LEWIS WILSON 1842—1902: was fourth son of Hamilton and Katherine Ketner Wilson, was born Jan. 3 at the homestead near Vernon Church. With slavery almost unknown in the countryside due to the influence of the Quakers and Moravians who had moved into the countryside before the others and had set the social pattern, for a Christian life is what had brought their settling into existance. Any way, the Wilsons knew how to work and needed no black brawn to get it done. Any job related to the farm was handled without hesitation. During his youth there had been occasional visits between Hamilton’s family and his brother Big Watt Wilson at Yadkin College but the biggest event concerning these visits was during the winter of 1857 when Lewis had made such a visit alone on horseback and the Big Snow of that year fell. With the roads only rutted wagon tracks, sometimes bordered by rail fences and seven feet of snow blanketing the landscape, returning home was a big question. After some days of uneasiness the father sent son Watt, the pathfinder of the family, with extra horse in search of the lost. About the same time, Lewis had set out through the settling snow trying to reach home over that trackless twenty five miles. They met on the trail and without the extra horse for relief, both boys and possibly both horses might not have gotten through. They did not think they were particularly cold until their mother noticed that their ears had frozen. Yes the skin peeled off but there was a time of rejoicing when the weary wanderers came home. . . . Lewis with brother Matt enlisted for the duration in July 1862 and they were assigned to Company H of the fifteenth North Carolina Infantry. After a brief training at Pocateligo, S.C. and a bit of skirmishing about Kinston, Newbern and Weldon, the regiment was shipped to the defense of Richmond against McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. At New Bern the regiment was encamped at Fort Totten between the Neuse and Trent Rivers where they enjoyed the oysters and clams that were in abundance. This was a new life and a new diet for those hill billies whose fishing had been confined to South Fork and Muddy Creeks. Lewis also loved to relate, to his friends in after years, his encounter with a bear on night when he wandered too far from camp. He had seen the bear first, who was nosing under some leaves for food and Lewis thought it would be such fun to catch the young bear by the tail but had reasoned no father. When the bear felt the tug at his tail he issued such a roar that Lewis froze onto him and sent up a roar, himself, that aroused the camp and soldiers came running prepared to drive off a Yankee Regiment. Disappointment was in evidence when it was learned that all he wanted was someone to help him turn loose.
On leaving Fort Totten the regiment was moved by train to Virginia. This train of only flat cars had to serve as sleeping quarters as well as riding accommodations for the men. As it was crossing the Roanoke River at Weldon in the night, it had to halt on the trestle as freights so often do, when Uncle William Payne turned in his sleep and rolled off into the river. After much scrambling and language unfitted to respectable soldiers, he found himself on his feet and some of the soldiers in position to pull him out, he was a pitiful sight, wet to the gills and bedraggled with mud from the tip to toe, when one of the soldiers said “When did you wake up, Bill?” he said, “When I stracked the water hit waked me up.”
Lewis’ first baptism of fire came at Bristowe station, Virginia. A detachment of the Fifteenth under Captain Cook was resting on a slight elevation about nine in the morning when a troop of Yankee Calvary rode into range and fired. When the boys in prey returned the fire the Yanks fled in apparent confusion, for our boys pursued them and ran right into an ambush of Yankees infantry deployed along the railroad track with their loaded rifles resting right on the T irons. When the Yanks fired a volley into our ranks all fell to the ground. Many were killed or wounded. While Lewis was lying there among the dead and groaning waiting for instructions from the Captain, he heard a sound as of a loaping horse but on turning, he saw Captain Cook hauling tail out of there, and obeying that impulse to follow the leader, he did exactly that, but running away from an impossible predicament, he lived to circle around and re—attack the Yanks from behind and relieve the pressure on the others. But as he ran, Lewis said the Yankee bullets passed him saying “Zoop—zoop--Zoooop.” Other major engagements in which the Fifteenth participated included Reams Station, Drury’s Bluff, Seven Days, Seven Pines, Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Salem Church, Chancellorsville, Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, and Petersburg.
In April 1865 the Confederate Capitol was moved from Richmond to Danville. General Lee moved to get between the Capitol and Grant’s Army. Leaving one soldier to guard a front of trenches normally guarded by seven men, he slipped his army out of Petersburg at night and headed toward Lynchburg. Lewis was one of the rear guards that was to keep the Yankees back until the main army could get away, after which he was expendable. Mission accomplished, dawn brought heavy bombardment which usually meant a heavy thrust from the enemy in the course of minutes. Wanting to salvage something from the situation, himself, it did not take long to decide whether to stand up and be shot or trust the mercy of the Yankees. Picking up a piece of shirt left by a retreating soldier, be raised it above the parapet praying that the Yankees would read it as white and act accordingly. This was quickly answered by a Yankee on the parapet saying, “Surrender Johnnie”, his reply: “I do, O how I do.” “Come out Johnnie.” As soon as Lewis was above the trench on level ground the Yank put his arm about Lewis’ shoulder as he guided Lewis away saying, It is a good thing you surrendered, Johnnie for we had orders to march over you with five lines of battle promptly at nine o'clock. Would you like to see them?” Sure enough there were the five lines in battle formation. “Would you like to see General Grant?” There was the General mounted and reviewing his men for the battle that they did not fight that day. The Yankee had been from Indiana and whether he was one of our cousins whose parents left old Rowan to establish Rope, Richmond or New Salem, we will never know. Lewis was shipped to a prison camp in Penn. and later to Rock Island where the Yankees claimed the chow was much better than he had had in a long time so he was fattened for the parole.
Early summer 1865, the war was over, Lewis was among the few Confederate soldiers left alive to return and replenish the Southland. His soldier’s pay during the four years of fighting had been packed in a trunk in his father’s house but now this was all worthless. His father felt so badly in hoarding this money that he deeded Lewis the Mexico Hill tract which was a small hill south of Vernon Church past which the old stage highway skirted before crossing the creek and mounting Sodom Hill on its way to Lexington. There a log cabin was constructed where his wife Susan Payne and son Lewis Henry joined him, and for the next five years this hill was a growing and happy family. There daughters Phoebe Jane, Mary Ann and Addie were born but upon the death of Father Hamilton Wilson, Lewis built a new home on the edge of the sedge field adjoining the New Friendship Baptist Church and right at the intersection of the Old Lexington Road and the Barnes Road both of which road beds were constructed after the death of Lewis Wilson in 1902. A strong spring furnished cool water and here a spring house was built that kept the milk and butter as cool as a modern refrigerator does today. The house had been built of logs after the pattern of the Ketner House with front and rear porches the length of the house, a large white chimney at the east end and a two room shed on the west end. Later a two story ell toward the north completed the eight room house. About this time most of the children were grown another cabin was placed in the back yard that served as kitchen and dining room. The logs for this cabin had been taken from another house and it is believed that it was the old cabin on Mexico Hill. Here in the sedge field three more children were born: Samuel 9—15—1872; Sarah Belle 7—28-1875; Franklin 6—10—1878. Other buildings surrounding the homestead included a cow barn with attached sheds, a horse barn with a huge hay mow, corn crib, wheat bin, tool shed, fruit drying house, well house and a smoke house. Because of the nearness therto and friendly disposition of its members, the children began attending Sunday School at New Friendship Church. Here through a vigorous Bible study and good music the whole Wilson life became a part of the New Friendship Church. Father Lewis dug a well a hundred feet deep where the worshippers could have a cool drink of water for themselves and horses and when the new brick sanctuary was built in 1890 he gave the land on which it stood and became church sexton, the position he held for the remainder of his life. All the children, as they became old enough, sung in the Church Choir. Samuel and Frank in their turn were organist while Mother Sue taught a class of little girls. After Church services, many of the members would go by the Wilsons for water and to talk crops. The music room of the house would be full of young people singing or planning the music for next Sunday. Many summer Sundays some of those from the Church stayed for dinner and during the life of Lewis Wilson I have seen the long table on the south porch filled four times before all were served. Sunday might be a bigger occasion than wheat thrashing day.
Life on the farm during Lewis Wilson’s latter years had changed from that of Matthew Ketner or even Hamilton Wilson. The Railroad from Washington to Atlanta had bypassed this region but had put the stage coach out of business. Interstate travel had taken to other means and there was no staple crop to bring cash money into the community so each farmer offered the fruit his farm provided on the markets of Salem, Salisbury, Lexington and Greensboro. Apples, peaches, cherries, hay, grain, garden vegetables and even wild flowers went to market. . . .
Lewis sold water melons. A dime was all he got for his biggest melons but he prospered at it. Daily schedules on the farm were still of the pattern set by Grandpa Ketner but now a member of the family had to make the periodic trip to market with something to sell. In spring it was garden peas, cherries, and wild flowers; in summer it was green corn, Irish potatoes, beans, cucumbers, cabbage, squash and tomatoes; in fall it was sweet potatoes, peanuts, late corn and beans, apples and pears; in winter it was cord wood, hay, wheat, meat whutzels and schnitz (dried peaches and apples). After Spach Brothers built their wagon factory at Southside and J.I. Nissen built one at the Winston Depot, oak timber took on a new value so much that George Nissen opened another wagon factory in Waughtown. With the opening of a handle factory, hickory and ash were in demand. But nothing was as profitable as the raising of water melons and cantalopes and selling them on the curb.
Lewis Wilson acquired ample land about him to take care of his children’s needs upon his death in 1902. There was the Hamilton Wilson home site, the Payne farm a mile out the Cucumber Road, the Mexico Hill farm and some houses along Waughtown Street in Centerville, all in addition to the farm he worked about his home, from the Cucumber Road to Soakus Creek and from the David Shoaf place to Vernon Church. - Elbert Ezra Wilson