LINCOLNTON––It’s a fascinating part of local history.
It’s the life of Fesso, a slave in what would later become Lincoln County in the 1780’s. And the video documentary that tells his story, “Fesso: The Spy of Ramsour’s Mill,” is the work of Lincolnton native Jonté Blake, a photojournalist with WCCB.
Blake told The Herald more about his project this week.
“My black history video at WCCB is not about African-American families of Lincoln County but the story of a slave from Lincolnton, going back to the American Revolution,” he said. “I came across this information and inspiration for my black history video by researching my family history, which dates back before the founding of this nation. My family was fortunate enough to have our history documented by a close family friend, who is no longer with us, Dr. Alan Stoudemire, in his book, A Place at the Table, detailing his childhood growing up in Lincolnton in the 1950’s and ’60’s with his best friend, Boyce, who happened to be African -American.”
Blake said the book is the story of two friends, one black, one white, growing up in the rural South.
“Their fight to help ease racial tensions during the Civil Rights Era is beautifully told,” he said. “There’s a treasure trove of information detailing little-known facts and true stories about Lincolnton.”
The book also details the facts surrounding the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill in June of 1780 and the amazing true story of the friendship between Adam Reep and the slave, Fesso.
Reep (or Rieb, in the original German) was a German immigrant farmer. The rural community of Reepsville in western Lincoln County was formed out of what were originally the farmlands of the Reep family. That and the area’s Lutheran churches form the legacy of this pioneer family.
During the Revolution, as Blake continued, at great risk, Fesso would go to the local grist mill in the village that one day would be called Lincolnton. He went using the ploy of needing ground corn, and he would spy and obtain information about the Tories’ numbers, artillery and munitions.
“The information about this story was gathered and put into the unpublished book, called The Hills of Home: A History of Lincolnton, by Victor Fair,” said Blake. “Fair put together manuscripts and writings from his grandfather, Wallace Reinhardt (a descendant of Reep’s neighbor and fellow German immigrant, Christian Reinhardt), who obtained the information from Adam Reep himself.”
He also cited Sketches of Western North Carolina, Historical and Biographical: Illustrating Principally the Revolutionary Period of Mecklenburg, Rowan, Lincoln and Adjoining Counties, Accompanied with Miscellaneous Information by C.L. Hunter.
This work from 1877 tells of another incident involving Fesso. According to Hunter, six months after the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill, British army general Lord Charles Cornwallis marched his forces through the Carolinas, and he camped in Lincolnton for three days to resupply.
On the departure of the British army, it is said that some of the soldiers took Fesso against his will. Reep, having found this out, recaptured Fesso and returned him to his master a few days later.
“I’ve had the privilege to speak with two historians over the phone,” said Blake. “One says it true, while the other is skeptical. The story will be left for viewers to decide. I find the story particularly interesting, because whether the story is true or not, the fact that a black slave became the unsung hero of a part of history dating back to 1780, if true, is unheard of in Lincolnton. Furthermore, a free white man befriending a black slave during that time is remarkable. Black people were of little significance and were thought of as less than human or even subhuman. It’s interesting to find a story being told from an old white man during the 1780’s/1800’s of a black hero slave.”
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