Sunday, October 22, 2017

The King of Uwharrie

Tom Marks

One hundred and five years before the federal government designated the land of Uwharrie as a National Forest, my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Martin Marks, was born there. As he grew up, he roamed the hills and backwoods of this beautiful place, which, in his time, they called Flagtown or the Uwharrie Reservation. Every stream, creek and trail was Tom Marks personal playground. I am sure by the time he was 10 years old he could find his way through the endless miles of forest without getting lost; which, I suspect, is the reason I am not able to find him on the 1870 Census.

East Morris Mountain

Later in life, Tom Marks would live close to Moccasin Creek near the ‘blue hole,’ where my parents swam as children, and near to his beloved Uwharrie River, on what was then called Tom Marks Road, but is now US Service Road 544, in Eldorado, North Carolina. The older generations still call it Tom Marks Road. As far as Tom Marks was concerned, this land was his land and he loved every inch of it, so the family tradition goes. I, of course, never knew Tom Marks and neither did my parents, but my grandparents did, and the colorful and vibrant stories that they told of him are legends unto themselves.

Uwharrie River
Thomas Martin Marks was the youngest child born to William Buck and Leah Caroline Fesperman Marks. He makes his first appearance on the 1860 Census as a 2-year-old toddler. His middle initial, listed as C, has often made me wonder if the Census taker just made a mistake or if he changed his name later in life. The family has always known him as Thomas Martin. Thomas had an uncle named Martin Fesperman and I believe that Thomas was named for his uncle, Leah's brother, Martin.

Being the baby of the family, especially with three older sisters and one older brother, probably meant Thomas spent half his time being pampered by his sisters and the other half getting beat up by his older brother, who, by the way, used to be the baby, until he came along.

In 1870, Thomas is nowhere to be found; and as noted in previous Blogs, neither is his brother, Edward. I have searched relentlessly through Census records in Montgomery County as well as surrounding counties for Thomas and Edward both but to no avail. I can only guess why the two boys have disappeared in 1870, but have no concrete theories as to their whereabouts.

google image

In previous Blogs, I have stated that I do not know who Mary and Martha are on the 1870 Census, I still do not know what their relationship is to William and Leah Fesperman Marks, but I now know that Mary did exist. Finding out all I can about my family, and especially William Buck Marks, is the very reason why I chose to start this Blog. It is helpful for me to search for information in a chronological order, as I have done with the children of William and Leah Fesperman Marks, and to write that information down in the same order, as I have done in my Blogs. I have now discovered several clues that I would have normally overlooked otherwise. While searching for a marriage record for Thomas and Barbara Lefler Marks, I ran across this wonderful little nugget of information tucked away in the Marriage Register of Montgomery County, NC. At the bottom, it states NAMES OF WITNESSES: J.K. Hamilton, Mary Marks.

I quickly searched, and found, the actual marriage license and, there at the bottom, is Mary Marks signature with a notation that she, like J.K. Hamilton, is of Montgomery County, NC. I was, of course, elated to have discovered this gold nugget of information and will begin my search (again) for Mary Marks. For now, let us focus on Thomas Marks as this Blog is really about him.

On Jan 24, 1876, J.K. Hamilton applied for a license for the marriage of Thomas Martin Marks, age 20 years (his real age is closer to 18), the son of William Marks and Leah (Fesperman) Marks and Barbra Lefler, age 20 years, the daughter of Daniel Lefler and Sallie (Walker) Lefler. Both sets of parents are living and residents of Montgomery County. I knew from my previous Blog about Julia that William Marks was alive when she married Lee Thomas Hamilton on Feb 24, 1876 so; it is no surprise to find William Marks alive when Thomas married a month prior to Julia.

Thomas Marks and Barbra Lefler are united in matrimony by Justice of the Peace, L. Dennis, on the 26th day of January 1876, at the residence of William Marks. J.K. Hamilton and Mary Marks of Montgomery County signed as witnesses present at the marriage.

Who exactly is this Barbara Lefler who is to become my great-great-grandmother? Born Barbara Elizabeth Lefler on 10 Oct 1856 (according to her gravestone) to Daniel Lefler and Sarah ‘Sally’ Walker; Barbara is the oldest of nine children. She has five brothers and three sisters. I am a little sketchy as to where Barbara was born as I have not been able to find a birth record for her as yet. Neither am I able to find a Census record for 1860 for her. At this point in time I am hesitant to say she was born in Montgomery County or that she was living there as a young child. I will, of course, continue to search. Once I find the record I will update the Blog.

The year 1870 finds the Lefler family living in Eldorado. Daniel lists his occupation as a farmer, typical for 1870, with a personal estate of $100 (about $1800). Barbara looks to be going by her middle name, Elizabeth. She is listed as 11 years old and ‘at home’ meaning she is not attending school. She has three younger siblings, John (9), Thomas (5) and Sarah (2). There is also listed a sick boarder, John Steed (26).

1880 finds the Lefler house filled to the brim, it would seem. Not only has Daniel and Sarah (Walker) Lefler added four more children to their family, George (10), Fannie (8), Crissie (5) and McClane (2), but Barbara is back home with her own child, Lucy Marks (2). I find it curious that Barbara is listed as Lefler, rather than Marks, as she and Tom were married in 1876. I have no explanation as to why Barbara is living with her parents. I do know that she must have been pregnant though as her second child, Jarvis, would be born around 1880.

Searching old Newspapers is a great way to find out what your ancestors were up to in their day. Little did I know the infamy of my great-great-grandfather until I ran across an article in the Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, NC) dated Dec 8, 1883. The article noted that Thomas Marks, the “Redmond” of Montgomery, illicit distilling activities had caught up with him and Deputy Milton (or Melton), a Revenuer, along with a local posse, arrested him at his work place. Tom talked the deputy into taking him home to clean up and tell his family goodbye before going to jail. I am still not exactly sure what “Redmond’ means but am pretty sure it is some derogatory slang word that was used back in the day to describe someone that the public thought was a troublemaker. If anyone out there knows what ‘Redmond’ means or who the mysterious X.Q.L. is that wrote the article, please leave a comment.

The 1890 Census records were destroyed in 1921 when the building they were housed in caught fire. If interested, you can find more historical details at the Archives website:

By 1900, the Marks family has settled down in Eldorado and Thomas is working as a Day Laborer. Two other children, Lucy Amelia, whom we saw on the 1880 Census, and Jarvis, whom I believe was born around that same time, have already married and left home. Lucy married C.M. Turner on Dec 20, 1898. Jarvis married Ida Mitchell on Sep 2, 1900. Six more children have been added to the Marks family, Will (Tero) (16), Phrona (15), Lillie (11), Charlie (9), Fannie (6) and Sallie (4).

By the year 1910, the Marks family has moved from Eldorado, Montgomery County to Albemarle, Stanly County. Tom Marks lists his occupation as a fisherman. Only Fannie (17) and Sallie (14) are still at home. Will Tero married Eula Carter on May 24, 1903. At this time I am unsure who Saphronia married. I believe it may have been a Chapman but I have yet to find solid proof. Lillie Mary married Travis Nathaniel Morris on May 15, 1905. Charlie served time in the military although I have not found the specific dates.

By 1920, Thomas is back in his beloved Eldorado with wife Barbra. Their son, Charlie (20), is living with them. Fannie married Charles Clayton Loftin on Dec 14, 1915 and Sallie married Roscoe Franklin Brock on May 2, 1917.

The year 1930 shows that Thomas and Barbra are now living in Uwharrie. Charlie married Cora Brock on Jul 24, 1921.

On Aug 10, 1931, Barbara Elizabeth Lefler Marks, age 73, died. She was buried at Uwharrie United Methodist Church in Montgomery County, North Carolina.

My grandmother remembers that after her grandmother, Barbra Lefler Marks passed away, family members went to the cabin where her grandfather, Tom Marks, lived and made him come home with them. They believed him too old to be by himself in his cabin in Uwharrie. On Dec 18, 1932, at the age of 77, Thomas Martin Marks, my great-great-grandfather, died. His death reported by his son, Charlie Marks.

Tom Marks was buried, next to his wife, at Uwharrie United Methodist Church in Montgomery County, North Carolina.

I am not sure when the article “Old Tom Ruled the Wild Narrows” was written as I have never found a date on it; but I know it was written by Fred T. Morgan of the Stanly News and Press (SNAP); it would seem that Tom Marks’ infamy remained well after he died.

Stanly County Museum

Read more about Fred T. Morgan here:

Read the article “Old Tom Ruled the Wild Narrows” here:

While searching for information on Tom Marks, I happened by an article written by a lady that I would discover is related to me. We both share Tom Marks as our great-great-grandfather. Her through his son, Jarvis, and me through his daughter Lillie (as well as his son Will Tero - my father's side). I found it amazing that even though we had never met we had heard the same stories about our great-great-grandfather.  You can read her article, "Was Tom Marks ‘The King of Uwharrie’?" here:

My grandmother told the last tale, from her generation, about Tom Marks on 27 Dec 2015. She was almost 13 years old when he died in 1932. She remembered going to his funeral at Uwharrie United Methodist Church. Tom would have been her grandfather, the father of her mother, Lillie. She remembered Tom Marks as a tall man, who loved to play his fiddle, talk to his honeybees and paddle her and her siblings across the river on his raft. My grandmother died this year at the age of 97. To my knowledge, she was the last person alive who held a real memory of the legend that we, his descendants, call The King of Uwharrie.

It's my generations turn now, to keep the family tradition going.


  1. I am a descendant of Thomss Marks. sally was my grandmother. Phronie married William Chatham and then Walt Duke .She then married William Riley Chatham again.

    1. Thanks for your comments. Sally is my 2nd Great Aunt. That makes us 2nd cousins 1x removed. So nice to hear from cousins! Take care!

  2. I am also the great great granddaughter of Tom Marks. Hi daughter Sallie is my great grandmother. I bare a striking resemblance to Sallie.