Archive for December, 2016

Thomas McGehee Moore: First Mayor of Asheboro?

December 30, 2016
Signature of Thomas M. Moore

Signature of Thomas M. Moore

[I apologize for not posting here since I began at the Randolph Room, but I’ve been busy. Case in point: in August the City of Asheboro asked the library to provide biographies of all of the Mayors of Asheboro. Ross Holt and I actually found two names which had previously been overlooked in former histories, and I compiled this biography of the man who was probably the town’s first mayor, although he had been virtually lost and ignored.]

Thomas McGehee Moore (8 Aug 1806 – ca. 1881)

Probably served as Mayor from 1869-1877

The History of Asheboro (written in 1938 by Mrs. W.C. Hammer and Miss Massa Lambert for insertion into the cornerstone of the new Asheboro City Hall), says “The first mayor of Asheboro, holding office probably in the 1860s or 1870s was Col. Moore. It seems the town got along without a mayor before that time.” (p11) The Rev. J. Frank Burkhead agrees, saying in several of his published reminiscences that “Col. Moore was the first mayor of the City” [The Courier, April 3, 1936.] He also tells the story of Peter Page, a friend and fellow student who made up the doggerel verses “Colonel Moore is the mayor of our town; he keeps things in order by walking around. Mr. Frazier is a very busy man; he goes to the post office whenever he can.” [Rufus Frazier being the headmaster of the Asheboro Male Academy at the time. From The Courier, 1937 and The Tribune, 1938– undated clippings in Mrs. Worth scrapbook].
Though incorporated by the legislature in 1792 there were apparently no elections held and no city government to speak of before 1855, when the General Assembly authorized the election of five town commissioners, and in 1861 established a framework for municipal government. The Mayor was not separately elected, but was chosen by the town commissioners from among their number.
When the 1835 courthouse was demolished in 1914, two different letters signed by “Thomas McGhee Moore, Justice of the Peace” were discovered which had been inserted into the cornerstone of the 1876 entrance pavilion. The editor’s note when these letters were published said that
“Col. Thomas McGehee Moore was a prominent figure in Asheboro for many years, and his memory is revered by many of our older citizens who recall his familiar figure upon the streets, and remember him as the foremost Justice of the Peace of his time.
“He was a cultivated, polished man, a gentleman of the old school, being closely connected with the Mumfort and McGehee families of Person and Caswell counties, prominent and wealthy citizens in the old days.
“Col. Moore lived, with his son Frank, for many years in a residence then across the street and opposite the present residence of Mrs. M.S. Robins. He was entrusted with the drawing up of many of the most important contracts, deeds, mortgages, etc., during his day and time. He was well posted in the law, and wrote a most attractive hand, his work being much in demand in those days long before the general introduction of the typewriter.” [The Courier, 30 April 1914.]
Thomas M. Moore was born in Caswell County, one of ten children of Capt. Robert B. Moore (1752-1816) and Elizabeth McGehee (1769-1852). [Daniel Moore family tree, ancestry.com] On January 13, 1841 he married Elizabeth Hoover, the daughter of the then-Sheriff of Randoph County. “General” George Hoover (c. 1795- 28 May 1842) was a former commander of the county militia regiments who represented the county in the state legislature, 1823-1825. The General and his wife, Nancy York Hoover (c. 1805- 23 March 1863) were the proprietors of Asheboro’s most prominent hotel, the Hoover House, situated at the northwest corner of the Courthouse Square. When the county built a new brick courthouse in 1830, it sold the old wooden courthouse to General Hoover, who moved it across the street and added it to his existing hotel. The string of buildings comprising the General’s family home, boarding house, dining hall and corner barroom added up to the Town’s common name for the inn, “the Hoover Long House.” Hoover served as Sheriff from 1827 to his death in 1840.
Moore seems to have been successful and relatively wealthy during the early part of his life, but by the 1860s seems to have experienced a decline in his fortunes. An anonymous writer stated in that “Across the street west of M.S.Robins lives Thomas Moore; I remember him as a man having a business capacity, in appearance; but I don’t now call to mind his vocation in life. He was a son-in-law of General Hoover, who kept the hotel.” [“Randolph,” “Asheboro Fifty Years Ago,” The Courier 1901.] The earliest records of Hoover’s new son-in-law call him a “merchant.” [The Southern Business Directory (Charleston, 1854), p 391] The source of his title “Colonel,” may have been from early militia service, or it may have been a honorific title related to his service as a Justice of the Peace. A number of Randolph county wedding announcements published in newspapers all over the state during the 1850s list “Thomas M. Moore, J.P.” as the magistrate performing the wedding.
Moore was also a well-known Whig politician, serving as secretary of the Whig State convention in 1854 [2-21-1854] and the county convention of 1860 [The Patriot, GSO, 25 May 1860]. His father-in-law, however, was a well-known Democrat. “General Hoover and A.S. Crowson were the only Democrats in Asheboro,” wrote Peter Dicks Swaim about growing up in the town in the 1840s. [published in the Courier May 11, 1880 and republished October 4, 1951.] Moore was also one of the officers of the local “Good Shepherd Lodge of Good Templars,” a temperance organization. [The Patriot, GSO, 12 Nov 1873].
Moore and his wife Elizabeth had four children who survived to adulthood, three sons and a daughter. The census of 1860 describes Moore as a “retired merchant,” but he was evidently also a widower, as Elizabeth Hoover Moore is not listed. She may have died in childbirth, as her youngest son was born in 1858.
As with many Randolph County Unionists, Thomas Moore was caught in an inescapable situation by the war. When it was over, amnesty was offered to most soldiers and citizens of the Confederate States, but “office-holders” were exempted. This left Moore in a precarious state, as he had come to depend on the income from minor government positions. His application for a Presidential Pardon, filed July 3, 1865, states that-
“He was always before the war commenced opposed to secession. He [was?] both opposed to the [utmost?] of his influence and by his vote [to] the calling of a convention for that purpose in February 1861, nor did his opposition to it cease till by the action of the convention of the state in May 1861, the state was carried out of the Union without any [agreement?] of his, and contrary to his most ardent wishes; but then notwithstanding he regarded it as fraught with the most serious consequences to the people. He felt himself compelled to acquiesce to the actions of his state; but would at any and all times, have been pleased to have seen the Union reconstructed upon honorable terms.
“He is aged 58 years, and a poor man, and found great difficulty in supporting himself and family in the condition of things brought about by the rebellion till in July, 1862, when the office of tax assessor for his county was, at the instance of friends compassionate [to] his situation, tendered him by the authorities of the so-called Confederate States, which he, for the reasons before mentioned, accepted and continued to perform till the surrender of Gen. Johnson’s army last spring; but he performed the duties in a manner as little onerous and oppressive to the citizens as possible.”
[Case file of Applications from Candidates for Presidential Pardons (“Amnesty Papers”), 1863-67. The National Archives, Record Group 94, Cat# 656621, Roll 41.]
Nowhere in Moore’s application does he reveal that, despite what may have been his personal opposition to secession, he had lost both of his oldest sons to the war. When war broke out in 1861, his 19-year-old son George H. Moore son was living and working as a carpenter among his Hoover relatives in Thomasville. George Moore joined Company B of the 14th NC Regiment, the “Thomasville Rifles,” on April 23, 1861. On the 1st of December 1861 his younger brother Robert A. Moore joined the same company at their camp in Fort Bee, Virginia. George Moore was killed in action at Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 12, 1864. Robert Moore, who was promoted to Sergeant a month before his brother’s death, was “killed on picket” on the North Anna River less than 2 weeks after his brother.
Immediately after the war Moore spent a considerable amount of time working with his brother-in-law Benjamin F. Hoover (1818-1884), a lawyer and Clerk of Court, in straightening out the estate of his mother-in-law Nancy York Hoover, who died during the war. Mrs. Hoover owned not only the hotel, but a lot of real property on the west side of Asheboro (what’s now Church and Hoover streets). Most of her personal property had been in 13 enslaved people, whose value in 1863 declined 100% by 1865. Moore’s wife’s portion of the estate would have passed to her 4 children, sadly reduced by 1865 to two children. Moore only began administration of his wife’s estate in 1868 in connection with administration of the estates of Nancy Hoover and his sons.
That may have provided a dowry of some kind for his daughter Elizabeth Cornelia Moore (28 June 1846 – 13 April 1882), who married Richard Simpson Smith of Guilford County on October 31, 1872. His only surviving son, Benjamin Franklin Moore (1858- ?) is something of a mystery. One reference to him is from one of his father’s cornerstone letters, which states that the 1835 courthouse “was covered in tin this year and painted by Benjamin F. Moore.” [The Courier, 4-30-1914] The 1880 census says that the 22-year-old “works in a buggy shop.” His contemporaries seemed to remember him with a lingering air of sadness. Writing many years later, Mrs. James (Nannie Steed) Winningham wrote that “Col. Moore lived opposite the Marsh place, and after his daughter Cornelia married and went elsewhere to live, he and his son Frank(“Bud”), continued to live there and everyone who lived in Asheboro then will remember good-hearted, unfortunate “Bud” Moore.” [The Courier, 3 Sept. 1931 and manuscript copy in the Randolph Room.]
Thomas Moore’s personal popularity continued to provide him with public work that helped support his family, but often with some unexpected reversal. In 1865-68 he served as Register of Deeds, then as now an elected position. [NC Business Directory for 1867-68, p. 93] He lost that job, as did Governor Jonathan Worth, in a Republican landslide after all 1865 elections were voided by the Military Governor of North Carolina, Ben Butler.
The published financial accounts of the 1876 Randolph County Board of Commissioners list Thomas M. Moore as the “County Ranger,” the official charged with taking stray animals into custody (similar to a dogcatcher, but all livestock ran loose in those times before fencing) [Randolph Regulator, Sept. 27, 1876]. Earlier that same year he had been elected as one of the first three Justices of the Peace for the newly-created Asheboro Township. Before the Constitution of 1868, Justices of the Peace had been appointed by the Governor; afterwards they were elected by township. Randolph County was divided into 16 equally-sized townships in 1868, a survey which put the town of Asheboro in the far northeast corner of Cedar Grove Township. Democrats alleged that this was the result of a plan by the Republicans in control of state government to minimize the voting power of the county seat, which could be expected to vote “Conservative” Party (Southern Democrats didn’t regain the use of their pre-war name until after the presidential election of 1876). Protests resulted in 1876 in the creation of a new 17th township for Asheboro, carved out of parts of Franklinville, Grant, Cedar Grove and Back Creek. David W. Porter and R.M. Free, a Republican, were elected JPs with the Democrat Moore in that first election.
Thomas McGehee Moore evidently died in the fall of 1881, survived by his daughter Cornelia and his son Benjamin. [Application for Letters of Administration by George S. Bradshaw, Public Administrator, 17 December 1881] His wife’s tombstone in the Asheboro City Cemetery is simply titled, “Elizabeth, Consort of T.M. Moore.” She is buried beside a child who died in infancy, and one would expect her husband and parents and perhaps her youngest son to be buried around her. But no markers of any kind are known for General George Hoover, Nancy York Hoover, or Thomas McGehee Moore.

[My biggest surprise in this research was in discovering that both of Moore’s adult sons had died in the War.  Yet more evidence of the devastating impact that the war had on the next generation of leadership in Randolph County- virtually every family in a position of power lost a son or sons.

My current research project: the Sheriff wants biographies of all of the former sheriffs!  I’ve already found one not on that list, too.]

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