Special thanks to Family Historian, Wanda Holloway, for initiating in-depth genealogical research on her Great-Grandfather Ransom Hunter. All historical information is a collective of our team's research, documentation, and family oral tradition. To note, although prior accounts placed Ransom Hunter's early years at the Hoyle Plantation, our documented research has connected him to the plantation of Reverend Humphrey Hunter.
A Community Leader in the Post-Civil War South
Ransom Hunter's home in Mount Holly, NC
Following emancipation, Ransom Hunter proceeded to build, create, and prosper, becoming a large landowner who developed a thriving community for free men and women of color. Within this community, Ransom Hunter founded the first school for African-American children in Gaston County after slavery ended.
On the cusp of the Industrial Revolution and expanding banking sector in nearby Charlotte, Ransom co-invested in a manufacturing textile mill and owned early shares of stock in the first National Savings & Loan Association in North Carolina.
Today, much of historic downtown Mount Holly is located on land once owned by Ransom Hunter. His land is even mentioned as a property boundary in the 1913 Act passed by the North Carolina General Assembly to amend the charter of the Town of Mount Holly.
In The Beginning
Ransom Hunter was born to Mike and Julia Hunter in Lincoln County, North Carolina. Little is known about his childhood years but records place him on the plantation of Reverend Humphrey Hunter. Rev. H. Hunter was born in Ireland, had been an American Revolutionary War soldier and prisoner of war, and also witnessed the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in Mecklenburg County in 1775.
After Rev. H. Hunter’s death in 1827, Ransom Hunter went to the eldest Hunter children, first to daughter Isabella Hunter Crockett and her husband James Patton Crockett, then later to Vine Hill plantation, the home of his son Dr. Cyrus Lee Hunter, a noted physician, scientist and author. Ransom Hunter spent many of his early years at Vine Hill plantation apprenticing in carpentry, blacksmithing, tending to horses, and cultivating the vineyards where Dr. C. L. Hunter developed the Catawba variety of grape.
A Time of Great Change
It is unknown why Dr. C. L.. Hunter gifted Ransom Hunter his first acres of land soon after the Civil War ended. However, records show that, during that time, Dr. C. L. Hunter experienced, within a six-year period, the deaths of his four children born to first wife, Sophia Graham (Forney). In 1857, his two daughters Nancy Jane, age 22 and Caroline Elmina, age 20, both died within only a few months apart. In 1861, his two sons Henry Stanhope, age 16 and George William, age 20, were both conscripted by the Confederate Army into the American Civil War and also died. These losses left Dr. C. L. Hunter with only one young son born to his second wife, Catherine Lyman, and no adult children to manage the family lands.
Ransom Hunter and his nephew, a slave named Frank Hunter, were also conscripted into the Confederate Army. Black men in the Confederate Army were prohibited from carrying arms and participating in battle during the first years of the American Civil War. Frank Hunter’s pension application states he accompanied George William Hunter as his manservant and built barracks and breastworks. Ransom Hunter may have been conscripted into the war when Confederate General Edward Alexander’s detachment from Virginia was sent to North Carolina to impress more horses from the plantations. The Confederate horses were dying of hunger and exhaustion and records from the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Department indicate Ransom Hunter worked as a contractor re-shoeing and providing care for the horses.
Freedom Brings Opportunity
The war ended in 1865 and the dramatic tides of change began taking root in the South. Despite it being an uncertain period of history, Ransom immediately focused on building future success. With his savings earned as a contractor during the American Civil War he opened his first livery stable enterprise near his home on Hawthorne Street. He applied his farrier and blacksmith skills, made horseshoes, and sold and rented a stable of draft horses.
With his financial success at the livery stable and abundance of land acres, Ransom Hunter next envisioned the creation of a community and refuge for his fellow former slaves who were fleeing post-Civil War hostilities in the South Carolina upcountry. This epiphany grew to fruition and became a community he called, Freedom. For the first time, former slaves had their own plot of land to build, farm and raise a family. Initially, much of the land was plagued by soil so rocky that it was deemed unsuitable for farming. His family even nicknamed the area, Rock Grove. However, Ransom Hunter, the businessman, saw value in the granite rocks.
Lemons Into Lemonade
He employed the men of Freedom to dig up the rocks, then sold them to a company as material for the construction of local roads. After removing the rocks much of the land became acceptable for home construction and arable for farming, and Ransom Hunter cultivated a significant portion, successfully growing acres of corn and cotton. He planted winding vines of scuppernong grapes and an orchard of peach, pear and fig trees. The grapes and fruits were picked to make jellies, jams and preserves that were sold at the Freedom general store.
The development of Freedom progressed into a thriving community. In addition to building two churches, Ransom saw the need to formally educate the children in the community and in 1887, Ransom Hunter and other residents formed a five-member Public School Committee. Ransom Hunter offered his land for the first school created for Black children after slavery ended, named the District 12 Colored School.
His Second Business
Ransom Hunter’s entrepreneurial portfolio and wealth began to grow. In 1886, he opened a second livery stable on Main Street in downtown Mount Holly. This became a busy and lively enterprise assisting all travelers in need of reshoeing, sheltering, watering, and feeding their horses. He also began purchasing land in Gaston County, the new territorial division formed from Lincoln County. Ultimately, Ransom Hunter amassed over 1,920 acres of land during a period when only 1% of Gaston County’s black population owned their own farms.
His First Deed
Between 1874 and 1914, Ransom Hunter amassed 30 land deeds in Gaston county. His first land deed recorded a transaction with Robert Calvin Grier Love (R.C.G. Love), a prosperous merchant, banker and textile pioneer, who sold Ransom Hunter six acres of waterfront property on the Catawba River. The acres adjoined land owned by General Daniel Harvey Hill (D.H. Hill), and the next year it was General Hill himself who sold Ransom Hunter his second property. Ransom also sold land to two of the future mayors of Mount Holly, W. B. Rutledge and Abel Peterson Rhyne.
As the Industrial Revolution ensued in the south, Ransom Hunter joined the rapid expansion of the textile industry in Gaston County. The Mount Holly Manufacturing Mill was constructed on the land which Ransom Hunter purchased in 1874 from R.C.G. Love. It was the fourth mill to be built in Gaston County and is the oldest surviving mill today. The mill was built in 1875 by brothers, Abel Peterson Rhyne and Daniel Efird Rhyne, both prosperous banking and textile industry owners. The mill’s success and the prosperity of the area led local residents to petition the North Carolina General Assembly for the incorporation of Mount Holly in 1879. Ransom Hunter's property boundary is included in the legislative Act to Amend the Charter of Mounty Holly, recorded in the description of the town's parameters. In 1913, Ransom Hunter sold the Mayes Manufacturing Company a stretch of land at an ideal location by the South Fork Catawba River and the Southern Railroad, where they built a cotton textile mill.
Many years after his first wife Rebecca passed, Ransom Hunter married Maggie Wells. Their marriage certificate shows that the union was witnessed by Luther Lineberger, a local business owner. Ransom and Maggie together had two children, a daughter Elmina (Mena), and a son, Torrance.
Enjoying the fruits of his success, Ransom Hunter built a spacious Antebellum-style two-story home for his family. An article published in The Gazette highlighted the historical significance of Ransom Hunter’s home and declared it one of the oldest homes built and owned by a black family in Gaston County. The home was noted for its Federal-style detail and its construction was directly reminiscent of the Hoyle family home, which Ransom Hunter helped to build during his earlier years.
As a young man, his carpentry and building skills were loaned to the Hoyle plantation, a prominent slave-owning family of German settlers who were adding renovations to their home. Ransom Hunter and other slaves constructed a rear first-floor wing and later, a second-floor addition. Today, that home is known as the Hoyle Historic Homestead and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Homes. It is nearly identical to the home Ransom Hunter later built on his own land for his own family in Freedom.
Ransom Hunter was a visionary leader who transcended societal restrictions to build a community, create employment opportunities, and achieved financial success during one of the most tumultuous periods of U.S. history. He died on September 24, 1918, just a few months before his son, Torrance returned home from World War 1 where he had been stationed in Brest, France.
Ransom Hunter built a firm foundation for his family which lives on to this day. His legacy continues to inspire and motivate all to seek accomplishment, achieve success and contribute positive works in our own lives and for the greater good of our communities.