The Kingdom of Happy Land

Published 11:16 am Thursday, May 30, 2024

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William Montgomery had long dreamed of freedom, but having been enslaved for his whole life on a large Mississippi plantation, the prospects of that dream ever coming true were bleak. Finally, the long, brutal American Civil War ended, and the question of slavery was forever settled. 

Now Montgomery had another dream.

Being a religious man, William saw it as a vision from God, and it involved him and his family forever leaving the delta to find a happy land of liberty and prosperity somewhere to the north. Indeed, he had heard of a land of towering mountains, clear streams and fertile soil in western North Carolina. So, not knowing exactly where he was going or what he was going to do when he got there, William Montgomery, his wife Louella and other former slaves who shared his hope struck out on their northern trek. 

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Passing through Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, the ragtag caravan of determined pilgrims picked up more freedom-loving folk until their ranks had swollen to over two hundred!

They came to Henderson County, North Carolina, just at the South Carolina line. and there they met Mrs. Sarepta Merritt Davis. Mrs. Davis was an elderly white widow, the owner of a large, once-thriving farm. Since her husband had died Mrs. Davis desperately needed help in maintaining her large plantation. William Montgomery and his entourage were an answer to her prayers, and she to theirs. An agreement was soon reached. The former slaves would work for Mrs. Davis, putting in a spring crop and making necessary repairs to her home and property. In exchange, she would sell the enterprising group two hundred acres of her thousand-acre spread for one dollar per acre. The arrangement worked splendidly.

Another dream William Montgomery had was to return their group to some of the culture and traditions of their African ancestors. So, they established a kingdom of sorts. It was called The Kingdom of Happy Land. 

The group elected William to be their king and Louella to be their queen. Their community evolved into a communal society. They shared their work, each man and woman doing their part. The king and queen occupied separate dwellings. William lived in a cabin in North Carolina and his wife lived in another cabin close by in Greenville County. Later, when William died his brother Robert was elected king.

The group farmed, cut and sold timber, and even concocted a multi-purpose liniment they called Happy Land Liniment. At its height, around 1870, the Kingdom claimed nearly four hundred subjects. When the new century dawned, the people of Happy Land began dispersing for greater opportunities in Hendersonville, Greenville and Spartanburg. Today, the only reminder of the Kingdom of Happy Land is a road near Tuxedo called Kingdom Place. 

What little we do know about this grand experiment came from a little book written by Sadie Smathers Patton in 1957 entitled The Kingdom of the Happy Land.