John Hazzard Carson

John Hazzard Carson was born in Ireland, Province of Ulster, County of Fermanaugh in 1752. In 1773 he boarded a ship at Londonderry bound for America. After a stopover in Delaware, he remained in Pennsylvania for two years, then, as did many others who had heard tales of the rich soil and abundance to be found there, headed south to Newbern, North Carolina and finally to the relatively untamed wilderness of Burke County (now McDowell County) in the western part of the state.

He arrived in the Carolina backwoods during the heat of the American Revolution and the accompanying Native American unrest in the region. Carson was given the rank of Captain in the Burke County Militia, taking part in "spying" missions against the Cherokee. In the summer of 1776, his militia unit engaged the Indians not far from his cabin beside the North Fork of the Catawba River. His commanding officer was killed in this encounter, later called the "Battle of North Fork". Burke County troops were part of the untrained, ragtag corps called the "Overmountain Men", who defeated Major Patrick Ferguson's Loyalist troops at Kings Mountain in 1780. It is assumed that John Carson took part, but incidents that took place three weeks before the battle had more consequences for him. 

Major Ferguson and his men ventured into the upper Catawba River valley in search of beef cattle to feed the troops. Several local men, including John Carson, conspired to deceive Ferguson. They created a ruse whereby they hid their own cattle in the backwoods while they saw to it that the Tories found one large herd roaming the cane-brakes nearby. Carson led them to the herd, but only after they had slaughtered a hundred or so did he tell them that they belonged to some local Tories! 


Another story about Carson's activities during Ferguson's foray called into question his loyalties and had more consequences for his reputation after the war. Early in 1780, Col. Charles McDowell, leader of the Patriot militia, called together a meeting of Burke County citizens. Fearing a British raid later in the year, he suggested that some men in the county pretend to take British protection and thereby save some of their valuable livestock for the winter. Some of the men refused, however, John Carson agreed - a maneuver which would cause him to be severely misjudged and labeled by some as pro-British. John Carson married Rachel McDowell, a daughter of pioneer settler "Hunting" John McDowell, and a sister of Major Joseph McDowell of Pleasant Gardens. 

John and Rachel were the parents of seven children. In 1793, he received a land grant for 640 acres "on the waters of Buck and Clear Creek". It was on this tract that he began work, with the aid of slave labor, on a two-story log home just a few feet from Buck Creek, and less than a mile from the junction of that creek with the Catawba River. He referred to his new location as "Garden Hill". 

Now situated at a major crossroads, he was in a perfect position to market his trade goods and livestock. Rachel McDowell died shortly after the family moved into the new home. In 1797, John Carson remarried Mary Moffitt McDowell, widow of Major Joseph McDowell of Pleasant Gardens. To them were born five children. Tradition has it that when his new wife moved from the McDowell home to Carson's newly completed one, that she brought along with her the name "Pleasant Gardens" and applied it to her new residence. In time, the surrounding community became known as Pleasant Gardens, and remains so today. John Carson became known as "Colonel" Carson, a title perhaps bestowed upon him as a note of respect, but possibly attained during his Revolutionary War service. His land holdings were extensive, ranging between 8,000 and 80,000 acres, depending upon the source. 

Because he speculated in land transactions, an exact determination of acreage is difficult to determine. For some time he acted as intermediary for John Gray Blount in his speculation transactions, on one occasion traveling into Tennessee. There Carson met Andrew Jackson, the beginning of an association that would endure for decades. Jackson often visited the house to participate in the horse races and turkey shoots held on the place, and stated that he had lost a good deal of money betting on the contests at Carson House. Colonel John Carson was one of five elected Burke County representatives to the Constitutional Convention in 1789 and a member of the House of Commons in 1805-06. 

Although his interest in politics continued, he returned to Pleasant Gardens from Raleigh in 1806, and at the age of fifty-four, devoted most of his time to farming. He frequently traveled to Charleston to sell livestock and purchase items shipped in to this major seaport town. His wealth grew along with his land holdings, number of slaves and personal property. The Carson family name became known throughout the growing nation, and John Carson is credited with being the progenitor of the Carsons in America.