John Perry and Susan Ratliff

Susan Ratliff (1832-1893)

In the Bethel community on Highway 742, the beautiful old home of John Perry and Susan Ratliff sits south of Wadesboro, a good deal from the highway. The house was begun in 1852 and took three years to complete. The contractor was Billy Murr. Two other homes in the area, "Miss Ann" Ratliff's and James Thomas Webb's, were built by the same man and remain standing today.

The home was used as a personal headquarters for Judson Kilpatrick (Union) in March of 1865 during the Civil War.

The story goes that the families in the area knew Kilpatrick and his men were on their way and made certain preparations. John Perry and Susan were no exceptions. The slaves (John Perry had twelve) hid the silver and took the horses and mules far away from the house. Meat was somehow hidden so that for years afterwards the grease spots could be seen on the unpainted ceiling near the fireplace. Susan reportedly saved a gold watch by keeping it on her person throughout the experience.

It is believed John Perry remained in the area because of his diabetic condition. At any rate, John Perry and a Mr. Short were seized by chance when met on the road by Union forces. Eventually, John Perry ended up at his own home as a prisoner of Judson Kilpatrick.

His house was immediately looted and ransacked. Many of the hogs and other livestock were killed, butchered and eaten right on the spot. "Aunt Patience", a slave working in the kitchen, indicated, when asked, the general direction where the horses and mules had been hidden. Kilpatrick's men found and returned them to the house only to confiscate them on their departure except for a few in poor condition.

One hundred cotton bales, saved from the previous year, were ripped open and deposited in the field near the house and destroyed in a mountain of fire. Gone was the opportunity for receiving payment in gold at a higher price after the war.

It is believed John Perry and Susan, who was expecting, along with several of their children were held prisoners in their own house for some three days. Some say they were held upstairs while others report they existed in the small room which opens off the front porch.

When learning Joseph Wheeler's Confederate Calvary was on the way, John Perry and Susan were told their house was to be burned and John Perry taken prisoner. When all reasons for not doing so were ineffective, Susan is credited with encouraging John Perry to tell Kilpatrick he was a Mason. This was reluctantly done by John Perry, perhaps through the Masonic handshake. Afterwards, Kilpatrick thought for a moment, turned to face the pair and announced John Perry could remain with his family and the house would not be burned. Kilpatrick instructed John Perry to remain at home so he would not be seized again. He also gave intructions as how to save the house from destruction should other Union forces come to the area. This event took place in the small room which opens off of the front porch.

The silver which was hidden was never found. In later years a mysterious hole was found under the house near the south chimney. It had been filled in with sand as though it had at one time been used as a hiding place. Nothing remained in the hole but the family has often wondered if it might date back to the days of the Civil War.

John Perry died at his house about seven years after that experience. He and Susan had been married about twenty-seven years. He left behind a forty-year-old widow, twelve children (six under the age of twelve), and insufficient funds to settle his estate. However, three of the older boys, James Nathaniel, William Gaston, and John Preston, were able in two different transactions to save the estate from being auctioned out of the family. Susan remained in the house until her death at age sixty-one in 1893.

At Susan's death, the large estate was divided and her children drew lots for their inheritance. The house remained in the family, passed down for generations until 1990. At that time, the house was purchased by Warren and Vickie Webb who have plans for establishing the house as an historic landmark, preserving its colonial beauty as well as the family's history.

This article was written by Ratliff historian May MacCallum

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