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Interwoven lives, stories at center of Franklin’s new Women’s History Trail monument

"Sowing the Seeds of the Future," as the statue is titled, tells the story of three women's lives and how they are intertwined.
Lilly Knoepp
"Sowing the Seeds of the Future," as the statue is titled, tells the story of three women's lives and how they are intertwined.

The Macon County Folk Heritage Association celebrated the unveiling of a monument to the history of women in the area that is over six years in the making with tears, laughter and reflection.

The 7-ft statue of three women – one Cherokee, one Black and one white – is now the start of the Women’s History Trail in Franklin, the first women’s history trail in the state.

The Women's History Trail leadership team cut the ribbon and unveiled the statue.
Lilly Knoepp
The Women's History Trail leadership team cut the ribbon and unveiled the statue.

The monument looks forward to the future of the region – and reckons with the history of Macon County, said Mary Polanski , part of the trail’s leadership committee.

“There is so much grace in the presenting of these women’s stories that will lead us to more curiosity, more sharing and a community sense of pride that comes forward from history to our lives here in the present,” Polanski said.

The trail was founded in 2018 and has 20 plaques to highlight women’s roles in Macon County history – from the first woman mayor of Franklin and the first woman editor of the Franklin Press, to women in business and jobs held by women such as mica factory and social workers.
 
The statue highlights the how the each woman’s path intersected during the time period after the Indian Removal Act when most Cherokee were forced to leave the region and slavery was still practiced in Macon County.

Former Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Joyce Dugan talked about the history of Na-Ka Rebecca Morris – the Cherokee woman portrayed in the statue. She was called by her English name, Rebecca, after she married Baptist minister and farmer, Gideon Morris of South Carolina.

The Women's History Trail Leadership team stands on stage: (left to right) Claire Suminski (WHT Leadership Team), Theresa Ramsey (WHT Leadership Team/FHAMC Treasurer), Mary Polanski (co-chair of WHT), Marty Greeble (co-chair of WHT), and Anne Hyder (FHAMC Chair and WHT Leadership Team member) with a picture of the Barbara McRae who is credited with the idea for WHT and starting the project. McRae was a former Folk Heritage Association of Macon County (FHAMC) Board Member and Vice Mayor for the Town of Franklin who died in 2021.
Lilly Knoepp
The Women's History Trail Leadership team stands on stage: (left to right) Claire Suminski (WHT Leadership Team), Theresa Ramsey (WHT Leadership Team/FHAMC Treasurer), Mary Polanski (co-chair of WHT), Marty Greeble (co-chair of WHT), and Anne Hyder (FHAMC Chair and WHT Leadership Team member) with a picture of the Barbara McRae who is credited with the idea for WHT and starting the project. McRae was a former Folk Heritage Association of Macon County (FHAMC) Board Member and Vice Mayor for the Town of Franklin who died in 2021.

“Rebecca was born in 1793 in the area of what is now the Qualla Boundary,” said Dugan, the only woman elected as chief in modern history.

She also addressed the context of Morris’ history in the region. She was given a “reservation” as part of atreaty which ceded thousands of acres from the Cherokee to the United States in 1819.

She chose 640 acres near the Nikwasi Mound but there was a loophole. If there wasn’t a home on the land, then it was taken from the family. So Gen. Thomas Love ordered the Morris home burned by his son, Capt. Robert Love.

 “They pursued compensation from the state of North Carolina because they had been burned out and they won that lawsuit. They were able to buy property across the river in the now town of Franklin again close to the mound,” Dugan explained, adding that they won $3,000 which they used to purchase new land in Franklin.

Dugan said she is thankful that Morris worked to preserve her homeland specifically the Nikwasi Mound.

“We are thankful today that others picked up the charge to preserve it, to preserve the mound. To include Na-Kain the monument is a testament to the Cherokee history and influence in Macon County,” Dugan said. “Her efforts to protect her homeland have not gone unnoticed and it is so fitting that the monument is located close to the mound that she loved.”

Former Principal Chief Joyce Dugan served as chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee from 1995 to 1999. She is the only woman to be elected as principal chief.
Lilly Knoepp
Former Principal Chief Joyce Dugan served as chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee from 1995 to 1999. She is the only woman to be elected as principal chief.

Local artist and historian Ann Miller Woodford spoke about the history of Salley, the central figure in the monument, who was enslaved during this time period.

“Since Salley was born into slavery in 1799 will never know for sure whether she was – as the central figure in this thought-provoking sculpture – a free woman,” Woodford said. “But it is in her far-off gaze that she may have hoped for freedom. She's caring for children who are not her own. She's living in places that don't belong to her and she's moving at the will of those who owned her.”

Few historical documents exist about Salley’s life and it’s unclear if she gained her freedom during her lifetime.

“Although African-American people have been the glue that has held this country together since they were first enslaved in 1619, even now some of us still only dream of a place of freedom, comfort and peace,” Woodford said.

Ann Miller Woodford spoke about the life of Salley, the Black woman, in the statue who was enslaved in Macon County.
Bryan Miler
Ann Miller Woodford spoke about the life of Salley, the Black woman, in the statue who was enslaved in Macon County.

At some point, Salley lived with the Cherokee, probably as a servant to Morris. Salley spoke Cherokee and must have lived with the tribe for several years. Morris sold her to Jesse and Harriet Siler – (the parents of the sculpture’s third woman, Timoxena) in 1821.

Franklin native Kate Jones told the story of her ancestor settler Timoxena Siler. The Silers were some of the first settlers in Macon County.

“This statue is just one part of a trail that was created to show us their history to stand as a testament and to the resilience of women throughout history and the interconnectedness of our stories,” Jones said.

The Siler home is still located on Main Street and Jones remembers looking around Timoxena former room, which had been preserved, when she was younger and being fixated on the her bed.

“I remember looking at the delicately carved wooden pineapples that sat atop each of the posts. And I remember thinking that's kind of an odd choice and kind of a bold choice,” Jones said. “And from all the things that have been written and passed down about Timoxena, I gather that bold is a pretty apt description of her.”

According to research, Timoxena was raised in part by Salley and would have learned from her Cherokee traditions. Timoxena appears twice in the sculpture, once as a young girl on Salley’s hip receiving corn from Na-Ka Rebecca, and again as a pregnant woman striding into the future. Jones addressed the fact that her ancestors enslaved people like Salley and called for positive change in Macon County.

Kate Jones spoke about her ancestor Harriet Timoxena Siler Sloan.
Bryan Miler
Kate Jones spoke about her ancestor Harriet Timoxena Siler Sloan.

“In today's world where ecological, social and political challenges loom, we must remember the importance of tending to our collective garden,” Jones said. “We must learn from the mistakes of our past, acknowledge our shared history – including the injustices perpetrated by my own ancestors – and work tirelessly to create a more equitable future for all.”

Much of the research about the history of the women in the monument was done by Barbara McRae, former vice mayor, newspaper editor and local historian. She died in 2021 after a long battle with cancer. Her son Sam spoke at the event about his mother’s life and legacy.

Sam McRae, son of Barbara, spoke about her life and legacy.
Bryan Miler
Sam McRae, son of Barbara, spoke about her life and legacy.

He recently found college recommendation letters from 1960 in her belongings. He read one from U.S. Air Force Col. Robert Delaney: “Her conversation reveals a well-organized mind, lofty ideals and noble long-range goals and ambitions. She has all or more of the assets with which the great personages of the world begin their careers and seems to know better than most children of her age how best to apply them. I predict that success will be hers. Whatever the venture she may undertake in the future,” Sam reads.

McRae was honored with a plaque at the park where the statue stands – now known as the “origin” of the women’s history trail.

Franklin Mayor Jack Horton was given a commemorative version of the statue in honor of the dedication.
Lilly Knoepp
Franklin Mayor Jack Horton was given a commemorative version of the statue in honor of the dedication.

A plaque was also placed in the park for Margaret Ramsey, one of the founders of the Folk Heritage Association. She is the daughter of Joseph Franklin Setser and Harriet Slagle Setser and is a direct descendant of Jacob Siler, one of the first settlers in this area. Her daughter-in-law Teresa Ramsey spoke about her contributions to the region.

“Margaret was an active volunteer with the heart for social justice. She was an unforgettable voice and a champion for Macon County and she cherished her hometown and its history,” Ramsey said.

Teresa Ramsey also shared how she was inspired by her mother-in-law and all of the women represented in the new Women’s History Trail park.

“We had so many strong women here in Macon County. Those who have gone before us, those of you here today, those little girls that are going to grow up to be strong women because of you. And so we're very, very fortunate today to be here celebrating women,” Ramsey said.

The history trail leadership team estimated more than 400 turned out for the slew of speeches, music and interpretative dance. The event was also followed by a craft festival in downtown Franklin, more live music and storytelling.

Women's History Trail - Meet the Women
Full audio of the presentations about the three women featured in the monument by former Principal Chief Joyce Dugan, artist and historian Ann Miller Woodford and Franklin native Kate Jones.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.