Thursday, February 25, 2016


            Written by Mrs. Lucy Wheelock Myers of Washington, N. C. for the Woman’s Club of Aurora, N. C. [in 1916, 100 years ago.]

            Of the early days of Washington, I know very little. I have heard Miss Patsy Blount say that when her father Mr. John Gray Blount came here to settle he found already a flourishing tho’ scattered settlement. The members of this settlement belonged mostly to the Bonner family.
            These were prosperous people living in comfortable style in large hip-roofed houses, located within sight of each other, mostly outside of the present limits of the town, on the low hills surrounding it.
            One residence, however, and that I suppose of the most influential and prominent member of the family, was located on the bank of Pamlico river, facing it on what is now Water Street—this was the home of Col. James Bonner. Later this house passed out of the possession of his family and was occupied as a tavern and known as the “Old Mulberry Tavern.” It took its name from the double row of Otaheite Mulberry trees standing on each side of the walk leading from the gate to the entrance. This building stood I think until after the War between the States— and was then burned down when a warehouse next door was destroyed by fire said to have been set for the purpose of getting insurance on the warehouse. The Mulberry Tavern was a two story house, with double piazza across the front making both upper and lower piazzas. I remember going to this house when a small child with my mother to have some dresses made. It was then occupied by a Mrs. Pugh, born Whitecar, whose daughter married a Northern man, a Mr. Hamilton, who built the house now occupied by Mrs. Wynne on Main Street in front of the Mulberry Tavern lot.

Lucy  Wheelock Myers' Home

            The house in which I now live stands in “Bonner’s Old Part” of the town—on a part of Col. James Bonner’s farm. I have heard that a fence ran about on the line of Bonner street and that when Col. Bonner would be at home on a furlough from the Continental army he would have a half-witted negro servant keep watch-sitting on this fence, for any suspicious looking parties which possibly might be British or Tories. If the negro saw signs of danger he would gobble like a turkey which was the signal agreed upon and the Colonel would retreat to a place of safety.
            My earliest personal recollections of the town is of its beautifully shaded streets—the English elms which in that day were used almost exclusively for shade-trees, here forming a perfect arch the whole length of the streets. I have been told that persons who visited the town before the War preserved that picture as their foremost recollections of it.

Main Street, Washington, NC in 1915, about the time this stsory 
Picture found at: Lithographic Designs, Washington, NC

            Another characteristic was its closely fenced yards. All back yards had high, close board fences which shut out all view of gardens, kitchens, and out-houses  — of which there were necessarily many (the smoke-house a very important one.) on each lot, —as every family kept many servants—cooks, house servants, laundresses, stable and lot boys, most of whom lived on the lots. These fences had closely barred gates with locks and chains, and were usually locked at 9 o’clock at night, after which time negroes were not allowed on the streets without a written permit from their owners. These permits they were required to show to the watchmen who were called the patrol. The negroes had a derisive song about this beginning — “Run, nigger, run, the patroller catch you!” Ever if it were necessary to send a servant for doctor in haste at night, he dared not venture on the streets without this permit.

River Traffic

            Some of my most vivid recollections have to do with the water traffic, both on the upper and lower river—and at sea.
            In fact, in early days, water communication was the principal way of keeping in touch with the outside world, except by stage-coach for the passengers, and by large canvas-covered wagons for the inland traffic by road. In my childhood a great event of the day was the passing through of the stage-coach from New Bern to Plymouth and the reverse trip. These stage coaches were almost as large and heavy—and as gaily painted — as a circus band wagon of these days. The driver felt his importance and took great delight in blowing at the foot of the bridge a large horn to herald its approach, and would come into town dashing and cracking his whip over the four or sometimes six horses required to draw the heavy vehicle.
            In these days, too, there was only one small steamboat plying on the upper river, but great quantities of products from the rich counties of Pitt, Edgecombe and Nash were freighted down on the flat-boats, consigned to middlemen here called commission merchants, to be shipped away on sea-going vessels. These merchants found this business very lucrative—and were among the wealthiest and most prominent men of the town. Among them I recall Mr. E. F. Havens, Mr. W. A. Willard, Mr. S. R. Fowle, Mr. G. H. Brown, Mr. John Myers. The flat boats brought a very important part of the trade of the town. These boats were propelled by man-power, they were poled along by negroes, who walked along a plank footway along the side of the boat, as they walked they chanted a most peculiar mournful song. These flat boats came down the river piled high with bales of cotton, barrels of tar, pitch and turpentine, bags of corn, sides of bacon, stacked up like bricks, staves and shingles. The making of the barrels was an important industry here, and the town was dotted with noisy cooper shops. These barrels were used by the large distilleries located here.
            The commission merchants, many of them owned large sea-going sailing vessels — two and three vessels which traded along the coast northward to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, and southward to the West Indies. All the ice we had in these days was natural ice, brought from Maine on these sailing vessels. I can well remember how interesting it was to watch the stevedores unloading the great blocks of ice and storing them away in the two big ice houses owned by Mr. B. F. Havens and Mr. John Myers. Then still more interesting was the coming of vessels from the West Indies, with sugar, molasses, oranges, tamarinds, limes and a treat of sticks of sugar cane for the children—with also an occasional monkey or parrot for sale.

Haven's Warehouse in Washington, NC. " The warehouses were constructed in the early mid-nineteenth century. The warehouses are rare survivors of a once common building type in port towns. The buildings lie within the boundaries of the Washington Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places"
The picture was found at North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office

            Foreign sailors who came on these vessels were one of the bug-bears of the little children in my day. They were a drunken, noisy crowd, swaggering about the streets making things very disagreeable when they were in port. Many of them were Portuguese who looked very outlandish with their long hair and the big gold hooped ear rings they wore.

Mr. Louis Labarbe

            The block on which Mr. Jonathan Havens’ oil mill stands was closely built up with stores kept by merchants who did large business. On the side of Mr. Jonathan Havens’ mill (the lot and the buildings on it belonged at the time to Mr. Macon Bonner) Mr. Louis Labarbe carried on a business. Mr. Labarbe came here—a small orphan boy—whose parents had been murdered by the blacks in a negro insurrection in, I think, the French West India Island of Martinique. He and a little negro or mulatto boy managed to elude the frenzied blacks and made their way to a ship from this town which was lying in harbor. The captain treated them kindly and brought them with him. Mr. Lewis Le Roy (who married Miss Palmer, a granddaughter of Sir Robert Palmer) took charge of the little Labarbe, raised him in his family—and Mr. Labarbe grew up to marry Miss “Peggy” Le Roy, daughter of his benefactor. The little negro was sold and bought by my great grandfather, “Parson” Bowen and became a trusted and valued servant in his family. My Grandmother (Elizabeth Bonner, nee Bowen) always spoke of him as “good uncle Phil.”
            Other refugees from these insurrected islands found their way here and had much influence upon social life and manners in Washington.

 Mr. Chapeau

            One of them, a Mr. Chapeau, a very accomplished gentleman, taught here the French language and dancing—especially the stately minuet—for which the young ladies had a skirt especially made opened on the sides, so that in one of the figures they could catch up the skirt with the tips of the fingers and hold it out at arms-length. Mr. Chapeau married a Miss Singletary, a sister of the Rev. Mr. Singletary, a clergyman of the Episcopal church. After order was restored to the French West India Islands, Mr. Chapeau went to France and recovered a portion of his estates. We own some silver which belong to Mr. and Mrs. Chapeau—marked with their initial “C” which was bequeathed to Miss Patsy Blount by her life long friend Mrs. Chapeau.
            The founders of the town early made provision for the education of the young. Shortly after the founding of the town, they built a school house where the Graded School now stands—this building was on the extreme upper end of the town and was surrounded by huckleberry ponds.
            The Le Roy house remembered by many was the residence of one of the most cultured and prominent families of this section. Mrs. Le Roy after the death of her husband and son became much reduced in circumstances and took boarders for a living. She was a very noted housekeeper—and high bred lady. Her daughters—three in number, were educated in a convent and were very accomplished, —fine musicians, linguists and needle-women. The only descendants of this family that I know of are the children of Mr. Amos Labarbe, son of Mrs. “Peggy” Le Roy Labarbe, who live in Asheville, N. C.

[Washington Progress (Washington, NC), 6 Apr 1916, Page 1]

Picture Haven’s ware house found at North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, in the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) held by North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office 

Main street 1915 found on Lithic Designs, Washington, NC

No comments:

Post a Comment