Donate to Hurricane Recovery

Two Stories of Forbidden Love from North Carolina’s Past

Ancient Verona isn’t the only place where stories of star-crossed lovers can be found, and to celebrate Valentine’s Day we thought we’d share two pretty incredible stories of forbidden love from North Carolina’s past.

Gov. David Lowry Swain Gov. David Lowry Swain


The first story begins with the occupation of Chapel Hill by Union forces on Easter Sunday 1865. Shortly after troops arrived in the small Orange County town, one among them, Brigadier General Smith D. Atkins, was sent to the house of UNC president and former governor David Lowry Swain to arrange for the quartering of troops. Atkins quickly fell in love with Swain’s daughter, Ellie, and immediately began trying to win her and her family over, much to the chagrin of both Chapel Hill residents and the occupying troops. Shortly after his arrival in Chapel Hill, Atkins was reassigned to western North Carolina. At his departure Ellie announced that she would marry him despite her family’s objections. Though concerned with the health of the university and the larger community, Swain ultimately consented to the wedding after investigating Atkins’ background. The wedding was reviled by the community and ultimately had disastrous consequences for the university, which saw declining enrollment and was forced to close shortly after Swain’s death a few years later. Gov. Swain’s papers are still held by the State Archives today.

An image of Rachel Blythe from the State Archives An image of Rachel Blythe from the State Archives


The second tale concerns the noted architect A.G. Bauer, who worked on a number of important public buildings including the Executive Mansion, Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill and the Western North Carolina Hospital for the Insane in Morganton. While working on the Executive Mansion in Raleigh, he fell deeply in love with Rachel Blythe, the beautiful young daughter of a Cherokee mother and a white father. Because of a state law forbidding marriage between whites and Indians, the two married in a secret ceremony in 1894. The couple was eventually able to live openly, but only for a short time. Rachel died in 1897, leaving Bauer totally heartbroken. To honor her life, Bauer constructed a small Grecian Temple of Diana at her grave in Historic Oakwood Cemetery.


Sorry, the "bummers" event took place in April 1865, right after Lee's surrender.

Here's a great link for more on AG Bauer:, and here's Rachel Blythe's grave:

Thanks for your great info - I look forward to it every day!

Thanks for the extra details and thanks for following us!

To give a little more expansion on the Atkins story, Fred Vatter wrote in the Chatham Crossroads (March, 2002, retrieved, Feb. 15, 2013, from

“Suddenly five Federal soldiers rode into Pittsboro from the west and stopped at the center of town. There had been reports that “bummers” were robbing people living a few miles north of Pittsboro and the locals suspected that these five men were the bummers. Their suspicions were reinforced when one of the soldiers was seen to be riding a fine white horse that belonged to a local citizen. When questioned about from where they had come, the soldiers said that they were the advanced guard of a large force following them, but the local citizens didn’t believe them. Their surrender was demanded by Captain Thomas West, a veteran of the Fifth North Carolina Cavalry, who had mounted his own horse as they approached. All but one of the bummers galloped away through the town, but the remaining one drew his pistol and engaged the captain in a horseback duel during which each one fired several shots. No one was hit, but the Federal soldier was narrowly missed by a bullet that lodged in the wall of a local storehouse. One local citizen was so excited by the skirmish that he ran into Hanks and Berry’s drug store, seized an empty gun and began to snap it at the hostile Yankee, who finally galloped off after this companions. A number of local Pittsboro citizens, probably young veterans who had just returned from the war, pursued the Union soldiers and caught up with them at the Haw River. In the ensuing exchange of gunfire three of the five intruders were killed. It was determined that the dead belonged to General Smith Atkin’s cavalry, in Chapel Hill. Atkins, an Illinois lawyer who had fought at Shiloh, Chickamauga, Atlanta, and through the Carolinas campaign occupied Chapel Hill with his entire brigade – the 92nd Illinois, 9th Michigan, 9th Ohio and 10th Ohio cavalry regiments. The Union troops had been ordered to protect the University and the town was relatively undamaged by the occupation, and some citizens grudgingly remarked about the civility and propriety of the Union soldiers. This was quite a surprise in view of General Sherman’s army’s reputation for destruction. Ellie Swain, daughter of the University president, was so captivated by General Atkins that she later married him. The local folk feared that General Atkins would send his troops into Pittsboro to avenge their fellow trooper’s death. Accordingly, the next day they sent the Honorable John Manning to Chapel Hill for the purpose of negotiating a peace treaty between Pittsboro and the U.S. Armies. He explained to General Atkins that the bummers were destroying the property of the already suffering local citizens and stealing whatever little they had left in the way of food or farm animals. After listening patiently, the General said that the bummers deserved to be shot, and there would be no vengeance taken out against Pittsboro.”

Undaunted Heart, published by Eno Publishers, tells the story of Ella Swain & General Atkins.

Thanks for sharing :)

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
1 + 7 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.