Friday, April 30, 2010


[This early 1900s story was told by Alexander Hunter.]

Cap'n Joe Peyton lived down on Currituck Sound, North Carolina. He owned a big house, a long seine, one hundred acres of land, a thousand or more acres of marsh, a couple of double-barreled guns, a Chesapeake Bay dog, a brier-root pipe, and he had a very fine-looking wife.

"Cap'n Peyton," as he was called by his acquaintances, and just plain "Joe" by his intimates, was a man somewhere in the fifties, over six feet tall, with a form which, in spite of its decided embonpoint, indicated great strength and vigor. … Cap'n Peyton was also the owner of a small sloop, named the Sally Lunn, in which he offered to take a party along the North Carolina coast, as far down as they might wish to go, and to remain as long as they desired to stay.

"I don't want no pay for myself, or for the boat," he wrote, "but you may furnish the solids and the liquids, and pay my boatmen and a cook. I would enjoy a little cruise; so get your party together and I will meet you at Van Slyck's landing.

[Alexander Hunter gathered a party consisting of Bill Cracklin, Tom Pilcher, Dick Long, Jack Yates, and Charlie Ransom and on August 26, year unknown, they left Norfolk on the paddle-wheel steamer Comet. Only Alexander and Bill had experience and the others were called the "Innocents." The Comet transported them through the Dismal Swamp to Currituck Sound. Hunter described the trip.]

The canal is only a few feet wide, and it required skillful steering when the steamer rounded the sharp bends. She had to shave the points very closely to keep her nose out of the opposite bank, and when another steamer was met each had to hug its respective bank until its bilge was in the mud and the branches of the trees overhanging the canal swept across the deck, causing the passengers to "lie low " to avoid being brushed off into the black waters beneath.

It was, however, when the boat met a raft of cypress logs,—a raft sometimes three thousand feet in length,—drawn by a wheezing, asthmatic tug, that the steersman got in his fine work. There was a clanging of bells on the Comet, backing and filling, sudden bumps which indicated that the yielding logs had been struck, and a general commotion on both sides. Frequently the roustabouts of the steamer would jump onto the raft and struggle desperately to keep the logs from becoming lodged in the paddlewheels. But all were in good humor; there were no oaths and no quarreling. Perhaps it was as well, for hidden on the raft somewhere was a gun, which was used to shoot muskrats, or to obtain a mess of blackbirds for supper, and the steersman on the Comet had a double barrel standing conveniently near with which to knock over a summer-duck or a flock of shorebirds. It does not do to swear at a man down there, where a curse is equivalent to a blow.

[They reached Van Slyck's Landing, now Poplar Branch, also known as Currituck Narrows, where they met Cap'n Peyton.]

We all went to the only store in the place, to provision our craft. We were not sparing; every man had a suggestion as to what he would like, and if the article of his choice was in the store it was bought. When it seemed likely that we would forget something, the storekeeper would kindly prompt us until we had nearly exhausted his stock, and it seemed as if we had enough to feed a regiment for the summer.

[They reached Captain Peyton's after dark.]

We were up betimes, however, and took a survey of the premises. It was a sporting-club-house of which our friend was the keeper. The building was as large as a town hotel, and elegantly furnished. The club numbered some twenty-five sportsmen from New York. The shares were worth five thousand dollars each. The preserves embraced three thousand acres of swamp land and water, and was considered the best place for common ducks in Currituck Sound.

[This was probably the Currituck Club, the oldest Duck Club in America.]

I visited the wild-fowl pond in which were confined the live decoys. There were two swans, eight or ten wild geese, and quite a number of common ducks; some, like the geese and swan, were originally wild, but had been crippled and then captured. … The fowls were fed every night with corn.

The Cap'n [told me]: "The wild geese I let loose early every morning, and they sail about the sound, but always return in the evening to get their feed; but I have to keep them penned up in May and November, for their instinct then asserts itself, and they would migrate and return no more. I have lost many that way."

"Do the geese understand their business?" I asked.

"Just as well as I do," he answered. "Why, there are some geese in there that do not require to have gyves [a shackle or fetter] on to be anchored; they stay of their own accord, and seem to enjoy luring their brethren to their death; and some even swim alongside the boat as it returns in the evening."

[The next morning they started their voyage. The Captain had replaced the ballast with watermelons.]

[We] made our first stop at Nag's Head [Dare County], a celebrated resort in the olden days, but at this time far on the down grade. The hotel, or tavern rather, was built after the dry goods box style, in which there are no curves, or any attempt at architecture. Three porches ran around it, and the whole structure, being destitute of paint or color, looked like an infirm poorhouse which would some day fall from sheer age and weakness.

It stood upon a strip of land about a hundred yards distant either way from the ocean and Roanoke Sound; but the wind had reared huge mountains of sand on the beach, which were much higher than the hotel, completely shutting out the view of the ocean as well as intercepting the salt sea breeze. Only the shallow sound was visible to the guests, and a wharf, run out several hundred yards into the channel, was their favorite place for exercise.

The interior of the hotel was unique, to say the least. The house was erected upon piles in the shape of a square, with a courtyard in the center, covered with black mud and some four inches of water, wherein reposed a huge hog, while around him ducks were swimming. The scene was very much like that of the rear of an Irish tenement house in the suburbs of some great city.

[In the bar,] the standard drink, but every now and then some ancient, white-headed fellow will totter up to the bar and call for the once famous "whiskey toddy."

Our next stopping-place was Manteo, a small town opposite Nag's Head, the oldest settlement in North Carolina. …

[In Manteo they hired a man, Wise, to act as their guide at the cost of $2 per day and "found."]

… The sunlight was barely sufficient to enable us to see to cast off the line which held the Sally Lunn to the wharf. There was a fine breeze blowing and the sloop sprang along like a bounding horse. It was a delightful sail and the night was salubrious. The "Innocents" were at their best; they sang, or tried to sing, laughed, joked, and were in the best possible spirits.

[The NC coast was desolate. There were lifesaving stations every 5 miles, and an occasional club house, but little else. There were five sounds separated from the ocean by the Outer Banks— a narrow strip of land a hundred miles long and from a hundred yards to a mile wide. See map at the end of the story.]

[They reached their destination a little after midnight.]

A lantern was lighted, and we saw a rough plank shanty which had been built upon a platform close to the shore. Wise said it belonged to a fisherman who used to stretch a gill-net across the channel in the spring and summer, and that we were to bunk there for the night, as the sloop had neither cabin nor shelter. Wise might have saved his breath, for the mosquitoes, attracted by the light, began to swarm around us; then there was the murmur of profane language, and the sound of whisking of clothes and handkerchiefs through the air. It was a hopeless fight, for they came in armies—millions, waves upon waves. Then we scrambled out onto the creaky, rickety old platform.

"Cap'n, for Heaven's sake keep that lantern in the boat!" sang out Bill Cracklin, who was balancing himself on a loose plank, fearing every minute to break through and tumble into the water.

"If he does, how can we see to get into this old shebang?" called out Tom Pilcher. "Pass that lantern up here, somebody!"

"If I do, all the mosquitoes will come too," said Bill.

"Will come?" said Tom sarcastically. "They are eating me alive this minute."

"God Lord, let's do something!" howled Jack Yates. "These insects sting like wasps."

Striking a match we found that the door of the shanty was barred, but the only window in the house was open, so I crawled in and unbarred the door, and the crowd rushed in and shut the door and the window. Another match's wavering gleam enabled us to take a fleeting view of the interior.

It was a mere shell, used for storing fish, although two bunks with some tattered bedclothes showed that it was a bedchamber as well. But, ye gods, the odor! It was simply horrible, sickening! The bugs! Pah! We felt our blood run cold.

The lantern was brought, and the details became clearer and more loathsome. Evidently no one had been in the place for months, and a barrel of weak brine which stood in one corner contained decayed fish. Jack Yates rushed outside, and we heard him having an attack of sea-sickness in its worst phase.

In another corner was a tub with the remains of spawn, offal and odds and ends of every kind of fish and crab that swims. This was thrown into the stream by Sam, the cook, but that was all he could do; then we took the lamp and looked around for a place to sleep.

To most of the "Innocents," who couldn't sleep without two sheets, a hair pillow and spring mattress, the sight of those moldering, loud-smelling rags was not conducive to good temper, and grumbling broke out afresh.

"Well," said Yates, "I have slept in the cabins of the Canadian trappers, but they were fine hotels compared to this."

"A roustabout's pallet on board a canal-boat is heaven to this!" cried Dick Long. "I'm going to lie down on the floor."

We had brought with us a heavy, padded coverlet and one blanket to each man. It was Hobson's choice as to where we were to lie. The odor still remained; nothing short of burning down the shanty would destroy that. The bugs were still there, and plenty of other insects that had established headquarters in the place were no doubt waiting to make our acquaintance.

Some of the party were lying on the floor; Jack Yates and I had squeezed into one of the bunks, and it was quiet for about five minutes, as each man tried to sink peacefully into slumber; no sound disturbed us save the hum of the mosquito. Suddenly came the sound of Jack's quavering voice: "It's hot enough to roast a pig in this hole; can't somebody open the door?"

"No! Somebody nor nobody is going to open the door; there are enough mosquitoes in here now," Bill Cracklin, who was lying against it, growled out.

"Boys, it's hot; fearfully hot!" said Pilcher. "I can't sleep; I feel now like a lobster boiled alive."

"Oh!" said Dick Long, "their sufferings are nothing compared to mine. I'm roasted and my carcass has been sucked dry by the cursed insects."

Then followed a slap and a hearty malediction.

"Fellows," wailed Jack, "can't we light the lantern? If I must die I want my glazing eyes to rest on my friends' loved faces; this Cimmerian darkness is torture—oh, confound the mosquitoes!"

"The lamp—the lantern—let's have a light!" from several. Then up spoke our Quintus Curtius, otherwise Portly Bill: "Light the lantern! Boys, are you crazy? Why, this old shebang is full of knot-holes, and if a light shines there will be a million mosquitoes."

"There are that many in here now! " howled Tom.

"No, there ain't," responded Bill soothingly. "The few that are in here now will soon get full; let them alone, and they will let you alone."

"Just listen to him," cried Charley, the infant. "He knows they won't tackle his tough old hide so long as they can feed on me."

"For my part," said Long, "I don't know which is the worst, the heat, the stink, or the mosquitoes."

"Oh, the heat," said Jack. "I feel like the old man who died unconverted. Shall I tell you about it?"

"Yes, go ahead," cried several.

"Well, there was an old couple, very poor, who lived near a large city. The woman was a firm believer, but the man had no faith to speak of. At last the old fellow fell sick, and grew steadily worse. Despite the grief and admonitions of his wife, he held stubbornly to his disbelief in hell. Several weeks after his death his aged wife went into the city to sell some chickens and blackberries. While there she heard of a clairvoyant who could put people in direct communication with the dead. So she hied herself to the ghostly go-between and asked to have speech with her husband; and the following conversation was held: "John, are you happy?"

A gruff "No," mingled with a strong smell of sulphur, was the reply.

"If there is anything I can do for you, John, call on me."

"All right; please send me by express a palm leaf fan, a suit of summer clothes, and a barrel of ice-water."

When the laughter had died away after this narrative, somebody inquired where the Cap'n was.

Bill replied that he, Wise, and the cook were on the boat, and he added, "By George, listen to that! Why, dem my buttons if it ain't a camp meeting hymn; they will be asleep soon, for that hymn business is the last stage."

"Say, has any fellow got a match?" queried Charley Ransom.

"What do you want it for?"

"Oh, I want it for fun," sarcastically. "Say, Bill, lend me your tobacco-bag."

He filled his pipe, struck a match, and sitting cross-legged, declared he enjoyed this smoke more than any he had ever had. That stirred up the sufferers, and soon match after match was ignited, showing each man with his face swathed in some garment. Soon little dull gleams shone here and there, and the room was rapidly filled with smoke. It must have made the mosquitoes "sit up and take notice," for they tortured us no more that night, and soon the snores of the "Innocents " indicated that they were at peace with the world and mankind for the time being.

The sun was showing its broad disk over the ocean brim when, yawning and gasping, the crowd came out of the cabin. Some disrobed and plunged into the water, and the salt bath acted like an elixir; others commenced fishing from the platform, but caught nothing save crabs.

[The party enjoyed a breakfast of coffee, crabs, fried fish, oysters, ham, roasted tomatoes and potatoes. After breakfast, they prepared to fish. They took their positions where the inlet made a sharp curve.]

Each man had a cord about thirty yards long; the hook was of large size, protected y a shank of copper wire, and a half-pound sinker was attached; the bait used was clams, crabs, or a strip of flesh cut from the sea trout. We stood in a line about ten feet apart. The bank was about two feet above the swelling tide and sloped at an acute angle. Nearly all the "Innocents" were novices at hand-line fishing. …

Bill had tied one end of his string to his suspenders. He shot the lead and away it sped heavenward; and as Bill stood watching it with a gratified smile he felt a twitch; his suspenders jerked from the button, and away went the line and disappeared under the waves. Bill stared with his mouth open for fully a minute, then went back to the sloop to hunt up another line. … In the mean time, the slingers were having all sorts of mishaps.

Jack Yates had lassoed himself helpless. He did accidentally, in one throw, what it would take a man ten minutes' hard work to perform. His arms and legs were bound fast by the encircling line, and Wise had to use time and patience to get him loose again. Tom Pilcher had swung the lead around his head and let it go. It started all right, but the line became entangled in a knot, and Tom was sitting on the ground picking away to get it untwisted. Dick Long sent his missile straight, as did Wise; but I was cutting a hook out of my pantaloons, a hook that had gone through beyond the barb.

Bill had returned by this time. He had obtained a line and hook, but in his hurry he could not find the box wherein we kept our tackle, although he discovered an old rusty iron ring-bolt, about six inches in diameter, which he used for a sinker. He came running down, and hastily baiting his hook, launched the line into the air. It caught, and the sinker, describing a parabolic curve, struck me on the back of the head, making me see more stars in a second than I had observed in all my lifetime. I mildly reproved him as I rubbed my head and then bathed it in the stream. I told him if he ever caught me close enough to him hereafter he was at liberty to knock my brains out with his old junk-shop line. Bill snickered and said that I did not have enough brains to bait a fishhook.

[Eventually, the fishermen had a good catch. By noon, they were exausted; they gave up fishing and feasted on iced watermelon. In the evening, they decided to move further south to New Inlet. Here they found a solid island and the New Inlet life-saving station. They pitched their tents and Parker, the cook, prepared supper. Capt. J. W. Westcott, keeper of the life-saving station, paid them a visit.]

He had just returned from Bodie's Island, one of the places that President Cleveland was so fond of visiting, and where the shooting of both wild fowl and bay-birds was very good. The first day's shooting at this place resulted in the President bagging one hundred and sixty baybirds and four curlews. … One of the coast guards, who was with Mr. Cleveland, told me that the President tumbled over nine out of every ten birds he fired at. …

[After supper, Capt. Westcott invited them to the station where they spent the night in the sleeping apartment which had camp cots and screened windows. The next day, they continued fishing with great success.]

"Well, boys," said Cap'n Peyton the next morning after breakfast, what's the plans for to-day?"

"I'm going a-fishing," said Dick Long.

"So will I," spoke up Bill, Tom and Jack.

"That's all right. Here, Wise," he shouted, "get the bait and carry these gentlemen to the best fishing-grounds."

"Well, Cap'n, what do you intend to do?"

"Oh, I reckon I'll lay around."

"If that's all you have to do, suppose you send a boy, and telephone to Bodie's Island Life-Saving Station. You know them, don't you?"

The Cap'n laughed.Know 'em?" he said. "Why, I know every man, woman and child from Currituck to Hatteras."

"Who is the keeper of the Bodie's Island Station?"

"Oh, he's an old darky, named Jake, who used to wait on me during the war. It is the only station manned by a colored crew on the Atlantic Coast, I believe."

"That's exactly right. Send Sam to the New Inlet and let him telephone Jake to meet us with a cart; I want to go over Bodie's Island."

Two hours later we made a run across the inlet and found "Uncle Jake," as he was called, awaiting us with a cart and two strong mules. The keeper … was, "before the war," the valet of a rich man who lived on Roanoke Island, who taught him to read and write. Jake was a splendid waterman, and when the station was established in 1870 he was chosen chief. His establishment was as neat as a pin, and his crew were a fine, lusty set of men.

[Jake gave them a tour and told them stories about Blackbeard and his many marriages. Supposedly, there were half a dozen Dare Co. residents who were descendants of Blackbeard.]

I examined the houses of the wreckers, who lived and pursued their calling prior to the year 1870. Some of the dwellings were large and roomy, and if walls could talk, what tales might they not tell of dark conspiracies, the dividing of plunder and the heavy drinking of old liquors and wines that had been saved from the various wrecks. I counted the remains of seventeen vessels lying upon Bodie's Island. This coast is the most dreaded by mariners of any in the world. Even now, with all the appliances of steam, weather bureau, and life-saving station, scores of ships are wrecked on the hundred miles of coast from Cape Henry to Hatteras.

Before the establishment of the stations and the erection of the light-houses, this coast was like the vortex of hell to sailors. The insidious current inshore, the frequent storms, the dense fogs and the sandbars, all combined to make the wrecks frequent and complete. Nowadays, a greater portion of the freight is carried in the vast, roomy iron steamers that rarely are driven ashore. But in the olden days all merchandise went on wooden bottoms, and then the wreckers flourished on this island. They had their own way then, for the canal connecting the North Carolina sounds had not been constructed, and this section was as isolated as an island in the Pacific Ocean.

I saw the house of the most noted wrecker on the coast, Captain Jesse Etheridge. The dwelling was originally well made, of plank, with a huge fireplace. For more than a score of years no hand had touched the house; the planks and the weather-boarding had dropped from their fastenings, and the whole house had a tumble-down appearance. The quaint furniture was just as the last occupant had left it. I took a sketch of the place when I left.

[They next day was Sunday and the fishermen took the day off. On Monday, they planned to provide a magnificent dinner for themselves. Hunter and Yates were rowed to Bodie's island to hunt birds. By mid-day Hunter had 3 dozen snipe and two curlews and Jack had 4 dozen birds and 5 curlews. While they waited to be picked up, they fished and for a while caught large sea trout to add to the feast. The day was a typical August day, blistering hot.]

Upon our return we had a banquet fit for the gods. … We had eel and catfish stew, a famous Dare County cured ham, broiled baybirds, sheepshead, trout, clam chowder, roasted drumfish, soft crabs, and sweet potatoes; and the entertainment wound up with a tureen of real diamond-back terrapin stew. It was a jovial evening we spent.

The next morning Cap'n Peyton was in high glee. He had gone down to the beach to take his morning swim, and had heard and seen drumfish in the breakers. … The keeper fortunately had enough lines to go around. They were exactly the kind used for catching codfish, about an eighth of an inch in diameter, with a large hook tied to a wire leader, the sinker weighing nearly one-half pound.

"Now," said the Cap'n, "we have got to catch some sand crabs and fiddlers for bait."

We burst out laughing, for we had all tried to catch this white, ghostly looking crustacean that had its hole a short distance from the high-water mark, but although we could see hundreds within a pistol shot distance, we could not capture a single one.…

"You catch them, Cap'n, and we will eat them, claws and all—and eat them raw, too."

"I'll take you at your word," he said.

So he fell to work with a spade that we had not observed, and after digging about two feet found the astonished crab, took it up, and, handing it to Bill Cracklin, told him to "chaw it up."

Well, we had to acknowledge the corn, and confess that our skipper knew more of fishing than all of our party put together. We caught a basketful of bait, and then strung out along the surf and proceeded to take off our lower garments, while some went "the whole hog," and kept nothing on but their hats. I had not forgotten my experience with the handlines, and I knew that if one of those huge sinkers should hit me it would be my passport to "Kingdom Come," so I went away up the shore, and there entered the surf. I gave the line a sling that ought to have sent it to its utmost length, but it only tangled up and dropped a few feet off. I then tried the scientific way and got it out at last.

It is indispensable that the sinker shall be shot beyond the breakers, and to do this the thrower must stand up to his hips in the water and cast the lead fully ninety feet. To accomplish this feat the line must be coiled in the left hand, the right hand gives the lead a twirl and lets it go, and it hums through the air at an angle of forty degrees. The coil, following the sinker in a long, arching spiral, finally straightens to a parabola, and disappears with a loud splash far in the blue, heaving billows.

Drum-fishing is… the most exhilarating kind of fishing to be found on the coast. …

I baited and made a beautiful throw, and the bait was seized at once. I turned to the land, put the line over my shoulder and ran. It was a good pull, and I did not stop until the fish was floundering on the sand above the high-water mark. It was a beauty, and would weigh, Cap'n Peyton judged, at least twelve pounds. I stood panting, but flushed and thrilled with delight, as I viewed the lusty fellow, his scales flashing back the light and changing from golden sheen to silver and emerald. …I caught three more drums, the largest a fifteen pounder, and I was pretty well tired out with whirling the lead, drawing in the long line and re-baiting the hook, as well as making my way through the water.

[By the end of the day, they had 31 drums, the largest weighing 35 pounds.]

The one we had for dinner was larded and put into a pan half full of water, then it was roasted in a hot oven. It weighed a little over seven pounds, yet furnished the entire party. …

[A couple of days later, Hunter and Jack Yates visited Roanoke Island and the light-house there. They spent the day visiting with the keeper and his crew who gave them tips about sporting matters in the area. They spent two days on Roanoke Island and when they returned they found the rest of the party ready to return to civilization.]

We [Alexander Hunter and Bill Cracklin] determined to go to Cape Hatteras by getting each station to furnish us a mule team. The next morning we bade good-by and bon voyage to our friends, and watched the Sally Lunn as she sailed away in the distance.

Source: The Huntsman in the South, Vol. 1 by Alexander Hunter 1908. This is a Google book and the story can be read in its entirety on Google.

Hunter does not tell us the year of his trip, but it must have been prior to 1908.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Rowdy Leader
Colonel Griffith Jones
Ca. 1692 - 1766

Griffith Jones was an early settler along the Pasquotank River in northeastern North Carolina. Usually called "Griffin," Jones was a trouble maker in his younger days. In 1729, he and Truman Jones appeared in court charged with "forcible entry and expelling from her plantation the widow and infant son of the late Colonel William Reed." No doubt the neighbors were interested when the indictment went on to say that the two men used "force and Armes to Witt Swords Staves Gunns and other defensive and invasive Armes with the Appurtenances at Arenoose Creek in Pasquotank precinct upon the peaceable possessions of one Mrs. Jane Reed Widow and Extrix of William Reed late of Pasquotank precinct aforesaid Esqr dec'd." The accused men were charged with ejecting the widow Reed and her infant son and "with a Strong hand did keep them out and still do."

However, by 1773, Griffith Jones had become a more upstanding citizen. He had often served as a member of the court where the guardian accounts of his orphan children, Meriam and Lemuel Jones, were rendered. Some of the items purchased for his daughter were: "a quantity of dimity and lace, a scarlet cloak, a silk gauze dress cap with ribbon, a year's tuition to Lemuel Burkitt for schooling, and fees to Charles Cason for 3 mos. teaching her Dances." Among the expenditures for Lemuel were: "buckram, broadcloth, linen, silk handkerchiefs, a silk hat, and for 6 mos. Schooling."

Which was the real Griffith Jones? Was he the wild evictor of widows or the father who provided well for his children? No doubt he was both. Obviously his reputation suffered no harm from the episode with Mrs. Reed as he was elected to the House of Commons just two years after the incident.

Jones was married twice, but court records, including deeds and wills, reveal that he had several mistresses on the side. In fact, one of his illegitimate children took his father's name and received valuable gifts from him.

Jones was elected seven times to the General Assembly and served as a justice of the Pasquotank Precinct Court. Militarily, he was referred to as Major in 1735. By 1745, he was a Colonel. His final service seems to have been in the general muster of 1754-55. Because of the difficulty of having to cross the Pasquotank River, the Militia organized two separate commands, one on each side of the river. Griffiths was captain of the company "drawn from the inhabitants within the forks of Arenuse Creek over to North River."

Source: Three Hundred Years Along the Pasquotank: A Biographical History of Camden County by Jesse Forbes Pugh, 1957.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Hasty Wedding

Marriage Extraordinary.

Married, at Edgecombe House, in this place [Tarboro, Edgecombe Co., NC], on Sunday morning last, by J. T. Clark, Esq, Mr. James Groves to Miss Amanda Ward, daughter of Mr. Joseph Ward. The youthful pair, aged 18 and 15 years, left Hamilton, Martin county, [North Carolina], on Saturday night last, and after divers mishaps by mud and flood, (the course of true love never running smooth,) arrived here at 4 o'clock on Sunday morning—by 5 o'clock they obtained the requisite fixins and were married—remained here until 8 o'clock, and turning their faces homeward, went on their way rejoicing.

[Tarboro' Southerner, 9/16/1855]

The Rest of the Story
For the Southerner

Hamilton, Sept. 10th, 1855

Mr. [George] Howard: Dear Sir, Having seen my marriage published in the papers, I will give you a small sketch of things that passed before we were married. If you see proper, you can have it added to what has been said.

I had been visiting her father's house and waiting on Amanda for the last six months, and was received as a neighbor or a friend by the old man and the rest of the home family; but her grandmother being offended with me, began to be quite suspicious thinking I was courting Amanda.

I was in the presence of both one night and Amanda and I conversed freely together until 9 o'clock; after I retired the old lady said to Amanda, you seem to treat Mr. Groves with great respect; she replied, yes, grandmother, I treat him with the great respect I have for him.

Yes, the old lady said, the first thing I know you and he will be married. You need not be surprised, was the reply.

It filled the old lady's heart with anger; she then resolved to break peace between us. She then done and said everything of evil against me that she could, but as true lovers it did not seem to avail anything, or to turn her at all; but her words were to me that the more she said, the better she loved me.

The old lady making a failure in that undertaking, she thought she would seek revenge some other way; she then goes to her father and her cousin Tiur, and said to them as follows: Groves is going to your house for the purpose of seeking the advantage of your daughter, and if I was in your place I would stop him from going there—and also slandered me every way she could.

Then the old man went home on Tuesday morning and said to Amanda, do you give Mr. Groves encouragement to come here? Father, If I was not here he would not come. Well, Amanda, I had rather see you laid in the grave than to marry him. Why father, what have you got against him? Don't you find him every time the same? Yes, said the old man, I have nothing against him, but I don't want you to marry. Well, father, you can stop him from coming here, but that will never turn me from him. Her father then left her, and said no more at present.

On Wednesday following the old Mother went to her father again telling him a great miraculous tale, such a one as I am not able to describe. Her father being much disturbed, he hastened home to talk to her again. Words were passed as follows: Amanda, it is reported all over town that you and Mr. Groves are going to marry; whether or no, what you intend shall never be, and if I ever catch him here again there will be blood spilt, as sure as there is another world.

It filled her heart with sorrow to hear him talk so about one she dearly loved. She then sat down to write a note to me, to let me know how words had passed about me. Her words were as follows: Mr. Groves, my true one, for you feel dearer to me than any one on earth; therefore I will write a few lines to you to let you know how words past about you and I today. He said if you did come here again there would be blood spilt as sure as there is another world. My true one, that will never turn me from you. If they take my life, oh! I can't, I can’t turn from one I love so dearly. I do love you and that you do know. I am willing to take the first share, I am willing to die for you; but my true love, will you turn from me? Will you ever?

I being present and in her father's house, I as a man that fear no man, I arose from my seat in her presence, and in the presence of the rest of her folks said, No, no, I will never—be ye faithful unto me and I will to you—though I am a little man, I am not afraid of any man; for we are contending for that which has been deemed honorable from the foundation of the world, and if God is for us who can be against us—and we shall come out more than conquerors at last. We then departed. She said with a trembling voice, do not forget me. My answer was, I never will.

Arrangements I then made, and Saturday night at 10 o'clock I went to her residing place, took her and started to Tarboro', and there was married. Her people knew nothing of it until next morning. Correct errors, and mistakes. Ages 18 and 23.

James D. Groves.
Amanda W. Ward as were.

[Tarboro Southerner, 10/22/1855. The Connector, newsletter of Tar River Connections Genealogical Society, Winter 2007 issue.]

Note: J. D. Groves, 18, and Amanda, 22, were listed on the 1860 Census in Hamilton, Martin Co., NC. They had 2 children: Jenigan, female aged 3 and Thadis, male aged 1. Groves was a merchant with real estate valued at $1,250 and a personal estate of $4,300. They were census record 1010.

Groves's father-in-law, J. J. Ward, was record 1016, so they apparently lived near each other. Ward was a farmer with real estate valued at $9,500 and a personal estate o $1,200. He had 5 people, aged 10 and younger, living in his household. The oldest female was 16, so perhaps he had needed Amanda as his housekeeper in 1855.
Noah White's Cannonball

My great great grandfather Noah White purchased two tracts of land in Washington County, [North Carolina] in 1840 and moved there from Chowan County [NC}. The land was located on the Albemarle Sound east of Chapel Swamp and west of Holly Neck Road. Noah and Sarah Parker White raised 8 children, 7 boys and 1 girl. The family was a staunch supporter of the Confederate cause and the women did a great deal of sewing and knitting for the soldiers.

A cannonball was said to have been fired at the house Noah built just prior to the Civil War. The ball was solid and weighed 30 pounds. It was a fixture in the front yard for over 90 years. Fragments of other cannonballs have been found about a quarter mile southeast of the house, and one piece of one has been found embedded in a tree. The question is, "Did those 'low down, no good Yankees' shoot at a defenseless farmhouse, or was there a naval engagement on the sound with the cannonballs being simply a product of poor marksmanship?" We will never know.

The last family member to reside on this property was Sallie Cherry Davenport who died in 1955. Shortly after her death that old cannonball in the front yard jumped in the trunk of my car, and I have had it for the last 44 years. There never was a better doorstop.

Source: Some of the Blue Hen's Chickens: Tyrrell and Washington County Folk Culture. The stories in this book were collected by local residents in a July 1997 seminar and published by the Humanities Extension/Publications Program at North Carolina State University in September 1999.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Skirmish near Newport.

Two Reports

No. 1.—Lieut. Col. James Wilson, Ninth New Jersey Infantry.
No. 2.—Capt. John Soothe," C. S. Army.

No. 1.

Report of Lieut. Col. James Wilson, Ninth New Jersey Infantry.

Newport Barracks, N. C.,
April 7, 1862—2.30 p. m.

General,: I have to inform you that our outside pickets on the Cedar Point road were attacked this noon at about 1 o'clock by a force of about 40 cavalry mounted and about 20 on foot, who made a sudden dash upon our post.

In skirmishing we had 1 man shot, wounded, and are fearful 1 made prisoner. This information I have from courier sent in.

Our men stood the attack and returned the fire, killing one horse, but are unable to learn any other damage, as the enemy retreated at a rapid rate, but suppose they must have killed or wounded some.

I have sent forward another company to strengthen this post, who arrived there soon after the attack.

Awaiting your orders, I remain your most obedient servant,

 Lieutenant-Colonel, Comdg. Ninth Regiment New Jersey Vols.

Maj. Gen. J. G. Parke.

No. 2.

Jones County, N. C., April 8, 1862.

Sir : According to your instructions I make the following report of my progress since Saturday last:

I took my march toward Carteret County on Saturday, and reached Mr. Foscue's, on the Beaufort road, 20 miles below Trenton.

Sunday I was joined by Captain Hill and 50 of his men and proceeded toward Beaufort. At sunset I halted, and sent forward to ascertain the number and position of the enemy's advance reported to be ahead. At 1 o'clock in the night my scouts came in, not able to find anything, and I proceeded to Eli Saunders' and fed my horses and men.

Monday morning I was joined by Lieutenant Humphreys with about 30 men. By agreement with Captain Hill and Lieutenant Humphreys I divided the whole force into four platoons of about 30 men each, placing the men with the best arms in the first platoon. This platoon I placed under command of Lieutenant Eure and sent it forward as an advance down the road from Saunders' toward Newport. I followed with the other three platoons and their commanders a short distance behind the advance. After going within 5 miles of Newport the advance saw a squad of 5 of the enemy and charged them, capturing 3 and killing 2. About 200 yards in advance of the first squad there was another squad of 12, which being discovered. Lieutenant Euro rallied his platoon and charged them, killing 1 and capturing C. Most of the enemy fired their muskets without injuring a horse or man on our side.

In five minutes after the firing ceased two companies of the eueniy came in sight and fired upon us and fell into the marsh. _ By their fire the only damage done was the killing of my horse under me. I ordered the men to retire down the hill, as there was no chance to charge them from a miry causeway. With our 9 prisoners I retraced my steps to this place last night.

As the first platoon did the principal work, I deem it sheer justice to say that they behaved with great bravery.

I let Lieutenant Humphreys take charge of 3 prisoners, Captain Hill 3, and I send the remainder to you and through you to General Eansom.

I am very anxious that you should recall me forthwith, as my horses and men are completely exhausted and tired out.

I also send 7 muskets captured from the enemy and Captain Hill took two.

The number of the enemy at Newport and stationed at intervals from Newport to the place we encountered them is about 600 or 700 from the best information. At and about Morehead City one regiment.

All praise is due to Lieutenant Eure and Orderly Jordan, who led the charge of the advance guard. Your obedient servant,

Capt. Commanding.

Col. W. G. Bobinson.

P. S.—Since writing the above one of my pickets has come in from Haughton's, about 4 miles from Pollocksyille, toward Wilmington, saying the enemy had fired upon him and killed or taken the 2 pickets that were with him, and that there was 500 or 600 of the enemy.

Source: The War of the Rebellion: v. 1-53 [serial no. 1-111] Formal reports, both ...  by Calvin Duvall Cowles, Henry Martyn Lazelle, Leslie J. Perry, 1883 (A Google Book)

A Good Jury?

Some years ago Hon. George E. Badger was called to Halifax, N. C., by B. F. Moore, Esq., as associate in a desperate murder case he was defending. After the jury was empanelled, court took a recess for dinner; and as they were going to the hotel, some one walking behind them overheard the following conversation: —

"Moore," said Badger, "this is a bad case. I hope you have got a good jury. As you live here, I have trusted its selection to you."

"Yes, sir," said Moore; "we have a tolerably good jury."

Badger became excited. "A tolerably good jury, Mr. Moore, in such a case as this ? "

"Well," coolly replied his friend, "the two leading men on the jury are sureties for our fee of a thousand dollars; and if the man hangs they will have it to pay."

"Ah!" said Badger, slapping him on the back; "I call that a d__d good jury."

Source: The green bag, An Entertaining Magazine for Lawyers, Volume 5 by Horace Williams Fuller, Sydney Russell Wrightington, Arthur Weightman Spencer, Thomas Tileston Baldwin, 1893

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Sketch of Pioneer Life

John Williams was born in Carteret County, North Carolina in 1790, just weeks before his father's death. In 1800, financial difficulties forced his mother to give up the family homestead and the family moved from Beaufort, North Carolina to Glenn's Run, between Wheeling and St. Clairsville in Ohio. On the journey west, the party remained at Alexandria, Virginia for several days. In planning for the trek across the mountains, everything was weighed and John wrote, "My weight was just 75 pounds."

In later life, John S. Williams [John Williams added his mother's maiden name 'Shoebridge' to his name to distinguish himself from others named John Williams] edited the American Pioneer, published in 1843 in Cincinnati. In it he wrote about his early life, including a sketch of pioneer life, published as "Our Cabin; or Life in the Woods.


Our Cabin Described.—. … Our cabin had been raised, covered, part of the cracks chinked, and part of the floor laid when we moved in on Christmas day [1800]! … We had intended an inside chimney, for we thought the chimney ought to be in the house. We had a log put across the whole width of the cabin for a mantel, but when the floor was in we found it so low as not to answer, and removed it.

Here was a great change for my mother … [who] was raised in the most delicate manner in and near London… . She was now in the wilderness, surrounded by wild beasts, in a cabin with about half a floor, no door, no ceiling overhead, not even a tolerable sign for a fireplace, the light of day and the chilling winds of night passing between every two logs in the building, the cabin so high from the ground that a bear, wolf, panther, or any other animal less in size than a cow, could enter without even a squeeze. Such was our situation on Thursday and Thursday night, December 25, 1800, and which was bettered but by very slow degrees. We got the rest of the floor laid in a very few days, the chinking of the cracks went on slowly, but the daubing could not proceed till weather more suitable, which happened in a few days; door-ways were sawed out and steps made of the logs, and the back of the chimney was raised up to the mantel, but the funnel of sticks and clay was delayed until spring.

In building our cabin it was set to front the north and south, my brother using my father's pocket compass on the occasion. We had no idea of living in a house that did not stand square with the earth itself. The position of the house, end to the hill, necessarily elevated the lower end, and the determination of having both a north and south door added much to the airiness of the domicile, particularly after the green ash puncheons had shrunk so as to have cracks in the floor and doors from one to two inches wide. At both the doors we had high, unsteady, and sometimes icy steps, made by piling up the logs cut out of the wall. We had a window, if it could be called a window, when, perhaps, it was the largest spot in the top, bottom, or sides of the cabin at which the wind could not enter. It was made by sawing out a log, placing sticks across, and then, by pasting an old newspaper over the hole, and applying some hog's lard, we had a kind of glazing which shed a most beautiful and mellow light across the cabin when the sun shone on it. All other light entered at the doors, cracks and chimney.

Our cabin was twenty-four by eighteen. The west end was occupied by two beds, the centre of each side by a door, and here our symmetry had to stop, for on the opposite side of the window, made of clapboards, supported on pins driven into the logs, were our shelves. Upon these shelves my sister displayed, in ample order, a host of pewter plates, basins, and dishes, and spoons, scoured and bright. It was none of your new-fangled pewter made of lead, but the best London pewter, which our father himself bought of Townsend, the manufacturer. These were the plates upon which you could hold your meat so as to cut it without slipping and without dulling your knife. …

A ladder of five rounds occupied the corner near the window. By this, when we got a floor above, we could ascend. Our chimney occupied most of the east end; pots and kettles opposite the window under the shelves, a gun on hooks over the north door, four split-bottom chairs, three three-legged stools, and a small eight by ten looking-glass sloped from the wall over a large towel and comb-case. These, with a clumsy shovel and a pair of tongs, made in Frederick, with one shank straight, as the best manufacture of pinches and blood-blisters, completed our furniture, except a spinning-wheel and such things as were necessary to work with. It was absolutely necessary to have three-legged stools, as four legs of anything could not all touch the floor at the same time.

The completion of our cabin went on slowly. The season was inclement, we were weak-handed and weak-pocketed; in fact, laborers were not to be had. We got our chimney up breast-high as soon as we could, and got our cabin daubed as high as the joists outside. It never was daubed on the inside, for my sister, who was very nice, could not consent to ''live right next to the mud.'' My impression now is, that the window was not constructed till spring, for until the sticks and clay was put on the chimney we could possibly have no need of a window; for the flood of light which always poured into the cabin from the fireplace would have extinguished our paper window, and rendered it as useless as the moon at noonday.

We got a floor laid overhead as soon as possible, perhaps in a month; but when it was laid, the reader will readily conceive of its imperviousness to wind or weather, when we mention that it was laid of loose clapboards split from a red oak. That tree grew in the night, and so twisting that each board laid on two diagonally opposite corners, and a cat might have shook every board on our ceiling. It may be well to inform the unlearned reader that clapboards are such lumber as pioneers split with a frow [a cleaving tool with the handle set into the blade at right angles to the cutting edge], and resemble barrel staves before they are shaved, but are split longer, wider and thinner; of such our roof and ceiling were composed. Puncheons were planks made by splitting logs to about two und a half or three inches in thickness, and hewing them on one or both sides with the broad-axe. Of such our floor, doors, tables and stools were manufactured. …

The evenings of the first winter did not pass off as pleasantly as evenings afterwards. We had raised no tobacco to stem and twist, no corn to shell, no turnips to scrape; we had no tow to spin into rope-yarn, nor straw to plait for hats, and we had come so late we could get but few walnuts to crack. We had, however, the Bible, George Fox's Journal, Berkley's Apology, and a number of books, all better than much of the fashionable reading of the present day … . To our stock of books were soon after added a borrowed copy of the Pilgrim's Progress, which we read twice through without stopping.

The first winter our living was truly scanty and hard; but even this winter had its felicities. We had part of a barrel of flour which we had brought from Fredericktown. Besides this, we had part of a jar of hog's lard brought from old Carolina: not the tasteless stuff which now goes by that name, but pure leaf lard, taken from hogs raised on pine roots and fattened on sweet potatoes, and into which, while rendering, were immersed the boughs of the fragrant bay tree, that imparted to the lard a rich flavor. Of that flour, shortened with this lard, my sister every Sunday morning, and at no other time, made short biscuit for breakfast—not these greasy gum elastic biscuits we mostly meet with now, rolled out with a pin, or cut out with a cutter; or those that are, perhaps, speckled by or puffed up with refined lye called salaeratus [baking soda], but made out, one by one, in her fair hands, placed in neat juxtaposition in a skillet or spider, pricked with a fork to prevent blistering, and baked before an open fire—not half-baked and half-stewed in a cooking-stove.

The Woods about us.— In the ordering of a good Providence the winter was open, but windy. While the wind was of great use in driving the smoke and ashes out of our cabin, it shook terribly the timber standing almost over us. We were sometimes much and needlessly alarmed. We had never seen a dangerous looking tree near a dwelling, but here we were surrounded by the tall giants of the forest, waving their boughs and uniting their brows over us, as if in defiance of our disturbing their repose, and usurping their long and uncontested pre-emption rights. The beech on the left often shook his bushy head over us as if in absolute disapprobation of our settling there, threatening to crush us if we did not pack up and start. The walnut over the spring branch stood high and straight; no one could tell which way it inclined, but all concluded that if it had a preference it was in favor of quartering on our cabin. We got assistance to cut it down. The axe man doubted his ability to control its direction, by reason that he must necessarily cut it almost off before it would fall. … He was successful. Part of the stump still stands there, and all other dangerous trees, were got down without other damage than many frights and frequent desertions of the premises by the family while the trees were being cut. The ash beyond the house crossed the scarf and fell on the cabin, but without damage.

Sketch of cabin made by John Williams

Howling Wolves.—The monotony of the time for several of the first years was broken and enlivened by the howl of wild beasts. The wolves howling around us seemed to moan their inability to drive us from their long and undisputed domain. The bears, panthers and deer seemingly got miffed at our approach or the partiality of the hunters, and but seldom troubled us. … When spring was fully come and our little patch of corn, three acres, put in among the beech roots, which at every step contended with the shovel-plough for the right of soil, and held it too, we enlarged our stock of conveniences.

As soon as bark would run (peel off) we could make ropes and bark boxes. These we stood in great need of, as such things as bureaus, stands, wardrobes, or even barrels, were not to be had. The manner of making ropes of linn bark was to cut the bark in strips of convenient length, and water-rot it in the same manner as rotting flax or hemp. When this was done the inside bark would peel off and split up so fine as to make a pretty considerably rough and good-for-but-little kind of a rope. Of this, however, we were very glad, and let no ship owner with his grass ropes laugh at us.

We made two kinds of boxes for furniture. One kind was of hickory bark with the outside shaved off. This we would take off all around the tree, the size of which would determine the caliber of our box. Into one end we would place a flat piece of bark or puncheon cut round to fit in the bark, which stood on end the same as when on the tree. There was little need of hooping, as the strength of the bark would keep that all right enough. Its shrinkage would make the top unsightly in a parlor nowadays, but then they were considered quite an addition to the furniture. A much finer article was made of slippery elm bark, shaved smooth and with the inside out, bent round and sewed together when the ends of the hoop or main bark lapped over. The length of the bark was around the box, and inside out. A bottom was made of a piece of the same bark dried flat, and a lid, like that of a common band-box, made in the same way. This was the finest furniture in a lady's dressing-room, and then, as now, with the finest furniture, the lapped or sewed side was turned to the wall and the prettiest port to the spectator. They were usually made oval, and while the bark was green were easily ornamented with drawings of birds, trees, etc., agreeably to the taste and skill of the fair manufacturer. As we belonged to the Society of Friends, it may be fairly presumed that our band-boxes were not thus ornamented.

Pioneer Food.— We settled on beech land, which took much labor to clear. We could do no better than clear out the smaller stuff and burn the brush, etc., around the beeches which, in spite of the girdling and burning we could do to them, would leaf out the first year, and often a little the second. The land, however, was very rich, and would bring better corn than might be expected. We had to tend it principally with the hoe, that is, to chop down the nettles, the water-weed and the touch-me-not. Grass, earless lambs-quarter and Spanish needles were reserved to pester the better prepared farmer.

We cleared a small turnip patch, which we got in about the 10th of August. We sowed in timothy seed, which took well, and next year we had a little hay besides. The tops and blades of the corn were also carefully saved for our horse, cow and the two sheep. The turnips were sweet and good, and in the fall we took care to gather walnuts and hickory nuts, which were very abundant. These, with the turnips which we scraped, supplied the place of fruit.… Johnny-cake, also, when we had meal to make it of, helped to make up our evening's repast. The Sunday morning biscuit had all evaporated, but the loss was partially supplied by the nuts and turnips. Our regular supper was mush and milk, and by the time we had shelled our corn, stemmed tobacco, and plaited straw to make hats, etc., etc., the mush and milk had seemingly decamped from the neighborhood of our ribs. To relieve this difficulty my brother and I would bake a thin Johnny-cake, part of which we would eat, and leave the rest till the morning. At daylight we would eat the balance as we walked from the house to work.

The methods of eating mush and milk were various. Some would sit around the pot, and every one take there from for himself. Some would set a table and each have his tin cup of milk, and with a pewter spoon take just as much mush from the dish or the pot, if it was on the table, as he thought would fill his mouth or throat, then lowering it into the milk would take some to wash it down. This method kept the milk cool, and by frequent repetitions the pioneers would contract a faculty of correctly estimating the proper amount of each. Others would mix mush and milk together

To get Grinding done was often a great difficulty, by reason of the scarcity of mills, the freezes in winter and droughts in summer. We bad often to manufacture meal (when we had corn) in any way we could get the corn to pieces. We soaked and pounded it, we shaved it, we planed it, and, at the proper season, grated it. When one of our neighbors got a hand-mill it was thought quite an acquisition to the neighborhood.

In after years, when in time of freezing or drought, we could get grinding by waiting for our turn no more than one day and a night at a horse-mill we thought ourselves happy. To save meal we often made pumpkin bread, in which when meal was scarce the pumpkin would so predominate as to render it next to impossible to tell our bread from that article, either by taste, looks, or the amount of nutriment it contained. Salt was five dollars a bushel, and we used none in our corn bread, which we soon liked as well without it. Often has sweat run into my mouth, which tasted as fresh and flat as distilled water. What meat we had at first was fresh, and but little of that, for had we been hunters we had no time to practice it.

We had no candles, and cared but little about them except for summer use. In Carolina we had the real fat light-wood, not merely pine knots, but the fat straight pine. This, from the brilliancy of our parlor, on winter evenings, might be supposed to put, not only candles, lamps, camphine, Greenough's chemical oil, but even gas itself, to the blush. In the West we had not this, but my business was to ramble the woods every evening for seasoned sticks, or the bark of the shelly hickory, for light. 'Tis true that our light was not as good as even candles, but we got along without fretting, for we depended more upon the goodness of our eyes than we did upon the brilliancy of the light.

John S. Williams wrote a great deal more about his early life for the American Pioneer. Duncan Rea Williams III has included much of it on his web site, Williams Cyber Niche, along with Williams genealogy and other interesting topics. you can find him at

Source: Historical collections of Ohio...: an encyclopedia of the state ..., Volume 1 by Henry Howe 1902, Originally published in 1847. This is a Google book.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

In A Court Of Law

EARLY in this century [19th] Judge Lowry was holding a term of the Superior Court in Onslow County, North Carolina. A case was on trial in which the amount involved was small, the evidence conflicting, and the law intricate. When the judge came to charge the jury, he astonished counsel by saying, "Gentlemen of the jury, this is a very shackley sort of case anyhow. Take it and do the best you can with it." Counsel probably saw the force of the remark, as no appeal was taken, though "very shackley cases" do sometimes get into appellate courts… .

IT was the same learned judge who, while a practitioner at the bar, unexpectedly lost a case for a client who was a justice of the peace, and in his own opinion a very learned one. Mr. Lowry was at a loss how to explain the cause satisfactorily to him when they met, but he did it as follows: "Squire, I could not explain it exactly to an ordinary man, but to an intelligent man like you, who are so well posted in law and law phrases, I need only say that the judge said that the case was coram non judice*."

"Ah!" said the client, looking very wise and drawing a long breath,"if things had got into that fix, Mr. Lowry, I think we did very well to get out of it as easy as we did."

Source: The green bag, An Entertaining Magazine for Lawyers, Volume 5, by Horace Williams Fuller, Sydney Russell Wrightington, Arthur Weightman Spencer, Thomas Tileston Baldwin, 1893.

*before a court lacking the authority to hear and decide the case in question.