Ransom Hunter was a visionary who rose from the humblest of beginnings to become a prominent businessman and landowner.
Hunter was born a slave on March 14, 1825, on a plantation in Charleston, SC. At age 13, he was separated from his parents and sold to the owners of the Hoyle plantation, near Dallas, NC. Ambitious and determined, he mastered his sorrow and learned to read, write and do math — a risky decision under the laws of the time. He also mastered a variety of trades, including carpentry and blacksmithing.
In 1860, Hunter, his first wife, Rebecca, and four of their twelve children were freed by his owner, who gave Hunter 80 acres of property near the Catawba River in Gaston County. Known as “Rock Grove,” the land was considered inadequate for agriculture. However, Hunter quickly established a thriving farm, which he named Freedom, growing corn, peaches, pecans, and apples, as well as cows and pigs. He also opened livery stables and a makeshift general store serving African American travelers, major steps to his becoming one of the most well-known African-American entrepreneurs of Reconstruction-era North Carolina.
As word of Freedom spread, the community drew many displaced African-Americans from across the border in South Carolina, attracted by the promise of a new life and new opportunities. Hunter found these former slaves jobs and housing in Freedom.
As Hunter prospered, he began buying adjacent parcels of land and selling them to other African-Americans. He also donated land for a school and for two churches: Mt. Sinai Baptist Church and Rock Grove A.M.E. Zion church, which was later renamed Burge Memorial United Methodist Church.
Today, much of downtown Mount Holly is on land which Hunter once owned.
When Hunter died Sept. 24, 1918, at the age of 93, a tree and a small headstone marked his gravesite. In July 2014, his descendants held a celebratory reunion and replaced the original, crumbling headstone with a new one inscribed “You Are the Wind Beneath our Wings.” It was a fitting tribute to a man who pursued the American dream to help others seize the promises of freedom and opportunity.
By April Carroll