A Tragedy For One...Leads To An Opportunity For Another.

Since I just finished part two of my family history movie which was about the Mitchell family line, I thought this would be a good time to do a post on how my 3rd great grandfather Mortimer Mitchell came to own his land in Riverdale, NC. If you missed that post, here's the link The Mitchells.

When I received Mortimer's deed sometime ago, the first thing I researched was information regarding the people he bought his land from.  Maybe by doing this I would be able to unveil more information about my ancestor. The owner of the land was an Elizabeth Williams and her husband is listed as a witness on the deed, R B Williams. I found it rather curious that the wife was the owner of this land due to the fact that this deed was dated from March 1878. So I did some digging. It turns out that Elizabeth was originally Elizabeth Tolson who married a Gabriel Hardison back on Dec. 7, 1858. Elizabeth and her first husband were married until some terrible events unfolded in December 1866. Here is an excerpt from an article found in the usgwarchive.net/nc/craven/newspapers. The article was contributed by a Gloria Smith Taylor. This excerpt describes testimony given in court regarding the case of Calvin McCrellis, who was charged with complicity in the murder of Gabriel Hardison.

New Bern Weekly Journal Commerce,  18  December 1866

Gabriel Hardison murdered in his home. 

....John Ives, the first witness, was in the room at the time of the murder of Hardison. A negro came for fire about sunrise, stating that he had just come from Beaufort.  After some conversation, he left the room but immediately returned followed by three others, who with the most horrid imprecations demanded the surrender of the family.  Mr. Hardison replied that he was unarmed; to take anything they wished; but spare his life. Upon this a thickset negro raised his gun, and shot Hardison through the head--he falling into the fire.  The murderers now began to plunder and subsequently pulled the body from the fire to get a pocket book. 

John Ives makes no mention of the name of the man or men who committed the murder. Next there are more testimonies.

Miss Emeline Robertson, was next introduced and deposed as follows:  She was on a visit to W. T. Bright- a relative, residing near Croatan. The prisoner came and gave the following account of himself. 

He had been a Union soldier, and left a wife and daughter in Massachussetts.  Upon his return home he found his wife in the arms of a hotel keeper in Lowell, and killed her at once.  She had spent the $3,000 he left with her. 

He now took a steamer and came back to Newbern, went to farming upon a plantation belonging to J. L. Rhem; was robbed of his cotton, 2 mules, 4 horses, & etc. Was on his way to Beaufort.  W. T . Bright had seen him on Friday evening going down the road, and again on Saturday coming up.

Vine Allen and Thomas Tolson live at Croatan Station.  McCrellis came to their house about supper time on Friday evening and in conversation stated substantially above.  He asserted that he was on his wasy to Beaufort to take a steamer North.  Remained at the house until the train came and was seen to get on it. 

All these statements went to clear McCrellis although his sections and language were most extraordinary. 

McCrellis was next put upon the stand and stated as follows:  

Had been in N.C. about five weeks; was a native of Lawrence Massachusetts; had been in service three years; discharged last September at Smithville; and left a wife at home; she left him; was with the proprietor of the Montezuma House; all the tales about killing her were lies; all the story about his farming was a lie; he had lied a good deal; had talked with a great many negroes; they spoke of a determination to rise; the negroes didn't get their rights; they wanted them; they were worse off now than when they were slaves; of the northerners didn't help them they would help the secesh; if somebody didn't help them they would help themselves; "blood and thunder" was the game they would play. 

The court, after having all the evidences, concluded these was not enough evidence to convict the prisoner; but still enough to make it certain he was not the kind of man the neighborhood desired.  He desired to go North and the court agreed to let him go, but remanded him to the jail until such time as he or someone else should raise the necessary funds to pay expenses.

When I read the section I have underlined, I couldn't help but let out a chuckle to myself. I am sure he was "not the kind the neighborhood desired." However, the thing that did get me about this is that they didn't just railroad the man into a conviction. I would think that after something so heinous should happen in the community the first thing on everyone's mind I would have thought would have been vengeance and people would hasten to serve out punishment as quickly as possible, nevermind finding out the truth. Regardless, McCrellis probably was left in jail for quite some time, unless by chance someone was able to pay his expenses.

Gabriel's widow, Elizabeth went on to marry a Robert B Williams of Croatan in February 15, 1872. So six years after the death of her first husband, Elizabeth sells off her land to my 3rd great grandfather, Mortimer. Perhaps the murder that took place there had nothing to do with it and it was just a simple business transaction. Perhaps she was letting go of a terrible reminder of the past.


  1. This is the type of research that I like because it brings depth to your family research and the story to tell. Very sad story though.


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