Telling the story of family from the steps of origination

Dec. 21, 2012 @ 06:57 PM

David Reavis grew up in Vance County. That of itself is not unusual — the Reavis family has been doing that for more than two centuries.

It began when Samuel Reavis and his family moved to the area in about 1787.

One son, Samuel Jones Reavis, built a house on Indian Creek, now known as Satterwhite Point Road.

The “Old Reavis House” still stands and was occupied continuously by a member of the Reavis family until James Reavis died in 2009.

His son, David Reavis, has written a book that chronicles some of the family history. The book, “Upon These Stones,” got its name from the stone steps leading up to the front door of the Old Reavis House.

In 1860 the house was occupied by Lewis Pleasant Reavis and Mary Coghill Reavis, along with six of their eight children. Two sons, Samuel Wesley Reavis and Thomas Coghill Reavis, joined the North Carolina 23rd Regiment and went off to war.

“Thomas was my great-granddaddy,” the author said. A son-in-law, Alexander Wortham who is married to daughter Lucy, also goes off to war.

Reavis tells the story of the war’s battles through the three soldiers.

“The best chapter is about the Battle of Gettysburg,” he said. “The 23rd Regiment was in the very first day of the battle. It almost got wiped out. For this chapter, I have letters that Jonathan Fuller Coghill of Kittrell wrote that give an eyewitness account of the battle.”

Another part of the family story is far from the battlefields.

“On the home front, I focus on family members that stayed at home and what they had to endure,” Reavis said.

It was a time of economic depression, for the family as well as the state. At one point when the family was in great need, Lewis Reavis was able to sell 624 pounds of bacon to a Confederate cavalry regiment quartered at nearby Ridgeway for $1 a pound. Nevertheless, the 1870 census showed that the family’s net worth had dropped from $19,800 in 1860 to $1,000 in the decade encompassing the war and its aftermath.

Although the war carries the brothers far afield, “everything originates on the steps,” Reavis said. “They go off to war from the steps. They return to the steps.” Lewis Reavis had 17 slaves. “He freed the slaves on the steps. Slaves were the ones who built the steps.”

Reavis said, “Ninety percent of the book is true. The dates are true. The characters are true. But I wasn’t there and I had to imagine what the conversations were. Some of the words of the characters were handed down. I heard them from my mother.”

David Reavis became an author through a roundabout route. After graduating from Henderson High School (now Henderson Middle School), he attended East Carolina University, where he majored in finance.

He worked for the State of North Carolina for 36 years until he retired in 2011. But work on his family history didn’t wait for retirement.

“I’ve worked on the family genealogy for 35 years,” Reavis said. “I did this before there was an Internet. I went to the courthouses.”

That meant thumbing through files by hand. Today, much of that same information is available on line.

The family cemetery lies near the Old Reavis House. Reavis said the epitaph on Lucy Reavis’ tombstone captures the purpose of his book.

It reads, “Gone but not forgotten,”

“My question is, ‘Forgotten by whom?’” Reavis asked.

In sharing memories of his family, Reavis describes a history common to many. “The book describes the heritage of a southern family,” he said. “It was typical not just of my family but of other families.”

In that way, the book tells us much about our own histories, histories that may be gone but should not be forgotten.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.