The Life and Times of
Francis M. and Martha A. Poteet

Francis Marion Poteet

Francis Marion Poteet died at Mooresboro, Cleveland County, NC, April 3, 1902, eight hours after the death of his wife of fifty-four years. Those years together encompassed perhaps the most difficult events any people ever had to endure; the terrible Civil War and the Reconstruction period that followed. That they both lived to exceed the biblical "three score and ten" in spite of their life experiences is a miracle that must be attributed to the grace of God, rather than to their pioneer hardiness.

Francis was born February 3, 1827, in Burke County, NC, in an area that was later to become part of McDowell County. He was the son of John Poteet, Jr. and Susanna Brittain. His brothers were Joseph, Henry, Peter, Elisha, Sidney Ervin, James Rufus, and George Dickson Poteet. He had one sister, Jemima. Martha was the daughter of Henry Henley and Anna Amy Jenkins. Her brothers were James Thomas, Alvis, William and Pinckney Henley, and her sisters were Lavina , Mary, Sarah, Henrietta, and Laura Henley.

Francis was a farmer, a carpenter and a miller. He married Martha Henley September 25, 1847, in McDowell County, NC. He was 20 years old and she was 21. They had the following children: Mary Elizabeth, Thomas, Alvis, Amy Jane, Rufina Celena, Susannah, Julia, George Pinkney, Frances Emer, Martha, Derotha Ida, and Isabelle. The family lived in the Dysartsville area of McDowell County prior to the beginning of the Civil War.

Francis was working as a miller at the time of his being conscripted into the Confederate Army October 2, 1863, in Company A, 49th Regiment, North Carolina Troops, as a private. Military records show that the enlisting officer was a Captain McRae in McDowell County, NC. Francis was 36 years of age. The enlistment was for "3 years or the duration of the war". His unit, at various times, was at Weldon, NC, Kinston, NC, Petersburg, Virginia, and other spots in North Carolina and Virginia. In letters to his wife, Martha, he told of many hardships he and his comrades had to endure, including short rations, extreme fatigue, inadequate medical care, no pay and the horrors of combat. Martha was having a difficult time back home. She had to deal with providing for herself and their children, nursing them through sicknesses (2 died while Francis was away), having to contend with those who tried to cheat her, and thieves who crept in and stole crops from the fields and provisions from her storehouse during the dark of night.

Records reveal that Francis made an unauthorized visit home, going AWOL December 1, 1863 from his company’s encampment at Weldon, NC. He was arrested January 27, 1864 and was tried for his offense and confined in the Guard House, referred to as Prison "Castle Thunder", a name apparently bestowed upon that place by the soldiers who were imprisoned there. A letter from Martha to Francis, dated January 21, 1864 explains why Francis made that unauthorized visit. She wrote, "It is just one month today since our little son died, and I don’t think they ought to blame you for coming home to see him die". This was their son Alvis, who died December 21, 1863. Alvis was only 13.

Martha also revealed in her letter that Francis returned from his absence of his own free will, saying, "I thought when a man went back within themselves they did not put them in the guard house, but George Taylor told he tuck you up and is to get thirty dollars of your wages and I expect that is the reason of you being punished". His punishment, 120 days of confinement, was severe enough, but could have been much worse. Bell Irvin Wiley, in his Civil War Classic The Life of Johnny Reb, quotes the Assistant Secretary of War as saying that at this time, after Gettysburg and other losses during the last half of 1863, that the number of soldiers evading service by devious means, but chiefly unauthorized absence, reached 50,000 to 100,000. Wiley says that some "were Union sympathizers… resenting being conscripted against their will… others extreme youth or of little learning with no concept of the seriousness of desertion… and some who had to choose between staying on duty or returning home to rescue families from starvation, and they chose the latter."

Certainly, to us, it would seem that Francis’ reason for coming home was one we could understand, though it was certainly in violation of military law. Perhaps the military court took his particular situation into consideration, for he was returned to his Company for regular duty May 25, 1864. Others who were convicted of a similar breach of military conduct suffered much more serious penalties, some even execution by firing squad.

After the war mercifully came to a close, the family moved to Enola, Burke County, North Carolina, where Francis operated a grinding mill, and Martha, a nearby store. They were active members of the Baptist Church, and contributing members of the community there. In the 1890’s they moved to Mooresboro, Cleveland County, North Carolina. One of their grandsons, Otis Poteat, who had lived with his grandparents since his birth, recalled going with his grandfather to the railroad depot there, where Francis would sit on a bench at the station with other Civil War veterans and talk about their experiences during the war. Francis continued work as a carpenter and builder of coffins. Throughout his adult life he worked with wood. At the time of his death, he had a supply of wood that he had cut, undoubtedly for a building project of some kind.

Martha suffered a stroke and died about 8 p.m. April 2, 1902. Francis suffered a heart attack and died about 4:00 a.m. the next morning, April 3, 1902. The story of their passing, as it was handed down from their daughter Celena to her daughter, Laura Ada Dickson, was this: "Celena walked the several miles to visit her father and mother at their home. Late in the afternoon, Celena walked back to her own home. She had barely gotten home when a rider came to tell her that her mother had just died while working in the yard. Celena, of course, was very upset and wanted to return immediately but it was late and she had no way to go but walk. The rider told her that if she would wait until morning, he would take her. Having a large family of her own, with chores to do, she decided to wait. Upon her arrival the next morning, she was told that her father, Francis, had died during the night. He had gone to bed and died in his sleep." Family members felt that their hearts were so in tune with one another that he could not go on without her. Funeral services for both were at Sandy Run Baptist Church in Mooresboro, Friday, April 4, 1902, with burial in the church cemetery.


Authored by: Charles E. Rich, 204 Dove Lane, Rutherfordton, NC 28139 Phone 828-286-8585

Index of personal names: Poteet, Francis Marion, Martha, John, Jr., Joseph, Henry, Peter, Elisha, Sidney Ervin, James Rufus, George Dickson, Jemima, Mary Elizabeth, Thomas, Alvis, Amy Jane, Rufina Celena, Susannah, Julia, George Pinkney, Frances Emer, Martha, Derotha Ida, Isabelle, Dickson, Laura Ada, Taylor, George, McRae, Captain. Brittain, Susanna.

Sources: Census, marriage and military records, collection of letters of Francis & Martha Poteet, recollections of descendants, article from
the Cleveland Star of April 9, 1902.

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Betty Green