on November 13, 1885 at the age of 71. During her final illness she had been attended to by her nieces, Emma and Annette. She was described in a newspaper story as “a lady of uncommon strength of mind, lofty character, large charity, unaffected piety and earnest Christian life.” A large gathering of friends assembled at “Oakland” to pay their respects. Then a long procession of carriages escorted the hearse to the burying ground at Jones Grove. Kemp Battle, the President of the struggling post-Civil War University of North Carolina, which was closed from 1871-1875, was one of Mary’s closest friends and advisors. He was the executor of her estate. He had an impressive granite marker with a large cross placed at her grave. A three foot stone wall with an iron gate was built to surround all of the graves. Mary requested that her parents, Strudwick and Delia Smith and her brother Sidney be reburied in the cemetery and Kemp Battle had this done. In her will Mary gave her nieces – Emma, Annette and Laura – 100 acres each, cut from the Jones Grove Plantation land. From the Price Creek land, Julius, Harriet’s son, received 25 acres and Cornelia 100 acres. The remainder of Price Creek, about 1,500 acres, was willed to the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. The University of North Carolina was given the Jones Grove property, about 1,400 acres, to be used for scholarships and other uses. Galloway Ridge is on this land. It was the largest gift ever given to the University up to that time. Mary Ruffin Smith is honored with a plaque just inside the main entrance to Memorial Hall at UNC. It is directly across the lobby from a plaque honoring the service of Kemp Battle.
Now that you know the story, perhaps you will look at these nine tombstones differently. They represent real people with real flaws and real virtues who once occupied this land. Pauli Murray’s life would bring their story full circle back to this cemetery.
Written by Galloway Ridge resident Mike Zbailey, May 2016.