Ransom Hunter (March 14th, 1825 – September 24th, 1918) was an American businessman, landowner, community developer and philanthropist. He is believed to be the first freed slave to own property in Gaston County, North Carolina. Between 1874 and 1913, Hunter conducted thirty financial transaction land deeds with prominent society members of the post-Civil War South. Hunter amassed over 1,920 acres of land during a period when only 1% of Gaston County’s black population owned their own farms. Hunter owned the land that is known today as downtown Mount Holly, North Carolina.
Hunter was born to Mike and Julia Hunter in Charleston, South Carolina and spent his formative years on the Middleton plantation. He lived with his parents until December 19th, 1835 when he was sold away from his parents to Hoyle plantation. Hunter became a master of carpentry, blacksmithing, and horse grooming, among other trades. He also learned to play the piano, and was known to play the piano for guest visiting and lodging at the Hoyle home. Hunter was granted his freedom from the Hoyle plantation in 1860 just before the Civil War.
Hunter began purchasing land within ten years of the abolition of slavery. He conducted a total of thirty financial transactions for land deeds in Lincoln and Gaston counties between 1874 and 1913. His first recorded land deed was a transaction with Robert Calvin Grier Love (R.C.G. Love), a prosperous merchant, banker and textile pioneer, who sold Hunter six acres of waterfront property on the Catawba River. Confederate General Daniel Harvey Hill sold Hunter his second property in 1875. Later, Hunter sold land to two of the future mayors of Mount Holly, W. B. Rutledge and Abel Peterson Rhyne.
Hunter opened his first livery stable enterprise on Hawthorne Street in Mount Holly, North Carolina. He applied farrier and blacksmith skills, made horseshoes, and sold and rented a stable of draft horses. With his financial success at the livery stable, he used his profits to purchase surrounding land.
Hunter developed a community he named "Freedom" as a refuge for fellow former slaves who were fleeing post-Civil War hostilities in the South Carolina upcountry. For the first time in their lives, former slaves had their own plot of land to build and raise a family. Initially, much of the land was plagued by soil so rocky that it was deemed unsuitable for farming. As such, the Hunter family nicknamed the area Rock Grove. However, Ransom Hunter saw value in the granite rocks. He employed the men of Freedom to dig up the rocks and sold them to a company as material for the construction of local roads. After removing the rocks, much of the land became acceptable for home construction and arable for farming. Hunter and the community successfully grew acres of corn and cotton and groves of pecan, apple, peach and fig trees. As the Freedom Community thrived, Hunter opened a second livery stable on Main Street in Mount Holly and a general store. Hunter also built a large home for his family in Freedom where he raised livestock. Other freed slaves came to Freedom to start businesses and work on the farm.
Hunter donated land for a school, two churches, and land to become the first cemetery for negro people in Gaston County: Mt. Sinai Baptist Church and Rock Grove A.M.E. Zion Church, now known as Burge Memorial United Methodist Church. In addition to building two churches, Hunter saw the need to formally educate the children in the community. In 1887, Hunter formed a five-member Public School Committee and donated the land for the first school created for black children after slavery ended, named the District 12 Colored School.
Hunter sold land to Abel Peterson Rhyne and Daniel Efird Rhyne to build the area's first cotton mill in 1875. The Mount Holly Manufacturing Mill was constructed on the land which Hunter purchased in 1874 from R.C.G. Love. It was the fourth mill to be built in Gaston County and is the oldest surviving cotton mill today. The name of the mill was derived from the famed yarn mill in Mount Holly, New Jersey, in hopes of taking after their success. The mill’s success and the prosperity of the area led local residents to petition the North Carolina General Assembly for the incorporation of Mount Holly in 1879. In 1913, Hunter sold the Mayes Manufacturing Company a stretch of land near the South Fork Catawba River and the Southern Railroad, where they built a cotton textile mill.
Hunter married his first wife Rebecca and had 11 children. Rebecca died in 1890. He married his second wife, Maggie Wells Hunter, seven years later and had two children named Torrance and Elmina (Mena). Maggie Hunter died on January 9th, 1940 at the age of 79.
Hunter died on September 24th, 1918 at the age of 93. He is buried at the cemetery of Burge Memorial United Methodist Church.
In 2014, Hunter's great-grandson Dr. Eric Van Wilson published a booklet about Ransom Hunter and his descendants.
The Mount Holly Historical Society paid tribute to Ransom Hunter's life by naming him their 2017 Historic Person of the Year. Eric Van Wilson, then 58, was one of eight descendants able to attend the gathering. The descendants were joined by Mount Holly Historical Society President Mary Smith, who spoke briefly about the reason the society's board of directors selected Hunter for the honor.
On October 17th, 2017 Hunter was featured and celebrated along with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in the AT&T 2018 Edition of The Heritage Calendar.
In 2018, two of Hunter's great-great-granddaughters created The Ransom Hunter Foundation to inspire others through his story and promote philanthropic investment in the community.
In 2021, the Gastonia Honey Hunters professional Atlantic League baseball team was named after Ransom Hunter.
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