Isabella's Social Calling Card
mid-19th century
(above and  below)
As a top piece, the hand and
the rose lifted at the wrist
    to reveal Isabella's name on the card (below).

Frances B. Whisenhunt archive 
Isabella Anna Porter 
 October 28,1825
  -  February 26,
wife of
Joshua P. Stepp 
December 26, 1824  -  August 27, 1862
Swannanoa Township, Buncombe County, North Carolina

Isabella Anna Porter Stepp
Isabella's original card and photograph
Whisenhunt Archive
by Iris Teta Eubank Wagner

  I knew my great Aunt Frances Whisenhunt through my young life.
She died in 1966 at age seventy-seven.   In her later years she looked
very much like her grandmother Isabella in this photo. . . . Iris

Isabella was born to parents Alexander Porter and Jane Young Porter at their home and farm at Swannanoa, in east Buncombe County, North Carolina.  The village of Asheville was a fifteen-mile ride west on the Old Stage Road along the Swannanoa River. 

 The Swannanoa Valley Museum, Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Alexander Porter and Jane Young Porter -
 home and farm along Old Highway 70

The Alexander Porter home was located at the  intersection of Old Highway 70, and the present Lake Eden Road (left on map above).   In mid-1800's, Lake Eden Road was referred to as a wagon road.   Old Highway 70, the Stage Road,  was the main road between Asheville in Buncombe County, through the Swannanoa Gap, down the east slope of the Blue Ridge, to Old Fort, and the towns of Marion and Morganton in Burke County, after 1842,  McDowell County.


This site, looking south down Lake Eden Road is about a mile from the intersection with Old Highway 70, where the  Alexander Porter home stood at Swannanoa.  The Black Mountain Home for Children, Youth, and Families, and the present complex of buildings, is located beyond and atop the slope at left in the photo.

The Porter and Stepp families
 East Buncombe County,
 North Carolina

To place these families in context of time, place, and circumstance, I refer to the work of John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney, The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War.  The authors describe the rich farms along the rivers and creeks as inhabited by "families that in culture, education, and gentility . . . may  compare with the best classes of the South, and noted that they were generally slave-holders.  The authors add that the socio-economic range among its residents was nearly as great as that anywhere in the antebellum South.

Members of Isabella's Family - 
Property and Personal Assets in 1860
in Buncombe County, North Carolina

                                  1860 Census Data from :

Isabella's parents, Alexander Porter and Jane Young Porter - Residence 145, $18,500  - (By the year 1860, Alexander and Jane had deeded most of their property to their sons and daughters.)
William Young Porter, single man, Res. 144, 
Isabella and Joshua P. Stepp - Residence 143, $6,000
John H. Porter and Sarah Hemphill Porter
- Res.142,  $5,000
Sarah Patton Young
Res.141, $9,000   Widow of Jane Young Porter's brother, Thomas L. Young

William Hemphill and Rosannah J. Porter Hemphill
nearby, Res.131, $10,000
William and Sarah's father was Samuel Hemphill, born 1801, Res. 222, $8,400
William C. Gilliam and Elizabeth Louise Porter Gilliam
, (Res.146, $4,500

Joshua's parents Joseph Stepp and Rachael Waters Stepp (Res. 159  $28,500

Isabella's three younger sisters lived on Stepp and Fortune lands one to two miles away on upper North Fork -

1860 Census Data from :

William Stepp and Mary Adeline Porter Stepp, Res. 221, $5,500
John Stepp and Nancy S. Porter Stepp, Res. 219,
Richard J. Fortune and Martha M. Porter Fortune, Res. 210,
Richard's father was
Fletcher Fortune, Res. 211,
William and John were sons of
William Stepp born 1802, (Res. 220
$18,500), who had settled in the Flat Creek section of east Buncombe. 
He was first cousin to Joshua P. Stepp's father, Joseph Stepp, born 1795. 
Joseph Stepp's father Thomas, and William Stepp's father John were brothers.
This is from Henry P. Scalf's account in his book
The Stepp/Stapp Families of America.
THOMAS STEPP and JOHN STEPP lived in Wilkes County, North Carolina, enumerated on the 1790 U.S. Census.

Assets of the households noted above amount to $141,600.  Using these census records, the Stepp, Porter, Hemphill, Young, Gilliam, and Fortune families were among the most prosperous residents of Buncombe County.

1860 Buncombe Slaveholding Families
In 1860, 293 Buncombe families were slaveholders, or 15.9 percent of the total population of the county.   Of those 293 Buncombe households, only 15 households had 20 or more slaves.  Joshua’s father, Joseph Stepp, was one in 15 households in the county owning 20 or more slaves in 1860 - Joseph owned 21. 

Forty families in Buncombe owned 10  to 19 slaves.  Isabella's father, Alexander Porter, was one in 40 Buncombe households owning 10 to 19 slaves - he owned 11.  (By 1860, a year before he died,  Alexander Porter had distributed most of his land and personal wealth among  his eight children.)

His  children held individually from one to four slaves.  Joshua and Isabella held four slaves. 
Source:  John C. Inscoe, Mountain Masters, Slavery, and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, copyright 1989.

 Frances B. Whisenhunt

 Joshua P. Stepp 
By first having a professional photographer produce photographic copies of the original, tinted glassplate ambrotype, which had rested long years in its leather and velvet case,
 I scanned the photographic copy and produced this  photograph of great-great-grandfather,
Joshua P. Stepp.

After  Isabella's death in 1903, the ambrotype was saved through the years by Rachel Jane Stepp Jones, eldest daughter of Isabella and Joshua, and later the ambrotype was kept into the 1960's by Rachel Jane's youngest daughter, Mrs. Frances B. Whisenhunt, whose archive came to my mother, Bonnie Katherine Jones Eubank. 

Joseph Stepp, born 1795 and Rachael Waters Stepp

Isabella and Joshua P. Stepp were married about 1844.  Joshua was the son of Joseph Stepp and his wife Rachael Waters, early settlers in the Swannanoa Valley.  During the 1820's, after their marriage in 1818 in Wilkes County, North Carolina, Joseph and Rachael joined Joseph's  cousins, William Stepp and Jesse Stepp who had immigrated earlier from Wilkes County. 

The Stepp family settled in the Flat Creek area of Buncombe at the base of the great mountain, highest peak east of the Mississippi River, now named Mt. Mitchell, to honor Dr. Elisha Mitchell of the University of North Carolina, who lost his life during a second trek to measure the peak's height. 

 Joseph and Rachael built their home in the North Fork Valley near the base of Mt. Mitchell.  It was known as the Old Stepp House, and stood until the mid-20th century.  After the deaths of Joseph and Rachael, Isabella and her daughters, Rose and Elizabeth, lived in the home.  After Isabella's death, her grandson, Rachel's son, Arthur Govan Jones, lived there with his family. Arthur's widow, Mary Gorman Jones, was the last person to live in the house. The house and land were sold to the Grovestone gravel company.

Isabella Stepp's Guest for the Night: Mrs. Taber Willets in 1901 --    Personal Journal of her climb to the summit of Mt. Mitchell
In 1901, Mrs. S.P. Taber Willets, a tourist from New York City, made her way from the train depot at Black Mountain, north along North Fork Road where she stopped for an overnight stay at the home of Isabella.

The Stepp family and Mt. Mitchell 
On the day in 1857 when Dr. Mitchell lost his life, it became known by the comunity that the professor  was missing, Asheville attorney Zebulon B. Vance organized groups of men to search for the missing Dr. Mitchell.  Years later, Vance  wrote an article about the search and the volunteer group of men who searched for several days. He noted several men of the search group in his remembrance of the event, and remembered their names - Joshua P. Stepp was one of the few men he remembered as an active member of the search group. 

Jesse Stepp owned more than 2,000 acres surrounding his homestead on the mountain, including the summit.  He deeded five acres for Dr. Mitchell's grave site atop the mountain.  A lone stone monument stood for years at the grave site, prior to the time when the top of the mountain became a part of Yancey County, and was developed into Mt. Mitchell State Park.

Papa never came back from the war!
My mother said her grandmother told her, "Papa never came back from the war," without adding further detail.  He died early in the war - his memorial grave stone at Patton Cemetery in Swannanoa gives date of death as August 27, 1862.  He was thirty-seven.  Joshua P. Stepp in the Civil War.  

Isabella was a prosperous widow, she would have had ample opportunity to marry again.  Yet, she did not.  Life with daughters, Rose and Elizabeth, sometimes granddaughter, Annie Jones, and niece, Letta Gilliam lived with Isabella.  Elizabeth "Lizzie" married Thomas R. Randolph, and their little Lizzie was born at the Stepp house in 1892.  Isabella's brother, William Y. Porter lived close by on the 1880 Census.  

Three daughters of Isabella and Joshua 
By the time the war took Joshua away, Isabella and Joshua had three daughters.  The eldest daughter was  my great-grandmother, Rachel Jane Stepp (below,left).  Rachel, called "Jennie," was the wife of great-grandfather Marcus Maloney Jones.







Elizabeth "Lizzie" Stepp  (right) was the youngest daughter, born June 12, 1857.  She was the wife of  Thomas R. Randolph (below).  Lizzie died at the birth of their only child, Elizabeth"Lizzie"Randolph, born in 1892.






Rosannah Caroline Stepp, "Aunt Rose" (right) was the middle child.  In 1905, Rose and widower Thomas R. Randolph  were married, and Rose became little Lizzie's stepmother.   

Isabella's Epitaph :
Dearest Mother, thou hast left us
And the loss we deeply feel.
But the God who has bereft us, He can all our sorrows heal.
Yet again we hope to meet thee, when the day of life is fled.
Then, in heaven with joy to greet thee, where no farewell tear is shed.

Jones and Stepp family researcher, C. R. Hendrix has created memorials for Isabella and Joshua on find-a-grave. 


Original Narrative and Website © Iris Teta Eubank Wagner 2014-2018

Sources for Stepp, and Porter narrative  : 

Bonnie Katherine Jones Eubank and  Frances Burroughs Jones Whisenhunt archive (photographs, memories, and documents) of life at Swannanoa and Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Tombstone inscriptions, Patton Meeting House Cemetery, Established     1794  (Patton Cemetery, Patton Cemetery Road, off Bee Tree Road,   Swannanoa, North Carolina) 

John C. Inscoe, Mountain Masters, Slavery, and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, copyright 1989.

John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney, The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War.

Dale Wayne Slusser, Asheville author and historian - research and history of homes along Swannanoa River's North Fork.  

Mrs. S.P. Taber Willets, Personal Journal of Her Climb to the Summit of Mt. Mitchell, 1901 ; originally published in The Asheville Citizen, January 27, 1952, by George W. McCoy.

Buncombe County, N.C. Register of Deeds  - Drew Reisinger

Thomas Perkins Abernethy, From Frontier to Plantation : A Study in Frontier Democracy, Southern Historical Publication #12, University of Alabama Press, p 174.

Old Buncombe County Genealogical Society, Bingham Road, Asheville, North Carolina.
Also:  OBCGS  online.

Joyce Justus Parris, A History of Black Mountain, North Carolina, and Its People, copyright 1992, Black Mountain Centennial Commission, Black Mountain, North Carolina.