Size Doesn’t Make Rarity - Flat Rock, North Carolina
Size Doesn’t Make Rarity - Flat Rock, NC
Collectors of North Carolina Confederate covers are accustomed to seeing a proportionate larger share of covers from Flat Rock, NC than from any other community of its size. Except for the much larger cities during the War, few cities have retained such a large amount of their Confederate era postal history. Considering its location in the high country, it is surprising to see such a large volume of mail remaining.
In comparison to other major North Carolina cities, Flat Rock has retained a surprisingly large number of its Confederate covers. As expected, more covers remain for Raleigh than any other city if you include the provisionals. Flat Rock, however, ranks fourth with over 40 known stampless covers — not counting stampless provisionals, Flat Rock ranks third.
Known Stampless Known Provisionals Total
Raleigh 26 200+ 226+
Greensboro 47 28 75
Salem 34 29 63
Fayetteville 43 0 43
Flat Rock 40 0 40
Charlotte 37 0 37
Asheville 36 0 36
Wilmington 28 0 28
When one compares the population of Flat Rock with other areas of the state, you wonder even more about the volume of mail from this community. The entire county of Henderson had only 10,448 people in 1860, most residing in Hendersonville, the county seat. Wake County had 28,627 people, Guilford 20,056, Mecklenburg 17,374, Forsythe 16,692 and New Hanover 15,429.
The 1869 Branson Business Directory of North Carolina indicates another surprising comparison. Without a doubt, Hendersonville was the seat of commerce for the county. Hendersonville had 20 mills, 15 churches, 6 lawyers and 6 manufacturers. Flat Rock had zero.
Hendersonville Flat Rock
Mills 20 0
Physicians 3 1
Churches 15 0
Merchants 6 1
Hotels 2 1
Lawyers 6 0
Manufacturers 6 0
A look at the development and history of Flat Rock may give some clues to the reasons for this. Because of the difficulty of travel in the mountainous region, development was slow to come to Henderson County. With the completion of the Buncombe Turnpike in 1828, the mountains of North Carolina became comparatively accessible. In 1829 Judge Mitchell King visited Flat Rock for the first time. His visit from Charleston to the Land of the Sky soon became an annual event. When the temperatures of Charleston heated up, he would head to the hills for cooler times. Soon there were many others from Charleston who would spend their summers in Flat Rock — away from the heat of the coastal city.
The trip to Flat Rock from the coast took from 10 to 14 days. The “quality” traveled by coach. Their support help by humbler vehicles. Provision wagons formed a necessary part of the cavalcade. The road into the mountains, while dignified by the name turnpike, ran sometimes up a creek bed, sometimes up a gulch and over any obstacle which it could not go around. A smooth surface was doubtless not one of its good points.
In 1829 the post office was established in Flat Rock with John Davis as its first postmaster. Soon Flat Rock had more than its share of cosmopolitan citizens. Flat Rock had originally been a summer resort for the Cherokees. Here, during unrecorded centuries it was the Indian customs to bring to this area the women, children and oldsters during the summer months while the braves went on hunting expeditions or war parties.
By 1860 when the Civil War began, Flat Rock was commonly called “The Little Charleston of the Mountains.” Many of Charleston’s more affluent had their summer home there. When hostilities broke out in Charleston, many of Charleston’s citizens moved away from the war front. Flat Rock became their safe haven from the war.
It didn’t take long until others realized the mountains were a safe place to hide. Soon the mountains were full of Confederate deserters seeking refuge from the war. In order to support themselves, they soon became a gang of thieves robbing anyone who happened to cross their path. Toward the end of the war, things became so bad troops were stationed in the area to help control these renegades. Many of the residents of the area hid their valuables from these gangs in order to preserve them. In recent years a restoration project at the old hotel in Flat Rock uncovered a hidden room in the hotel that was used to store hotel valuables as well as others of the area.
I have in my collection a cover and letter written to the commander of the troops stationed in the area asking for help in going into the hills to retrieve a wagon that had been stuck in a creek bed. The owner feared going after the wagon because he knew he would be robbed if he did. Even with this concern, the area undoubtedly was considered a safe haven for at one point the Confederate Secretary of Treasury, C. G. Memminger, suggested the capital of the Confederacy be moved from Richmond to Flat Rock. It seems Memminger’s family was there, he knew the area well and felt it would be a safe place for Davis to be. The thought was ruled out because of the inability to run the government because of its inaccessibility.
Perhaps the single most important factor in the volume of covers that remain is the fact of who these residents were. They were of the caliber of Memminger — wealthy, literate, connected individuals who had the ability and desire to save their mail. Two major correspondences — the Middleton family and the Pinckney family have given us many of these Flat Rock covers. Middleton was a businessman involved in shipping from Charleston and Pinckney was a respected preacher in South Carolina.
The Middleton plantation correspondence in itself was quite large producing more wallpaper covers than one can imagine. Most of the illustrations in this article are from the Middleton correspondence. There must be well over 25 wallpaper covers from this Middleton correspondence. A recent single sale had 7 Flat Rock wallpaper covers, 6 from the Middleton family and 6 stampless Flat Rock covers as well as several other Confederate Flat Rock covers.
The Flat Rock stampless covers are both 5 and 10 cent rates with two different 10 cent hand stamp markings being used and a manuscript rate also was used. The known stampless covers are as follows:
Paid 5 10
Paid 10 Type I with Serif 25
Paid 10 Type II san Serif 1
Paid 10 + 10 Type I 1
Paid MS. 10 3
The postmaster responsible for these markings was Peter Stradley. He was appointed Flat Rock postmaster in 1845 and continued through the war until the office was closed around April 30, 1865. The office was reopened June 25, 1866 with Cephas Stradley being appointed postmaster. This was most likely Peter�s wife. On December 9, 1868 Salome Stradley was appointed postmaster and served until 1877. Salome was surely a family member.