Sunday, March 28, 2010


The wearers of the gray were out in very full numbers today. There were not as many as people expected. This is due to the fact that the soldiers are not here. It is probable that not more than 700 men enlisted from this county, if so many. Whatever this number was, hundreds have passed over the "great divide." The Southerner thinks that only 400 or 500 of the heroes of '65 are with us now.

As the eastern horizon blushed at the approach of the god of day, George Williams run up the Stars and Stripes over the Edgecombe Guards Armory. Then he hung out of every window other banners. One was tattered and torn with age and service. It was a flag presented to the Mexican volunteers by the ladies of Tarboro forty years ago. Miss Sarah Howard made the presentation speech.

It is of blue; in the centre is an eagle in guilt; on a scroll above and below are "Presented by the ladies." "Go our hearts are with you." The reverse side is the same with this change in the motto: "Edgecombe Volunteers." "Go, our hearts are with you.”

Many arrived early. The promptness taught a quarter of a century ago is with the soldier yet. He will not be late at roll call. The first man the reporter beheld this morning when he made his rounds was Lieutenant Fleming, who was the first man in the county [Edgecombe] to volunteer for the war.

As a souvenir the Southerner presented each veteran with a strip of ribbon, on which was printed "1889," "Veterans Reunion," "August 15th," "Compliments of the Southerner."

In honor of the day the court adjourned after a brief session till half past three o'clock. At 10 o'clock the Edgecombe Guards who had met to do honor to the occasions with colors flying and drums beating marched for the fair grounds, then without order, but orderly, the veterans followed.

At the Fair grounds the meeting was called to order in the grand stand. Four fifths of the seats were filled. Chairman Williams called the meeting to order and introduced Col. Jno. L. Bridgers, to welcome them. He did it well. He praised the soldiers and paid a glowing tribute to the North Carolina soldiers, more of whom surrendered at Appomattox than any other State.

When he spoke of Henry L. Wyatt as being the first man killed, Lieut. Fleming corrected the speaker by informing him that the first man killed was from somewhere about Marlboro.

The Southerner when an opportunity presents itself will get the Lieutenant to go into detail about this historical discovery. The speaker felicitously lauded the soldiers of Edgecombe. He was frequently and loudly applauded.

V. H. Sharpe responded by introducing H. C. Bourne, who pleasantly reproved Mr. Bridgers for calling him a Veteran. After a little pleasantry, he then paid a glowing tribute to the Confederate soldiers. He again earned the right to be styled "the silver tongued" orator.

A letter of regret from Col. L. D. Stark and Col. T. M. Parker, of Norfolk, was read. Business engagements prevented their attendance. Col. Parker's will be published.

Gen. W. R. Cox was introduced and spoke for ten or fifteen minutes. Of course his theme was the soldier, but he was eloquent over it. It was with anecdote. It waxed a very good speech, and was much appreciated.

The crowd was much larger than anyone expected. It was estimated variously from 500 to 800. The dinner was excellent. Theophilus Pitt is the best caterer in the96 counties.

In the afternoon the Edgecombe Guards did some drilling and firing, and were much complimented by those who had seen real war. S. R. Alley was out and took a photograph of the vets drawn up in line on the race track.

The Tarboro brass band furnished music for the occasion.

[Source: Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC, August 15, 1889. Also published in The Connector, newsletter of the Tar River Connections Genealogical Society in the Summer 2005 issue.]

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Story of Old Durham


On the newly macadamized road which runs from Durham westward past the Erwin Cotton Mill, at a spot two hundred yards or more below the point at which the county road passes under the railroad, is a place which has a certain weird interest for those people who like to know the legends of the past. It is known as the Redmond Place, and because of a fine spring of clear water it is frequently visited by some Durham people who have never heard of the dark traditions concerning it which have come down in the minds of old people in the community.

Seventy years and more ago [c1830] this place belonged to a family by the name of Peeler. They were people of poor social standing, and many dark stories were told to the discredit of its members, both male and female. They pretended to keep an inn and sold spirituous liquor, as was the custom in most inns of the day, and uproarious times were often witnessed in the small house which has long since fallen into decay. At that time the road ran close to the house, and traces of the old roadway are still to be seen.

Mr. H. A. Neal, who lives less than a half mile from the place, has collected the facts about the Peelers. He says: "When my grandmother moved into the neighborhood about fifty or more years ago, there were some old Rhodes women near the place who had known the Peelers. They told her that Ben. Peeler took in travelers and very often killed them. They said that more than one had been known to go there and had never been seen afterwards. Tradition asserts that he disposed of the bodies of his victims in an old well which people now living have pointed out. He had a pasture on a creek southwest of his house in which he always kept several horses. He often carried horses to Raleigh for sale, and the supposition was that he killed his guests in order to get their mounts.

There were two girls and the family was very wild. "The grandson of one of the old ladies (Mrs. Rhodes) says that she has heard his grandmother speak of the Peelers, but only remembers that there were two boys, and one of them was called 'Pet-Tich-Eye,' the other 'Red-Wine.'

"An old gentleman, Alvis Neal, says that Ben. Peeler had a wife, and the family left the Redmond Place when he was small. He had never heard of their killing people, but they had the reputation of being a very bad family.

"Another old gentleman, Turner Browning, says there were two families of Peelers. Ben. Peeler lived at the Redmond Place, and took in travelers, the other family lived about half a mile further down the road near a cross-roads. This place is now sometimes called Peeler's Cross-roads."

History is not concerned with proving whether or not Ben. Peeler really did kill travelers for their horses, or whether or not he or his family were really bad people; but it does like to know what fancies of the horrible or the fearful hung around the beautiful Redmond Spring of the present day in the minds of the people of this neighborhood seventy-five years ago. Perhaps some poet of the future, or some writer of romance, may be able to give us in a form true to the spirit of the day the story of the adventures of "Pet-Tich-Eye" and his uproarious brother who boasted the name of "Red-Wine."

Source: OLD DURHAM TRADITIONS. EDITED BY JOHN SPENCER BASSETT. Printed in An Annual publication of historical papers By Trinity College (Randolph County, N.C.). Dept. of History, Trinity College Historical Society, 1900. Digitized by Google Books.

An advertisement from Documenting the American South at UNC.  c 1881

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Franklin County, N. C. Entrepreneur


"It was after the war, about 1866 or '67, when O. P. Shell commenced to be the indispensable person in the town life [of Warrenton, Warren County, NC], both as to the comfort, the convenience and the business interests of the community. … After the war very few families were in a financial condition to justify their owning carriage and horses, so the commodious and comfor¬table hack and the two fine well kept horses that Mr. Shell owned met a great need. He always met the midday trains at Warren Plains, and also carried out and brought back the mail bags. Mrs. Green said that she only failed once in her forty years of ser¬vice to get the mail to the Plains in time, and the question was long and warmly debated as to whose fault it was, hers or Mr. Shell's.

"Upon the completion of the Warrenton Railroad into the town Mr. Shell was most deservedly made the conductor and manager of the trains, and so con¬tinued until he ceased to be a resident of the town. When he was so promoted, I am sure his passengers of the old hack line greatly missed the long accounts he would give them of the news of the town and county, as he was a man of fine intelligence, and always knew all that was going on. He must have been the very earliest riser in the village, as he was seen at the earliest hour going to the depot in his one-horse wagon for the freight and express, making two trips a day.

"Apart from his plying so industriously his daily routine of prosaic duties, he had a poetic side, that developed later in life—at least it was not known until then that he was a poet. I once inquired of him what time in the day he got to write. 'Why,' he replied, 'when I am driving from the depot in the cool of the early day, along the sandy road, through the shady trees and the laurel growth, sitting on the head of a flour barrel, I put my paper on it, take out my pencil, and write a poem before I reach town.'

"Mr. Shell's gift of versification was one of the town's great sources of pride; and when from time to time one of his pieces would appear, printed by the local press, and on the long old-fashioned dodgers* of various colors, they were eagerly received and read and quoted by the townspeople. … All Mr. Shell's produc¬tions were especially religious, showing moral earnestness. The one he liked best was "Get Home by Twilight," which I venture to include here, because it so completely reproduces the domestic note of that simple, undistracted civilization, and made so strong an appeal to the tastes of the great majority of his readers.


Get home by twilight, tea will be waiting,
Much better to sup with your children and wife,
And not waste the time in worthless debating,
When home and its cares are all in this life.

Newspaper Clippings

Shell also preserved a number of newspaper clippings in a home-made book about 3" x 10". The clippings included poems—several by Shell himself, obituaries and news items. The poem below, in which Shell extols the virtues of Warrenton, was taken from Shell's clipping book:


Judge Buxton comes the 26th
The laws he will digest.
Fines to crimes he will affix;
On those who have transgressed.

I learn he is an able Judge,
Is fair, impartial, true,
Cannot be swayed to move a budge,
From what he ought to do.

Pure judgeship's really needed here;
For thieves are growing strong;
Make such culprits stand in fear,
Or there's no end to wrong.

I hope to see the Bar at large,
Our hotel then will swell,
Commit yourselves unto his charge,
For Dock will treat you well.

His rooms are neat and tasty;
His tables are well stored,
His servants all are hasty,
To show you up good board.

J. M. Waddill at North end,
Has lengthened out his store;
A thorough man you may depend;
His trade is growing more.

In fact throughout Main thoroughfare;
Our business men stand high,
With any class they will compare,
In northern climes or nigh.

The cars from South to Northward bound,
Do at twelve and thirty pass;
Look out for Shell, he can be found,
To serve you to the last.

His teams are sleek, his coach is sound.
Combine both with the time,
In twenty minutes he'll sit you down,
Or forfeit all his rhymes.

Our Mayor welcomes all within,
The pale of his advance;
A righteous man or one in sin,
Can have an equal chance.

Come one, come all, the cry is loud;
Our list for court is growing.
Make Warren feel that she is proud,
Of such a whopping showing.

O.P. SHELL                                                                     

Warrenton, N. C. Feb. 12th, 1877

Sources: The story of O.P. Shell is taken from Sketches of Old Warrenton by Lizzie Wilson Montgomery, 1924. The clipping book is owned by Hiram Perkinson of Tarboro, NC. This story was published in The Connector, the newsletter of Tar River Connections Genealogical Society in the Summer 2004 issue.

*A small printed handbill.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Private Dana S. Braswell Briefly Recites
Some of His Experiences While With
the American Expeditionary
Forces "Over There"

The following letter received by Mr. and Mrs. C.B. Brswell, of Nashville, [Nash County, NC], from their son, Private Dana E. Braswell, who is still overseas, will be interesting reading for his many friends in Nash:

Inasmuch as it is Sunday, and my duties aren't quite so numerous, I will attempt to give you some idea of the many places I have been, since leaving the only country that was originally intended for humans to inhabit and enjoy. Of course I am just as anxious to get home as any little American ever was, but I realize that complaining won't even get me in the embarkation area, and certainly not across the branch. But I am about to write a real letter.

I left Camp Mills, August 5th 1918, and went aboard the Aquitania which was bound for Liverpool, England. This boat was loaded to its utmost capacity, carrying some 8,000 men. Miss Liberty certainly did look good as we passed out, and I wondered if ever I would see her again. We are all of one accord in saying that if we ever get back, she will have to execute an about-face to see us again.

The trip across was without moment, save of course the anxiety of the submarines, but ——?—— we began to feel independent because of the appearance of six destroyers, which convoyed us thru the submarine zone. I landed at Liverpool on the 12th. We marched thru' the suburbs of the city en route to Camp Knotty Ash, partaking of our customary "Corn Willie,"* when we halted. Left this camp on the 14th for Southampton, going thru' a "rest camp," (rest in name only) and the 15th we crossed the English Channel.

Arrived at LeHarve, France early next morning, but did not land until nearly noon due to a heavy fog. From LeHarve I went thru' another "rest camp," spending part of the day there. On the 17th we took a "frog train" consisting of some 15 box cars, which were very artistically labeled (40 hommes; 8 cheval) so for three days we crept across the country, exchanging places with each other at the window to see the quaint scenery. We finally arrived at Tonnerre, hiking a distance of 18 kilos to Dye, where we trained until September 17th.

It was now time for us to go to the trenches. We went thru' the following towns: Ervy, Bruyeres, Docelles, Mortagne, Raon L'Etape and across the Vosges mountains. We covered a distance of about 80 kilos. We went in the trenches in the Lorraine sector at night on September 27th. Life was none to enjoyable until October 11th, when we were relieved. We then hiked to Reincourt, a short distance in rear of the lines where we trained further until November 1st. We again took the train to Charmes and hiked nearly all night, crossing the Meuse River.

On November 5th we relieved the 35th Division. From the 5th until the 9th I was on outpost guard to intercept enemy patrols. In the early morning of the 9th I went "over-the-top," near Manheulles. Made considerable advance that day, but had to dig in that night due to heavy artillery fire by the Boche. On the 10th we made another advance and fortune so favored us that we captured all the enemy dug-outs [that made] a nice home to celebrate the signing of the armistice.

On the morning of the 11th, we continued our advance, meeting with little resistance, when we were told that all firing would cease at 11:00 o'clock. We remained there for several days to make sure that it was not a repetitioun [of] Boche trickery, and then hiked back to a camp near Verdun. On the morning of the 18th we began a hike which took us thru' the following towns: Bonnette-Vauz, Beauses ?, Vidette, Tremont, Chausney, Wassy, Sommevoire, Fresney, Baye, LaFreta, Grovelles. We hiked for 15 days including rest, and covered 150 kilos. I am now at Belan-sur-Ource awaiting transportation to Home-sweet-Home.

Very fondly yours,
Pvt Dana E. Braswell

* "Corn Willie" was the slang name used for corned beef during World War I.

Source: Nashville Graphic, 5/15/1920

About The Aquitania

Aquitania, one of the greatest of all liners, was built for Cunard by John Brown & Co., and was launched in 1913. After her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York on 30 May 1914, she made only 2 more Atlantic crossings before World War I began. During the war she served as an armed merchant cruiser, a hospital ship and a troop transport. She returned to commercial service in June 1919, but later that year was taken out of service for refitting and conversion from coal to oil.

In 1931, she became the first liner to accomplish a two week turnaround between trips across the Atlantic, departing Southampton on 7 and 21 July.

When World War II began, she was again called into service as a troop transport, one of a small number of ships to serve in both World Wars.

In 1948-49, Aquitania was placed on a Southampton-Halifax austerity route; her last transatlantic crossing was from Halifax (departing 24 November 1949) to Southampton (arriving 1 December 1949).

After making 443 transatlantic roundtrips, steaming over 3 million miles and carrying almost 1.2 million passengers over a 35 year career, Aquitania was scrapped in 1950.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

First Tar Heel Railroad Served Raleigh
Was Constructed for Less Than $3,000
By Robert H. Bartholomew

RALEIGH, April 16— In these modern days of large financial deals, both public and private, I is interesting to note that North Carolina's first railroad was built here in Raleigh at a cost of less than $3,000.

This little line ran from the Capitol Square to a stone quarry on the east side of Raleigh, a distance of one and one-quarter miles, and was built to haul stones from the quarry for the construction of the Capitol Building.

The line was built in 1833 at a cost of $2,700 and was named the "Experimental Railroad." Horses and mules furnished the power to pull the cars along the track.

The present-day reader will think little of this "engineering feat," as it was called; however, the railroad was considered a great wonder at the time it was built. It soon became Raleigh's chief tourist attraction, and people came from miles around to see it operate.


Such crowds came to marvel at the wonder of this railroad that a passenger car, called a "pleasure car," was brought into use. After a day's quota of stone was hauled from the quarry, the "pleasure car" was put into service and ran for hours "for the accommodation of such ladies and gentlemen who desired to take the exercise of railroad airing." Adults were charged 25 cents for a ride and children rode for half fare.

The idea of building the little railroad is credited to Sarah Hawkins Polk. Mrs. Hawkins invested her savings in the venture and realized a 300 per cent return from the novel business.

She got the idea from her son who was visiting in Boston at the time the Bunker Hill Monument was being built. The stone being used for the monument was transported by rail, and he wrote his mother the details of the system.

This letter led to the establishment of the first North Carolina railroad. The rails for the road were made of wood and had strap iron bolted to the tops of them. Practically all rails at that time were constructed in the same manner.


Aside from the money that the line saved the builders of the Capitol, the road did much to impress upon the people of North Carolina that railroads were a practical means of transportation. Of the thousands of people who visited the railroad, not all came to ride on it. Many came to see "the enormous masses of stone conveyed as fast and easily as the empty cars could be drawn on a good common road."

To estimate how much stone the little line hauled, one can get an excellent idea from the size of the Capitol Building, which is 160 feet long, 140 feet wide, and 97 and one-half feet high at the center of the building.

This short railroad operated until the Capitol was completed. Today nothing remains of the state's first railroad; however, there is an historical marker on the north side of the Capitol Square telling of its existence.

From this "Experimental Railroad" with one and one-quarter miles of track which was built at the cost of $2,700, the North Carolina railroad system has grown into thousands of miles of tracks with millions of dollars invested in them. Today modern streamlined trains travel the state and make any city in North Carolina as close as your local railroad station.

Source: Rocky Mount Evening Telegram, 4/17/1955
Dating and other Tidbits
From the 1930s

By Earl Bell

My mother [a Proctor] and father were married 11 April 1936. When my grandfather Proctor became sick in the late 1920s, the family moved, in 1930, from the intersection of Old Carriage Road and old 64 (now Sunset) [in Nash Co., west of Rocky Mount] to 412 Thomas Street in Rocky Mount. Daddy, with his running buddies Glenn Hocutt and Walter Stone, were tripping the light fantastic with trips to the coast for the casinos and dance halls, and, of course, the big event, the June Germans, in Rocky Mount.

Mother was his exact opposite, prim, proper, reserved and very smart with a deep love of classical piano, which she played. Mother, along with all of her brothers and sisters went to Oak Level School, founded in the 1920s, and loved to tell all of us that the word around school was that if there was an academic contest and a Proctor entered it, there was just no need for anyone else to bother. By the way, all of them wrote beautiful letters with impressive penmanship.

The hot date in those days for mother and daddy when they were dating in the early to mid 1930s, and for many others in the area, from what I hear from family members and others, was to go the Rocky Mount airport and watch planes take off and land. As I recall, there was a snack shop at the airport. It was, at the time, a reasonable, interesting, public place for a dating couple to spend a little time together, especially in the 1930s, when money was so scarce.

Before the "sin bins" came along, courting was only allowed in the living room of a young woman's house. Only my dad's oldest sister Irma, in the Bell Family, had to observe that practice. My Aunt Irma, our family's greatest historian, told me once, "Your daddy, was the biggest mess. He would cut the wood too long for the stove in our living room. It would not lay flat in the stove and John Gray and me would freeze." Irma and John Gray [Proctor] never dated outside my grandparent's house before they were married. Later they owned the country store, Proctor's Groceries, on Cokey Road [Rocky Mount, Edgecombe Co., NC] and they lived beside it.

Also, my father never heard his mother call his father anything but "Mr. Bell." They never argued in public. Their practice was to go into a private room for their discussions and disagreements. My dad said that the only way he knew they had a difference of opinion was when he saw tears in his mother's eyes.

My grandmother Bell [a Harper] died in the early morning of 11 November 1941 at Park View and in the afternoon my sister Mary was born there. Thus, my father, on the same day, in the same hospital, lost his mother in the morning and gained a daughter in the afternoon. Life sure deals unanticipatable, interesting hands.
My Grandpapa, John Adams Lang
by Connor Eagles

"John Adams Lang, seventh child of Robert and Mariah Rogers Lang, was born 3/29/1843 near Fountain in Pitt Co., N.C. On Dec. 26, 1872, he married Zilphia Elizabeth 'Dippie' Baker, who was born Dec. 24, 1852, the oldest child of John Thomas and Nancy Horton Baker. John Adams Lang died Sept. 17, 1930 and was buried beside his wife in Queen Ann Cemetery, Fountain, N.C. Dippie Lang died Dec. 13, 1922."

John Adams Lang was the grandfather of Connor Eagles who wrote the following stories about John.

"Grandpapa John Adams Lang enlisted in 'The Marlboro Guards' on April 20, 1861 at Marlboro, Pitt County, N.C. He was just 18 and weighed only 111 pounds. The 'Marlboro Guards' soon made up Co. E of the 27th Regiment of Cooke's Brigade of A.P. Hill's Corps.

"Grandpapa said as a boy the nearest he ever got to any 'store bought' candy was to stand and look at a glass chewing gum jar filled with red streaked candy on the top shelf in a store, far out of a boy's reach. He resolved that if he ever had the money he would buy all the candy he could eat at one time!
"After enlisting he soon found his way down to Wilmington where he was paid $11.00 in Confederate paper money for one month's services in the Army. This was his first chance to satisfy the craving for candy. He went to a candy kitchen and spent the $11.00 for extra large sticks of lemon candy. He said he had an armful. Back to camp he went, and he and his comrades had all the 'store bought' candy they could eat.

"Grandpapa soon found himself going down in South Carolina below Charleston. They were 'foraging' for supplies—that is, gathering up all available feed, food, etc., that could be spared. They soon came to Pocatalico. I thought this quite a name and wanted to know about it. It seems the Indians had turtle races; and in order to hurry the turtles, with a sharp stick they said, 'Poke his tail he go,' from which came Pocataligo. Then farther down was Coosahatchie. …

"Grandpapa spent one winter on the Blue Ridge and along the Shenandoah Valley. He told about the warm camp fires from the hickory and oak wood, the wonderful pastures and fat cattle. He never tired of talking of the loveliness and beauty of the Shenandoah Valley. …

"Then there was the time the soldiers, for a change, were enjoying the 'luxury' of a ride on a freight train in the mountains. They wee loaded in box cars. Fortunately the train was slow. All of a sudden there was a weakness in the track, and car after car tumbled off the track Andover on the mountainside. Luckily all escaped with a good scare and a few bruises. It was quite a thrilling ride to the more daring.

"Captain Graham of Co. G., 27th Regiment, said he had often wondered about the reported bloody tracks made by some of Washington's barefooted troops at Valley Forge during that awful winter.

"But in a forced march on frozen ground, in snow and sleet, he saw troops in the 27th Regiment with worn out shoes and virtually bare feet leave blood prints behind. At this particular time General Cooke rode ahead to the camp and had camp fires built so the cold and suffering troops could warm. It was a most cheerful and welcome sight to the foot-weary soldiers. I could understand something of why Grandpapa and his comrades loved General Cooke so.

"Grandpapa was wounded twice, but never captured. One wound was minor, just a 'scratch' as he put it. I believe the other, and more serious wound, took place at the 'Battle of the Wilderness." A Yankee bullet passed almost through his hip. The doctor said it barely missed the ball and socket joint, that if it had struck the joint it would have meant death. But as it was, the bullet was stayed just before passing through the skin and out. Grandpapa said he could see it just under the pushed up skin. The doctor only had to split the skin with his scalpel, and the bullet fell to the floor. …

"Company E had suffered heavily during the four years of war. There were only 17 men including officers left to be paroled. Among them was Uncle Bob Lang, who was a corporal. The 27th Regiment had only 117 men and officers left, a pitiful skeleton of four years ago. The men wee tired, hungry, ragged, but their spirits were not broken. …

"Grandpapa was not present at the surrender, and so was not among the parolees. He was not too far away guarding meager supplies. When he heard of the surrender, he said 'I threw my musket down and started the long walk home.' He had to sleep in the open, but for four years he had become hardened to that. He had to beg food when so often there was no food. For instance, he was in Nash County going to Wilson. It was 10:00, and he had had no breakfast. He saw a girl beside the road at a spring house, washing clothes.

"'Is there any chance to get something to eat?' he asked.

"She replied, 'We have nothing but some cool buttermilk. You may have all of that you want and be welcome.'

"Grandpapa always said he could not drink milk, but he was so hungry that he said he'd try a glass. She poured it, and he closed his eyes and drank it down. She offered more, but he said, 'I think I can make it to Wilson on that,' and he did.

"At last he arrived home. The slaves were free, but most were loyal and stayed on to help restore the ravages of war. Grandpapa found his sister Jane, whose husband lost his life in the war, with four little boys. He said, 'They could hardly make it,' so he lived with them and helped them until they were large enough to get along."

[From The May, Lang, Joyner, Williams Families of N. C., by Laura Foster Renard, 1974. The story was also published in The Connector, newsletter of the Tar River Connections Genealogical Society in the Winter 20085 issue.]

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Saga of Lancaster, N. C.

by V. L. (Buck) Draughon

In 1895 when most people were folks, W .J. (Bill) Lancaster commenced a venture that was the last of its kind in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. He was the originator and spectator of the last distillery in the county. That is, the last one that was sanctioned by the State and carried the good graces of the brethren of the community.

Located ten miles east of Rocky Mount on present NC Hwy 43, the enterprise was a gigantic success from the beginning. Captain Billy, as he was called, was the father of the late Gus Z. Lancaster and grandfather of he present-day Joseph Lancaster of local stockyard fame.

W. J. Lancaster manufactured liquor, wine, brandy and other celebrated concoctions from fermented branch water. His rare brand of "yodeling oil" was bottled, stamped and sold on the premises. Off-premise license was unheard of at that time.

To facilitate the dram-glass boys, a general store was constructed with a bar room built adjacent in the store. In 1896, a post office was erected and the bustling metropolis officially became known as Lancaster, N.C.

A Negro man, Henry Lane, would make daily jaunts through the woods to Kingsboro [Edgecombe County] to retrieve the mail. Kingsboro, three miles east of Lancaster, was served by the Norfolk branch of the Coast Line Railroad.

Almost overnight Lancaster's became the social and entertainment center of the county. On special occasions the neighborhood fiddler, before he became inebriated, would saw out such pieces as "Whistlin' Rufus" and "Yonder Comes Harry Powell" while the brogan boys would pop the timber with an old-fashioned buck dance.

The emporium was frequented by mule skinners, ridge runners, tobacco drummers, and other celebrities who enjoyed the "pleasures of the flesh." From the Polecat Community in Nash Co. to Dogtown in Edgecombe, they came to partake of the distillery's wares.

In the proximity of Lancaster's lived a clod-hopper who long since had fallen from grace. He was a Republican. Since Lancaster's was a Democrat stronghold, a Republican was as welcome in Lancaster's as the influenza. This gentleman of high conviction usually met with a small band of fellow abstainers across the creek from Lancaster's at a place called Temperance Hall.

As the turn of the century approached, Lancaster's was made a voting precinct and, naturally, became the hub of much political activity. The political potentials from Tarboro [Edgecombe County] would meet at Lancaster's to extol the grandeur of their cause. In general, political aspirants who were "long on the wind and short on the green" liked to stop at Lancaster's in the evening to tender a small blaze of oratory on current events. After a few brief remarks they always adjourned and retired to the dram room to indulge in a less dry subject.

A less-known celebrity, still remembered by a few old timers, was a boomer brakeman who lived on Gibson Hill. For the purpose of anonymity, he shall be known as "Clarence." Now Clarence was not the most virtuous man to live on the hill. He would tell a lie. Clarence had another vice that had matured into a habit—a fondness for strong drink. The only time he ever refused an invitation to drink was when he misunderstood the question. One Saturday evening Clarence was not feeling "up to snuff." The winds of adversity had been blowing a strong gale against him since early morning. He decided to regale himself with the aggregation in a winding out at Lancaster's. Though all of Clarence's activities while there are unknown, it is reasonably assured that he worked his dram glass over-time. By the time he reached home he was in the general vicinity of being drunk.

Clarence's wife was anxiously awaiting his arrival. Seeing his condition, she let loose a blistering tirade about his iniquities and transgressions that scorched his ear drums. After much consultation between them, Clarence sauntered off to his room in search of a little tranquility.

Early next morning found Clarence suffering with infirmities of the flesh. His head felt like John Henry and his famous sledge hammer were locked inside, frantically trying to drive his way out.

His wife said, "Clarence, are you going to attend services this morning?"

Clarence replied, "No!" He said, "Call the funeral home and tell 'em to send the man out here."

"You're not dead are you?" she asked.

Clarence replied, "No, but I'll be dead by the time he gets here."

Why did Lancaster, NC vanish into oblivion? Two reasons. First, in 1908 liquor by the drink was voted out. The State took over the operation of all alphabet stores. Second, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad ran a branch line from Tarboro into Pinetops [Edgecombe County] and on to Macclesfield for the shipment of lumber into that region. It diverted all trade and traffic that had been Lancaster's.

The moral of this article is this: if the next State Legislature passes a liquor-by-the-drink law, they will have advanced back to where they started in 1908, when liquor by the drink was legal.

Note: Much of this data was given by the astute little lady of Shady Lane on Highway 43, Mrs. Gus Z. Lancaster, Sr. Help was also rendered by the sisters of the late Gus Z. Lancaster, Sr.

Buck Draughon

Source: Rocky Mount Evenming Telegram, 12/10/1967. This article was also published in The Connector, newsletter of Tar River Connections Genealogical Society in the Summer 2007 issue. Buck Draughon was the author of Edgecombe County Trivia, Nash County Trivia, and Welcome to Rocky Mount Trivia.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When Trains Took 8 Hours
From Goldsboro To Weldon

That today's railroads form an effective and constantly improving communications arm in the scheme of national defense is emphasized by comparing a troop train time table issued 87 years ago during the War Between The States with today's Atlantic Coast Line schedules.

The Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, a Coast Line predecessor, issued the time table to govern the movement to Confederate Army troop trains between Goldsboro [Wayne County, NC] and Weldon, [Halifax County, NC],a distance of 78 miles. According to the schedule, the trip took eight hours in those days compared with three hours and 39 minutes now.

That portion from Goldsboro to Rocky Mount [Edgecombe/Nash Counties, NC] took four hours and 15 minutes in 1862. Today [1949] it is a one hour and 40 minutes run.

W.D. Rice, retired lumber mill foreman, Emerson [Railroad] shops, Rocky Mount, found the old time table recently in his father's trunk.

Also holding special interest is the wording carried at the bottom of the time table: "Trains returning will keep out of the way of all trains running on this table. They will leave Weldon at 6:15, 9:15, 12:15 and 3:15, day or night, passing the up or schedule trains at the principle turnouts, going through in about eight hours. Trains that have fallen one hour behind time will lay back for the next train and run its schedule. Not more than three trains to be run by one schedule and they will keep at least one mile apart.

"After one hour and ten minutes have elapsed from the time any train should have arrived, any empty or returning train may proceed cautiously, observing all the rules of safety prescribed on the general time table.

"When this time table goes into effect, all other time tables will be suspended until further notice. It will be announced by telegraph and an extra engine running with flags on both sides. [T]hen all section masters as well as trains will keep out of the way. Wood and water will be got ready immediately and kept ahead by some 25 to 50 cords, with extra hands at the pump. Section masters will at once have old sills cut up on their sections and all pumps kept in order. On this may depend the victory or defeat of our troops. All must do their duty efficiently and safely.

"S.L. Fremont.
Eng. And Sup't.
"Goldsboro, April 3, 1862."

The Richmond and Petersburg, the Petersburg and the Wilmington and Weldon, with approximately 245 miles of main line, formed the principal and most important means of communication with the country that supplied Lee's armies, particularly during the campaigns in Southeast Virginia and were, in effect, the "Bread Line" of the Confederacy. Their importance was further magnified by the fact that Wilmington [New Hanover County, NC] was the principal, and for a long time, the only open port that could be used by blockade runners bringing essential supplies for the forces of the Confederacy. Fort Fisher, commanding the mouth of the Cape Fear River below Wilmington, was of utmost importance to the Confederate plan of strategy and the railroads connecting Wilmington and Richmond furnished a line of communication that enabled the quick transport of troops and supplies.

Today, the Atlantic Coast Line, operating over the only double track route between the East and Florida points with its network of rails serving the six Southeastern states, is still a "Bread line"; but, in addition, in time of national emergency it represents an even stronger link, 5,568 miles long, in the communications system of the entire Eastern seaboard.

Source: Rocky Mount Evening Telegram, Rocky Mount, NC, 3/19/1949
Awful Calamity

At Washington, [Beaufort County], N. C. last week was the scene of an awful calamity. Two young men, and supposed to be fast friends, are friends in this life no more. It happened this way: Mr. John Williams was at one of the wharves sampling cotton, when Mr. Corden passed by Mr. Williams and slapped him on he shoulder at a place where he Williams was suffering from a boil. Whereupon Williams threw the knife he had in his hand at Corden, striking him on the left knee, severing the main artery, from which he died in a few hours.

Souce: Eastern Courier, Edenton, Chowan County, NC, 2/8/1900

Special Market Report

Young Men— Steady
Girls— Lively, willing and in demand
Papas—Firm, but declining
Mammas—Unsettled, but waiting for higher bids.
Coffee—Considerably mixed
Fresh Fish—Active and slippery
Wheat—A grain better than barley
Eggs—Very quiet, but they will probably open up lively in a short time.
Whiskey—Steadily going down.
Onions—Strong and rising
Boots and Shoes—Those in the market are soled and constantly going up and down
Hats and Caps—Not as high as last winter, except foolscap, which is stationery
Tobacco—Very low and has a downward tendency
Silver—Close, but not close enough to get hold of

Source: Eastern Daily Reflector, Greenville,Pitt County, NC, 4/26/1882

Friday, March 5, 2010

Margarettsville is in Northampton County, North Carolina. According to The North Carolina Gazeteer, by William S. Powell, 1968, Margarettsville was named for Mrs. Margaret Ridley, an early resident. It appeared on county maps as early as 1865, but this article proves that it was in existence at least 9 years before that time. The town was chartered in 1885.

This story appeared in the New York Times on March 15, 1856. Copyright © The New York Times

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

John M. Smith—An Inventor


Retired Mill-Man, Now 80, Says His Invention Was Stolen From Him

John M. Smith, 80 years old, retired mill-hand of West Belhaven, [Beaufort County, North Carolina], says he feels sure he is the true inventor of the airplane, and that he built such a plane before he was 18 years old, during the administration of President Cleveland in the 90's.

"At that time I was working around a sawmill," Mr. Smith said, "and I had very little money so I could not get anywhere with it. If I had had enough money to buy me a motor, even a little one like they now use on bicycles, I know I could have made it fly.

"But they got it away from me, some men from New York by the name of Curren and Houston. They came into Pantego [Beaufort Co.] and stopped at Walter Clark's house which he ran near the railroad station. They looked over my model, and they told me it wouldn't work because the propeller was on the front end. That is the way now with most all airplanes.

"Some of the folks around here told me later that they believed these men had been sent down by the Wright Brothers, but I do not say so. I have no reason to believe so.

"But somebody did get my plane from me. But I can prove by Jay Bishop and other good men in Belhaven that I had such a plane. Why I even wrote to President Cleveland about it, but he didn't answer my letter. However, a man named George Gaskins who used to run on a boat told me he had hung around the White House and heard President Cleveland laughing about it and calling we North Carolina folks crazy to think we could fly."

Mr. Smith is jolly and healthy-looking. He lives happily with his wife, who was the former Annie May Midgett of Engelhard [Hyde Co., NC]. They have three sons: Capt. Clyde Smith of Port Arthur, Texas, and Roland and Sherman Smith of Plymouth [Washington Co.] employed on a tugboat of the Atlas Plywood Co. He says he was born March 11, 1875, at what was known as Pantego Swamp, but now called Wilkinson Station.

President Cleveland was first inaugurated in 1885, serving four years and was defeated. He was elected in 1892 and again inaugurated for term in 1893.
NOTE: Daniel W. Barefoot, author of Touring the Backroads of North Carolina's Upper Coast, wrote that Smith, who had little education and no access to outside sources of information, built his model airplane on the family farm when he was 14 years old. George Gaskins worked at the Philadelphia Naval Yard and realized the potential of Smith's model. He carried it to Washington and showed it to President Cleveland who said, "There is one fool in North Carolina, I know, who wants to put a propeller on the front of a ship, and any fool knows that if you put a propeller on the front of a ship, it would push the ship backwards."

Smith was a man of big ideas as the next story shows:


John M. Smith of Belhaven now states that he has an idea that homes will be heated without fuel before the passage of many years. A gimmick on top of the house will draw electricity from the air and this will provide all the necessary heat, says Mr. Smith. "I've been thinking about it some," he says, "but I'm too old to try to figure it out completely, and anyway, I reckon it would take about a million dollars, and I haven't got much money."

Mr. Smith is known for his experiments with an airplane in the 1890's. "If I had just had an engine, I know it would have flown," he says, "but you know there were no gasoline engines in those days."

Coastland Times, Manteo, 9/23/1955
Touring the backroads of North Carolina's upper coast, by Daniel W. Barefoot, 1995
First in flight: the Wright brothers in North Carolina by Stephen Kirk, 1995