Monday, May 24, 2010

New Hotel

There are yet a few citizens of Nashville who have not "put their shoulder to the wheel" in subscribing for a few shares of the capital stock of Nashville's proposed new hotel. Every loyal citizen of the town should feel an interest in this proposition and have a part in the great satisfaction it will be to know that this pressing need for the town has been met.

Source: The Graphic, Nashville, N. C. 5/15/1920

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Tyrrell County Story

Grandpa Wit, Henry Willis Liverman, sold everything from horse collars to women's apparel, a line of staple groceries and Swift fertilizers. His general store was situated at the junction of the Loop and Swamp roads.

One Saturday, several men made their way to the store. One of them was Great-great-uncle Willis Armstrong. He was dull-witted and easy prey for pranksters. Uncle Willis was leading his battered tom-cat Woodrow (Wilson) by a length of cotton string garnered from a last year's guano sack.

Uncle Willis's tom-cat was a neighborhood nuisance, and when Grandpa complained for the hundredth time to uncle Willis about this, uncle Willis said he didn't know what he was going to do with the ornery animal. Grandpa replied, in his typical nasal twang, "If you'd get Jerd Ainsley to trim the stinking rascal, that'd be the end of our troubles.

Cousin Jerd was frugal, industrious, and innovative. He was his own cobbler, carpenter, demolition expert. He was also the community veterinarian and treated animals for everything from snake bites and bloat to dislocated stifle joints. Neighbors always called on him to castrate their various farm animals. A firm believer in the signs of the Zodiac, he never lifted a hand at surgery when the sign was in the heart or head; his most favored time was when the sign was in the foot. He, too, set out for the store on foot with an egg basket on his arm.

In the meantime, Uncle Boney Armstrong was engaged in his favorite pastime—stropping a razor-sharp pocket knife on his leather boot uppers.

It was half past eleven and the warm sun shone down on the ageing men congregated on Grandpa's store porch, bathing their arthritic joints and priming their still fertile minds for some form of amusement.

Uncle Willis Armstrong's tom, Woodrow, was stretched out on the porch adjacent to the wood box, soaking up the sunshine, no doubt dreaming of his next conquest amongst the neighborhood felines.
Grandpa Bill Dillon stuffed his pipe with more Union Leader tobacco. He pointed the cat. "Ain't got a worry in the world, has he, ge'mens? But tonight him and my old tom will be parked under my bedroom window, screaming their heads off. I do wish they could bury the hatchet."

Uncle Boney spat a stream of tobacco juice in front of an inquisitive toad that had ventured from under the porch. "I can tell ye how to make peace up there in the Back Woods, Bill."

"How's that, Boney?"

"Talk Willis Armstrong into letting Jerd Ainsley trim his old tom. That'd make the rascal stay home and mind his own bus'ness."

Grandpa Bill looked over to uncle Willis. "How 'bout it, Armstrong? If the sign's right, Jerd will mighty well do the work."

Uncle Willis looked down on his tiger-striped tom. One of the cat's ears was chewed off, tufts of hair were missing around the head, and on his tail end the tom's maleness was unmistakable. He breathed slowly and easily as he slept, oblivious of the plotting against him.

Uncle Willis cast a cautious eye at cousin Jerd. "Ainsley," he said, "can ye make it quick and painless?"

Cousin Jerd's shoulders shook with laughter. "Hee! Hee! If I had a sharp knife I sure could—sign's in the feet today."

Uncle Boney reached for his pocket knife. "Mine's sharp as a razor," he said. "You're sure welcome to it Jerd."

"Who's going to hold the cat?" cousin Jerd wanted to know.

Uncle Boney pointed. "Willis Armstrong, he's yours, and you're the one he trusts."

Uncle Willis was skeptical. "Reckon will it hurt my Woodrow?"

Cousin Jerd was confident. "No more than a flea bite. I've trimmed shoats in a half minute by the watch and they never squealed once."

The operating arena was set. Uncle Willis reached for his tattered tom and held him in his arms, stroking his ragged coat. The cat was accustomed to his master's rough handling and did not object when he was held out by the hind legs, his head dangling between his master's knees.

With on fair slice, cousin Jerd exposed the first of the tom's testicles. The sting of the sharp instrument alerted Woodrow that something off color was happening. An instant later cousin Jerd's knife clipped the spermatic cord, a structure that contained not only blood vessels but—more importantly,—the nerve to the organ now severed from the cat's body. As if electrified, Woodrow came to life. Screaming and scratching, he turned on the man with the knife and nailed the farmer-turned-surgeon in the hand with his fangs. More bites followed, and cousin Jerd screamed, "Let your tom go, Armstrong!"

But the incensed Woodrow had turned on uncle Willis, walking up the old man's belly with his sharp claws. "I can't!" he fired back. "Somebody pull him off me!"

Woodrow made his way up his master's chest until the two came eye to eye. He paused only long enough to swipe his master down each side of the face, then he appeared to take a deep breath and, as his last hurrah, spat at him with such force that the old gentleman's hat fell off. With one mighty thrust of the arms uncle Willis was at last shed of the violence.

Cousin Jerd was nursing his chewed-up hands and uncle Willis was busy wiping blood with his shirt sleeve.

Grandpa Bill interrupted. "Jerd," he said, "did ye git both of old Woodrow's stones?"

Cousin Jerd shoo his head. "Nope. And I hear tell that a tom with only one can make more fuss than two with both.

Woodrow was well up the road as the perpetrators of what he no doubt deemed a crime against nature continued to plot his dubious future.

Grandpa Bill puffed on his pipe as the others tried to devise a method to restrain Woodrow. No one was able to provide anything enlightening. Then Grandpa removed the pipe from his mouth, belched loudly, and said, "ge'mens, what I'd do if I was you is to put that tom-cat in a boot—head and front feet fo'most—then ye can trim him with ease."

Source: High Days and Holidays: Scenes from a Tyrrell County Childhood by H. Joe Liverman, 1994. Joe Liverman wrote this book from stories told to him by his father and from his memory. The story above took place about 1916 in Tyrrell County, NC.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jesse A. Jackson's Dream
The Southern Star

Jesse A. Jackson was a man of vision. He went to Hertford County, North Carolina in the mid-1800s. For a while, he kept a store in the community of Pine Tree and later moved to Murfreesboro. Jackson was involved in several enterprises. He contracted to provide bricks for the construction of two women's colleges—Chowan, which opened in 1848, and Wesleyan, which opened in 1853. Both projects were profitable for Jackson. He also operated a sawmill at a location which later belonged to E. C. Worrell.

Jackson was an energetic and ambitious man and was not satisfied with storekeeping, brick making, or operating a sawmill. "He conceived the idea in 1856 of building a large steamship to make regular trips from Murfreesboro to New York, carrying both freight and passengers." He secured financing from Glines & Graham, a New York firm and from wealthy Hertford Co. men.

The ship, first named the Chowan, was expensive. Including her engines which were built at Wilmington, Delaware, the construction cost over thirty thousand dollars. It was a beautiful ship—a three masted bark with a wooden hull, 545 tons, 169' x 28'. However, Jackson's luck had run out. The firm of Glines & Graham went broke and the local investors were afraid to continue to fund the project.

"Poor Jesse Jackson got into a sea of troubles. Suits and demands thickened upon him." John K. Kirman, draughtsman and builder of the ship, took possession of her in 1857 for payment of a debt of $4,996.18 owed to him by Glines & Graham and the NC Steamship Co.

Jackson's "great floating palace" was later sold to John W. Southall and Capt. Thomas Badger. Southall was a prominent Hertford County man, an active and ardent Methodist, who lived in Murfreesboro all his life and was active in support of the Wesleyan Female College there. He also took great pride in his fine horses.

Thomas Badger had recently escaped from the U.S. mail steamship Central American which had foundered off Cape Hatteras as it carried mail, two million in gold and 575 passengers and crew on its run from California to New York. When help arrived, her captain, William Lewis Herndon, ordered that women and children be saved first and they all made it to safety. However, about 475 of the crew and passengers went down with the ship.

The Southern Star

Arrival of the Steamship Joseph Whitney and Tender, with Troops, Ordnance and Military Stores, at Fort Jefferson, Tortugas, under Commission from the Government of the United States, convoyed by the U.S. Steamer Crusader, on the 23rd of January, 1861. [The SS Joseph Whitney is in the center with USS Crusader at right. Published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1861.

Southall and Badger christened the new ship the Southern Star and towed her to Wilmington, Delaware where she was outfitted for the sea. In October 1858, they sold her to the U. S. government and she was rechristened Crusader.

The Crusader was one of the fastest steamships in the water at that time. For two years, she chased down slave traders in the West Indies. As the Civil War approached, she was ordered to help reinforce Federal positions along the Gulf coast.

Later, the Crusader was moved to the eastern coastline where she served along the South Carolina Coast and later became part of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, operating in the Chesapeake Bay.

After the war, the Crusader was decommissioned and sold. Renamed the Kalorama, the ship remained in commercial service until she was wrecked south of San Buenaventura in 1876.

"Jesse Jackson never recovered from the blow received in his great disappointment. Fresh disasters came upon him, and, after years of unavailing struggle, at the end of the late war, he left our country to seek his bread in other quarters. He had not taken fortune at its flood, and in disaster, alas! found too few to do him reverence."

Sources: Colonial and state political history of Hertford County, N. C. byBenjamin B. Winborne, 1906
History of North Carolina: from the earliest discoveries to the ..., Volume 2 By John Wheeler Moore 1880
Images of America: Hertford County by Frank Stephenson

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Giant of a Man

An article, written by Henderson Co., TN native, Rev. John Brooks, appeared in the Tarboro Southerner, Aug. 22, 1857:

The Great America—The Giant of the World—Miles Darden

"Mr. [Mills] Darden was born in North Carolina, in the year 1798, and departed this life at his residence in Henderson County, Tennessee, on the 23d day of January, 1857, in the 59th year of his age.

"He joined the Baptist Church in early life, and shortly after emigrated to Tennessee, where he connected himself with what is called the Christian Church, but had not been a member of any church for years past, but was moral and fond of conversing on religious subjects. He was a kind and obliging neighbor, and fond of company. — About fifteen years ago, he joined the Order of Masons. He was twice married. His children are very large, but probably none of them will ever be more than half the weight of their father. He was quite active and lively, and labored until about four years ago, when he became so fleshy that he was compelled to stay at home, or to be hauled about in a two horse wagon.

"In 1849, he made a contract with a tailor to furnish him a suit of clothes for $50 — the cloth was to cost five dollars per yard. Upon measurement, it took twelve yards of cloth. So the tailor lost ten dollars and the making. The tailor states that three men, each weighing over 200 pounds, put the coat on, buttoned it around them, and walked across the square at Lexington [TN]. In 1850, it took 13½ yards of flax cloth, a yard wide, to make him a coat. It took sixteen yards of cambrick for his shroud; 1½ yards of black velvet to cover the sides and lid of his coffin; 125 feet of plank to make his coffin.

"His coffin was eight feet long.
Across the breast, 32 inches.
Across the  head, 18 "
Across the  foot, 14"
Its depth, 35"
He weighed in 1845, 871 pounds.
His height was 7 feet, 6 inches.
His weight, when he died, as nearly as could be ascertained, was a fraction over 1,000 pounds."

More About Miles (Mills) Darden

Mills Darden, one of the largest men who ever lived, was born in Northampton Co., NC, near Rich Square, on 7 Oct. 1799. He was the son of John and Mary Darden. Mills and Mary Jenkins were married in 1820 and had 7 children: Louisa M. m Clement Strickland; Martha J. m William H. Parrott; Easter Elizabeth m James W. H. Knowles; George W., killed in battle near Atlanta, GA in 1864; Francis Marion m Lucinda Carver; and Adoniram Judson m1 Mary Ann Webb, m2 Nancy Cox.

Mills moved his family to Tennessee around 1830, where he is listed on the 1830 census in Madison Co. By 1840, the family had settled in Henderson Co. His first wife, Mary, died and by 1840 Mills had married Termisha Cooper. They had 4 children: Virginia m Louis H. Norfleet; Mary m Henry Anderson Wadley; Mills Newsom; and Tennessee V.

Mills Darden died in Henderson Co., TN and is buried on Mills Darden Cemetery Road a few miles from Lexington, TN.

Darden was a farmer, and it was said that it took 3 men to bind grain as he cut it. It was also said that "he could single handedly pull a loaded wagon from a mud hole." When he became too large to farm, he moved into Lexington where he operated a profitable tavern and inn on the court house square.

Many stories were told about Mills Darden. He was too heavy for a church pew, and so he brought a blanket and spread it before the pulpit where he would lie down to hear the sermon. He refused to be weighed but his weight was secretly calculated by measuring the height of his wagon seat when he sat on it, and later weighting it down to the same height with 100 pound sacks of sugar or flour. His pants were 72" in the waist and his hat was size 8½. A typical breakfast was said to be 12 eggs, 30 biscuits, 10 slabs of bacon, and ½ gallon of coffee. When he went visiting he had to sleep on the floor was normal beds would not support him. When he died, it took 17 men to lift him into his coffin, and a section of wall had to be knocked out to remove the coffin from the house.

In an article written in 1949, Tom Lawler reported that his uncle had seen Mills Darden holding Tom Thumb on his knee. What a sight that must have been!

Mills Darden is listed in the 1998 Guinness Book of World Records as follows: "GREATEST WEIGHT DIFFERENTIAL" The greatest recorded for a married couple is 922 lb in the case of Mills Darden (1020 lb) of North Carolina and his wife Mary (98 lb)" As James Ewing says in It Happened in Tennessee, "Darden wasn't the world's largest man and he wasn't the world's tallest man, but he appears to have been tallest large man and largest tall man on record." His weight and height were recorded in the 1886 Guinness Book of World Records.

Source: Tarboro Southerner, 8/22/1847; Research done by Laura Waddle, posted at; It Happened in Tennessee, by James Ewing. This article was first published in The Connector, newsletter of Tar River Connections Genealogical Society in the Spring 2006 issue.]