Haywood County has been home to two men who, thanks to their longevity and the timing of their births, lived across three centuries.
Federic Messer was born in 1792, during the presidency of George Washington, and died in 1907, living to the age of 114. His life spanned the early days of our nation’s Constitutional government, the War of 1812, the creation of Haywood County, the Civil War and Spanish-American War. The first time he voted was cast a ballot for James Monroe for President.
Carl Winford Bryson was born one hundred years later, in 1892 and died June 28, 2001 at the age of 108. His life spanned two world wars, the Cold War, the rise and collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the Internet.
Aside from their longevity and the distinction of bridging three centuries, Messer and Bryson had other interesting traits in common.
Both were born in August, 100 years apart. Messer told a reporter he was born Aug. 12, 1792. Bryson was born on Aug. 31, 1892. Their lives overlapped by 14 years.
Both men had large families. Fed Messer and his wife, Annie, had nine children. Carl Bryson and his wife, Ninnie McElroy, had eleven.
Both men loved the Bible. Though Fed Messer reportedly could neither read nor write, he had heard and memorized many Bible passages and stories, so that the reporter who interviewed him said conversations continually returned to that topic. Carl Bryson was known as the oldest and one of the most faithful members of Antioch Baptist Church during his lifetime.
Both men loved to walk. Fed Messer was reported to have walked the 21 miles to Waynesville from his White Oak home several times after turning 100. Carl Bryson often walked the half-mile to his church on Sunday mornings well into his 90s.
Both men had distinctive styles of dress. Fed Messer claimed to have buttoned his shirt only twice in his life. Carl Bryson loved his overalls.
Both men remained keen of mind and strong of body well past the age of 100.
Finally, both men had interesting, though different, perspectives on liquor. Fed Messer claimed to take a little “snip of spirits” before breakfast each day, but otherwise limited its use, particularly because it could affect his hunting skills.
Carl Bryson was a deputy sheriff during Prohibition and often helped federal revenue agents bust up moonshine stills, until around 1935, he said. However, he was also known to slip some of that moonshine into his barn, and it was there that the battle for his soul was waged.
As Bryson told the story in 1987:
“One night my wife said ‘We’re going to have to finish the milking early cause Cove Creek (church) called and they’re coming over here and having a prayer meeting.” I said ‘Well all right, but I had half a gallon of liquor out in the dairy barn, and the thought struck me that I’d go drink that while they had their prayer meeting.
“I pulled that feed sack off (the liquor), and something came over me and I couldn’t open it, like I got the quivers. … I went back and I done the same thing; I couldn’t open it. I tried that three times and never did drink the liquor.”
About that time, he said, Bryson heard praying coming from the house. He went back to the house and accepted Jesus Christ as Lord.
“Before that I could drink a half a gallon of liquor and work all day, but from that day, I haven’t drunk any liquor since,” he said.