Monday, August 30, 2010

A Comprehensive Synopsis
of the Golden Leaf

By Willis Boice Walker

Opening day tobacco sales used to be a big event in Rocky Mount. One of the things I remember from my childhood was that we went to the ice house and the man at the ice house took a tin cup and dipped down into the thing that was freezing the blocks of ice. He got some water and let us drink it. It was so cold it made your teeth ache. It was just before freezing. That was something we didn't have at home.

It was a treat, while we were at the tobacco market, to watch auctioneers like Tom Kent Jones from Nashville and some of the buyers that were almost as comical as he was. Also, while you were in the warehouse, you could buy a popsicle. People had "dry ice” boxes and they sold the popsicles. Going to the tobacco market was more or less like going to a festival. The tobacco market put new money into circulation.

In eastern North Carolina, "the opening" meant the first sale day of flue cured tobacco. Tobacco had replaced cotton as king of crops throughout the South and wielded its influence in some way on nearly every person within the area, the nation and the world. Percentage-wise, there will probably never be another product that will be as important as tobacco was in this area. Every farm had a tobacco allotment, and all the owners either grew tobacco themselves or rented their allotted acreage for a premium price.

Tobacco Sale in Progress in Rocky Mount, Nash or Edgecombe County, NC Warehouse
In the beginning, the parity program was started on an acreage basis. Each farmer could plant a certain number of acres. It was later amended and the allotment was based on pounds—a pound limit on each participating farm. The original tobacco farmer's main concern was a high quality cured leaf from bottom to top. Poundage with quality was a bonus, but if a farmer had to sacrifice something, it was always poundage. His reputation weighed on the average price per pound and the single high dollar sale. To achieve this meant separating and placing each leaf into its proper grade. Government graders checked each pile of tobacco on the warehouse floor prior to sale time and placed a tag on it with the proper grade clearly marked.

Although not guaranteed, the government grade helped the grower to decide, after the sale, whether to accept the buyer's offered price or "turn the tag," rejecting the offer and maybe, after some manicuring and waiting for the next day's sale, re-sell it for a higher price.

This privilege created the "pin hooker." Walter Tharrington was a pin hooker on the local tobacco market. A pin hooker was an independent buyer without processing capability. He bought piles of tobacco along with the regular buyers at the auction sales. He'd bid on mostly un-manicured or mixed grades, maybe some green tobacco or maybe what we called soft or very damp tobacco. He would re-work the tobacco, usually without removing it from the warehouse floor. He would get the tobacco re-graded and then put it back on the market and re-sell it. After the re-grading, it would bring more money than it did when it was all mixed up or when it was in poor condition. It was not unusual for the re-sale price to more than double the original price. The pin hooker had to have ready cash, post a tidy bond and pay his helpers. His sharp eye and good judgment were his biggest assets.

The warehouse owner, or his proxy, the auctioneer, ticket marker, bill writer, and the required number of buyers representing the required number of companies all had to be on hand before a sale could begin. The warehouseman would reach down and pick up about three bundles from the pile, hold it to his nose, and yell out a suggested opening bid and the auctioneer would take off on his spiel.

The buyers gave hand signals to the auctioneer who called out in an audible voice the high bid and the name of the buying company. The bill writer recorded this with a lead pencil and, between opening bids and closing bids, totaled the figures. The ticket marker marked the tag and left it sticking in the so-called basket of tobacco. Runners carried the bill-of-sale to the warehouse office and the warehouse wrote checks to each seller.
Tobacco Buyers at Sale

Next stop, the bank— which sets the scene for the most electrified, effervescent atmosphere throughout the town that you can imagine. To explain this exciting aura, let us pick a time just prior to the do-it-all tractor and unborn herbicides, pesticides, and big-time irrigation—before the big war, World War II.

The process began when the grower selected a wooded or virgin area that contained well composted soil, natural drainage terrain and, if possible, weather protection from the north and east. This would be what was known as "The Plant Bed."

The next step was selecting and marking the standing trees that would form the border and support frame for the canvas cover. There again, be reminded, this was before one piece covers, so the canvas material was available only in four foot widths and came rolled on so-called spools. It was referred to as a bolt of canvas. A sewing machine and a sewing wife or daughter were a must in most cases, and even if you were fortunate enough to possess both, there were still limits to how much bulk could be handled while sewing. That controlled the length and width of the finished cover.

Tobacco Plant Bed Layoout

To compensate for the canvas limitations the beds were planned and laid out in rectangular grids. This was after first cutting the selected trees for the border-support, leaving them full length and fully trimmed, somewhere near the site. It was important to leave at least three feet of stump when sawing down the trees. This allowed for a hook-up and leverage in removing it. A shovel, a grubbing hoe, and an axe usually got everything but the tap root. Two mules and chain finished the job. In case there happened to be a real large tree, it was cut as low as possible and left as it was.

After all trees, bushes, briars and weeds above the surface were removed there still remained a network of large and small roots. An axe, an adz and a grubbing hoe were necessary to cut the roots and loosen the soil to the point that a five-tooth rake was able to remove the roots and prepare the soil for a very small application of fertilizer before planting the tobacco seeds.

The seeds came from selected plants of the previous crop that, instead of being "topped" (the top broken off and discarded), were left standing until they reached full maturity. The entire top was cut off and hung indoors to dry. Each bloom produced a pod which contained hundreds of seeds. A stalk's entire bloom would yield thousands of the tiny seeds. In fact, they were so tiny that they had to be mixed with some other ingredient like sand, and broadcast thinly over the planting area to keep the new plants from being too close together to tend.

The newly sown plant bed was raked over (by hand) with a multiple tooth yard rake, which served two purposes. It left the seeds covered at the desired depth and also removed small roots and twigs. All of the roots, stumps and other refuse were piled in one large pile and allowed to dry before it was burned.

We were then ready to put the poles in place that would form the football field-like grid. The pre-selected trees were measured and cut to produce almost the same diameter from end to end and would need only to be placed in position.

Before the bed was covered with the canvas, we visited what we called a reed mash and cut enough slender four-foot reeds to support the canvas cover inside the grid. This was done by sticking one end of the reed in the ground and bending it over to form an arch and then sticking the other end in the ground at about a 45o angle. The height of the arch would be approximately 12 inches.

In order to simplify the process of putting the protective cover over the bed, it was first sewn with an imaginary grid in mind. The areas of suspension were pleated and double-pleated. This allowed the canvas to be attached by impaling it over outward angled nails on one side and stretching from the other side and impaling it there on outwardly protruding nails.

The canvas remained on the plant bed until late March or early April and protected the plants from freezing while allowing enough sunlight, rain and air for them to mature. While the plants were germinating, weed and grass weed were also germinating, making it mandatory to remove the faster growing weeds by hand, one at a time, without harming the tobacco plants. This was a common curse and fittingly referred to as "weeding the plant bed."

As soon as frost was no longer a threat the canvas was pulled off to allow the plants to finish maturing and get tough enough to be transplanted without causing them harm. The earliest form of transplanting was done with a pistol-grip carved peg, and always following a "freshet," preferably a slow, soaking rain. This allowed the plants to be set out without being watered. Hand operated mechanical setters with their own reservoir and riding machine transplanters came later.

Frank Nobles With Tobacco Setter
The setter held both plant and water.
In order to grow wrappers the tobacco plants had to be spaced far enough apart to provide unobstructed growth while allowing as much direct sunlight as possible to aid in the ripening process. A 24 inch leaf was very common in the body part of the stalk, so some growers built a sled-like, horse-drawn contraption and marked off the rows at four feet by crossing them. This was referred to as "planting four feet on the hill," and also left scads of space to be chopped and plowed before the final tilling or being "laid by." In the meantime it was a never ending job to hand pick and kill any worms that might have escaped the reach of our turkey flock.

After marking the choice stalks to be used for seed, the tops were broken out of all the remaining plants. This caused the suckers to start growing and, to prevent them from sapping the rest of the stalk, they had to be broken out. A sucker emerges between the leaf and the stalk and grows 10 to 1 in relation to the rest of the plant. Left unbroken, suckers will take up almost half the weight of the harvested leaf.

Topping Tobacco, Shows Flower and Seeds
The tobacco barning period was usually from July through August. The field croppers or primers were required to have a good knowledge of tobacco harvesting so as not to pull green tobacco before it ripened. After cropping, the leaves were placed in a home-made, mule-drawn, slide truck and taken to the barnyard where handers, loopers and pilers attached the tobacco to a wooden stick with a ball of cotton thread called tobacco twine. The stringing crew was made up of two loopers and four handers, and the job did not require a college education to perform. The time required to crop a truck of tobacco matched the time it took to string it, so it balanced well.

Priming Tobacco
Hanging the looped sticks of tobacco in the barn was not random placing on the tier poles. It was carefully spaced to allow air circulation and prevent scalding. The curing barn consisted of one or two furnaces or one twin furnace and 12-inch galvanized flues around the perimeter and through the adjacent center. The taller smoke stack usually exited the barn directly over the furnace for two reasons—good support and it was surrounded by bricks and mortar, not wood.
Hanging Looped Tobacco on Rack

Three days and nights were needed to complete the curing cycle. Constant evaluation of the leaf and stoking the wood fire meant someone had to sit with the barn all night and day. The stages were basically yellowing, setting the color, drying the leaf, and drying the stems. In order to remove the bone dry, brittle tobacco from the barn, it had to absorb enough moisture to become limp enough to handle without crumbling. Sometimes, after pulling the fire and leaving the door open all night to allow the tobacco to absorb moisture, we still had to haul water and wet the ground floor to get the tobacco "in order."
Checking the temperature in the barn as the tobacco cures.

The average person could not reach high enough to pile a whole barn of fresh cured tobacco on a regular big wheel wagon, so we built a block wheel wagon using 16-inch diameter, 12-inch wide solid round wooden blocks. By making the flat bed body wider than a stick of tobacco and longer than a normal wagon, we could easily put a large barn of tobacco on it with no strain at all. With careful piling, we could even transport green tobacco to a distant curing barn. One big pack house would hold one year's yield of cured tobacco, but it had to be transferred to the combination grading room-ordering pit for the final preparation.

Unloading tobacco from truck to basket for sale.
Grading tobacco involved opening each leaf between the hands and, according to its feel and color, placing it one of seven or eight grades. The grading bench was a C-shaped bench with maybe nine one-inch holes evenly spaced into which was inserted a 4-foot dowel. The upper dowels separate the graded leaves and the lower dowels separate the tied bundles. The bundles were formed by grasping an equal hand full of leaves by the stems and folding a single leaf to form a ribbon and beginning with the top, lay the first band before continuing candy stripe fashion, about three inches. Then you would take the 3 or 4 inch tail and pass it through the loose leaves. If done properly it would not come un-tied before reaching the factory.

The bundles were saddle mounted on smooth splinter-less sticks and pressed by a six foot board with someone standing on each end of the pressing board. The "starched and ironed" condition enabled the warehouse labor to remove one half of the stick as the farmer extended it from his load and place it neatly on the saucer-like baskets. Every bundle in place, the farmer would reverse the stick ends and the other half was removed. The farmer kept his sticks.

No pile of tobacco could exceed 300 pounds. A full sale would have six rows of 60 piles each. This was divided into a morning sale of three hours and an afternoon sale of three hours. Sales activities were planned to accommodate the fact that even though sales were going on, the warehouse remained open to receive, weigh and place on the reserved part of the floor any tobacco coming in during the actual sale. Competition as well as security dictated a 24/7 season, including holidays.

The crowd, the one of a kind odor of flue-cured tobacco, and the exciting mystical chant of the auctioneer formed an imaginary picture in our minds of all the good things we had worked and hoped for and that were finally materializing to the tune of the auctioneer's song: "Fortee-one-do-da-dah-dollar-bid-SOLD-AMERICAN!"

[This story was first published in A Rainbow in the West, by Willis Boice Walker, 2008. The photographs are taken from Bright Leaf Tobacco: Economic Gold in Northeastern NC, compiled and edited by Billie Jo Works Matthews. The drawings were done by Boice Walker.]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


1 Gallon boiled rain water
5 heaping tbsp. soda
2 oz. Spirits of Ammonia
1 oz. Spirits of Peppermint

Mix all together in a gallon jug and drink an ounce or so as needed. This may be kept in refrigerator in a small bottle and refill as needed.
By Martha Ann Lucas Credle Jarvis
(Born 1830; Died 1901)
Submitted by Mrs. Betty S. Mann, Fairfield, NC

Published in High Tides, Hyde County Historical Society Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1980

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Few Words About Mister Ganey

“As a finale to the record of characters whom I personally knew around Wilmington it would not be just to omit one who was unique, if not distinguished, in my early recollections of the town. The facts in regard to him, as given here, are nearly literally true, and may serve to illustrate a phase of our ante-bellum civilization which is not familiar to the present generation, and for their benefit I record them in the following form.

Ganey—Mr. Ganey, as he preferred to be called— was a curiosity; one of those half-witted creatures who occasionally startle us with an observation that sounds uncomfortably like satire. He lived in a cabin in the woods, worked sometimes, when obliged to, in the surrounding turpentine forest, but subsisted chiefly on the charity of the neighboring planters. Although "innocent of the trammels of spelling," and as superstitious as the most ignorant (person), he regarded himself as much better than his poor neighbors. He even assumed an air of familiarity—but in a very solemn way—with the gentlemen to whose houses he paid his periodical begging visits, and was extremely sensitive to any fancied slight on such occasions. In imitation of them he thought it incumbent on him to carry an umbrella, and wear a high hat and gloves of some kind, and he recognized no distinction as to the time when this was to be done; so that, even when chipping turpentine (by an act of trespass on some planter's land) he might sometimes be seen arrayed in a cast-off stove-pipe hat and tattered cotton gloves, and carrying a faded umbrella in one hand, and a turpentine hacker in the other. He liked to be "mistered" when spoken to, and a failure to so dignify him was sure to be responded to by a similar neglect to attach a handle to the name of the person thus addressing him. He had contracted from the local piney woods preachers a habit of droning his words through his nose, and of adding, with an indescribable emphasis, "er" to every third or fourth one, without regard to whether it was a proper name or not. Strange to say, too, he was—perhaps from an incapacity to appreciate danger—absolutely fearless. He borrowed a gun on one occasion and went to a public gathering to demand satisfaction from a leading and wealthy planter for some alleged indignity to him. When asked what he was carrying a gun for, he replied that he was "a totin' it for that wolf-er." "What wolf do you mean?"

"I mean that Mc er," he replied; and the gentleman referred to having just then made his appearance on the round, Ganey would have shot him if he had not been knocked down and disarmed. As soon as he recovered his feet he attempted a second assault, and to the magistrate who seized him and commanded the peace he said:

"You git out'n the way-er, you's a Dimmycrat-er, an' me and him's both Whigs-er."

When food for powder was getting very scarce during the war between the States Ganey was conscripted. He had escaped service up to that time because nobody would enlist him, but they took him at last. He was not afraid of the fighting that was in prospect, but he did have a mortal aversion to being ordered about "like a (poor person)," and made to sleep on the ground, and go hungry, and barefooted, and ragged, as he had seen some of the soldiers doing. So, when he was being brought into town, rigged out in his old stove-pipe hat and cotton gloves, and while crossing a deep and wide stream in a ferry boat, he suddenly stepped overboard, to the astonishment and dismay of the guard, and, disappearing for a moment, rose again serenely to the surface and began to float off, looking like a bottle with a long stopper in it. He was rescued and, on being asked how he managed to float, as he did not seem to try to swim, replied:

"I reckin the Lord done it-er—but I was a'treadin' water-er."

After an interview with the conscript officer, during which he solemnly swore that he was sixty-five years old, although not over forty, if that, it was thought best to put him in the Home Guard, and accordingly he was furnished with an old musket and sent to a sea-coast village which was garrisoned by a Home Guard regiment and a few regular troops. It was a very hot day and the road was through deep sand all the way. After trudging for two or three hours along this road he at last arrived in the village, and upon turning a corner of the street he came to a house with a wide piazza fronting the harbor, and discovered sitting on the piazza in his shirt-sleeves, reading a newspaper and looking exceedingly comfortable, an elderly gentleman whom he at once recognized as the proprietor of a large plantation in the county and whom he had often seen sitting on the county court bench. He immediately halted, brought his old musket down with a thud in the sand, wiped the streams of perspiration from his face with his sleeve, and without other salutation, said:

"I'd like to know how it is-er, that we poor folks-er has to come a-walkin' and a-sweatin'-er through the sand-er, for to fight the battles of the country-er, and you swell heads-er is a-settin' on your piazzas a-keepin' cool-er?"

"Good morning, Ganey," said the gentleman, without noticing the inquiry.

"Good mornin', Green-er," replied Ganey, resenting the neglect to "mister" him, "but you haint answered my question-er."0

"Well, Ganey, the reason I am sitting here, and don't turn out with the soldiers is that I am an officer of the regiment."

"You are an officer of the regiment-er? What officer are you-er?"

"I am the Commissary."

"You are the Commissary-er ? What is a Commissary-er?"

"A Commissary is the man that provides rations for the troops—that feeds them."

"A Commissary is the man-er that provides rations for the troops-er, that feeds them?" Well, what are we gwine to have for dinner today-er?

"Really, I don't know, Ganey."

"You don't know-er? Well, you're not fittin' to be a Commissary-er; I'm a-gwine home-er."

And he did go and was allowed to remain there.

One of Ganey's peculiarities was his inordinate fondness for ham, which he conceived to be the most aristocratic of all dishes, and sufficient, if supplemented by wheat bread, to satisfy the most fastidious palate. Bacon in any other form, and corn bread, were objects of his special contempt, the reason being that those articles constituted the standard dishes of the poor whites and (blacks). Nothing short of extreme hunger and the inability to get other food could induce him to eat them. For a ham, however, and some flour he was always willing to sacrifice his pride, even to the extent of working, and the possession of these articles completely filled the measure of his happiness, and brought the umbrella, stove-pipe hat and gloves into continuous use while the larder held out.

The progress of the war, however, resulted in a steady reduction of the number of these seasons of happiness for him, and hams became correspondingly more precious in his sight.

Finally, when all was over, and the Northern soldiers took possession, Ganey, who had not seen a ham in a long time, learned that the Government Commissary in town was distributing rations to the half-starved people, and he thereupon started for the scene of action. His habiliments were more picturesque than ever. His head—which looked as if it had been driven into his shoulders with a force that bent them—was covered by a "bell-crown" of the year 1856, and his clothes consisted of a threadbare and shiny "claw-hammer" of still earlier date, which displayed a waist of excessive length and a tail that appeared to have begun to grow out of it but had never reached maturity, and a pair of baggy cotton trousers. Supplementing these, he wore a pair of gloves which suggested a compromise between mittens and cavalry gauntlets, and the melancholy remains of a pair of Confederate shoes. His umbrella—originally a green cotton one, now colorless except where patched—was used as a walking cane, and with the rib ends tied around the handle, resembled a balloon in the first stages of inflation. As thus arrayed, and walking in the middle of the road leading to town, visions of ham—boiled ham, fried ham, and raw ham—and of flour in barrels, sacks, buckets, or cooked as bread, floated before him and quickened his gait. He did not "let on" to anybody the condition of his mind or stomach, but, as he afterwards confessed, he did "natally hone after ham and flour vittles."

Underlying this longing appetite, however, there was a feeling of dissatisfaction with the business for which he had started to town. He had always regarded his levy of contributions on the surrounding planters as not only legitimate but as a sort of vested right which had been confirmed by long acquiescence on their part but he had never seen any "Yankees"— except a foraging party, who were not engaged in distributing charity—and, being uncertain as to how he might be treated, and withal a little shaky generally in regard to the outcome of the business, he insensibly slackened his pace as he approached the ferry—the same ferry which had been the scene of his floating exploit.

There was a guard of blue-coats there, who were greatly tickled by his appearance, and who chaffed him a little, but good-naturedly sent him on with a word of encouragement, at which his spirits began to revive rapidly. At last he reached the town and meeting a citizen, said:

"Mister, whur's the Commissary-er ?"

"At that large store, yonder," answered the man, pointing to a building into and out of which persons were passing, and then laughing in spite of himself at Ganey's outlandish rig.

Now, Ganey did not know the name of the Commissary, and was therefore entirely ignorant of the fact that he bore the same name as the Commissary of the Home Guard, for whose knowledge of his duties he had expressed such contempt .

He went to the building designated, and upon entering saw what he thought was the most entrancing sight his eyes ever rested on. An apparently countless number of flour barrels were piled over the wide floors, and hams by the hundred were hanging up, or scattered around, loose. Women and children were being supplied by the clerks with provisions of all sorts, and the rush of business quite bewildered him. Several young men of the town had been employed by the Commissary to assist in the work of distribution, and to designate the most needy of the applicants for assistance. One of these young men recognized Ganey as soon as he came in, but said nothing, knowing that Ganey did not remember him, even if he had ever seen him before, and having heard the story of his conversation with the Home Guard Commissary, and remembering the identity of the names of the two commissaries he at once resolved to have a little fun.

Every moment of his stay in the store seemed to enlarge the hollow in Ganey's anatomy, until he felt as if his whole interior was a howling wilderness. He looked and ached, going farther and farther into the store until he reached a point in front of the clerk, when the latter very politely inquired what he wished.

"I want to see the Commissary-er."

"You'll have to send in your name before he will see you, he's very busy just now."

'My name's Ganey-er, George Washington Ganey - er."

"Ah! Ganey's your name, is it ? Then you are the man that insulted him, and told him he was a very ignorant Commissary not to know what the soldiers were going to have for dinner1—and all that sort of thing. What do you want to see him for ?"

The expression on Ganey's face was indescribable.

"He told us," added the clerk, "that you would probably come in for a little help, and to be on the lookout for you."

"Who told you-er?" asked Ganey, with a wild look.

"I said the Commissary told us," answered the clerk.

"The Yankee Commissary-er? "Do you wish to insult Captain Green again, by calling him a Yankee ?" said the clerk, sharply. "Captain Green-er.”

"Yes, yes, Captain Green, the Commissary, the man that provides rations for the troops, that feeds 'em."

Poor Ganey! The hams and flour barrels seemed to be receding from his gaze, to be fading in the dim distance never to return, while the figure of Captain Green, sitting in his shirt sleeves, with a newspaper in his hands which fluttered in the breeze, rose up mockingly between him and this vision of bliss. His countenance assumed an expression of despair which was pitiful to see, and the heart of the clerk failed him in presence of such evident suffering. Finally he said:

"Mr. Ganey, Captain Green is a good, kind man, and I'll go into the office and see him for you. Perhaps he will not be hard with you."

Back again came the vision, slowly, but each moment more distinctly, until the world seemed to him to be a vast plain of snow-white flour, studded with golden hams.

"But here comes the Captain, now," and while Ganey looked anxiously for the elderly gentleman whom he knew, a fine looking young man walked out towards them and the clerk, addressing him, said:

"Captain Green, this is Mr. Ganey who wishes to see you," and immediately disappeared, leaving the two confronting each other.

The Captain thought this was the rarest specimen of a native he had yet encountered, and, regarding him for a moment during which he tried hard to keep his countenance, he said:

"Well, sir, what do you wish to see me about?"

"Are you the Commissary-er?


"That feller told me-er, Capt'n Green were the Commissary-er," said Ganey, with indignation.

Well, that was right; I am Captain Green."

Not until then did the truth dawn on Ganey, and it lifted a great weight from his heart. He looked around upon the wealth of hams and flour with an inexpressible longing, and then said:

"I heerd you was a-givin' out-er of rations-er, and I come to git some-er,—some ham-er and flour-er," the last words being uttered in a tone of almost pathetic anxiety.

"Were you in the rebel army ?" asked the Captain.

"They tuck me-er for the Home Guard-er, but I left the fust day-er," quickly answered Ganey; and he felt that he was getting closer to the hams and flour.

"Because," said the Captain, "we reserve the best rations for the rebel soldiers and their families."

Ganey almost fainted, and the entire stock of hams and flour seemed to have been suddenly snatched away by an evil spirit .

In despair he asked:

"What d'ye call-er the best rations-er ?"

"Oh, fresh meats, canned meats and vegetables, sugar and coffee and the like," answered the Captain.

Ganey had never seen any canned meat and did not know what the phrase meant, but he hoped— Oh! how he hoped it did not not mean ham. So, with almost a wail in his voice, he asked the question, and, upon receiving a negative answer, the vision re-appeared to him with more vividness than ever, and under its influence he almost forgot his "ers" in stating his case and the necessity of ham and flour to his very existence. The Captain was, as the clerk said, a good, kind man, and recognizing the situation he overwhelmed Ganey with astonishment by giving him two hams, a small sack of flour and some other things, with he eagerly seized upon and started off with, merely saying, as he left:

"I wish you well-er."

As he went out of town, fairly staggering under his load, he met the Commissary of the Home Guard who hailed him and said:

"Why, Ganey, you must have been to see the Yankee Commissary."
"Yes, and he knows what I'm gwine to have-er for dinner to-day-er!"

From: Alfred Moore Waddell, SOME MEMORIES OF MY LIFE [Raleigh, NC: Edwards and Broughton Printing Company, 1908: p. 61 -71.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Trial and Conviction of a
Baptist Minister
for Murder—His Suicide

The North State Whig, of the 30th ult., published at Wilmington, North Carolina, publishes a condensed report of the trial of Rev. GEORGE W. CARAWAN, for the murder of Mr. C. H. LASSITER, a school-teacher, in Hyde County. The whole case is remarkable, on account of the status of the accused, the depravity developed, and the tragical issue of the trial. Eminent counsel were arrayed for both the prosecution and the defence, and much excitement prevailed during the proceedings. The paper before us gives the following particulars:

Carawan is a56 years old, and for many years has been a popular preacher in the Baptist Church—a man of strong will, exercising a powerful influence over his friends, and feared as much as hated by his foes. Lassiter was a quiet young man, engaged in the business of teaching. Some months before the murder Lassiter boarded in the house of Carawan, and a quarrel arose between them, Carawan alleging that Lassiter was too familiar with his (C.'s) wife. Carawan talked very freely among his neighbors n the subject—said that L. ought to be shot—that shooting was too good for him, and that he and L. could not live in the same neighborhood, &c., &c., and finally tried to get out a peace warrant against L., alleging that he had attempted to take his life. He went on this way for some time, when L. sued him for slander, laying the damages at $2,000. A few hours after the writ was served on C., Lassiter was killed.

He [Lassiter] had finished a school on Rose Bay, and on Monday, the 15th of November, 1852, started on foot, with a carpet-bag in his hand to go to the Lake [Mattamuskeet] where he had engaged another school. About 3 o'clock, P.M., he passed C.'s house on his way to the Lake. Shortly after he passed, C. left his house and went across the field toward the woods which lie between the house and the spot on the road where L. was killed, his wife following with a gun wrapped up in her apron. She returned to the house immediately; Carawan not till sundown. That night he was absent from home.

Tuesday he remained at home; but on Wednesday, a rainy day, he took a hoe and went into the woods, and was gone for several hours. On Thursday, before L. was missed, (the people on the Lake thinking he was at the Bay, and the people on the Bay thinking he was at the Lake,) C. went to one of the neighbors, and inquired if he had seen anything of L., stating that his (C.'s) family had seen him pass his house on Monday with a package of clothes, and he was thinking he had run away. On Friday evening, when told that the people were searching for L. he expressed great surprise that he should be missing—never had heard anything of it.

On Saturday morning, the search for L. still going on, he wrote to a friend to come and see him—that L. was missing—supposed to be killed—and added that he (C.) was at home all day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and that he could prove it by Carawan Sawyer, (the main witness on the trial for the State,) his nephew, a boy who was living with him. The body of L. was found on Saturday evening in the swamps behind C.'s house, in an open lot, which was surrounded with briars, underbush, &c., and covered with moss. The moss over the grave had been carefully removed, the grave dug just large enough to hold the body, the body pressed into it, the grave filled up even with the surrounding earth, and pressed down, and the moss carefully laid back up in it. The moss leaving no trace of a foot-print, there was no sign that anybody had ever been there, except that the moss over the grave had faded a little; about a handful of fresh dirt was near it; and a dead limb of a tree had apparently been recently disturbed, the bark which had evidently just fallen from it lying in one spot and the limb in another. The men who were searching for the body had stopped in this lonely spot to rest, having given up the search for the day, when these appearances attracted their attention, and the body was found.

L. was killed by gunshot wounds. Several shots were taken from the body—three from the heart. There were three sizes of shot found in the body, and in one of the barrels of C.'s gun, found in his house, just such shot, and of three sizes, were found. That night C. left Hyde County, telling his nephew, (Sawyer,) that if he staid there he should be hung; and that he should send for his family, and he (S.) must go with them. On Sunday morning he landed from a canoe at Durham's Creek mills, in Beaufort County, about twenty miles from his home, telling the man who rowed him over that he was after a piece of land which another man was trying to buy, and that was the reason of his hurry, and charging him to keep his movements a secret.

From this time till his [Carawan's] arrest at night in his house in January following, the State did not know his where-abouts. But from letters received by the sheriff of Hyde, from Tennessee, it seems he had been sin that State, preaching, under the assumed name of John Forbes.

After his imprisonment in Hyde County Jail, he [Carawan] tried to get a friend to hire the witness Sawyer to go away. He had offered this same witness, before the body of L. was found, a negro, if he would swear that he (C.) was at home all Monday, the day on which the murder was committed. And while in Hyde County Jail he wrote to a friend (the letters were produced in Court,) to get Sawyer out of the way. He had given, he said in one of his letters, Mary (his wife) $500 to get Sawyer off; if that wouldn't do, give him $1,000; and if that wouldn't do, he (his friend) must get rid of Sawyer "by hook or by crook," and not suffer his (C.'s) neck to be broke.

The defence set up for the prisoner was that three of the witnesses (including Sawyer) had sworn falsely, committed willful and deliberate perjury, and that it was impossible for Carawan to have gone through the woods after Lassiter passed his house quick enough to have cut him off.

The Jury, after a protracted sitting, brought in a verdict of guilty, and the Judge ordered a recess of the Court for an hour. As the crowd was leaving, the prisoner suddenly drew two pistols, one of which he fired at Mr. Warren, the counsel for the State, and with the other shot himself through the head, killing himself instantly. The ball of the other struck Mr. Warren on the breast, just above the heart, but fortunately glanced off, and left only a slight wound. The North Star Whig says:

"Carawan maintained his self-control throughout the trial. He was as fine a looking man as one would find among a thousand—tall, admirably built, with a massive head, showing, with enormous animal passions, large intellect. These passions have destroyed him, he having given himself all his life to their unbridled sway. His wife, apparently about his own age, and his children, have been with him during the trial, accompanying him to and from the Court-House and Jail."

This article was published in The New York Times, December 5, 1853
The story of George Washington Carawan was also published in Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes in North Carolina by Manly Wade Wellman, 1954. The story of the crime and the trial with all the details were printed in The North Carolina Tragedy in 1853. This book can be found at

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Steamships Carolina and Virginia

Below is an advertisement giving the schedules for the steamships Virginia and Carolina, owned by the Albemarle Steam Navigation Co.  The Virginia left Franklin, VA on Monday and Friday and went to Tunis in Hertford Co, N.C.  stopping at other ports along the way. On Thursday and Saturdays, it left Tunis and returned to Franklin.

The Carolina left Murfreesboro on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays and went to Tunis and Edenton, Chowan Co., NC, also stopping along the way. It left Edenton on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday returning to Murfreesboro.

The following information came from a 1912 article:

"The steamers Carolina and Virginia, recently built at the works of the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company for the Albemarle Steam Navigation Company, are intended for light draft river service. …"

The Carolina could carry 120 tons with a draft of 6 feet while the Virginia could carry 100 tons . The Carolina had staterooms for 18 and saloon space for 85 people. The smaller Virginia could accommodate 16 in staterooms and 75 people in the saloon. Each vessel carried a crew of 26. The faster Carolina could travel at 10.5 mph while the Virginia reached a speed of 9.6 mph.


"The deck auxiliaries include a steam windlass, winch, gypsy and steering engine. A fresh water tank with a capacity of 6oo gallons is provided. The safety appliances include one l6-foot double-ended lifeboat and one i6-foot square stern boat. "

"The saloons present a very attractive appearance. The joiner work and the hardware are plain and substantial. The decks in passengers' quarters are covered with the best linoleum, and the staterooms are carpeted.

"Each vessel is fitted with electric lights, searchlight and generator, the generators being of sufficient capacity to light up the ship and in addition the lights which the company has installed on all their piers and in their warehouses. …

"The Carolina runs between Edenton, N. C. and Murfreesboro, N. C, and the Virginia runs between Franklin, Va., and Tunis. N. C, the latter route being on the Blackwater River, which is an extremely narrow stream with sharp bends, making it necessary to reduce the length of the Virginia in order that she could navigate this tortuous channel.

"These vessels carry a general cargo of freight throughout the year, and at certain seasons handle large quantities of peanuts, cotton, fertilizers, etc. The holds of both vessels are arranged in such a manner as to be available for the stowage of through freight.

"As these steamers are operated both day and night, the ingenious arrangement of lighting the piers and warehouses from the generators of the steamers greatly facilitates the handling of freight during the night work."

The article, along with the picture of the Virginia, appeared in International marine engineering, Volume 17 1912. This is a Google Book. The ad is from Images of America: Hertford County by Frank Stephenson: 2003.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Civil War Battle in Gumberry
that Never Took Place

"It was the Spring of 1865 and the closing weeks of the Civil War.

"Northampton County farmers, among them Kindred Howell, once again had put their fields in order for the new crops of cotton and corn. Howell's land stood, as it does today, astride the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad, built to connect the Port of Norfolk with the main line road running south from Richmond into at Weldon.

"One bright morning, excitement rang high through the Seaboard area. A 'runner' from Jackson, the county seat brought word the Union Army was on its way.

"Soon, a “roaring noise came from the southeast audible from enemy troops, many of them mounted and some horses pulling artillery pieces, moved across the countryside and onto the Howell's land. They stopped, some on each side of the railroad tracks. Two pit emplacements for big guns were dug on either side of the railroad, and the rails themselves were ripped up for about half a mile, from Howell westward to the crossroads of Gumberry.

"Today [1976] a long stretch of this 'fort' is still there, probably the best preserved, in the original state, of any Civil War fortification in this region.

"It runs about half a mile on the south side of the railroad, now a part of the Seaboard Air Line. The great mounds still are 12 to 15 feet in height in some places. A pine forest has grown up around them, and few people in this area know of their existence.

"The 'fort' was never used. What could have developed into a major engagement was averted because Union strategists beat the Confederates to the draw, and had an overwhelming force to “cut” the railroad at Howell's farm before the Southerners got there.

"Among those who knew the fortification is still there is the late Mrs. L. W. Bryant (a veteran schoolteacher at Gaston, great-granddaughter of Kindred Howell) who lived on the old home place.

"Recently, [1976] she and a brother, W. J. Stephenson of Richmond stood on the site and told of events of 98 years ago, as related to them by their grandmother, Mrs. Christine Howell Jordan, who died in 1925.

“ 'My great-grandfather (Kindred Howell) put all the cured meat in a big box and buried it behind the barn when word came the Union Army was on its way,' Mrs. Bryant said.

“ 'They stopped in my grandmother's fields. At that time she was living on the place with her father and sister, and a slave named Aunt Rena, who took care of the girls. Aunt Rena was rented from a neighbor for 50 cents a week.

“ 'The Union forces, after throwing up the breastworks and placing the guns beside the railroad, waited for a train from Norfolk. They knew it was carrying Confederate soldiers, who were trying to get to Weldon or Richmond.

“ 'Great-grandfather Howell talked to two of the Union officers while they were waiting. They told him it would not be necessary for him to take his family and slave and leave, because they knew there would be no battle. Both officers said their troops so far outnumbered the Confederates on the train that they were sure there would be no fight.' (It was estimated there were about 8,000 Union Troops, compared to about 2,000 Rebels on the train).

"Howell invited the two officers in for coffee. The room in which they sat is still preserved, a part of the rebuilt homeplace which was moved several hundred yards from its original site.

"For an hour or so, there were a series of 'booms' heard as the Yankees tested their big guns guarding the railroad and got the range on the expected train.

“The train came slowly from Seaboard,” Mrs. Bryant was quoted. “It was flagged and came to a stop within sight of the fort. The crew could see the situation and the train began to back up. Not a shot was fired.

“One of the officers said. ‘Thank God, the war is over as far as we are concerned.’ The train backed out of sight toward the town of Seaboard.”

"There was one Confederate on the train, whose home was nearby, and he jumped off and made a dash for it. He was captured by Union soldiers, the only prisoner taken. Mrs. Bryant's grandfather, Henry Clay Jordan was a soldier on the train also.

"The gun pits as well as about half of the breastworks, have been leveled, but the other half still remains.

"Mrs. Bryant recalled that her grandmother said the fields had been broken up and laid off in that Spring of ‘65 when the Yankees came. The troops, horses, and artillery pieces trampled them so thoroughly that all the work had to be redone after their departure, and a late crop resulted, that year."

Footprints in Northampton: 1741-1776-1976 by Northampton Bicentennial Committee, 1976: p. 38-39.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


"There is a neighborhood in Halifax county called Dumpling Town. No one has ever been able to tell why it is called by that name. It may be because the people living there were very fond of apple dumplings. There is an old legend which says that the housekeepers of that part of the county, a long time ago, had a contest to decide who could cook the largest dumpling. People from far and near came to see the dumplings, which were of all sizes, from the tiniest apple to the largest cooking pot. There were dumplings round and dumplings long, dumplings small and dumplings large. It was a great day for dumplings. If this story is true, then the place has a good right to its name. But no one knows whether it is true or not.

"About a hundred years ago [1818] there lived in that neighborhood a teacher whose name was Thomas Peterson. The boys called him 'Old Peters.' He was a very learned man, and knew a great deal of Latin and Greek. He taught for six months in the year and hunted and fished the other six. As a consequence he was just as good a hunter as he was a teacher.

"In those days there were no fine schoolhouses as there are now. In many neighborhoods there were no schoolhouses at all. The house in which 'Old Peters' taught was built of logs and had one room, one door and two windows. The floor was laid with slabs, split from pine trees, and had large cracks in it. The windows were made by sawing through a log on each side of the room. These windows let in some light, but they also let in more cold. Between the logs earth and sticks had been placed to keep out the cold winds, but on warm days the boys would punch the earth out to get fresh air. So there was not much left to protect the children from the winter winds except a great roaring fire in the fireplace.

"The fireplace took up nearly the whole of one end of the room. In cold weather large logs were piled upon the fire until the flames leaped up the chimney and the heat went into all parts of the room. At such times no one could sit in the chimney corner, for it was as hot as a furnace. But when the fire was not so large half a dozen children could sit in the corner at the same time.

"Very little furniture was in the room. The teacher's table and stool were in one corner. Benches without backs were placed here and there for the pupils to sit on. There was a long desk built along the wall, which was used as a writing desk for children who had advanced that far in learning. Those in the lower grades had to sit on the benches without desks and study their books. They often spent a good deal of the time in drawing pictures on their slates.

"Usually things went well in this school, for the pupils all feared 'Old Peters' and learned their lessons well. But sometimes when Mr. Peterson had the dyspepsia everything seemed to go wrong. The boys did not know their lessons and the girls whispered too much.

"One day 'Old Peters' came into the schoolroom with a frown on his face. The boys and girls began to feel uneasy, and kept watching the large bundle of switches that he had near his desk. It was plain that he was in a bad humor, and that trouble was ahead.

" 'Get your spelling lesson!' said the master, and every pupil began to study the lesson aloud and sway back and forth in his seat to keep time with the syllables. That was the style in those days. One boy knew his lesson already. He moved back and forth with the others, but while they were studying their lessons he was saying, 'Old Peters, Old Pete, Old Peters.' But alas! just as he was saying the last name, all the others ceased to speak and his words sounded out loud and distinct.

"All the children laughed out. 'Old Peters' saw the little rascal and called him up to the desk. He came trembling. The master reached for his switch and gave him several severe blows. Then he made the boy stand up in the corner on one foot.

"When the class came up to recite, the boy who had been punished could not spell the words, because he was scared. He had lost all his knowledge. 'Old Peters' was angry, and put the dunce cap on the boy's head. He then had to stand on the dunce stool for the other children to laugh at. The poor boy sobbed and groaned for a long time, but this did not soften the master's heart. He made one of the others hold his book bag under the boy's face to catch his tears. This was worse than the other punishment, and the boy almost died with shame.

"This was the way he punished for misbehavior, or for not knowing a lesson. If two boys got into a quarrel with each other, he would have them settle their difficulty at recess, and he did it in this way: Each boy was given a stout hickory switch, and they had to play 'wrap jacket' until one had enough. Sometimes the fight would be kept up until the switches were worn out. Then others would be gotten and the battle continued until one of the boys cried 'enough.' Then the master declared the fight ended and named the winner.

"At Christmas time it was the custom for the boys to shut the teacher out, and in that way get a holiday. One morning, about a week before Christmas, all the boys reached the schoolhouse before the master and locked the door. Then they waited for 'Old Peters.' When he came he found the door and windows fastened. He knew what was up, and joined in the fun.

"Presently a boy on the inside said: 'We must have a holiday for ten days. Will you give it to us?'

" 'No,' said the master.

" 'Then we will duck you,' said all the boys; and the door was opened and the boys ran out. 'Old Peters' ran down the road with the crowd at his heels. Soon they caught him and started for the creek near by; but before they got to the water he gave in and promised a holiday. Then all went back to the house, and the master dismissed school until after the Christmas holidays.

"This was one of the old schools of the long ago. There were many others in North Carolina like it. They were small and unfurnished, but they did much good in training our forefathers to become useful citizens."

This story is from: W. C. Allen, NORTH CAROLINA HISTORICAL STORIES [Richmond, VA: B. F. Johnson Publishing Co., 1918]: p.211–215.]

Online source:

Friday, August 13, 2010

School Days in Tyrrell County

Carrie Virginia Jones was born on August 29, 1896, at Gum Neck Landing, a remote settlement in Tyrrell County, North Carolina. Gum Neck Landing is on the Alligator River that flows between Tyrrell and Dare Counties, North Carolina. She was the daughter of Edd and Mary "Mate" Langley Jones.

Gum Neck is in the bottom left corner of this map.

Carrie was about eight years old when she started to school at the local Mons Swamp School in 1904. She attended only three years. For many farm people at that time, education for girls was a luxury. The primary educational objective for most girls was to be able to read the Bible. Carrie was able to achieve this objective and was an active student of the scripture throughout her life.

Carrie's walk to school each day provides a snapshot of her world. "She lived with her parents at the back of the fields, abutting Buck Ridge Swamp. Emerging from her home at the back of field each morning, no doubt nicely dressed, she walked along a well trodden path along the fields past her Uncle Claude's house. At the cross road to Jo Reek* she probably met up with other children, such as Ashby Jones who was only four months younger. About here she might have seen a mule and cart carrying some older children, the Basnights, who lived on Buck Ridge, up a long planked pathway, too far to walk normally.

"The school children proceeded on foot in small groups along the dirt road, low, water-edged and often muddy, first over the ancient little creek, then over the newer big canal where people now frequently fished. Some of the children may have dawdled at the blacksmith's to watch him working. These children risked their parents' reprimand but fire held a natural fascination for children. The blacksmith was Bart Cooper and he shoed horses and mules and made farming tools. The down road blacksmith was located on the big canal, in that swampy stretch between Claude Jones and Josh Swindell. [There was also a blacksmith, Julian Sawyer, at the Fork of the Road near the Post office.]

"Proceeding down the road through a swampy stretch they came to Swindell Corner. Near the corner itself lived Joshua and Harriet Swindell whose four children, Dora, George, Alice and Lillie were all about Carrie's age. Across the road lived Dave Ireland, whose only daughter Inez was about six years older than Carrie.

"Not far from Swindell Corner was the 'Company Store' which was owned by Dave Ireland, Josh Swindell, Ludford Tarkenton and Uncle Claude Jones, all of who were relatively well off. For a while this store was run by Gilbert and Reda Tarkenton.

"The children would continue on the main road parallel to the canal, past the new Point Graveyard on the right, coming up to the Free Will Baptist church on the left. On the right a bridge led to Fred S. Pinner's Store which at that time also contained the 'Mon Swamp Post Office and a barbershop. There was also a shed containing hardware supplies and things like kerosene for lamps.' The very few children with that rarest of commodities—hard cash, might have been tempted to buy some sweets at the store. However, by far the majority had no money at all, and dutifully continued straight down the road past the church and bridge along the canal through the heavily wooded Mon Swamp.

"Between the Free Will Church and the school was a noteworthy well. 'On the way to school we'd stop at a man's well to get water. We always had to scare the ducks away first to get to it though. … It was in the front yard of an elderly black man and his wife. This well has such good cold water that it became a popular place to stop and drink. The old people were glad to have people drink from their well. Like most wells, it had a wood frame around it and the water bucket was a rope.' [This elderly couple appears to be …Caroline Armstrong and her new husband Sharpe Chatman. Caroline had long ties to Gum Neck whereas her husband came from away. By 1930 this house appears to be occupied by Carolina Armstrong's granddaughter Ruth Cooper Balls and her husband Charlie Balls.]

"Emerging from that dark stretch of road, Mons Swamp School could be seen on the left, a little back from the road. From the opposite direction other children were also arriving at the school, mostly on foot but those living some distance away, such as beyond Stephen's Ridge on the Grapevine road, came by horse and cart. In addition, some children came through a short-cut. This was a long lane from Georgia Road through the Paul Jones Thicket to the school."

Mons Swamp School

"The school was one room with a door, a blackboard, and a stove to keep us halfway warm in winter. There were sixty or seventy children in school and the grades were from the first to about the eighth. The school literally had no outhouse. The boys went in the woods on one side and the girls on the other.

"Another ex-pupil described the Lower Road School as '… a one-room school house with one teacher. Many pupils walked two miles to school and carried their lunch of collards, sweet potatoes, biscuits, fried meat, preserves, and home-made cookies in a tin dinner bucket. Everyone drank from the same dipper in a bucket filled from a well outside. The only seats in the school building were wooden planks placed across blocks of wood.'

"The building was about 30 feet long. Inside, it 'was equipped with long benches placed down each side of the building with an aisle in the middle. The teacher stood at the back on an elevated platform. There was a long bench in front of the platform used as a recitation bench. The seats had no desks for use by pupils … a long shelf was built along either side of the building for use by the pupils when needed. A pail of drinking water was placed in front of the building with one dipper for use by the children when thirsty. Reading, writing and arithmetic were the principal subjects taught. … In the early days paper was very scarce and used sparingly. In connection with the study of arithmetic a slate was used. This slate was about 15 or 18 inches by 10 inches in size and bound by a wood frame. Special pencils for marking on the slate were used, known as slate pencils. Arithmetic problems were solved by the pupils on these slates. When the problems assigned had been solved by the pupils, the teacher would walk by, look at the work, and make any corrections necessary. When the slate had been filled with figures it was wiped clean with a damp cloth and the student started over again. In many instances students wouldn't bother to use a cloth, but would spit on the slate and erase the numbers with his hand or sleeve. The teacher would usually divide the group into classes and those classes were called to the front at regular intervals for instructions. Playgrounds were very limited. Usually the forest came very near the rear and sides of the building leaving a very limited playground in front. On the last day of school they'd give out boxes of candy.

"In charge of administering the Mons Swamp School was the School Committee which about this time consisted of three prominent local men, viz Josh Swindell, Henry E. Cohoon and Paul Jones, each of whom was associated with a store in Gum Neck."

School Teachers at Mons Swamp School

"Carrie's first school teacher, in 1904, in fact the only teacher in the Mons Swamp School, was a local man, Cleaton Armstrong. … He was described as being of medium height and build, and having light-colored hair and blue eyes …. He was also religious, influenced no doubt by his young friend, the local pastor John Lupton, then 23, who also did some teaching at this school.

"By 1910 Cleaton had moved with his parents to Pitt County where he was studying at the Free Will Baptist Theological Seminary in Ayden. By September 1918 he was a minister in nearby Stantonsburg, Wilson County. He died shortly thereafter, possibly in the influenza epidemic of 1918, leaving a young widow and a small boy who carried his name.

"The next teacher in this one-teacher school was Miss Eva Harris who came from a prominent educated family in Hyde County. In fact, her uncle, Dr. A.G. Harris of Fairfield [Hyde Co.] treated the sick of Kilkenny and Gum Neck for many years, including during the influenza epidemic of 1918. Eva married in 1906 to Clifford Harris, a farmer from Pantego, Beaufort County.

"After Eva Harris, the next teacher was sixty four-year-old Lewis Swindell. Mr. Swindell was in marked contrast to the previous two teachers, both in terms of age and experience. For one thing he was a distinguished Civil War veteran who had been wounded and a prisoner of war.

"After the war Lewis Swindell returned to his native Fairfield where, about 1880, he established a private school, Swindell Academy, in the yard of his home on the north shore of Lake Mattamuskeet. He taught there for a number of years, certainly as late as 1896, and also ran a farm.

"What brought a man of his experience and years to teach in Gum Neck for a year or two about 1906 is unclear. In any case his home farm was a short boat to Fairfield, and school terms were relatively short, allowing him time to juggle a short-term commitment to Gum Neck community.

"The evidence suggests he was accompanied by at least one of his family, namely his daughter Reda Swindell. She married a local man, Gilbert Tarkenton, in 1907 and later also taught on the Mons Swamp School. …

"… Another teacher in Gum Neck between 1910 and 1917 was Miss Annie Jones from Dare County. She used to come to Uncle Claude's house, where there was an organ, every Saturday to teach music to Lennie for 25 cents. Lennie was also a good singer in her youth. Music was not really a part of Carrie's life apart from Aunt Kizzie who taught herself to play the accordion.

"Carrie's brother Lonzo started first grade in the fall of 1914. His first grade teacher Esther M. Jones made him prefix his birth name with an "A" the proper way. He spelled it Alonza the rest of his life, but people still called him Lonzo.

"By about 1920 the original schoolhouse had been abandoned in favor of a new two-classroom Down Road School built nearby at the northeast corner where the main road intersects Grapevine Road. By 1940 all that remained of the original one-room Mons Swamp School was its collapsed roof on the ground. In winter it could just be seen from the road."

*I have not been able to learn the location of Jo Reek or whether it was a community or perhaps a creek. Please let me know if you know more about it.

[This story was taken from Life on the Alligator River: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary Woman by Roy T. Sawyer, 2007. According to his profile at, "Roy T. Sawyer was born in Virginia, where his father was an administrator at Langley Air Force Base. As a child, he often visited his grandmother in Gum Neck, North Carolina, where he became familiar with the Dismal Swamps, which are among the world's most biologically diverse temperate wetlands. He discovered leeches when he was six years old, and has been interested in them ever since." Mr. Sawyer is a zoologist and has written several books about leeches and the American wetlands. He established the world's first leech farm in South Wales.]

Friday, August 6, 2010

Old Spring Hope

In 1937, Constance Matthews took a journey to "Old Spring Hope." She found the spot "in a pasture, four miles southeast of the present town [of Spring Hope], by the brink of a rock walled, moss and fern fringed spring, shaded by a giant wateroak whose gnarled roots reaching for the spring betoken centuries of age … ." A hundred yards up the hill is a sheep house. "This identical building in this identical spot, brushed by the same whiteoak boughs that tower above it like a great gray guardian, was the first store at the first Spring Hope." It was built by Daniel Sanford Crenshaw who brought his family to Nash County around 1840.

"A closer view of the landmark reveals a framework of mortise and tenon fashion, further strengthened by wooden pegs. The shutters open like doors. The nails and single diagonal bar over each window were hand forged in the builder's blacksmith shop. Tumbledown remains of the original shelves and postal pigeonholes can still be seen within."

"The hand drawn lumber and shingles were hauled five miles by oxcart from a discarded store operated about 1830 to 1835 by one Josiah Jordan … ." It was located near the present Spring Hope town limits.

No one knows why Spring Hope was given its name. There are several theories as to why the "hope" was attached to the word "spring." Logically it could have sprung from other settlements within a 15 mile radius such as Stanhope, Union Hope, and New Hope. One legend claims that Spring Hope became known due to the hope that the spring would not dry up. In olden days springs were important. People feared enemies would poison wells whereas running water was safe. This area with its country store near a natural spring, 4 miles south of the present town of Spring Hope is respectfully called "Old" Spring Hope today.

The first store in Old Spring Hope had several owners: Daniel Sanford Crenshaw; Elbert Deans; Felix Deans, with William Joyner as a partner; Albert Gay; Jim Todd; and in the 1930s, Hoke and Clay Todd. The story is told that in 1887 "Al" (or "Ab") Gay moved his stock to Seven Paths and then to Spring Hope. Such moving energy was surprising in view of the lassitude, or "downright laziness" some said, of the original "Ab" who made his customers wait on themselves, and refused over and over again to sell his last pound of coffee or box of matches because, "Somebody else might want it." Other early stores at Old Spring Hope belonged to "Doc" Bass, who later opened in Spring Hope, and D. H. Hansell (or Hanchel).

In 1886, the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad began to lay tracks across Nash County to extend rail service from Rocky Mount to Raleigh. The railroad company ran into opposition from James T. Webb who owned Webb's Mill and most of the property the tracks were to run through in that area. Webb didn't "take kindly" to the idea of a railroad on his land and he raised the price of his property so high that the railroad company decided to halt the line at a point about midway between Old Spring Hope and Webb's Mill. This action resulted in the present location of the town of Spring Hope. The property for the town was purchased from the Hendricks family at a price so low that grateful citizens offered the couple a trip on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad to the destination of their choice. They chose Rocky Mount, about 20 miles away!

The Spring Hope Post office had been located about 4 miles southeast of the end of the railroad at Old Spring Hope. As this was the closest post office to the new tracks, the railroad company decided to call the end of the railroad Spring Hope Depot. The post office was later moved to this location and Spring Hope was incorporated 24 Feb 1889. In the 1890s, Spring Hope Academy, a combination public-private school, was built. That was the end of "Old Spring Hope."

[This story was taken from Stagecoach to Streamline, by Constance Matthews: 1937. Constance interviewed some of the oldest people in and around Spring Hope. They were: Mrs. Louisana Westray, May 22, 1846 - Jan. 6, 1939; J.C.M. Strickland, April 27, 1853 - April 25, 1937; N.B. Finch, Nov. 13, 1857 - ?; W. D. Lamm, Nov. 4, 1860 - ?; Wiley Lamm, Aged farmer near Spring Hope; Mrs. Sallie Hargrove Edwards, Aug. 1, 1968 - Jan. 8, 1938; George W. Bunn, Jan. 2, 1867 - ?; Henry Bartholomew, June 20, 1852 - 1944; Monroe Mills, (colored), 77; Lewis Bryant (colored), former employee at Pine Valley still.

Matthews was editor of The Nash County News. Soon after 1937, she was horseback riding in Rocky Mount. She fell off the horse and broke her back and died.

The book, Stagecoach to Streamline, and the information about Constance Matthews were furnished by Annie Pearl Brantley of Spring Hope.]
A Glimpse of Nash County —1937

"A red dirt country road climbs a hill in piedmont North Carolina. A redder, ruttier road joins it at right angles near the summit. Together they meander on as one, past typical southern farm and country scenes; cotton fields [and] tobacco barns; woody bits of old field pines; burnished ribbons of broom sedge by the roadside in autumn; striking squares of white where plant beds lie in springtime like forgotten snow; substantial farms that bespeak the care of several generations, each place with its scuppernong grape scaffold close beside; a sprinkling of tenant houses with the inevitable hound or 'coon dog sprawled on the porch."

[Taken from Stagecoach to Streamline, by Constance Matthews, 1937]