Isabella was born to parents Alexander Porter and wife Jane Young Porter at their home and farm at Swannanoa, located in east Buncombe County, North Carolina. The village of Asheville was a ten-mile ride west along the Swannanoa River.
The Porter and Stepp
To place these families in context of time, place, and circumstance, I refer to the work of John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney, who write in their book The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War. The authors describe the rich farms along the rivers and creeks as inhabited by "families that in culture, education, gentility, and staunch adherence to right principles may compare with the best classes of the South, and noted that they were generally slave-holders. The authors add that the socio-economic range among its residents was nearly as great as that anywhere in the antebellum South.
Members of Isabella's Family -
Property and Personal Assets in Buncombe County, North Carolina
Isabella's parents Alexander Porter and Jane Young Porter
- Residence 145, $18,500
William Young Porter, unmarried, Res. 144, $4,400)
Isabella and Joshua P. Stepp - Residence 143, $6,000
John H. Porter and Sarah Hemphill Porter - Res.142, $5,000
Sarah Patton Young Res.141, $9,000 Widow of Jane Young Porter's brother Thomas L. Young
William Hemphill and Rosannah J. Porter Hemphill nearby, Res.131, $10,000
William and Sarah's father was Samuel Hemphill, born 1801, Res. 222, $8,400
William Gilliam and Elizabeth Louise Porter Gilliam, (Res.146, $4,500
Joshua's parents Joseph Stepp and Rachael Waters Stepp (Res. 159 $28,500
younger sisters lived
closer to Stepp and Fortune lands one to two miles away on upper North Fork
Reported assets on the 1860 census were :
William Stepp and Mary Adeline Porter Stepp, Res. 221, $5,500
John Stepp and Nancy S. Porter Stepp, Res. 219, $5,500
Richard J. Fortune and Martha M.Porter Fortune, Res. 210, $2,800
Richard's father was Fletcher Fortune, Res. 211, $15,000
William and John were sons of William Stepp born 1802, (Res.220 $18,500), who had settled in the Flat Creek section of east Buncombe. He was first cousin to Joshua's father Joseph Stepp, born 1795. Joseph Stepp's father Thomas, and William Stepp's father John were brothers, - this from Henry P. Scalf's account in his book The Stepp/Stapp Families of America.
THOMAS STEPP and JOHN STEPP lived in Wilkes County enumerated on the 1790 U.S. Census.
1860 Census Data from ancestry.com
Assets of the households noted above amount to $141,600. Using these census records, the Stepp, Porter, Hemphill, Young, Gilliam, and Fortune families were among the most prosperous residents of Buncombe County.
Buncombe Slaveholding Families
In 1860, 293 Buncombe families were slaveholders, or 15.9 percent of the total population of the county. Of those 293 Buncombe households, only 15 households had 20 or more slaves. Joshua’s father Joseph Stepp was one in 15 households in the county owning 20 or more slaves - Joseph owned 21.
Forty families in Buncombe owned 10 to 19 slaves. Isabella's father,
Alexander Porter was one in 40 Buncombe households which owned 10 to 19
slaves - he owned 11. (By 1860
Alexander had given slaves and land to his several children.) His children held individually from
one to four slaves. Joshua and Isabella held four slaves.
Source: John C. Inscoe, Mountain Masters, Slavery, and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, copyright 1989.
(right) I produced this photograph of Joshua P. Stepp by first having photographic copies made by a professional photographer from the original tinted glassplate ambrotype that had rested long years in its leather and velvet case. I then scanned the photographic copy and produced this photo. After Isabella's death in 1903, this treasure was saved through the years by Rachel Jane Stepp (Jones), eldest daughter of Isabella and Joshua, and later the ambrotype was kept into the 1960's by Rachel Jane's youngest daughter, Mrs. Frances B. Whisenhunt, whose archives came to my mother Bonnie Katherine Jones Eubank, and now to my sister Betty and me.
Isabella and Joshua P. Stepp were married about 1844. Joshua was the son of Joseph Stepp and his wife Rachael Waters, early settlers in the Swannanoa Valley. During the 1820's after their marriage in 1818 in Wilkes County, North Carolina, Joseph and Rachael joined Joseph's cousins, William Stepp and Jesse Stepp who had immigrated earlier from Wilkes County. The Stepp family settled in the Flat Creek area of Buncombe at the base of the great mountain, highest peak east of the Mississippi River, now named Mount Mitchell to honor Dr. Elisha Mitchell of the University of North Carolina, who lost his life during a second trek to measure the peak's height. Joseph and Rachael built their home near the base of Mt. Mitchell. It was known as the Old Stepp House and stood until the mid-20th Century. After the deaths of Joseph and Rachael, Isabella and her daughters Rose and Elizabeth lived in the home. After Isabella's death, her grandson, Rachel's son Arthur Govan Jones, lived there with his family.
A Tourist's Journal: Isabella's guests for
In 1901, Mrs. S.P. Taber Willets, a tourist from New York City, made her way from the train depot at Black Mountain, north along North Fork Road where she stopped for an overnight stay at the home of Isabella, before following the trail of ascent to the summit of Mount Mitchell. Mrs. Willets used vivid description in telling the story of her journey.
The Stepp family and Mount Mitchell
On the day Dr. Mitchell lost his life, when it became known by the comunity that the professor was missing, Asheville attorney Zebulon B. Vance organized groups of men to search for the missing Dr. Mitchell. Vance later wrote an article about the search and the volunteer group of men who searched for several days. He noted several men of the search group in his remembrance of the event, and remembered their names - Joshua P. Stepp was one of the few men he remembered as an active member of the search group.
Jesse Stepp owned over 2,000 acres surrounding his homestead on the mountain, including the summit. He gave five acres for Dr. Mitchell's grave site atop the mountain. A lone stone monument stood for years at the grave site, prior to the time when the top of the mountain was developed into Mount Mitchell State Park.
Papa never came back
from the war!
My mother told me her grandmother said "Papa never came back from the war," without adding further detail. I have put together a scenario for the short time Joshua wore this uniform - Joshua P. Stepp in the Civil War. He died early in the war - his memorial grave stone gives date of death as August 27, 1862. He was thirty-seven.
Isabella was a prosperous widow - owning more than 2,000 acres along the North Fork of the Swannanoa, she would have had ample opportunity to marry again. Yet, she did not. Life with daughters, Rose and Elizabeth, and with "Lizzie's" husband Thomas R. Randolph living at the home, and her brother William nearby, was a good life. Eldest daughter Rachel lived a mile away at Swannanoa. Isabella and Joshua had moved to the Stepp House, built by Joshua's parents Joseph and Rachel Stepp, after their death. Sometime in mid-20th century, the house was torn down.
Three daughters of Isabella and Joshua
By the time the war took Joshua away, Isabella and Joshua had three daughters. The eldest daughter was my great-grandmother Rachel Jane Stepp. Rachel, called "Jennie," was the wife of Marcus Maloney Jones, my great-grandfather. He was called "Mark."
Elizabeth "Lizzie" Stepp was the youngest daughter, born in 1857. She married Thomas R. Randolph. Lizzie died at the birth of her only child, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Randolph, born in 1892.
Rosannah Caroline Stepp was the middle child. In 1905 Rose became the second wife of Thomas R. Randolph and little Lizzie's stepmother.
In 1996, I visited the Patton Meeting House Cemetery (Patton Hill Cemetery) for a second time, and saw that grass and debris had again covered the broken stones resting on the ground. I dug around the edges to visually free the stones. Isabella's and Joshua's stones lie side by side in the Porter section of the cemetery. On a subsequent visit to the cemetery in 2011, fellow Jones and Stepp family researcher C. R. Hendrix leveraged a lot of energy to clear the stones once again. The photos (at left and below) of Isabella's and Joshua's stones were taken by "Bobby," as Charles is known by friends and family. Bobby took the two photos just after he had dug along the edges and shoveled back the roots and debris off the gravestones. Bobby has created memorials for Isabella and Joshua on www.findagrave.com
Original Narrative and Website © Iris Teta Eubank Wagner 2014
Sources for Jones, Stepp, and Porter narrative genealogies :
inscriptions, Patton Meeting House Cemetery, Established
1794 (Patton Cemetery, Patton Cemetery Road, off Bee Tree Road,
Swannanoa, North Carolina)
John C. Inscoe, Mountain Masters, Slavery, and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, copyright 1989.
John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney, The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War.
Frances Burroughs Jones Whisenhunt archive, and memory of life at Black Mountain, North Carolina.