Elizabeth Ann Neill (Morris), great-granddaughter of Lambert Clayton and Sarah Davidson Clayton, is another real historical figure who appears in Parker and Borhaug’s “To Stand on Solid Ground: A Civil War Novel Based on Real People and Events.” Born in 1847, Elizabeth was the first child of George Clayton Neill and Sara Elizabeth Weese. George Neill, as mentioned in last week’s Picturing the Past article, was the first deputy sheriff of Transylvania County and became sheriff in 1864.
Elizabeth married James Wesley Morris on January 31, 1867. Morris served in the 64th Regiment of the Confederate Army and, despite the events this “hard luck” regiment had, he survived and ended the war as a lieutenant. After the war, he married Elizabeth and worked at Clough Farm, where their first two children were born. Elizabeth eventually inherited the Neill home. It was built by her grandfather James Neill, locally famous as a hatter, around 1834 (that date was engraved on the home’s chimney stones).
Elizabeth and James Morris moved into the home in 1874 and their youngest seven children were born there. Mary Daniels Galyon’s “Research & Reflections on Early Transylvania County Families and History” notes the home’s “large willow trees furnished shade for travelers along the road and under their spreading branches was a huge watering trough hewed from a log and fed by a clear, sparkling spring.” In 1929 an article in The Brevard News mentions “The Old Willow” and discusses the long history of the area as a meeting spot and the three generations of James Neill descendants that occupied the land. According to Galyon, the image of Elizabeth Neill Morris appears to be under these willow trees and was taken right before she died in 1924. Titled “A ‘Mother in Israel’ Passes,” an October 1924 Brevard News obituary focuses on her role as a devoted mother and member of Oak Grove Methodist Church. She is buried with her husband in Oak Grove Methodist Cemetery.
Unfortunately, the historic Neill-Morris home, located two miles from Brevard on what was then Boyleston Road (now Asheville Hwy), burned down on June 4, 1953. “From the pounding of the first peg to the fire and ashes, 119 years of history had passed in its shelter” (Galyon). While little is known about Elizabeth Neill Morris as an individual historic figure, the dense and intertwined history of the Neill-Morris family and Transylvania County make her an intriguing person on which to model a historical fiction character.
Authors G. Keith Parker and Leslie Borhaug will discuss their newest book, “To Stand On Solid Ground,” in the Transylvania County Library’s Rogow Room, Wednesday, August 30, at 12 p.m. Authors will be available after the reading to sign already-owned books. A small number of copies may be available for purchase at the event.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. Sources are available upon request. This article was written by Local History Associate Erin Weber Boss. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.