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102 years of living

By Missy Schenck and Bruce Holliday

Hortense and Frederica Potts. Images courtesy of Hortense Potts.

Foreword by Bruce Holliday

As I stepped into the small Oakland Cemetery on the easternmost edge of Flat Rock, I could see her recent grave still adorned with memorial flowers. It was a cool, gray Saturday morning and the only sounds were the birds chirping in trees that border the modest cemetery on three sides. The grass was wet. The red clay, unearthed to prepare for her internment, was still visible around the gravesite.

I’d come to this hallowed ground to pay my respects to a woman I’d never met. To honor and reflect on a woman whose life was more intricately bound to the history of Flat Rock than perhaps almost any other living soul in the Village.

Fredrica Potts Sayles, 102, of 360 Mine Gap Road, East Flat Rock, N.C., departed this life on April 20, 2022. The funeral service will be at 2 p.m., Sunday, April 24, 2022, at Star of Bethel Church with the Reverend C. E. Rowe officiating. The family will receive friends at the church. Burial will be held at Oakland Cemetery in East Flat Rock, N.C., immediately following the service.

As I read Fredrica’s obituary, I felt an immediate and unexpected sense of loss. I had known the basics of her chronology and genealogy, but I knew almost nothing about the breadth and depth of her 102 years in this world. With her passing, the world lost more than a soul; the world lost a direct link to the fullness — both good and bad — of our collective past.

Fredrica and her surviving sister, Hortense, are members of the Potts family and direct descendants of one of Flat Rock’s most well-known families, the Kings. To honor her life and the life of her sister, I have assembled the writings of historians who met and/or wrote about Fredrica and her sister and written the story of the Potts family during the course of the past 175 years.

The primary sources for this article are historians Terry Ruscin and Missy Schenck, each of whom, in turn, relied on a number of prior historians to assemble their narratives. Full references and links to the original articles are attached at the end of this article.

Charlotte Moultrie and Dr. Mitchell Campbell King Great-grandparents of Fredrica and Hortense

“The mention of “old Flat Rock” may conjure imagery of mansions on sprawling estates and bucolic summers and soirées. The ensemble of personalities from that era includes affluent rice planters, Confederate brass, legislators, cotton merchants, textile moguls. But what of the individuals who built and maintained the homes, prepared the meals, farmed the fields and reared the children — attending to the summer residents’ every whim? Often overlooked or sketchily mentioned are the slaves and freedmen who traveled to these mountains with the landed gentry. One such family would be George Potts and his progeny — a lineage of grace and scholarship, contributing a heritage of richness to the cultural dynamic of Henderson County and beyond.”

The Potts Family Legacy Terry Ruscin, 2018

Lavenia F. Moultrie and George L. Potts

Grandparents of Fredrica and Hortense

By Missy Schenck

George L. Potts (1844–1926) and his wife, Lavenia F. Moultrie Potts (1846–1932), met at Glenroy in Flat Rock. George was the son of South Carolina enslaved persons Lawrence and Matilda Potts. Lavenia Moultrie was the daughter of Dr. Mitchell Campbell King and a King family enslaved woman named Charlotte Moultrie. Charlotte is buried in the Slaves and Freedmen section of the St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal churchyard. Dr. Mitchell Campbell King (1815-1901) was a renowned malaria doctor and owner of Glenroy (now Kenmure) and a son of Judge Mitchell King. George and Lavenia are buried at Oakland Cemetery in East Flat Rock.

The Rev. John Grimke Drayton, rector of St. John in the Wilderness, performed George and Lavenia’s wedding ceremony on Nov. 30, 1871, in the drawing-room of Glenroy. After they married, George and Lavenia lived in a caretaker’s cottage on the estate. George farmed, supplied dray services and grew flowers, an interest he passed on to his son, Fred. In addition to being a seamstress, Lavenia was a midwife and herb doctor. She was known for traveling door to door selling her baked goods and delivering soup to the infirm. Enterprising George saved his meager earnings and invested in land, including 82 acres on Glassy Mountain.

George built a two-story house of logs on the side of the Glassy Mountain where the first of his nine children was born. George and Lavinia’s children included George Jr., John Moultrie, Benjamin, twins Martha and Mary, Susie, Frederick Henderson, Archibald and Minnie. The family later moved to the Trenholm estate (the “Lodge,” former home of Charles and Susan Baring). George bought more land from the Kings, some of it abutting the Argyle estate, and built another home in East Flat Rock. In all, Potts acquired 132 acres for which he paid, on average, $3 per acre.

In the late 1800s, George built a home and barn on his East Flat Rock holdings and farmed the land. Shortly thereafter, the home burned. George quickly rebuilt it. George and Lavenia’s son Dr. John F. Potts later added on to the house, but the core of the original four-square home remains intact.

George L. Potts and Lavinia F. Moultrie Potts.

George and Lavinia raised nine children including Hortense’s father, Fred, and John Moultrie Potts, father of the distinguished Southern scholar Dr. John Foster Potts (1920-2008). In 1889, the Pottses bought 50 acres of farmland in East Flat Rock along Mine Gap Road and built a two-story frame house there. George was a trustee of Mud Creek Baptist Missionary Church and the Society of Necessity. Lavenia was the first designated “mother” of the society.

Fred Potts bought his homestead in East Flat Rock when he was a teenager working in Asheville. “My parents were very proud, hardworking people with clean livers,” said Hortense. “I’m especially proud of my father. He never met a stranger and could talk the horns off a bull! He had little formal education, but he became a well-educated man. He knew all the botanical names of the plants and flowers.”

Education was stressed in the Potts family, particularly by their grandmother, Lavenia, who learned to read and write while she was enslaved. Fredrica Kathleen Potts Sayles (1919–2022) attended the Rosenwald School and the Ninth Avenue School in Hendersonville. She finished her high school education at Stephens-Lee School in Asheville and earned her college degree at Bennett College in Greensboro before working as a business manager at Bennett College.

She later taught history in Columbia, S.C., and substituted at the Brickton Colored School in north Henderson County. She first married James Reid and, later, James Henry Sayles, Jr., Ph.D. (1920–2015), a chemistry professor at Bennett College.

E. Hortence Potts (1926) earned a bachelor of science degree from Bennett College and her master’s degree from Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. She worked as a home demonstration agent before her employment as a guidance counselor and home economics teacher for 16 years in Rutherford County — at Carver School in Spindale and Central High School in Rutherfordton. She taught for 12 years at West Henderson High School and instructed special-education students in Henderson County schools.

Emmie Hortense Potts and her sister, Fredrica Potts Sayle, live in the house their parents, Fredrick Henderson Potts and Ethel Williams Potts, built on Mine Gap Road in East Flat Rock. The 1900 two-story house, Brook Ledge, was also home to her father’s extensive nursery and plant specimens.

Frederick Henderson Potts and Ethel Kathleen Williams Potts.

About a year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Hortense by phone. After introducing myself, she immediately asked if I lived in a two-story white house off of Greenville Highway next to Kenmure. “Yes” was scarcely out of my mouth when she began telling me the most amazing story.

As a child, she had accompanied her father to our home (owned by someone else at the time) to take care of the gardens. Her mother sewed and made curtains for the house. Years later she met my mother-in-law and went over to the house several times. She described it beautifully — even the old kitchen house.

Her father was known for cultivating and planting native plants, particularly azaleas and rhododendrons, both prolific on our property. She remembered my mother-in-law coming over to get plants from her father’s nursery. She was sharp as a tack for her 94 years and totally captivated me with her family heritage. Her sister, Fredrica, was 101 years old and according to Hortense “slowing down a bit.”

Hortense said their old neighborhood has changed during the years, but they still have fond memories of family, friends and their church community. “People here, both black and white, have always been close and shared what they had. One year during planting season, my father’s tractor broke down. He was on a time schedule to get his crops in the ground. One of our neighbors, a white man, came over and plowed the field for him and helped him seed it.”

Hortense and her cousin, John Potts, continue to carry on the traditions and legacies of their community, including the Society of Necessity, a 136-year-old charitable work that continues to play an important role in the East Flat Rock community today.

Epilogue by Bruce Holliday

With Fredrica’s passing, Hortense Potts, age 95, remains among the most direct links to an integral part of Flat Rock’s historic past. I am grateful for those who have documented the arc of their family’s history and to the Potts family for bearing witness to that history. Their integrity, their honor and their compassion for all members of our community should be an enduring legacy that is a source of pride for the current residents of Flat Rock.

Bruce Holliday lives in Flat Rock, N.C. and is the director of marketing and communications for Interfaith Assistance Ministry in Hendersonville, NC. He is also editor/writer for a weekly newsletter/blog about the people, places, and events in and around Flat Rock, NC.

Missy Craver Izard Schenck was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She resides in Flat Rock, North Carolina, with her husband, Sandy Schenck, where their family runs a summer camp. Missy currently serves as the president of Historic Flat Rock, Inc., a position once held by her father-in-law, Alex Schenck, the first president of the organization and a founding trustee.

References used for this article:

Read more about the Potts family in Terry Ruscin’s book “Hidden History of Henderson County.” Ruscin is also the author of the books “Hendersonville & Flat Rock: An Intimate Tour,” “Glimpses of Henderson County” and “A History of Transportation in Western North Carolina.”

“African American History in Henderson County Part Two” By Missy Schenck Charleston Mercury

“Flat Rock The Little Charleston of the Mountains” by Galen Reuther


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