J.G. Heap and his wife Anna Lyons are buried in the Bakersville Historic Cemetery. He and his business partner E.B. Clapp are credited with bringing the first large-scale mica mining operation to Mitchell County: a story well known. But there is another worth telling and remembering.
About 1830, an African child was born to a family enslaved on the Spotswood plantation in Virginia. They called her Viney, and as many before and after, she took on the last name of her owner. She grew up working in the “big house,” and when children were born to Colonel Spotswood, she became their primary caregiver. At the wife’s death bed, in the presence of Spotswood, Viney promised that she would love and protect the children with all her being.
Spotswood took a second wife who one day in a fit of anger struck one of the “spoiled” children. In a rage, Viney attacked her and “rode her to the floor, pulling her long hair like the reins on a horse.” The woman’s family gathered for a lynching, but Spotswood, understanding Viney’s deep love for his children and her pledge to his first wife, slipped her out into the night and had her taken to the blocks in Baltimore. She had to leave her husband and her cherished son Henry. But she was still alive.
She was sold to the highest bidder, became his wife’s maid, and was taken with them to the swamps of Arkansas. She was miserable. One night about 1862, she slipped away and ran, hiding by day and traveling by night, ending up at the Union Army lines near Huntsville, Alabama. Starving and fearful, she came upon Anna Elizabeth Heap and her 4-year old daughter, Minnie. Viney longed to be the nurse to the charming little girl, and so she joined the family of the Union soldier John Graves Heap and became known as Mammy.
On 12/23/1867 little Minnie was laid to rest in Huntsville’s Maple Hill Cemetery. Soon after, the Heaps with Viney went to Rising Sun, Indiana, and then back to Anna’s hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. By 1870, the Heaps, with their daughter Ida and Viney, were living in the Snow Creek Township of Mitchell County, North Carolina. By 1880 enjoying financial success from mica mining, J.G. and Anna with five more children and Viney moved into a beautiful new home in Bakersville. John died there in 1891, and Anna, with Viney’s help, kept it as a family home and also a boarding house. Anna sold the house to Jane Baker in 1896; she, her children George, Nellie, Bretie, Jean, and John, moved with Viney back to Knoxville. Daughter Sarah Elizabeth married a local boy, Charles Temple Hickey and Ida a boy from Greenville, South Carolina, William Jefferson Graham. In Knoxville, the Heaps lived just across the street from the Methodist Church, and Viney became known as Viney “Mammy” Heap.
Viney died in the spring of 1920. Anna along with her brother Will Lyons, her son George’s wife Lucy, and granddaughter Alice, attended Viney’s funeral in the Lonas Family Cemetery. Will gave the prayer. Not long after that, Anna passed as well and was returned to rest with her husband in the Bakersville Cemetery.
A special thanks to J.G’s. granddaughter, Alice Graves Heap, whose father was George Carson Heap (named for J.G.’s friend, Kit Carson) for her handwritten manuscript and collection of photographs. Thanks also to Kyle Hovious, Special Collections, Hodges Library, University of Tennessee, for outstanding information services!