The 1949 William Wyler film, The Heiress, staring Olivia de Havilland as spinster daughter Catherine Sloper, reminds me of what my 3rd great-grandmother, Leah Caroline Fesperman, must have been like. Catherine, aka Olivia de Havilland, who, at the beginning of the movie, seems to have submitted to life’s cruel fate to make her a spinster, finally falls in love. Unfortunately, it’s with a man whom her father dislikes. Somewhere towards the end of the movie, Catherine, who has finally become tired of her father’s constant put downs towards her and the man she loves, reaches deep down inside herself and pulls out a tigress that has been hiding inside her since birth. In a fire storm of tongue lashes at her father after he threatens to disinherit her if she marries this man, Catherine whips out pen and paper and begins to write herself out of her father’s will. It is epic! And it is exactly what happened to my 3rd great-grandmother.
Leah Caroline Fesperman was the fourth child born to Michael and Leah Dry Fesperman about 1823 in what was then designated as Montgomery County, North Carolina. In 1841, about ten to twelve years before Leah meets her husband, William Marks, the land west of the Pee Dee River became Stanly County, North Carolina with Albemarle as the county seat. The land east of the Pee Dee River remained Montgomery County, North Carolina with Troy becoming the county seat. The Pee Dee River is literally the dividing point between the two counties. Both Leah Fesperman and William Marks lived on the west side of the river along what is now Valley Drive and near the current Morrow Mountain State Park. However, around 1848/9 they run away together across the river, to the community of Eldorado.
The Fesperman’s lived within a mile of Dr. Francis Joseph Kron who had migrated to America from Trier, Prussia and had settled in Montgomery County, North Carolina to make his living as the community physician. Dr. Kron lived in an area now known as Morrow Mountain (see above map) and he makes mention of Michael Fesperman in his journals dated 1835, saying, “The first inhabited plantation about a mile from my house, where one Michael Fesperman, a millwright and ingenious mechanician lives.”
|Dr. Francis Joseph Kron|
Stanly County Museum
In researching Michael Fesperman, (and I am nowhere done with finding tidbits of data on him) I have built a profile that tells me that he had his hand in so much that nothing he ever did could ever be fully accomplished. He was a very busy man, probably too busy. I will write more on him in the upcoming posts so; stay tuned for my Blog on the “Little Dutchman.”
Some refer to the period of time between 1830 to 1850 as the antebellum years, a Latin phrase meaning literally "before the war," while others refer to it as the Plantation era. Either way, this is the period that Leah Caroline grew up in. Her father, Michael Fesperman, as stated by Dr. Kron in his journal, was an ingenious millwright (mechanic). Leah’s family was most likely at the top end of upper middle class as her father still had to work to make a living but was probably paid very well for the work he performed. Leah probably grew up in a house similar to Dr. Kron’s, which can be seen today at Morrow Mountain State Park.
One thing though is for sure, they did meet and, defying her father, Leah left with William Marks. I imagine in a firestorm that Michael Fesperman never forgot because on the 11th day of March 1870, some 25 years after that fateful day he watched his daughter leave with William Marks, he wrote in his will the following:
1860 finds the couple in the Fork (Eldorado) community with five children, three daughters and two sons.
The 1880 Census finds Leah still in Eldorado but now a widow, living alone. I can’t help but wonder what Leah saw when she looked back on her life. Was her life filled with happiness or sorrow? Was she glad that she defied her father and followed the man she loved? I suppose we will never know how Leah Caroline felt about it; however, on behalf of all her descendants, we are very glad she found the will to defy her father; otherwise, we all would have never been born.
It would seem that not everyone in the family had disowned Leah for running off and marrying William Marks as her brother included her as a rightful heir to the estate of her father, Michael Fesperman.