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.


  1. Nice blog! I found you through Earl as I was catching up with him today. I've added this blog to the list I have going on the NCGenWeb main website - and look forward to following your posts. All of my NC county sites are covered here (Martin, Jones, Onslow, Wake & Washington) so I'll be adding links to you from there too! -- Taneya

  2. Thanks so much. I hope you will enjoy the stories. I plan to add links to the county websites as I go along.

    I am short on stories from the counties you named. If you know any I would love to post them.