“Do as you please…but first do no harm”

The Keener-Shrum Family Cemetery in Pumpkin Center (Lincoln County), NC.
“DO AS THOU WILT because men that are free, of gentle birth, well bred and at home in civilized company possess a natural instinct that inclines them to virtue and saves them from vice. This instinct they name their honor.
 — François Rabelais, 1534

After the Reformation, German Lutheran and Reformed Christians often built “Union” churches (in both Germany and America) since their individual congregations were so small that they didn’t need separate church buildings. My own German Palatine ancestors settled in the Catawba River Valley of North Carolina in the mid-Eighteenth Century, and their descendants later granted land (including the family cemetery) for establishing a “Union” Church that was open to other denominations (instead of just Lutheran and Reformed) and was called the “Do As You Please” Church for many years. According to a current church elder, several local Baptist churches in Lincoln County first held services here before building their own facilities. The property was granted to ancestors of the current owners by William Henry Keener and Daniel Shrum in 1893, and the deed specifies that the only building allowed on the property is a church named “Union.” Today it is Union Baptist Church, and when asked about its “Do as you please” history it is not uncommon to receive a tense response along the lines of “It aint that no more” from locals who remember that era. When I first learned about the church, I couldn’t help but think of the Wiccan rede: “An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will.” But it’s an idea with roots in Christianity as well. And in Renaissance humanism.

“The Statue of Liberty — Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. proudly presents this Official Certificate of Registration in The American Immigrant Wall of Honor [Panel #219] to officially certify that Casper Keener who came to America from Germany is among those courageous men and women who came to this country in search of personal freedom, economic opportunity and a future of hope for their families.” - Signed by Lee Iacocca. Information submitted by Margaret Brasher of Pell City, Alabama (Dorothy Keener Sprinkle).

Later the “Do as you please” maxim would resonate as I learned about my sixth great grandfather, Abraham Kühner, who is apparently buried at this family cemetery with his father (Casper), son (John), and grandson (John, Jr). Abraham was a Tory Captain who participated in the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill on June 20, 1780 in Lincolnton, North Carolina. While other families and neighbors unleashed terror on each other that day, with several cases of fratricide occurring, Abraham and Patriot Captain Daniel McKissick resisted getting caught up in the passions of the conflict that tore their small rural community apart:

Captain M’Kissick was wounded early in the action, being shot through the top of the shoulder; and finding himself disabled, went from the battleground about 80 poles to the west. About the time the firing ceased he met ten of the Tories coming from a neighboring farm, where they had been until the sound of the firing started them. They were confident their side was victorious, and several of them knowing Captain M’Kissick, insulted him and would have used him ill, but for Abram Keener, Sr., one of his neighbors, who protected and took him prisoner. While marching on towards the battle ground Keener kept lamenting, “That a man so clever and such a good neighbor and of such good sense should ever be a rebel.” He continued his lecture to Captain M’Kissick until they came where the Whigs were formed. Keener looking around and seeing so many strange faces, said, “Hey, boys, I believe you has got a good many prisoners here.” Immediately a number of guns were cocked, and Captain M’Kissick, though much exhausted by loss of blood, had to exert himself to save the lives of Keener and party.
 — General Joseph Graham (1825)
Wilhelm & Marion Kühner at Ramsour’s Mill (2016).

Daniel McKissick later moved to Bedford County, Tennessee around 1807, and his land became a small portion of what would become my home town — Maiden (incorporated on March 7, 1883). Abraham was able to retain his land (and his life), but he was later punished for his participation in the battle. According to an October 1786 court order in the Lincoln County, NC Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions:

Ordered by Court that the following persons be summoned by the Sheriff to meet and lay off a road from Beaties Ford to Lincolnton, the nearest and best way, having special regard to the Act of Assembly in that case made and provided, and return these proceedings to our next court; Lemuel Sanders, Michael Butts, Robert Johnson, Michael Engle, Henry Slinkerd, John Finger, Devalt Crouse, Abraham Keener, Elias Moyer, Peter Crites, Matthew Goodson, Phillip Cansler.
When Abraham Keener took the loyalty oath, he endeavored to keep his promise by being a loyal Tory. No doubt many in North Carolina were influenced by the actions of some of South Carolina’s leaders who voiced their loyalty to the King — Charles Pinckney, president of the S. C. Senate, Rawlins Lowndes, president of the state of S. C., and Henry Middleton, president of the first American Congress. “They were told that the loyal would be rewarded and protected but that the rebellious would be severely punished”.
Selecting older men to serve as leaders was a common practice in both armies. Although Abraham was in his sixties, there is evidence that he participated in the bloody battle at Ramsour’s Mill on June 20, 1780.
John E. Keener, Sr (1745–1823)

Two years after the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill, John E. Keener, Sr. (Abraham’s son) was “delivered…to serve in the Continental Army, a Satisfaction to his country for being with the British Army.” When he died, John left one-third of his plantation and the “negro girl Fannie” to his wife and the remaining two-thirds and the “negro boy Monroe” to his son Martin Keener. Another of John’s sons, Michael Keener, married Anna Catherine Shrum (second wife) who later inherited her father’s neighboring plantation. Private John E. Keener’s (marked) grave is located at the Keener-Shrum Family Cemetery on the grounds of what is now “Union” Baptist Church. Today, the Christian flag flies over the grounds of my slave-owning ancestors’ graves — but the spirit of “e pluribus unum” lives on in the lives of their descendants.

Another “Union” church was started by the descendants of other German settlers in Maiden. The Hass Church was created on land deeded to George A. Ikerd and David Haas by George Haas in 1834. The land was “to be used to provide the interest of the Gospel and to encourage the building of house of public worship, that the Gospel might be preached by all and every minister of every denomination whose standing is good in their respective churches, also for a school house and burial ground.”

The “Old Haas Cemetery” in Maiden, N. C. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2016).
“The Haas Cemetery is a forgotten piece of [Catawba County’s] history.” — Cody Call, Eagle Scout

Thanks to preservation efforts by the Catawba County Historical Association, St. James Lutheran Church in Newton, and Cody Call, the Haas Cemetery is somewhat accessible again. It’s origins go back to four years before the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. In 1776, the seventeen year old Patriot son of a local Tory was buried here after he was hanged by a band of Tories from a nearby tree.

Historical marker erected in 1951 describes the origins of Haas Cemetery. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2016).

My second great grandfather (John III) and his wife (“Fannie”) were later buried in Haas Cemetery. John and Fannie’s son, George Washington (“GW”) Keener, owned a livery stable and one of the wood working companies that flourished in Maiden between 1892 to 1916. According to family legend, GW built many of the first homes in Maiden and went bankrupt during the Great Depression when his renters and buyers were unable to pay their bills. He was also part of a failed venture to go into the aviation business.

John E. Keener III. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2016).
Fannie Keener, wife of John III. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2016).

A cousin of John III, Alexander L. Keener, was one of the first commissioners of the Town of Maiden which was incorporated on March 7, 1883 as a trading center and cotton mill site run by H. F. Carpenter and sons along with George W. Rabb, a well-known Confederate veteran. The town was situated chiefly on the lands of John Boyd with a small portion of the lands of Daniel McKissick. Alexander was also a Confederate veteran. He was confined at Point Lookout, Maryland after the Civil War and is buried at the old Boyd Cemetery in downtown Maiden.

Alexander L. Keener. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2016).

For more information about my ancestors and the history of the Catawba River Valley in North Carolina, check out my eBook…