James Gibbon Merrimon came from judicial royalty. He was the son of renowned Judge James H. Merrimon, and the nephew of Augustus S. Merrimon, Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. A stalwart member of the Asheville legal community for over six decades and a pit bull in the court room, J.G. Merrimon also had an uncommon passion for his flower garden, and cherished his honorary membership in the local garden club.
After he passed at 89 years old in 1948, his obituary discreetly noted that he had served as chief counsel for an unnamed orphanage for many years – a work they said he performed with quiet devotion. The article stated, “His reward was in the knowledge that he had served the little ones well who had no one else to fight their battles. It was from this work, of which he rarely spoke, that he received some of the greatest satisfaction in his life.” The orphanage referred to in that obituary was Eliada Homes, and its founder was the renowned mountain evangelist Reverend Lucius Bunyan Compton.
Compton could be a difficult client, and he would often act impulsively regarding the children under his care – those he called, “the last, the lost, and the least.” Afterwards, he would leave it to the resolute Merrimon to clear up any outstanding legal issues that might arise from his actions. But the attorney was steadfast, and he strongly believed in Rev. Compton’s work providing a safe shelter for the unwanted child at Eliada.
Starting in the mid-1930’s, Merrimon handled all of the legal matters for both the orphanage as well as Compton’s rescue home known as “Faith Cottage,” a haven for unmarried girls who were “in the family way.” He provided legal counsel for outstanding issues ranging from from financial bequests to personal injury claims to adoptions. He also represented Compton during his criminal trial in 1943, obtaining an acquittal to the sexual assault charges filed against him regarding four teenage girls living at Eliada.
Grace Green, Compton’s executive assistant who was responsible for running the orphanage in his absence, dealt directly with Merrimon on many of the most sensitive matters involving the children. The situation highlighted below, involving a case of statutory rape committed by an man against his daughter resulting in her pregnanancy, was dealt with quickly and quietly by the cautious attorney. It all began with the urgent telegram found below, followed by Merrimon’s measured response.
July 25, 1945
Miss Grace Green, Eliada Orphanage
R.F.D. Ashville, N.C.
Dear Miss Green:
Mrs. Thomas has shown me the memorandum made when you were in the office this morning regarding the baby and girl at Faith Cottage. I had talked to Mr. Compton about this matter and he promised to get me the name of the man.
Under the common law, any person can change his name at will, without any legal proceeding, by adopting another name. Some states have statutes in regard to making this change and it is said the statutory method has distinct advantages, in that it is definite and constitutes a matter of record which is easily proven even after the death of all contemporaneous witnesses.
An illegitimate baby inherits from the mother, but not from he father–it is her child, and the father is only responsible for its maintenance during minority in such amount as the court might fix. The child would not inherit from the father at all.
In North Carolina, we have a statute about change of name, which says that any person who wishes, for a good cause, to change his name must file an application before the Clerk of the Superior Court of the County in which he lives, having first given ten days notice of the change by publication at the Courthouse door and in his application the reason for desiring the change must be given, must show good character, etc. The Clerk then grants the Order making the change and the person is entitled to all the privileges and protection under the new name. He can’t change his name but once under the statute.
There is no reason why this girl can’t, if she leaves here, take any name she pleases so far as I know, provided she lives in North Carolina. The baby takes her name anyway, whatever it is. That is the only name it has. I suppose a birth certificate was given and this birth certificate would have to show the name of the mother and father. All persons are required to have birth certificates and the doctor’s duty is to furnish it. He is guilty of a misdemeanor if he does not. It might be forwarded to the Department in Raleigh. I don’t know of any provision in North Carolina that enables birth certificates to be withheld. I want to take this matter up with the Solicitor, if I can.
The birth of every child must be registered. General Statutes 130-85, etc. This certificate must be filed within five days after the birth, and it is the duty of the physician or the mid-wife to file it. The contents of the birth certificate are set forth in great detail, and it is required that all institutions shall keep records of such persons.
I will talk to the authorities about the matter, but the Eliada Orphanage can’t afford to get into trouble by not making report of births at Faith Cottage.
Yours very truly,