Ethnic Heritage History of MHU

This history script is for MHARS Friends Group Review1


During MHC’s first ten years, 1856-1865, its Ethnic Heritage history is a mixed ethnic story. Of the twenty-two known Founding Families, fifteen had no slaves; five families had domestic slaves, one, two or three; while two Founding Families had more: Henry Ray was the largest enslaver in Yancey County, while the J. W. Anderson family of Madison County enslaved ten, whose chattel included the young Joe Anderson family. Joe was the individual for whom the Rosenwald School was named.2


Anderson’s slave Joe was taken in 1859 as collateral on the college debt to the contractors who erected the first building.3 Finally, a Madison County court order cut the debt from $3,000 to $1,100 because of poor workmanship. The Buncombe County Sheriff, with the contractors, levied against J.W. Anderson, taking Joe to jail in Asheville, until the debt was paid.4

Eleven of the Trustees met in the college building to deal with the crises. John Ammons, son of Trustee Stephen Ammons was present for the meeting, as recorded in his history book in 1907: “with their faces in their hands.”5 They agreed to share the debt equally between them, which would save Joe from a slave-block-sale, and return him to his young family in Mars Hill, that being accomplished in a few days. Two Trustees rode horseback, a three day trip, to Spartanburg, SC and Statesville, NC to borrow each his $100 dollars.6

For these Trustees, it was not just a financial crises for MHC and enslaver Anderson, but a moral judgement and decision for themselves.


“The Rev. Thomas Jefferson Rollins left SC to Mars Hill in protest against slavery, his having witnessed a young Negro girl being cruelly whipped. Seeing her lacerated back, he swore he would no longer live in a place where such conditions existed!”7

Another reason the Rev. Rollins family moved to Mars Hill was that they and their SC Baptist church members had enjoyed fellowship with most of the mountain Baptist families who would later found MHC in 1856. They belonged to the Big Ivy Baptist Association of Churches, 1827-1849.8 Those MHC Founding Churches were the Middle Fork church; the Liberty Church of Big Ivy; the Gabriel’s Creek Church; and the Fork of Ivy Church.9

In 1827, the French Broad Baptist Association of Churches was ripped asunder when the Rev. Garrett Deweese, pastor of Middle Fork Baptist

Church, was expelled from the Association because he preached the doctrine of Free Salvation, not just for the Elect, and the Autonomy of the Individual Believer, as well as the Elect. Deweese led in organizing the Big Ivy Baptist Association of Churches. His Middle Fork Church followed him, as did six other churches. During the next two decades, the Association grew to twenty-five churches.10

The division between the two Associations was settled in 1849, when the Big Ivy Baptist Association’s Article of Faith, “Autonomy of the Individual” was accepted.11

While living in Mars Hill, the Rev. Rollins’ son, Pinkney Rollins married Hester Deaver, daughter of Trustee Thomas Shepherd Deaver, who also abhorred slavery; thus, joining two strong Union families.12 Soon after, Pinkney Rollins became president of Mars Hill College in 1861.13


When the Civil War broke out, the Greater Mars Hill Area was divided between the two causes, forcing the college to close. During the War, Confederate soldiers were headquartered in the college buildings, until the Union soldiers came in and burned two of the three college buildings.14


After the War, during Reconstruction, outlaws from both sides, North and South, continued the War’s devastation, casting neighbor against neighbor, and brother against brother, leading to what became the Ku Klux War!”15 A nearby mountain was named the Ku Klux Mountain, located by Walker Branch on Paint Fork of Little Ivy in Madison County, as a result of the KKK’s lingering influence in the area.16

Trustee Thomas Shepherd Deaver organized the Union League in the college building to protect the freed Blacks and the returning Union soldiers.17 The KKK saw Deaver as a traitor and attacked him and the Union League, threating his person, his family, his home, and his mills at the Forks of Ivy. Finally, his mills were burned in 1868.18


  1. Richard Dillingham, Copyright, June 19, 2021;
  2. 1860 Federal Census Slave Schedules, Madison/Yancey Counties, NC; Madison County Board of Education Minutes, 1958;
  3. John Angus McLeod, From These Stones, “John Robert Sams’ History,” p. 19, 1968; Edward Jennings Carter, “A History of Mars Hill College,” M.A Thesis, UNC Chapel Hill, MHU Archives, p. 8, 1940;
  4. Madison County Court Records, 1859; Steve D. Chandler, “The Story of Joe Anderson Revisited,” a Senior History Thesis, MHC, pp. 8-11, MHU Archives; McLeod, p. 21;
  5. John Ammons, “Outlines of History of French Broad Baptist Association and Mars Hill College,” p. 89. 1907;
  6. McLeod, p. 19;
  7. Ibid., p. 68;
  8. Ammons, “Ministers;” Big Ivy Baptist Association Minutes and Liberty Baptist Church Minutes, 1830s/1840s, Baptist Collections, MHU Archives;
  9. McLeod, p. 68; Richard Dillingham, “MHC Beginnings: History Briefs, Connecting the Dots to Founders and Churches, pp. 10-16, 2007;
  10. Ammons, p. 13; Garrett Dewees Dialogue, 1827, Baptist Collections, MHU Archives;
  11. Ammons, p. 16;
  12. McLeod, p. 61;
  13. Ibid., p. 49;
  14. Ibid., p.68;
  15. Ibid., pp. 88-89;
  16. Map of Madison County, NC by T.V.A., 1934, Research by Dr. David Gilbert; 17. Dillingham, History of Forks of Ivy, 2013;
  17. Dan Slagle, Research: “Thomas Shepherd Deaver vs. James A. Keith,” Buncombe County Court Records, 1868-1876.