Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Buckets of Rain

By Annie Pearl Brantley

The rain fell and fell and fell, day after day. Buckets of rain. Torrents of rain. The ditches overflowed. Mud holes turned into ponds; ponds into lakes; and lakes into seas.Chickens sought safety in the treetops while the mules, horses and cows slogged about in mud up to their knees. The wise humans stayed inside where it was dry.

Down at the family graveyard, the rising waters pushed at the saturated, sandy soil causing it to shift restlessly, in a series of miniature avalanches. Each little shift gave a tiny nudge until, finally, Alfred Lamm in his coffin slowly floated to the surface.

According to local legend, when the rain finally ended and the floating coffin was discovered, Alfred was moved into a nearby tobacco barn to dry out and was then reburied. So far as I know, he has rested peacefully since that time.

Alfred Lamm (b. 1850) was the son of Thomas and Aily Bizzard Lamm. He was marred in 1875 to Sarah Glover (1844-1911). I do not know his death date and there is no stone to mark his grave. The home place, which is in Nash County, about 5 miles north of Bailey and ½ mile east of Green Gables, was bought by T. C. High and in my memory was called the T. C. High home place.

[Annie Pearl Brantley (5/17/1929-2/21/2008) was a Nash County genealogist who lived in Spring Hope. This story was published in The Connector, newsletter of the Tar River Connections Genealogical Society in the Winter 1998 issue.]

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Legend of the Whitaker House

By Mrs. Cora W Ramsaw and Mrs. Saratoga W. Brown 

G. F. C. Whitaker and his wife bought a farm from Will Brown. It was in Murfreesboro Township, Hertford County, about four miles beyond Mapleton. The farm was bordered on one side by Potecasi Creek and on the other side by the Meherrin River. Here the Whitakers built their home and established their family.

As time went on, Whitaker began looking for more and better farm land. As luck would have it, the Camp Manufacturing Co. was looking for timber and the Whitaker place had plenty of that. In 1930, Whitaker and Camp Manufacturing made a swap—the Whitaker place for what was known as Mis Sallie Warren's farm in Maney's Neck Township, Como, N. C.

Camp Manufacturing Co. had no use for the buildings on the Whitaker farm and G. F. C. Whitaker was given a year to tear down and remove all the buildings on the property. The Whitaker House was torn down and the materials were carried to the Meherrin River at the far end of the farm.

"The boards were put into a raft and floated down the river with Whitaker's top buggy on the raft in which he sat. His sons came along beside the raft in a canoe which he made, to see that the raft was guided to its destination, and tied up at the boat landing on the [new]Whitaker farm … ."

The salvaged building material was stored on the new site until the house was rebuilt in 1935.

The Whitaker family moved into the old/new house in January, 1936.

[This story by Mrs. Cora W Ramsaw and Mrs. Saratoga W. Brown, daughters of G. F. C. Whitaker, was first published in Heritage County Reflections in 1988. The book was compiled to commemorate America's 400th Anniversary.]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Working in Radio


I first came to Nash County and Rocky Mount in 1938 to accept a position on the announcing and copy-writing staff of radio station WEED-AM. My salary was $22.50 per week.

WEED was the only radio station east of Raleigh in 1938. Avera Wynne was the owner and manager. On the staff when I arrived were: announcers Wally Williams, Carl McKinney, and Bernard Proctor. Ike Murphrey, a Rocky Mount native, and Roy Bechtol, from Pennsylvania, were our engineers. Our sales manager was B. W. Frank. Later, Ray Bandy and Jack Cummings worked in sales, as did I.

I spent my first week in Rocky Mount at the Cambridge Hotel on Main Street. My room was on the second floor front and the trains going by the front door of the hotel made sleeping difficult for the first two or three nights. I ate my meals at the Palace Restaurant, the New York Café, and the Royal Palm Restaurant.

After a week at the Cambridge Hotel, I secured a nice room with Mr. and Mrs. Jim Frank Avent on Forrest Hill Drive in Englewood, just two blocks from the studios of WEED. The room, including laundry, was $3 per week. I soon discovered Mrs. Sally Edwards' boarding house on Church Street, just across from the Masonic Temple. I took my meals with Mrs. Edwards. For $7 per week, I had lunch and dinner, seven days a week.

Radio WEED featured a lot of local, live talent on the air. Perhaps the best known at that time were Talmadge Pollard and Paul Byrd, "The Johnson County Ramblers," sponsored by Planters Cotton Oil and Fertilizer Co. The emcee for the show was "Uncle" Eddie Burwell. Other artists who performed during the early years were: Curley Red and his Melody Boys, Everette and Pearlie Ashley, the "Ashley Brothers," and Atwood Gurganus with brothers Julius and Irvin. Inez Cobb was one of our better singers and was featured on many programs. Lucille Arnold of Red Oak was our staff pianist and played for Inez and a number of other local entertainers that appeared at the station.

One of the most professional groups to appear on WEED was Tex Dean and the Carefree Cowboys, sponsored by Priddy Fertilizer. I wrote the commercials and announced the show for several years.

I met and married Martha High of Red Oak in 1941. We live in Greenville, North Carolina.

[This story was one of many collected through the Nash County Cultural Center's Oral History Project during the late 1990s. Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount has the full collection of stories. This story was first published in The Connector, the newsletter of the Tar River Connections Genealogical Society in the Spring 1999 issue.]


A Warrenton Boy's Views.

The Henderson [Vance County] and Warrenton [Warren County] base ball clubs began a game of ball at Warren Plains last Thursday but for a reason which will be shown below the game was not finished. During the first three innings the Henderson Club's success seemed to be unlimited, but at the beginning of the fourth inning the Warrenton boys begn their work and at the close of the 6th inning the score being nearly even and the Henderson boys seeing their terrible defeat ahead of them outrightly refused to finish the game. After they refused to play the Umpire according to the rules of B. B. declared the game in favor of Warrenton.

[This story appeared in The Graphic, Ridgeway, Warren Co., NC, 7/17/1890. The story was published in The Connector, newsletter of Tar River Connections Genealogical Society in the Spring 2006 issue.]

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


As in every business or profession, the sportsman has his ups and downs; chiefly the latter. … For years I had hoped and planned to have a private shooting-box on the North Carolina sounds, where I could carry out my pet theories, raise my own decoys, and, above all, entertain a few choice sportsmen of the dead-game sort. My hopes were realized, but, like the Scriptural apples, they turned to dead-sea fruit on the lips.

I learned that the light-house at Pamlico Point, near Goose Creek Island, was to be abandoned by the government on account of shoaling water. I made application, gave bond to protect the property, and the tower, buildings and island were turned over to me, and that winter I gathered a choice party to join me in a hunt that was to be a record-breaker.

There were four of us, a duck-hunting quartette, comprising Messrs. Charles Hallock, William Wagner, one of the finest wing-shots of America; George Ransdell, an old Black Horse cavalryman in the war days, who had spent the last quarter of a century roaming over the frontiers of the far West and Mexico, and myself. It was a goodly company of Bohemians and sportsmen who confidently went forth in the North Carolina sounds to slay vast quantities of water fowl, and to enjoy the pleasure that only a coterie of congenial spirits can find in out-of-the-way places, far from the swirl of the "madding crowd." Most men have a touch of the savage in their composition or a tinge of the old Norse blood in their veins, and take keen delight in severing themselves from all the luxuries and charms of civilized life, and roughing it in a way that a tramp would despise.

It takes some thirty hours to reach Pamlico Sound from Norfolk by way of steamer. Half of the time the route is through narrow canals that connect the Currituck, Chowan, Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. The scenery is flat and unpicturesque, and consists entirely of swamps and pine barrens.

Reaching Pamlico Island in due time, the steamer's whistle blew the warning signal and a boat put out from the place to meet us. Its owner was the ex-light-house keeper, who when the light was abandoned … still remained at his old quarters, simply because he was too lazy to move away.

It was a small boat that came dancing over the waves, … but certainly not capacious enough to hold four men, one dog, a small arsenal of guns, boxes of provisions, several hundred pounds of ammunition, eight bags of decoy-ducks with their weights attached, a half dozen trunks, besides any number of traps, not counting a huge demijohn—a cure for snake bites, and the only cure for any accident, home-sickness, or mishap that might befall us.

The wind was blowing great guns, and the whole sound, as far as the eye could reach, was full of white-caps. It was with great difficulty that the little craft could be made fast to the leeward side of the steamer, and as we looked down from the gangway and watched the lantern rise and fall in the swell of the billows, some eight feet from the crest to the trough, there arose a protest from all.

" I am not prepared to leave the world yet," remarked the Professor, as we nicknamed Mr. Hallock." Davy Jones won't get me in his locker to-night if I can help it."

"I'm rather timid of water, anyway," said Wagner, whom we had dubbed "Major Clam," because, being a silent man, he rarely opened his mouth except to take a drink. "I was on a yacht once on Lake Erie, and it was overturned and all hands lost on board. I'd just as leave commit suicide at once as to get in that cockle-shell."

"Are you uns a-comin'?" cried the voice of the boatman, commencing in a high tenor and sinking slowly to a low stomach note, as the boat dropped from the crest deep in the hollow of a rolling wave.

"As for me," remarked Old Boreas, so-called because Ransdell was always blowing his money about, "as for me, if you catch me inside that coffin, then I'm a bigger fool than all the three wise men of Gotham who went to sea in a bowl."

The result was that the captain of the steamer launched the life-boat, and six stalwart rowers soon landed us on the island.

It was a barren sandbank in a wide waste of waters, and as we scrambled ashore we were prepared to see the ex-keeper's wife and even a whole tribe of children; but the crowd of Goose Creek Islanders who stood crouching, leaning, reclining, and slouching around the tower and house rather astonished us. They did not show any extravagant delight in the meeting, only welcoming us with a nod and a grunt. Their appreciation of rest was most patent—every man of them leaned or reclined against something; half a dozen or so were propping up the tower, another squad braced up the house, while others ballasted their boats, made fast to the shore, by lying full length on the seats.

The typical Goose Creek Islanders are tall, most of them being fully six feet when standing erect—a thing they rarely do except when yawning. Their hair is generally of the color known as carrotty, and it is combed every Sunday morning in honor of the day. Their foreheads are receding, their organs of vision … in color a dull blue. A sparkling black or clear hazel is rarely seen. The said eyes are generally as destitute of expression …except, indeed, when their glance rests upon a roll of money or a handful of coin, and then it is curious to watch them light up, and really scintillate. … Their cheeks are lank, and covered with a sparse beard which grows in detached spots like clumps of wire-grass in a run-down field. The jaw is their best feature, being strong and firm, denoting tenacity, and, if not courage, at least the absence of fear. … Their throats are long, and the Adam's apple especially prominent. They always stoop, simply for the reason that it is too great an effort to hold the backbone erect. That part of the body known as the abdomen is very long, a wise provision of nature, intended to allow a large storage of food within. The limbs are lengthy and the hand enormous, with knuckles as big as door-knobs. Clothe these figures in a mixed costume of sportsmen's cast-off garments of the finest material and the native's coarse butternut fashioned by the native house-wife, and the man, the typical Goose Creek Islander, will stand before you.

Take, for instance, Tim Cignal, the ci-devant light-house keeper. Tim was one of the crowd that awaited us, and he was the only one that abided with us—to our sorrow. He wore a fashionable billycock hat, dogskin jacket, over which his homespun coat hung; fine corduroy breeches, and a pair of india-rubber boots.

While we busied ourselves in housing our stores and traps, not an islander moved; they kept their gaze fixed on vacancy, inert and motionless, except that their jaws moved regularly, and they spit, ever and anon, a long stream of tobacco juice from between their closed teeth. This is an art to be accomplished only after long practice; but only the expert can expel it with his jaws clenched tight.

At last the ex-keeper, who had elected himself as host and custodian of our stores, stepped out on the porch.

"Boys, walk up and reef yer sails."

The motionless figures were touched into life and motion. … They all arose as one man, and actually hurried in, and imbibed in a way to make the famous major and judge blush with envy.

To make a long story short, the islanders remained with us for three days, eating, drinking, and lounging, until they cleaned out our whole large stock of wet and dry groceries; then all except Tim launched their boats, spread their sails, and departed for their island home.

The morning after our arrival our party started off on a reconnaissance, visiting many points in the vicinity; the result of our observations was that, with the exception of a few black-duck, there was no shooting around the island, and Messrs. Hallock and Wagner left for home the next day. George and I determined to stay for a week, anyhow.

The ex-keeper and his wife, her friend Nancy, George and myself constituted the household. Nancy was a big, buxom girl from Goose Creek Island, and was far superior to any of her clan, inasmuch as she could read and write, and was a noted musician on the island. She could, in the language of the street, "knock an accordion cold"; but, unfortunately, she could only play hymns. She explained to us that the hymns made her sad, and, as Artemus Ward said, "If she was sad, we were sadder than she was." Of all the lugubrious strains that were ever evolved from an instrument, the most lugubrious were brought from that diabolical accordion by Nancy.
They were singing "In The Sweet By and By"

The night after our companions left was very stormy; in fact, there was a hurricane off Hatteras, and we were catching the tail-end of it. The ocean billows swept over the intervening sand dunes and came rolling across the sound, raising the tide several feet above high-water mark. The wind shrieked and howled, and when George opened the door the storm burst into the room, strewing the floor with sleet. It required the combined strength of the household to close that door. The keeper's wife retreated to her room in a panic, and Nancy, awed and frightened, brought out her accordion for comfort. It was a huge affair, about the size of a barrel churn, and had been purchased by subscription by the admiring Goose Creek Islanders. It was the only musical instrument on the island.

Nancy could turn a tune and that was about all, but had she possessed a good instrument one could have listened to her without feeling his blood running cold. For years that accordion had been drawn, pulled, jerked, twitched and squeezed by rough hands, until it had the same sort of demoniacal melody that a boarding-house piano has. Some high-strung musical people shrink from a false note as from a blow, and if any such had been compelled to listen to Nancy that night they would have gone mad. The mournful, melancholy strains made us shiver; my dog Jessie darted under the bed, and lay there, from whence occasionally would come a protesting, suffering yap or whine.

After a while Nancy let herself loose, and began to sing in a nasal mezzo-soprano. This capped the climax, I thought, for discord had reached its limit; but when the keeper butted in with a voice which could only be likened to a crow afflicted with asthma, discordance could no farther go.

George leaned over and shouted in my ear, "They are making Rome howl!"

… They were singing "In the Sweet By and By," and were at the last line, "We shall meet on that beautiful shore." Nancy's eyes were closed, but her mouth was wide open; the keeper's eyes were closed, and his mouth open, and the raucous discord issuing from their throats was simply gruesome. All at once, with a wheezy shriek, the accordion rent asunder, the voices ceased, and Nancy burst into tears.

"The dern thing's busted."

It is always sad to see beauty in tears, but this time "it were better so."

"The harp that once through Tara's Hall" would be heard never, never more; for when the keeper examined the pride and delight of Goose Creek Island, he flung it on the floor with the remark, "The derned thing has done busted its insides out."

The next morning the gale had subsided, but a boisterous northwest wind was still blowing. George and I spread our decoys on a point near the light-house, and we had hardly regained the blind before a wild goose came sweeping with the wind in grand style. We both fired, and he tumbled head over heels before striking water. Jessie plunged in after him, but the goose was only winged, and started for the sound. Now a goose is a fast swimmer, and I watched the race with the keenest delight. The water was very rough, and soon both pursued and pursuer disappeared in the distance.

I ran to the house and obtained the keeper's glass and hurried to the top of the tower. Adjusting the focus I could see Jessie about a mile away, as she rose on the crest of the waves, her head turned seaward; and as I watched she disappeared from sight. I went back and joined George, greatly concerned about the dog. I told him that she was so thorough-bred and game that she would follow that goose across the Atlantic or sink in the attempt.

An hour passed and Jessie had not returned; my heart sank low. I would rather have lost all the rest of my kennel—my hunting traps— my favorite gun—than that she should come to grief. I cursed my thoughtlessness in letting her go after that goose; I might have known what the result would be. I went to the keeper and told him to man the boat, but I had slight hope of ever finding her in that wide waste of water.

I was just climbing into the boat when the keeper shouted, "For Heaven's sake! There's your dog now."

I turned, and on the other side of the island was my peerless setter, dragging herself along the beach with the neck of the dead goose between her teeth. I flew across the sands like a shot. Jessie stopped, but not until my arms were around her neck did she unclose her jaws. "Well, Jessie," I said, "it was a tough old goose, after all. I am going to have it roasted and you shall have it all."

Jessie understood me, for she licked her chops and wagged her tail.

Well, to return to our hunting expedition. The next evening, our provisions being exhausted, George and myself determined to visit Goose Creek Island and replenish our store. There was a heavy head-wind blowing, and soon the rain came down in torrents. The sails were lowered and we went to work with the oars; it was hard pulling, and we made slow progress against both blast and tide, and not until night came on did we make the landing. Then there was a tramp of two miles in our heavy rubber boots, along the causeways of the swamp and the ox road through the pines. In single file we stumped, slid, and waded along the miry route, and at one time almost stalled in the quagmires, another time up to our hips in some deep hog-wallow. It was tough work, and when we finally reached the store, wet and miserable, we were panting from our exertions like the winner of a four-mile steeplechase.

The store was closed, so we hunted around for some place in which to lodge. Chance led us to a house not far off, and in response to our knock we were civilly invited in. The picture of that room was full of interest to us; one of strong lights and shadows, such as Rembrandt would have loved to portray on canvas.

The room occupied the whole length of the cabin. The floor was of dirt, packed hard; a large fireplace occupied one side, and the smouldering pine knots would occasionally flare up into a bright blaze, alternately glooming and lighting up the interior. A high four-post bed fronted the fireplace, which was half concealed from the rear portion of the room by a bed-quilt suspended from a rafter. The walls within had been adorned with illustrated papers tacked to the logs, not only to keep out the wind, but for decoration.

On the high bed sat one of the most aged beings that ever mortal eyes rested upon. Her stockinged feet rested upon a chair, her long, disheveled white hair fell in tangles down her back and about her shoulders; but oh, her face! It was one not soon to be forgotten. …The ancient visage was plaited with wrinkles, covered and intertwined with lines, furrowed with creases and corrugated with crows' feet. Her age was subject for wild conjecture. … This old woman's figure was clad in homespun, and she rocked her body to and fro … . Her eyes were still sharp and bright, and their glances elfin-like and uncanny.

Suddenly she stopped rocking, felt around the bed with her skeleton-fingers, found her tin snuffbox, opened the lid, and then took from the bosom of her dress a stick about the size of a lead pencil, with one end chewed fine; this she rolled around in the snuff; next, she lifted her lips with the fingers of her left hand, while with her right she rubbed the stick along her blackened, toothless gums, wiping up the grains of snuff from the outside of her mouth with her long, flexible, discolored tongue; then she wiped the saliva from her mouth with the back of her hand, which in turn was cleaned by rubbing it on the bedclothes. Then she gave a sniff of content, and sat—her senses steeped in dreamy repose.

It was the first time I had ever seen anybody "dip snuff,"… . At the foot of the bed a little boy sat rocking a cradle, in which was an infant not over a week old. The cradle and the grave were cheek by jowl.

"The cradle and the grave were cheek by jowl."
We decided to go farther and seek other quarters, …We met with success at the next house, and though the houses were mostly alike, this one was clean. A huge fire was made, and our host sold us a gallon of Catawba wine. We decided to stay, though behind a hanging blanket was a bed wherein four daughters of our host, aged anywhere from sixteen to twenty-five, lay snugly tucked in. …

In the morning, before we awoke, the girls got up and cooked the breakfast, and, on our return, after we had made our ablutions at the branch just below the house, we found the beds made, the floor swept, and a hot meal of Johnny cakes, bacon and coffee awaiting us.

Goose Creek Island is one of the most inaccessible, un-come-at-able places to be found in the South. Its area comprises several thousand acres; its soil is unusually fertile, and admirably adapted for the raising of stock. The island is surrounded for many miles inland by almost impassable swamps. Access by water is had through a narrow, tortuous channel only navigable by the smaller craft. For miles around the water outside of the passageway is only a few inches deep, a worthless stretch of water, too shallow for fish and too deep for agriculture. Hence the islanders lead a very retired and isolated life, practically as much shut off from the world as if they were in the middle of the Atlantic.

There are about 250 houses on the island, mostly cabins, though there are several well-to-do planters, who, educated and refined, keep aloof from the poor and illiterate inhabitants. The women of the latter class are buxom, but with no symmetry of form—not one of them wears corsets. … The girls are shy and retiring, but they are daughters of Eve, and in their way strive to keep up with the latest fashions. Their dresses are made principally of calico, cut straight, and many of them use bustles; but as newspapers are scarce, they use dried sea-grass bunched in a knot, and as their dresses are not fashioned long in the back they tilt up in a most comical manner, displaying to a looker-on an expansive view of their homemade yarn stockings.

The Goose Creek Island women are immeasurably superior to the men in everything; they are good, modest, and hard-working, and they labor from morning till night. All of them have peculiar, pathetic, mournful-looking eyes, and they all use snuff. … One is apt to conclude that, after all, these listless people are the happiest of their kind; and, barring chills, their existence is one of passive content.

The creed of the Goose Creek Islander is that the wood, the water and the wilderness is free to all. In the late fall nearly every able-bodied man among them starts off to Currituck and other shooting-grounds where the Northern sportsmen most abound, to serve as guides and hangers-on. Most of the Northern club-men are very wealthy and they scatter their money lavishly, and the Goose Creek Islanders receive so much for so little service that they become spoiled, and charge enormously for everything they are called upon to do. …

Having purchased our provisions, our trio put back to the light-house. The wintry weather, interspersed with storms, kept us on the Point, and we found that our anticipated sport of brant shooting was illusive as a dream, for every brant had suddenly disappeared. The solution was easy: some of the islanders had been shooting them in the night, and scared them off for good and all.

In a few days our situation grew desperate. Our stock of food, thanks to Tim, was well-nigh exhausted; bacon, hard-tack, flour, sugar, coffee, were all gone, and we were living on corn-bread, rain-water, and ducks. But we were sick of ducks; we felt like the Welsh vicar, when he said grace:

" For ducks hot, and ducks cold,
For ducks young, and ducks old,
For ducks tender, and ducks tough,
We thank Thee, Lord, we've had enough."

The shipwrecked mariner was never more anxious to leave his abode than my comrade and myself were to get off this desolate sandbank; but the winds still held high carnival, and a sail of some twenty miles out in the sound to catch the Newberne boat was more than Tim was willing to undertake.

One morning we saw the U. S. tender Violet beating to windward, so we hastened to the top of the tower, and made frantic signals to them to send a boat ashore. We could see through the spyglass the officers consulting on the quarter-deck, but evidently the waves were too high for them to think of launching their pinnace.

At last, when our cupboard was almost as bare as Mother Hubbard's, and we were living on fat meat, meal and rain-water, the welcome sound of a steamer's whistle was heard. We had joyfully collected our traps and made ready to go, but what was our astonishment when Tim absolutely refused to sail about a half mile out to meet the Manteo unless we paid him fifteen dollars.

"Well," said Boreas, " if this doesn't take the rag off the bush! These people don't know what gratitude is! Just think what I have given that man—all my spare underclothing, boots, hat, handkerchiefs, ammunition enough to last him half his life, tobacco that will keep his jaws moving and his pipe full for the balance of the year, fed him like an alderman, wined him like a lobbyist, and now to be blackmailed in this manner ! I won't pay, that's flat!"

We sat there looking at each other, too angry to speak. … But it was no use to kick; Tim held the trump cards, and he knew it, for he reclined on the seat of the boat with an air of supreme indifference. We could not afford to remain, it would be days before another steamer would pass the place, and we were threatened with absolute famine.

All this time the boat was approaching rapidly, and whatever was done must be done at once. So we were perforce compelled to submit to the extortion, and we paid the money. … So we cashed up, Tim hoisted sail, and in a few minutes we were safe on the steamer's deck. Tim shouted good-by most cordially, and said we must be sure to let him know when we came again to those parts.

[This story was taken from The huntsman in the South, by Alexander Hunter, 1908. This is a Google book.]

Alexander Hunter