J. Kelly Turnerand
Jno. L. Bridgers, Jr.
Edwards & Broughton Printing Co.
Copyright 1920 J. Kelly Turner
TO THE MAKERS OF EDGECOMBE COUNTY HISTORY
—PAST AND PRESENT—
WHETHER UPON THE FIELD OF BATTLE; IN THE HALLS OF STATE; OR THE HUMBLE HOME; THIS VOLUME IS AFFCTIONATELY INSCRIBED.
Chapter I . . . . . 13
Origin and Settlement
Immigrants from Virginia—Early Indian troubles—Town Creek settled 1720—Tar River expedition 1722—Economic conditions of settlers—Precinct established—Political controversy 1733-1742—Period of immigration—Commercial expansion—Halifax town 1744—Erection of new counties—Tarboro incorporated—Account of Spanish War and incidents.
Chapter II . . . . . 41
English policy—Precinct courts—Oyer and Terminer courts—Courts of Justice—Superior Court in Enfield—Political representation contested—Function of local courts—Quit rent controversy—Taxation—Riot and rebellion—Corbin seized—Martin visits Tarboro—Political significance—War of Regulation—Tyron's appeal to the people—County representation.
Chapter III . . . . . 73
Pre-Revolutionary controversies—War preparations—Leaders and response to the cause—Troops in the revolution—Members in the Provincial Congress—Military organizations—Temporary government—War incidents in Tarboro—Tory uprisings—Martin plans negro insurrection—Economic conditions—Power of imprisonment suspended—Deserters in Edgecombe—Battles of Swift and Fishing Creeks—Wilmington aided—Close of hostilities.
Chapter IV . . . . . 104
Politics After the Revolution
General Washington's visit—Rise of parties—Edgecombe and Federal convention—Delegates to the Continental Congress—County courts organized—County government—Inferior courts and Quarter Sessions—Convention of 1835—Organization of parties—Henry Clay's visit 1845—Political effect—Political leaders—Whig agitation—Democratic controversy—War with Mexico—Edgecombe volunteers—Military leaders—Coalition of parties—Southern Rights movement—Campaign of 1860.
Chapter V ..... 156
Indian slaves—Indentured servants—Negro slavery—Economic importance—Inducement for importation—Law concerning slavery—Local regulations—Law affecting servants—Patrol system and its purpose—Hiring days—Method of punishment State vs. Will—Value of slaves—Social life—Religious life—Cause of religious indifference—Slavery and politics.
Chapter VI ..... 186
War Between the States
Political convention of 1861—Awakening of public sentiment—Leaders of secession movement—Response to the call for troops—Edgecombe Guards at Bethel—Military muster—Military leaders—Edgecombe in earnest—Internal conditions—Federal troops in Tarboro—Battle Daniel School house—Destruction of Tarboro threatened—Contributions to the Confederacy—Conditions in 1865.
Chapter VII and VIII ..... 237, 259
Economic conditions—Federal regime—Activities of republican party—Frauds in county government—Political organizations—Negro activities—Outrages committed—Retaliation—County government resumed—Suspension of Quarter Session of Court and Pleas—Political controversies—Free negro problem—Municipal politics—Democratic victory—Resumption of law and order—Leaders in reconstruction.
Chapter IX ..... 281
Politics Since 1880
Democratic control over court system—Republican struggle in politics—Political campaigns—Rise of populist party—Political leaders—Fusion of parties—Party controversies—Campaigns of 1892 to 1898—Edgecombe in the war with Spain—Campaigns of 1900—Political significance—Economic conditions.
Chapter X ..... 326
Agriculture, Industries and Internal Improvement
Agriculture—Early methods of farming—Tobacco culture—Introduction of marling and composting—Cattle raising—Method of Stock farming—Manufacturing—Erection of banks—Commercial activities—Early road improvement—Plank roads—Stages—Water navigation—Railroads—Modern methods of industries.
Chapter XI ..... 359
Early education—Period of opposition—Clergymen schoolmasters—Effects of the revolution—Rise of academies—Leaders in educational movement—State aid for free schools—Free education for paupers—County appropriations—Free school controversy—Movement for common schools—Consolidation of school districts—Educational promoters—Modern education—System of conducting schools.
Chapter XII ..... 387
Origin and controversies to 1782—Expansion after the revolution—Dissensions over church organization—Rise of the Mission Baptist—Character and services of Joshua Lawrence—Dissensions over church organization concluded—Rise of negro churches.
Chapter XIII ..... 432
English church and early governors—Edgecombe parish erected—Early controversies—Religious conditions—Church government—Edgecombe parish divided and political controversy—Glebe lands and effect on the activities of the early clergymen—St. Mary's parish divided—Period of decay—Attempts at religious revival—Conventions 1790 to 1794 and 1819—Calvary church 1833—Period of expansion—Present conditions.
Chapter XIV ..... 458
Presbyterians and Sons of Temperance
Early conditions—Itinerant ministers during the colonial period—Activities of lay members—First church organized—Home missionary plans—Sunday school activities—Leaders in church work—Layman's movement—Controversy with Baptists—Period of expansion—New church in Tarboro.
Chapter XV ..... 467
An account of the early Methodists and their religious convictions—Joseph Pilmoor's services—Methodist controversies—Activities of James O'Kelly—Results of Whitefield's teachings—Division of Carolina Circuit—Account of Asbury's visits—Revivals during the colonial period—Pastorate of Dr. Doub—Period of expansion—Camp-meetings—Negro missions—Sketch of Associate Reform Methodists—Account of Ellis meeting-house, McKendree church, Swift Creek Mission, Temperance Hall, and other churches—Conditions to 1900.
This work was begun several years ago, while Mr. Turner was a student at Trinity College. It has been completed with the co-operation of Mr. Bridgers, after interruption due to the World War. Certain features of their labors deserve mention.
The careers of individuals and the description of notable events are subordinated to the treatment of movements, industrial, economic and political. The dominating theme is the environment and activity of the average man as involved in organs of government, labor systems, religion, education, economic life, and political affairs. For information and data the authors have utilized a wide range of material, manuscript records, laws, newspapers, biographies, histories and unwritten traditions. The work is, I believe, a wider and more varied presentation of the life of the people than is conceived in our county and local histories.
A varied feature of the work is its information regarding that vital but neglected period of local history, the years between the Revolution and the Civil War. There came to maturity institutions and forces which originated in early days. How often are these years of development glossed over in our local histories for the benefit of the tumult and the shouting of martial times!
For these reasons I feel that the authors deserve recognition and commendation for a meritorious as well as a patriotic work.
W. K. Boyd.
Dec. 12th, 1919.
This volume was undertaken by reason of a deep appreciation for the county of Edgecombe and her worthy history. We never realized the force of Job's utterance, “Oh that mine enemy would write a book,” until well into the work. Locating and interpreting ancient and musty records, running down hazy traditions, whose origin is well nigh lost to memory and attempting to verify them, has been no easy task. How often have we wished that we had left the search to that uncertain somebody else. However, out of loyalty to our native county, we have not hesitated or turned back.
The people of Edgecombe are intelligent, law abiding, industrious, resourceful, and progressive; but they are marked by one bar sinister, a most serious fault, that they have not properly appreciated their county, themselves, and the efforts of individual leaders. But they will grow, develop, and broaden with the process of time, and in so doing will stand foremost in all that makes and marks a most notable and worthy people.
We have labored faithfully to record Edgecombe's past. Doubtless we have made mistakes and errors; but we say to those who would criticize, “Do not tell us of our errors and mistakes, but report them to the next one who will be so bold as to undertake to write a history of Edgecombe.
Pictures of many men, which deserve to be inserted, are not, because after earnest and diligent effort copies could not be procured. This history is put forth, trusting that it may be received in the spirit that impelled us to write it.
Grateful acknowledgments are hereby made for the assistance given by Dr. L. R. Wilson, Chapel Hill; J. P. Breedlove, Librarian of Trinity College, Durham, N. C.; A. T. Walston, R. H. Gatlin, Frank Powell, Miss Sarah Norfleet, Rev. B. E. Brown, Mrs. T. W. Thrash, late J. B. Bradley, H. S. Bunn, Tarboro, N. C., and R. D. W. Connor, Raleigh, N. C. Especially indebted are we to Dr. W. K. Boyd, Department of History, Trinity College, of Durham, N. C., for helpful criticisms and inspiration while writing these pages.
J. Kelly Turner,
John L. Bridgers, Jr.
December 12, 1919.
MAP SHOWING THE TERRITORIAL LIMITS OF EDGECOMBE PRECINCT IN 1733
CHAPTER I*Origin and Settlement
Many years before the appearance of civilized man in the new world, even ere the daring eye of the brave mariner wandered across the waters of the Atlantic, the forests of the Albemarle section in North Carolina were traversed by roving savages. Whence the aborigines came has never been discovered, and their origin will in all probability remain an enigma as long as time shall last. On the upper waters of Tar River dwelt the Tuscaroras and the Cotechneys, the most numerous and warlike of the North Carolina Indians, who roamed the forests and fished the streams at will. Torhunte, an Indian town, situated on the River Tar, was occupied by these tribes until the year 1712. This village and Tosneoc,1 about twelve miles from the present town of Tarboro, were the gathering places for the Tuscarora tribe. Here they assembled to plan their wars, and reassembled again after the conflict to divide their spoils and captives.
It was late in the fall of 1656 that a small scouting party left the northern confines of Virginia and settled in the northeastern part of the Albemarle section. The settlements, which were then continuous until the beginning of the eighteenth century, was arrested by a sudden outbreak of Indians. However, temporary peace about 1710 placed new desires among the settlers to open up new locations and to penetrate deeper into this unexplored region. At this time the early expansion from Albemarle began. The Tuscaroras on the west, although still a strong and brave tribe, were not unfriendly in their disposition. Their hunting grounds that lay on the Neuse, Roanoke, and Tar Rivers had not been encroached upon, and they gave every indication of enjoying a free trade with the whites, who supplied them with the commodities they most desired.
The migration was slow. A few young men, more energetic and with a more restless disposition than their neighbors, determined to seek new lands in a more fertile country. There were probably only fifteen or twenty men who came from Nansemond[note][note]
by way of the wilderness to the frontier of the Albemarle section, with no provision or equipment, except a rifle and a bag of ammunition, to supply their needs. These men did not come as conquerors, nor as outcasts.
In the latter part of the eighteenth century peace reigned in Virginia; the freeman enjoyed more or less religious liberty, and representative government. No oppression from religious creeds or political dogmas that hampered the settlers in later periods induced the party to leave their peaceful homes. The men were daring, hardened, and sturdy Virginians, nourished in the love of adventure, and defied the dangers lurking in a primeval forest.
Among the early settlers were men who bore the names of Battle and Jarvis, who came in peace, and purchased lands from the Indian King and became staunch friends of the natives. This small band soon discovered, however, that their early purchases did not carry them beyond the limits of Virginia, and the rents imposed by the Virginia colony pushed them further westward, across the Roanoke. Men of freedom-loving natures and with desires for a freer life than the civilization of Virginia offered, they penetrated deeper in the wilderness to avoid the tithes levied by the Virginia government.
The Governor of Virginia resented the situation of the settlers in Albemarle, and while the movement was in progress, sent instructions to make the rents more onerous upon the settlers who had purchased lands and received deeds from the Indians. The Governor accordingly required all who had secured lands to take out patents from him and pay the customary tribute. Many patents were issued, but the more restless element moved on west-ward to the Roanoke and Tar. By 1720 the shores of the Chowan were well occupied, while the Pamlico was inhabited forty miles above Bath Town, almost touching the bounds of what is now Edgecombe County.
In the meantime the dissensions in the colony at the opening of the century involved the Indians, who took part with one side or the other of the political contestants. Shrewd politicians led the Indians to believe that the new Governor, Hyde, who arrived in the meantime, was a person to be distrusted by them, while the rapid growth of the whites in the south along the water courses of the Pamlico and Neuse created fear among them lest they
should be forced back and finally driven from their old hunting grounds. The fears held by the Indians proved to be not in vain.
The influence exerted over the Indians by the schemes of ignoble men brought destruction upon the heads of all. Indians wandered throughout the land at their leisure, destroying the farms of the temporary settlers, confining the inhabitants themselves to their forts. Industry of every kind was checked by the devastation and terror of the savages, thus checking the settlements in the region that afterwards became Edgecombe.
Another cause that retarded permanent settlement was probably the method of living by the people. Their life was one of satiety. If one would give full credence to the reports returned by the early explorers, it must be concluded that the men avoided every task involving physical labor and inconveniences. Lawson says some of the men were very laborious and made improvements in their way, but that this character could not be applied in general. The indication of enjoyment and pleasure away from the settled lands of the Old Dominion gave them no incentive for physical activity. Possibly there was no section in the colony where a subsistence suitable to the majority of the settlers could be so easily procured than in this fertile country which afterwards became Edgecombe. The principal employment was that of hunting, fishing, rearing horses and cattle. The level plains covered with nutritious grasses were the home of wild horse and cattle. Agriculture was not developed or encouraged in any form. Indeed, the living conditions of the settlers was on the same plane with that of the savage—both being accustomed to eat meat without bread. Women were the more industrious sex, making all the cloth and keeping the household supplied with articles of wear.
The tranquil ease of the fast increasing whites and the dislike for their civilization engendered a hate in the breast of the savage that found satisfaction only at the expense of massacre and murder. The untrammeled plains and forests had been the home of the red man in times of peace and war. From time immemorial he had roamed the hills unconscious of the dangers from the pale faces across the seas. An Indian uprising was directed against the defenseless settlers; innocent women and children fell victims to the slashing tomahawk of the bloodthirsty savage.
Many people fled, leaving their rude huts to be consumed by the flames, and returned to Virginia, whence they came. A fort of protection was hurriedly built at Reading's plantation on Tar River about 1720. The remaining whites gathered here to repel the attack and to protect their lives. The Tuscaroras and the Cotechney Indians combined to storm the fort at an untimely hour. In the meantime the Indians had been considerably weakened because of a lack of provisions. The onslaught was made, however, but was successfully repulsed by the defenders of the fort. The leaders of the colonists, assisted by John Moore, who remained at Fort Reading for a month with his army, negotiated with Tom Blount, the Indian chief of the Tuscaroras, for peace. Before the truce had expired for the negotiation, and before the Indians could recuperate from their long period of hunger, Colonel Moore was aided by a new army. The struggle against the whites then became futile, and the majority of the Tuscaroras departed from this section to New York, after Torhunte had been destroyed by Colonel John Barnwell in 1712. King Blount and his people were given a reservation between Tar and Neuse Rivers. They remained here until the second migration of whites to Edgecombe in 1732, and then were removed to Roanoke River at the request of the Indians themselves.
The Indian war, although destructive and depressing, resulted in great benefit for the future welfare of the settlers. The weaklings were frightened by the warfare of the Indians and returned to Virginia. This made way for the migration of the better type of industrious settlers from Virginia, who sought the fertile lands upon the Tar, Roanoke, and Neuse Rivers, and their tributaries.
When the Lords Proprietors outlined their policy for the colony of Carolina, they established four counties, Albemarle, Bath, Clarendon, and one in the south. Albemarle, the vast territory between Weldon and Currituck, was later divided into six precints. Chowan,1 one of the largest, contained all the territory south of the Virginia line and north of Albemarle Sound, extending westward to the extreme limits of the colony.[note]
By 1722 settlements in this vast territory west of the Chowan had extended so far that it was necessary for a new precinct to be established. This new precinct was called Bertie, and contained all the territory west of the Chowan River.
A few years after the Indian troubles a new group of settlers were led across the borders of Virginia into the more western parts of the newly erected precinct.
This second tide of immigration was mostly of the highest type of manhood of Virginia. The law of primogeniture, then enforced in that colony, gave to the oldest son the sole hereditary right and compelled the younger males of the family to cast their lot away from home or become clergymen. Many of these young men were of a roving disposition and were imbued with an adventurous spirit. The church did not appeal to them as a profession, and they cast their lot on the more western frontier. Although the majority of the early settlers were of the gentry type, there were also many of the servant class, who came after having served the time of their indenture. They were anxious to secure farms of their own and live an independent life apart from their former masters. Many others came also who had no other desire than to get out of the borders of the Old Dominion.
Just as the first permanent settlement in the colony began at the mouths of the rivers, the interior settlement of this section began at the mouths of the creeks, expanding as the remaining Indians were driven toward the frontier. The mouth of Town Creek marked the beginning of the settlement in 1720. Two years later the present vicinity of Tarboro was settled by a small party of young Virginians. Here the land was undulating and very fertile in the low grounds of Fishing and Swift Creeks and Tar River. Rippling brooks made frequent water courses, supplying an excellent pasturage for the settlers’ cattle. The settlers encountered many hardships in establishing homes in this region. The Indians, although conquered and weakened by previous wars, were not satisfied with the daily encroachment upon their homes. They were, however, gradually driven southward toward the colony of Bath across from Contentnea, as the settlement progressed. Here they erected forts after their crude fashion and lived in safety until besieged and annihilated by the rapidly increasing colonists.
The western part of Bertie Precinct increased rapidly in population, making progress both in civilization and importance. By 1723 there were twenty families on Tar River alone. Among the freeholders here in 1723 were James Thigpen, Thomas Elliott, Paul Palmer, James Anderson, Francis Branch, Samuel Spruill, James Long, Thomas Hawkins, William Burgis, William Arrenton. Some of these families still have representatives among the county's citizens, while the counties of Halifax and Nash, when cut off, carried some of these settlers, and their descendants also live in those counties. Paul Palmer was one of the strongest Baptist preachers of his time and created a strong religious sentiment among the colonists.
Settlers were also locating on both sides of the river. Primitive methods for building were adopted, while the forests yielded an abundant supply of tar, pitch, turpentine, staves, and raw products for export. The influx of whites became still greater as the Virginia lands lost their fertility through continuous cultivation of tobacco. The slow running rivers and creeks in the precinct attracted many eager seekers for rich soil.
Crude houses were also built of logs to furnish shelter until permanent settlement could be made. The logs were notched and were probably put together in the same fashion as many remote country homes were in the nineteenth century. Between the logs, split poles chinked with mud were securely fashioned. The chimneys for the most part were wood, the foundation and body being built up to the funnel with split sticks daubed inside and out with sticky clay to protect from excessive heat. The inside of the fireplace was covered with mud in the same manner, and measured from five to six feet in length and two feet in depth. Lumber was sawed by hand before the erection of saw mills.1 In 1730 the first mills made their appearance and gave the settlers more convenience in home building.
The houses were usually covered with cypress boards, three feet long by one broad. These were attached to the rafters by the use of pegs, while the doors were supported by wooden hinges. Wooden locks were also employed to secure the door and protect against night prowlers. The houses were hardly ever larger than 25 × 15 feet, one room sufficing for a sleeping and cooking apartment for the entire family.[note]
The constant increase in population was not without political bearing. A demand was created for representation in the law-making body of the province. Consequently when the Assembly met in Edenton, May 6, 1732, as called by Governor Burrington, the people residing on Tar River and the south side of the Roanoke River presented a petition to the Governor and his Council requesting that a new precinct be erected, giving them the same privileges that the other precincts enjoyed. The Governor and Council acted favorably toward the petition, and ordered the precinct of Bertie and the district on the south side of Roanoke River to appoint commissioners to measure the bounds which were to make a new precinct called Edgecombe. The newly erected precinct was named in honor of Richard First, Baron of Edgecombe, of the manorial House of England. He was born in 1680 and died in 1758. He received his education at Trinity College, Cambridge, and became very prominent in English politics. For several years he was a follower of Sir Robert Walpole, and attended to his interests. He was elevated to a peerage in 1742, one year after Edgecombe Precinct was confirmed. He was also Lord of the Treasury. The boundary extended from the south side of Roanoke to the north of Canocanora Creek to Blount's Old Town on Tar River, including the territory of the present County of Martin and the upper part of Pitt. The dividing line extended between Neuse and Tar Rivers, embracing all the area to the northeast branch of the Cape Fear River, touching the present vicinity of Mt. Olive in Wayne County.
In October of the same year the inhabitants on the south side of Maratock River, which was not annexed to Edgecombe Precinct from Bertie by the Governor and Council, presented a petition that they also might be added to Edgecombe. The territory from Hawkins Line at Rainbow Banks1 to Blount's Old Town on Tar River and the land direct up Roanoke River to the boundary line of Edgecombe Precinct, accordingly was added to Edgecombe.
By the annexation of this additional territory, the bounds of the precinct were greatly extended. The entire territory lying between Roanoke and Neuse River west of Tarboro vicinity and northeast of the Cape Fear River became a part of Edgecombe.[note]
Virginia marked the boundary line on the north, beginning where the Roanoke crosses the border of North Carolina colony and extending westward without limits. The boundary on the east of Edgecombe Precinct followed the Roanoke southward through the present counties of Halifax and Martin, a distance of about eighty-five miles. On the south, Edgecombe was bounded by Beaufort and Craven Counties, the line between Edgecombe extending from the present village of Robersonville to Walstonburg and thence to the northeast Cape Fear, touching Mt. Olive. The western boundary followed the Neuse River through Selma in Johnston County, taking in the site of the present town of Clayton. At Clayton the boundary extended to the Cape Fear again, touching Merry Oaks, then followed Haw River, including the present counties of Orange and Caswell, a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles.
This scope of vast territory, covering so many square miles, contained more than seventeen of our modern counties. Governor Burrington was aware of this immense stretch of land when he wrote the agents in London that the precinct of Edgecombe was a large territory, and he hoped to see it soon divided into several other precincts.
The Assembly met early in the spring of 1733 at Edenton, at which time the erection of Edgecombe was confirmed by the Council. At the same session Governor Burrington appointed Captain John Spier and Captain William Whitehead, two worthy citizens, as Justices of the Peace for the precinct. These two men were among the earliest settlers, and were afterwards honored with trustworthy and honorable positions in the county government.
The confirmation by the Council of Governor Burrington's action, declaring Edgecombe a precinct, aroused the animosity of prominent officials in the colony. Nathan Rice and John Ashe especially questioned the action, and began a hostile movement against the Governor. Mr. Rice was a Commissioner from England, and, like Mr. Ashe, was also a high official in the Governor's Council when the royal government was first established. These two men had other political grievances against the Governor and his policies. Many controversies had been waged by them against Burrington previous to this time. The objections to the new
precinct of Edgecombe were to the effect that the Governor followed the procedure of a former administration that erected new precincts to aid him in future elections.1 These charges, while greatly exaggerated, contained an element of truth.
Personal differences and political opposition became greatly embittered when Burrington cast Mr. Ashe into prison for a trivial offense. While this matter was in progress, Burrington's high temper drew him into personal antagonism with Chief Justice Little and other officials. Numerous letters, claiming the erection of Edgecombe unconstitutional, and that it would cause unequal representation of the people, were addressed to the Crown by Ashe and Rice.
During the latter part of April, 1733, these two gentlemen wrote their reasons for the objection to the action of the Governor and Council. They claimed that the Governor's methods were destructive to the existing constitution of the legislature, whose powers were “separate and distinct,” for the increase of precincts by the Upper House, thereby adding more members to the Lower House, would cause said Lower House to be dependent upon the Upper House and subject to its dictation. They also declared that the erection of the precinct was illegal in that it was done without royal instruction and royal license.
Governor Burrington met these objections by saying that the people on the south side of Roanoke and Tar Rivers requested to be erected in a precinct called Edgecombe. He claimed that it was not a new practice for the Governor and Council to erect new precincts, and that the people living in the newly erected territory were enjoying personal liberty and property rights.
It is very probable that malice and the desire to show a zealous cause for the support of the privileges of the Lower House caused Ashe and Rice to create the sentiment in opposition. No protest against the erection of precincts had ever been made prior to this time. Bertie had been formed in 1722 from Chowan, and other precincts in Albemarle had also been made counties with local government by the Governor and his Council. This fact gives conclusive evidence that other reasons, in addition to those of patriotism,[note]
actuated these two men in their contention. It was indeed very strange that the Governor was in danger of subverting the Constitution by a method which had always been practiced, and which had not given the Upper House undue power.
At the fall meeting of the Assembly Governor Burrington refused to sit in conference when the matter was debated, the controversy being so acute. The Upper House discussed the matter at length after the Governor had left the Assembly, and voted that the precinct should be “ascertained” in order that in the next biennial election the precinct could return members to serve in the Assembly. The boundary lines determined were the same that were fixed by Governor Burrington in 1732.
In the meantime, in 1732, Governor Burrington appointed Colonel Henry Gaston, Major James Milliken, Dr. James Thompson, Captain John Pratt, John Alston, Dr. John Bryant, John Hardy, James Spier, Francis Elleby, William Kane, John Pope, and Edward Young as Justices of the Peace, with instructions to hold a precinct court on the third Tuesday in the months of August, November, February, and May of every year. This was the first court ordered to be held in the precinct, and indicated the fixed intentions of the Governor. Several of these justices had been members of Legislature and the court from Bertie Precinct, but were inhabitants of Edgecombe before and after the division in 1732. When the additional land was annexed to Edgecombe in October of the same year, one more Justice, Captain William Whitehead, was appointed by the Governor.
The appointment of justices and the confirmation of the action of Governor Burrington by the Upper House, however, was not sufficient to give Edgecombe the privileges of the other precincts. In consequence of much conflict existing between the Governor and the officials, the matter was delayed until 1734. The bill was then introduced again in the Assembly. It was confirmed in the Upper House. The citizens, in order to encourage the passage of the bill, sent an earnest appeal to the Assembly, and were successful in influencing the Legislature to vote upon the bill, favoring the Governor's action. The bill came up again late in the meeting with the petition of the people, and passed the second time with amendments.
In the fall of the same year the Governor met the Assembly for the last time. He had previously written to the Crown for permission to return home, claiming to be ill and pauperized from being in the colony without his salary. The bill was introduced the third time for confirmation, and was about to be acted on when the arrival of a new Governor, Gabriel Johnston, interfered. Governor Burrington had made a compromise with his antagonists—compliments were returned on both sides, and an agreement was made between the two factions in order to reach a state of helpfulness to the citizens and to the precinct. The temper of the Governor subsiding caused a more harmonious feeling to affect the Assembly.
On November 13th Gabriel Johnston published his commission as Governor on the Cape Fear in open Council. This closed Burrington's administration.
Immediately after Governor Johnston arrived legislation was resumed. Onslow and Bladen, two new precincts, were confirmed by the Assembly, but Edgecombe was not considered until three years later, when it was also designated as a precinct by the Assembly.
In the meantime Edgecombe was being represented in the Assembly and was exercising the political rights of an organized precinct. In 1733 two representatives, Captain William Whitehead, and Dr. David Hopper, were sent to the Assembly. Other men in the precinct were recognized officially. Henry Gaston was appointed as a member of the Governor's Council in 1734 by the Governor. One of the most important events, having influence directly upon the cause of the entire controversy, was exposed when Edgecombe asserted her rights as a precinct of Albemarle County in 1734 and sent five delegates, Mr. William Whitehead, John Spier, Bar Maguinny, David Hopper, and John Milliken to the Assembly. This explains to some extent why Messrs. Ashe and Rice, who were from a precinct in Bath County, were adverse to the erection of new precincts. Bath County at this time being so sparsely settled was allowed only two members, where as precincts of Albemarle County was allowed five. This always gave the additional power through representation to Albemarle.
The economic conditions of the precinct were in the meantime influencing the policy of the Assembly. Plantations were selling
cheap; those which contained houses, barns, orchards, gardens, pastures, and cultivated lands sold for about thirty or forty pistoles. The explanation for such cheapness of land is attributed to the fact that the people were in search of new land for their hogs and cattle. This condition was very favorable to newcomers who could always possess convenient and already cultivated farms for less money than the buildings generally cost. A single Virginia planter, Elisha Battle, bought eleven inhabited adjacent plantations in the old settlement. The plantations prior to his coming were inhabited by almost one hundred white people who had moved on further in the interior of the precinct. The newcomer brought with him ten negroes to cultivate the fields, and no whites except his wife.
Parallel with the changing of the small plantation for the large ones with slaves was the immigration of the Swiss colonists into the precinct. Considerable numbers of families came together after the precinct was erected. The Owens’ and Holmes’ were especially prominent. Many men who afterwards distinguished themselves in political and professional activities came into the precinct at this time. Thomas Blount, Blake Baker, Jacob Battle, Bythell Bell, David Daniel, Ed Hall, John Leigh, Joseph Ross, Laymon Ruffin, Theophilus Thomas, Thomas Jarvis, and John Jenkins, who became merchants, lawyers, doctors, with many others of mechanical professions made their entrance during this tide of migration.
The intellectual life of the precinct was stimulated, and the governmental policies of the colony were influenced by these newcomers. Edgecombe became recognized as an influential part of the province. Her citizens were honored by the Governor, who offered to them political positions, while others became equally as prominent as traders and merchants.
It was natural that the new settlers should approve of the attitude adopted by Governor Burrington in erecting Edgecombe. They defended his policies of 1732 by delivering lectures, hoping to effect thereby the action of Governor Johnston. They did this also to protect their interests in governmental and commercial policies in 1735. The people considered their liberty infringed upon and that their possessions, which they had settled and improved after hard toil and privations, were in danger of unjust
laws. Should Edgecombe not be recognized as a precinct and allowed representatives to sit in the Assembly, there would be no method whereby these people would be protected against the discriminating laws of the Legislature. The opposition to the erection of Edgecombe was charged to a few of Governor Burrington's personal enemies. These men claimed that those who were adverse to the former Governor's action were not aware of the inconveniences the inhabitants were subjected to in the election. These few men who were predisposed to object, became the object of the scorn and displeasure of the entire precinct, and were deprived of the political support they otherwise would have secured from the people of Edgecombe.
In the meantime the precinct still continued to grow rapidly, and increased in civilization and wealth. Men began to settle in great numbers in various sections of the precinct. Francis Parker, in 1745, took up a grant for six hundred and forty acres on Fishing Creek, David Hopper six hundred and forty acres on Kehukee Swamp, William Merritt one hundred acres on the north side of Kehukee Swamp, and John Starky received four hundred acres on the east side of White Oak River. The south dividing creek, north of Swift Creek and Maratock River,1 was settled by a great influx of settlers from Virginia in this year. Simon Jeffries obtained three patents for one thousand acres on Tar River, which extended fifteen miles. At the same time seven thousand acres lying on Town Creek was purchased by a Mr. Boyd. In one year alone over thirty-five thousand acres were granted to new settlers. John Pratt, who was made Clerk of the Assembly in 1736, was also given six hundred and forty acres during this year.
By 1740, four years later, the greatest increase of immigrants reached Edgecombe. Marmaduke Norfleet, William Kinchen, Sam Sessums, Edward Jones, Joseph Howe, Richard Braswell, Elias Fort, William Watson, Josiah Jones, George Suggs, Robert Hines, Andrew Irwin, and Richard Sessums, men who afterward achieved great honor by defending the political and civic rights of their county, came into the precinct, bought and also received[note]
by grant much land. During the meeting of the Assembly for this year over fifty thousand acres of land were distributed among the settlers.
The increase of settlers and the more urgent demand for political recognition and freedom influenced the speedy action by the Assembly. Mr. Milliken had presented a request for the people to the Assembly in 1735 to recognize Edgecombe as a precinct. A bill was accordingly drawn up, but no action was taken by the Assembly. The policy of delay was practiced for over eight years, with a bill oscillating from one House to another without permanent action. The bill was merely an object for debate and served as an issue for technical warfare and intrigue between the two political divisions of the Assembly. The discussion was carried on with a partisan spirit. The Lower House, under the charter of the proprietary period, claimed a prerogative to erect precincts; consequently, the action of the Governor was still strongly contested. In the meanwhile Edgecombe, from 1732 to 1741, was governed by the authority of Bertie Precinct.1 All the jurymen from the precinct of Edgecombe were selected with Bertie's members, and her civil and criminal cases were tried in the Bertie courts. Quit rents for lands in Edgecombe were also collected in Bertie Precinct.
The climax and end to the controversy came in 1741. The Lower House refused to admit members from Edgecombe until the right to admit representatives was investigated. The issue was referred to the Crown, who claimed that the matter was up to the Governor and his Council. The precinct in the meantime had extended its frontier and was thickly settled. Many prominent men, like Thomas Norfleet, were coming from Virginia, and buying land on Maratock River. Who was to guide the expansion in a situation like this, the Governor or a few people with antagonistic principles? Herein lay the basis for political power, the whole cause of the controversy. The original precincts of Albemarle had exercised the right of sending five members to the Legislature, while the new precincts were allowed only two. The Albemarle County was the center of opposition to the Crown and the Governor's policies. The new precincts did not have the[note]
reputation of opposing the Governor; consequently, he turned to them in order to accomplish his political ambition. The issue was made clear to the Governor, and in 1741, when the matter was laid before him, he ordered the county of Edgecombe to be confirmed.
A new era dawned upon the history of Edgecombe after the confirmation by the Governor and his Council. New progress both in industry and commerce was introduced. Thomas Hall, Thomas Owen, Henry Holmes, Will Owens, made their appearance in the county, bringing large numbers of slaves and white servants with them in order to secure land.1 John Alston brought nineteen slaves, John Pope brought six white servants, Thomas Kerney owned sixteen slaves, and others possessed a large retinue of servants and slaves with which to cultivate the fertile fields. Agriculture became the greatest industry with a landed aristocracy springing up around the old settlements.
The actual settling of this new section and the accomplishment of new undertakings were no easy tasks. Much labor and exposure to the violent heat of the sun, sometimes with scanty food—an occasional deer or bear or raccoon—were the hardships that confronted the early settlers. Many of these pioneers also fell by the designing hand of cunning savages. Long journeys on the frontiers, lasting for days without necessary comforts, caused intense suffering from fatigue and hunger.
The condition of the early frontier explains why the people were concerned about their political and personal liberties. The one fact that their labor be not in vain and that their property rights not be infringed upon by any discriminating laws or regulations of the Crown or Governor became an issue of absorbing interest. To this end the settlers wrote a rigid request to Governor Johnston in 1741. The laws of grants had been issued by the Governor to subsist for only two years, without regard to the convenience of the settlers. Another controversy was being waged also over settling of land and issuing land grants. The quit rent policy had just begun to affect the economic welfare of the inhabitants. Land had been refused to some of the settlers, disregarding the policy stated in the instructions of the Lords Proprietors.[note]
The settlers claimed that if the land did not raise tobacco as well as the Virginia land they had the right to request more land, and for a longer period than the time of two years, stipulated by Johnston. In this case quit rents became payable in other commodities than that of tobacco. Moreover, there were certain discriminations in the levying and collection of quit rents. When the settlement was made by the Swiss in the precinct they were required to pay four shillings per one hundred acres of land, while those already in the precinct and those settling in the first localities were required to pay only two shillings, and the King's agents traveled from house to house in collecting same.
Governor Johnston repudiated the old method when he came, and a protest by the settlers resulted. He alleged that the existing laws were shameful, and that the settlers were attempting to cheat their masters. The settlers replied to his slanderous statements that if such be true, they should be counted fools, rather than cheats, for settling on insecure foundations. In return the Governor charged the settlers with refusing to pay their quit rents. He furthermore requested them to depart from the land of the King.
The controversy increased with bitter rancor. Unpleasant epithets were exchanged on both sides. And when the Governor issued a proclamation between 1738 and 1741 commanding the settlers to pay quit rents in sterling money or bills instead of commodities as formerly, the actual clash resulted. The Governor was requested by the people to withdraw his proclamation. He refused, claiming inefficiency in the previous laws.
In the meantime a bill to collect rents at certain localities had been rejected by the Lower House. The places of payment of rents were entirely too few, and the method of collecting had proved so vastly different from those methods in Virginia and those formerly used in the colony, that a reform was necessary. On October 7, 1736, the inhabitants complained more bitterly than before because of illegal methods employed in collecting the revenues. The collectors had compelled the people who held their lands by grant from the Lords Proprietors to carry their quit rents to specified places, many of which were selected to suit the convenience of the collectors rather than the people. The former custom had been to collect the quit rents at the inhabitants’ respective
plantations. Extortionate fees were charged by the collectors who used their political office to advance their own personal greed. The fees were increased sevenfold, and those who were hindered from coming to the appointed places were charged an increase of eightfold with extravagant fees extra.
The bill providing for the collection of the various rents having been rejected, the people were secure, and were justified in their protest against the extortionate proceedings of the Crown. Governor Johnston appealed to the Board of Trade in England for instructions. The Governor receiving no instructions, now advised the Crown that unless the old laws were annulled and better ones made, his majesty would have very little authority, for the people were taking especial care of themselves, irrespective of the Crown and government. He also requested a company of troops to be sent in order to insure a better condition of affairs.
The Governor evidently intended to enforce his will and plans by compulsion, if necessary. In 1737 there came an urgent need for the troops which he had requested. At the General Court at Edenton of that year a man was imprisoned for insulting a marshal during the court. The people in Edgecombe understood the offense was non-payment of quit rents. They rose to the number of five hundred, cursing the King with hearts full of rebellion, and approached Edenton with the purpose of rescuing one of their fellow sufferers. So completely agitated were these people over the treatment they had received concerning quit rents that they resolved to be oppressed no further. At the same time they threatened cruel usage to any person who came to demand rents of them in future.
The quit rent controversy subsided when the Spanish War broke out in 1739. Governor Johnston was requested to raise what troops he could in 1740 to defend the rights of Great Britain. Edgecombe and Bertie furnished three companies of one hundred men each, while the Governor said he could have raised more if it had been possible to negotiate bills of exchange. These troops were intended to act under General Oglethorpe against St. Augustine, some few being dispatched on that service. However, that expedition failed, and they sailed for Jamaica, where the British troops had gathered. The losses here were great, due to the lack of co-operation between the army and navy. Some of the troops
engaged in battles in the West Indies, where fever broke out among them, and nine out of ten became victims of this disease. Only a small number of these troops returned to the county.
Before the termination of the war in 1738,1 a law was enacted directing the Justices of the Peace in the precinct to erect storehouses to receive commodities in payment of quit rents. The Justices of the Peace were also authorized to levy a poll tax to defray the expenses of collecting the commodities stored in the warehouses. The first warehouse was established at John Pratt's. Later this same warehouse was moved to Marmaduke Kimbrough's near the fall of Maratock River, the distance to Mr. Pratt's being too far for the inhabitants of North Edgecombe. By this new law the people were obliged to pay the expenses of the men collecting the taxes for the King. Moreover, while the legality of this act may be admitted, it did not grant justice to the people as a whole. The poor were sorely oppressed, because the families who had only a small amount of land were required to pay more than a small family with a large amount of land.
Happily for all concerned Governor Johnston was not able to enforce his views. The law had been in operation for only a short time when the Governor received instructions that it had been disallowed by the Crown. This bit of information was sadly humiliating to the Governor, who had labored incessantly to secure the passage of the bill. The decision was altogether in conflict with the Governor's views. Specie payments were abandoned. Quit rents were payable in commodities at their market value, and the place of payment was on the plantation. The relief came at the opportune time for the people, and gave them a greater incentive for industrial activity.
The production of tar and naval stores was introduced after the relaxation of this law.2 In 1734 a large supply of tar for Europe had been secured from the section of Bertie and Edgecombe. The price became so low, however, between 1735 and 1740, that the production ceased. Governor Johnston claimed that the cause for such low prices was due to the fact that the people made large fires in their kilns, forcing the coarse juices of the lightwood along with the tar in order to get a larger quantity.[note][note]
The tar producers claimed, on the other hand, that in order to make a better quality the old bounty of ten shillings per1 barrel should be allowed. It is not known whether the additional premium was given. Tar making, however, never ceased entirely. The vast pine forests were filled with lightwood, being the heart of resinous pines after the body of the fallen tree had decayed many years before, and the business of making tar engaged a good per cent of the population. There were also many new saw mills being erected, bricks were burned, and much progress was made in comfortable and respectable living, as well as in profitable commerce. Special seasons of the year, planting time, harvest, the winter and summer, were recognized, and became of high importance to the agricultural population. Frequently the occasions were observed and celebrated with some sort of festivity, such as log rolling and ceremonies involving symbols and physical courage.
In 1744 the entire section of Edgecombe was turned over to Lord Granville as a part of his share of the colony. The people then became subject to his power, in that they owed him rents and advancements for settlement of the land.>2 The Earl of Granville did not display a profound interest in the development of the county. His primary concern was to collect rents, introduce settlers, and to increase his profits by larger agricultural trade and industries. However, the currency in the colony was at this time rated so low that the people were reluctant to pay very much revenue for the land. The earl's rents became greatly in arrears. Matters became unsatisfactory on every side.
In the meantime, for the benefit of a great number of soldiers and seamen, who were discharged from the service of the King because of peaceful conditions, quit rents in 1740 were remitted for ten years, and thereafter the rate was to be one shilling for every fifty acres. This same offer was extended also to men of trades, builders, and farmers. In 1744 a number of people, induced by these encouragements, immigrated to the northern part of Edgecombe County. A hundred acres of land was purchased from James Leslie by the various merchants in the county in order to build a town. The motives for building the town was to[note][note]
foster a commercial relation between the counties and people. On the south side of the Roanoke River was a healthful and convenient location. Good water facilities and resources for a large commerce were made possible by this stream. The trade of the county was fast growing in importance by means of the steady increase of people. The Roanoke was improved and made navigable. Trade became more effective by reason of large numbers of prominent merchants locating at this place.
The Assembly in 1744 granted the right to erect the town which was already under construction. The village was given the name Halifax, presumably in honor of Lord Halifax, who was a member of the Board of Trade in London. Thomas Barker, Alexander McCulloch, John Gibson, Richard Browning, and Robert Jones, Jr., were appointed trustees to supervise the buildings, laying off the lots, and to direct the affairs of the town until its completion. Four acres were reserved for a central market place; the remainder was cut up into lots. These lots were purchased by the citizens at forty shillings each with the obligation to build houses of certain dimensions which were specified by the trustees. The town had a prodigious growth from the beginning, but it was checked in its expansion for about five years on account of an outbreak of smallpox.
Halifax town immediately became the center of commercial activities. By 1752 the little village was a scene of hustling traders and merchants. Although it was the center for local markets, the interior location of the town and county made foreign trade very unsatisfactory. The Roanoke was only navigable to a certain distance. Moreover, the difficulty of shipping was great on account of the frequent low water. The county raised large quantities of tobacco, but it was generally carried to Suffolk or Norfolk, Virginia, for shipment to England. In these ports the tobacco was inspected by officers appointed for that purpose. The best was selected; the remainder was burned. The farmers were paid just what the Virginia merchant saw fit to give.
Cattle raising was also conducted in a similar fashion. The stock was taken to Virginia and slaughtered. The cattle raiser only received pay for the net meat, while the hide, tallow, livers, and remnants were appropriated by the Virginia merchant. The
same was true in regard to hogs. They were slaughtered in Virginia, salted in Virginia, exported from Virginia, and were sold as Virginia pork.
Parallel with the commercial growth, Halifax became the nucleus of social life in the county. The town became the gathering place for the merchant class, the trader, and the politician, all of whom settled around this typical English borough. Many also became large land and slave owners, and operated large plantations near the town. Few of the men married, but lived a sedentary life of luxury and self-indulgence. Many free negroes and mulattoes intermarried with white women, while in the earliest period there was no recognized social restraint against exogamy to avoid incest. Halifax was the gathering place for all social activities indulged in by the landed aristocracy, such as the dance conducted in English style, the fox chase, and card parties. These social pastimes afforded the men of the leisure class means of occupation.
The production of tobacco about the middle of the eighteenth century was so extensive that new lands were opened up. The old soil for some time had been fast losing its fertility. Consequently in 1746, five years after Edgecombe was recognized by the Assembly, the first settlement of Virginians on Tar River had so expanded that Edgecombe had to be divided. The business of the county became very difficult to handle because of the distance many settlers had to travel in order to reach the place where courts were held. The territory from the mouth of Stonehouse Creek on Roanoke River, and thence across the river to the strip of land between Tar and Neuse Rivers, which was the dividing line between Craven and Edgecombe Counties, was included in the bounds of the new county to be called Granville. The county was named in honor of Earl of Granville, who owned the entire territory of Edgecombe.
A few years later, in 1758, the southern part of Edgecombe and Johnston Counties was cut off and Dobbs County was formed, named in honor of Governor Dobbs.
The system of trade and agriculture was of vital interest after the formation of Granville and Johnston Counties. The large
district west of Little River was cut off, leaving a much smaller area in the bounds of Edgecombe. In the meantime, settlers were still coming in the county. The result of this was a more rapid process of forming and shaping of industries. Tobacco was not planted in such quantities as before. Better roads, fences, and bridges were constructed to aid in better commerce. Waterways were opened up by taxation and swamps drained and put into cultivation. Good roads had been supported by Governor Burrington, but he was unsuccessful in getting any action during his administration. Places of inspection were established in all important places in the county to insure convenience to the farmer. Warehouses for the inspection of tobacco, turpentine, shingles, hemp, flax, pork, beef, flour, indigo, tar, pitch, etc., were established at William Williams’ on Kehukee Creek, Howell's Ferry on Tar River, and on Fishing Creek. Agriculture was conducted on a far more intensive scale than when the vast fields were accessible. At the same time the inspectors of the places near Mr. Joseph Howell's and William William's requested an increase in their salaries as inspectors.
In 1754 an Indian uprising in the county affected the progress of the commercial life. When Governor Dobbs came over from England he found the Indian war in progress. The affairs of the colony generally were in a deplorable condition. He called for the militia, and Edgecombe responded, reporting 1,317 men. On Roanoke River in Bertie and Edgecombe there were still a hundred warriors of the Tuscaroras and about two hundred women and children. In Granville County on the west there were the Saporas with only fourteen men and fourteen women. The long struggle with the Indians terminated after about seventeen murders and ten or twelve captives being carried away.
In 1758 the greatest check to progress came when Halifax, the town and commercial center, was cut off from Edgecombe by a division of the county. Considerable inconvenience prevented the inhabitants from attending the courts and many other public meetings because of the large extent of territory. Consequently, a petition was made to the Assembly in 1758 for a separate
county to be called Halifax.1 The dividing line was fixed between the parish of Edgecombe and the parish of St. Mary's.
The separation of Halifax County from Edgecombe checked the progress and welfare of the county in many respects. The town of Halifax being in the area cut off, there was no borough with which to carry on trade. There remained no central gathering place for public meetings, and no organized activities in any from. Every plantation was a distinct organization of business and social life in itself. To make matters worse, Edgecombe's Superior Courts were to be held at Halifax, its former capital. This would only help the new county and town to grow at the expense of Edgecombe.
The merchants and people of Edgecombe, realizing the situation, acted wisely in formulating immediate plans for a new capital for the county. In 1758, the same year the county of Halifax was formed, seven merchants, Thomas Spell, James Anderson, Aquila Suggs, Edward Telfair, Peter Mitchell, Robert Bignall, John Watson were selling merchandise at the village, Tarr Burrow. Two years later, on September 23d, Joseph Howell, then living on Tar River, where the town of Tarboro now stands, sold to James Moir, Aquila Suggs, Lawrence Toole, Elisha Battle, and Benjamin Hunt, one hundred and fifty acres of land for 2,000 pounds proclamation money of the province of North Carolina. This tract of land lay on the south side of Tar River.
The same year the men who purchased the land were appointed by the Assembly as trustees to lay off a town. A bond of 2,000 pounds lease was given by the trustees as security to Mr. Howell for the construction of buildings and the laying off of the village. The land was cut up into lots, except the lot where Mr. Howell's dwelling stood, a small graveyard and fifty acres, which were to be used as a common for the benefit of the town. The Commissioners were to have rights to all the profits for the period of one year, and at the end of that time the trustees were to pay Mr. Howell the rent of one penny for transferring the property into the possession of the Commissioners. This deed of lease was[note]
recognized by the court in Tarboro and was attested by James Hall, the clerk, on September 24, 1760.
The Commissioners began the work of surveying, laying off the streets seventy feet in width, and sold the lots to the inhabitants with one-half acre to each lot. The “common” was laid off and consisted of the land beginning where the City Hall now stands. In order to cover the expenses of the pledged amount of 2,000 pounds, the Commissioners took up subscriptions for the common at £2 proclamation money for each lot. The money received was paid over to Mr. Howell for all the lots composing the fifty acres except twelve lots which were used for the erection of public buildings.
On November 30th the town was constituted and called Tarborough by the Governor and his Council. The town, situated at the head of navigation on the Tar River, fifty miles from Washington, receives its name from this beautiful stream. A tradition of Tar River, although spurious is very interesting. The word Tar is a corruption of Tau. A tribe of Indians inhabiting the Roanoke (probably the Tuscarora) was visited every year by an epidemic which carried off large numbers of their tribe. They determined to migrate in search of a more healthful location, and accordingly fixed their residence on this river, which stream on account of its superior advantages to health they named Tau, signifying, in Indian language, health. By an easy substitution of the letter (r) for (u), aided by the circumstance that tar was the principal product on the river and an article of export from Edgecombe County, the name was easily changed to the present name Tar from the ancient and simple word Tau.
There was much interesting dispute among the settlers as to the original name of the river. Following the controversy, in more modern times the name was first spelled Tau, and then Tar. The name of the town was subject to the same change as that of the river whenever the contest was applied. About 1855 an old inhabitant of Tarboro believed Tauboro to be the original name of the town. He said that in the year 1812 a delegation from the Tuscarora tribe of Indians, who formerly occupied this section of
THE TOWN OF TARBORO AS IT WAS ORIGINALLY LAID OFF IN 1760
the county, visited Tarboro. One of the oldest, on being told the name of the river was Tar, shook his head. Then he was told by some persons that they thought the right name was Tau, and he immediately said: “That is it, a beautiful river.”
An Englishman, Mr. Sabin, sent an original map of North Carolina to J. C. Hoyt, of Buncombe County, several years ago, which spells the town Tarrburg, and indicates the opinion of those who have been confused and have insisted upon the aboriginal authority of the name Tar River, and the somewhat reproachful suggestion that the petty avocation of making tar on the river originated the name, and accordingly attempted to substitute the name Tar for several years. The name is found inscribed on this map as Tarr, with a double (r). No doubt but that the advocates of the name Tau were justified in their contentions, since Hawks, in his History of North Carolina, supported and published this as being his view. Dr. Hawks formed the English derivation from a syllable of an Indian word, which he claimed to have been the Indian name of the River Tarpaco and now known as Tar River. Dr. Hawks was correct in his guess, but from its present form of name Tar is more closely accurate, and will in all probability be spelled forever as it is now spelled.
The town at the time of its formation was bounded on the north by what is now Wilson Street,1 running east and west; on the west by Hendrix Creek, running north and south; on the south by St. John Street; and on the east by the New Street, running west and parallel with the present Albemarle Avenue, and the avenue from Hendrix Creek.
The spacious grounds left for the common was dedicated to the public for parks and amusements by the Commissioners. Oaks, which have since grown into large trees, were cultivated, giving a very comfortable as well as ornamental appearance. Today the common bears the impressive stamp of antiquity, with spreading limbs of gigantic branches of trees.
Tarboro immediately became the center for trade. Merchants began to build up a commercial relation with the neighboring centers, and a medium of exchange was declared for the settlers[note]
and the Virginia ports. Tar River had an outlet to the ocean only through Ocracoke, and here the shoals and sand bars made navigation impossible except for small crafts. Insurance on account of dangerous obstructions and shoals was so high that navigation by water was very impracticable. Consequently, all goods, salt, and merchandise were brought from Petersburg and Norfolk over land by pack mules. Whiskey and brandies were made, and traded for the manufactured goods from England which were left at these ports for distribution among the colonists.
The following is a list of the purchasers of the town lots in Tarboro from the Commissioners’ Book 1760, which remained in the possession of Elisha Battle until his death:
|The Reverend Thomas Burgess||2||54||55|
|James Casy (Attorney)||1||82|
|Joseph Cotten, Jr.||1||74|
|Com. in care of William Williamson to Col. Alex McCulloh||1||65|
|Michael Cotaunch, Jr.||2||105||116|
|Public lots as appears by plan|
CHAPTER II Colonial Government and Politics
The inhabitants of Edgecombe in the colonial period were subject to a dual government, that of the Province of North Carolina, and that of the local courts. The study of the local court system is a good index to the people's conception of justice and affords a better understanding of the people's history than any other institution. The method by which the people are governed determines in a large measure what the people really are; a bad government makes a discontented people, and a sound government makes a content and peaceful population. There was no institution which came so near touching the just and necessary need of all the people as that of the courts; securing a fair and impartial administration of justice to both the offended and the offender.
There are, however, two distinct facts one should realize in the study of local government. In the first place the territory in the colonial period was transitory and rapidly undergoing changes; consequently, the court system naturally became flexible and was remodeled to meet the demands of the expanding settlement. In the second place the local court system was merely a transplanting of the old English customs upon new soil and as such it was not entirely fitted for conditions in the new world.
The inhabitants of the county prior to 1732 had acquired considerable property according to the grants of the Lords Proprietors; consequently, it was necessary to construct a suitable form of local government to insure the right of property holding. The springing up of a small land-holding class, determined not only the economic and social welfare, but the political life of the people as well. The local government was naturally influenced by the territorial system, and as the county progressed the small landed class obtained a predominance in the political affairs.
The principal and, perhaps, the earliest organ of local county government was that of the Precinct Court. This court came into existence in the colony about 1670, and bore a very close resemblance to the English common law parish of the eighteenth century. It was the chief judicial body in Bertie County when Edgecombe was formed. It was, therefore, only a matter of
erecting a new governmental machinery for the new precinct. The first act in the creation of a new court was to appoint Justices of the Peace to organize a Precinct Court. This Governor Burrington did in 1733, selecting Colonel Henry Gaston, Major James Millikin, Dr. James Thompson, Captain John Pratt, John Alston, Dr. John Bryant, John Hardy, James Speir, Francis Elleby, William Kane, John Pope, and Edward Young to constitute the judicial body.1 These men were ordered by the Governor to hold a Precinct Court on the third Tuesday in the months of August, November, February, and May. This system was based on the English system of Courts of Pleas and Quarter Sessions. At the next meeting of the Assembly in October more territory was added to Edgecombe, and two more justices, Captain William Whitehead and Captain John Speir, were appointed.
The appointment of justices being in May, 1733, it was August following that the first court was held in the precinct. The exact location for the meeting of this session of the court is not known. It is probable that the justices met at Reading's plantation on Tar River. It was customary for the courts to assemble at various plantations in the precinct until the first court house was built at Enfield in 1744. According to the usual custom one of the justices was denominated chairman, and with the consent of the remaining justices he presided over the court, which was supposed to meet quarterly.
The power of the justices varied from time to time, according to the change of the general law; consequently, it is difficult to be explicit. However, certain powers, such as building roads and bridges, were taken from the General Court of the Province when the Precinct Court was formed. In addition to judicial powers the individual justices were granted specified authorities outside of the court. Among these was the power to marry eligible couples; provided that there was no clergymen in the parish.
In 1733, when the court was first established, it had power to try all criminal cases over fifty pounds in which the penalty did not affect life or limb; to hold orphan courts, appoint guardians, take securities, and to dispose of civil disputes not involving over a hundred pounds nor less than fifty. There was one limitation[note]
notable in this court in judicial power. No case could be heard twice in the same court under any pretense. Should a case be tried and undecided, it became necessary to buy an appeal and pay a price from five to fifty pounds to the Lords Proprietors.1 The variation in the price was due to the severity of the crime. Capital cases were usually charged the maximum price and the petty cases the minimum. The results of this law are very obvious. The restriction placed upon the Precinct Courts was at the instigation of the Lords Proprietors and enabled them to collect additional revenue. The appeal cases went to the General Court of the Province for disposal.
There were also many civil powers this court possessed. Thus the court might take probate of wills, receive entry of land, when there were no disputes, and supervise the administration of estates. The latter was demonstrated in a case which occurred in 1758. Abram Ricks, a citizen, thought himself to be fatally ill, and petitioned the court for a supervisor of his estate. John Cowell was accordingly appointed and duly sworn by the court to draw up and oversee the execution of Mr. Ricks’ will.
This court furthermore supervised the general management of civil affairs in the county—opening roads, building bridges, and appointing overseers for the public highways of the precinct. It also appointed constables, issued permits for building mills, industrial enterprises, and administered licenses for ministerial work. These functions of the court are illustrated by a noteworthy case occurring in 1761. The first non-conformist preacher legalized in Eastern Carolina, Jonathan Thomas, was granted a license from Edgecombe County Court. Mr. Thomas produced an ordination in writing, signed by John Moore and George Graham, leaders of the Baptist Society, qualifying him to preach according to the tenets of that church. The court, according to its power, administered the oath of allegience and issued a permit for Mr. Thomas to preach in the Province of North Carolina.
The Precinct Court also exercised power in shaping the early social and mercantile activities of the people. One of the many characteristics the people inherited from England and English life was the fondness for entertainment. Places of amusement found their way into this section early in the eighteenth century.[note]
The weary and solitary traveler was not by any means a lonely person in passing through Edgecombe. A mug of ale, served by a gentle maiden, was one of the chief assets of the Colonial Ordinary, and according to the grants issued by the Precinct Court from 1745 to 1767 Edgecombe was fairly well represented. During the year 1761 five licenses were granted for houses of entertainment alone.1
The commands of the Precinct Court were executed by the Provost Marshal,2 an officer corresponding to the sheriff of today. The marshal acted as a deputy to the Provost Marshal of the General Court of the Province of North Carolina, and performed almost the same duties for the Precinct Court as the latter did for the General Court. That is to say, he summoned jurymen in person or by messenger, kept the jail, held elections for burgesses, served writs in civil and criminal cases, arrested criminals and collected public taxes.3
The first Provost Marshal or sheriff of Edgecombe was Thomas Kearney, appointed in 1739. He was accountable to no one but the Governor, received his instructions from him, and in many respects became a hired tool to promote the Governor's political ambition. That much corruption resulted from this system we shall hereafter observe. This method was made more odious by the fact that the sheriff's term of office was not definitely fixed. He might be continued in office after his appointment by the Governor, provided he gave good behavior, for an indefinite number of years.
The office of sheriff was the highest subsidiary position connected with the court, the administering of justice and the prevention of crime in the county. This being true the obligation of office and penalty for violation of oath was more severe. In addition of having to take a solemn and binding oath to execute the duties of office agreeable to law, he was heavily bonded against accepting any pecuniary offers of bribes, to show leniency of the law in dealing with prisoners or jurymen; and after 1739 he was[note][note][note]
not permitted to serve more than one year consecutively. In case of death the sheriff was usually succeeded by some freeholder, who was commissioned by the county court to complete the term. Bond for acceptance and as an assurance of good faith in the execution of his duties was made to the Justices of the Peace of the county. Since the most important duty of the sheriff was the collection of taxes, and as a safeguard against personal use of the funds was necessary, he was required to give an additional bond. The sheriff was, moreover, allowed three per cent commission on all moneys collected, in addition to his regular commission for other duties. Whenever a sheriff was succeeded in office the taxes in the arrears were usually collected by his successor. However, the sheriff in office when the arrears were extant was liable for them until the General Assembly voted the county court the authority to relieve the deposed sheriff. Upon his release from office and the obligations subsequent thereto, the sheriff was ordered to make out a detailed report of all taxes in arrears and turn same over to the county court. This regulation was well illustrated in the relief of Abram Jones, who was sheriff of Edgecombe from 1757 to 1765. During the year 1765 he was superseded in office, and although he was empowered by law to collect taxes after his surrender of authority, he was prevented from doing so on account of an accident. Accordingly, he petitioned for a relief, which was granted by the county court.
In addition to stipulated fees and percentage for the collection of taxes, the sheriff was allowed stated sums for maintaining the prison and caring for its inmates. In case of an execution of a prisoner he was also paid an extra fee. In 1766 Samuel Ruffin was allowed one pound, seventeen shillings, and four pence for imprisoning and executing a negro criminal. Thomas Merritt, the jailer, was also paid sixteen shillings and eight pence as a special fee for attending the same negro during his period of confinement.
The sheriff of the county was allowed assistance in the form of constables appointed by the county court to help him in the execution of his duties. The appointment of constables was frequently made without the consent of those appointed. This worked obvious hardships on those who were unwilling to serve in this capacity. This unpleasantness resulted from the custom of imposing a fine of fifty shillings on any constable who refused to qualify and take an
oath following his appointment. Frequently also constables were committed to prison until a warrant of release was sworn out by Justices of the Peace of the county. This regulation no doubt caused undue embarrassment to those who were engaged in commercial and industrial activities. Later the law compelling a constable so appointed by the county court was restricted to those who could not show a sufficient cause for refusing and neglecting to serve the wishes of the court.
The constable, like the sheriff, was required to take an oath administered by the Justices of the Peace of the county. As a compensation for his services, the constable was exempted from the provincial, county, and parish taxes, working on the roads, and all other financial impositions of the local government. The duties of the constable, as may be inferred from the salaries paid, were not numerous nor very severe. They were called upon to give assistance at stated intervals and during the sickness of the sheriff.
The Precinct Court also had a clerk appointed by the Clerk of the General Court, whose duties corresponded to those of the Clerk of the General Court. He acted in the capacity of both clerk of the court and register of deeds. He, therefore, issued marriage licenses and recorded deeds of trust, and made entries of local court proceedings. He was also obligated to take special care of the transcript or book of laws established by the Assembly of the Province. It was a part of his duty to keep the book of laws open upon the court room table during the sitting of the court for the perusal by such members as desired information. When requested by any of the members of the court, the clerk was required to read the laws furnishing information upon the case being considered. Upon a refusal to act in conjunction with his constituents, the clerk was subject to a fine of five pounds.
The regular court procedure was somewhat similar to that of the Superior Court today—that is, a bill of indictment was presented to the grand jury, and if the evidence of the charges was sufficient a true bill was returned. The case was then presented to the petit jury by the justices for decision. There is, however, one notable exception. There were no lawyers at the county court to prosecute or to defend criminals. Locke, the author of the Fundamental Constitution, had made it a little less than a scandal for a lawyer to enter public life for the sake of pecuniary
gain. The results were that no victim of the law could employ defense. This threw a prisoner upon his own ability and upon his own testimony. It was not, therefore, unusual for men in the ordinary vocations of life to be skilled in the minor technicalities of the law in order to defend themselves or others with credibility. Although this law was repealed in 1747, many of the citizens in colonial Edgecombe continued to study points of law until late in the nineteenth century. John Norfleet was reputed to be as well skilled in the minor points of law as a practicing attorney.
Under the royal administration a few changes were made. The structure of the courts as outlined remained until 1738. During that year the Assembly of North Carolina passed an act which changed the precincts into counties, and the old Precinct Courts into county courts. The organization and function of the court, however, remained for some years the same in purport as formerly. It is well, however, to notice that some minor changes were made in order to understand the legal powers vested in local government prior to the Revolution. The judicial procedure of the county court was not perfected until after 1746, when the county court was reorganized. The Assembly then passed a law for the better establishment of the county courts, and specified that they should be held four times a year1 by the Justices of the Peace. This same law restricted the number of justices to three, which constituted a legal judicial body. These three justices heard and decided cases where the litigation was above forty shillings and not more than twenty pounds. They also heard petty cases, assaults, batteries, trespasses, breaches of the peace, and various other misdemeanors of inferior cases, forgery and perjury always excepted.
Thus in 1746 the county court became the Inferior Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, meeting on the fourth Tuesday in January, April, July, and August. This court became the court of records and had recognizance of crimes when the punishment did not extend to the point of injuring life or limb. At this time the officers of the court were allowed a salary annually, independent of the fees of their office. Each justice also had jurisdiction when not in court over any litigated account not exceeding twenty[note]
pounds. He could, if in his judgment it seemed advisable, grant an appeal to a higher court. After 1746 the admonition to the various officers in the county was made more stringent. The justices were obligated not to show partiality in dealing with criminals, nor to be an accomplice to any quarrel in which they might be tried. They were also charged not to receive a bribe or gift, nor accept any compensation from outside parties. In order to effect the letter of the law a fine of twenty pounds was placed upon any justice who entered office without his oath being properly administered and signed. The duties of the justices also were increased. Among other services they were intrusted with the care of the poor and the supervision of parish revenues.
The constable and his duties also became more important. Like the sheriff he was compelled to take an oath that he would serve the King and cause the peace to be preserved according to his power. He was, moreover, charged to arrest all persons caught in fights, those who rode armed offensively, and any who committed riots and disorders in the county. The constable became a sort of deputy, corresponding to the deputy sheriff of today, and was supposed to have apprehended all violators of the peace in the King's name.
The departure from the old precinct system also marked another radical change in the county court. The prosecuting attorney became an official of considerable importance. Prior to 1746 very little significance was attached to a lawyer. In 1757 Edgecombe had its first prosecuting attorney, when Robert Jones presented and prosecuted, as a deputy of the Attorney General of the Province, all cases for the Crown. Mr. Jones was admonished in the office by James Cary, who charged him to prosecute in the King's name all offenders coming within the jurisdiction of the County Court. It was the custom to elect the prosecuting attorney every four years by the Justices of the Peace. This custom was consistently followed until the opening of the American Revolution.
The Inferior Court, by the act of General Assembly, 1746, secured civil powers which had been vested in the Superior Court for the district of Edgecombe. It was, however, two years later before the newly granted prerogatives were executed in spirit as well as in form. Committees and commissions were appointed
among the Inferior Courts to control and supervise internal improvements, and to promote the general civic welfare of the county. Contracts were also issued by the county commissioners, who were appointed by the County Court, for bridge building and road construction. In this manner Culpepper's Bridge was built in 1757. The contract was issued to Joseph Bridgers, he being the lowest bidder. Several similar constructions were made under this commission—Raeford's Bridge, and also a bridge over Town Creek near Wright's plantation. Among the prominent men who served on this commission was Aquilla Suggs, Sam Ruffin, and Benjamin Bunn. The sheriff of the county was made chairman of the commission for public instruction and acted as treasurer in addition to his other duties. He paid all the bills for building bridges, roads, and the erection of public buildings. In the report of the commission for the building of Culpepper Bridge the sheriff was ordered by the County Court to pay Joseph Bridgers the sum of forty-seven pounds, the amount agreed upon in the contract. The Inferior Court also exercised the right to determine disputes relating to estates and to make division of property.
This court, moreover, appointed inspectors of tobacco at the various warehouses in the county for the purpose of supervising and preventing illegal weights. In 1754 Thomas Spell was appointed inspector at Tarboro, and Solomon Williams at Scotland Neck. Later, in 1757, the court appointed George Goodwin inspector at Tar River warehouse and Barnaby Whenny, and Joseph Howell at Howell's and Kehukee warehouses, respectively. In the meantime Berry Heavill, the inspector for the warehouse at Halifax, died and Daniel Selbank was appointed inspector for that place. The sale and exportation of tobacco at this time being one of the greatest industries in the county, it was natural for the court to exercise a supervision over the various warehouses. The wareheouses, moreover, were the property of the county; consequently, demanded the superintendence of the County Courts. The Inferior Court also had civil power in addition to criminal and economic functions. Constables who, for any reasons, failed to do their duty according to the law were removed by this court. During a proceeding of court in 1757 William Turner, for some petty violation of his oath, was removed
by the court, and Robert Tucker was placed in his stead. Still another instance of this kind occurred later in 1759, when Joseph Blake, another constable, lost his local position in the court house circle and was supplanted by John Jones, who afterwards became sheriff.
During the year 1758 a very important political event occurred. Halifax County was cut off and created from Edgecombe. The citizens of both counties met for the last time in joint session of court, and in December adjourned with formal agreements of dissolution. The Halifax element was to meet the next court session, which was supposed to convene at Halifax town; while the Edgecombe citizens were to repair for the next session at Redmond's Old Field on Tyrancocoa Creek. A few domestic quarrels naturally resulted from the separation, but only one is of any considerable importance.
In February, 1758, an urgent demand was made for an increase in taxes in order to meet the growing expenses for that year. Halifax and Edgecombe, although it was understood that they were to be separated, were considered as one in matters of local government and taxation; consequently, the citizens of Halifax were subject to the increase of four shillings on all taxables which had been levied by the County Court. Halifax, however, was cut off from Edgecombe before the taxes could be collected. When the sheriff called on those members from Halifax who were liable, many refused to pay, and a controversy resulted. Moreover, various disputes arose between the sheriffs of the two counties over their respective boundaries. The sheriff of Halifax claimed that the line began from the head of Coneto Creek and ran to Fishing Creek near Michael Dorman's plantation. He claimed also that the sheriff of Edgecombe overreached his bounds and went into Halifax County to collect taxes. Both of these accusations were disputed by the sheriff of Edgecombe County, and a deadlock ensued.
In order to avert any embitterness and to reach an harmonious agreement, Edgecombe, the mother county, acting through her court, ordered a commission to be appointed composed of John Royal and Thomas Wills to meet a similar commission from Halifax to settle the dispute of taxes and to mark out the dividing line as near as might be conformable to the act of the Assembly
for dividing the Parish of Edgecombe. After some desultory conversation an agreement was reached whereby the citizens of Halifax were to pay those taxes which were in the arrears when the county was formed and the dividing line between the two counties was to be Fishing Creek.
The jury system of the County Court constitutes a very interesting phase of local government. Unlike the method of the present day, only six men were selected for the grand jury and six for the petit jury. In 1757 Thomas Hall, Wallace Jones, Richard Whitaker, John Deceece, William Jones, and Thomas Williams constituted the grand jury and James Sane, James King, John Alsbon, Nathan Barnes, Stephen Weaver, and William Wells made up the petit jury. The jurymen, acting with the three justices who constituted the judicial bench, frequently determined matters of a civil nature without the regular court trial. In 1757 the above-mentioned jurymen and John Hardy, James Speir, and Thomas Hall, the three justices of the court, met together and selected a guardian for Henry Cavenah, the orphan of Charles Cavenah. Henry was at the time of lawful age, but was considered incapable of conducting the management of his estate. He came into court and chose Nathan Cavenah, his brother, as his guardian, and appealed to the jurymen and justices to approve of his appointment. Nathan was accordingly selected and placed under a two hundred pound bond by the court.
The officials of the court also exercised the function of qualifying and administering the oath to militia officers. William Barnes, who was the first officer of the militia in Edgecombe County, was qualified at the court in 1757. His rank was not specified, but from the enumeration of his duties it is to be supposed his rank was that of a captain. Dreery Harrington was in like manner sworn and appointed as a military officer at the session of the County Court in 1758.
This court also established rates for produce and merchandise. In 1759 the price for West Indian rum was fixed at ten shillings per gallon; county brandy, eight shillings per gallon; punch, gin, whiskey with sugar, sugar per quart, and lime juice sold for a fixed price of four shillings. Hot dinners with wheat bread, small beer and cider could be secured at a stipulated price of one shilling. A supper or breakfast, hot, could not be sold for over
one shilling. Lodging for a night with one occupant in a bed cost the lodger by the regulation of the court only one shilling and when there were two occupants in a single bed the price was twenty pence. County cider usually sold for six pence per quart. English beer one shilling per bottle, and various other beverages had their prices for sale regulated by the county courts.
The Inferior Court furthermore made provision for religious worship. The first reference concerning religious matters was made in the form of a petition in 1759 by John Thomas and others of the profession of Ana-Baptist. It seems that a Society of Baptists had constructed a meeting house, and a division in the society had occasioned a dispute over the legal owners; consequently, John Thomas, the leader of the Ana-Baptist element petitioned for a claim to the meeting house which had been constructed under his supervision. The church had been built on Mr. S. Thomas’ land, near Jonathon Thomas’, according to a grant issued by the Parliament of Great Britain. Mr. Thomas was one of the active leaders of the dissenting element and had forcefully closed the doors of the church to the services of the Baptist Society. There is no record of the court's disposition in the matter, and so far as known it was never decided or its legal owners identified. It is very probable since it is known that there was a very strong sentiment by the Established Church against the dissenting element, and that the various members who made up the local judicial body were inclined toward the Established Church, that no action was ever taken in order that the Baptist Society might not retain its meeting house.
In addition to the County Court there was the court of magistrates or a court of single justice which was provided for in the royal period by an act of 1741. This court had jurisdiction in civil cases which did not extend to cases involving more than forty shillings. The magistrate in the court of one justice was also given a power to exercise other magisterial rights; among these was that of inquiring of the “goodmen of the precinct by whom the truth may be known to detecting trespasses and sorceries.” The magistrates were appointed by the Governor with the approbation of his Council, and were allowed a fee for all cases coming under their judgment. The executive officer of the court was the constable, who was appointed by the Precinct Court,
and enjoyed powers similar to those of the constable in the English court of one justice. The constable, moreover, made a list of the taxables for the use of the vestry until a regular vestry was formed in the county. He acted also in conjunction with the sheriff of the county and summoned men for the coroner's jury. The magistrate's court, like the County Court, had a sheriff and clerk appointed by the Governor of the Province, whose duties corresponded with the similar offices of the County Court.
There was also another local tribunal, the slave court. Its chief functions were to give a speedy trial to slaves in order to save extra cost to their masters. It was not unusual for the slave owners to be subject to considerable loss on account of his slave being confined in prison awaiting the session of court to meet. The slave court was composed of three Justices of the Peace and three freeholders, who must be owners of slaves. The court usually convened at some convenient place designated by the senior justice, where the trial of the slave was conducted according to the regulation of the Precinct Court. There was one difference, however, between the Precinct Court and the slave court, the latter having no jury and the court determining the facts in the case as well as administering the law. In the slave court the slave could produce evidence in his behalf, and could avail himself of any assistance offered by his owner. The court, after hearing the case, if guilt was established, passed a sentence according to the discretion of its members, imposing either corporal or temporal punishment, or both.
It was the duty of the court also to determine the price and age of slaves when such was in dispute. Frequently when a slave was accidently shot and premeditatedly murdered, the court fixed the price which was to be paid by the one committing the deed. A good example of this function of the slave court occurred in 1765. A slave of William Mace had run away from his owner and was hiding on Fishing Creek. Word of this was carried to Mr. Mace, and he deputized his overseer to go in search and to recapture the runaway negro. In accomplishing this the overseer killed the negro, and it became necessary for the slave court to ascertain the value of the dead slave in order that the overseer might pay the damage done.
One of the chief functions of the slave court was to determine the relations of the slave to his master, especially in regard to the slave's freedom. Slaves were frequently emancipated for meritorious service for the State and their master. In case a slave was granted his freedom it became necessary to get a permit from the slave court signifying that emancipation of the slave was given at the consent of the proper authorities. There is one notable case in Edgecombe County where a slave was granted his liberty for patriotic service. During the American Revolution a negro, Ned Griffin, belonging to Walter Kitchin, of Edgecombe, was promised his liberty on condition that he serve as a soldier in the Continental Army of the Province of North Carolina for twelve months. The slave accepted the condition of his freedom and began to serve in 1782. In 1784 the court issued a permit liberating Ned according to the terms agreed upon.
One of the first local administrative organizations in Edgecombe County, and also one which appears to have been most frequently overlooked and misunderstood by students of the colonial government, was the Parish Court. This court was purely temporary in the county, and was intended to serve the parish and vestry in promoting religious activities. In the meantime, however, through the absence of the court of one justice the Parish Court was given considerable civil authority and became a prominent factor in local affairs until the County Court was reorganized in 1746.
The parish was not created in the precinct until it was fairly well settled, and then it was without uniformity and never well established. There were no local divisions such as the plantation, township, and districts at this time; consequently, there was no central place of operation for the Parish Court. Efforts were made and were partially successful to form a permanent administrative body, the sole civic functions of which were to care for the sick, poor, and to assess local tax rates. A church warden was appointed in 1735 to raise money by poll tax not exceeding five shillings in currency on each tithable for these purposes. It is very noticeable, however, that Edgecombe County had very few paupers at this time; the rich and fertile soils afforded ample means of securing not only a livelihood, but of accumulating wealth. The greatest incumbrance upon the people was the expenses
of the clergymen, and that being insignificant until 1744 the actual services of the parish were limited and of little consequence.
It is true, however, that the Parish Court supervised the care of the highways until the establishment of the County Court, at which time this function was entrusted with officers appointed by that court. In the early existence of the Parish Court the church warden provided weights and measures for the use of the precinct, together with one “fair and large book of common prayer.” The vestry also performed certain insignificant functions which were later transferred to the jurisdiction of the county government.
The most important phase of the Parish Court was the part that it played in connection with the political activities of the people. It has been clearly demonstrated that where religious power and political policy clash there is much strife. This obvious fact has been confirmed by the parish in Edgecombe County from 1741 until the close of the American Revolution. In the county there were two factions—the Governor of the Province and his followers, who supported the civil courts, and the minister of the Established Church and his sympathizers, supporting the parish. Each faction was struggling for supremacy and each sought to obtain control by both legitimate and illegitimate means. This condition presented an opportunity for much corruption, from which Edgecombe was not entirely exempt. The struggle finally was one of preponderance.
In order to understand why the parish undertook to reform the politics in the county it is necessary to call attention to appointive power of the Governor of the Province of North Carolina. In the first place the county officers, the sheriff, constable, and jurymen, were largely appointed by the Governor. Those not directly appointed by him were selected by officials who had been placed in office by the executive himself; consequently, the Governor in reality was the central figure and dominated the civil and political activities of the people. The results of this was a court house ring which became self-perpetuating. There was no redress for wrong; no appeal for grievances. Popular discontent never became effective and a resort to higher authorities was almost useless. With this state of affairs one can forecast what the results would be when the Parish Court, under the leadership of some
active clergymen, sought to interfere and improve the administration. It was also obviously impossible during the early controversies between the religious and political factions for the local court not to become involved.
The personal interests of the Governor and the parish's attitude in county politics were made plain in a letter by Rev. Mr. Moir to the Secretary at London in 1765. Mr. Moir made bitter reflections upon the Governor and his actions in regard to the court system in the county. It is very difficult to ignore the personal feelings which are involved in the report. Both Mr. Moir and Governor Dobbs were more bent on securing personal revenge than in effecting a harmonious adjustment of local affairs. In order, therefore, that his side might be placed in the best possible light, Mr. Moir and other churchmen wrote to the Secretary of London that Governor Dobbs’ action in adjusting the political situation in the county was very arbitrary and intolerable. He claimed also that Dobbs had treated the Earl of Granville's agent, Francis Corbin, very unconscientiously, and that Francis Corbin had acted very creditably in collecting the various rents entrusted with him.
As a means of retaliation Governor Dobbs sought means, legally and illegally, to keep Mr. Moir, because of his interference in political affairs, out of Edgecombe County. When Governor Dobbs realized it was impossible to accomplish his design through moral force, he resorted to political strategy. In the meantime Dobbs sought to persuade the vestry in Edgecombe to refuse to employ Mr. Moir. In this he was unsuccessful. The Governor then exercised his political power and caused the parish in Edgecombe to be divided in a very unfair manner. In doing this the officers appointed by Dobbs acted unjustly by throwing the expenses of the two preceding years upon the parish they expected Mr. Moir would superintend. In order to keep the appearance of their design from looking too partial, the officers gave the moneys for the parish taxes to Edgecombe, although the taxes at that time had not been collected by reason of the stringent opposition of the county courts, acting in conjunction with Dobbs who had showed preference to the newly appointed parish.
The operation of the political machine in the county was further demonstrated in another maneuver of Dobbs and his followers. Following the settlement of Mr. Moir in Edgecombe
parish instead of Halifax parish, as Governor Dobbs intended, Dobbs caused the county to be divided in like manner as that of the parish. This was done in order to give Dobbs the opportunity of appointing a new sheriff in Edgecombe who could manage the election of the vestries. The result of this is obvious. The sheriff, acting as a tool of the Governor, decided the election against Mr. Moir, and attempted to displace him from the superintendence of Edgecombe parish.
Mr. Moir, however, defeated the Governor upon his own ground, and brought up a point of law which the Governor had entirely ignored. There had been, as a result to the long and continuous opposition to the parish, no vestry in the county for several years; consequently, there had been no church warden. This being the case, it was impossible, according to the law, for the sheriff to take parish money except from church wardens and to supervise the parish affairs. Thus it is seen that the Governor was defeated and the parish gained considerable prestige which had been temporarily lost during the controversy.
In August, 1761, following the church and court episode, Mr. Moir writes that the county is in a great confusion. Whether he has reference to the moral or political conditions, it can only be inferred from a suggestion that he makes in his letter. It is very likely that both the moral and political affairs were in a deplorable condition, for he intimates that many citizens who had labored for a regular minister and support from the courts had despaired of success. The inexplicable state of affairs in Edgecombe was observable by many, and it is evident that the misunderstanding between Dobbs and the leading men still subsisted. The General Assembly of the Province was then in session, and many hoped that something would be done for the more effective administration of justice. Although many accusations by Mr. Moir and his sympathizers were exaggerated, they were not wholly unfounded. The officers on the civil list in Edgecombe County showed very little regard for common honesty and many protests were made against them—so much so, that Mr. Moir was on the verge of leaving, but remained because of the solicitations of neighboring vestries.
It must have been evident that all the appointees for political and judicial positions in Edgecombe were not good. Current
letters in 1760 to the Secretary at London stated numerous objections to the bad appointments of the Governor, and how they were making positions corrupt. Some of these protests came back to the General Assembly of the Province, and Governor Dobbs was sharply censured for appointing bad officials in the county. Governor Dobbs, however, did not heed the rebukes that he received, and repeated the offense by putting in the commission of the peace objectionable characters and other ring leaders of the mob who had supported him in his previous contentions. Many citizens reported their intentions of leaving the county by reason of the unsatisfactory situation and the condition of the courts.
The corrupt officials in Edgecombe was no infrequent thing prior to this time. As early as 1739 Colonel Whitehead and others had been removed from the position of Justice of the Peace by reason of unpardonable negligence and corrupt methods in the execution of the duties of their office.
The church and the courts in the county were very closely related in 1763; therefore, those policies of affecting one frequently affected the other. Matters of religion were usually referred to the court, and the attitude of the courts determined largely the conduct and effectiveness of the church. Especially was this true in regard to the revenue, which was supposed to support the church and its activities. In the days when there was no separation of church and State one may expect difficulties and conflicting issues to arise. Such was the case in Edgecombe County. As usual the minister was the central figure on one side and the political leaders on the other. With all due respects to Mr. Moir in this late day, he was enthusiastic for the revenue belonging to the church. This led him into many unpleasant controversies affecting the local judicial powers. He became involved in a long conflict with two of the Chief Justices in North Carolina, and informed them in person how grossly they acted in the suits instituted for the recovery of Edgecombe parish taxes from sheriffs who had squandered them upon personal needs.
Mr. Moir, moreover, laid spiritual hands upon the political activities of the people, and with scorching words denounced the corruption of the civil officers. The moral intent of Mr. Moir was good, but not permissible in the estimation of the political officials. The stern churchman did himself a permanent injury
when he denounced the leader of a mob who effected the release of Francis Corbin, to the delight of Governor Dobbs. Dobbs had previously made the captain a commissioner of the peace in Edgecombe. Mr. Moir should have recognized this and should have treated the officer with respect due his station. Mr. Moir, however, refused to acknowledge the captain's commission because of his corrupt nature. In 1763 the captain was a candidate for election to the House of Burgesses in Edgecombe, and Mr. Moir conducted the campaign opposing his election. The candidate had the support of the Governor's faction, and, as Mr. Moir put it, “even the Old Huzzah himself was on his side.” In Mr. Moir's extensive lecturing tour against the candidate he pointed out the corruptness and immorality of the candidate, and, in his own words, “painted the scoundrel in his own colors.” The result was the leader's election never came off. This broadened the breach between the minister and his followers, and the political leaders and their supporters.
As the controversy grew more bitter, Mr. Moir was warned to cease inspecting vestry accounts; since there were no church wardens the vestry revenues had been collected by the sheriff in violation of the law of the province. Naturally Mr. Moir, having the right of the law, disregarded the warning with righteous indignation. The courts were appealed to for a settlement of the controversy; consequently, they became involved in religious matters. The courts having no precedent in this case reached a decision in favor of the church. Shortly after this trouble a permanent vestry was formed in the county, and the religious difficulties were temporarily at an end.
In addition to the local courts there was a general or appellate court,1 which exercised a general supervision over the courts of Edgecombe, Halifax, and Granville Counties. For more than five years after Edgecombe was declared a precinct, and until the Precinct Court was in operation, the judicial functions of government, and especially the legislative and executive, were exercised by this court through the Chief Justice of the Province. With a few exceptions from 1732 to 1775 Edgecombe was under a provincial Governor. The Crown appointed the Governor, and the Governor selected his own officers to rule over the people. To[note]
a large extent, therefore, the officials of the general court were appointed by the Governor and conducted judicial affairs according to his judgment and order. This court enacted all laws for the construction of roads and internal improvements in the county before the Precinct Court was well organized. In order to do this commissioners were appointed to carry out the will of the court. In 1745 a commission for Edgecombe was appointed, composed of Seth Pilkinton, George Moy, Sr., William Mace, John Burney, and James Barrow to construct a highway and lay off roads through the upper part of the county. Civil officers, moreover, of various kinds were appointed by the Governor, with the consent of his Council. When it became necessary for rangers to be appointed in 1766 to appraise and ascertain stray horses in the county, it was the Governor who was vested with power to select men for this purpose. From June 7 to August 7, 1775, Governor Dobbs granted forty-five civil commissions for Edgecombe County alone.
Frequently in exercising the executive power, the Governor made known his wishes to the General Court, which carried out his bidding. The General Court became the Superior Court in 1762. The change took place when the Governor appointed justices to hold a circuit or district court for the counties cut off from Albemarle. After the change from the General to the Superior Court considerable power was given to the local courts in the county. The Superior Court, however, retained the higher authority and overruled cases from the local courts.
The Superior Court also retained certain specified powers over civil matters in the district. It was similar on the one hand to the courts of the King's Bench, Common Pleas, and on the other to the courts of the Oyer Terminer and General Gaol Delivery. The Superior Court's jurisdiction was very extensive, and only very important cases, involving considerable money and punishment, could be appealed from this court to the Governor and Council. The jurisdiction by way of appeal was limited to cases of appeal from Inferior Courts, and in those cases only where sums of money of certain amount were involved.
A very interesting case came under the jurisdiction of the Superior Court in 1767. The court exercised the power of issuing a writ of scire facias to collect money in another colony.
Joseph Howell, of Edgecombe County, had been sued by James Dunlap Merrith, of Virginia. Mr. Howell lost the suit and Merrith had judgment for 2,817 pounds, the amount sued for. Shortly afterwards an error was discovered in the decision, and the case was reopened, and it was found that Merrith was not entitled to damages. In order to recover the money paid by Mr. Howell the Superior Court issued a writ of scire facias to James Moore, sheriff of Edgecombe, to sell the goods, chattels, lands, tenements, to the amount adjudged for damages, which Mr. Merrith had recovered in the suit against Mr. Howell.
Financial matters affecting the rights of the Crown or any of the royal subjects in England were determined by the Superior Court. The question of collecting and adjusting quit rents in Edgecombe was continually before this court for settlement. The quit rents being the chief source of revenue, it was natural for England, and especially Lord Granville, who owned this part of the province of North Carolina, to be anxious to have the management of their monies in the hands of a more direct agent of the Crown.
The presiding officer of the Superior Court held the title of Chief Justice,1 and, with his associates, sat upon the bench and rendered decisions. This court also had a provost marshal. It was his duty to execute the orders of the court and to summon jurymen from every precinct in the district. Means of reaching various individuals who were intended to serve on the jury were very crude, and the provost marshal had much trouble in summoning the jurymen selected.
The Superior Court, being a court of record, it was supplied with another officer, designated as clerk, appointed by the Chief Justice, and who acted as a scribner for the court. His duties were fully specified and very confining. The law required him to reside and keep his office in the county in which the court was held. He also acted in the capacity of register of deeds and kept probated wills, records of all court proceedings, deeds of trust, and all other papers relative to the clerk's and register of deeds’ offices.[note]
The question of raising and disbursing funds in the colonial period was one of the most important of that day, inasmuch as corruption and inefficiency were constantly arising in matters of colonial finances. In order, therefore, to meet one of the greatest demands, a treasurer was appointed in 1745 for the district of Edgecombe. It was his duty to collect all monies due the Crown from the county sheriff. The treasurer was also required to travel a circuit in this district and hear complaints arising from financial difficulties at the Court of Assizes in Edgecombe and Edenton in October of each year. The position at this time was a very responsible one—the treasurer frequently had large sums of money in his possession. The risk was very great because the county was not thickly settled at this time, and there were no banks for the safe keeping of funds. The treasurer, therefore, was required to give a bond of 2,000 pounds for the faithful discharge of the official position. He received as compensation for his services a commission of five per cent on all monies passing through his hands.
The method of selecting and qualifying jurymen is very interesting. A list of jurymen was made up by the Assembly of North Carolina for Edgecombe Precinct, and their names were put in a box to be drawn out at the end of each session of court by a child for the next session. A just decision of suits and controversies in the courts in the precinct depended on the integrity of the jurymen. It was declared, therefore, by the Governor and Assembly that no person could serve on the jury in either the Superior Court or the Court of Grand Sessions who was not selected, summoned, and properly qualified—that is to say, the justices of the Inferior Court within the precinct were directed before the Superior Court met to nominate twenty-four freeholders to serve as grand jurymen, and twenty-four to serve on the petit jury at the session of the Superior Court. The Inferior Court could not nominate any person to serve as juror at two consecutive courts, nor anyone who had an action or suit to be tried in the Superior Court at the term for which he was nominated. The number of freeholders who could be nominated to serve as jurors from Edgecombe County was eight. In 1733 the first jurymen served from Edgecombe County. Any juryman who failed to appear when summoned was fined three pounds proclamation money unless he could give sufficient cause at the
next court for his non-appearance. In case the fine was imposed upon a juryman the money was paid to those who attended from the precinct in order to lessen the precinct tax. The sheriff of the county was held responsible for all fines imposed upon those failing to serve from the county.
All grand jurors in the county were required to own or manage five hundred acres of land, while all petit jurors had to own or control two hundred acres. One of the instructions issued to Governor Burrington when he assumed control of the Province of North Carolina was to restrict the voting of freemen unless they were freeholders. In 1734 this instruction was re-inforced by Governor Johnston, who refused to admit freemen who were not freeholders to cast their vote for members of the Assembly unless they had been inhabitants of the precinct at least six months and possessed a freehold of at least fifty acres of land. Even under these circumstances the one voting must have had the land in his possession at least three months before he would be allowed to vote.
One of the essential needs for the administration of justice is a court house. prior to 1742 Edgecombe County did not have a permanent place for holding courts, the justices meeting from time to time on different plantations convenient for those attending the court session. In 1741 the General Assembly of the Province passed a law permitting the Justices of the Peace of the county to lay a tax not exceeding one shilling per poll for two years on every taxable in order to build a court house, prison, and stocks for the county. Accordingly, the sheriff began the collection of the taxes for this purpose and turned same over to the Justices of the Peace, who superintended the construction of the public building. The first court house was built at Enfield, primarily for the exclusive use of the Superior Court. At the completion, however, a petition was made by the local county courts1 that they might also hold their sessions at the court house in Enfield.
At this time the area of the precinct of Edgecombe was very extensive; for this reason it was to the advantage of the people generally that the Superior Court and the public buildings be[note]
erected and remain at the most convenient place. Beyond the frontier of what is now Granville County the land was very sparsely settled; consequently, there was no very urgent need for a place for holding court. On the other hand, Edgecombe County was fast being settled and a small urban population was growing in various sections of this district. The Assembly, realizing the necessity for a court house in a central and thickly populated district, wisely selected Edgecombe as one of the three most convenient locations.
Enfield, being the most central place in the district, the court house and prison were accordingly constructed at this place. Enfield was made the county seat of Edgecombe, and all the courts of the county were accordingly held here. This, however, was only temporary, for in 1758 Halifax County was formed and was selected as a more convenient location for the holding of Superior Court; consequently, the citizens of Northampton, Granville, and those in northern Edgecombe petitioned the Assembly to move the Superior Court and jail for this district from Enfield to Halifax.1 Complaints, moreover, were made that Enfield afforded no conveniences for the people attending court at that place. Accommodation and conveyance also were not obtainable at Enfield. The Assembly of the province acted favorably and the court house and prison were accordingly moved to Halifax Town in Halifax County. Trustees were appointed to remove all the records and existing property and to erect the necessary buildings. An appropriation of 134 pounds, 9 shillings, and 4 pence was made and paid over to the trustees to complete the construction of the public buildings. An additional tax was also levied on all taxable persons in the three counties in order to help finance the construction of the buildings.
Edgecombe County made an involuntary surrender of her judicial power in 1758 when Halifax County was formed. Enfield being located in Halifax, consequently it would be impracticable to continue to hold her sessions of court at that place. At this time there was also a commercial rivalry existing between the two counties, and Tarboro was growing as a commercial competitor with Halifax Town. It became necessary, therefore, to find some suitable and convenient place in Edgecombe County to hold court.[note]
It was probably in 1758 or the year after when the court house for Edgecombe County was permanently moved from Enfield to Redmond's Old Field on Tyrancoca, now known as Cokey Swamp. The building was presumably of logs, chinked here and there with mud and making a very crude structure. It could not have been a very permanent building, for there was no special appropriation made to construct a court house at this place. In fact, there are grave uncertainties that the court house was ever completed. It is known, however, and there is conclusive evidence that the session of court for 1760 was held in the vicinity of Tyrancoca Creek. The report of the grand jury was returned from Redmond's Old Field during this year. The foreman was James Barnes, and among others who served at the first session of this court were John Calhoon, James Braswell, Richard Lewis,1 and James Hogans. Fortunately, also, there is a record of the court proceedings held at Redmond's Old Field that year. Among the civil cases disposed of was that of a land deal which involved some of Edgecombe's most prominent citizens at that time. The property of John P. Dew was divided by the County Court according to his will. Acting on the special committee, appointed by John Haywood,2 Aquilla Suggs, and Thomas Hall, Justices of the Peace, to divide the estate among the heirs of John Dew according to law, were James Smith, Drew Smith, and James Hogans. The records indicate also that at this time Elisha Battle, a citizen who afterwards became very prominent in politics and church affairs, repaired to Redmond's Old Field to take an oath as a Justice of the Peace. It is supposed that Mr. Battle presided over the few remaining sessions of court at this place.
It may be inferred from that fact that the court house at Redmond's Old Field was not substantially built, and that the people in the county contemplated another site from the beginning. It is very difficult to reach any definite conclusion as to where the sessions of court were held between 1760 and 1764. There are no reports of any court session during these four years. In the mean-time a petition was sent to the General Assembly by the inhabitants of the county that they might be permitted to move the[note][note]
court house from Redmond's Old Field to Tarboro. The reason given for the removal was that the former place was too inconvenient for the people, and that it was impracticable to build a jail near the old court house that would confine criminals. Those committing misdemeanors were frequently let out of prison by assistance from outside parties, and on one occasion the prison was set on fire and destroyed by some disorderly people in that vicinity. At this time the neighborhood of Tyrancoca Swamp was very thinly settled and no protection was offered for the county property. The petition also stated that a court house and prison should not be built at Tyrancoca Swamp, as had been previously planned, for the reason given by the inhabitants. From the indication of the petition one might infer that no court house had been erected at Redmond's Old Field.
The Justices of the peace in the meantime were called upon by the Assembly to substantiate the reasons offered by the people why the court house should go to Tarboro. They accordingly recommended this town as a proper location. In order to impress the Assembly more favorably, another petition was presented to that body by Mr. Palmer in April, 1762. The former reasons were repeated, namely, that Redmond's Old Field was too obscure a place for the court house and prison, and that the people suffered much inconvenience through the lack of accommodation at that place. The bill presented by Mr. Palmer was not acted upon during this session of the General Assembly. In the next election for representatives to the General Assembly he was not returned, and it fell to Mr. Ruffin's lot to agitate the matter and bring it to a conclusion.
Early in 1764 arrangements were made for the construction of the public buildings. The court house could not have been very large, for it was completed in six months, after several interruptions, by William Dunn. The price paid for the work was eight pounds, which also indicates the smallness of the building. Aquilla Suggs, William Haywood, Joseph Howell, Sherwood Haywood, and James Hall were appointed by the Governor and Assembly to supervise the work.1 There had been no tax prior to this time laid on the inhabitants to build the court house and[note]
prison for the county. The clerk of the County Court was accordingly ordered to certify the unanimous consent of the court for an act providing for a court house and jail by taxation. According to the wishes of the county officials two shillings were levied on all taxables in the county to be collected by the sheriff for two consecutive years in order to pay the expenses in building the court house and prison. The surplus money was turned over to the county officials to be applied to the contingent charges of the county and to aid the county tax.
During the process of construction of the court house the sessions of court were held in a dwelling in Tarboro. This fact indicates that the old court house at Redmond's Old Field, if one was constructed there in 1758, had been torn down or abandoned because of the inconvenience in holding court in that place. It is reasonable to believe that if one existed at this time at Redmond's Old Field the sessions of court would have been held there during the time the court house in Tarboro was being completed.
The method of conducting the prison and court house in the colonial period presents a very interesting condition. Whether or not the people ruled with a more humane hand then than now many are prone to doubt. It can be said, however, that the prison was kept with much more leniency extended to the prisoner in the colonial times than now. A special provision was made in the plans for Edgecombe's prison for a parcel of land, six acres, to be annexed to the prison for exclusive use of the prisoners. Those who were confined in the prison after 1741 had the privilege of walking out in the open when endangered on account of bad health, provided, however, that those in prison were not charged with treason or felony.
In addition to the local court system and the right of Superior Court trial, the county had also the right of a representation in the General Assembly of North Carolina. Edgecombe, because of her location, was subject to an unhappy and embarrassing situation because of a long dispute over legal representation prior to 1741. When the counties of Bath and Albemarle were erected it was agreed that the precincts of the former should send two members each to the Legislature, while those of the latter were allowed five. The discrimination was due to the differences in population, Bath County being very sparsely settled and Albemarle containing
a majority of the inhabitants. In the course of time, however, there grew to be an unequal representation of the various precincts in the two counties which had reached a climax when Edgecombe was formed in 1732. It followed, therefore, that when Governor Burrington issued a decree for an election for representatives from Edgecombe Precinct, and when Edgecombe elected five members according to the previous agreement of the Assembly that the large and populous counties should enter a vigorous protest. Especially was the question of representation further complicated when Governor Dobbs constituted Halifax County and permitted four representatives to be elected from that district. Dobbs claimed he was trying to bring the southern and northern districts up to equal representation. Lord Granville, being interested in Edgecombe, it being his property at the time, objected strenuously to this action of Governor Dobbs, and claimed that to allow four members from the small county of Halifax and only two from the large county of Edgecombe was unjust.
The agitation became very acute in 1734, when William Whitehead, James Speir, Bar Macquinny, David Hopper, and James Millikin appeared in the Assembly as representatives from Edgecombe. Their entries entitled them to a seat in the Assembly, which although objectionable to the precinct of Bath County brought forth no immediate protest. Before the time for the next election for the ensuing session of the Assembly a law was passed forming a more equal representation and pleasantly avoided a serious controversy.
In the meantime another incident caused Edgecombe County considerable difficulty in securing seats in the Assembly for two representatives provided for by the new law. In 1733, one year after the precinct was formed, Edgecombe sent only two legislators, Captain Will Whitehead and Dr. David Hopper, because of the unsettled political condition. Contrary to the expectations of the precinct and to the humiliation of the representatives, they were refused a seat in the Assembly. Their rejection was the result of the controversy then being waged in the Assembly over the legality of a Governor erecting new precincts.1[note]
The following year, however, Captain Whitehead and Dr. Hopper were re-elected and returned to the General Assembly. The controversy being less acute than in the preceding year, the representatives were permitted to take their seats. The unsettled conditions were evident, however, because Edgecombe's representatives were not allowed to take part or vote in the legislative session. The regular number of representatives, except in 17341 and 1739,2 were sent to the Assembly until 1740. During 1740 the situation was very offensive and Edgecombe County intentionally neglected to elect any members for the General Assembly. This served as a good pretext for those who had objected to Edgecombe's having a representation to exclude the county from having a voice in colonial legislation. George Roberts, a representative from Craven County, originally a precinct in Bath County, came out in open opposition and declared Edgecombe's members ought not to be returned. He accordingly introduced a resolution in the Assembly declaring the members from Edgecombe County sat in the house contrary to the privileges of legislation, and moved that they should not be allowed to exercise the function of legislators until a law was passed constituting Edgecombe a legal county. The timely intervention, however, of several influential members avoided the embarrassment and a probable revolution of the Edgecombe citizens.
It is very difficult to understand why Edgecombe should be granted local self-government through their courts and be given power to tax its citizens for specific purposes and then not be permitted to form a part of the provincial government. This much is certain, however, that the county was being used by political factions as a means to further their political ambitions. This fact is demonstrated by the dependency Edgecombe was involuntarily compelled to assume upon Bertie County.3 Prior to 1740 Bertie and Edgecombe were designated jointly in matters pertaining to the Supreme Court. Jurymen from Edgecombe were listed with those from Bertie, while taxes prior to 1737 were collected with those of this county.
The results of political parleying placed Edgecombe not only in an awkward and unjust position, but hampered the progress[note][note][note]
and development of the county. It was, therefore, a matter of expediency to reach some method of adjusting effectively for Edgecombe the question of representation. To this end in 1743 the county elected John Pope, an influential citizen, as a representative to appear before the Assembly and place before the session an actual account of the state of affairs. He was, however, prevented from accomplishing his original purpose by being permitted to accept a seat in the Assembly.
In the meantime the question of representation was permanently settled when the Crown left the issue with Governor Johnston, who declared in favor of Edgecombe in 1744. Edgecombe accordingly took her place the following year with the other counties in shaping legislation for the Province. Her first appearance under this condition was made when John Alston and John Pope were placed upon important committees to regulate grievances imposed from a lack of military officers to prevent general muster. Two years later, 1746, John Haywood and Joseph Howell, two of the most influential men in the county were appointed to serve on a committee by the Assembly to examine public claims and accounts. Meanwhile Mr. Haywood also acted as chairman of the committee which drew up a bill regulating the practice of the court of justice and another to facilitate navigation in the Province. For several years Mr. Haywood remained on the public claims committee, and acted with credibility. During this time Edgecombe regained much of her lost prestige and became one of the leading political centers of the Province.
The members of the Assembly in Edgecombe were elected by the freemen of the county. As a qualification for a representative a candidate had to be a freeman and possess, in his own right, 100 acres of freehold and be a resident of the precinct for one year. The sheriff1 issued a writ in obedience to the summons from the Governor for the freeholders of the county to meet at the court house and vote for the candidates. The voting was done openly and orally.2 The candidates sat on the magistrates’ bench in open court, the sheriff down below to oversee the voting to ascertain how every man voted. The candidates were permitted to acknowledge[note][note]
the vote of his constituents by a nod, and sometimes words of thanks were spoken to those voting for him. After the election the voters usually met at some ordinary where a feast was held for all at the expense of the successful candidates.
Representative government in many respects corresponded to the old English system. One of the similarities was that of borough representation. Edgecombe's part in borough representation, however, was negative rather than positive. In 1765 Governor Martin visited the town of Tarboro 1 for political reasons. He was given a very cordial and pleasant reception and for this reason was probably influenced to give the town the right of a borough member through the issuing of a charter. The sheriff of the county, at the command of Governor Martin, held an election in 1755, and Henry Irwin was elected. Naturally when Mr. Irwin appeared at the General Assembly to take his seat, various objections were made. There were two material objections that the Assembly offered why Mr. Irwin should not be allowed a seat in the General Assembly. In the first place there was considerable danger that the Governor would be given additional power by being allowed to create boroughs at his will. It is obvious that the Governor by granting new members would be raising up for himself future power over colonial legislation. Members elected by the creation of new boroughs by the Governor would necessarily feel under obligations to him and favor the Governor's plans in the coercion of legislative measures over the Assembly.
The General Assembly observed this and watched with zealous care the increase of GovernorMartin's encroachments. The matter was referred to the committee on the privilege of election, where the legality of the case was debated. Many would have been inclined to favor Edgecombe had not the personal matter of curtailing the power of the Governor been under consideration. The point of law, however, entered into the Assembly's investigation and constituted the means whereby Edgecombe's borough representative was ultimately rejected. The law required that town representation should come through a charter which stipulated that each town so represented should have sixty resident families. Tarboro, not having the required number of families, was consequently not in a position to agitate the matter.[note]
In the meantime, however, GovernorMartin was placed in a bad light by the several accusations brought against him by the Assembly. He sought to justify his action by saying Mr. McCulloh, a member of the Council, had presented a petition from the citizens of Edgecombe requesting that Tarboro be permitted a representative according to the Bath town act of 1715. This being the fact in the case, Governor Martin wrote a letter to the Earl of Dartsmouth in 1774, declaring the law was violated, and called upon the Crown to support him in his action. Governor Martin also claimed that he had consulted Chief Justice Howard and Mr. Strudwick, a councilor, who had sufficient power to grant a charter under the existing law, and that they had declared his action legal.
The truth of the matter is not definitely known, since the authority for the case came from the report of Governor Martin. No records were entered upon the minutes of the General Assembly. Be that as it may, the controversy was quelled when Governor Martin heard from the Earl of Dartsmouth, who informed him that the election law of 1715 evidently disqualified any town to send a representative that did not have the number of freeholders specified. He advised Martin not to enter into a controversy with the Assembly over the rejection of the representative from Tarboro allowed through the charter he had granted.
CHAPTER III Revolution
If the object of history is to describe the movements of people, the most obvious question that arises will naturally be: What force moves the people? In describing a war or a revolution the first thing to seek for is the cause of the event—the force which causes the conflagration—not in the power of any one individual, but in the reciprocal influence on each other of many individuals who took part in the controversy.
The greatest activity of the Americans during the Revolution was directed from localities and the various sections of the various colonies. In the study, therefore, of the causes and part played by individuals, one must begin in the localities where action was displayed. In almost every State, and in the county in each State, while they had many things in common, were actuated by different motives in taking a stand in the struggle of 1775. Nor did all the motives appear spontaneously during the same period.
While the actual cause of the Revolution grew out of conditions and measures affecting more directly the New colonies, there were also some important forces in operation in other colonies which actuated them in taking a very prominent part in the rebellion. These causes in Edgecombe County began, it might be said, from the time Edgecombe Precinct was erected.1 This precinct along with all the others was considered a source of revenue to the Proprietors and of the English Crown. Those who occupied the land had to pay so much quit rent 2 —for the use and cultivation of the territory occupied.
Like a great many of the other policies of England during this period there was no regularity or consistency in the execution of the law, and the people were unmolested in their taking up land and cultivating it. The earliest overseer of the quit rents was a Mr. Rutherford, who had married the late Governor's widow. He was somewhat indolent and extravagant in his personal habits and permitted the people to manage affairs to suit themselves. Complaints were directed against him on account of his inactivity.[note][note]
Quit rents became greatly in arrears with no one to supervise a regular collection for the Lords Proprietors. The arrears from 1732 to 1735 had heavily accumulated. In 1735 over 400,000 acres of land were held by only 67 men who were not owners of the land in fee simple. Of the 67 tenants the entire amount of quit rent paid for the privilege of using the land for two and one-half to five years was only a few hundred pence. When one considers the amount that should have been collected according to law, it is calculated a deficit of several hundred pounds. Finally, Mr. Rutherford lost his position, but not until matters had drifted into a deplorable state of affairs.
The result from failure to collect the quit rents, especially in Edgecombe, which at this time was one of the most thickly settled sections of the Province, was that government officials—judges, councilmen, and Governor—were behind in their salaries.1 George Nicholas,2 one of the resident judges in the district of Edgecombe wrote Governor Dobbs in 1755 that his salary of 20 pounds was always in arrears, and the same could not be paid until the quit rents were collected. He also complained that the circuit of Edgecombe compelled him to ride two hundred miles twice a year before he could secure his salary, which was payable out of the quit rent money.
Naturally, when the Governor's salary depended on the collection of rents, the officials sought to execute the measures which would guarantee them their pay. The controversy began with Governor Burrington, but reached no permanent head because of his limited stay in the Province. Governor Johnston, his successor, began the rent quarrel immediately after his arrival. New measures were enacted, the number of places for collecting the rents were diminished, the inhabitants were treated as tenants of the Crown, and revenues were to be paid in specie instead of in kind as was the former method.
In the meantime many of the inhabitants had purchased and owned lands in fee simple. Consequently, those who were not so fortunate were grievously handicapped by being subject to the arbitrary treatment of the agents. The tenants refused to pay[note][note]
their rents unless provided with more convenient places, and, according to their interpretation, convenient places were the neighborhood in which the rents accrued. They also requested that rents should be collected in kind at a fixed price.
The result of this conflict of opinion between the officials and the people led to a rebellion in 1735. The people refused to pay their rents until overtures were made by the authorities and the officials changed their attitude. It is not an easy matter to say just how far the trouble would have extended if it had not been for a change of policy on the part of the Crown.
For sometime it had been a matter of serious consideration as to whether or not the Crown should take over the colony. In 1729 the question was decided affirmatively. Although this settled the quit rent trouble temporarily in Edgecombe, it caused a more serious economic one to the settlers by the transfer of the land from the Proprietors to the Crown. It ultimately led, as will be seen, to numerous uprisings and open hostilities to the Crown's authority.
When the Earl of Granville consented, with the other Lords Proprietors in 1729, to surrender to the Crown the sovereignty of the Province of North Carolina, he reserved to himself all the rights of ownership to one-eighth part of the Province. The area of Edgecombe at this time included all of the Granville district. This fact resulted in many hardships on those residing in his territory. Naturally, Granville would create more drastic measures and use more compulsion in the collection of rents than had been done. Since it was his main source of revenue, he decreed that all rents must be paid in gold or silver, and refused commodities. Moreover, the rents were to be paid at Outlaw's Landing on Chowan River, about 90 miles from the nearest boundary of Edgecombe and 300 miles from the frontier.1 This caused a hardship on the people, who every year had to make the journey without wagon trails, through forests infested with Indians and dangerous beasts. There were also other difficulties, for there was very little species in the colony at this time, and this law naturally kept the Province entirely drained of gold or silver. Moreover, instead of having a resident among them to collect the rents,[note]
as was the case during the proprietary period, agents from England were sent over by Granville to take charge of his lands.
In addition to this a gross unfairness to the inhabitants came about through a controversy between Granville and the Crown. It was Granville's policy to rent land to various tenants, charging them a fee for issuing the land grant, and then a quit rent for the privilege of using the land for cultivation. The consequences were that an immense revenue from Edgecombe County, instead of going into the King's treasury, went into the private funds of the Earl of Granville. This constituted a serious loss to the Crown, and an increased burden on the people, since it caused the Crown's officials to impose additional fees and taxes upon them in order to compensate the officials for their services in the Province.
In a short time Granville's district was looked upon as a separate part of the Province, and a warm jealousy grew up between this section and the King's domain in the matter of colonial representation. This friction was not satisfactorily adjusted until the opening of hostilities in 1775.
In the meantime additional trouble arose over Earl Granville's neglect of his North Carolina possessions. Instead of supervising his estate personally and providing against grievances, which necessarily arose, he placed agents, many of whom were unfit for the position over the people. These agents by unscrupulous means carried on extortions until it became unbearable. These agents, especially Francis Corbin and Bradley, in their practices of fraud induced several persons to make entries for the same piece of land, charging each a fee. In 1752 Corbin and Thomas Childs increased their intolerable oppression by declaring patents void, which had been issued by their predecessors, in order to collect more fees. When the fraud was detected the agents refused to return the money. In this manner huge sums were collected and appropriated by the agents. Moreover, exhorbitant fees were charged extra in all land grants for Granville's lands; the amounts above which they were required to turn over to the Earl of Granville were retained by these agents. It has been estimated that in collecting the taxes imposed for revenue to meet the expenses of the Indian Wars and the fees imposed by the various agents amounted to $10 on each head of a family in the Granville district.
In 1759 the Earl of Granville further showed his indifference to the people's grievances, and the welfare of his territory, by turning his lands over to Thomas Childs and Francis Corbin.1 Childs was made auditor and exercised much influence over Lord Granville himself. The fraud by which these men were to grow very rich in a short time was disclosed in a letter during this period.
Mr. Childs was to return to England, leaving his position in charge of Colonel Innes on the Cape Fear during his absence. In his visit to England he was to represent the conditions of the colonists in Granville's district to the Earl, while Corbin was to act upon the information sent him as to the movements in the fraudulent scheme. In the meantime, Innes was to be a go-between, being kept ignorant of the intrigue, and receiving an annual salary for journeying to Edenton at stipulated times to receive fees, fines, and to issue deeds for lands imposed by Corbin.
While in England Childs worked his scheme well, having issued in his own name a notice in which he delegated specified power to himself as auditor and representative of Earl Granville in the Granville district. He succeeded in acquiring much esteem and favor from Lord Granville by informing the Earl that the agents had collected considerable money, and that Lord Granville took all the fees himself and granted only fixed salaries for his agents. Childs did this in order to show that the profits of the agents were lessened and that Colonel Innes (in office without Lord Granville's knowledge and at the instigation of Childs) would not pay him, Childs, the agent's regular allowance. Thus Childs candidly admitted to Earl Granville that he was under the necessity of stopping the money remitted to the Earl in order to pay himself. The design worked effectively as Childs had planned and justified him and his colleague Corbin in their robberies, in the estimation of Lord Granville. Colonel Innes, innocent though he was, bore the brunt of the blame.
In the course of the swindle and hypocrisy, Lord Granville in his complete ignorance and stupidity, authorized Childs to turn out Innes. This was accordingly done, and a Mr. Wheatly was appointed in his place, the requirements for the position was a[note]
bond of £1000, and Childs was instructed by Lord Granville to force Corbin to sign bonds to Lord Granville to execute his trust. Childs was furthermore instructed to send over a list or schedule of fees which were to be posted in the district, in order that the people might know the amount they were required to pay as rents and land grants. Childs, however, in his adroit and cunning manner arranged with Corbin to get the bond and to keep it without its being properly signed and filed. The list of fees were never sent, nor were remittances of any importance made to Lord Granville. Childs continued his defalcations by making it appear that the fault was with the men he had appointed, thus clearing Corbin, who was his secret agent and growing richer with him at the expense of the inhabitants.
Mr. Wheatly was accordingly turned out as had been his predecessor, Colonel Innes. Mr. Childs immediately transferred the bogus bond to Mr. Bodeley, another agent, after making about £2,000 by charging this agent a premium for the place. Mr. Bodeley became an accomplice in the machinations of Childs and Corbin. He was instructed by Childs to call Corbin to a strict accountability. At the same time he directed Corbin not to account with Bodeley until he returned to the colony from England.
Childs straightway began a movement to return to the gold mine he had laid and to reap some of the rewards of his ignoble scheme. He instructed Corbin to exert his influence as far as possible to create a party against the Governor and his admirers. Corbin was also to create a division among the agents so that Lord Granville would be under the necessity of sending him to the colony to adjust his affairs.
There could be but one result from this secret and dishonest diplomacy. The suffering of the people caused by this corruption checked the final execution of the well-laid plots. The colonists complained and groaned under the oppression of wicked and designing men until relief could be had only by violent resistance.
In order to check the injustice of the agents and to obtain redress, requests were addressed to Earl Granville by the inhabitants of Edgecombe. This effort proved futile, however, since Granville was too much engrossed with his personal matters, and the colonial legislature was unable to take action in the matter because the Earl's possessions were beyond its jurisdiction.
The trouble drifted into an intolerable condition; the people became desperate. The Attorney General was applied to for information in 1758. They demanded advice as to the best course to pursue. The Attorney General suggested that a petition be sent to either the Earl Granville or the legislature to consider their grievances. It was not advisable to send another petition to Granville, since he ignored the first one, and on November 25, 1758, the inhabitants presented a petition to the Colonial Assembly through William Williams, the representative from Edgecombe County. A special committee was appointed to inquire into the action of the Granville agents. Witnesses were summoned and examined, and a detailed report was submitted to the Assembly showing that true complaints had been lodged against the agents. No action, however, was or could be taken by the legislature, but Corbin was forced, more through fear than by the law, to present his books and accounts for public inspection.
The agitation abated temporarily, the quit rent trouble assumed a less violent form, and redress was looked forward to by the outraged citizens. The abatement did not last, however, for the grievances were reopened when resentment became less apparent. Corbin had in the meantime assumed the role of chief, and was growing fat upon the extortions of his subordinates. It is probable that he sought to elude the people by playing second fiddle, thereby preventing the impression of his responsibility. Corbin at this time was a man of considerable political influence. In addition to being chief representative for Earl Granville, he was a member of the General Assembly. In 1756 he was playing a most active part in colonial legislation.
The people, however, realized that Corbin was the direct cause of the renewal of their oppression, and took drastic measures against him when it became evident that no assistance would be offered by the Colonial Assembly. In January, 1759, a considerable number of people from Edgecombe went to Corbin's home near Edenton, seized him during the night and carried him to Enfield, where the agent had an office at the time. He was forced to give a heavy bond for his appearance at the spring term of the Superior Court, and to refund all unjust fees taken from the people. In order to check the timely but unpleasant uprising Corbin signed an article in which he agreed with the inhabitants
to refund to every person the monies he had taken from them through his deputies. He further agreed to remove any deputy surveyor against whom objections were made, and to appoint only one person of good character in the county to take entries and to survey lands. The people were also permitted to examine the entry books and to appoint committees to adjust the claims to lands where two or more made a settlement on the same territory. In the meantime Bodeley, Corbin's principal subordinate, had also been captured and was required to submit to the same procedure as his superior.1
The feeling against Corbin subsided, but against those of his subordinates, who were not required to give bond, became more acute. The people's feelings were so worked up that almost unpardonable actions are charged to them. During the time Corbin was in the custody of the people a Mr. Haywood, one of his subordinates, returned home from Virginia, where he had fled, and he died suddenly. The inhabitants, thinking this was a rumor spread abroad to lead them from the pursuit, went to his grave and dug up his remains to see if the report was true.
The government officials, in the meantime, through their consideration for, and moral support to the Granville agents, set the inhabitants of Edgecombe against them. Robert Jones, the Attorney General, lost his influence over the people by reason of his unjust treatment of their case, and considerable odium was expressed against him. The people had given Mr. Jones a fee to appear for them in court and to present their petition to the General Assembly. In the meantime it was reported that Corbin had offered him a larger fee not to carry out his contract and to appear for him. The rumor gained credence and the people vowed not to let him appear in the General Assembly nor to plead in the local courts. It is not known whether the charges against Jones were true or not. The people, however, prepared to avenge themselves when he appeared in the district to attend court.
The extreme severity of the trouble was shown in a memorial addressed by the General Assembly to the Governor in May, 1759. The summary of the address was to the effect that several people within Lord Granville's district had conspired to do personal injury to the officials. A request was made also to quell[note]
the rioters and to restore order in the county. A reward of £25 was also offered for any detection of those who caused the trouble, and upon conviction an additional fee would be paid.
Governor Dobbs, however, was reluctant in giving the required help to quell the rebellion. In the first place, he was very well satisfied to let the trouble continue, since it would give him a pretext to raise an issue of Granville's inability to oversee his possessions. This was one of the main policies of the Governor, who was striving to bring Edgecombe under the control of the Crown. Perhaps if it had not been for the action of Reverend Mr. Moir, the parish clergyman, Governor Dobbs would have remained silent in the matter. Previous to this episode Governor Dobbs and Mr. Moir had carried on a bitted controversy over the Parish Court system in the county; consequently, when the latter addressed a letter to the Secretary at London describing the situation, claiming that Corbin acted unjustly, Dobbs was obliged to come into the fray, although it was contrary to his interest. Mr. Moir, Dobbs stated, in order to create more feeling against Corbin, obtained a committee to report to the General Assembly on the conditions; but his efforts proved ineffectual, and that Corbin publicly backed the collector in the county.
The controversy between Dobbs and Moir had the effect in a slight degree which the former had hoped for in the beginning, that the disputes and riots which grew out of the rent quarrel gave him ample pretensions to object to this part of the Province being retained by private ownership.
Dobbs, however, was duty bound to offer some objection to the lawlessness of the people, and accordingly issued a proclamation causing some of the rioters to be arrested. Certain leaders or supposed leaders were arrested and put in jail at Enfield, but were immediately released by their comrades. Corbin himself led the matter of prosecution, but was later warned by Childs, who had secretely guided the entire affair, that if he pursued this action too far he would be the one to suffer, since he had done many deeds which he could not justify. Childs, after having led his partner into crime, did not support him further.
Although the Governor was a friend of the rioters, still believing in the hope that the people would continue their rebellious attitude, the Assembly being the avowed enemy of the citizens.
Pressure, therefore, was brought upon Dobbs, and he was compelled to continue an open effort to suppress the rebellion, at the same time giving a secret support to the people's opposition to the government. Many of the people did not understand his position and thus in their misconception became opposed to the Governor.
This apparent stand of the Governor caused feeling to run high against English rule. Moreover, at this time action was taken to prevent freedom of speech and liberty of the press. The people were not allowed to write letters and pamphlets to agitate relief for their grievances. In 1764 Lewis Griffin was arrested and tried for speaking against the King, but by reason of the sympathies of the people, who shared his opinions, was not convicted. One of the witnesses, William Bakerman, during the trial against Griffin, swore that the prisoner was engaged in a quarrel with one of the citizens, and that Will O'Quinn, a constable, commanded him to keep the King's peace, and that Griffin replied, “God damn the King's peace, and you, too.”
Early in 1766 a letter was written in Tarboro and addressed to the Wilmington paper in which the actual conditions and the grievances of the county were clearly stated. The general tone of the letter and its statement created considerable uneasiness among the officials and a movement was started to suppress the information. Threats were made against the parties in Wilmington who had published the letter as a public document. The effect of this was instantaneous, for the people were then deprived of the only means of making their grievances known.
The change of feeling in Edgecombe was natural, due to the progress of the economic trouble and the attitude of the officials toward their demand for redress of their grievances. Although the Governor represented the King in the colony, and was the bitter enemy of the people in Edgecombe, he became secretly a friend for personal ends and was forced to take a stand against them. It was, therefore, well nigh impossible that these people could progress, work out an economic policy, without political and civil liberty. Their domestic life and economic salvation conflicted with the policy and development of government as proposed by the laws of England. Progress generally cost a struggle. The first phase of the struggle in Edgecombe was an opposition
by the individual to the agent of Granville. The second phase was the opposition of the people to the British Governor. The self-assertive interests and impulses were ever present in these pastoral and agricultural people, but these qualities were largely undeveloped because they had not had enough stimulus to excite their activity prior to the beginning of the Revolution.
The condition of Edgecombe County was that of an individual maintaining his personal rights, opinions, and interest against national authority, interests, and oppression. In this condition action became voluntary, and it was for this reason that the citizens of Edgecombe took part in the Revolution. The old restraints were disregarded, and the citizens cast their lot for better or for worse.
In all revolutions there are two parties—the radicals and the conservatives. From the first there were some in the county who were against armed opposition to the King of England. Almost everyone, however, was in favor of taking some method to redress the people's grievances. The moderates remained so throughout the struggle from ’75 to ’82. There were two types of the conservative element which played no inconspicuous part in the Revolution.
In the meantime the entire colony was in a state of general unrest and uprisings. In the western counties the war of regulation was having its greatest effect upon the minds of the people. The reaction of the western trouble and the spirit exercised by the officials was instrumental in creating a general and continuous upheaval of the people in Granville's district. While the controversy was going on in Orange County between Colonel Fanning and the inhabitants over rents and extravagant fees, Edgecombe was given a new spirit of rebellion and internal revolution. New fuel was added to the flames, which were already blazing high, and the rise of the insurgents in central North Carolina prompted the inhabitants to begin a more staunch opposition.
The day that the Superior Court ended its session for Edgecombe district thirty men from the county (while the Assembly was in session) went to Halifax to rescue one Oneal, an insurgent from Edgecombe County, who had been put in prison for refusing to pay the fees imposed upon him. Oneal had been transferred to the Halifax jail for safe keeping. The party, in their attempt to
rescue their fellow-citizen, were repulsed by some armed citizens and a few troops who were stationed there. One of the party was shot and taken prisoner, another had his horse killed, and several suffered minor wounds.
The officials of the Crown were temporarily successful in checking the riot, but conditions remained bad for the payment of taxes and the resumption of good government. Attempts were made in the county to overcome the officials who persisted in what the people termed “impartial discrimination in their rights.” Discontent became more apparent as the grievances of the people grew more burdensome. Laws were generally disobeyed; the jails were weak and badly kept, and the constables were frequently the friends of the people. Consequently no adequate means were available for retaining and punishing those who resisted the power of the Crown's officials.
In the meantime the notice of the Stamp Act issued by the Parliament of England was received in the county. Many who were at variance with the rioters became a champion of their cause. Open remonstrances were made against the legality of the act of Great Britain. The stamp master in Edgecombe was forced to take an oath at the court house not to have anything to do with stamps. The uprisings in other parts of the colony gave the local citizens an incentive for more opposition. The agitation reached a climax, the struggle was on, the flames were bursting everywhere with no restraint to be offered. The Stamp Act excitement was well under way when Governor Tryon came to the colony to succeed Dobbs, who died March 28, 1765. The rebellion against the Stamp Act added much fuel to the flames. Edgecombe was, of all the counties, most adequately prepared to offer opposition and rebellion to the measures of Great Britain. However, singular it may appear that the interior counties should maintain a staunch opposition against the revenue bill, it is nevertheless certain that such was the general attitude. Chief Justice Hasell made a tour of the interior counties immediately after the act was passed by Parliament, and reported to the Governor that among all the inhabitants of the interior and border counties, he did not find one who supported the measure. That this was the state of affairs is indeed remarkable, for there were no restraints on trade and commerce to arouse the anger of the people as there was on the
Cape Fear. The most probable explanation of the bitter and timely rejection of the right of England to enforce the law, was the background of the whole period in which the people had to be subject to unlawful means of taxation.
In March, 1765, a protest was lodged against the proceedings of Parliament, and the Sons of Liberty, an organization formed on the Cape Fear for opposing the Stamp Act, was organized in Edgecombe. Immediately after the organization was formed the Clerk of the County Court was forced to swear that he would not receive any stamped paper or distribute any stamps in the county. The foundation was fast being laid upon which the citizens were to stand nine years later. The spirit of rebellion was fast culminating in an aggressive action which was destined not to be settled until the close of the year 1783.
Early conditions show conclusively that resistance, which had then reached the point of a common cause, was due to oppression, and it was this alone which moved all the agitation. It is clearly demonstrated that where force was resorted to grievances had been prolonged by the agents and mercenaries of England, who had not considered the welfare of their dependents. The records show also that when the occasion required, the citizens of Edgecombe were not slow in using violence to redress their wrongs. In the difficulties which had already taken place—rent troubles, legislative discriminations, riots, and heavy taxations—they exercised patience and forbearance. However, in all of the differences which caused the conflicts the people were fully prepared to realize the nature of their unrest, and to resist the encroachments of Great Britain.
It is clear at this time that the people were considering organized resistance to the procedure of the British Government. John Haywood, the colonel and commissioner in charge of the military affairs in Edgecombe, was requested to make a return of all forces under his command. In April, 1765, Colonel Haywood accordingly reported that he had 14 companies with 1,317 men, including officers, ready for military duty. At this time preparations were under way. There were no arms at this time in the county, and shortly afterwards considerable stores were sent to Tarboro for use. There were no Indians in the county, and no suspected uprisings against the State than have been already mentioned.
After Colonel Haywood's report a new muster was made, and 200 more men were added, the companies were increased and more equally divided.
It became apparent in 1774 that general opposition was going to be made, especially in North Carolina. The conflict between the Governor and the General Assembly gave rise to a new spirit. The rebellious attitude of the colonists everywhere showed plainly the uselessness of further attempts at a peaceful understanding. In the spring of 1774 John Harvey, speaker of the Assembly, issued circulars, headed by his name, in every county for the election of Representatives to the First Provincial Congress to be held, August 25th, in Newbern. A most singular thing in Edgecombe's history happened when the county failed to elect delegates to form the first Revolutionary Congress in North Carolina. The fear of openly opposing Great Britain was so great that placidity exceeded the fervor which moved the people in 1758 and 1760. In the meantime, however, internal conditions created a radical change in the country, and the minds of the people were disturbed in a different way the following year.
The first convention proposed the foundations upon which the new government in North Carolina was to be based. A committee of five was elected for each county to execute the orders of the Congress, and to act as a committee of correspondence. Although Edgecombe had failed to send representatives to the Congress, it was not ignored in the propaganda for the new cause. Elisha Battle, William Haywood, Duncan Lemon, Henry Irwin, and Nathaniel Boddie were elected as the Edgecombe committee to discharge the duties imposed by the Congress. During the fall of 1774 the local committee convened the freeholders in Edgecombe, and a committee of safety was appointed, with Elisha Battle as its head. He was selected as one of the committee to propose certain rules and regulations for the government of the local people. E. Gray, from Edgecombe, was also appointed district committeeman on the committee of privileges and elections.
The following year many changes were made in the preparation for war in the county. Edgecombe, casting off her shame of the previous year, sent five representatives, William Haywood, Elisha Battle, Duncan Lemon, Henry Irwin, and Nathaniel Boddie, to the Provincial Congress.
In the meantime Josiah Martin appeared in the colony as Governor to succeed Tryon, who had gone to New York. In 1772 he became very anxious to reform the colony, and in order to do so he looked suspiciously upon Edgecombe, the seat of unrest and insurrection, as the principal place to start. He wisely set about to formulate a method (unlike Governor Dobbs’) to purchase Lord Granville's right to the territory under a legal bill of sale. It happened at the time that the lands were for sale at a price of 70,000 pounds. As a purely commercial transaction the purchase would have been a profitable one. In 1766 the quit rents amounted to over 6,000 pounds proclamation money, and with the reopening of the land office which had been closed for five years (1766-1772), and adjustment of the unhappy and deplorable conditions, causing those who had settled upon the land during the five years the land office was closed to pay the required fee, the yield of revenue would have been lucrative indeed. It was estimated by Governor Martin at the time that the amount would early reach 12,000 pounds. It is not, however, to be presumed that conditions would have been made any better by the transfer of the territory to the Crown.
Two notable occurrences prevented Governor Martin from effecting his design. In the first place, the laxity of the agents in collecting the rents, and the refusal of the inhabitants to yield any further monies until their grievances were redressed, made it practically impossible to hope for any co-operation on the part of those who occupied the land. In the second place, a large number of settlers and land squatters had occupied unsettled lands when the land office was closed, and the administration was in a chaotic condition. Naturally they claimed all rights to the land which was so easily possessed, and they also naturally resented the payment of rents.
Strange to say, although it may seem contradictory, for these reasons Governor Martin, supported by the Assembly, urged the King to purchase the Granville territory. The fact that the conditions in the county were such as described, caused considerable discussion and debate as to the advisability of purchasing the lands. The matter was deferred because of the deliberations. When the policy of Martin was being considered in England, affairs in the Granville district grew worse. In 1773 Earl Granville
by some unaccountable means finally awoke to the actual conditions which existed, and for the first time sought to effect an adjustment. He proposed to make Governor Martin his chief agent, hoping thereby to restore his source of revenue and to effect a harmonious feeling among the people. Governor Martin submitted the matter to Lord Hillsboro in order to receive permission to execute this office along with his other duties. Before a decision could be reached another stage was set for a historical change. Meanwhile forces were operating which decided the question for all concerned. That this policy affected the American colonies as a whole, overshadowed the purely local conditions, and Great Britain found herself involved in a war with her children across the sea. The questions for which the people had constantly and consistently labored were to be decided by a general uprising and armed resistance, not only to the agents of the English who lorded it over them, but to the central head of the English Government as well.
Many conservatives held a decided view in favor of the colonists, and others—the royalists—were partial to the authority of Great Britain. In the first group were many men like Elisha Battle, Jonathan Thomas, William Horn, John Thomas, Willie O'Brien, and others. These men fought in the Revolution, but were not so enthusiastic over the open breach with so great a power as England was at that time. Acting in a religious capacity, these men wrote a letter to Governor Martin in 1772 commending him on his policies and his attributing to the people a desire for a sound religious and civil liberty. The influence of such prominent men upon the feverish spirit of the people cannot be over estimated. Cool, level-headed though these men were, it took only a few months to convince them of their error and to convert them to the Revolutionary cause. After all was done that was left for them to do, they acquiesced and assumed their share of the burden for political independence.
The second type of conservatives, however, were more to be considered. They were as enthusiastic on one side as the colonists were on the other. Indeed, the principal trouble that local colonists had to contend with grew out of the conflict with the loyalists. The internal struggle began early in 1775, when the whole American continent was ablaze with momentous agitations
and reprisals. Joshua Bertley, a Tory with no little celebrity, deserted the common cause of the people, and endeavored to inflame their minds against the American measures of liberty. He succeeded in unifying several followers, who created a political antagonism to the policies of the Revolutionists. Bertley was arrested by the aid of the militia, and was tried for the charge. Sometime between midnight and day the agitator paid the penalty for his loyalty to England. He left, however, several ardent friends who advocated his principles to a conclusion as will hereafter be observed. Among the Episcopalians, especially the wealthier and older planters, the Loyalists predominated. These men, although antagonistic to the citizens at that time, can now be looked upon with more consideration. They were brave and honest men, who were in all probability proud of their views, enjoyed a free empire to which they belonged, and who had no immediate desire to shirk the burden of maintaining it. The majority from Edgecombe ended their declining days, after having had their goods and property confiscated, in poverty and exile. History has not carefully recorded their memory, because they represented a defeated cause. But it can be recognized now that they were among some of the best and ablest men in the county, and that they contended for a principle as sacred to them as that for which the greater number fought. Perhaps, also, the Loyalists remained passive for a long time during the early period of the Revolution, because they thought the people who took up arms had no idea of independence. They were merely attempting to redress their grievances and not to form a permanent separation from the English Government.
The Revolution having begun in earnest, it became necessary to take a military inventory. When the trouble began in 1775 there were approximately 2,000 taxables in the county of military age. Measures were soon inaugurated to gather together all available forces to prevent Loyalists uprising, and to repel any possible invasion. The movement which undertook this task was the Council of Safety, with Elisha Battle as its head. Men of military experience were very scarce, although all were good hunters and expert riflemen. Although military tactics were practically unknown, several of the citizens had seen service in the Indian wars. Several military officers held commissions in
the county, having been appointed many years before the possibilities of war were ever considered. Alexander McCullogh was appointed colonel of Edgecombe militia when Dobbs came to North Carolina in 1764. William Barnes was made a captain in 1757, William Haywood colonel of the regiment of Edgecombe in 1761, and Jacob Whitehead lieutenant-colonel at the same time. These men, however, were incapable of active service, and were, to a considerable degree, inefficient because of old age and lack of proper training. The Council of Safety, therefore, began its recruiting under very adverse conditions.
The first provision made by North Carolina toward utilizing military force for the Revolution was to organize minute men and militia. Edgecombe, according to her population and area, was required to raise two companies of 50 men each of minute men to serve for six months. They were not required to re-enlist after this term expired. The battle of Moore's Creek was the time for mustering out.
In addition to two companies of minute men, Edgecombe was also to assist in raising a brigade of militia. The militia was made up of men from 16 to 60 years of age.
In the meantime the Second Provincial Congress was called, and an election was held in the county to select members from Edgecombe. Accordingly, in August, 1775, Robert Bignal, Henry Irwin, Duncan Lemon, Thomas Hunter, and Thomas Harmonson Hall were elected. In April, 1776, William Haywood, Elisha Battle, and Nathaniel Boddie were also elected. These men presented to the Congress a true state of affairs in Edgecombe, and requested that action be taken to make the military situation suitable for defense of the county. In September, 1775, Congress immediately appointed field officers for the minute men in Edgecombe County. William Haywood was made colonel, Sherwood Haywood lieutenant-colonel, Joseph Moore first major, and Henry Horn second major. In June, 1776, Congress appointed Gresham Coffield captain, Spenser Watts lieutenant, and Francis Parker ensign to co-operate with Mr. Battle in military activities in the county. These men formed the first battalion and acted as its officers as designated above.
In 1767 Catawba camp had been established on Fishing Creek for military headquarters for eastern North Carolina. This was
done as a precaution against possible Indian troubles, which had not in the past been infrequent. In June of that year the Governor, accompanied by various military officers under the command of Alexander Moses, of Edgecombe, visited the various Indian tribes and met here to report. This camp had been partially kept in a state of repair and promised to be useful as well as a convenient place for mobilization of troops.
Under the regularly instituted military organization in the county field officers were elected, and commissions were issued by the Provincial Congress. Subordinate officers were electd by the county commissioners. The Council of Safety exercised the authority of calling out the militia in an emergency when the Congress was not in session. The first field officers of the Regular or Grand Army—Colonel William Haywood, Lieutenant Colonel Sherwood Haywood, Major James Moore, and Second Major Henry Horne—were elected in 1775. In 1776 the militia system was reorganized because of the inactivity of the officers. Edgecombe's list was changed completely. Exum Lewis succeeded William Haywood as colonel; Simon Gray became lieutenant-colonel; Jonas Johnson major, and Thomas Hunter second major. At the same time the Continental regiments were organized in North Carolina, and James Blount and Henry I. Toole were elected captains in the Second Regiment. After the discharge of this regiment, Captain Toole was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the Fifth Regiment.
The organization of troops began with much enthusiasm, and officers were immediately appointed to take command of the various companies. In the meantime, William Williams was made adjutant in the spring of 1776 by Congress. He was requested to send 400 weights of shot to Colonel Irwin in Tarboro for defense and use by Edgecombe's militia. Large quantities of provisions were collected also at Tarboro for the use of the army under Colonel Irwin. Much of these provisions were sent to Wilmington to ration Edgecombe troops, who were there at that time defending the town from the Loyalists and the British. On November 28, 1776, Green Bell was appointed captain by Congress, John Bryant, Jr., lieutenant, and Theophilus Coleman second lieutenant. From these officers and men in Edgecombe the
THIS RECOMMENDATION AGREED TO 4th JANUARY, 1787, IN HOUSE OF COMMONS BY ORDER OF JOHN B. ASHE
Halifax Brigade was organized in 1776. The captain of the brigade was James Gray, James Brown acted as lieutenant, and Joseph Creel as ensign.
Several men from Edgecombe acquired fame for their military services during the struggle in behalf of the American cause. Among these were Henry Irwin Toole. He was among the first to accept a commission in the regular army.1 He took charge of a company and marched to Virginia to defend that State against the British at the beginning of the Revolution. This illustrious patriot took part in the battle near Norfolk, and later won laurels for his name in the struggle at Brandywine. When the company which he commanded had served its time of enlistment and was disbanded, Captain Toole returned to Tarboro, where he resumed his profession as a merchant. He lived to represent his county in the Provincial Congress and to see the happy termination of the cause for which he fought.
Prior to 1780 no fighting with the British occurred in the county, but the citizens took a conspicuous part in accomplishing a successful military campaign. Perhaps the most notable, or at least one among the most prominent characters who supported the Revolutionary cause in the county, was Colonel Jonas Johnson. An industrious farmer, without the rudiments of learning, he proved to be a patriot with zeal and power. He took command of a regiment in 1776, and found agaisnt the Tories at Moore's Creek. After engaging in several encounters, he returned home and became a delegate to the Provincial Convention until 1779. This year marked the beginning of his career as a military leader. He assumed command of a regiment and went to South Carolina to defend that State against the British in 1780-81. Later he returned to his native State and engaged the Tories and British under Tarleton at the battles of Slone and Guilford Court House.
Just as the county was making extensive preparation for the struggle, an incident occurred which excited deep resentment in the minds of the people. Governor Martin, just before his flight from the colony, issued a proclamation by which freedom was[note]
offered to all slaves who took up arms against their masters. Before any damage could be done, however, the armed and organized militia calmed the dissatisfied slaves and restored order among them.
In the meantime the Loyalist activity began in earnest, and promised considerable trouble for those who opposed Great Britain. Early in 1776 an attempt was made to raise a Loyalist force in the county. The Loyalists, however, were without the means of securing sufficient arms and organization, and before they could muster together a force, the troops in the county succeeded in defeating them and arresting the leaders of the movement.
Another attempted uprising occurred late in the winter of 1776, when the disgruntled and disaffected element in the county gave signs of Toryism. There were many malcontents concerned, and various efforts were made to inflame the minds of the people against the action of the Continental Congress. The matter was of much importance since the success of the military forces depended on the support it gained from Congress and the sentiments of the people behind this legislative body. Colonel Sheppard issued a notice for the militia to arrest the instigators and to suppress the anti-American feeling. Colonel Jonas Johnson rallied a few raw militiamen and by his bravery and pronounced leadership dispersed the band of Tories and restored order in the county.
In addition to noble and brave leaders, Edgecombe sent many troops to support the common cause. In 1777 the Scots were driven out of the county, while the Loyalists were completely under subjection. This enabled the Edgecombe troops to leave the county to defend other sections of the country. Some were sent to Pennsylvania to be placed under General Washington. Some fought in the battles of Princeton and Brandywine, and the bitter and bloody struggle at Germantown, October 4, 1777. In this battle the heroic and noble patriot, Henry Irwin, fell dead upon the battlefield.
In this battle Edgecombe lost a son of noble worth. His body lies covered with the soil of another State, but his heroic deeds
and character are a product of Edgecombe County. Over his remains at Germantown a marble has been erected bearing this inscription:
- In honor to the Brave
- Hic jacet in pace.
- Colonel Henry Irwin, of North Carolina
- Captain Turner
- Adjutant Lucas and six soldiers,
- Killed in the Battle of Germantown,
- One cause, one grave.
J. F. W.1
Colonel Irwin left three sons and several daughters. Two of his sons died without issue; the third left a son and two grand-daughters. One of his daughters married in Halifax, leaving one son, Thomas Burgess, who died without marrying. Another daughter married Governor Stokes, and their daughter married Wm. B. Lewis, of Tennessee, Auditor of the Treasury of the United States. Her daughter married Alphonso Pageot, at one time envoy from France to the United States.
The sister of Colonel Irwin married Lawrence Toole, whose son, grandson, and great grandson inherited the name of Henry Irwin Toole, all distinguished for ability, influence, and popularity in Edgecombe. James W. Clark married a daughter of H. I. Toole, the first.
The name of William Haywood, of this county, appears among the men of 1776. It is to be regretted that so little is known of his birth, services, and death. The records prove that in various offices, both civil and military, he was a true patriot and useful citizen. He was a member of the Committee of Safety for the Halifax district, 1775, a member of the State Congress at Halifax (April, 1776), and also of the State Convention which met at same place in November, 1776, which formed the State Constitution. He was one of the committee which framed that historical document. He was elected one of the Counsellors of State, the first ever elected in the State (December, 1776).[note]
William Haywood was the uncle of the noted and distinguished John Haywood, a jurist and writer in this State and Tennessee. He was the father of John Haywood, Treasurer of the State from 1787 to 1827, after whom Haywood County is named; and of Sherwood, Stephen, and William H. Haywood, Sr., of Raleigh, the latter being the father of Wm. H. Haywood, Jr., Senator in Congress from 1843 to 1846. William Haywood was the son of John Haywood, an Englishman, who came from the Barbadoes to Edgecombe County and settled not far from the present Walnut Creek and Dunbar bridge across Tar River, and here William Haywood was born. The family subsequently moved to Wake County.
The military operations in the county, as in almost every other county in the colony, were carried out by the energetic minority. There were many who first enlisted in the fervor of the moment, but who on reflection decided that they did not care to be separated from their families or farms. Naturally enlistment meant that they would be compelled to fight anywhere Congress decided. Colonel Jonas Johnson, in a letter to Governor Caswell, on November 24, 1778, shows the situation very plainly. He makes plain his grief when he wrote that he had sent to Caswell the commissions of Captain Davis and Ensign Gray, the former because of infirmity and the latter for cowardice. This left the detachment without any captain. Lieutenant Lee, who was a volunteer, and who accepted the office when Davis resigned, headed the company without any commission. Colonel Johnson, moreover, reported the resignation of many of the officers and men, and pleaded for some method to restore the men to the services of the country.
The commissary department was in excellent order in 1778, Colonel Johnson having just furnished Captain Lee with 934 pounds of beef, 21 barrels of meal. The spirits of the men was good; their health good, and they were ready to encounter any difficulty. But Colonel Johnson deplored the fact that many of the old captains would not go with them. At this time another detachment was being drafted by Colonel Johnson in the county to be put into the regular army as soon as possible.
The task and importance of provisioning the troops of the country as fast as they could be mustered was no small item. Edgecombe
in this respect, however, showed remarkable power of organization and ability. In 1779 Edward Hall was appointed as commissioner. From the fall of that year to January, 1781, he sent the troops from Edgecombe 100 barrels of pork, 25 bushels of salt, an article essentially necessary and scare at that time, and a considerable quantity of meal. By 1781 provisions became a matter of no little importance. There was scarcely any food in the west that could be furnished to the troops. Along the borders of the counties of Nash, Johnston, Pitt, and Edgecombe were numerous ringleaders who had harbored deserters from the armies and had signed articles of association or enlistment whereby they had obligated themselves to prevent the militia from being drafted. This was the beginning of a lawlessness which required a military force to suppress and restore civil authority.
In the meantime the County Court had been virtually suspended. The Granville district was under martial law. The economic stress and the lawlessness of many of the inhabitants placed in the hands of the military authorities full power of regulating the county affairs. Elisha Battle, as the dominant figure of the Council of Safety, acted with a committee appointed by the Governor of North Carolina to try all cases of criminal action and sedition in the county. The people generally obeyed the mandates of a self-created power—termed a committee—which absorbed all authority, both civil and military. Indeed, orders were complied with more readily than they were before the courts were suspended. None sought to evade the military regulations except the Tories. A body of this element entrenched themselves in the southwest part of the county, and a considerable number in the northeast for the ostensible purpose of showing open resistance. However, all their designs were frustrated without any bloodshed. There were also at this time several Scotch merchants residing in the county. They openly expressed themselves as remaining loyal to the British Government, and were forced to leave Edgecombe, according to the law of the military tribunal.
At this time unscrupulous means were resorted to by designing men to pass worthless money upon the citizens in the county. The problem of financing the troops and all military activities in
North Carolina had been turned over to William Haywood, of Edgecombe County. In 1776 he issued $500,000 in currency in addition to the one million which had been previously emitted. At the time unscrupulous schemes were formed by David Smith and Daniel Guin to perpetrate frauds upon the people at large. In 1776 the gang began to pass counterfeit money, and they were detected in August of that year. A $5.00 bill was discovered on Smith's person after several futile attempts to dispose of it, and he was sent up for prosecution before Mr. Battle. In November of the same year (1776) Daniel Guin, at the instigation of Solomon Nettle, William Copes, and James Bognor was convicted in like manner.
These men proved to be Tories and were leagued with several others who at that time conspired to slay the principal leaders of the American cause in Edgecombe before leaving with British officers who were recruiting in the county. Moreover, Guin and Smith, acting with several others in sympathy with the British, were stationed on the line of Edgecombe to prevent the military from drafting men from the King's army, and also those who were attempting to remain neutral. These men were making strenuous efforts to associate this element with the English troops.
It happened at this time that Colonel Henry Irwin was in Tarboro convalescing from a wound he had received in the South Carolina campaign. His health had prevented him from attending at Halifax previous to the departure of the militia, which had mobilized there, to assist the Continental army in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He became aware of the conspiracy of the Tories and wrote Governor Caswell apprising him of the situation. In the meantime about 30 or 40 adherents to the authority of Great Britain attempted to storm Tarboro. Colonel Irwin assembled about 25 men to oppose them. He, by his bravery and wise leadership, disarmed the entire band and compelled them to take an oath of allegiance to the State, and to promise to support and defend the independent government against Great Britain. One Mr. Brimage, a man of considerable influence and wealth, and the leader of the Tories, was arrested and exiled from the State.
The following year the Provincial Congress passed a confication act, depriving the Tories of their property and compelling
them to take the oath of allegiance. The severity of the act, however, caused much opposition, and it was never put into force in its entirety. Many who refused to take the oath were permitted to remain in the county, but were deprived of the rights of citizenship.
In 1778 the suppressed courts were again reopened, and the wheels of civil authority began to grind out justice through the proper channel. The sheriff of the county again made his appearance at the regular sessions of Superior Court and discharged his duties according to procedure of law before the beginning of the Revolution. The county previous to this time had not been infested with any invasion by the British, but now the trend of the military movements of the British was southward, and Edgecombe was destined to witness the scene of bloodshed and unhappy suffering on her own soil.
Lord Cornwallis made his approach to Edgecombe after the battle of Guilford Court House by way of the Cape Fear. The resources of the county had been greatly diminished in both men and supplies by sending aid to South Carolina when that State was invaded in 1780-81. Joshua Potts, who was then commissioner in Edgecombe for the army, had sent on May 1st, just about eight days before Tarleton reached the county, 3,000 pounds of bacon and much flour to Colonel Briton near Salisbury. Of the six North Carolina battalions and the thousand North Carolina State militia that surrendered at Charleston, more than 700 were from Edgecombe County. Also much salt, flour, and meat had been sent to support these troops in the campaign in South Carolina and also to Pennsylvania. The people throughout the section of the State were soon to realize the results of their unselfishness.
Late in April, 1781, Lord Cornwallis deserted his camp at Cross Creek and prepared to march towards the Roanoke. He had with him about 1,500 men, composing a small detachment of royal artillery with four cannons, several battalions and a brigade of guards. Lieutenant-ColonelTarleton, with 180 dragoons, and Halmington's guard of Loyalists, was sent ahead of the army as a scout. They reached Tar River, near the mouth of Town Creek, early in May. The approach of the British gave the remaining Loyalists in the county renewed courage for resistance and uprising. The appearance of the British and the obvious rise of the
Tories necessitated the sending away of the valuable papers of the commissioners at Tarboro and the records of the court house. People in the vicinity became afraid to sleep at night for fear of attack and capture. Several Tories from Martin and Craven Counties visited the county while Tarleton was camping on Tar River. They proceeded to the house of Benjamin Vichous, one of their chief leaders, who assisted in organizing a body of Loyalists. They immediately joined the British forces, taking 21 head of cattle which they collected for the British army.
Although the county had experienced and passed through several rebellions in the twenty years which preceded the Revolution, it now became the stage for a reign of terror. The advance guard under Tarleton reached Edgecombe about May 5th. His first action was to order the inhabitants to collect large quantities of provisions for the King's troops. In order to overawe the scattered militia in the county, he exaggerated the number of Cornwallis’ army. This enabled him to secure a retreat for his dragoons and Loyalists. He pushed forward toward Fishing Creek and made another effort to secure large supplies of flour and meal for the army. He decided, in order to effect his designs, upon finding the county abundantly supplied with provisions, to make a quick march against Halifax, where a store of provisions was then in keeping for the American troops. General Summer was at Halifax at the time, and on May 6, 1781, he wrote GeneralGreene that he intended to evacuate Halifax and move to Warren County or Greenville, taking all stores with him.
In the meantime large forces of militia were gathering from the different sections of Edgecombe, Pitt, and Northampton counties to repel the British. Tarlteon learned this and decided upon immediate action. Word of this reached the inhabitants of Halifax and Edgecombe and the militia was urged forward to meet the British at Swift Creek. The two forces met at Swift Creek Run May 7th. Most of the American troops were inexperienced and badly disorganized, and were forced to withdraw to Fishing Creek. Here another engagement took place; again the militia and citizens were unsuccessful in checking Tarleton's dragoons and Loyalists. The road was open to Halifax, and the British marched forward, reaching Halifax town on May 9th.
Meanwhile Cornwallis was still on Tar River, encamped on Crowell's Plantation. He hesitated to venture forward to the Roanoke, not having heard from General Phillips as to the conditions in Virginia. He wrote Tarleton to remain in Halifax until he heard from Phillips. If, however, Tarleton did not hear from him in two or three days he was to rejoin Cornwallis at Cob's mill near Roanoke River. On May 8th, Cornwallis wrote General Phillips in order to ascertain his plans and to make arrangements to join him on James River. He then sent a messenger to Tarleton to meet him at Fashing Creek and march with him to Virginia. The evacuation of the British from Edgecombe and Halifax relieved the minds of the people considerably and enabled the militia to reorganize and check the Loyalists who did not march with Cornwallis. These two skirmishes on Swift and Fishing Creek were the first and last appearance of the main army of the British in Edgecombe.1
The presence of the British in the county, however, had a detrimental effect in two ways. It created much unrest among the Tories who remained, and the provisions were considerably decreased by waste and use by a part of the British troops. Also at this time money was getting to be a very necessary asset to the American cause. There was practically no specie money, not only in Edgecombe County, but in the entire State, while paper money was depreciated. Various means were devised to secure specie to finance the militia which the State put upon the battleground. In July, 1781, two months after the British had departed, Robert Bignall was appointed by Governor Burke to collect monies in the county to support the cause of the Revolution, but his commission was a failure. But if the inhabitants did not have money, they possessed the next thing to actual cash—tobacco. A warehouse was constructed in Tarboro where the commodity was both borrowed and purchased. Certificates were given for the amount of the price which was agreed upon the quantity purchased. In order to offset the hardships upon those who held the certificates, the paper was exempted from taxation and bore interest at[note]
the rate of six per cent per annum. The certificates were redemable on the first day of December, 1783, in specie or its value in State currency. In like manner in order to procure arms and munitions several citizens loaned their tobacco on the same terms as those who sold their tobacco to the State. A book was kept by Mr. Bignall of all persons who sold or loaned their commodities and compensation was made according to the quantity deposited in the warehouse. In order also to secure additional troops for the service of the Revolution, power of imprisonment was also suspended. Persons who were in prisons were set at liberty to defend the State and to further the Revolutionary cause. Under this method and by general conscription, the county sent 100 more men to assist Wilmington in 1781-82, after the greater part of the men of military age had been placed in active service. The reports of the militia for May 6, 1782, show that Edgecombe furnished one colonel, one lieutenant-colonel, two majors, ten captains, ten lieutenants, ten ensigns, and 650 non-commissioned officers and privates that year alone.
Although the county was prompt in providing military support and means for a successful effort for independence, it was not to escape disgrace caused by desertion. Surely in the Revolution where so many types made up the population, it is no surprise that the lukewarm would fail during the most trying period of the struggle. The closing of the year 1782 and the beginning of 1783 were indeed the time which tried men's souls. In Edgecombe County provisions were scarce, all resources well nigh exhausted, clothes worn threadbare, shoes not available, and pressure weighed upon the troops from every angle. Just on the verge of success, which naturally was a surprise to those who fought for the right of freedom, at the time when victory was to come to those who fought and suffered with unyielding fortitude, a few careworn and weary stragglers deserted the post of duty, leaving the more faithful ones to bear the brunt of trial and to reap the reward of those who faint not. The names of Daniel Rogers, George Browning, Ralph Vickers, and a few others from Edgecombe cannot claim any honor nor bequeath to posterity any commendable deeds for their desertion from the military post at Kinston in August, 1782.
The economic and military conditions in the county again brought about an uprising of the Loyalists, which proved to be their final undoing. The Loyalists who still embraced a good portion of the civilian population, by schemes and artifices, disaffected a number of the troops who were under command of Colonel Henry Hart. These troops were citizens of Edgecombe, and had been raised to take part in the final resistance to British rule. Much discomfort existed among them because of the scarcity of food and clothing. And were depressed, for dark clouds portending defeat were still hanging over the whole American army. The Loyalists took advantage of the situation and succeeded in enticing Daniel Stringer and others from the American army. These deserters not only abandoned the cause of liberty, but enlisted in the British army. Late in 1782, however, Stringer, with several more of his comrades, suffered a compunction of conscience and repented. Stringer petitioned Governor Burke for a pardon, and after having taken an oath of allegiance and promising to rejoin the State troops, he returned to Tarboro and served under Colonel Hart until the close of the Revolution.
The attitude toward the remaining Loyalists in the country was rapidly undergoing a radical change as a result of their machinations. The patience of the patriots was fast being exhausted under the strain of economic and military pressure. Those remaining in Tarboro were dispersed abroad, many going to Canada; others departed for England. The English Church was completely demoralized and suspended all church functions until the beginning of the nineteenth century. In spite of the many reproaches and acts of ostracism, a few remained. They, however, were deprived by law of their rights as citizens. They were disqualified to enter suit against citizens, to vote, or to retain their property.
Following the Revolution the County of Edgecombe assumed new life, Tarboro gave evidence of becoming a place of consequence. Fine peach orchards were set and increasing crops of tobacco were cultivated throughout the county. However, the land was still sparsely settled at the head of Tar River. The West was gradually extending its frontier and Edgecombe for a hundred miles gave some signs of new habitations.
The local interest and participation of Edgecombe in the Revolution ended in Tarboro in 1787-88. During this year the General Assembly met in Tarboro for its first time. During the sitting of the Assembly an act was passed declaring the treaty of peace between the United States and the King of Great Britain to be a part of the law of the land. The courts of law and equity were again declared to have jurisdiction in all causes and questions. Elisha Battle was elected chairman, and he presided over the rapid and heated debates of the fundamental rules and provisions of the new State government. The adoption and ratification of the Constitution was followed by the first appearance of political parties on decided lines, the discussion of which follows.
CHAPTER IV Politics After the Revolution
The era of politics in Edgecombe and the beginning of the phase of public life, which was destined to make the county the scene of many hot campaigns and enthusiastic gatherings, commenced with the legislation in 1783. Many differences of opinions as to the policies affecting the State and nation were prevalent. During the Revolution parties sprang into being which favored and opposed the policies adopted against Great Britain. Two classes of men—whig and tories—lived in the county. The whigs, which constituted a majority, sought by legislative means to overpower the tories, and to some extent were successful. In 1778 about sixty-three tories were compelled to take the State oath of allegiance, before allowed to remain in the county.1
One of the early laws affecting the tory element was the confiscation acts. Considerable attention was given to this issue, and the tories had some sympathizers in the county. Many were connected with them by kindred ties and mutual feeling. With this background it is interesting to know how Edgecombe would support the law of confiscation. A bill concerning lands which had been confiscated by the State passed in the House of Commons, and was subsequently received by the Senate. In May, 1783, Elisha Battle, senator from Edgecombe, refused to support the bill and voted against its passage. Four years later the session of the General Assembly was held in Tarboro. Party differences, which were buried in oblivion in 1776, were reawakened when State and national issues came to the fore in 1787. Etheldred Philips, one of the representatives from the county, became an active supporter of the tory cause. The patriotic spirit, which was then predominate, actuated him to be mild in his support, however, and the matter of determining the disposition of Loyalist property, elicited a stand against confiscating lands, unless a trial by jury was given. This stand by Battle and Philips caused [illegible text] little interest in local politics, and had influence on the attitude these men took in 1788.[note]
In the meantime it became evident, both from indications in Congress and in the State, that the advocates for different measures were fast arranging themselves into two distinct parties. The conflict of war was soon to be forgotten in the bitter struggle for political supremacy. It was apparent that the one great issue which was to elicit party lines was to be that of ratifying the Constitution. The legislature called a convention to meet at Hillsboro July, 1788. Curiously enough it was soon known that one of the most prominent leaders in North Carolina—Willie Jones—was to oppose the adoption of the new Constitution. Many others in the State were moved with a similar spirit. It was the beginning of parties; party intrigues, and alliances in North Carolina. James Iredell, one of the political giants of this time, became a strong advocate for a strong Federal Government, while Willie Jones, Timothy Bloodworth, and David Caldwell for the republican spirit.
Meanwhile local sentiment in Edgecombe was shaping the minds of the people for participation in the pending struggle. The elections for delegates to the convention was held in April, resulting in the defeat of the Federal element. In this election the Revolutionary spirit had not entirely disappeared, and it was natural that men of the conservative type should have the honor of representing the county in the first State convention. Edgecombe elected Elisha Battle, Robert Digges, Etheldred Gray, William Fort, and Bythel Bell. Elisha Battle was a man of considerable ability, wise, and an ardent Republican. He was a survival of the Revolutionary struggle, who still kept intact his wisdom, counsel, and his usual fairness in political controversy. The other delegates were also of the Republican tendency.
The delegates met with the convention in Hillsboro, July 25, 1788. The principal object was to deliberate and determine a plan for a Federal Government. Battle was placed on the committee to draw up rules of decorum. Gray was placed on the committee of elections. During the procedure of the convention James Iredell, a strong Federalist, proposed a series of amendments to the Constitution, whereby certain power was to be delegated to Congress, which would strengthen the Federal Government. This proposal strengthened the existing party lines, and the Edgecombe delegation, true to the principles of Republicanism, cast its votes
solidly in the negative and with the majority. The convention, while the majority wanted ratification, neither ratified nor rejected the Constitution proposed for the government of the United States.
It is obvious, according to the Edgecombe vote, that Republican tendencies were predominate in the county. Later evidences substantiate this statement. This did not mean, however, that the county or its delegates were adverse to ratifying the Constitution, but that objection was voiced to the Federal amendment proposed by Iredell.
In the meantime the people of Edgecombe addressed a letter of grievance to Governor Samuel Johnson, in which they claimed they suffered by the decision of the late convention. They accordingly recommended another convention. The following year a convention was called to meet in Fayetteville on the 3d of November. Edgecombe sent Etheldred Gray, Jeremiah Hilliard, Etheldred Philips, William Fort, and Thomas Blount. Only two of the previous delegates were returned. Thomas Blount was perhaps the most able man in the delegation. He was a man of the Revolutionary school, having enlisted as an ensign, at the age of seventeen. He was taken prisoner during the war; sent to England, and returned after the cessation of hostilities. At the time of the convention he was a merchant in Tarboro, and later became one of the earliest Republican congressmen from this district.
After the convention was called to order and the preliminaries were dispensed with, it resolved itself into a committee of the whole convention. Immediately amendments were proposed by the Federalists to be laid before Congress. When the vote was called Phillips, Blount, and Hilliard voted negatively. Gray and Fort were either not present or refused to vote. The majority desiring ratification, but preferring ratification without amendments, the question of concurring with the convention was placed on motion, and Philips, Blount, Hilliard, and Fort voted affirmatively. Gray failed to vote.
This decided tendency of Republicanism was prevalent in the county on all issues affecting national and State policies. In 1790, just before the question of refunding the State debts incurred during the Revolution, and the rise of the National Bank, President Washington, for political reasons, planned a journey through
the Southern States. In 1791 he turned his attention southward, and in March he began his tour, arriving in North Carolina in April.
He visited Halifax on April 16th, and started for Tarboro on the morning of the 18th. He was met at Roanoke River by Colonel Ashe, representative of the district, who escorted him to Tarboro.1 General Washington was welcomed with a warm hospitality, being saluted with a single piece of artillery, and cordially entertained at the “beautiful residence overlooking Tar River,” belonging at the time to Major Reading Blount. No man possessed greater acumen in observing the political sentiments of the people than General Washington, and with tact and ingenuity he sought the people's opinion of the political issues of the day.
It is not to be inferred that because party beginning were evident in the State and county, in 1788, the county was organized at once into a political machine with definite platforms and issues. Nothing could be further from correct. Indeed legislators, sheriffs, and other officers were elected in the same old way, with nothing more than minor local issues to determine a difference in candidates for several years.
In November, 1790, the first political boundaries were established in North Carolina. The State was divided into five divisions for a more effective means of electing Representatives to United States Congress and other political positions. Edgecombe, and eight other eastern counties, formed the Roanoke division, and like the other districts were allowed one representative to Congress, eligible after being a resident of one of the counties from which elected for at least one year. The procedure of the election is worthy of comment in order to understand something of the political machinery of that day. The sheriff of each county in the district was the returning officer; constituted the political boss with considerable power and authority. It was the duty of the sheriff on the first day of February to repair to Tarboro to count the votes cast in order to determine which candidate had received the greatest number.
Separate and special means were devised for those in the militia to vote during elections. In 1800 a special law was enacted giving[note]
Edgecombe the privilege to muster at the home of Joseph Pender and James Phillips for separate elections. It appears, however, that this law was ignored by the field officers in the county, who desired to muster, as formerly, at Tarboro. The legislature passed an amendment forbidding a muster at Tarboro in order to make the demands to muster at Pender's and Phillips’ more emphatic and mandatory. The results of this law afforded much convenience to the inhabitants of the county. The residence of Pender gave Captain Eason, Todd, Robbins, Wood, and Ruth an opportunity to register and vote their men in the western part of the county without having to proceed some forty miles to Tarboro. Moreover the distance from Tarboro offered a good reason for the citizens of Northern Edgecombe to petition for a separate election. Phillips’ residence was accordingly designated as a place for mustering and Daniel Ross, Jeremiah Hillard, David Copfield, Sherwood Savage, and Elias Bryant were elected as a committee to supervise the elections.
The sheriff or his deputies attended the election on the evening before and received all the votes from those eligible for suffrage. He opened the ballot at Tarboro on the evening of Friday after the second Thursday in August, in order to ascertain the candidates receiving the majority of votes. Precautionary measures were employed to prevent one citizen from voting twice, once at Northern Edgecombe and again at Tarboro. A fine of ten pounds was enacted as the penalty for detected parties, and the sheriff was not allowed to count the votes until all suffrages were taken. All ballots from Pender's and Phillips’ were carried to Tarboro in a sealed box until all the districts voted. The seal was broken in the presence of the inspectors, sealed again until the election in Tarboro.
The Congressional election 1793 was full of excitement and thrilling episodes. John B. Ashe, of Halifax, had the first honor of representing this district in Congress, but with the new election he was succeeded by Thomas Blount, of Edgecombe. There was an entire change in the delegation, and a rapid departure of the policies which caused the obvious election of a new candidate. The anti-Federalists were rapidly assuming new power both in Congress and the State legislature. State politics and the legislature
had previous to this time been comparatively conservative, but in 1794 Edgecombe substituted John Leigh, an astute politician and reputed parliamentarian of Republican principles.
He served as chairman of the House for several sessions, beginning from 1795, at which time there arose an increasing bitterness between the Federals and the Republicans over the interpretation of the Federal Constitution, and the foreign policy of the American Government. The State generally witnessed an exasperating effect at the decline (although not defeat) of the Republicans in 1796. They resented without avail the encroachments of the Federals in disregarding the agreements laid down in the Federal compact. The powers were limited, but the Federal leaders were using unlimited powers in accomplishing policies of State, both in finance and pending war with France. There was a warm contest in the fall election. John Leigh was defeated for Legislature by Colonel Nathan Mayo, a man of influence and some talent, but by the grace of much force, and campaigning, Thomas Blount was more successful and remained in Congress.1
Federalism lost its influence in national affairs, until the election of Jefferson in 1801. It began a downward pace which culminated in failure owing to the loss of its principal leader, Alexander Hamilton, in 1806. North Carolina was Republican, with every hamlet carrying the banner of Jefferson and Democracy. Every position almost, in North Carolina, was occupied by a Republican. But this was too much of a happy state to be permanent. Too sweet and memorable for history, and too full of satiety for ease.
With the retirement of Jefferson in 1809, Mr. Madison assumed the presidency, inheriting the foreign complications which were far from being settled. He was possessed with taciturnity and irresolutions, which caused him to rely upon his party supporters. This gave the Federalists an opportunity to get new breath and an opportunity to push their interest, which had been inactive for nearly ten years. In the revival of party spirit in 1809 Edgecombe County became the scene for a warm campaign, so much so that[note]
the Congressional election resulted in the election of Willis Aston, who though not an avowed Federalist, leaned toward that faith. From other sections of the State out and out Federalists were elected.
An important political issue affecting Edgecombe County at this time was being agitated in North Carolina courts. Earl Granville heirs were attempting, through the Supreme Court of the United States, to lay valid claims to the property held by Earl Granville prior to the Revolution. To permit their claims would involve rights to land which were held by citizens of Edgecombe and other eastern counties, which had been cut off from Edgecombe since 1755. North Carolina courts had previously decided that the claims were invalid. The county was secured from further trouble and embarrassment by the death of Francis Key, counsel for the British heirs. Edgecombe politicians resented further inquiries in the matter, when the issue became one of national debate. Lined up with Edgecombe representatives in the State legislature were the representatives from Halifax, Granville, Nash, Johnston, and Pitt counties. The matter reached a successful conclusion, however, in 1809, when the suit was dismissed through the want of bond to push the case.
The Federalists in the county were still weak when the year 1811 found North Carolina on the verge of assisting in the war of 1812. Not all Republicans thought that the nation was in favor of war, and Edgecombe especially was lukewarm as represented by Thomas Blount. The following year a bitter campaign was conducted among the candidates for Congress. Mr. Blount, who was deceased, was succeeded by Willis Alston, Jr., of Halifax.
About this time there appeared a figure which was destined to make the annals of Edgecombe history glitter with political fervor. A man with a purpose in view, and with a career to make, came to the forefront in politics and war. Louis D. Wilson loved Edgecombe with a loyal love, and although he possessed no classical education nor a genius, he became a figure of value to the public welfare. At each session of the legislature to which he was elected he was becoming more familiar and effective as a politician and legislator. The life of Wilson presents both a saddened and brilliant glare upon the archives of Edgecombe's political history.
His first prominent appearance upon the political arena was in 1827. Democracy in Edgecombe had gained a foothold, which grew stronger and stronger as this political genius grew in power. The thirteenth district, of which Edgecombe was a part, put out two candidates for presidential elector—William Clark, of Pitt, and Louis D. Wilson, of Edgecombe. They agreed upon no electioneering, and it is doubtful if the records of the national and State elections could furnish a parallel. Frauds, corruption, and bribery existed in all parts of the country. A militia company, under Captain White, remained at Beach Swamps during the election.
The county, however, by the time of the election, was decidedly in favor of Jackson. The newspapers sounded the trumpet of Adams buying the presidential chair from Clay, by giving the latter the office of Secretary of State. The circulation of pamphlets throughout the county to this effect injured Adams, and decreased the number of votes for him. A freeman in his broken English wrote a letter to the Tarboro Free Press, October 27, 1827, that Clay and Adams ought to be tied together, and cast into the Chesapeake Bay. Strange to say this man voiced the opinions also of the majority of negro voters, who thought Jackson should be the next President, because he would round out some of the “big folks” at Washington, and let them know what it was to “fool with the free men of the country.”
The returns of the election showed seventy-nine votes for Jackson and only three for Adams. This return was immediately protested and submitted to the editor of the United States Telegraph to solve. The announcement that all Jackson voters, after the votes were counted, would be given plenty to eat and drink decided the majority.
Immediately after Jackson's election two political issues became prominent, one of which has lasted to the present day. The first of these was that of the tariff. Edgecombe County today has a survival of the old theory advanced during Jackson's administration. Before Jackson was inaugurated, several journals in the eastern counties held him up to the people as an advocate of the policy of protection, but they had remained totally silent as regarded Adams’ opinion on the same subject. The editor of the Tarboro Free Press, in voicing the sentiments of the citizens of Edgecombe, sent out a declaration of their opinions. They were
in favor of a judicious examination of the revision of the tariff, and in so far as it embraced the design of fostering, protecting, and preserving within themselves the means of national defense and independence, particularly in a state of war, they supported it.
The condition of the times—burden of the Revolution and War of 1812,1 the issue of bonds and internal improvements—demanded a careful and judicious tariff to pay off the national debt, and to afford a means of defense on which the safety of the country and the liberty of the people depended. The eastern people, however, never favored direct taxation to pay this great national debt, and it has always been a known fact that they desire protection on other resources than their own.
This opinion was expressed by a public meeting on September 17, 1827. The citizens gathered at James Bridgers, where a vote was taken against the tariff, one hundred and twenty-seven against and none in favor of the measure. A resolution was drawn up, signifying that the present tariff law of the United States was “iniquitous in principle, oppressive in operation, adverse to the intent and spirit of the Constitution, and dangerous to the integrity of the Union.” The politicians opposed the suggestion of a convention of the friends of States Rights (the second issue following Jackson's election) and “Free Trade.”
On the 22d of September, 1827, a considerable number of voters of the county assembled at the court house and considered the project of sending delegates to Free Trade Convention, which was to assemble in Philadelphia on the 30th of September. Both meetings, one on the 17th, another on the 30th, agreed on the nature of Free Trade and its consequences, and appointed Louis D. Wilson and Francis L. Dancy delegates to attend the convention in behalf of Edgecombe in order to redress the wrongs of the people in the county. Freetrade became such a popular movement that goods were advertised in the county as free trade goods.
The first public demonstration of State rights in Edgecombe occurred in the fall of 1827 during the election of W. Little, who was a rising politician of promising ability and influence. He[note]
offered a toast at a political meeting which opened the way for further agitation on this issue, “Arise, North Carolina,” he said, “shake off the yoke, proclaim your states rights, be free and may the Heavens protect you.”
On December 22d of the same year, a notice was issued for a meeting to be held in the town of Stantonburg, now in Wilson County, for the citizens of Edgecombe, Green, and Wayne counties to express their sentiments in regard to the presidential election. Approximately 250 people were present; William Speight was elected chairman and Thomas Speight, secretary. A committee was appointed consisting of Thomas Speight, Dr. Blake Little, Benjamin Miller, Patrick S. Comwell, and Will Little to prepare resolutions for the consideration of the meeting. A better insight can be obtained as to the condition and nature of the issue by the following preamble this committee submitted:
“It is the undoubted birthright of every American citizen to express publicly his opinion both of public men and measures. In order, however, to give time and energy to this most important and popular prerogative, it should be resorted to only in cases.
“Be it resolved, therefore, that we, the free people of Edgecombe, Wayne, and Greene, will use our utmost execution to promote the election of GeneralJackson to the presidential chair.” This resolution was the voice of the meeting, as was, and now is, the custom. Great political symbols were made as toasts, beginning with General Washington, the Father of the country, and concluding with GeneralJackson, sitting at the helm of the great national ship, with Commodore Porter for his pilot and J. C. Calhoun, first mate.
It is worthy of notice that the Edgecombe citizens did not vary from the rules of politicians in this meeting. A moral issue was accepted as a plank in abolishment of corruption, and the moral support of a protection of the “Fair Sex.” The Adams, Clay, and Co., the political intriguers, were to be hurled from their seats and recollected only for their “catalogue of crimes.”
Edgecombe politicians were very much against internal improvements. One of the campaign slogans was: “Internal improvement by Congress at a wrong place, a wrong time and by wrong men.”
By 1830 States rights theory was very strongly lodged in the minds of the Edgecombe Democrats. The movement was more popularly supported when it became known that James Iredell declined to be re-elected to the United States Senate. Edgecombe politicians began to consider the man who was next best fitted to uphold the political end of the government. They favored and supported Jackson's administration. A circular decree in the form of advertisement was issued for one who would manfully and ably defend the glorious cause in which the friends of “States Rights” were engaged. They wanted a man who had identified himself with the cause of Jackson and his reform. To this end the name of GeneralSpeight, of the Newbern district, received the prompt approval of the majority of the Democrats in Edgecombe.
With the close of the contest of 1828 between Adams and Jackson, the bank bill became an issue of absorbing interest to the Edgecombe politicians. The Adams party believed in internal improvements, expansion of the Constitution and high protective tariff. These policies, however, died an easy and gradual death under the astute plans of Jackson.
The themes of Jefferson were once more resorted to in the conflict, and the split of the two wings of the Republican party followed. Edgecombe supported Jackson in the fight until toward the close of the second administration.
The question and controversy over the banks demanded the first consideration of the people after Jackson's inauguration. In Jackson's first speech he had intimated that the banks as they were constituted were unconstitutional. This proved to be a mere beginning of a long struggle, and one which Edgecombe had a considerable share. In the State Legislature in 1811 Edgecombe had lifted her voice against the rechartering of the bank when the bill was before the State Assembly. But by 1816 the sentiment changed, and Clark, of Edgecombe, voted, with a considerable majority, in favor of rechartering the bank a second time. In this instance, however, the Republicans supported, and the Federalists opposed the measure. Without any hesitancy of speech, Jackson openly declared he opposed further expansion of the bank by
granting charters or otherwise. Where would Edgecombe cast her voice? Follow political creeds or yield to economic interest and needs?
In 1829 the State bank question was taken before the General Assembly of North Carolina. For the time being the policies of Jackson were ignored and party prejudice eliminated. As a consequence of this and much other agitation it was rejected by the Commons in the March session of 1829. Moreover, much conflict arose from the appointment of a committee to investigate. This committee was invested with power to examine persons and to ascertain the exact conditions of the bank. It was soon discovered that two parties existed among the members of the committee, those who desired to present the banks in the worst light possible and those who sought to palliate their conduct in handling the financial affairs of the State. The result was an agreement could not be obtained on a single report. Each party, therefore, made its own report; one describing the banks in the darkest colors, and the other palliating any offense and act of the banking institution.
Several days after the reports were made and the bill had been rejected, the Grand Jury at the March Term of the Superior Court of Edgecombe discharged their duties as Grand Jurors, and took in consideration the presentments made by the committee from Wayne and Duplin counties. The jury expressed its opinion inviting the attention of the citizens to the pecuniary embarrassment of the people, the conditions of the banks, and recommended an extra session of the General Assembly of the State to take the subject into their exclusive jurisdiction. The excuse given for the activity of the Grand Jury was evidenced by the results and attitudes of the two above-named counties.
The subject in itself, excluding the political side, was of vital importance to the people. Edgecombe was an infant in banking institutions and her industries were just beginning to become of financial value. A few of the more unbiased and thoughtful people knew something of the wishes and interests of the county generally. It cannot, therefore, be said that the jurors attempted to abuse their power, in expressing the opinion given to them by the people. Nor did they discuss the question of expending or constitutionality of the establishment of the bank in the State, nor
did they go into an agreement in order to show the causes which had produced the derangement of the currency at that time; but the people were, they asserted, greatly indebted to the banks, and that the banks had contributed largely in the production of the present state of affairs.
Edgecombe honestly believed that the people were greatly indebted to the banks and needed them for business purpose. However, as to actual conditions of the debt and the resources of the people to meet it, they said:
“To the different banks of the State, the people owe at least five million dollars the whole debt due from the institutions do not exceed four hundred thousand dollars.” This view of the banks would seem to anticipate a closing up of all banking interest. But such is not the time impression, for nearly six years remained to complete the process of demonstration of finances. The time had been in the county when some of the people considered it a credit to owe the bank; they then considered it less than no credit. The people, however, instead of being in the debt of banks, were also indebted to each other. It became a question of owing an individual or owing a bank, some people will be in debt, and a sacrifice of property, in some instances, cannot be avoided. It is the natural consequence of trade and business relations, and no constitutional act can prevent it. The situation then resolves into this: The people desired legislature to compel the banks to extend to their indebtors every indulgence which their situations might demand. Naturally this would work hardships on the bank or at least would not we workable business policy, because they would be forced to exercise forebearance in their collections, except interest during the summer and fall months. Then, too, it is easy to see why the people were unanimously in favor of the view of Grand Jurors.
In the meantime local politics was being waged in the county between the Republicans and Jackson followers. Following Jackson's election, Major James W. Clark was appointed clerk to Jackson Electoral College of North Carolina. He had been a member of both branches of the State Legislature, Representative in Congress and principal delegate to the Senate. He was destined to run a political race with some of his colleagues in his native county.
Thomas H. Hall, who had been elected congressman, was still in Congress at Washington under the sign of Democracy. The year 1831 promised to be a heated campaign for him. There had appeared on the scene a young man of considerable ability and astuteness of mind. This person was no less than Joseph R. Loyd. He was practically a self-made man and a lawyer of no little reputation. Through his courtesy of manner, and his kindness and polite attitude toward the people, he had acquired much influence in the county. The time for campaign of 1831 came on and J. R. Loyd threw his hat in the political ring. He had already been a member of the State Legislature in 1821, being elected because of his popularity. Consequently there being no opposition from the Federalists, Loyd began the race, with Dr. Hall, who was also a Republican, as a candidate for Congress. It is not enough to say Loyd was a promising candidate. He was a strong opponent, and Dr. Hall knew it. Francis Dancy, of Tarboro, was a very ardent supporter of Dr. Hall, and being somewhat alarmed over the rapid increase of Loyd's influence issued a circular June 30, 1831, claiming that Loyd in 1821 had voted, while representing Edgecombe in the legislature, in favor of a bill introduced by John Stanley which would decrease the jurisdiction of a single justice from $100.00 to $20.00. This issue was considered very beneficial to the people, and equally injurious to the interests of the lawyers. This was done, Dancy claimed, in order to benefit the lawyers.
Since this accusation was made investigations show that Dancy was in error and that no such bill was introduced. Stanley did, however, introduce a bill entitled a bill to preserve the rights of trial by jury, where the amount in controversy exceeded $20.00, but this did not reduce or purport to reduce the jurisdiction of a Justice of the Peace. This bill provided for an appeal in all cases from the decision of a justice when the amount exceeded $20.00.
It seems that most of Loyd's opposition came from Washington, where he was not so well known as Dr. Hall. Claims came from that quarter that Loyd was also a Federalist and supported the principles of Adams. It is to Dr. Hall's credit that he carried on the campaign with Loyd in a clean and above board manner. He did Loyd the justice to declare publicly that he was a Republican and stood for the principles of Jefferson and Jackson.
Dr. Hall, however, had a decided advantage on account of his varied experience in Congress and his splendid record there. It was certain that Dr. Hall's election would be secured, because of his vote to repeal the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act in 1820. The opposition he had grew out of his voting in favor of this repeal, and on his opposition to the internal improvement then in vogue throughout the county. Toward the close of the canvass on the 25th, the election was almost wholly abandoned, and the interest and the internal improvement question was presented to the people for their approval or rejection.
The score against Loyd, therefore, was decidedly in his disfavor and since he had no tangible plank in his campaign platform he was defeated.
In the meantime Jackson's second campaign was in its formative state and political wheels began to turn for national results. One result of Edgecombe's activities could always be depended upon. The political pot always boiled out crowds of followers. It had been no trouble to create interest in a political campaign. Early in May, 1832, pursuant to a public notice the followers of Jackson began to rally around the Democratic banner. The citizens of Edgecombe met in the court house of Tarboro to express their opinion of the re-election of persons to fill the offices of President and Vice-President of the United States, and to appoint delegates to represent the county in the convention held in Colorado on the 18th of January, 1832.
Resolutions were adopted as were thought to meet the approbation of the majority of the citizens of Edgecombe and contributed to the union of party feelings. There was at this time a tide in the affairs of the nation as well as in those of individuals, which was serving to disregard a national unity. The political tide was then moving with a rapid current and without men to demand the rights and interests of her people. Edgecombe, as all the South, would become like a ship on the ocean a wreck, surrendering its privilege and anticipation of future prosperity. The people felt this, they knew it, because a dissolution of the Union had been echoed again and again, not only in the United States, and the individual states, but in almost every county. It remained to be seen by party elections whether the prophecy of the times would be fulfilled. This then was the one great issue before the
voters of Edgecombe when they met at this meeting. In the safety of the interests, the people were willing to safely confide in General Jackson's integrity and patriotism. The question of the Vice-President alone remained to be settled, Jackson's elected by some, “but versus,” the people said, “endeavor to re-elect for the Vice-President a statesman, distinguished for talents, political honesty and other indispensible requisites for that responsible station.” There were two prominent names before the people—Barbour, of Virginia, and Martin Van Buren, of New York. Between these two individuals the people had to make a choice; and in the reelection was undivided not only their present interest but their future destiny. If Van Buren should be elected he would be at the threshold of his ambitions, he would then in all probability become President to the exclusion of many distinguished citizens. Van Buren had no identity with the citizens of Edgecombe, he had assisted to oppress them by advocating and voting for the tariff of 1828. In this respect he had scattered no blessings in the patriotic regions of the South.
In contrast to Van Buren, Barbour claims were indisputable to the people. He was the pride of Virginia; consequently of North Carolina, and especially Edgecombe. The results of the meeting was a support of Jackson and Barbour. The people forgot that Jackson himself was in the harness with Van Buren, and were desirous to elect him.
The question of State rights again became prominent in the campaign, and Jackson's alliance with Van Buren was the principal cause of the publicity which the movement acquired. Strange to say an element in Edgecombe adhered to Van Buren and supported the policies he advocated even in defiance of the views of the more extreme southerners. A convention was called at Raleigh in 1832 and Joseph R. Loyd was elected as delegate from Edgecombe. It is unnecessary to go into the discussion of the convention. Loyd remained quiet during the debate until Mr. Obrien from Granville County stated the grounds on which Van Buren's pretensions to Vice-President were founded. During this discourse Loyd was awakened and with all that eloquence with which he was master, he set forth his views, rather than the opinion of his fellow-citizens at home, upon the political issue.
Lloyd began by saying that North Carolina came into the Union cautiously; she was one of the last to adopt the Constitution, and would be one of the last to desert the Union. “The people of this State and county,” he said, “are not prepared to go into extremities.” This was the first meeting which had been called to express the feelings on the critical state of the county. The people preferred this opportunity of voing to settle the confusion, because it could be done in a mild and constructive manner. They preferred to do it by showing that they would advance no man to office whose opinions were adverse to the interests of the Southern States. Lloyd could not have expressed his feelings on this subject better than by voting in favor of Barbour in preference to Van Buren. In doing so he exerted his influence to put down a man who had supported the tariff system. The main point of the whole campaign was to do away with the party's power until the national debt was paid.
At the same hour that the convention was being addressed by Lloyd, a Van Buren meeting was held in Edgecombe where all the Van Buren followers gathered with Barbour's supporters. The meeting was addressed by several speakers, after which resolutions approbatory of Phillip P. Barbour were offered and the ayes and noes taken. It soon became apparent that the friends of Barbour would be unsuccessful in passing the resolutions, and they offered a polite invitation to the Van Buren men to retire. They contended that the meeting was an anti-Van Buren meeting, and that the Van Buren men had no authority to be there. The Van Buren men submissively retired, leaving behind the Barbour men and neutrals.
After the anti-Van Buren meeting adjourned, the Van Buren men reassembled in the court house. The meeting was addressed by Louis D. Wilson, R. R. Hines, and Moses Baker. The Van Buren faction remained unanimous with the anti-Van Buren faction, however, on the President, but expressed the highest confidence in Martin P. Van Buren as a politician of true Democratic principals.
In the meantime the Whig element made its first appearance in the county. The Whigs constituted the party which became opposed to Jackson in 1834. Mature men who favored Adams as a general rule also allied themselves with the Whig party. The
entry of this party into politics at Edgecombe came after the defeat of Van Buren followers. They took the issue of opposition to all progressive movements as a platform upon which to solicit recognition from their fellow-citizens. The first opposition made against any of these movements was the fight they lodged against the railroads and theology.
The Whigs in advocating their freedom as an issue for politics stayed the progress of industry in so far as lay in their power. Whigery of the county, in its enlightened democracy with sleepless vigilance, retarded the movement of all internal improvements and ignored every attempt to carry out any project that tended to increase taxation. An issue of this nature was sure to find several enthusiastic supporters in Edgecombe, for it is plainly evident that the politicians had always fought against any system which would increase taxation. For this reason vehement protests were not lacking when the railroad project was just inaugurated in North Carolina. The fact also that the Whigs opposed theological schools shows that the popularity of the movement was one of the cardinal principles which actuated the party in its adoption of the platform.
In the Tarboro Free Press, October 25, 1833, an article appeared, issued by the Whigs of that vicinity, versus the incorporation of theological schools. It was addressed to the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina. It was very easy to see that a religious creed of a partisan became mixed with his politics in this opposition. Two petitions were before the General Assembly at the session 1833 for incorporation of two theological schools. The Whigs and sectarian writers claimed that the incorporation of same would be an abuse of power, and the end of such corporations a subversion of the rights of both civil and religious liberty. The legislature might, the writer asserted, as well incorporate churches as incorporate theological schools, and might as well legislate on the doctrine of religion or on the ordinances or on the duties of religion, as on the ministry of religion. The right that gives the one, gives the other, or the same power that could do that could do the other, for nothing stood nearer related and more connected with religion than that of the ministry, for without it, would there have been a state of religion? It was obvious that the Whigs had an argument, and the legislature had
no precedent to act upon; the law producing religion in a technical sense. Would not the theological schools produce religious laws in the end? This was the issue laid before the legislature by the Whigs. The strife became bitter with a theological discussion among various politicians and the church people of the county. It finally culminated into a church and State affair, and was instrumental in getting many from the Whig party and church. The Whigs secured the public sentiment primarily from the results of taxation in case the schools were incorporated. A writer, commenting later on this subject and the progress in the county, said: “It's the priests’ hope to get dominion over the public mind and command of the purses of our people by means of theological schools incorporations. The Whigs of Edgecombe hesitate not to investigate the designs and dangers which he concealed under their speeches, beginning of authority, plunder and put the people of the legislature on their guard.”
The quick rallying around the Whig banner and the opposition of the Republicans, changed the tone of politics in the county, and caused a support to be given to the national Democratic candidate. The increase of votes for the Whig party in Edgecombe grew firm in the year 1834, when Democratic votes totaled 1,395 votes for candidates to Congress, and 1,320 votes for Dr. Hall in 1836. Mr. Pettigrew, the Whig candidate, received 75 votes. Dr. Hall, the election previous to this, had received only 1,091 votes and with no opposition. In spite of this overwhelming vote for Dr. Hall in 1836, Mr. Pettigrew was elected to represent this district in Congress. This clearly indicates the spontaneous rise of Whig influence in the eastern counties of the State. In addition to this the anti-Jackson element in Edgecombe, which had openly declared for the Whig party, had grown considerably stronger, and the district gave seven anti-Jackson members to the General Assembly, whereas the Jackson party gave only eleven.
In 1836 when the split finally culminated between the Jackson and Van Buren element, the Whigs were given additional strength. In spite of the fact that Edgecombe gave the largest Van Buren majority of any county in the State—1,175 votes—the Whig party had gained more than 30 per cent more votes than in the previous local election. The Democrats had lost more than 255 votes since
the year 1835. The ancient party, however, remained firm, consistent, and unshaken in her principles and unbroken in her democracy.
The following year more enthusiasm existed in county than in its previous history. The Democratic party saw, with jealous eye, the rapid encroachment upon the virgin soil of democracy by the Whigs. The Whig convention met in Washington, N. C., for the district, on the 7th of April, 1837. Josiah Collens, of Washington, was nominated for the Whig candidate for Congress. The formenting of the Whig machinery elicited recognition and immediate action on the part of the Democrats. The next day a large meeting was held at Captain W. Y. Bullock's in Edgecombe.
The following is an extract of the Democratic fight versus the Whigs from the Tarboro Free Press:
“On the 8th day of April, 1837, Robert Barnes was called to the chair, and David G. Baker, Esq., was appointed secretary. Benjamin R. Hines, Thomas J. Bullock, Dr. J. J. Daniels, and David G. Baker were appointed a committee to draft resolutions expressive of the sentiments of the meeting.
“After having retired a short time the committee reported the following resolutions, which, on motion of B. R. Hines, were read by Dr. J. J. Daniels, who advocated them in a strenuous but brief manner, and was followed by B. R. Hines, who also advocated their adoption:
“Whereas, The people have the constitutional right to assemble together for the purpose of taking into consideration the political condition of our country, and to consult each other, as to the mode the most propitious for the perpetuation of our liberties and rights: and whereas, a time has arrived the most momentous that has ever existed since the organization of our Government, which certainly calls loudly for a full expression of opinion individually and collectively. We, a portion of the Democratic citizens of Edgecombe County, N. C., who have met together in conformity with such rights, do think it essentially requisite to adopt the following resolutions:
“Resolved, That we believe that efforts are making by the advocates of modern Whigism and vicious fanaticism, to upset our venerated Constitution and our sacred Union; and that it becomes us, as lovers of liberty and advocates of those patriotic principles
so nobly achieved to us by our ancestors, to scorn all attempts of that kind, and use all exertions in our power to prevent such a sad catastrophe.
“Resolved, That we believe it to be essentially necessary to the cause of democracy and liberty, to present an undivided front in support of a Democratic candidate to represent this Congressional district No. 3, or else our cause so pure and so sacred must be defeated.
“Resolved, That the long experience of the Honorable Thomas H. Hall, as well as his firm, able, independent and consistent course, so often verified in the national legislature, entitle him to our confidence and should ensure him the support of the Democratic party throughout the district.
“Resolved, That we feel disposed to support him in preference to any other individual in the district, and earnestly request the Democratic party to unite with us in a cause so noble and so essentially requisite for the cause of liberty and the Constitution.
“Resolved, That our reluctance to give him up for any other individual induces us to positively give him our undivided support, should we not obviously see that our cause of democracy must be defeated by so doing.
“Resolved, That his claims to the office are undoubted, and justice to our cause as well as his consistent and able course heretofore so ably manifested, forbid us doing otherwise than putting him in nomination.”
The above preamble and resolutions were unanimously adopted.
A. committee of four individuals was appointed to inform Dr. Hall of his nomination and request him to say whether or not he would serve the people if elected, or whether the nomination met with his acceptance.
In the meantime disagreements arose over the advisability of running Dr. Hall as the Republican candidate for Senate. Dr. Hall acted with decorum in the matter, and not wishing to impair the influence and strength of the party by causing a split wrote the Tarboro Free Press, May 13, 1837, that since his name had been placed before the district as a candidate for office, he found that many respectable members of the party would have preferred some other. Naturally Dr. Hall saw that the unity of feeling would not exist and that this desirable effect must be
prevalent if the Republicans were to defeat the Whigs. Dr. Hall accordingly withdrew his name in a most gentlemanly manner, and that without engendering any degree of ill will toward the party and all concerned. This is one of the marked greatnesses of the man, who for more than a decade so faithfully represented Edgecombe in Congress, and in other important civil and political capacities.
After Dr. Hall's withdrawal only one prospective candidate remained, namely, Louis D. Wilson. Wilson was then gaining ascendancy in the opinion of the people, and his influence was working an impression upon the district as well. He was well in his prime and almost in the zenith of his political power. He had been the choice of the people in 1835, with Phesanton Suggs to represent Edgecombe in the convention of that year. He took an active part in amending the Constituion in the respect of depriving free negroes and mulattoes under forty years of age to vote for members of the Senate and Congress. With his political insight and his acquisition of thought and action he gained many new supporters in this campaign.
President Van Buren inherited from Jackson a great trouble and no less problem in the dying struggle of the United States Bank. In the contest between the Whigs and Democrats this became the absorbing issue. That the public weal and the interests of the many unsuspecting and innocent people should have to suffer in the intense struggle for political supremacy is one of those sad realities handed down to posterity. The Whigs, in order to retain the foothold already gained by the weakening of the Democratic party, made the opposition to the National Bank their cardinal theme. It seems amazing at this day that men with such ingenuity and foresight like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster should have lent their power and influence to aid in the disastrous scheme.
It presents a gloomy spectacle to witness old Edgecombe in the throes of political incubacy; struggling for party rights, yet ignoring the will of the people. However, the misty pages vanish under the stain of triumphancy, and the end of the campaign told the tale of democracy again instilled in the minds of many, and Whiggery maintaining her meager hold. Louis D. Wilson secured
1,167 votes versus Edward Stanley's 78 in the county. At the same time, however, there appeared a restlessness prevalent among the voters in the county. There was an urgent need to have a mutual understanding with prospective legislation to change or repeal the county law electing clerks for the County and Superior Courts, sheriffs and constable. The old systems were considered more convenient—that is, the appointment of such officers as were named by the courts. The promise of party spoils, however inviting, was never successful in persuading the people or politicians of the practicability of such a scheme.
Amid the bitter controversy of the Whigs and Democrats over the bank and the tariff, the “hideous spectre,” of even a more dreadful issue was continually appearing to the front. The question of slavery, which many had hoped was forever settled in 1920, was fast being revived by the Whigs, and far from solution. The unfurling of the Republican banner in 1839 was a movement beguiled by the deceptive pretext of Federalism under a modern Whig garb. An alliance between the Federalists and Whigs gave the new party control over county politics in 1839 and 1840. Edward Stanley, Whig, had represented the district in Congress for three successive years. In addition local politics was gradually passing from the Democrats to the Whigs. To add further to the complication and embarrassment of the Democratic party a farmer's ticket came out in 1840. This caused an additional decline of the Democratic party. There were accordingly three tickets. The Democrats, who supported R. M. Sanders for Governor; Louis D. Wilson, Senate; William S. Baker and Joshua Barnes, House of Congress, and M. Petway for Sheriff. The farmers’ ticket supported the same candidates for President and Vice-President, Governor, Sheriff, but ran W. L. Kennedy for Senate. The Federal Whigs of course supported Tyler, Harrison, and Edward Stanley, of Beaufort, for Senate.
The canvass for the campaign began with what promised to be a rampant contest. The fervor elicited some witty and appropriate remarks and writings on the issues of the day. One cotton victim who received reverses from an emotional as well as financial
consideration, contributed a poem to be used against the Whigs. It is well worth quoting as an index to the issues then prevalent:
- “Nought but these plagues of dreadful destruction,
- Distract us with fears of woeful reduction.
- Corn groans beneath the oppression of bugs,
- Harrison swaggers with ‘hard cider’ in mugs;
- Indians are cutting the throats of the whites.
- Northern men brawling for ‘nigger’ men's rights.
- Congress bullying and butchering each other,
- Honest men claiming the rogue for their brother;
- Banks buying up every freeman they can,
- (Undermining the Republican Van);
- Grinding all men who're disposed to be free—
- Such is the history of the time that be.”
The Democrats fought bravely, but unsuccessfully, in defense of their policies. The Whigs in the national contest won the laurels for which they had struggled so faithfully to obtain. In local affairs, however, the Democrats were successful and managed to elect Charles G. Hunter, of Edgecombe, as Democrat delegate to the convention at Baltimore, H. T. Clark as clerk of Court, William S. Baker and Joshua Barnes as Representative to State Legislature, William Petway as Sheriff, and Louis D. Wilson as Senator, and polled 1,379 votes for Van Buren versus 135 Whig votes for Harrison.
By the fall of 1841, after the apparent Whig victory in Edgecombe, the Democrats rallied back to their own colors. The Democratic committee met after the election and appointed another committee to get up resolutions, defending the Democratic principles and the county's integrity. The meeting was held at the court house November 23, 1841. J. C. Knight acted as chariman and George Howard, secretary. T. R. Purnell outlined in a speech the artifices and deceptions as the Democratic party saw them practiced by the Whigs during the last victory. He pronounced the Whig party “dead, dead, dead.” Moreover charges of abusing public confidence was charged to the Whig leaders. The Democratic party depended upon the sober thoughts of the people in the county to cause them to rally back to the support of Democratic principles as taught by Jefferson, Jackson, and
Van Buren. The Whigs had secured their ends in the bank question inasmuch as the President had failed to veto their measure. For this act the Edgecombe Democrats were not slow in acknowledging their appreciation. The party did not, as was charged against them, guard money more excessively than the Republicans had. They at least got more credit by the paper money party than they actually wanted. The death of Harrison, April 4, 1841, and the succession to the presidency by John Tyler, an ardent Democrat, caused great consternation to the Whigs and much rejoicing to the Democrats. A more prospective future loomed up for local democracy, and the campaign for 1841 for the election of Congressman was one of interest. Never did Democrats seem actuated by a more resolute and determined spirit. The boastings, the taunts, the sneers of their opponents only appeared to have a tendency to make them adhere more unflinchingly to the men of their choice and the Republican doctrine they advocated. This determination and the preparation made to offset the Whigs caused a prominent Whig voter to declare that the Democrats would only receive the support of the State of New Hampshire and the County of Edgecombe.
The Republicans of Edgecombe and Nash gave a public dinner at Nolley's X Roads in Edgecombe, 15th of October. Several prominent speakers were present and some rank Republican doctrines were promulgated. John P. Pitt, then an active politician, presided over the gathering, and George Howard acted as secretary. H. T. Clark, Ralph E. McNair, Harman Ward, Robt. D. Hart, and Charles G. Hunter were appointed to draft resolutions expressive of the sentiment of those present.
The committee having retired, the meeting was addressed at some length by J. J. Pippen, touching the merits of the respective candidates for the presidency; urging the necessity of vigilance and exertion on the part of the democracy, “to counteract the efforts of our opponents; inducing their neighbors to attend the polls.”
The committee returned, whereupon H. T. Clark, in behalf of the committee, reported the following preamble and resolutions, prefacing the same with appropriate remarks. The resolutions were read collectively and separately, and unanimously adopted:
“Whereas, The zeal and unexampled effort now made by the opposition to thwart the operations of the Government, to oppose
the principles of the Republican party by perverting its doctrines, misrepresenting facts, and raising a public clamor by the most bitter and malicious denunciations of men and measures connected with the present administration, call for renewed and vigorous efforts of the democracy to sustain themselves and the precious principles handed down to them by the forefathers.
“Resolved, That a committee of twelve be appointed by the meeting, to be a committee of vigilance, who shall take the necessary steps to promote the cause of the Democratic party, and secure a full vote at the polls, and to distribute such papers and documents as may tend to advance our cause.
“Resolved, That we have confidence in the Republican doctrines of the present administration, and think the welfare and prosperity of the county depend upon their successful maintenance.
“Resolved, That we view with much alarm and concern, the union of Whigism and abolitionism at the North; while our present President stands pledged to vote any interference with our domestic institutions from the fanatic abolitionists. GeneralHarrison is ominously silent on it—and the Whig party at the North have pursued such a course on this subject that no southern man should trust them with power.
“Resolved, That we feel grateful for the firm and manly stand assumed by northern democracy in favor of southern rights and the Constitution, and while we sympathize with those who have been sacrificed for their course on this subject, we feel indignant at the boastings of southern Whigs for the success of northern Whigs who are avowed abolitionists.
“Resolved, That the independent treasury bill, delivering us from the unholy alliance of corporations and the money power, is the plain interpretation of the Constitution and the true policy of the Government as marked out by our forefathers, and should be the uncompromising creed of the Democratic party.”
The beginning of this campaign marked a sad omen which was not eliminated until 1847. The strategy exercised by the Whigs in supporting H. I. Toole, a Democrat in principle, caused suspicion to be cast upon him, and he was doomed to suffer for honest
principles. This is not the first time a man was defeated by the wrong kind of support and at the hands of superfluous flattery.
Moreover, Toole became involved in an opposition with his personal friend, H. S. Clark. The convention placed Clark in order of nomination and under this condition nothing remained but for Toole to run as an independent candidate or withdraw with a loss of prestige. The Whigs were elated over the defeat of Toole in the convention, because he had been their greatest foe. In the election previous to this he had secured 841 votes in the county versus that of 80 for Stanley, the Whig candidate. In order to celebrate their feelings a cannon was fired in front of the market square in Tarboro when the news reached the street from the closed doors of the convention hall. The result was he ran as a mere choice of the people. The Tarboro people felt under obligations to support the nominee of the convention, and, as usual with political organizations, began to hurl its invectives toward Toole, and painting Clark up in brilliant colors. Both men were equal in character and ability. However, one was a victim of circumstances and the other a supporter of political machinery.
Toole was so severely abused by the Democrats, although a Democrat himself, that he ordered his paper sent directly to him instead of his home, in order that his family might not be pained at the abuse against him. An article had appeared in the Tarboro Press, signed “A. B.,” in which Toole was defended of his principles and why the Whigs were supporting him. George Howard, then editor of the Tarboro Free Press, commented in as mild a form as his position would admit and gave cause for further correspondence upon the issue. Accordingly a prominent writer in Tarboro, in making use of the opportunity to harass Toole further, wrote a scathing rejoinder. He thought that Howard had missed the mark in attributing the authorship of “A. B.” in the paper to a Whig in Tarboro. The writer then declared that there were certain earmaks about the communication, as well as twenty-three editorials in the same paper, which were strong features of a certain gentleman in Tarboro who calls himself a Democrat (meaning Toole).
The writer proceeded further to show, in a ridiculous light, the workings of the new-fangled coalition. It was indeed queer that
Toole should have been supported by the Whigs when a Democrat and the two parties being so abused to each other. And probably with present limitations of insight to the mistakes made by the parties involved, one should not be too harsh toward either opponent or contestant. Toole's followers at any rate were pictured as a mere corporal's guard (which later proved otherwise), vieing with each other in their efforts to promote the cause of the great “Unpacked,” “Toole shaking hands with Federalism,” was the picture of ignominious regret. Federalism defending Toole was a unique cause for suspicion of any man claiming Democratic principles. This was of course an unnatural alliance; and unholy union. The time was, and it came to pass soon after this predicament was realized by Toole himself, that H. I. Toole would have scorned such an alliance, when his ardent spirit for democracy would have suffered the keenest mortification, ere he would have permitted support from men whose principles he detested. Toole, however, was not willing to remain in his embarrassing position. Rather than be supported by Whigs and to suffer the Democratic party, the one for which he had fought and loved, to be impaired, he sacrificed the race and withdrew. Richard S. Donnell, of Craven County, became the Whig nominee for Congress in opposition to Clark, after Toole's withdrawal. In this instance Clark did not play the ungentlemanly part. He immediately proposed in a letter to Toole that he also, in order to secure the harmony for the success of the Democratic party, would withdraw from the race on certain proposals, namely, that some other individual be selected or agreed upon, and that both he and Toole support such individual.
Toole in the meantime had given Clark's proposal consideration, and the reaction of his own mind again forced him to reinstate himself in the eyes of his supporters for the seat in Congress. He accordingly wrote Clark, May 5th, and informed him that since his withdrawal he had advised with his friends, and he nor they considered the harmony of the Democratic party endangered by the present conditions of things—both claimed to be Democrats—since if either were elected (and it was certain that one would be), a Democrat would be secured. In this event Toole reconsidered his withdrawal, and proposed to Clark both run as candidates. There remained nothing else to do, and the race began.
Immediately after his declaration that he was again in the field a dialogue between a Town Whig and a Country Democrat, which was supposed to have taken place at X Roads Meeting House, was published in the Tarboro Press. The words “town” and “country” were used profusely to convey a supposed idea that the town was superior over the country, and the country man was to beat in the conversation. This was to cast reflection upon Toole. The dialogue is as follows:
Whig (with a hat full of Toole's circulars, all copied from the North State Whig): Good morning, ’Squire. How do ye do today?
Democrat: Thank you, tolerable—how's it with yourself?
Whig: Joster so so. Well, ’Squire, who do you go for, for Congress?
Democrat: I go for the nominee of the convention.
Whig: You do? Why he's a Whig, “as good a Whig as I want.”
Democrat: He is? Well, why don't you go for him? You profess to be a Whig.
Whig: I would go for him, but “I have pledged myself to go for Toole.”
Democrat: You have? Then I “pledge myself to go for the nominee.”
“It is needless to say that the Whig (Coon) was fairly ‘treed,’ and didn't say anything more.”
The results of the election demonstrated that Toole had not lost favor entirely in the people's estimation. His contribution to the policies of the Democratic party even though clothed (as some Democrats declared) in a Whig garb was remembered in the most stringent and undue crisis of his political career. These ideals cherished by the voters in the county were manifested on the day of the election. Edgecombe gave Toole the majority of votes, but the other counties went against him. Because of the split among all parties only 52 votes were necessary to a choice, and Toole lacked only eight. Had Beaufort County gone for him he would have won; but by skillful jockeying her vote was secured for Clark by a majority of one.
In the meantime Whiggery had continued to gain in power and in numbers. The Federal Whig convention in Raleigh, in April, 1842, gave Edgecombe another opportunity for display of numerical increase. R. H. Battle, Dr. L. J. Dortch, C. C. Battle, B. D. Battle, and William A. Pone were sent from the county as Edgecombe representatives. Edgecombe, however, grew less and less in sympathy with one of the principal Whig leaders, Stanley, in the district. They charged him with corruption, allowing himself $53.00 too much in expenditures and voting for the tariff. It is true that Congress in 1842 passed a high tariff law, based and passed on the assumption of protecting the manufacturers. Edward Stanley was the only member from North Carolina, Whig or Democrat, who voted for the measure. Naturally this did not appeal to North Carolina and Edgecombe. The poor men of Edgecombe were then paying upon the necessities of life the high tax imposed by the Whig party. Stanley went to Stantonburg, August, 1843, on an electioneering tour. While there he was attacked in a speech by William Norflet, who laid charges against him for his political association with abolitionists, his support of high tariff, and protection. These charges were laid as a basis for the election of 1844, and constituted the unfurling of the political events until the outbreak of the War between the States.
With the admission of Clay in the political ring the issues of slavery and tariff became revived and dominated politically for over twenty years. It is a darkened and gloomy phase of political history, but none the less one worthy for complete understanding. No phase of history is more interesting than to observe the movement of politicians; the unraveling of forces which later clashed in arms for political dominion. Politics was the one excitement of the day, and actuated men to impulses as blinding and misleading as they were noble and spectacular. In the gathering of the clouds of conflict dwindling of parties is seen, and alliances and friendship destroyed. In their place is found the rise of new parties, new alliances, and new entanglements.
Preliminary to the campaign of 1844 the Whigs and Democrats, as their custom was, began having meetings and barbecues. They, moreover, began forming organizations for the campaign. A regular Democratic Association was organized in the Fifteenth District, with May Cherry as president and John F. Speight,
secretary; both from Edgecombe. A preamble was immediately formed; whereas, the democracy of Edgecombe did proclaim its unaltered attachment to the principles of the Democratic creed. With this firm determination, promise was made to do battle in the November election to defeat Clay and the combined force of Federalism. At this time Clay himself was carrying on a pompous parade through the State, and was securing great acclamations. He visited the “State” of Edgecombe, as he termed it, in his introductory remarks. The Democrats sought to play a trick upon him. The cars stopped at Joyners Depot, where a crowd, entirely Democratic, assembled to hear him. After the cars began to move off Clay stood on the platform and shouted at the top of his voice: “Go on, gentlemen, you are engaged in a noble cause and must triumph.” In a few moments the party was out of sight, and the crowd made the atmosphere ring with laughter because of the blunder of the Whig candidate.
At this meeting Toole was appointed to canvass the Fifteenth District as elector for Polk. The names of R. R. Bridges and James S. Battle were also recommended as suitable persons to represent the county in the House of Congress. Wilson was favored for the Senate, Petway for sheriff, and Hoke for Governor.
In the meantime the Whigs were not sitting idly by. A Whig central convention was organized and confidential circular letters were issued, threatening a revolution if Polk and Dallas were elected. This letter was signed by Richard Hines (a member of Congress from Edgecombe, 1827), and other prominent men. It fell into the hands of the Democrats and was published in the Tarboro Free Press as threat to upset the unity of the State. Great exactions were employed to remove the obvious insult cast upon the country, and pleas were issued to resent the lofty crest, flashing eye, and shake of “Coondum” with a real vote for Polk and Dallas.
The Whig convention denounced Edgecombe with special emphasis, intimating she would give a thousand illegal votes in the approaching election. This marked the first fall of Whig power in the county, and showed an approaching sign of weakness. Following these declarations the Whigs recommended the appointment of various Whigs to be stationed at the polls to prevent a stuffed ballot. This naturally aroused the indignation of the
Democrats, and they prepared to rebuke the assailants of their reputation. Though Edgecombe has been often calumniated for her political consistency and unanimity in irresponsible newspaper articles, she now for the first time found responsible endorsers.
The Whigs having some 8,000 majority in the State could reason a defeat only by a fraud and forgery in the Democratic party. In this fraud it was considered to be without redress or remedy, and it could be done with impunity, such being the prospects of democracy.
Toole addressed the people in Tarboro immediately after this controversy and gave the origin of the parties in the county. H. Ferdinand Harris replied in a Whig discourse, but was hissed down by the Democrats. Later, newspaper battles began and the issues of both parties were made plain. The tariff issue was again revived, and Harris stated that goods were cheaper since the passage of the tariff act of 1842 than they were during the compromise act when duties were at a minimum rate. This Toole contradicted.
The Democratic party in Edgecombe has ever been opposed to the doctrine of protection, and have always stood pledged to reduce the tariff to a revenue standard to meet the expense of the Government; economically administered. Consequently they were never pledged to any particular bill, but were opposed to the system of minimum and specific duties of 1846, as deceptive and fraudulent in their operations.
This was practically the argument of the party. Assisting Toole in the promulgation of Democratic ideals were John Norfleet, H. T. Clark, Elias Carr, W. M. Norfleet, and William T. Harvey. Who could stand such a Democratic charge, and who could sympathize with a conqueror over so many brilliant enemies?
The Democratic creed embraced, as has been intimated, a separation of the Government from the banks, opposition to old tariff and taxes, except such as were laid for revenue and the necessary expenses of the Government; opposition to any distribution of public money, opposition to all repudiation of honest debts by the bankrupt laws of the general Government or by the State Legislature in public expenditures, and a firm belief in states rights.
On the celebration of the fifty-seventh anniversary of American Independence a huge mass of citizens of Edgecombe met in speaking
and feasting. Several toasts were made on the occasion, which emphasized the growing importance of the States rights issue. James W. Clark presided over the meeting after just having resigned the office as first clerk of the navy. There was much wrangling over his act by the Whigs, as a resignation was so rare in that day of rotation. But Clark resigned, as he stated, not for political purposes, but had resigned from motives purely of a private nature.
Dr. Hall being indisposed was absent, but sent the following toast of Edgecombe's stand in politics: “The sovereignty of the states, the sovereignty of the people, who compose the states—having never alienated they still retain it. The powers of Congress and State Legislature, being only delegated are of necessity subdivided and not sovereign power.”
It appears also that while there were States rights men, there were also men who were anxious for the union and its safety. The question of the Union had been often discussed prior to this date. George Howard, however, at the same meeting and following Dr. Hall's toast, offered the following sentiment: “Liberty—who will part with it? Union—who can calculate its value? May the people of this United States never be called upon to choose between them.” Little did he know that in 1861 he would assist in destroying the Union temporarily, and less still in the trying days of 1866-1880 assist in its perpetuation.
The election of 1844 came off quietly considering the feverish campaign which had been waged. The county gave a majority of 1,377 votes for Polk as President, an increase in Democratic votes of 85; and 13 more votes than had been previously given in the county. L. D. Wilson was elected to Senate, Joshua Barnes and R. R. Bridges to House of Commons. W. D. Petway was elected sheriff, and the county gave 1,410 votes for Hoke as Governor versus 718 for Graham, the Whig candidate. The Democrats, therefore, received the first complete victory for several years. With the triumph of Polk and Dallas, and the defeat of Henry Clay, much rejoicing was witnessed and experienced in the county.
Immediately after the campaign and election of 1844, the field of politics became open for the election of congressman. Arrington, of Nash, and Toole, of Edgecombe, became the successful nominees for the election. The citizens on Fishing Creek were
GEN. LOUIS D. WILSON
notable Whigs, and greatly opposed Toole, hating him, as the Free Press told it, worse than the “Devil did holy water.” The Whigs were demoralized by the recent election and did not know which candidate to support. Arrington was weak and his friends admitted it. Toole had considerable talents for doing them damage and ought not to be placed where he could cause an unrelenting and indictive warfare upon them. Both being Deemocrats, however, a choice had to be made between the two, since no Whig candidate was available. Consequently they took the lesser of the two evils and supported Arrington, who was accordingly elected.
In the meantime party politics became intermingled with the clamor for war with Mexico. In this realm of activities Edgecombe played no inconspicuous part. The center of the history from 1846 until 1848 clung around one noble and amiable character, Louis D. Wilson. His name should instill in every Edgecombe son, the noble attribute which actuated this unselfish man to his patriotic duty.
The beginning of 1846 were days of preparation for the fast approaching war with Mexico. Before the spring had gone the conflict had begun on the Rio Grande, and volunteers were offering their services to the Federal Government. Edgecombe, for some reason, was slow to offer its services for the war. Louis D. Wilson was a member of the Senate at this time. Feeling the askance of mind and that day's touch of shame for his native county, Wilson presented a scene which is unparalleled in local history. With wonderful grace and touching dignity this venerable man, with his flowing locks, rose and addressed the Senate with a farewell address. He asked for permission to visit his county and fellow-citizens, and there awaken them to duty and consciousness. The scene in the Senate was the most thrilling and effective. Senators without party distinction gathered around him and gave him a cordial farewell. Every heart was full, Whig and Democrats vied with each other in demonstration of affectionate approbation and regard. Tears trickled down the cheeks of the senator from Haywood when he arose, and reported a series of complimentary resolutions which were unanimously adopted.
Wilson had given the freshness of his youth and manhood to the service of the State in its legislative halls, and now in the noon of life he went forward at his country's call to fight its
battles in a distant land. Could a man be more noble, more patriotic, to unselfishly do a work not even required or expected of him to do? SenatorWilson left Raleigh January 1, 1846, and arrived home the next day. The patriotic zeal of the man kindled enthusiasm in the hearts of his fellow-citizens, and by the 6th of January a host of volunteers of the county met at Toisnot Depot to partake of a dinner and arrange plans prior to their departure. L. D. Wilson, then appointed captain, addressed them in a strong manner, exhibiting a firm determination on his part to go ahead in his arduous undertaking. They were also addressed by Lieutenant Pender, another noble son of Edgecombe, who was destined to give his life, along with GeneralWilson, in this last service for his country. On Thursday morning a number of 150 men departed for Wilmington for mobilization and training.
On the 23d of January two more regiments were mustered in the county. More than one hundred men stepped forward in one day to volunteer their services. The writer wishes it were convenient to give the roster of all the troops, but the names of the officers will have to suffice. Louis D. Wilson was made captain; William S. Dugger, first lieutenant; William H. Moye and Josiah S. Pender, second lieutenants; George W. Barnes, first sergeant; Robert Pitt, second sergeant; Hardy C. Dixon, third sergeant; James J. Williams, fourth sergeant; Benjamin G. Branwell, first corporal; Weldon S. Hunter, second corporal; Jethro D. Battle, third corporal; and Elisha Abrams, fourth corporal.1 All of these men in the group, which later constituted several companies, were from Edgecombe except one from Pitt and one from Franklin County.
The month of January was a proud one for old Edgecombe. The ladies of the county with commendable patriotism prepared appropriate banners for the volunteers and set apart the 18th for presentations. Miss Sarah E. Howard, in behalf of the women, delivered the address. Captain Wilson, having been notified, was present, accompanied by Lieutenant Staton and Corporal Abram. A large crowd of citizens from town and county witnessed the ceremony. At one o'clock a signal gun was fired, and Miss Howard[note]
appeared to give her address. She was accompanied by Misses Foxhall and Lawrence. The address is as follows:
“Captain Wilson:—To you, as the representative of the Edgecombe volunteers, I am deputized by the ladies of the county to present the flag which I hold. Appreciating the heroism which has impelled you at the call of your country to rush to her standard, and that self-sacrificing spirit, which when patriotism demands, forget the comforts of home and ties of kindred, to peril life and fortune in the tented field; we have wrought with our hands a banner for the volunteers, hoping that its presence may urge them forward amid the hardships of the camp, and restrain them in the hour of victory.
“Whilst the weakness of our sex forbids us to encounter the fatigues and privations of war, it has always been deemed appropriate that women should cheer on the soldier to the field. In this we but emulate the example of the maidens and matrons of the Revolution, that Revolution which established those political liberties and conferred those social benefits, to secure which you have volunteered. Your fathers waged war against the haughty Britons, and the Lion of England has twice crouched before the Eagle of our country. You are now engaged in a contest with the perfidious Mexicans, and the flag of ’76 is the flag of ’46. The same national emblem which waved over your ancestors now wave over you. The same glorious eagle which witnessed the death of the gallant Colonel Irwin, of Edgecombe, when he fell at the head of his regiment on the bloody field of Germantown, will follow you with his bold unwinking gaze to the mountains and valleys of Mexico. The same glorious stars and stripes which beamed over Saratoga and Monmouth, Kings Mountain, and Camden, will beam over you.
“The honor of North Carolina is in part entrusted to your care: that State which was the first in ’76 to brave the wrath of the British lion; and which, if the clouds of adversity shall ever overtake our institutions, will be prepared to furnish the forlorn hope for freedom's farewell fight. More especially is the honor of Edgecombe in your hands. You are our husbands, our sons, our
brothers, our friends. You have enlisted under that proud banner which has been consecrated to the cause of human liberty—the glorious stars and stripes of your country—it is the precious emblem of our noble confederacy of free and independent states, as yet as pure and unsullied as the bosom of a lovely baby. When unfurled to the breeze who of us beholds it without associating with it whatever is brave, whatever is just, whatever is generous. The alacrity which you have displayed in coming forward at the call of your country, forbids all fear that you will be backward in the fight.
“Accept, then, our banner—cherish, protect, and defend it to the death. May it ever be found in the front rank of battle! Where the balls fly thickest and blows fall heaviest. Remember that it is not more the flag of the brave, than the flag of the virtuous; and we implore you, in behalf of our sisters of Mexico, should the fortune of war place them in your power, recollect that a noble courtesy not less than a high courage characterize the true soldier.
“Go; our hearts are with you. Our prayers shall accompany you. Our plaudits shall hail your successes and greet your return. If you fall, our tears will embalm your memories.”
A very appropriate song was composed by the volunteers, and sung during the war. The tune was the one used in singing “Mary Blain”—at that time a very popular song. Some lady with musical talent should revive this song:
- “We shoulder our arms,
- And on the way we go:
- To right the wrongs we've borne
- So long from Mexico.
- “Farewell the hearts to us so dear,
- And the dear girls we leave in pain;
- She'll not forget her volunteer,
- He's coming back again.
- “We do not fight for money,
- But glory still more dear;
- We'll whip both France and England,
- If they dare to interfere.
- “And when the war is over,
- Then Mexico will say,
- She'd rather fight the devil,
- Than the boys who start today.
- “Who's not heard of Edgecombe,
- The pride of all the land?
- Her daughters fair have sent from home,
- This brave and gallant band.
- “With Wilson for our leader,
- We'll fight like heroes brave;
- We'll either conquer all our foes,
- Or fill the soldier's grave.
- “The old North State a mother, too,
- Of more than Roman fame:
- Has sent her sons all brave and true,
- To win a gallant name.
- “Then ere we go we bid adieu,
- To all we leave behind;
- Mothers, sisters, sweethearts true,
- We bid you not repine.
- “For to a sacred war we go,
- We'll win a glorious name,
- And when returned from Mexico
- You'll share our wealth and fame.”
Captain Wilson received the flag with an appropriate speech and returned that night for Wilmington.
The Edgecombe volunteers left Fort Johnson, Smithville, where they had mobilized, February 15, 1847, for Mexico, and took the steamer U. S. Powell. They arrived in Santiago, March 7, 1847. The Edgecombe companies were left at Francisco on the Rio Grande about fifteen miles from Canargo. They had seen no active service up to May 22, 1847. While at Canargo the Edgecombe companies suffered more than any other companies in the regiment, and out of the two large organizations only enough men remained to form one good company by July 18, 1847. Captain Exum L. Whitaker, of Edgecombe, Company A, died June 3d, while the same company had lost thirty-two from fever as early as June 3d. Company E had lost twenty men by the same epidemic. Several men died before reaching Canargo. Calvin Johnson, of Company A, died at Matamoras on the 28th of March, while William H. Spence and George W. Barnes died on the boat which was taking the troops to the city. During the month of April Companies A and E had lost from typhoid fever over thirty-nine men. Gethro Battle, one of the volunteers, died before leaving Fort Johnson. He entered his tent one night in apparent good health and was found dead the next morning.
In the meantime Captain Wilson had been raised to the rank of colonel and was preparing a regiment under GeneralTaylor. Late in June the two Edgecombe companies were ordered up the Rio Grande, Wayne Company following five days later. At the Rancho, San Francisco, the Edgecombe companies went aground, fast in the mud, and landed to encamp. The Wayne Company overtook them and all proceeded to Canargo. After landing their cargoes, they went back to San Francisco to reinforce ColonelWilson because of the excitement and danger along the river. Several men were then on the sick list, four being left at Matamoras. Within a few days dysentery, billiousness, diarrhea, and typhoid had become general. Frequently not enough men were available to mount guard. Out of seventy-nine privates in one company only thirty to forty were reported fit for duty for several days. Several were sent to the hospital at Canargo and Matamoras. Several died on the boat going down and were buried at Rancho and La Bolso.
However, the Edgecombe troops arrived just in time. There was considerable excitement when rumors came of the approach of Santa Anna with overwhelming force, and GeneralTaylor with but a remnant of an army left. The arrival of the volunteers at this time was fortunate. The men from Edgecombe soon had an opportunity to give honor to the county and to distinguish themselves.
A letter had been received from Colonel L. D. Wilson, of the Twelfth Infantry, stating that he expected to leave Vera Cruz in command of 850 troops as a guard for a train with supplies for General Scott's army. Should they be molested by the Guerrillas, Colonel Wilson was prepared to give a good account of himself.
In the meantime GeneralTaylor was also making preparation for a move towards San Luis. The rumors about the appointment of commissioners on the part of Mexico to make overtures for peace appeared to be all unfounded; and vigorous preparations were made by the United States administration and army to prosecute the war with renewed energy.
First Lieutenant John S. Pender, commanding Company A, Edgecombe Volunteers, wrote an interesting letter, descriptive of events in Mexico, and gave an index to conditions: “We deeply sympathize with the relatives of those who have fallen victims to disease,” wrote Lieutenant Pender, “and hope the day is not distant when the survivors will return home crowned with laurels, and be enabled to recount to anxious hearers their ‘hairbreadth’ escapes in the tented field. Our people, no doubt, being ever anxious to hear from the ‘B'hoys’ of the ‘Old North State,’ more particularly from the ‘Edgecombe Wheelhorses,’ I have undertaken to give you some information as to our doings and whereabouts.
“The remaining companies of our regiment under command of ColonelPaine (two detachments having advanced a short time previous—Captains Henry Henry and Blalock 's to Saltillo; Captain Price and Williamson's and the two Edgecombe companies to Cerralvo, under command of MajorStokes) have left the most odious and disagreeable, I might say fatal place, Canargo. For so it had proved to our regiment. On the 3d of June, enroute for Buena Vista, we were joined by our detachment under MajorStokes
at Cerralvo, and arrived on the 16th of June at GeneralTaylor's camp near Monterey, but four miles distant in a delightful grove of large pecan trees, whose tall and wide-spreading branches afford a delightful shade to the weary travelers, after marching several days over rugged and barren hills, covered with a few little shrubs termed chapparral.
“At the camp of ‘Old Rough and Ready’ on Walnut Spring, so called from the large pecan trees (being a species of the walnut), is an excellent spring gushing out of the ground in a large and continuous volume of cold and refreshing water, which to us, who having been compelled to drink the San Juan composed of rotten limestone at times as thick as any mud puddle, saturated with the carcasses of cows, mules, etc., that are strewn along the river sometimes two or three together every forty or fifty yards—to us, who instead of drink had found both meat and drink, it was indeed a luxury, and could our good folks have seen us quaffing away at nature's font, they would have taken us for cold-water advocates.
“GeneralWool is in command of this post, and is wooling the boys considerably in the way of drilling and guard duty; he is considered the strictest disciplinarian in the army, and has expressed the intention of making soldiers of us, and I sincerely believe he will, from the manner in which he has commenced operations. Our regiment is in high favor with him, being the same wherever we have remained, sustaining a high character for its orderly and soldierlike bearing.
“It is considered remarkably healthy here, and the boys are doing quite well; those that have been sick are convalescent, and I am confident that if our regiment, on its arrival in Mexico, could have advanced to this place, we should now number many brave soldiers in our ranks who have fallen victims to the climate of the lower sections of the country, where we remained so long engaged in the noble and glorious business of escorting wagon trains, and after undergoing these hardships and exposure to health and life, to have to content ourselves with the almost certainty of having no fight.
“While on our way up at Rinconarda, a mountain pass where the Mexicans had such a desperate struggle with the Spanish, the success of which secured to them their independence, we were
informed of the vicinity of the enemy, some five thousand strong, and that an attack was certain. We pursued our way after using every precaution to prevent surprise, and it gives me pride to say that I never saw more coolness and courage exhibited on any occasion. We had every reason to believe that we would have a fight, and I am confident our men wish it with a right good will. We received from time to time expresses confirming previous information that the enemy was certainly in our advance and determined to cut us off. I suppose they took the second sober thought and vamoosed, thinking we were not the boys to poke fun at.
“There are various rumors in camp relative to our future movement. It is the opinion of some that we shall advance as far as Paras, there to remain; others anticipate a retrograde movement. It is likewise rumored that this line of operations will be entirely abandoned that a portion of the troops will be ordered to GeneralScott, the remainder discharged. There are any quantity of rumors among us, and they fly about so thick they keep a fellow continually dodging; though I believe it to be conceded generally that there will be no fighting on this line of operations.
“We unfurled our handsome flag to the breeze on the 4th of July, which attracted much attention from the regiments composing this brigade, it being generally conceded to be the handsomest company banner displayed, and many an eye in our rank was moistened with the unconscious tears while repeating that patriotic and endearing motto, ‘Go, our hearts are with you,’ ‘Presented by the Ladies.’ As citizens of Edgecombe, we are determined to do our duty; and in rememberance of her fair daughters defend our banner unto the death—we cherish it and will protect it with our heart's blood.
“Lieutenant William H. Moye has resigned on account of his very bad health, being advised so to do by all of his friends. His place cannot be easily filled, having performed every duty with promptness. I am now the only commissioned officer in the company, that is on company duty. Lieutenant Buck being adjutant, has but little or nothing to do with the company; his time being consumed in business appertaining to the regiment.
“ColonelFagg arrived here about a week ago with the Buncombe boys—they are fine looking men and are quite an acquisition to the regiment.”
Lieutenant Pender concluded his letter with the melancholy duty of giving the names and dates of the death of those in the Edgecombe companies, who had fallen victims to the climate. The list included the following names:
Company A:—Jethro D. Battle, Calvin Johnson, George W. Barnes, Amos Edwards, William H. Spencer, Littleton T. Griffin, William Parker, H. M. G. Worseley, Jackson Rodgers, Thomas Wiggins, Joel D. Braswell, Reuben Harrell, William Edwards, Jergen Schultz, William Abrams, Dempsey Hicks, Henry Bell, William W. Amason, Benjamin G. Little, William Tanner, Richard Daniel, and Evans Watson.
Company E:—Gideon Barnhill, J. J. F. Stokes, Wright Darden, Ephraim Flora, Patrick Hardy, Hardy G. L. Calhoun, Samuel Wren, Wiliam Griffin, James L. Barnes, Joseph Proctor, George Lowe, Guilford Joyner, John Cornish, Redding Flora, John Taylor, and Wright Griffin.
In the meantime internal troubles were beginning to embarrass Lieutenant Pender and others over the harshness of his commanding officer, Colonel Paine, regarding the election of officers for Company A. A letter from an officer in the North Carolina Regiment, dated October 1st, said that the regiment was in excellent health, and was doing better than it had since it reached Mexico. Colonel Paine had sent in his resignation to General Wool due to difficulties encountered with Lieutenants Pender and Singletary, but the latter had replied that he would receive no resignations, unaccompanied by the surgeon's certificate. Colonel Paine had little or nothing to do with the regiment. “He has no doubt seen his error,” said the writer, “and is repenting.”
Lieutenant Pender was educated at West Point, and up to the period of the departure of the troops for Mexico was reputed as being the best tactician of the regiment; and no doubt possessed more military knowledge than Paine, who was recruited from civil life. He left as lieutenant in A Company (First Edgecombe), of which Colonel Wilson was then captain. The resignation of Captain Wilson, death of Lieutenant Moye, and the election of Lieutenant Buck to the adjutancy, left Lieutenant Pender in sole command of Company A. In addition to his superior military qualities, he was endowed with refined feelings which endeared him to his men, most of whom were young and eager to distinguish themselves in the service of their country.
Lieutenant Pender, burdened with the extra duties, had repeatedly requested Colonel Paine to order an election in his company to supply the vacancies. Colonel Paine, however, never attempted to name officers for the company.
The secret of this otherwise unaccountable perversity may possibly be found in the fact that Adjutant Buck, the supposed pet of Colonel Paine, being sick and tired of his position and pay, which was only that of second lieutenant, was anxious to be elected to the command of Company A. This, however, was impossible while Pender was in the way, since he was very popular with his men, and evidently preferred him to Buck. These difficulties in the regiment were seized upon to inculpate Lieutenant Pender, and upon the pretext that he and Lieutenant Singletary were ringleaders in the matter, and upon insufficient evidence, they were both discharged. Paine immediately ordered an election which he had before refused to do; and Buck was elected captain. The issue is left to history to say if the matter was one of those inimitable kind in which fate goes against a man doing his duty or whether the evidence is incriminating to Lieutenant Pender. It appears from the fact of Colonel Paine's ordering an election after Pender was discharged, when he had led the company four months, that Paine never intended Pender should be captain of his company. The men in his company, at any rate, showed their belief in him.
From a letter received in Tarboro from Monterey, Mexico, it is learned that the Court of Investigation adjourned on the 10th of October, and that its decision was sent to Washington City. Company A presented a sword to Lieutenant Pender, bearing this inscription: “Presented to Lieutenant John S. Pender by his company as a token of their respect and confidence in him as a commander. August 16, 1847.” The sword was represented as a most elegant one. Colonel Paine was soon court-martialed, and Lieutenant-Colonel Fagg took command of North Carolina regulars.
One of the company members from Edgecombe wrote from Saltillo, where the companies were encamped, giving a very brief account of internal trouble in the regiment. Colonel Paine had made a wooden horse to ride the soldiers upon when they did not do their duty. This horse excited considerable curiosity both in
the North Carolina, Virginia, and Mississippi regiments. The Virginians came down into the Edgecombe company camps after a parade August 16th, with the determination to break the horse to pieces. This they did, saying Colonel Paine's horse was dead. The colonel was angry and went to see Colonel Hantranch, of the Virginia regulars. The colonel laughed it off and said the boys will do such things as that. The next night the men went after the horse's carcass. Colonel Paine had a guard of eight men around it and when the men came Paine came out of his tent and hailed them. They all turned and ran toward their quarters. Paine fired and wounded two men; one belonging to Edgecombe Company A, who was mortally wounded in the body.
The officers of the regiment had threatened to resign before this affair, because Colonel Paine was very fractious and sadly neglectful of his duties. After this affair took place they were determined that Paine should leave or they would. The officers in the regiment wrote him a polite note, requesting him to resign. Colonel Paine went to see General Wool and told him that Lieutenants Pender and Singletary were the cause of all the trouble. Pender and Singletary were subsequently discharged from the army by order of General Wool. These two men went to Monterey to see General Taylor with hopes of being reinstated. When Pender left, Paine ordered an election in the company and Adjutant Buck was elected captain and Robert S. Pitt second lieutenant.
Pender could not secure an investigation of the charges against him, since General Wool said he could not doubt one so zealous in the work as Colonel Paine. General Taylor refused on the ground that General Wool must have been well informed of the facts. Pender appealed to the Secretary of War for redress.
In the meantime the surgeon of the North Carolina regiment issued a certificate, signifying that Pender was not on duty at the time of the disturbance in the camp, nor on duty the day preceding; he being indisposed. It was also certified by several officers in the camp that Pender did not draw up the original paper sent to Colonel Paine, which requested the resignation. The commanding officers, General Wool and Colonel Paine, however, persistently ignored the regulation of the army, which said every man must have a trial by a court-martial.
The fact that Paine was not a military man, nor versed in military regulation, explains why he disregarded the law affecting subordinate officers and enlisted men.
Singletary had the same evidence that Pender had, and on his way home visited the President of the United States; was reinstated, and received $125.00 for arrears due him. He was returned to Mexico to join his regiment and company on October 26, 1847, at the same time with Pender.
Their return, however, was of short duration, for soon after Pender was restored he was overtaken by the dreadful fever which had taken so many others. His remains were escorted out of Satillo by the two Edgecombe companies, a large number of Masons and several Mexicans. The body was enclosed in a tin coffin and carried to Monterey by Captain Duggan, of the Second Edgecombe, and placed where it could be easily obtained by his friends. Captain Roberts, of the Wayne Company, had resigned about this time and brought back Pender's body with him.
Colonel Louis D. Wilson was stricken by disease on the 1st of August, 1847, while on his march upon the city of Mexico. In 1848 the war ended with many noble sons left upon the fields of the slain by disease or bullets. The citizens of Edgecombe gathered together to welcome her returning troops. The volunteers left Brazos, July 5, 1848, and arrived at Old Point Comfort, Virginia, July 23d. Part of the regiment was discharged at Smithville. A dinner was given to the men as they came back, at James Bridges, Wednesday, August 17th. The banner that they carried away more than a year ago was returned neat and clean, untouched by dishonor or stain.
In the meantime the defeat of Clay and his followers was the death knell to the Whig party. The year 1848, however, caused some little reviving, but his election was due to military fame. The annexation of Texas was now closed and a dear price paid for the greed of more area. The bank question was to revive no more. The task of conserving the power which had been acquired was a thing Whiggery was unable to do. Their influence began to weaken. In North Carolina and Edgecombe especially, the Whig force did not bring prominence, for it was not the genus of her people. The State was merely held to the Whig alliance during the decade in which the real interests of the South seemed
to be represented by the Democratic party. Not until the prominent followers caught the spirit of nationalism, which in the succeeding decade came into a violent conflict with the spirit of local individualism upon which the South relied, was Whiggery threatened.
After the removal of the bugbear of Texas, the North Carolina Whig leaders believed the opportunity had come for regaining their lost strength, for welding the whole Whig party into unity. To this end they supported the policy of protective tariff. This issue, however, failed to satisfy the national policy, and it looked as if the entire institution would be demoralized.
In the meantime the question of slavery in the new territories disturbed the peace of the Taylor administration. Southern members were divided, and some portions of the South were growing warm. Debates were held all over the country, and issues were being formed for and against that institution. The antebellum Edgecombe was an entirely normal community so far as the play of the political forces was concerned. The negro-slave-plantation system created and maintained a large and special vested interest, differentiated from and in more or less chronic conflict with the local farming interest, and also the manufacturing and commercial interest in the western counties. But politicians and political interests must have bedfellows. The Edgecombe planters were always a minority of the voting population—almost all large planters—consequently there was a large area to only a few planters, and for the purpose of securing their interests they were oftentimes obliged to find and retain allies at home and in other counties in order to decry the too sharp definition of real issues. More often, also, they must be chary, for political shibboliths had turned out, for them, to be wolves in sheep's clothing.
It is due to this fact that the wave of Jeffersonian democracy, and the democracy of Jackson successively, had put the conservatives of Edgecombe (the planters and other allies) on the defensive. Neither of these movements gave heed to nor considered the fact that southern industry and society were exceptionally constructed upon a peculiar basis and each in turn threatened danger to the fabric.
The spring of 1850 still found the country in the throes of a political upheaval. The death of Mr. Calhoun, in a measure, facilitated the pacification reached by the fall of that year. Millard Fillmore, a New York Whig, successor to General Taylor, had the wisdom and foresight to ignore many of the prejudices then current in the country between the Whig and Republican parties. A further compromise was made when the slave trade was forbidden in the District of Columbia and the fugitive slave law was passed. The northern people were exasperated at this, and it became evident that party splits would soon occur.
The champions of the established regime had to rally to its support against each of these waves, and to use for their purpose such means as were found at hand. Hence a diffusion of parties—the Southern Federalists of Jefferson's time and the Southern Whigs of Jackson's. There came a strong tendency for the people to turn to democracy, except those possessed with a social class consciousness, generally known as the squires. These gentlemen almost to a man joined the Whigs throughout the county. The problem of Federal powers—now consuming the attention of all politicians—exhausted the patience of the extremists on both sides of the issue and drove them into a coalition so uncongenial upon questions of constructive policy as to require the constant effort of the country's most talented politicians to secure its preservation.
The Southern Whigs in the county were all states rights men. They were cotton planters pure and simple, and joined the Whig party from a sense of outrage at the threat made to coerce South Carolina. Clay, it will be remembered, was at its head against the Jackson faction; but it was Calhoun who was chiefly responsible for the course of action by the Southern Whigs—“The Federal Union, it must be preserved.” This proved distasteful to the Edgecombe Whigs, whose interest lay with the South. Edgecombe took slavery as a matter of course, seemingly, and that any State might secede from the Union at its pleasure.
With Calhoun and Tyler leading the Whig procession, the party entered into an alliance with Webster, Clay, and the National Republicans as a choice between two evils. For several it was an alliance and not a union. The basis of the amity within the coalition seems to have been an agreement, partly implied and
partly expressed. This was a great advantage over the Democratic party. This was due to the fact that they had no common platform. The Democratic party was compelled to take a moderate compromise position, because the party must be satisfied in all sections of the country; whereas, the Whigs in the South took the ultra southern ground and could abuse the Democrats as traitors to the South for not going as far as they did, and in the North, vice versa. The Whigs were not concerned about what you could prove on their northern allies. They did not profess to think alike, and they could give up the northern Whigs freely, even if they involved the northern Democrats. In the end they became pro-slavery Whigs, supporting all measures affecting the general interest to the section in which they lived. Nearly all Edgecombe Whigs were anxious not only to safeguard southern control over southern affairs, but to preserve the “Union of their fathers.”
In 1850 Henry Toole Clark, son of Major James W. Clark, a member of Congress in 1815, was elected to the State Legislature from Edgecombe. It had become obvious, however, at this time that Whiggery was declining, and with the compromise of 1850 it was a self-evident fact. H. T. Clark had inherited much of the influence formerly possessed by Dr. Hall, Toole, and L. D. Wilson, and assisted by R. R. Bridgers and others made the county the stronghold of North Carolina democracy.
Several incidents happened to hasten the death of the Whig party before the opening conflict of the Civil War. In these Edgecombe County was no less affected than the South at large. The Edgecombe Whigs, as has been pointed out, were states rights men. They were for the South and for their native county and its interests. But with the appearance of new party principles, the “Free Soil” wing, the “Wilmot Proviso,” and the John Brown raid at Harper's Ferry, the party knew that it could not retain their old principles under the governments of Whiggery. Providence was more than kind to this party, and gave to them an opportunity to hide their consciences behind a name of “Know Nothing.” This party was conceived in Massachusetts in 1853 and was obligated to slavery by an oathbound brotherhood. It was late in the year 1854 before the Know Nothing movement
reached the bounds of Edgecombe. Some few Whigs embraced the privilege of organizing a party in Edgecombe, but later it was discovered to their regret.
On November 4, 1854, the opportune moment had arrived, and the form of organization appeared in the county. A group of men organized themselves under several names. It was known as the “Tarboro Squad of those renowned Invincibles.” They paraded the streets, exciting the amusements of the Democrats and the astonishment of the children and darkies. Gorgeous apparel decorated their heads, and a Know Nothing gaze or nod met every question as to the origin of the party or company. The organization at Tarboro soon became recognized as the “Don Quixote Invincibles,” as an ironical designation of the former Whigs.
The Know Nothing party, however, as far as Edgecombe was concerned, was destined to be shortlived. In 1854 the Democrats elected all their candidates, H. T. Clark for Senate, Joshua Barnes and David Williams for the House of Representatives, and all the local offices were filled by Democratic candidates.
In the meantime the cobweb of Know Nothingism was being spurned by the hands of not only the Democrats, but the religious societies in the country as well. The Baptist churches took the license to excommunicate several of its members who allied themselves with the movement. It became a matter of choice with the expelled whether they preferred their Know Nothingism to church fellowship. Many of the more pious and thoughtfully inclined renounced their party and were reinstated in their church. In addition to this some had a compunction of conscience which moved them to withdraw from the party and join the Democratic party. Many converts were made to democracy within the short space of six months. Southern men with southern principles, irrespective of party principles, were beginning to arrange themselves for the pending conflict over slavery. The following is a letter written to the editor of the Tarboro paper by a man who was a Democrat but had been enticed away to the Know Nothing party:
“I joined a society last March (1855) court at Nashville commonly called Know Nothings. It was by persuasion that I did it. And now I am compelled with a sense of duty to myself and county as the day of election will soon approach when every freeman
of North Carolina should vote for whom he pleases without being sworn to support any political society. And as I have not time nor inclination to attend their meetings any more, I take this method to write to you, hoping you will give it space in your excellent paper, which I think will meet the eye of some member of that council, and I hope they will grant me a dismissal according to their promise, and erase my name off their book forever. Mr. Editor, I am a Democrat, and expect to vote that ticket next election. And I hope I never shall be caught in another such scrape as that. Mr. Editor, we intend to elect Dr. Shaw in this district. I do not think Colonel Paine can be elected by this Whig-Know Nothing-American Society, with all the Democrats they can deceive.” Signed, Henry B. S. Pitt.
The election of James Buchanan to the presidency was a postponement of what seemed at that time evident for four more years. Many hearts gave breath to relief when news reached the four corners of the American nation. There was a large majority in North Carolina legislative halls to back up the national administration. H. T. Clark was again sent to represent the “old State of Edgecombe.”
The year 1858 dawned upon the State with one enjoyment of peace and prosperity. But dark clouds were continuing to cover the political sky. The development of the Dred Scott case and the decision of the United States Supreme Court was deeply resented by the Republican party. Fresh injury and indignation opened the wound of slavery for the conception of an awful conflict. In Edgecombe, quietness and patience actuated the citizens. There were few Republicans and not much opposition. General Bragg had served his allotted time and become ineligible for reёlection. The Democrats met in a convention at Salisbury to elect his successor. William H. Holden, of Wake County, who had been a Whig, but then an ardent Democrat of the Calhoun school, was thought to be the man for the nomination. The Democrats admitted his ability, but disliked his radical policies, and being afraid of him awarded the nomination to J. W. Ellis, of Rowan. That same year the late George Howard, of Tarboro, was elected one of the three new judges for the Superior Court. Edgecombe lent full support to the nominee of the convention and gave an overwhelming Democratic majority in his favor.
JUDGE GEORGE HOWARD
The year 1860 had arrived and all parties hesitated on the border of doubt and duty. The companions of Clay, Calhoun, and Douglass could no longer stop the trend of history, and this country, with the entire South, was thrown into one of the most horrible internal struggles history has ever recorded. Early in that memorable year the bickerings of the Democrats among themselves became silenced under the strain. The Know Nothing members of the General Association of North Carolina met in a caucus, agreed to abandon Know Nothingism, substituted Whig again for a party name, and determined upon a united fight against democracy in both State and national elections for the fall election. Edgecombe sent two delegates to a convention in Wilmington. The condition essential to the growth of the party, however, with the principles of the old one, was the absence of slavery agitation in national politics. No rival party could hope for success while it was necessary to defend the principles of its Democratic opponents. Hence John Brown's fanatical raid at Harper's Ferry. The verge of the war between the states was reached, and although it presents a saddening chronicle it must bear a place in the annual of the county's history. The slave issue, however, deserves a discussion, since it is currently accepted as one of the causes of the war.
CHAPTER V Slavery
Slavery existed in Edgecombe County from its earliest days. Before the grant of the Carolina charter to the Lord Proprietors, settlers came from Virginia into Albemarle section, and it is reasonable to believe that the first African slaves were brought in by them on their migration. The African slaves, however, were not the only type of slavery in Edgecombe County. There were Indian slaves, who had become so on account of crime, or of sale by some of their own race as captives taken in war. The early colonial records tell us how the Indians were carried up Tar River and worked as captives in the turpentine industry.
There was yet a third class of bondsmen, the unfortunate class of whites who had been indentured in England, and sold by their masters into the colony. Many such servants were apprenticed by the courts of the Province, or had been kidnapped in England, brought over and sold, or, according to Parliament, had been transported to the colony and sold for a term of years to the highest bidder. It is practically impossible to ascertain the exact date when this sort of servitude came to Edgecombe, but there are several instances of its existence. When the Reverend George Whitfield made his tour of Eastern North Carolina, visiting Edgecombe County, he had with him a white servant. The colonial records relate that St. Mary's Parish of Edgecombe had several of these servants to support, because of infirmities and old age. The law regarding the indentured servants provided for release of such servants having a good behavior and fruitful service. It is obvious that there must have been instances in which masters gave freedom to their servants before their time expired, although it is impossible, through lack of preserved records, to recite any cases. From the evidence of the reports of St. Mary's Parish one concludes that in times past such a system of servitude was extensive.
The system of negro slavery had practically the same origin as the indentured system; that is, the slaves were brought into the colony by masters from Virginia and elsewhere. A farmer settling
in Edgecombe County usually brought one or two slaves with him, or he would buy about that number as soon as he was able. Either from natural increase or from importation from Virginia—the latter which is the more probable, because it is known as early as 1665 that slaves were brought to Albemarle setlement from Virginia—there was from the first an increase in the number of slaves.
To settle a new plantation without negroes was considered a hopeless task, and, although there is rare information on this point, it is evident that the importation was considerable. It is not known how many came or under what circumstances they lived in the early periods, but when the later movements of immigration from Virginia came about the middle of the eighteenth century or perhaps a little earlier, and filled up the counties of Edgecombe, Halifax, and Northampton, it was inevitable that this immigration ceased.1
Governor Burrington and his Council had passed a law giving the new settlers the right to take the advantage of the custom which gave each immigrant fifty acres of land for each slave he brought with him. It is embodied in the instruction to Governor Burrington in 1730; in those to Governor Dobbs in 1734, and in those to Governor Tryon in 1735. Governor Johnson said in 1535 that he knew of no such instruction. The leaders of the colonists declared that such had been the custom. It was finally decided not to follow the old law, but how long this was enforced does not appear. Several persons proved their rights to land on this account, consequently the number of slaves that first came through immigration was considerable.2
The county in its earliest history increased in population very slowly, and consequently it is impossible to estimate the number of slaves in the first twenty-five years of the existence of slavery.3 It was not until the “Cultivation Act,” a law of England, which made the means and the price of labor very high and the artificers and laborers scarce in comparison to the number of planters, which was repealed in 1775, that slaves were numbered on a[note][note][note]
clear basis. Up to the passing of this act, about 1730, it appears from old records that colonists did not buy slaves directly from Africa. In 1730, when Governor Burrington was asked to report on the conditions of the Royal African Company in North Carolina, he replied that up to that year the trade had been small. This proves that foreign importation did not flourish, and the planters were suffering because the natural increase was not sufficient. Governor Burrington added that under the existing condition the colonists had been “under the necessity of buying the refuse, refractory and distempered negroes brought from other governments,” whereas it would, he did not doubt, be an easy matter to sell a shipload of good negroes in almost any part of the province.
The conditions of importation may be seen from the fact that in 1754 only nineteen negroes were entered in the custom house at Bath, and that the average number brought into Beaufort for the preceding seven years was sixteen. It is likely, however, that an additional number were brought in without paying duty, since the custom houses were very loosely kept.
Under these conditions and that of the English Cultivation Act, the planters were unable to do their work efficiently. They scarcely did one-third of the work in a day that the Europeans did in Europe, and then the laborer's wages was from two to three, four, and five shillings a day. Under these circumstances the planters were not able to go on with improvements in building and clearing lands unless they could purchase two or three negroes; therefore the people appealed to the Governor for a relaxation of the Cultivation law. This law was an act of England granting a hundred acres of land to settlers, who were under obligation to cultivate at least six acres. Burning off stumps, etc., was not considered cultivation. This was done in order to prevent speculation by the settlers. The relaxation of the law was granted by England about 1775.
This relaxing of the law gave rise to a new immigration, and from 1775 to the Civil War we find a record of a steady flow of negroes into Edgecombe County.
In 1709 the Reverend James Adam, a missionary of the Church of England, wrote from an adjoining precinct that there were 1,332 souls in the county, of whom 211 were negroes. About one-sixth
of the whole population must have been blacks. In 1754, forty-five years later, the first census was taken. The clerks of the several counties, by instruction, made a return to the Governor of all the taxables in their respective counties. The number of blacks reported was 624, and the whites were 1,160.1 This gave an increase over the year 1709 of 413 slaves and a few whites, the ratio of the increase being two to one in favor of the negroes.
There was some dispute as to the accuracy of this census, since Governor Dobbs pronounced it defective. The people, he said, were holding back their taxables and negroes. The error could not have been great, for a year later he himself ordered a more correct return of the total number of negro taxables, and the number returned was proved to be the same as in 1754.
Still another census was made in the same way in 1756, when it appears that there were about 1,091 negro taxables, and 1764 whites, showing an increase of about 167 negroes and 514 taxables over the preceding year. It must have been evident that the increase of the negroes was from births, since Dobbs in 1761 said that but few people had come in bringing slaves since the French and Indian wars. This sudden change and growth of the white population may be attributed to a heavy migration of whites at this time of Edgecombe's history. Families were coming to settle in the fertile bottoms of Fishing and Swift Creeks. Elisha Battle, with several more prominent men, same to Edgecombe between 1750 and 1760, and bought 1,212 acres of land from Mr. Sanders and settled with his family.
Another census made in 1766 gives both white and black taxables: there being no distinction between white and black; one is without means of ascertaining the exact number of negroes in that year. It is to be noted, however, that there was a considerable decline of population in both races.2 In 1767 both slaves and white had decreased in number. There were 1,060 slaves and 1,200 white taxables, making a decrease of 29 slaves and over 330 whites. This was due to the fact that in 1757, a year after the census in 1756 was taken, Halifax County was formed as an independent county from Edgecombe. This county, as can be[note][note]
seen from maps, included several slave-holders in the bottoms of Fishing Creek. There must have been a heavy increase of slaves, considering the population Halifax took from Edgecombe when the two counties were divided.
In 1790 there was a notable increase of slaves and a normal number of whites. There were in the county 1,260 heads of families. Of the entire families only 481 owned slaves, and only twenty-seven families owned twenty or more slaves. Four men owned a considerable number, Edward Hall 86, Absolom Benton 40, Lewis Ervin 36, and Josiah Fort 86. Seventy-five families owned less than 20 and over 10, and a hundred families owned less than 10 and over 2. Ninety-nine owned 2, while seventy-nine families owned only one slave. The entire white population is here reported for the first time. There were 3,152 slaves and 6,933 whites, an increase of 2,092 slaves. Since we have no account of the entire white population prior to this census, no definite comparison can be given, but it will be a safe estimate to say it was a ration of three to one. It was during this great increase also that Nash County was formed from Edgecombe, taking with it a liberal portion of her population.
In 1800 there was a decrease of 417 whites compared with the census of 1790, and an increase of 753 slaves. It is to be noted that the year 1800 marks the general trend that made Edgecombe a slave county and finally marked her as being one of the great black counties of the South. Never again does the census bring the total population of whites up to the number of blacks. There never were many free negroes in the county. For the year 1800, when the first returns giving the number of free negroes were made, there were only 106, a small number as compared with the slaves. In 1860 there were only 389 free negroes.
In 1830 the white and black pouplations were almost equal. In 1840 a sudden leap, as if some mighty forces had shot servitude to the forefront, ran the number of slaves to 15,708, or over twice as many slaves as there were white. There is only one solution for this great rise—cotton, which was the largest crop of the eastern counties, had a sudden boom when the new invention of the cotton gin came to be used. It is nothing but right to say that in the early days of the county the most earnest men looked upon slavery as an evil that would in time disappear; but with the
invention of the gin, Edgecombe, as nature so placed her, became a great center of the cotton industry. It was then discovered by her great leaders that slavery was a “natural institution,” the only relationship that could exist between the whites and the blacks, and together with the entire South, Edgecombe began to force political parties to assume a positive and uncompromising defense of the slavery.
In 1850 the tide again changes, the number of slaves declines, because the men of Edgecombe began to go West in search of new lands, carrying their slaves with them. It is noticeable that the most sales of negroes in Tarboro were made between 1845 and 1850, all of which indicates a tendency to purchase negroes for western farming.
In 1860, the last census before the liberation of the slaves, shows that there were 10,108 negroes in bondage and 389 free negroes, and a population of 6,789 whites. Slaves had increased nearly 2,000 in number and the whites had decreased nearly 1,500 in numbers since 1850.
These are the official returns, and therefore constitute the only means of knowing with any degree of certainty how many negroes there were in the county. Unsatisfactory as they may be, they nevertheless indicate a tendency which is not wholly uninstructive—namely, a system which brought Edgecombe ultimately into a slave and, then immediately after the Civil War, a negro regime.
The law concerning slavery is varied and extensive. New conditions demanded new changes in the law to protect slavery in its operation. Law never succeeds unless it corresponds to the particular needs of the age in which it exists; consequently one need not be surprised at the alarming number or the absurdity of the laws in the past. They had a particular purpose and function then that similar laws today would not have. It is necessary to know in the beginning, however, that most laws about slaves were passed to protect the master and not the slave.
In addition to the laws of the Province, there were local regulations made by the County Court of Edgecombe. The earliest of these was in 1741. It declared that “no person whatsoever, being a Christian or of Christian parentage—imported or brought into the precinct—should be deemed a servant for any term of years” unless by indenture or agreement. The court records at
Tarboro show one example by which this law was actually taken advantage of by the dependent classes. Soon after this law was passed, Samuel Williams, who must have been of low English descent, bound himself to George Patterson for ninety-nine years as a servant without permission to leave his master, and to obey all the commands given to him, for food and clothing.
According to the same law, if the servants binding themselves thus should become disobedient or unruly, they might be carried before a Justice of the Peace and sentenced to not more than twenty lashes; if they ran away and were recaptured, they were to serve double the time lost. Moreover, the law also provided that if any person should “presume to whip a Christian naked,” without an order from a magistrate, such person should forfeit forty shillings proclamation money to the party injured. Servants by indenture had the privilege to carry complaints to magistrates, who might bind masters and mistresses “to answer the complaint at the next County Court.” If any master discharged his servant while sick before the servant's time of service expired, the County Court was to levy on the master for enough to enable the church warden of the parish to care for the sick servant until death or recovery. If the servant recovered, he became free.
The law of servants was considered more lenient than the law of slavery. In 1753 the law prohibited any slave to go armed with any weapon of defense or to hunt in any manner unless he should have a certificate from his master. The servants enjoyed this privilege. Later this right was restricted by an act which forbade any chairman of the county to give permission to any slave to carry a gun or hunt in any form unless the slave's master or mistress went on a heavy bond for damages to any persons injured by slaves. No slave was allowed to carry a gun on a plantation where a crop was not cultivated, and in case of cultivation, only one slave had the privilege.
In order to see that such restrictions were carried out the justices of the County Court divided the county into districts, and yearly at the first court appointed freeholders in each district, duly sworn as searchers. The searchers examined negro quarters four times a year or more as they thought necessary. As an inducement
for this office, the searchers were exempted from serving as constables, or upon the roads, or in the militia, or as jurors, and did not have to pay any provincial road or parish tax.
November 28, 1803, after a threatened uprising of the negroes in Eastern North Carolina, the law of searchers was changed to the patrol system by the quarterly session of Court of Pleas of Tarboro. They were to conform to the rules and regulations, one copy of which was to be furnished to each and every district. During the time they were engaged the patrolmen were to be exempted from the same duties as the searchers had been. But if one should neglect or refuse to act, he had to forfeit and pay the sum of ten pounds.
The rules and regulations to be observed by the patrolmen of the several districts in Edgecombe County were without a doubt very strict. They provided for the patrolmen to go by night and at such time as they thought would answer the object of their appointment to all the houses inhabited by slaves within their respective districts once in every and each month or oftener if necessary. The patrolmen, if they should find in any of the houses or in the possession of a slave, or in any place of concealment any guns or fighting implements, they should seize the slaves and present them to the court of the county. Reports were to be made in writing, specifying the time and the place where the person or persons in whose possession or care they were found. If any circumstances indicated danger to the peace or safety of the State attending the finding, the patrolmen should apprehend the slave or slaves on whom suspicion rested and carry him before some Justice of the Peace to be dealt with as the law directed. If the patrolers found any slave during night or day more than one mile from the house or the plantation in which he lived, without a paper in writing or some other strong convincing evidence of leave or orders from his owner, overseer, or employer, they or any two of them were permitted to inflict punishment, according to the opinion they entertained respecting the design of the offender, not exceeding ten lashes. If they found any slave behaving in a riotous or disorderly manner, whether at or from home, with or without written papers, they or any two of them might inflict punishment according to the circumstances of the case, not exceeding fifteen lashes, provided they were of the
opinion that such riotous or disorderly behavior did not proceed from a premeditated design to disturb the public peace. But when they saw or knew of a riot or other disorderly behavior among slaves indicating danger to the peace or safety of the State, they should take and use all necessary and proper means—sometimes improper means—to apprehend the offenders, and after having apprehended them, they, without inflicting any punishment other than was necessary to their safe keeping, should carry the slaves before some Justice of the Peace to be dealt with according to law.
It is to be understood and at all times remembered that the object of patroling was to prevent public mischief without creating private injury, and, therefore, a slave found from home by day or at an early hour of the night without papers, but behaving in an orderly and peaceable manner and having in his possession something known to belong to his master, overseer, or employer, as a horse or ox, or seeming to be engaged in the performance of some duty to the person to whom he owed obedience, was not punished or turned aside or unreasonably restrained. The patroller or patrollers finding a slave in such situation went with the slave to his owner to know whether the story told by such a slave was true or false, and if false, then severe punishment was inflicted.
Since some owners, overseers, and employers of slaves were not capable of writing, it was further provided that a negro man of good moral character and peaceful demeanor was not to be punished for a mere act of going without a written paper on Saturday night to see his wife at a house of good fame, where he had long been accustomed to going in such manner with the consent of his master or mistress, overseer or employer, or with an order of illness by a doctor.
In 1807 new rules were adopted by the Quarterly Sessions of Common Pleas in Tarboro. The patrollers were required to call on the master, mistress, or overseer, as the case might be, for the names of their slaves from twelve years of age and upwards. The slaves were enrolled on a list provided and kept for that purpose. Each succeeding time they went through their districts the patrolmen called the names of the slaves that they had collected, and if any were missing or absent between the hours of nine o'clock at night and six o'clock in the morning, or on the Sabbath day,
the patroller called the master or mistress of such slave which was absent to know whether they were gone on business or by their special permit or knowledge; if neither was the case, the slave was adjudged guilty of the same crime and liable to the same punishment as if caught without permit from home. The older negroes still tell how they were accustomed to line up for the roll call when the patroller came to the plantation.
Frequently a disagreement would arise between the master and the patroller with respect to the punishment of the slaves caught away from home. It was then the duty of the patroller to order the master or the mistress of the slave to bring him before some Justice of the Peace at a time and place which they might appoint. Whenever the master refused to comply with this demand, the patroller would apply to some Justice of the Peace for a warrant for such slave or slaves to appear before him or some other Justice of the Peace to be examined and tried for offense, in which case the cost, according to law, was to be paid by the owner of the slave.
It can be said, without injury to the radicals’ feelings or imposing on the abolitionists’ sympathy, that the law concerning slavery was both good and bad. In some instances the slave was protected by local laws enacted by the Inferior Court. This is illustrated by the prevention of whipping slaves who professed Christianity. In 1715 an act prohibiting private burial places was passed in the General Assembly. The frequent occurrence of several mysterious deaths provided that every planter, attorney, and owner of every settled plantation should set apart a burial place, and fence the same for interring all such Christian persons, whether bound or free, that should die on the plantation. What traveler in passing through Edgecombe County is not, today, greeted with scores of little grave yards afar off on the hill extended from the farm mansion? This is the system left from the early period of slavery and is a consequence of this law.
As a matter of precaution, there were, before the interring, three or four neighbors who were required by law to view the corpse, and ascertain whether the person came to his or her death by any violent or unlawful means. If such was the decision of the viewers, it was to be reported to the coroner. A penalty of five shillings was imposed on any one who refused to come and view
the corpse. Moreover, if any person dying were buried contrary to the law, the person or persons occasioning the same were forced to forfeit and pay the sum of ten pounds, one-third of which went to the informer, one-third to the Lords Proprietors, and the other one-third to the poor. This law, of course, excluded such cases in which it was the desire of the deceased when in his or her life time to be interred elsewhere. This law no doubt did much to prevent unnecessary slaying of the negro slaves who occasionally disobeyed their masters to the extent of killing them.
The most lenient law made by the legislature affecting slaves in Edgecombe was made in 1753. In case a slave did not appear properly clothed and fed, and was convicted of stealing corn, cattle, or hogs from any person not his owner, the injured person could maintain an action against the master and recover damages, and the slave remained unpunished by the law. This law, however, did not prevent the slave from being chastised by his master.
The great trial for the man in bondage had not yet come. The law gave some liberty prior to the year 1800 that he was not to enjoy afterwards. No servant could be whipped, who professed to be a Christian, on his or her bare back, although we find many instances where the law forbade slaves to leave the plantation, and they were refused the right to raise horses, cattle, and hogs—chickens being the only fowl allowed, and in one particular statute of 1777 it was unlawful for any slave in the county to grow tobacco for his own use under the penalty of five pounds currency for every five hundred hills so cultivated, which was to be recovered from the master or overseer. Yet the slave was not treated as a beast. On the eve of the Revolutionary War a more humane law protected the slave from willful and malicious killing. After May 5, 1774, any person found guilty of a premeditated or willful murder of his slave was tried by the same law and received the same fine as if the slave had been a freeman.
During the Revolution the slaves in various sections of the precinct took the opportunity of becoming free. Masters, especially Loyalists, were freeing their slaves, and to such an alarming extent that a law passed by the legislature on November 12, 1777, forbade a master to free his slave except for meritorious service, and then at such times only as the County Court allowed the
decision and gave a license of good faith. There are a few instances where the slave owners were debarred from freeing negroes by this law.1
Occasionally, through the graciousness of the master, a slave was freed irrespective of the law, and the negro took chances for his freedom by hiding in the swamps and numerous reed marshes in the county. This gave the slave dealers opportunities to recapture negroes and sell them again, when the poor slave was so unfortunate as not to find one to plead his case. Various boats made frequent trips up the Pamlico and Tar rivers, bringing various commodities of interest to the negroes and finally enticing them away from their hiding places under profession of friendship. English traders came up Tar River to trade with the slaves and decoyed hidden negroes away. A law was passed by the legislature preventing the Englishmen from trading them or carrying them. In 1791 a law was passed to prevent the merchant or trader to harbor or trade with any slave under any pretense. This no doubt was designed to prevent the negroes from hiding and also from being carried away.
In many instances the slaves, in their attempt to get away from the county, forged passes. The legislature later made it punishable by death for a slave to attempt such methods of escape.
The slave who was set free without being adjudged and allowed by the court of the county and a license issued, after an expiration of six months, was taken up by the church wardens and sold as a slave at the next court at public outcry, and the value of the slave was given to the poor. There are three cases where the negroes were sold at the Tarboro court house in 1800. It is not known how much the poor received, however.
In 1781 the law permitted the masters to rent their slaves out by public auction to the highest bidder for any term not exceeding one year. Regular hiring days held in January were established at the court house in Tarboro. Frequently men who had large estates consisting of negroes permitted them to be hired out and the money paid over to their wives after their decease for a continuous[note]
income. There are several instances in which negro laborers were rented at the Tarboro court house. The average price about 1800 ranged from $150 to $200 a year for men, and $65 to $90 for women. By 1856 at the hirings, prices had increased and advanced from the time the custom began. Negro men hired for $165 to $200 a year—plow boys and women from $100 to $125. In 1859, a year later, the price increased considerably over 1858. Cornfield hands, girls from eight to ten years old, brought from $250 to $300; ten to twelve years old, $80 to $85, while boys from fifteen to eighteen years old brought $180 to $202. Men brought unheard of prices, varying from $175 to $250. All this personal property was put in a heap together and bidden off as public service.
The manner of trying slaves was very interesting as to the method of economizing time. A slave committing an offense, crime, or misdemeanor was committed by the Justice of the Peace to the “common gaol of the county,” and the sheriff of the county upon the commitment certified the same to the justice of the commission of the County Court, temporarily in the county. The justice issued a summons for two or more justices of the court and four freeholders, such as had owned slaves in the county, to constitute a court. The three justices and the four slaveholders were empowered, and required upon oath, to try all manner of crimes and offenses that were committed by any slaves at the court house of the county, and to take evidence and confession of the defender on the oath of one or two creditable witnesses or such testimony of negroes or mulattoes, bond or free, with circumstances that were convincing to the justices and to the slave owners, without the “solemnity of a jury.”
In order to try slaves, when the offense was of a small and usual nature, and to prevent delay and great loss of time and expense to the owners, a law, as an act for remedy, was passed in 1783. This law provided for all justices to have the power to issue subpœnas to compel the attendance of witnesses and to proceed immediately upon the trial of any slave and to pass sentence and award execution: provided, however, the punishment extended no farther than the ordering of the defendant to be whipped, not exceeding forty lashes.
Any Justice of the Peace of the county, who was an owner of slaves, was qualified, irrespective of moral integrity, and pronounced fit by the court to act as a member of the County Court though he or they should not be summoned thereto. The law was emphatically stated by the phrase “anything before contained to the contrary, in any wise notwithstanding.”
Christian character was an important element in slavery. It made the slave more desirable, and it also influenced the courts and masters to show leniency to the slaves and to treat them with greater mildness and humanity. In case a slave was not a Christian, it was produced as evidence on the trial against him for capital and other trials of crime. He was thus declared to be under a greater obligation to tell the truth. It was, therefore, declared by one act of law in 1741 as a source of protection against perjury, that when any negro or mulatto, bond or free, should, upon due proof made or pregnant circumstance appearing before the County Court, be found to have given a false testimony, was without further trial, to have by order of the court one ear nailed to the pillory, and stand in this position for the space of one hour, and then have the same ear cut off, and the other ear nailed in the same manner and cut off at the expiration of one hour, and moreover to have thirty-nine lashes well laid on his or her back at the common whipping-post.
As a method of prevention of false testimony the chairman of the court charged each negro or mulatto in capital cases before his or her testimony, on not being a Christian, to tell the truth.
There was a case about 1771 and also 1825 in which a negro man called Simon was given a mild sentence of this law. For false testimony he was branded in the palm of his right hand with a hot iron and imprisoned in close jail for twelve months.
The most noted case, that of the State against Will, of a slave, and the greatest in the entire State was tried in Edgecombe County before Judge Donnell in the last Circuit Court, January 22, 1834. It was a case that awakened a general and profound interest throughout the country, and settled the true relation between master and slave in the State. It recognized the right of the slave to defend himself against the assaults of his master in the preservation of his own life—a thing never asserted by slaves heretofore in the county.
A slave, Will, was indicted for the murder of Richard Baxter. Will belonged to James S. Battle, and the deceased, Richard Baxter, was the overseer of Battle, and was entrusted with the management of the slave at the time of the homicide. Early in the morning of the 22d day of January, the day the killing took place, Will had a dispute with another slave, Allen, who was also a slave of Mr. Battle, and a foreman on the same plantation of which the deceased was an overseer. A dispute arose between Will and Allen about a hoe which Will claimed as his own because of having helved it in his own time, but Allen directed another slave to use it on that day.
Some angry words passed between Will and the foreman, and Will broke out the helve, and walked off about one-fourth of a mile to a cotton field and began picking cotton. Soon after the dispute they informed Mr. Baxter, the overseer, of the occurrence. He immediately went into the house, and while he was in there his wife was heard to say, “I would not, my dear;” to which he was said to have replied in a positive tone of voice, “I will.” In a very short time after this Mr. Baxter came out of his house to the place where the foreman was and told him that he was going after Will, and instructed the foreman to take his cowhide and follow him at a distance. Mr. Baxter then returned to the house, took his gun, saddled his horse, and rode to the screw,1 a distance of about six hundred yards, where Will was at work.
The overseer came up within 20 or 25 feet of the screw without being observed by the slave, dismounted, and hastily got over the fence into the screwyard. He walked directly to the cotton screw, gun in hand, where the slave was standing, engaged in throwing cotton, and ordered him to come down. The slave took off his hat in an humble manner and came down. Mr. Baxter spoke some words to Will, which were not heard by any of the three negroes present. The slave immediately began to run. He proceeded about fifteen steps when the overseer fired upon the slave, sending the whole load in the negro's back.
The wound caused by the shot was sufficient to have produced death, but the slave continued to make off through a field, and after retreating about 150 yards in sight of the overseer, was pursued[note]
by two slaves directed by Mr. Baxter, who said, “He could not go far.” The overseer himself, laying down his gun, mounted his horse, and having directed his foreman, who had just come up, to pursue the prisoner also, rode around the field and headed off the wounded slave. Mr. Baxter soon dismounted and pursued the negro on foot, and as soon as the slave discovered he was blocked, he changed his course to avoid the overseer, and ran in another direction towards the woods. The overseer, however, soon overtook him and collared him with his right hand. In the meantime the negroes ordered to pursue the slave came toward the slave and the overseer.
They were ordered by Mr. Baxter to seize the wounded slave. One of them attempted to lay hold of the negro, who had his knife drawn, and the left thumb of the overseer in his mouth. When he came up, Will struck at the slave with his knife, but missed him and cut the overseer on the thigh. In the scuffle which followed between Will and Mr. Baxter, the overseer received a wound in the arm which occasioned his death.
Soon after the overseer let go his hold on Will, who ran towards the nearest woods and escaped. Mr. Baxter did not pursue the slave, but he ordered the negroes to do so, but soon recalled them. When they returned, Mr. Baxter was sitting on the ground bleeding, and as they came up the overseer said, “Will has killed me; if I had minded what my poor wife said, I would not have been in this fix.”
In addition to the wound on his thigh, Mr. Baxter had a slight puncture in his chest about skin deep, and a wound about 4 inches long and 2 inches deep on his right arm above his elbow. The loss of blood occasioned the overseer's death, and he died in the evening of the same day. In the meantime, the slave went to his master and surrendered himself, and the following day was arrested. When the negro was informed of the death of the overseer, he exclaimed, “Is it possible?” and appeared to be much affected by the report.
The case was immediately called by the court. The jury hesitated to prove Will guilty of felony and murder on the indictment specified and charged against him by the court. The jurors were altogether ignorant of the law, since there was no precedent in the case. They requested the advice of the court upon the
matter. In the meantime, Judge Darnell claimed the slave was guilty of “feloniously killing and slaying” Mr. Baxter, and promised the sentence of death from the special verdict which had been made by the jury. The slave appealed to the Supreme Court. B. F. Moore, a reputable lawyer, living on Fishing Creek, interceded for Will and defended his case in the Supreme Court. It was conceded that Baxter occupied the place of master, and, in his capacity of overseer, was invested with all the authority of owner, in the means of rendering the prisoner subservient to his lawful commands. With this concession freely made, it was believed that if the shot of Mr. Baxter had proved fatal, he would have been guilty of murder, and not of manslaughter. The instrument used and the short distance between the parties were sufficient to produce death, and nothing but the want of malice could have deprived the act of any features of murder.
It was then proved that Baxter had loaded his gun and proceeded to the cotton screw with the intent to shoot the slave if the latter should run. It was clear then that if Baxter's shot had been fatal, he would have been guilty of murder and not of manslaughter. This was manifest from the evidence of his whole conduct, and particularly so from the fact of his directing the foreman to walk behind at a distance. If he had armed himself for defense, expecting a conflict with the prisoner, he would have summoned aid and kept men at his command ready for encounter. It became evident to the defendant's mind that the purpose of the shooting had actually been formed and time had been given him for reflection. The argument by Mr. Moore on behalf of Will was therefore as follows: First, that if Baxter's shot had killed the prisoner, Baxter would have been guilty of manslaughter at the least. Second, this position being established, the killing of Baxter under the circumstances related was manslaughter on the part of the prisoner.
The public mind was rapidly perverted by the opinion that any means might be resorted to in order to coerce the perfect submission of the slave to his master's will, and that any resistance to that will, reasonable or unreasonable, lawfully places the life of a slave at his master's feet. Mr. Moore attempted to draw the line, if there was any, before the jury, of the lawful and unlawful exercises of the master's power in Edgecombe County.
The decision in the case of State v. Mann was used as a precedent. This case left the slave where his life was spared, under the slender guardianship of the “frowns and execrations” of a moral community against cruelty. Judge Henderson had formerly fixed the true boundary of the master's power. “It extends,” he says, “to securing the service and labors of the slave, and no farther.” He furthermore declared that a power over the life of the slave was not surrendered by the law, because the possession of such a power is always necessary to the purposes of slavery, and that his life was in care of the law. The previous laws, similar to those which subsisted in older slave countries, which declared the relation of master and slave, and had been practiced in the county since its formation, was no longer believed to be intended to cover the entire relation between master and slave. On the contrary, the idea of perfect submission of the slave was in accordance with the policy which should regulate condition of life, whenever it existed.
It is safe to say that Mr. Moore did not, however, argue so much from the point of law—which if it had been interpreted literally, would have been decidedly against him—as he did the irresistible force of public opinion. That force was that time setting in a countercurrent against the use of absolute power. It must be depreciated and stopped or absolute power would be clearly proved necessary to the ends of slavery. The courts of the country began to receive the light and to foster the enlightened benevolence of the age, by interpreting the powers that one class of people claimed over another, in conformity, not with the spirit that tolerated the barbarian who was guilty of savage cruelty, but with that which heaped upon him the frowns and depreciations of the community. When one views the proceedings of the early courts and the sentences of the people, one cannot but help admitting that while the courts were landing the Christian benevolence of the times, manifested by the humane treatment of the slaves, they were engaged in investigating to what possible extent the master might push his authority without incurring civil responsibility.
From this viewpoint Mr. Moore made his plea one of a moral nature. “I am,” he said, “arguing no question of abstract right, but I am endeavoring to prove that the natural incidents of
slavery must be borne with because they are inherent to the condition itself; and that any attempt to restrain or punish a slave for the exercise of a right, which even absolute power cannot destroy, is inhuman and without the slightest benefit to the security of the master or to that of society at large.”
“If,” continued Mr. Moore, “the deceased had been resisted, a great degree of force might have been used, and the law would not have been scrupulous in determining the excess. If he had been chastising the prisoner in the ordinary mode and death had ensued, it would have been nothing more than an unfortunate accident. But the prisoner was neither resisting the master nor did the calamity grow out of an attempt to chastise. It is confidently contended that a master has not by law of the land the right to kill his slave for a simple act of disobedience, however provoking may be the circumstances under which it is committed; that if a slave be required to stand and he run off, he has not forfeited his life. This is conclusive, if the law will never justify a homicide except it be committed upon unavoidable necessity, and will excuse no one, except it be done by misadventure or so defendendo. There is no principle of criminal law which will justify or excuse the death that has been caused through the provocation of the passion alone.”
Moreover, it was shown by Mr. Moore that the prisoner was shot in the act of making off from his overseer, who was prepared to chastise him. A master's authority to apprehend the slave was conceded by the court not to be greater than that of a constable or a sheriff to arrest for misdemeanor; and a constable could not kill in order to prevent an escape of one guilty of that kind of offense. The law had such a high regard for human life that it instructed the officers to permit an escape rather than kill. If the officer acted illegally, by abusing his authority or exceeding it, resistance unto death was not murder. Consequently, if the master had greater authority to apprehend his slave than a law officer had to arrest under a precept for a misdemeanor, he surely did not have a greater authority than a sheriff, acting under a precept, had to arrest a felon. Here the law again shows its deep regard for human life and its detestations to kill a felon, a murderer, or traitor unless his escape be inevitable. “And in every instance in which one man can be justified in killing
another, the abuse of his power makes him guilty of manslaughter.” An officer, therefore, having the right to kill a felon in order to prevent his escape, and having done so when the escape might have been prevented by more lenient means, was guilty of manslaughter. This necessity remained to be proved by Mr. Moore, for it was never to be presumed. No such necessity appeared in the finding of the jury. In legal contemplation, therefore, it did not exist.
The prisoner was thus looked upon as in the act of disobedience and not resistance, between which there was a vast difference. The deceased then must have exceeded his authority according to the evidence and the defendant was guilty of manslaughter only. The slave simply slew his overseer, after having been dangerously shot, pursued and overtaken. The tamest and most domestic brute would doubtless have done likewise. Was the victim now to be a sacrifice offered to the policy which regulated the relation of slavery among our fathers? May we say that the momentum of feeling, acting through the juries of the county and the spirit of the legislature at Raleigh, that the interests of society were at stake and demanded a permanent settlement of the extent of a master's authority?
By a timely and judicious administration of the law, in relation to this subject, the courts did much to formulate a sound public opinion. They used the opportunity afforded by their situation in a most happy manner. The condition of the slave was rapidly advancing under the new kind of enlightenment and inspiring civilization. The negro and the white were now, by the decision returned in Will's case, placed under the very same law. Will was declared guilty of manslaughter.
A very interesting phase of the slave system in the county was the method of ascertaining the age and value of the slaves. Whenever a slaveholder was desirous of learning the age of his slave,1 he carried the slave before the grand jury convened at the County Court and the court pronounced the age of the slave.
Quite frequently slaves were slain both accidentally and premeditatedly. In either case the slayer if detected was responsible to the owner for the value of the slave killed. Men who were[note]
familiar with certain slaves were summoned as a jury to estimate the value. George Sugg, a farmer living on his farm in the eastern part of the county, was called upon in 1806 to estimate the value of a slave killed upon an adjoining farm. The slave was a runaway and belonged to Mr. Mace. He was robbing the citizens in the vicinity of Little River, now Fishing Creek, when William Mace, a manager for his father, went in search for the slave. Mr. Mace tarried at Little River approximately five days, but not finding the slave was about to return home. On his way back he visited Mr. Toole's slavequarters, a slave owner, in the night. A light was observed within, but it was put out in a moment. Mr. Mace went in and blowing up a light saw the slave, Tom, and recognized him. The slave, on being discovered, attempted to secape. Mr. Mace called to him to stand, threatening to shoot him if he did not, but the slave ran off, upon which Mr. Mace shot him with a pistol that he held in his hand. It was the design of Mr. Mace to shoot over the negro's head in order to frighten him, but some of the shots hit and killed him instantly. The court passed the opinion that the negro was worth fifty pounds.
In the valuation of a slave, his behavior and power of workmanship were always taken into consideration by the courts. Our record of the prices of slaves is very incomplete and almost without any effect. The first records we were able to find were in 1775, but no record was given of the selling price.
Ten years later John Ford sold one negro man to Jeremiah Hilliard for 180 pounds. It is inferred from this price that it was apparently the same ten years previous. In 1788 one negro boy about eight years sold in Tarboro for forty-five pounds, or $107.00. Joseph Buns sold a negro woman in 1788 for sixty pounds to John Dew, and at the same a negro girl, sixteen years old, was sold to a Virginia planter from Edgecombe County for ninety pounds. A year later negro boys about sixteen or seventeen years old sold for 120 pounds each.
In 1790 John Dew sold the negro woman back to Buns for fifty pounds. Girls about eleven years old brought seventy pounds in the slave market in Tarboro in 1790. These are some of the estimates of slave prices in the early history in the county. Later
slaves brought 100 pounds per head. Richard Blackledge, of Tarboro, sold a negro boy about thirteen to sixteen years, 4 feet 8 inches high, for 200 milled dollars.
Halifax traders made frequent trips to Edgecombe for slaves to start a slave market. Jacob Barrow, of Halifax, purchased slaves at Tarboro in 1789 at a normal price of 120 pounds, and in 1792 negro men at the age of forty-five brought 100 pounds, about the same price as in 1790.
In 1794 a negro woman and child brought 200 Spanish milled dollars, and numerous other negroes brought about the same price.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century slaves brought a good price. In 1801, at open court, Bennett Barrow, a slave trader, sold to John Davidson six slaves, as follows: A woman named Millery and her three children named Harmon, Jim, and Molley, and another woman named Nelly and a child named Sam for 400 pounds. Some further evidence can be obtained from the following figures: In 1803 one negro boy sold for $125 current money, another boy sold for $475, still another woman and her child brought $400, silver dollars. In 1807 a negro woman fifteen years old and her child sold for $375, and a negro girl ten years old for $135 current money. The physical condition of the slave and the early cultivation of cotton may have been the reason for so many enormous changes in prices. Moreover, the ability a slave had for work, trade, etc., determined in many instances the price of his body. One negro man who was a blacksmith and a good workman brought $1,000 in Tarboro in 1818, and in 1854 a rough carpenter, about twenty-three years old, sold for $2,000.
Toward the middle of the nineteenth century slaves were estimated by “piles” or quantities. The record gives an account of a pile of negroes as follows: Moll, Suckey, Sally, Maria, Molly, Austen, Daniah, one negro woman twenty-three years old and infant child, negro girl and negro boy, one negro man nineteen years old, one negro woman and two children, and a negro fellow thirty years old, a negro boy fifteen years old, and girl fifteen years old, sold for the sum of $5,111.
Another method was resorted to in the estimation of the value of slaves. It was not, however, the most accurate one. Frequently masters would become short of funds and be unable to pay their taxes promptly, and slaves were sold at public auction at the
court house to justify the sheriff for the taxes of the master. In 1838 an incident of this kind occurred when a negro girl was sold to the highest bidder for $177. Again in 1843 a negro man was sold to B. F. Moore, of Fishing Creek, at a public auction in default of taxes for one dollar. This was not a fair sample of the value of slaves, and must have been sold primarily to bring the cost of taxes levied.
The peculiar life of the slave is interesting from the viewpoint of character, socially and religiously. Only now and then, according to old slaveholders’ records, was a slave found truthful, faithful, and entirely honest in dealing with labor and articles. Cunning and deception became necessary, inevitable habits. The old trick played on the master by turning a huge pot, the mouth upon the floor of the master's residence in order to deaden the noise while the negroes danced, was considered a part of the slave's right. It was not fair to expect anything else of them.
The main cause of certain necessary restraints in the slave's liberty came in 1859, in the form of John Brown's raid. The press began to urge masters throughout the State to curtail the large freedom enjoyed by the negroes. Consequently Edgecombe passed a regulation forbidding negroes to assemble in groups between sunset and sunrise. Upon this event came the agitation for a new movement advocated by a book called “The Impending Crisis of the South,” published in New York in 1857, but did not take effect until the time of John Brown's raid, by Hinton Rowan Helper, a native of Rowan County. This book was a compilation of statistics intended to prove that slavery was an economic curse. In addition it contained sentiments usually expected from abolition quarters in the North. The slave owner naturally rejected the literature and the cause against abolition propagandism.
The marriage of the slaves was a matter of little concern. The masters of the contracting parties must first consent to the union. That being arranged, the groom sought the bride, offered her some toy, a brass ring or beads, and if his gift was accepted, the marriage was considered made. If the couple ever separated, the present was always returned. Separation occurred often, and at times against the will of the parties. “If the woman bore no children in two or three years,” says Bricknal, “the planter obliged them to take a second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth husband or
bedfellow—a fruitful woman amongst them being much valued by the planters and a numerous issue esteemed the great riches in the county.” The children belonged to the owner of the mother, and the planter took pains to bring them up properly.
Although slaves were permitted to marry among themselves, after 1787 no slave was allowed to marry or cohabit with any free negro without permission of the master of the slave in writing and the sanction of two Justices of the Peace.
The slaves showed great jealousy among themselves on account of their wives and mistresses.
The slaves owned by the first settlers were very few, but these settlers who succedeed them had large numbers. Accustomed to settling down on little farms on the outskirts of civilization, the early farmers found it hard to become absorbed into the larger life of a settled community. It has most often been his fate to recover from nature a rim of forest land, and then giving that up to some “worldly habitant of civilized life,” move on toward the West. This was a frequent occurrence in Edgecombe County in the early period. Before the county was declared an organized district, and existed merely as a precinct, many people who occupied their little holdings during the seventeenth century sold them early in the eighteenth and sought other lands for a song and dance along the frontiers. The newcomers were men of means, and usually brought their slaves with them. Men like Elisha Battle, Willie Jones, and Isaac Sessums and others came to the county with money and slaves to buy up the cheap lands. There is one instance where a man from Virginia bought eleven adjacent plantations. On these plantations on which small farmers had formerly lived, there now lived a large planter with his family and a large number of slaves. Hence a gradual change of the social life as this economic process went on.
The coming of these rich owners mark the change from the system of a few slaves to that of many. The same process was facilitated in the opening up of the turpentine industry. Here the slaves were profitable, and large numbers of them were taken to the high tracts of long straw pine which lay back from the low grounds of Swift and Fishing Creek and Tar River.
There is no phase of a subject on which there is more incomplete and unsatisfactory records than on the subject of the religious
and social life of the slaves. The early writers said that the slaves in the colony, hence in the several counties, except in rare cases, were undoubtedly pagans. From all indications after the introduction of slavery the people seem to have been content that they should have remained such. Indeed, if we may believe such contemporary evidence that has come down to us, the whites did not care very much if they themselves were pagans.
The one central fact that leads to the indifference to religion on the part of the whites was the thought of the illegality in holding a Christian in bondage. The right and power of enslaving the negro seems to have been based on the fact that he was a pagan. If such was the case, would not conversion enfranchise him? It was in view of this feeling that the Lord Proprietors declared in the fundamental constitution, “Since charity obliges us to wish well to the souls of all men, and religion ought to alter nothing in any man's civil estate or right, it shall be lawful for slaves as well as for others to enter themselves and be of what church or profession any of them shall think best, and thereof be as fully members as any freeman. But yet no slave shall hereby be exempted from that civil dominion his master hath over him, but be in all things in the same state and condition he was in before.”
This law was a piece of skillful manipulation on the part of the Lords Proprietors. It gave an emphatic religious freedom to the slave, and at the same time gave a concealed compromise to prevent an agitation and uprising of the slaves. There seemed, however, to have been, in spite of this law, a fear of allowing slaves to be baptized in a religious rite. The law might have been used successfully to protect the planters, should a case have arisen over the point in question, and yet it left an element of risk in it that made the planters unwilling to allow the conversion of the negroes.
The conditions that followed these circumstances is clearly seen from a statement of E. C. Taylor, a clergyman of the English Church, who on a tour in 1765 writes that he went to Edgecombe County on a preaching tour. That there being no minister there at the time, the Reverend John Burgess, the first English preacher in the county, having resigned previously, he did not have much success. He baptized in three days 159 whites and four black
infants. There is no intimation in the reports of Reyerend Burgess that he was ever interested enough in the slave to attempt baptizing him.
In a letter to the Bishop of London, Reverend Mr. Moir reports that he had completed the building of the parish church at Tarborough, November 22, 1748, and that he had baptized in one day 100 children and dipped two adults. He does not mention having baptized any negroes. On April 8, 1760, however, he reported having baptized three adult negroes and 206 children. From this report Mr. Moir seems to have been an arduous worker, but Governor Dobbs attested his statement in a letter to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, January 22, 1760.
The method of instructing the slave in the religious affairs prior to the coming of new denominations was entirely according to the notions of the clergymen, so far as we know. In the earliest days the settlers of the county did not put themselves to the trouble to try to convert their slaves. In the later period, as we shall presently see, they became more interested. Not only did the masters prevent the negroes from accepting religion, but in 1787 an act of the legislature prevented any negro or mulatto to “entertain any slave in his or her house during the Sabbath during the night between sunset and sunrise on penalty of twenty shillings for the first offense and forty shillings for each subsequent offense.” No assembling of slaves was tolerated unless some white man was present.
When later in the period of slavery the system became more mild, the negroes were allowed to join any church they might fancy, but they were not permitted to have a church organization among themselves. To have one was at once against the policy of the English Church and against the sentiments of the planters. The planters feared that negro churches might become centers of negro conspiracies.
The Baptists came into the eastern counties at an early date. By the middle of the eighteenth century they had become strong in the eastern part of Halifax and Edgecombe counties. Mr. Burnett, a missionary of the established church, said that they allowed negroes to speak at their churches. Their kind feelings for the slaves is shown by a reply of the Kehukee Baptist Association
at Falls Church, to a question asked in 1783, in regard to the duty of a master towards his slave who refused to attend family worship. The answer was:
“It is the duty of every master of a family to give his slaves liberty to attend worship of God in his family, and likewise it is his duty to exhort them to it, and to endeavor to convince them of their duty, and then to leave them to their choice.”
The doctrines of Baptist and Methodist churches appealed to the popular mind, and stirred the hearts of the middle, and even to a large extent the higher classes of men. Other churches had negro members, but no other church had them in such large numbers as these. There were several Presbyterians in the county, but unfortunately we have no conclusive evidence as to their relation to slavery. In both the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches, the negroes were mostly slaves of the families who had their membership there, and consequently were effected only in so far as they were servants.
In all denominations the negroes had equal rights in instruction and communion, but were deprived of the privileges in the operation of the church government. When there were only a few negro members they attended services with the whites, and a certain portion of the church, in the form of a large gallery, was assigned to them.
There are today several old Baptist churches in the county which retain their old galleries over the front entrance for negro worshipers. It is not an infrequent sight to see slave-time darkies now assembling in their accustomed places when the first Sunday preaching begins. When there was a large congregation of negroes they were given a separate sermon, usually after the whites had dispersed. In the vicinity of one of the Methodist churches in the county today, “Temperance Hall,” the writer was told of gatherings there by the negroes after the whites had gone to their respective homes.
There were only a few negro preachers, and a majority of the preaching was done by white preachers. The great influence that a preacher exercised over his flock was something that the whites very properly would not have surrendered to the negro preacher, had there been ever so many of the latter.
In 1831 a strict law was passed forbidding the slaves and free negroes to preach, exhort or hold prayer meetings. This in many respects was a harsh law, and in most cases in the county, as elsewhere, was not strictly enforced. The white preachers in their attempt to be apprehensive and to preach such sermons as the negroes needed, emphasized the duty of servants to masters from the text “Servants obey your masters.” The more independent among the blacks, and especially among the mulattoes, rejected this kind of preaching. To them it seemed merely a white man religion and but another means of making the bonds of servitude more secure.
It was the custom to send some old preacher of great kindness, humility, and usually of very great ability to the task of preaching to the negroes. It is clearly shown in the respects that the negroes were very devoted to their preacher, and I have been told, by some of our oldest citizens, showed their appreciation of his service by frequent presents, such as cookies and articles of personal wear.
For the negroes on the plantation who joined the neighboring churches, special instruction was often provided. Such at least was shown from the report of Bishop Atkinson, of the Episcopal Church. In the Diocesan Convention, 1856, he reported that he appointed Mr. William Murphy some months before to officiate at Wilson and Rocky Mount, taking charge at the same time of religious instruction of the slaves of Mr. Turner Battle and his sister. Bishop Atkinson, himself a fine preacher, later preached in Rocky Mount one afternoon and administered the communion, and in the evening preached to the slaves of Mr. Battle and his sister. In the Episcopal Church the members must have been house servants since the Episcopals were largely slaveholders. Usually the colored people occupied the seats reserved for the slaves as in the other churches. Sometimes there were special missions for the slaves. Captain T. W. Battle had one, but the slaves took no interest in it. There seems also to have been one in connection with the church at Tarborough that was permanent.
It is notable to observe that there was an encouraging indication of increasing interest in the religious instruction of the slaves prior to the Civil War. Ministers were employed by masters to
aid them in this part of their duty. In the earlier quarters of the diocese, Mr. Murphy was employed by the Battle family to promote a religious spirit among the slaves.
It appears from the results of the religious training or the social life of the slaves that they were either more or less content or because of the rigid laws they were afraid to uprise, since there is but one record of an insurrection even rumored in Edgecombe County. It may not be inappropriate to mention that one incident in conclusion of this chapter. It is hardly necessary to mention that the laws against insurrection were very severe. Having once begun to have slaves there was the greatest necessity that the strictest means should be used to keep down any rebellion. In 1775 the Assembly's Committee on Propositions and Grievances recommended that the searching and patrolling for negroes be made more frequent than heretofore, but no action in the county can be found to have taken place upon this recommendation.
While the Province was arming for the Revolution, negro uprisings were especially dreaded. This induced the colonists to increase their patrol. In Pitt, Beaufort, Martin, and Edgecombe counties in 1775, the report was spread that a certain ship captain whose name was Johnson, of White Haven, and who was then loading naval stores in the Pamlico River, was inciting the negroes to rebellion. The alleged plan was to the effect that through the teachings of Captain Johnson all the slaves in that region had to agree to murder on a certain night all the whites where they (the slaves) lived. They were to proceed from house to house toward the interior of the Province, murdering as they went. Here they were told they would find the inhabitants and Governor ready to help them.1 Johnson was just sailing at that time, and he was reported to have said that he would return in the autumn and take his choice of the plantations on the river. The whites, it seemed, believed the story, and for a while the whole region was in a fever of excitement. The “terrified people pursued an imaginary band of 150 negroes for several days, but[note]
none were taken or seen, though they had several times been fired at.” This was as near a discovery of the real movement as they ever came to, and marks the only account of the first and last indication of any slave insurrection in the county.
From the account it appears that the slaves on the whole were more or less treated kindly, but Edgecombe, with the entire South, had to defend its institutions by force of arms.
CHAPTER VI War Between the States
The war between the states, whether considered in regard to its political significance and the numbers engaged, or to its fierceness and duration, is recorded in history as one of the great events of the nineteenth century. Its consequences have employed the pen of philosopher and historian, economist and reformer. Almost every phase of the struggle has been discussed, considered, and recorded. The purpose of this chapter is to state facts as they happened from 1860 to 1865 in and relative to Edgecombe County.
At the beginning of the campaign of 1860 the country had not been divided geographically, and in most parts of the South it was evident that most of the people were opposed to the faction that had resolved to break up the Union in the event of Lincoln's election. In Edgecombe County the tense feeling characteristic of the secession movement had not quite obsessed the people's minds, and the most thoughtful citizens were undecided. This was partially due to the economic conditions in the county. There were, and had always been prior to 1860, two classes of people in this locality—the slaveholders and the nonslaveholders. In 1860 there were about 1,695 heads of families in the county. Of this number only about ten per cent owned slaves, and of this ratio only a small minority owned considerable numbers. Those who owned slaves had political power. A man's rating was determined by his wealth in slaves and land. As a consequence, a few were rich and many were poor. It was the constant but futile hope of the poorer classes to elevate themselves by possessing some of this wealth. The prices of slaves, however, were so great, especially towards the close of this decade, that it was well nigh impossible for the man of small means to attain his desire. Moreover, if slaves could be secured, there was no hope or opportunity to purchase land. One would, therefore, naturally expect that those of the majority who were deprived of opportunity because of a lack of this property would attempt to remain neutral in the approaching conflict.
GOVERNOR H. T. CLARK
Edgecombe County was in a condition of great excitement. In the memorable year of 1860 the State elections were held on the first Thursday in August. John W. Ellis was elected Governor of North Carolina,1 and H. T. Clark, of Edgecombe, to the State Senate. After Mr. Clark was chosen president of that body, and after he assumed the position he made a conservative address, in which he pointed out the seriousness of the political situation and the necessity of caution and honesty in interpreting the will of the people. If any man was in a position to know the pulse of the people, especially in Eastern North Carolina, it was H. T. Clark. He was a man belonging to the planter class, and he knew the economic conditions as no other public man knew them. The one great problem was “Would the South have the support of the common folk in the attempt at secession because of the slavery issue?” Sentiment was equally divided during the agitation of secession. If anything there were more Union men than secessionists. This is evidenced by the larger number of votes given for Bell, of Tennessee, in the national election in November. It is not to be inferred, however, that this sentiment prevailed after North Carolina seceded from the Union.
On May 20, 1861, the State Convention met in Raleigh. This convention contained among its delegates the very ablest and most distinguished men of the State. Edgecombe sent two of the most popular and best qualified men—W. S. Battle and George Howard, Jr., Mr. Howard at the time was judge and editor of the Tarboro Southerner, a man of irreproachable character, possessed with strong judgment and tact. His editorials, never long and always free from partisan bitterness, were logical and pointed. He had acquired a great influence among the democracy of Edgecombe and adjoining counties. When only fourteen years of age the fame of the boy editor spread throughout the State. Before many years his editorials were copied by northern newspapers and numerous comments were made on his precociousness. In early life he was, therefore, made acquainted with the tendency of political sentiment.
The Union newspapers had by this time given up the fight to prevent secession, while Edgecombe, through the voice of both the[note]
Tarboro Mercury and the Tarboro Southerner, indicated plainly that the influential force of the county was for the secession cause.
During the year 1860 R. R. Bridgers was elected to the State Legislature. Mr. Bridgers was in favor of secession. He had been a member of the House of Commons with John F. Dancy in 1856 and 1857.
War was declared, and Governor Ellis’ reply to President Lincoln's call for troops voiced the sentiment of Edgecombe's political leaders, and for the most part of the Democratic party. Governor Ellis immediately called a special session of the General Assembly to meet May 1, 1861, and asked for twenty thousand volunteers, at the same announcing that War was upon the South. On the identical date that the Assembly was called a convention was called without submitting the question to the vote of the people of the State. The election of delegates took place on the 13th of May. When the day of the convention arrived the momentous question of secession necessarily had to be met squarely. Edgecombe's delegates, W. S. Battle and George Howard, faced the gravest crisis of their time.
Swayed by the multitude and pursued by the few conservatives, could any man possessed with true political principles have done other than what these two men in common with the other State delegates did for their people and State? The convention had hardly become an organization when Honorable George E. Badger presented an ordinance based on the right of the Declaration of Independence. In his draft he adroitly avoided the question of the legal right for North Carolina to secede from the Union. Observe the results. The resolution was rejected by a vote of seventy-two to forty, with the names of Battle and Howard among the majority. Edgecombe's delegates did not vote on this side because it was the majority, but because of the impending crisis. No more indication of calm logic and lack of hot secessionism could have been displayed on the part of any men. Although there was no Union party in the election of these men, the election of a president for the convention, as well as the other officers, showed that there was a division in the convention between the original secessionists and the old Union or conservative men.
ROBERT R. BRIDGERS
In the meantime the State was making hasty preparation for War. In the organization for military preparation George Howard received the honor he so richly deserved. He was appointed chairman of the convention of 1861, and also on committee of military affairs. He was also appointed on committee of annual election and sessions of the General Assembly. His duties were, therefore, to be many, since as chairman of committee on military affairs it involved the task of appointing surgeons for examination of troops, organization of regiments and the equipment of same. In addition the regulation of officers pay came under his jurisdiction, and the laws to provide for the manufacture of arms and other munitions of war. John Norfleet, also of Edgecombe, was nominated as one of the commissioners of the board of claims, the purpose of which was to prepare claims of the State against the Confederate Government on proper vouchers.
In the meantime a call was issued for election to the first Confederate Congress. Political interest was almost lacking since the absorbing thought among people was to fight. There were no State political meetings and all announcements were made in the newspapers. R. R. Bridgers being the unanimous choice of the people, he was elected to represent Edgecombe and also Wilson (this county still voting with her mother county) in the Confederate Congress for 1861. The State of North Carolina recorded a memorable day on February 4th, due to the assembling of two conventions, one in Washington City to compromise and to pacify the seceding states, and the other at Montgomery, Alabama, for the formation of the Southern Confederacy. To the latter place North Carolina choose of one of Edgecombe's most illustrious sons, John L. Bridgers. The late John L. Bridgers had for sometime enjoyed the intimacy of Governor Ellis’ friendship. Accompanying him were two more of the State's noted citizens, D. L. Swain and M. W. Ransom.1 They met at Montgomery, Alabama, on the 2d of February, 1861. Governor Ellis, in his letter to Honorable J. W. Garrett, of Alabama, said: “North Carolina sends three delegates to the southern convention, in compliance with the invitation of Alabama. Two of them—General Ransom and Mr. Bridgers—are warm southern men; Governor Swain[note]
has not yet taken any decided position.” Governor Ellis also discredited the belief that the attempt to patch a compromise at Washington would mature, and suggested a hastening of an organization, since Mr. Lincoln would soon launch plans to subjugate the South.
The duty awaiting North Carolina delegates were therefore arduous and demanded all the ingenuity accredited to statesmen. On Wednesday, February 12th, ten days after the delegates left North Carolina, Governor Ellis received a report and a copy of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. A complete account of what this delegation accomplished cannot be amiss at this time.
The report addressed to Governor was drafted by Honorable D. L. Swain; dated February 11, 1861, and is as follows:
“Sir:—On Wednesday, the 30th ult., we had the honor to receive our commissions under the resolutions of the General Assembly, adopted the previous day, appointing us commissioners to visit Montgomery for the purpose of effecting an honorable and amicable adjustment of all difficulties which distract the country upon the basis of the Crittenden resolutions, as modified by the Legislature of Virginia, and consulting for our common peace, honor, and safety. We left Raleigh the following evening, and arrived at this place about noon on Saturday, the 2d instant. “The resolutions of the convention of Alabama, adopted on the 11th of January, invited the people of the states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri to meet the people of the State of Alabama, by their delegates in convention, on the 4th day of February, A.D. 1861, for the purpose of consulting with each other as to the most effectual mode of securing concerted and harmonious action on whatever measures might be deemed most desirable for the common peace and security.
“The resolutions of the General Assembly, from which we derived our authority, were in response to the resolution and invitation from the convention of Alabama. On our arrival we have learned that the convention had adjourned sine die, and that the legislature was in session. As we were not delegates to the Southern Congress, and had no authority to participate in any
consultation in relation to the contemplated formation of either a provisional or permanent government for the seceding states, we regarded our mission as restricted to the single duty of consulting for our common peace, honor, and safety.
“On the evening of our arrival here, Saturday, 2d instant, we waited on his Excellency, Governor Moore, and exhibited our credentials. We were received with marked courtesy and kindness, and had satisfactory assurance of his disposition to afford us every facility that we could desire, and that it was in his power to extend, to aid us in the proper discharge of our duties. The legislature and judicial department of the government of Alabama also placed us under grateful obligations by repeated acts of courtesy.
“We had expected to meet commissioners from Tennessee and, perhaps, other states, clothed with like powers, and charged with performance of similar duties with ourselves, and with the hope of consulting and coöperating with them, deferred entering into communication with the Southern Congress until the third day of the session. We then addressed the following note to Honorable Howell Cobb, the president of that body:
“ ‘The undersigned have the honor to submit to the consideration of the Southern Congress the accompanying resolutions adopted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina on the 29th ult.’
“The following extracts from the published journals of the Congress will show the disposition made of the communication and the course pursued towards us upon its presentation:
“ ‘Mr. Toombs: I have the pleasure, Mr. President, of presenting a communication from the commissioners of the State of North Carolina to this body. I desire that it be read.’
“It was read, together with the accompanying resolutions of the General Assembly, and was, on motion, laid on the table for the present.
“ ‘Mr. Toombs: I move that the commissioners from North Carolina be invited to occupy seats on the floor during the open sessions, and that a committee of three be appointed to communicate the invitation to them. Adopted.’
“The next morning Johnson I. Hooper, Esq., the secretary of the Congress, communicated the following resolution:
“ ‘Resolved, That the committee who were instructed to invite Honorables David L. Swain, Matthew W. Ransom, and John L. Bridgers to seats on the floor be instructed to invite them to attend any open or secret sessions of this body at any time it may suit their convenience, for the purpose of making any communication to this body that they may desire.’ ”
The following day, Friday, 8th, the North Carolina delegation received a similar communication from the secretary, with accompanying resolutions, as follows:
“Whereas, The people of the State of North Carolina and those of the states represented in this Congress have a common destiny, a common sympathy, a common honor, and a common danger; and, whereas, it is the opinion and earnest desire of the Congress that the State of North Carolina should be united in government with these states; be it, therefore,
“Resolved, That this Congress receive with pleasure the commissioners from the State of North Carolina, and hope to pursue such a course of action as shall commend itself to and induce the people of the State of North Carolina speedily to unite in our councils and in such government as shall be formed by these states.”
The North Carolina delegates’ report continues:
“We availed ourselves freely of this invitation to attend the open sessions of the Congress, and of favorable opportunities to consult with the members of Congress individually, with the executive, with the members of the legislature and judicial departments of the government of Alabama, and with many prominent citizens of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in relation to the general objects of our mission.
“The number of native North Carolinians called hither, either as members of, or anxious attendants upon the legislative bodies in session here, have afforded us unusual and most favorable opportunities to ascertain public sentiment in relation to the cause and cure of the evils which threaten the peace and safety of the whole country. These gentlemen have made their homes in the Southwest at intervals during the last thirty or forty years, constitute no small proportion of the aggregate body of the community, and, in point of wealth, intelligence, and respectability, occupy positions in society which entitle them to high consideration
in their native as well as their adopted states. So numerous are the instances in which they have approached us, and so full and unreserved have been their communications, that we suppose there is probably no extensive section in North Carolina in which any one of our number, by ten days of like intercourse, could satisfy himself more clearly of the direction and strength of public opinion.
“We regret to be constrained to state, as the result of our inquiries, made under such circumstances, that only a very decided minority of the community in these states are disposed at present to entertain favorably any proposition of adjustment which looks toward a reconstruction of our National Union.
“In the state of things, we have not deemed it our duty to attend any of the secret sessions of the Congress. The resolutions of the General Assembly are upon the table of the Congress, and having submitted them as a poor peace offering we would poorly perform the duties assigned us by entering into discussion, which would only serve to enkindle strife.
“We communicate herewith a copy of the ‘Constitution of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America,’ adopted on the 8th inst. General Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, was, on the 9th, elected President and the Honorable Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, Vice-President of the new Confederation.”
Simultaneously R. R. Bridgers was to distinguish himself in the Confederate Congress, where he served during the entire war. It was here history rewards him with having displayed the greatest characteristic and strongest element of business success. More than any other man in the State and in the South at this time, he pointed out future necessities for the Confederate Government, and he immediately proceeded to make preparations in order to meet new conditions. From the beginning of his association with the Confederate Congress he advocated what later became the only practical and safe financial policy for the Southern Confederacy. It was his idea that the South should not stop raising cotton, as it did, but rather it should increase the production, because the Confederate States, being a new government, and having no gold surplus to give stability to the currency, could receive gold in exchange for cotton. Cotton indeed was the only hope of the South to obtain credit abroad as well as at home. England, it
was agreed, would take cotton and pay the highest market price for it in gold, thus allowing the Confederacy a large influx of gold reserve and financial credit, provided a large annual crop was produced. President Davis, however, took the opposite view and adhered to the belief that by refusing to ship cotton to England the industries in that country would bring pressure to bear and cause England to come to the aid of the South. Mr. Bridgers had but few supporters in his scheme to place the Confederate Government on a sound financial basis, but later as he discussed the matter and explained the issues more thoroughly, many became convinced and endorsed his idea. Ultimately, when it became too late to execute his plans, and when exportation became hazardous, because of blockades, there grew a decided sentiment in the South that he should be appointed Secretary of the Treasury. It is authentically reported that Mr. Davis offered Mr. Bridgers the position. This burden Mr. Bridgers declined because the matter had been too long delayed and the opportunity to make it good had passed.
Toward the close of the year 1863 and during the following year, Jefferson Davis was criticized severely for his policy. In North Carolina especially a falling away from Davis’ policy was conspicuous. Mr. Bridgers again showed his ability as a statesman, and wrote Governor Vance to make public his correspondence with President Davis in order that the people might appreciate the existing conditions. He did not doubt but that the people would be more lenient and less critical if the exact condition was known. It can be safely asserted that this loyal son and citizen did more than the average public man to uphold the declining arm of the Confederate Government during the awful days of 1864.
In spite of the strenuous and speedy plans of Governor Ellis to prepare for the protection of the State and property, the people were quicker than he in their military actions. Almost the entire State was in an intense state of excitement, and patriotic men everywhere were accumulating all reserve power for the coming conflict. Edgecombe began the task which resulted in endless fame for her sons, and added laurels to her tradition for which every citizen should be grateful. In 1860 Edgecombe had a population of 6,879 whites, 50 of them were of foreign birth, 389 free
negroes, and 10,108 slaves. The town of Tarboro had 453 whites, 65 free negroes, and 530 slaves, a total population of 1,048. Out of this population the county during the period of the war contributed 1,400 to the Confederate Army.
An organization which has for many years received the admiration of the people of Edgecombe—the Edgecombe Guards—was soon to write its history upon immortal pages. This organization is worthy of more than a mere mention. The date of the Edgecombe military organization reaches back almost as far as the Revolution. In all probability the results of the domestic quarrel between England and the American colonies gave the stimulation which caused its birth.
Immediately following the Revolution, it became common to effect some military organization throughout the State for the purpose of repelling invasions and to maintain domestic peace at home. The issues growing out of the Revolutionary War left many doubts in the minds of many; consequently it may not be surprising to know that as early as 1803 the legislature of North Carolina granted by law certain privileges to the Light Infantry Company of the Second Regiment in the county of Edgecombe. It gave the company full authority to make such laws, rules, and regulations for their government as they, or a majority, thought proper. However, the rules were not to conflict with the laws of North Carolina and in violation of the Constitution of the United States. The company at this period was governed by the field officers of the regiment, and was subject to orders of a battalion parade.
It appears also that there were other organizations in the county at this early date, since the law, as if a mediator between rival companies, specified that the Light Infantry was not to be subject to any other company in the county.
The War of 1812 confirmed the fears of many regarding the necessity for military preparedness, and from 1815 to 1840 the Edgecombe companies were the strongest in the State. In 1830 the Company of Light Infantry, commanded by Joseph R. Lloyd, of Tarboro, was incorporated under the title of “Tarboro Guards.” From all accounts this was the beginning of the historic Edgecombe Guards. There was also a Company of Light Infantry in the county, in addition to the one at Tarboro, commanded by
Michael Parker. This company was also incorporated in 1833 under the name of Swift Creek Greys. Yet another company in the county commanded by Henry Dixon was incorporated under the title of the United Blues, during the same year.
The first account of any other division of military organization from that of the infantry was a company of cavalry. This company became incorporated as Edgecombe Cavalry under the command of William H. Robards in 1831. All of these companies enjoyed their own regulations and received orders for drills, company election, time for mustering, not from a collective source, but from its own individual officers. All of the companies, however, were regulated by the State, and had stated periods for muster prescribed by the State Department.
The Guards in the county had become more or less disintegrated prior to the war with Mexico, and between the termination of this War and 1850 the military spirit lay dormant. With the beginning of the year, however, the agitation for slave abolition and the hampering over fugitive slaves, gave local military organizations an impetus not only in North Carolina, but over the entire South. In 1852 the county had 43 rifles, 540 shot guns, and 53 muskets in its armory. In 1857 the Edgecombe Guards was completely reorganized under James B. Lloyd, captain; Frank B. Lloyd, first lieutenant; and John W. Chase, second lieutenant. In 1859 John L. Bridgers was unanimously elected captain and became very active in perfecting a good organization.
The Edgecombe Guards were, therefore, above the average in organization and had good equipment when the need came for their participation in 1861. In the meantime Governor Ellis issued his call for volunteers to defend the State and to pursue the War against the North. John L. Bridgers, having returned from his mission to Alabama, took command of Company A, of the Guards, which became the honor company of the First North Carolina Regiment, on April 18, 1861. The company consisted of 120 privates, nine noncommissioned officers, and four officers. Captain Bridgers on April 23, 1861, wired Governor Ellis for sixty-four Enfield rifles. Dr. J. H. Baker was attached to the company as surgeon, having left his practice at Tarboro to answer the call of duty in the Confederate service. On May 9, 1861, the company of volunteers was carried to Raleigh by
COL. JOHN L. BRIDGERS, SR.
Captain John L. Bridgers to join other companies there. Dr. J. H. Baker, of Tarboro, accompanied the company as surgeon. The companies drilled in Raleigh for about four weeks, when they were ordered to Virginia. Before their departure company officers of Company A were confirmed with John L. Bridgers, captain; Whitmel P. Lloyd, first lieutenant; William S. Long, second lieutenant; and W. G. Lewis, Jr., second lieutenant, of Company A. Dr. Baker was assigned to the regiment as assistant surgeon.
The First Regiment was immediately sent to the front after having reached Richmond in two detachments. North Carolina was still technically in the Union, while Virginia had just passed her ordinance of secession and her military establishment was not yet transferred to the Confederacy. By placing troops on Virginia soil, North Carolina executed its first real act of secession. On the 6th of June Colonel Hill took position to check the advance of the Yankees in the vicinity of Yorktown, Virginia, and took position near Big Bethel Church with the First North Carolina Regiment. Reconnaissance was made of the surrounding country with the purpose of fortifying it, but it was soon learned that the enemy had deployed and the time for action had begun. Skirmishes were continued until the day of the 9th, Captain Bridgers’ company being posted in a dense wood, beyond an embankment which had been hurriedly thrown up for protection. Beyond him was a creek, and on his left a public road. He deployed his company, which was soon removed to the right of the battle line. They attacked the enemy here and recovered a howitzer belonging to the Richmond Howitzers, which had been abandoned by them in the early part of the battle. In the meantime other companies were getting the worse of the engagement, and at the orders of Colonel Margruder the regiment fell back to the entrenchment, back of Bethel Church.
At this time Colonel Hill ordered Captain Bridgers with his company out of the swamp and directed him to take position on the right of the road. Captain Bridgers crossed over the road under fire, but in an orderly manner. In crossing over he drove the Federals out of an advanced battery and reoccupied it. This company and Captain Ross, with Company C, decided the results of the battle and gave the Confederates the odds. Colonel Magruder said in his hasty report made the day of the engagement:
“Whilst it may seem invidious to speak particularly of any regiment or corps, where all behaved so well, I am compelled to express my great appreciation of the skill and gallantry of Major Randolph and his howitzer battalion and Colonel Hill, the men and officers of the North Carolina Regiment. As an instance of the latter, I will merely state that a gun under the gallant Captain Brown, of the howitzer battery, having been rendered unfit for service by the breaking of a priming wire in the vent, Captain Brown threw it over the precipice and the work was occupied for a moment by the enemy. Captain Bridgers, of the North Carolina Regiment, in the most gallant manner, retook it and held it until Captain Brown had replaced it and put in position another piece, and defended it with his infantry in the most gallant manner.” Colonel Magruder made a fuller report, dated June 12th, and he again refers to the subject by saying:
“I cannot omit to again bring to the notice of the Commander-in-Chief of the valuable services and gallant conduct of the First North Carolina Regiment. The officers were not only prompt and daring in the execution of their duties, but most industrious and energetic in the preparation of the conflict. Captain Bridgers, of the North Carolina Regulars, retook in the most daring manner, and at a critical period of the fight, the nest from which Captain Brown, of the artillery, had withdrawn a disabled gun to prevent it falling into the hands of the enemy. Captain Bridgers deserves the highest praise for this timely act of gallantry.”
There were two critical turns in this battle. One when Company B, reinforced by a part of Companies C, G, and H, repulsed Winthrope's strong and menacing attack. The other when Captain Bridgers made the fearless attack across the road and retook the position from which the Confederate troops had withdrawn. Military history holds the view that if either one of these crisis had failed the enemy would have gained the victory.
In the meantime the incident of Henry L. Wyatt's death, the first to be killed on either side, had occurred. Wyatt was a native of Virginia, born in Richmond, February 12, 1842, a son of Isham and Lucinda Wyatt. Young Wyatt had been apprenticed to the carpenter's trade, and in October, 1856, he moved with his father to Edgecombe County. He was working at his trade in
HENRY LAWSON WYATT
Tarboro when the war broke out, and when the Edgecombe Guards was organized April 18, 1861, Henry Wyatt enlisted as a private soldier.
During the skirmishes which were taking place and when Captain Bridgers had charged across the road and recaptured the entrenchment, he saw a regiment of the enemy in line of battle three hundred yards away, with a house between them. Up to this time there had been no casualties and the battle was just beginning. Captain Bridgers’ company began firing, but their fire was not returned. It was thought that an order to retreat had been given to the Federals. The house referred to, Big Bethel Church, was affording the enemy protection. In the meantime Colonel Hill asked Captain Bridgers if he couldn't have the house burned. Captain Bridgers accordingly asked if five of the company would volunteer to burn it, suggesting that one of the number should be an officer. Corporal George T. Williams volunteered to be the officer, and Thomas Fallon, John H. Thorpe, Henry L. Wyatt, R. H. Bradley, and R. H. Ricks said they would go with him. Matches and a hatchet were received, and immediately the party climbed over the breastworks. An act of this kind was exceedingly dangerous, since the space between the opposing forces was exposed to the enemy's guns. The party had scarcely leaped over the breastworks when a volley of fire struck them, coming not toward their front, but from the road on their left. The men being drilled in skirmishing, suddenly dropped to the ground with Wyatt fatally wounded. The others were recalled, and the church destroyed by shell fire. Wyatt was the only Confederate dead with several wounded, while the North lost more than one hundred and fifty killed and two hundred and fifty wounded. Young Wyatt was about twenty years old, and although there were many more of Edgecombe's best citizens who lost their lives, none are held in more esteem than Henry Wyatt. His body was carried to Yorktown the night after the battle. He died soon afterwards, and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.
Colonel Magruder gave the report of Wyatt as follows: “Too much praise cannot be bestowed upon the heroic soldier whom we lost. He died pierced in the forehead by a musket ball. Henry L. Wyatt is the name of this brave soldier and devoted patriot.” Camps were named in his honor during the war, his portrait is
now to be seen in the State Library at Raleigh. A chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy is also named in his honor at Selma, North Carolina.
Captain Bridgers won admiration from his commanding officer, and was cited for his action in the Battle of Bethel. The citation won for him a promotion to lieutenant-colonel of heavy artillery, Tenth Regiment, C. S. A., on August 16, 1861; and afterwards became colonel of the regiment.
The Tenth Regiment was the First Regular Artillery, and comprised five companies of heavy artillery stationed at Fort Macon and five companies of light artillery. Some of the companies were garrisoned at Fort Macon and the breastworks extended several miles from there under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Bridgers. During his command Captain W. H. Parker, of the Confederate States Navy, on an inspection tour visited the fort, and in his book, “Recollections of a Naval Officer,” says: “Upon our arrival at Fort Macon we were received with great joy by Colonel Bridgers, the officer in command. The colonel had distinguished himself at the battle of Bethel as a captain, had been promoted, and placed in command of Fort Macon. As he himself said, he knew nothing about heavy artillery or the defense of fortified places. ‘I only know,’ said he, ‘that the flag must not come down,’ and no one who knew this gallant man could doubt that it would only be lowered after a desperate defense, if at all. The colonel received me as the ordnance officer most cordially. ‘Now,’ he remarked, ‘my mind is at rest’; and I am sure that as soon as he felt that his men had been properly instructed and that his ammunition was all right, he would have welcomed the presence of an attacking force.” The attack was later made several times, and each time repulsed. At that time he had been made colonel of the Tenth Artillery Regiment. He tendered his resignation of account of the condition of his health, and at his own request was relieved of the duties at Fort Macon. He returned home after being succeeded by Colonel Moses G. White. He afterwards served on the staff of Lieutenant-General D. N. Hill.
In the meantime the Edgecombe Company had been reorganized, with Whitmel P. Lloyd as captain, W. G. Lewis, first lieutenant, and Kenneth Wiggins, Jr., second lieutenant. The organization
soon disbanded, however, due to the fact that the First Regiment was made up of volunteers who had enlisted for a period of six months.
Captain Lloyd organized a battery and remained with the Tenth Regiment, being assigned with the five companies composing the Light Artillery, and later with Company A, known as “Ellis’ Light Artillery.” His battery went to Smithfield, Virginia, and was attached to General John C. Pemberton's brigade. It drilled there and at Todd's Point. On March 8, 1862, it crossed the James River and reported to General Magruder at Yorktown. Its first engagement was in April at Dam No. 1, and soon afterwards at Warwick Island. There were, however, no casualties on either side. On its retreat from Yorktown the company was attached to Simm's brigade, which fought at the battle of Williamsburg. The company remained at Williamsburg, occupying Fort Magruder, and then joined the general retreat to Richmond. On approaching Chickahominy an engagement with the enemy was made and his advance checked. After the battle in the vicinity of Richmond the company consolidated with the army which marched into Maryland, August, 1862. The troops marched through Culpepper, Warrenton, Harper's Ferry and Crampton's Gap. At the latter place it had a small skirmish, and also at Sharpsburg the 16th and the 17th of September. The army then returned to Virginia and stopped at Winchester, where Captain Lloyd's battery, of Tarboro, was disbanded. Captain Lloyd was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the State Reserves, but immediately resigned and returned home. He was regarded as being a born soldier and a man of considerable ability.
Among those to win distinction was William Gaston Lewis, who had been appointed first lieutenant of the Edgecombe Volunteers after the promotion of Captain Bridgers. During the battle of Bethel he took a prominent part as second lieutenant. During the retreat he lead the Confederate sharpshooters against the retreating Federals. Following the Battle of Bethel he was recommended for promotion, and upon the organization of the Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment he was appointed major dating from January 17, 1862. General Branch in his account of the battles below Newbern and around Kinston in March, 1862, reported that Lieutenant-Colonel Hoke and Major Lewis fought
against overwhelming odds and performed their duty fully. Major Lewis took part in the battle at Slash Church or Hanover Court House, May 27, 1861, and Fort Thompson, where he commanded the left wing of the line of battle and also at Cedar Run.
On April 25, 1862, he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel of the Forty-third Regiment North Carolina troops and assigned to General Daniel's brigade. The regiment, after its organization, was ordered to Wilmington and then Fort Johnson at Smithfield. It remained here under command of General French for about a month, when it was ordered to Virginia. Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, being a civil engineer by profession, was ordered by his brigade commander to supervise the construction of the breast-works around Drewry's Bluff. The regiment at the approach of winter was ordered to Goldsboro, arriving there December 2, 1862, to reinforce Confederate troops against the forces led by General Foster. The Federals succeeded in burning the bridge over the Neuse River and retreated to their base at Newbern. The bridge was immediately repaired by a detail from Daniel's brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis supervising. The regiment went to Washington and had skirmishes there, after which it returned to its former quarters at Kinston, and later went to Fredericksburg, Virginia. The Forty-third Regiment was then transferred to Rhodes Division of the Second Corps.
After a review of the army by General Lee the march to Pennsylvania began in June of that memorable year, 1863. The line of march was through Martinsburg, Williamsport, Hagerstown, and Chambersburg to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It left the latter place and returned to Gettysburg. The brigade formed a line of battle here July 1, 1863, near Forney's house. In this battle Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis gained additional distinction. The fight, which began in the afternoon, lasted until late in the evening, the brigade being led by General Daniel. Seminary Ridge was captured and occupied, but with a tremendous loss on both sides. General Lee and staff were personal witnesses of the battle, and encouraged the men. During the battle Colonel Kenan, of the Forty-third Regiment, was wounded in leading a charge, and was captured and held by the Federal soldiers. The command fell upon Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis.
GEN. GASTON LEWIS
In giving his report of this battle General Daniel made special mention of the service of Colonel Lewis, saying that he acted with bravery and coolness. After the three day's battle at Gettysburg the Forty-third Regiment moved to Hagerstown, where it engaged the Federal sally from the rear position of the retreat. It remained at Hagerstown for a few days, and then crossed the Potomac to the town of Darksville. Colonel Lewis commanded the Forty-third Regiment at the battle of Mine Run. Here several minor engagements took place and the regiment was consolidated with General Hoke's brigade for the winter campaign in Eastern North Carolina in 1863 and 1864.
In approaching Newbern, near Bachelor's Creek, a night attack was made against the Federal breastworks. In doing this it was learned that the flooring of a bridge had been removed. Colonel Lewis asked permission to repair the bridge in order that he might attack. General Hoke complied, and one company did the necessary repairing under fire, and the attack was made at daybreak, driving the enemy in a retreat to Newbern, a distance of seven miles.
After an unsuccessful attempt to capture a train of cars on the way to Newbern to transport Federal troops, the Forty-third Regiment, under command of Colonel Lewis, fell back to Kinston for a few weeks and then marched to Plymouth. The battle of Plymouth, April 18th to 20th, 1864, was of notable interest. General Hoke had been given command of the entire forces, with Colonel Lewis still commanding the Forty-third Regiment. Plans of coöperation were made with the Confederate Navy to rescue the “Albemarle,” then on the Roanoke River. Colonel Mercer,1 commanding Hoke's brigade, was killed in the charge on the night of the 18th and Colonel Lewis assumed command, and was immediately promoted to brigadier general. The fort was captured with the assistance of the “Albemarle” in sinking Federal gunboats. On the morning of the 20th, General Lewis occupied the western portion of the town and assisted in its capture.
General Lewis's next scene of action was around Washington, North Carolina, and then at Drewry's Bluff, Virginia, May 16, 1864. He still remained in charge of Hoke's old brigade. In writing of the battle of Drewry's Bluff, General Ransom, commanding,[note]
comments especially on the services of General Lewis's command, which he reported was led so gallantly at the “double-quick” against the enemy.
During the year 1864 General Lewis and his brigade were in Northern Virginia and took part in the struggles with Ransom's and Early's divisions. He was with Early in the historic valley of Virginia and engaged in the battles around Petersburg. It was during the battle of Farmville that he received his first wound. He was ordered by his commander to move on Farmville. It being discovered that the Federal troops were there and destroying bridges. On their approach the Federal army began firing with artillery. In the morning, however, the enemy had abandoned their position. General Humphreys, major-general of the Federal forces, in writing about the incident, said: “I regret to report that Brigadier General Lewis, commanding brigade, Walker's Division, Gordan's Corps, of the Confederate Army, severely wounded, together with other wounded, were left in our hands by the enemy.” This happened one day before the surrender at Appomattox.
The Confederate officers thought him dead upon the battlefield. He was one of the youngest brigadier-generals in the southern army and was several times complimented by General Lee. He recovered from his wound and became chief engineer of the North Carolina State Guards, which position he held until his death, January 7, 1901.
Dr. J. H. Baker, after the disbanding of the First North Carolina Regiment, was given charge of the Confederate hospital at Tarboro. He returned to his home to assume charge, where he remained, except for intervals, throughout the war. He was at the battle of Plymouth and assisted in administering medical aid to the wounded in several minor engagements in North Carolina. It was his unfortunate duty to be present at Appomattox during the termination of the civil strife.
The original First Regiment of North Carolina troops contributed some valuable assistance to the cause of the South. Edgecombe County's part in this regiment was made notable by John Luther Bridgers, William Gaston Lewis, Whitmel P. Lloyd, of the Bethel Regiment. J. H. Thorpe, of Rocky Mount, and a member of the Edgecombe Guards, and one of the number who
volunteered to burn the house obstructing the fire of the Confederates at Bethel, rose most rapidly from the ranks. Thorpe was a graduate of the State University and a man of considerable promise when he enlisted in Captain Bridgers's company. After the battle of Bethel he was promoted from the ranks to lieutenant and later became captain of Nash County Volunteers.
The name of William Dorsey Pender ever lives in the hearts of brave and loyal men. Possessed with the calm and courageous bearing, he was, of all Edgecombe's loyal men, the one around whom military history has its glory. He gave more than others who did not lose their all. His gift was precious, because in his loss the Confederacy lost a noble leader and Edgecombe a precious son.
He was born in Edgecombe County, February 6, 1834, the son of James Pender, a descendant of Edwin Pender, of Norfolk, Virginia. Dorsey Pender attended the United States Military Academy and graduated in 1854, in the class of which Custis Lee, Stephen D. Lee, J. E. B. Stuart, and others of military fame, were members. His military experience prior to the war between the States was both varied and useful. He at first received a commission in the artillery, and in 1855 he received permission to be transferred to the First Dragoons. In 1858 he received a promotion to first lieutenant. During his service in the United States Army he had had several encounters with the Indians, an active experience in New Mexico, California, Washington, and Oregon with the Apaches, and the original natives around Four Lakes and Spokane Plains. In 1860 he was adjutant of his regiment and also acted in the capacity of recruiting officer in Pennsylvania.
In appearance he was not unlike his fellow-leaders from Edgecombe. His manner was pleasing and gentle. He walked with a stately motion, was a gentleman, cultivated, unaffected, and above all a good friend to his fellowman. The idea that one could not be tender at heart and at the same time maintain discipline was without foundation. No man ever received more touching tribute from his former comrades than did Pender.
Realizing the conditions that existed in his State, he returned in 1859, and soon afterwards resigned his commission and accepted a captaincy in the Corps of Artillery in the Confederate
Army. His first duties were as recruiting officer at Baltimore. Orders had been given General Beauregard, at Charleston, to detail an officer to Baltimore for special service. Through some misunderstanding the officer never appeared. General L. P. Walker, Secretary of War, upon being apprised of the fact by Honorable L. T. Wigfall, wrote him that Captain Pender would be sent as inspector of recruits and to superintend the enlistment of men. War had not yet been declared, but all indications pointed that way, and the Confederate States were preparing. Captain Pender, after a few weeks, was removed from Maryland and stationed at Raleigh, where he became drill master in the spring of 1861. Brigadier General Cox received instructions from him in that year.
May 16, 1861, found him moved still nearer the scene of actual encounter, when he was stationed as post commandant at Garysburg. He became chief mustering officer for all the companies stationed at his camp. Prior to this, however, Captain Pender expressed his desire to resign and to become actively in service. On May 17, 1861, a few days after he had stated his desire by letter to Governor Ellis, he was advised that the Governor wanted him to remain at camp as instructor, since if he left camp it would have to be abandoned. The Thirteenth North Carolina Regiment was organized on this date, which marks the beginning of his active military career. Three of the companies which constituted the regiment had been sent to Garysburg and were being drilled under Captain Pender immediately after the State seceded. While at Garysburg the ten companies which constituted the Regiment organized and elected W. D. Pender colonel. This regiment was then known as the Third North Carolina Volunteers, and was completed in organization May 16, 1861. Among the ten companies was Company G, an Edgecombe organization, with J. H. Hyman captain. The regiment was sworn in the service for twelve months. Soon afterwards the regiment took the oath for the duration of the War and had its name changed to the Thirteenth Regiment, North Carolina troops.
The regiment was stationed at Suffolk, Virginia, until June of 1861, when it marched to Ragged Island and camped six miles from Smithfield, Virginia. For several weeks the regiment remained here and did picket duty along the James River opposite
Newport News. During the month of September, 1861, Colonel Pender resigned his command of the Thirteenth Regiment and was given Fisher's old regiment, the Sixth North Carolina, at Manassas. Colonel Pender took command of the Sixth Regiment at Bull Run immediately after the famous battle. In order to be in a safer location, the camp was moved to near Bristow Station of now historic fame. The regiment had suffered from sickness and disease, and as winter was approaching it went into winter quarters at Freestone Point, near Dunfries. Except for the picket duty the winter proved uneventful. About the 8th of March, 1862, the winter camp was burned with an immense amount of baggage, and the troops were transferred to Fredericksburg.
During the latter part of March a large number of Federal troops under McClellan were being moved down the Potomac, when the Sixth Regiment received orders to move towards Richmond. While in the process of advancing, orders came for the formation of a battle line, but no engagement occurred. The regiment, although it was in readiness, missed the battle of Williamsburg and the skirmish at Yorktown. The first encounter took place at Barhamsville or Eltham's Landing. The enemy was prevented from landing by gunboats in York River.
The regiment assisted then in a defense camp around Richmond, where it remained until the fight at Seven Pines, where the Federals made a persistent stand. While in this engagement Colonel Pender exercised the quickness of a true soldier. He was in danger at the flank and rear of his regiment by Federal troops. In an instant he saved his command by shouting, “By the left flank, file right, double-quick.” His regiment was excellently drilled, and, without a mistake, executed the order and thereby escaped the danger of the Federal formation. A brigade adjacent to him was suffering the worse of the engagement and had its forces repulsed. Colonel Pender, with judicious calmness, reorganized its ranks. President Davis was upon the field of battle and witnessed the ability of Colonel Pender. He turned to Pender and said, “General Pender, I salute you.” Subsequently Colonel Pender became brigadier general and assumed command of General pettigrew's brigade. Beginning June 3d he was given a greater opportunity to distinguish himself further.
General Pender's assignment of the Sixth Brigade included the Second Arkansas Battalion, Sixteenth North Carolina, Twenty-second North Carolina, Thirty-fourth North Carolina, Thirty-eighth North Carolina, and the Twenty-second Virginia battalions. He led his men at Beaver Dam and suffered heavy fire at Cold Harbor, and at Cedar Run he proved the tactician that he was and became the pivot upon which defeat was turned into victory. At second Manassas his sword was applied with soldierly force, and here he received a wound. At Mechanicsville he made a decided stand in an attempt to turn the enemy's left for a decisive advantage. At Fredericksburg he received a second wound and praise for himself and all his men. His brigade had been roughly handled when Major General Hill met him. He requested assistance of two more regiments of Riley's brigade to turn the position at Ellison's Mill. He received the coöperation of General Riley, and about dark the attack was made through an open plain against a well-fortified embankment. Immediately following this General Pender received another wound at the battle of Frazier's Farm. In this engagement General Pender lost eight hundred men. The Federals, however, testified to his fighting qualities.
By July, 1862, General Pender was in “Stonewall” Jackson's Division, commanding five regiments. In the meantime General Lee had written General Hill to relieve two brigades—that of Pender and of Lane. An explanation of this was probably the fact that the two brigades were to be sent to North Carolina for the protection of Wilmington. On November 21, 1862, Brigadier General Whiting wrote the Secretary of War that in event of the general movements of the enemy causing a concentration of the army near Richmond and a transfer of the troops to North Carolina he desired the brigade of Pender and his troops. The facts, however, in the case were soon disclosed in a letter of General Lee's to President Davis. The order for the release of the two brigades was suspended. General Lee wrote:
“I was surprised to learn from General A. P. Hill on my return that the other two North Carolina brigades, Pender's and Lane's, which had been ordered off, were delighted at the suspension of their order. They did not wish to go to North Carolina.” The letter was written January 23, 1863, from Camp Fredericksburg, where the army was in winter quarters.
The next engagement of any consequence that General Pender took active part was at Chancellorsville in the early part of the year 1863. It was here that General Jackson received a fatal wound and was relying on General Pender, who had been a faithful soldier under his command for several months. It is recorded that General Pender was so reserved in demeanor that General Jackson only knew him for his gallantry in battle, the discipline of his troops, and the orderly appearance of his camp.
At Chancellorsville General Jackson, after receiving his wound, recognized General Pender through the darkness, and said, “You must hold your ground, General Pender, you must hold your ground, sir.” From the account of General Lee, General Pender held his ground, for in his report he recorded that “General Pender led his brigade to the attack under a destructive fire, bearing the colors of a regiment in his own hands up to and over the entrenchments, with the most distinguished gallantry.”
Immediately after the wounding of General A. P. Hill, General Pender took command of the “Light Division,” receiving a slight wound while in battle. General Lee recommended that he be permanently assigned to this command, because of his qualities as an officer, “attentive, industrious, and brave, and has been conspicuous in every battle, and I believe wounded in most all of them.” He was accordingly promoted to major general May 27, 1863, at the age of twenty-nine, but experienced in the school of war and hardships.
General Pender is best known for his activities, although of short duration, while in command of the “Light Division.” Every one knew of him in the Army of Northern Virginia. He was quick to move, alert and forceful, as he was impetuous in attacking an enemy. He had the reputation of being never late. His reputation gained credence the few weeks he was actively in command. It was commonly circulated among the army in Virginia that General Lee said Pender was the only man in his army that could fill the place of “Stonewall” Jackson.
General Pender's first great battle after his promotion was at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was here he met an untimely death.
On July 1st his division had attacked the enemy and driven him from Seminary Ridge. During the second day General Pender, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis, whose command rested on the left of Pender's division, and Major Englehard were reclining on a large rock pleasantly passing jocular remarks, when a terrific artillery fire opened up from Cemetery Hill and struck the Confederate lines. An eye witness relates that General Pender, in a most quiet and unassuming manner, raised up and said, “Major, this indicates an assault on our lines, and we will ride to the center of the division.” The group rode off preliminary to an attack on Cemetery Hill, and had reached half the distance to the center of the division when General Pender was struck in his leg by a fragment of a shell. He survived the retreat to Staunton, where his leg was amputated July 18th, with subsequent death. His body lies in the beautiful Calvary churchyard at Tarboro, the town which still cherishes his memory.
General G. C. Wharton stated that in a conversation between A. P. Hill and himself General Lee said, “I ought not to have fought the battle of Gettysburg; it was a mistake. But the stakes were so great I was compelled to play; for if we had succeeded, Harrisburg, Baltimore, and Washington were in our hands; and we would have succeeded had Pender lived.” The official records give testimony to General Lee's appreciation of his worth as a soldier and as a man. “The loss of Major General Pender,” he writes, “is severely felt by the army and the country. He served with this army from the beginning of the war, and took a distinguished part in all its engagements. Wounded on several occasions, he never left his command in action until he received the injury which caused his death. His promise and usefulness as an officer were only equaled by the purity and excellence of his private life.” This excellent citizen and soldier has been honored by his county and State. Pender County, North Carolina, has been named in his honor, while the local chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy bears his name. Mrs. L. L. Staton, of Tarboro, contributed a memorial poem in his honor which was read at a meeting of the William Dorsey Pender Chapter, February 3, 1915.
GEN. W. D. PENDER
When General Pender's body was moved to Tarboro for reinterment, a beautiful poem, contributed by William Loftin Hargrave, was sung at the grave. It is worthy of permanent record. “Dulce et decorum est, pro Patria mori.”1
- “Soldier, while the Spring so balmy,
- Sighs in fragrance o'er thy head,
- While thou sleepest on so calmly,
- Loving hands adorn thy bed.
- Let these flowers tell thy story.
- Bright and brief in dying—blest
- Let them breathe, Pro Patri mori,
- Dulce et decorum est.
- “In our hearts we proudly cherish,
- Recollections of thy worth;
- Noble deeds can never perish—
- Virtue has immortal birth.
- Lost to us—but not to glory!
- Warrior, in thine honor rest!
- Sweetly rest! Pro Patria mori,
- Dulce et decorum est.
- “Brighter flowers, noble Pender,
- Mem'ry weaves around thy name.
- Son of Southland—brave defender,
- Love is dearer still than Fame.
- Rest thee—in thy garments gory,
- War's grim emblem on thy breast,
- Rest in peace! Pro Patria mori,
- Dulce et decorum est.”
One of the saddest regrets in Edgecombe's history is that no monument has been erected to perpetuate his heroic deeds. The State has also shown its indifference during fifty-six years. A memorial window in Calvary Church enshrines his memory, his grave is marked by a circle of cannon balls placed as a sad memorial by the Edgecombe Guards.
Brigadier General William Ruffin Cox's activities belong to Edgecombe County beginning with 1857. He moved to Edgecombe in this year and became extensively engaged in agriculture. In 1861, when times were excitable and pulses ran high, he contributed his knowledge and services to the State. He was a man[note]
of good education, having been admitted to the bar to practice law. His first service was the assistance rendered in organizing “Ellis Artillery” Company and later organizing a company of infantry. In the meantime he had been commissioned by Governor Ellis major of the Second Regiment of North Carolina troops. This regiment soon entered active service. He was at Chancellorsville and at Cold Harbor. At Sharpsburg the well-beloved Colonel C. C. Tew was killed, and when Judge W. P. Bynum was advanced next in command Cox was appointed lieutenant-colonel. Soon afterwards Bynum resigned and Cox became colonel of the regiment in March, 1863. The part that the Second Regiment played was indeed heroic, having achieved imperishable honors. Acting in command of the regiment Colonel Cox moved into the valley of Virginia. In the spring of 1863 Colonel Cox moved to Chancellorsville driving the enemy from his outposts. They camped so near the enemy that night all orders were given in whispers. Saturday night the charge was made by General Jackson's Corps, when Cox's regiment halted a few feet from Generals Lee and Jackson. Immediately afterwards the Second Regiment was ordered to charge. The order was misunderstood by some. Seven companies of the regiment charged, but going at different directions, the left end going far beyond the breast-works, while the right never reached it. The cause for the trouble was an order given by General Ramsuer. As he neared the Second Regiment, he said: “Forward, Second.” The three captains stood half faced to the right observing Cox, who was waiting for his command. The men were at high tension when General Ramseur said: “Forward at once.” The three companies got the command first and dashed away at top speed. Cox, taking in the situation, led the remaining companies and succeeded in driving the enemy from his works and silenced his guns. In this battle he was wounded three times.
The next engagement was at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, but Cox was absent from his regiment on account of his wounds. General Ramsuer paid him a high compliment for his services and named him “the manly and chivalrous Cox.”
Cox rejoined his command when it returned from Pennsylvania and took part in the Wilderness and Spottsylvania battles in 1864. After these battles, under command of General Ramsuer,
GEN. W. R. COX
Lee, and Ewell, he was promoted to brigadier general. His old regiment remained in his brigade. He fought in Early's Division at Castleman's Ford, Winchester, Fisher's Mill and Cedar Creek. His brigade became known as Cox's brigade from the battle of Spottsylvania. His brigade captured more prisoners at Winchester than it numbered and harrassed thousands in retreat.
His brigade fought through Maryland to Washington and the Shenandoah battle of the fall of 1864. He then returned to the battle-scarred field of Northern Virginia, where he waited around Petersburg and took part in the attempt of Gordon's Corps to pierce the enemy's lines at Fort Stedman. It was on this retreat Cox displayed his best soldiership. Governor Vance related that one day during a retreat to the West, when General Lee was taxed to get in line some routed troops, he became elated by the appearance of a small but well organized brigade. He called out to his aide: “What troops are those?” “Cox's North Carolina brigade,” was the reply. General Lee took off his hat and with bowed head said, “God bless North Carolina.”
From Petersburg the brigade went to Appomattox, where General Cox led the division in the last charge after ordering his brigade to cover the retreat. His men who were retiring were exhausted and well spent, but Cox ordered a halt and a command of “Right about face” was given. With the promptness of veterans they returned and fired a deadly volley into the Federal ranks. Once more the firm Cox ordered, “Ready, aim, fire.” This was the last volley fired by any troop of the Army of Northern Virginia. Defeated but not conquered the gallant Cox bore his eleven wounds and laid down his sword with the soldierly grace of a true hero.
Although the career and achievements of Edgecombe's sons were of conspicuous interest, its military history centers around the performance of its organizations. The county contributed several companies to the service of the Confederate States and many notable events are credited to their achievements. The various companies in the North Carolina Regiments, its officers and part taken in battles, are given in order named:
Company A in First North Carolina or Bethel has already been given. The companies assigned to North Carolina regiments are as follows: Company C, Eighth Regiment; Companies A, C, D,
Tenth Regiment; Company G, Thirteenth Regiment; Companies I and K, Fifteenth Regiment; Company I, Seventeenth Regiment; Company F, Thirtieth Regiment; Company F, Thirty-first Regiment; Company B, Thirty-third Regiment; Company F, Fortieth Regiment; Company E, Forty-third Regiment; Company B, Forty-fourth Regiment, and Company I, of the Seventy-fifth Regiment.
Company C of the Eighth North Carolina Regiment was originally made up from the counties of Edgecombe, Franklin, and New Hanover, and was organized at Warrenton, North Carolina, August and September, 1861. Charles H. Barron, of Edgecombe, was commissioned first lieutenant, May 16, 1861, and was promoted to captain February 1, 1863. William J. Baker, of Edgecombe, was second corporal, having enlisted July 9, 1861. J. B. Hill, a private, was soon promoted to sergeant. The county contributed thirty-nine privates out of the total number of ninety-one, in addition to an officer and two noncommissioned officers. The company was mustered in the Eighth Regiment September 13th by Colonel Robert Ramson, for the entire war. It received instruction in a camp near Warrenton, and was stationed on Ronoke Island where fortifications were built. In October the regiment embarked on barges to the sound to attack an enemy force along the sea coast at Chicamacomics. The attack was made on October 4th and the entire camp and fifty-five prisoners were captured. It remained around Hatteras and Fort Bartow until February, 1862, when an enemy fleet entered Pamlico Sound and bombarded Fort Bartow, when the regiment retired to the north of the island. The island surrendered, and the Eighth Regiment held as prisoners of war and paroled two weeks later. The regiment reassembled September, 1862, one year after its organization, with its former companies remaining intact. It became a part of General F. L. Clingman's brigade, and was stationed around Kinston, Wilmington, and Newbern, spending the winter at Camp Whiting at Goldsboro. At Goldsboro Lientenant Barron was promoted to captain of Company C. In February the regiment was ordered to Charleston, South Carolina, and later to Savannah, Georgia. It later returned to Charleston and then to Wilmington. It saw its first real service on its return to Charleston, July 13, 1863. Here it fought against an ironclad
fleet and was given a severe bombardment. They were sieged fifty-eight days at Battery Wagner and suffered undue hardships, the men working night and day.
When the regiment returned to North Carolina in December the organization was sent to Petersburg, Virginia, and slept in the streets the night of December 14, 1863. It remained in camp near here to January 29, 1864. It left Petersburg without a fight and returned to Goldsboro, thence to Kinston and later made an attack at Newbern. It was then returned to Petersburg, and then fought at Suffolk, Virginia. It left here for Plymouth by way of Weldon, Rocky Mount, and Tarboro, by railroad. From Tarboro the regiment marched to Plymouth. It finally returned to Petersburg and assisted in preventing the capture of that city. It fought at Cold Harbor, loosing 275 officers and men. The regiment received the news of Lee's surrender while in Randolph County.
Companies A, C, D were in the famous battery known as the Sixteenth Regiment Artillery, which were stationed at Fort Macon and under command of Lieutenant-Colonel John L. Bridgers. Companies A, C, and D were three of the five companies of light artillery. Company A had about fifty privates, with J. H. Payne as second lieutenant, all of Edgecombe. Payne was commissioned March 1, 1862, and soon promoted to first lieutenant. H. P. Lyon enlisted March 1, 1862, as seventh sergeant, was promoted to second lieutenant March, 1862, and was assigned to the Thirty-third regiment. H. Slack enlisted in March, 1862, as eighth sergent and was promoted to fourth sergeant. W. T. Bryan, seventh corporal, enlisted March, 1862, while C. Zoeller was artificer.
Company C had only a few of Edgecombe soldiers and no officers, while Company D had about thirty men from Edgecombe. E. W. Wilcox and John Reggs were sergeants and J. W. Pittman a corporal. These companies saw service at Newbern and were captured and paroled not to take up arms again until properly exchanged. In 1862 an exchange was made, and Major Poole, with his command, went to Tarboro and fifty men under Captains McRae and Cobb joined his force. These two men received honor for themselves and company. In 1863 these companies were used in the Seventeenth Regiment to repell a supposed Federal force
between Tarboro and Williamston. The rumor was unfounded and the companies were returning when the force had a railroad accident between Tarboro and Rocky Mount. More than twenty men were wounded and war equipment, men, and cars piled together. The mail train for Tarboro arrived and took the wounded to the Confederate hospital at that place. The crew was placed under command of Lieutenant James H. Pool. Two of the men were injured for life. Major Pool remained at Tarboro, establishing quarters, under instruction of General Bragg, to collect supplies for General Johnson's army, to protect Confederate stores and to protect public property. On the 21st of April the forces of Schofield, composing an entire army corps, advanced this way to form a junction with Sherman's army. All supplies and about 800 bales of cotton were sent to Halifax and Goldsboro. Three hundred bales were left on account of the lack of transportation and were burned on order of General Bragg.
A battallion of these companies was ordered to Rocky Mount to meet the Federals there, but being late the Union forces burned the cotton mills and railroad bridge at that place. The mill was the oldest of the South and constituted a great loss, as will be explained later. The companies remained around Eastern North Carolina and established its headquarters in Tarboro, March 22, 1865. Major Pool remained here until April 10th, when Fort Branch was destroyed, bridges burned over Tar River, thus giving cause for the consolidation of troops at Halifax. On April 7th the command encamped near Tarboro on Tar River. No provisions could be secured, since the people of the county had given to exhaustion. A council was formed to determine what plan to pursue, and Lieutenant-Colonel Guion and Captain Cogdell went to Goldsboro to draw up the terms of surrender.
Company A of the Thirteenth Regiment has a remarkable history. The company was organized by Captain J. H. Hyman and went to Garysburg, North Carolina, where it will be remembered General Pender was instructor. Later Captain Hyman began to rise in the ranks, first becoming major of the Thirteenth Regiment, March 2, 1862; lieutenant-colonel, October 16, 1862; and colonel, January 13, 1863. He had a very brilliant military career and remained with the Thirteenth Regiment from the beginning until his wound at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863. Captain Hyman
was commissioned captain of Company G, May 1, 1861. He saw active service at Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Gaines Mills, and Boonsborough. At the latter place he had his first opportunity to distinguish himself. He led his company against a hot fire and after the commanding officer was wounded led the regiment and succeeded in effecting his objective. A scene described in this battle relates the horrors of war. Edgecombe company lost the greatest number killed in any one battle. A shell struck a sergeant of the company in the breast and exploded, leaving no trace of the body. Another was struck on the top of his head and uncapped, leaving the brains exposed.
The lieutenant-colonel commanding, in giving his account of the battle, says: “I noticed particularly the gallant bearing of Captain J. H. Hyman acting as major, and owing to an accident I was not able to command the regiment on the 17th, I therefore have the honor to call your attention to the accompanying report from Captain Hyman, who commanded that day.”
A few days after this battle the reports of operation designated Hyman as major, commission dating March 2, 1862. In less than six months from the time his efficiency as a soldier had warranted promotion again, and on October 16, 1862, he became lieutenant-colonel. He was still in General Pender's brigade, and saw service with him in the serious battles of Northern Virginia. Hyman was afterwards promoted to colonel of his regiment.
He was very popular with the men and always considerate of them. An instance cocurred in which several of his men got too much brandy while very cold and created considerable disturbance with an Irish battalion. Lieutenant-Colonel Benton Withers, who was in command of them, marched them back to camp. A letter written about him bears mark of his good feelings and kindness. A captain of one of his companies records: “The next day being Christmas Eve, Colonel Joe Hyman received a very nice box from a friend at Tarboro, North Carolina, and in the box were five gallons of North Carolina brandy, turkey, hams, sausage, cakes, etc. Well, he was something of a ‘turnip’ himself; he invited every commissioned officer to come up to his tent and partake of his hospitality. After a few smiles at the demijohn he then sent for the brass band, treated them and made them play till midnight. About this time his heart had gotten soft. He
called Colonel Withers and ordered him to go and tell all the officers that were tipsy to come to him at once, also to tell every man in the guardhouse that he was pardoned. He wound up by saying, ‘D—n a man that will punish others for the very thing he will do himself.’ ”
At Chancellorsville he conducted himself well, and received the following commendation from General Pender: “Colonel Hyman showed himself a true and gallant officer.” The eventful day at Appomattox still found Hyman in his fearless attitude.
Company G had various changes made in its personnel and organization. A list of officers all of Edgecombe County with dates of commission and changes are here given: J. H. Hyman, captain; J. A. Fugua, first lieutenant, and promoted to captain, October 15, 1862; G. L. Brown, sergeant, later second lieutenant, and finally promoted captain, 1864; C. M. Ciralia, second lieutenant, promoted to first lieutenant, October 15, 1862; G. M. Stancil, sergeant, promoted to first lieutenant; W. T. McNair, second lieutenant, and resigned October 15, 1861; B. P. Jenkins, sergeant, and promoted to second lieutenant, October 15, 1861; Rufus Atkinson, corporal and promoted to second lieutenant, April, 1862. Lieutenant Atkinson was wounded at Gettysburg and died, August 3, 1863. Lieutenants Brown and Stancil were wounded, but not fatally, at Williamsburg and at Chancellorsville. The company was made up almost exclusively of Edgecombe boys and endured some of the greatest trials of the war. It contributed approximately eighty-two privates out of a company of 104.
Companies I and K of the Fifteenth Regiment are also closely allied with Company G of the Fourteenth. In this famous regiment the beloved Dowd was at first adjutant and later colonel. Gray Willis Hammond became major February 27, 1863, and later in 1864 was promoted to lieutenant-colonel. These men deserve a few remarks of their deeds of valor. The regiment was organized at Garysburg, North Carolina, June 10, 1861. When McKinney, the colonel of the Fifteenth, was killed at Lee's Farm, H. A. Dowd, first lieutenant of Company I, and acting adjutant, was elected colonel April 20, 1862. He was wounded at Malvern Hill July 1, 1862, and resigned February 27, 1863. A rise in ranks occurred and G. W. Hammonds was accordingly elected
major. MacRae, who was appointed colonel at the resignation of Colonel Dowd, was appointed brigadier general August, 1864, and this gave Hammond the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
The organization of Company I from May, 1861, to 1864, was composed of Turner W. Battle, captain; Henry A. Dowd, first lieutenant; Benjamin T. Hart, first lieutenant; Frederick Philips, second lieutenant; Redding S. Suggs, second lieutenant; Solomon M. Pender, second lieutenant; Edwin E. Knight, second lieutenant, and D. H. Barlow, second lieutenant. E. D. Foxhall was first sergeant and was promoted to captain May 2, 1862. Thomas W. Davis, sergeant, was also promoted to second lieutenant in the Eighth Regiment March 25, 1863. The company had 148 enlisted men, most of whom were from Edgecombe.
Company K had three captains during its organization—Gray W. Hammonds, George W. White, and James P. Cross. First lieutenants were W. T. Gray, G. W. White, and J. P. Cross. Second lieutenants, J. J. Reed, Thomas H. Griffin, G. W. White, J. P. Cross, William D. Braswell, and H. H. Griffin. This company had 140 enlisted men, the majority being from Edgecombe.
These companies went through the battles of Lee's Farm, Malvern Hill, South Mountain, Sharpsburg, and Fredericksburg. It gave the promotion of J. P. Cross, a corporal, April 24, 1861, to the captaincy of Company K, March 14, 1863.
Company I was formed April 21, 1861, with John S. Dancy, captain; A. M. J. Whitehead, first lieutenant; William H. Powell and Pleasant Petway, second lieutenants; Thomas F. Cherry, Henry G. Gorham, James M. Cutchin, David S. Williams, William McDowell, sergeants, in order named, and James P. Jenkins, John A. Cutchin, Jesse H. B. Thorn, and C. R. King, corporals. J. G. Arrington was assistant surgeon. With the exception of William H. Philips, of Virginia, the 180 men, officers and privates, were from Edgecombe County.
May 16, 1862, Captain Dancy being detailed as quartermaster of the regiment, A. M. J. Whitehead was put in command. Powell was made first lieutenant, and in December was promoted captain. The entire company, along with the regiment, was captured during the bombardment of Fort Bartow. After being exchanged it had a reorganization at Camp Mangum and performed picket duty at Newbern, Washington, and Plymouth. The company
saw service at Newport, battles of the Wilderness, and Spottsylvania. It suffered the hardships of the siege of Petersburg and rejoiced over the fight at Bentonville. It was in North Carolina at Goldsboro when 115,000 Federal troops were menacing three sides of the city, met and repulsed a force over three times its number. The regiment surrendered to General Sherman in Randolph County, North Carolina, after a brave struggle.
Company F of the Thirtieth Regiment was organized in Edgecombe County the latter part of September, 1861, and was mustered into the regiment at Camp Mangum, October 7, 1861. Its first captain was Franklin G. Pitt and was succeeded by William M. B. Moore, who was promoted from first lieutenant. George K. Harrell was also first lieutenant, commissioned May 10, 1862; wounded at Sharpsburg September 17, 1862, and received a promotion immediately afterwards. Charles Vines and James Pitt were the original second lieutenants, both commissioned August 21, 1861. Pitt died in August, 1862, and Lorenzo D. Eagles, being at first a sergeant, was promoted to second lieutenant March 10, 1862, and wounded June 27, 1862, at the battle of Gaines Mill. S. R. Moore, also a sergeant, was promoted second lieutenant January 20, 1863, and became company commander in the last days of the war. The noncommissioned officers were John R. Cobb, second sergeant; L. D. Eagles, third sergeant, wounded at Cold Harbor and promoted to second lieutenant January 20, 1863; J. B. Cobb, fourth sergeant; L. H. Smith, fifth sergeant, and Spencer Sherry, T. J. Moore, James Carney, L. R. Willis, corporals. There were 140 enlisted men and with the few exceptions of about fifteen men from Wake, Greene, and Pitt counties all were Edgecombe troops.
The troops were drilled at Fort Johnson and Camp Wyatt, near Fort Fisher. Winter quarters were made at Camp Wyatt until the army at Wilmington was reinforced by the regiment in early spring. The company was with the regiment in the attack against Burnside's cavalry, and the defense of Newbern. The battle of Seven Pines gave the troops the season of war. The regiment fought at Gaines Mill where Frederick Philips, of Edgecombe,
was appointed adjutant and commissioned July 5, 1862. Dr. F. M. Garrett, also of Edgecombe, was commissioned surgeon on August 20, 1862, in place of Surgeon Henry Joyner, who had resigned.
The troops were then moved to Sharpsburg September, 1862, where a terrible slaughter met the Edgecombe company. It was here also that Lieutenant Philips received a severe wound. The fire was very fierce and the report came that General Anderson was wounded and had left his command. Courier Baggarly, from brigade headquarters, was unable to find Colonel Tew, of the Second North Carolina, who was senior colonel of the regiment. The report was made to Colonel F. M. Parker, who instructed his adjutant, Lieutenant Philips, “to proceed cautiously down the line, observe what was going on, and if possible to find Colonel Tew and carry him Baggarly's report.” In attempting this dangerous task Lieutenant Philips received several shots through his clothing, and succeeded in reaching hailing distance of Colonel Tew. He reported his message and in order to be certain his message was understood, asked Colonel Tew, who at the time was standing, to give him a sign that he had heard completely. Colonel Tew lifted his hat and gave a polite bow, and fell instantly with a bullet in his head. On his return Lieutenant Philips also received a severe wound on the head, which occasioned his leaving the field. Colonel Parker, perceiving the situation, attempted to reach the left of the brigade to rally the troops, and after going about ten steps he also received a minnie ball on the head and was carried from the field.
The next encounter with the Federal troops was at Chancellorsville. Here again the strength of the North Carolina troops was felt. This regiment also constituted the rear guard of Rhodes's Division at Gettysburg and drove the enemy from behind a stone wall into town. Immediately after this Adjutant Philips received a bad wound at Kelly's Ford, and in November, 1863, was appointed captain and assigned to duty in the spring of 1864. He bore the reputation of being an efficient assistant quartermaster.
In 1864 the battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and the campaign of the Shenandoah Valley were taken part in by the
Edgecombe troops. General Lee commended the North Carolina troops the last days at Appomattox. With him they laid down their arms.
Company F of the Thirty-first Regiment was organized sometime in August, 1861. The company was mustered into the Thirty-first Regiment September 19th, with Charles W. Knight, another one of Edgecombe's courageous men, as captain. He reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel in June, 1863, but resigned shortly after.
Although Company F was about as much or perhaps more of a Martin County contingent, it is related to Edgecombe history because of its first captain.
Company B of the Thirty-third Regiment, with few exceptions, was also made up of Edgecombe soldiers. It preceded Company F of the Thirty-first Regiment in date of organization and was the company which distinguished itself in common with this memorable regiment. Frederick H. Jenkins was the first captain, being commissioned in July, 1861. He died in June, 1862, and was succeeded by Theophilus C. Hyman, who was at the time first lieutenant. He resigned September 1, 1862, and Richard H. Gatlin, promoted to first lieutenant June 7th, was appointed captain. Thomas H. Gatlin, who was second lieutenant in Lloyd's Battalion, was promoted to first lieutenant to fill the personnel of the company. Richard H. Gatlin in the meantime having been assigned to special duty on November 18, 1862, T. H. Gatlin acted as captain in his stead for sometime. Ebenezer Price, of Martin County, also acted as captain at times, and remained with the company, being wounded at Cedar Mountain, Falling Waters, and Wilcox's Farm, until he resigned February 14, 1865. Harrison P. Lyon was transferred from Company A, Tenth Regiment, with the commission of first lieutenant. Francis D. Foxhall was second lieutenant and died in June, 1862, after serving the company for less than a year. Additional commissioned officers who served the company during its organization were Peyton T. Anthony, second lieutenant, of Halifax, transferred from Tenth Virginia Cavalry, and Lewis H. Lawrence, second lieutenant, commissioned October, 1864. Levi H. Pervis, Bervin Stephenson, James H. Jenkins, Weldon S. Hunt, W. Bevely were the first sergeants,
while Thomas L. May, William C. Davenport, William F. Horde, John Andrews, William H. Andrews, and John Bowers were corporals.
This company was in for the war and not a twelve-months volunteer. It trained at the fair grounds in Raleigh, and then transferred to Camp Mangum and united with the Thirty-third Regiment. Companies B and F were assigned to special duty in Hyde County and later with two companies were placed under Major E. D. Hall, of the Seventh Regiment. They left from Hyde County in 1862, and rejoined the Thirty-third at the fair grounds in Newbern. Here the men got a taste of real gun fire when the engagement with General Burnside took place. Company B lost three of its men, John Bryan, Riley Bullock, and Wiley Whitley, killed in this battle.
The troops in this contingent went to Virginia, May, 1862, with the Second Brigade, known as “Branch Brigade,” and after General Branch's death, the “Lane Brigade.” Here the brigade was marched to and fro between the foothills and Criglersville in order to deceive the enemy. Later service was given at the Chickahominy, Gaines Mills, Cold Harbor, Fraser's Farm, Mechaniesville, Fredericksburg, and Malvern Hill. At Fredericksburg, as at numerous other places, Captain Gatlin had charge of the picket line. Under a staggering and murderous fire the picket line, led by him in this engagement, retired slowly and in perfect order. Captain Gatlin was complimented for the bravery and coolness which he demonstrated. Some of the roughest fighting was experienced at Malvern Hill, where a chance came to annihilate McClellan's army. If the Confederate forces could have succeeded, history would no doubt be different than it is now recorded.
Cedar Run, Manassas, Harper's Ferry, Sharpsburg, where the lost dispatch played havoc with Lee's army, all claim their toll of manhood and gallant deeds. At Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, with Pender and others the troops from Edgecombe performed praiseworthy service. Captain Saunders, in his official report as commander of the regiment, gives favorable mention of Lieutenant Price, of Company B. The majority of the enlisted men were conscripts, and the report says they fought heroically with the veterans. After fighting at Gettysburg, retreating to
Virginia, attacking at Mire Run and capturing three flags at Spottsylvania, the force crossed Appomattox at Goode's bridge and occupied a position near the court house. The following officers, according to Major Weston, who took command after Colonel Cowan refused to surrender the regiment, that were present at Appomattox were Jenkins, Gatlin, Hyman, Price, Lyon, and Lawrence. Company B had the reputation of being the best drilled company in the regiment. It distinguished itself in almost all engagements and at the surrender at Appomattox the company stacked only seventeen guns, with three men present without arms. No company merited greater honor, nor any captain of a company greater beloved than Captain Gatlin. Major Weston accords him the honor of having been the most humane to his men and more democratic than any company commander of the Thirty-third Regiment.
At the fair grounds of Newbern August 2, 1861, the counties of Edgecombe, Greene, and Wilson, Edgecombe having sent more men than the other two counties, sent troops to organize Company F of the Fortieth Regiment. Those who served as captains were Joseph J. Lawrence, Edgecombe; Richard H. Blount, Martin, and John C. Robertson supposedly from Martin. Serving as lieutenants in the war were Richard C. Tillery and Berry Lancaster, while the second lieutenants were Walter Dunn, B. Lancaster, R. H. Blount, J. C. Robertson, J. L. Pool, H. Williams, and F. Edwards. Out of eleven noncommissioned officers Edgecombe gave five to the company during the war.
After organization and drill the company remained at Fort Macon, North Carolina, until the late fall. From November 1, 1861, to March, 1862, it did picket duty on Harber's Island. It returned to Fort Macon in time to take part in the bombardment of this fort and to be captured April 26, 1862. It lost two members before its capture. The company was soon paroled and landed at Fort Fisher from the gunboat “Chippewa.” The troops returned home and remained there until September 4, 1862, when an exchange took place and a reorganization effected at Goldsboro. From here the company went to Kinston and fought there December 14th, also at White Hall and Goldsboro. It was also active in the Pickett and Hoke campaigns in the winter and spring of 1863, fighting at Washington, North Carolina, and Deep
Gully until in the early spring of 1864. It then went to Fort Caswell and later to Fort Campbell, where the company remained until Fort Fisher was captured. The company left Fort Campbell and joined the regiment for the first time at Fort Anderson.
As a unit of the Fortieth Regiment the company served at Wilmington. In January, 1865, the companies were separated again, and Company F occupied Fort Campbell on Oak Island. After the assault against and fall of Fort Fisher the company was transported by steamer to Smithville, and later joined Company A on the march to Fort Caswell. Here the company engaged in several minor skirmishes and joined the retreat across the State to join Lee's army. The junction was never formed, and they surrendered with General Joseph E. Johnson near Greensboro, North Carolina.
Among the companies Company E of the Forty-third Regiment was the most historic. It was in the spring of 1862 before this company was organized. Those who served as captains were John A. Vines, James R. Thigpen, and Wiley J. Cobb. The first lieutenants were John A. Vines, James R. Thigpen, and Wiley J. Cobb, all being promoted to captains and resigned in order, except Cobb. Second lieutenants were Van B. Sharpe, J. H. Leigh, Charles Vines, Willis R. Dupre, T. H. Williams, and W. H. Wilkerson. With the exception of T. H. Williams and two privates from Pitt County the company of ninety-six enlisted men were from Edgecombe.
The company trained at Camp Mangum and was mustered with the Forty-third Regiment. It went through the fights at Wilmington, Kinston, Drewry's Bluff, and Fredericksburg. It was in the march through Pennsylvania, and fought at Brandy Station, Gettysburg, and followed Lewis at Seminary Ridge. Later it was in the battles of Mine Run, Plymouth, Washington, Spottsylvania Court House, and saw the dome of the Federal capitol from Fort Stevens. The pathetic scene of Appomattox was experienced by this company after having performed memorable work for the lost cause.
In the early part of January, 1862, Elisha Cromwell, who had been prominent in enlisting Edgecombe troops, organized Company B, which later joined the Forty-fourth Regiment. Cromwell was well over the draft age and gave his efforts from patriotic
motive. All of his help had been drafted, and being a large planter in the county was considerably handicapped in his work. Edmenson, his overseer, and who had been left to care for crops, had been drafted three times and each time Mrs. Cromwell was asked to allow him to go. Three times a man was put in his place, and three times Edmenson asked to go. Assisting Elisha Cromwell was Baked W. Mabrey, first lieutenant; Thomas M. Carter and R. C. Brown, second lieutenants. The company had 135 enlisted men, and were with few exceptions natives of the county.
When the company met at Camp Mangum March 28, 1862, a reorganization took place and Captain Cromwell, having had considerable experience, was elected major of the Forty-fourth Regiment. Baker W. Mabrey succeeded him as captain, and died early in September. Robert C. Brown then became captain in his stead. Thomas M. Carter, who was second lieutenant, was promoted to first lieutenant after R. C. Brown, the original second lieutenant, was advanced by promotion. Charles D. Mabrey automatically became second lieutenant, being promoted from first sergeant March 28, 1862. As did Elisha E. Knight, who also succeeded to the position of second lieutenant.
Immediately after the reorganization the troops camped in Tarboro, and later went to Greenville for a few weeks, doing picket duty. From Greenville the regiment proceeded to Virginia and was assigned to Pettigrew's Brigade. In the meantime the death of Colonel Singletary and the resignation of Lieutenant-Colonel Cotton, placed Major Cromwell to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Before the ensuing campaign in Virginia had advanced to any considerable extent Colonel Cromwell resigned and returned to the county.
This company gave its valiant men to the battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania Court House, Petersburg, Gaines Mill, Reen's Station and left a trail of blood along its exhausted march to Appomattox, where in common with the other troops surrendered to the Federal army.
Company F of the Seventy-fifth Regiment was originally one of the three companies of the Sixty-second Georgia Regiment, and later was incorporated in the Sixteenth Battalion North Carolina Calvary. Later it emerged into the North Carolina Cavalry or the Seventy-fifth North Carolina Regiment. The
official orders of the change were ignored in the rush of organization, and the regiment officially retained the designation of the Sixteenth Battalion. The company was organized in June, 1862, with F. G. Pitt captain, promoted to major when the change occurred to the Seventy-fifth Regiment. When Colonel Kennedy was wounded, Lieutenant-Colonel Edelin was promoted to colonel in command until March, 1865, at which time Major Pitt took command.
J. B. Edgerton became captain after the promotion of Pitt. V. B. Sharpe was first lieutenant at the company's first organization, B. P. Jenkins, second lieutenant, was taken prisoner July 20, 1863, and Mark P. Pitt succeeded to the second lieutenancy. J. S. Pippins, I. T. Cherry, P. S. Sugg, William Peebles, and L. W. Deavans were sergeants, and R. A. Knight, D. V. Bullock, W. E. Green, and J. B. Skinner, of Wilson County, were corporals. All except six members were from Edgecombe.
The regiment was broken up and this company performed duty with the Sixty-second Georgia in Eastern Carolina near Greenville, and Southeast Virginia. Captain Edgerton camped with his isolated company near Rocky Mount until a raid was made here.
During his stay in the vicinity Captain Edgerton and his company participated in the battle of Daniels School House, the only engagement of importance which took place on Edgecombe soil. On the morning of July 14, 1863, General Martin sent orders for Major Kennedy, commanding the Seventy-fifth Regiment, to report immediately to him near Hamilton. Every available man was hurriedly collected and upon arrival at Hamilton Colonel Martin was found sick, with Lieutenant-Colonel Lamb in command. Colonel Lamb gave orders for the troops to return to Tarboro, where the enemy was to be expected on his return from Rocky Mount. The advance guards were to hold the enemy in check until the regiment with artillery could be brought up.
The orders were obeyed until the troops reached Daniels School House, about five miles from town. Captain Edgerton was sent forward with five men to find the way. He encountered the enemy near the creek bridge, and their attention was drawn to him and his men by the firing of a gun by one of his men, contrary to orders. The Federal troops mounted their horses and
started after him. Captain Edgerton reported that the whole force had crossed the bridge and were cautiously making their way two miles from the regiment. He received instructions to go back and give fight, and in this manner draw them back to the regiment, which had concealed itself in a well-timbered road between the school house and a field. A triangle was formed of the concealed men, who waited for Captain Edgerton to report.
Upon Edgerton's appearance, he cautioned the men to hold their fire until ordered, and then not to aim at any one above the stirrups. Edgerton and Major Kennedy, with five of his troops, took their stand in the road. The whole number engaged is given by Major Kennedy as being thirty-four men with Captain Edgerton; Captain Ellis, twenty-eight; Captain Thompson, nineteen. The relative position was: Captain Edgerton on the south side of the road, and Major Kennedy on the north side. This was the ambush which succeeded.
The enemy came in view at the corner of a fence and opened on them with a small cannon, thinking all the time it was a small party that they had encountered around Tarboro. They prepared for a charge, and in doing so received a fire from the right and left, losing seventeen horses in one volley. In delivering the fire it was believed the enemy would be cut off from escape, but many who were dismounted by the fire ran off, and since the Confederate horses were concealed two hundred yards away they could not be pursued. The men were still unobserved in the woods, and those who remained of the enemy refused to surrender. Their column was cut in half, with the rear retreating back to Tarboro, while the troops in front fought on with their sabers after their pistols had been emptied.
Captain Edgerton and Major Kennedy and a few mounted men had considerable excitement. Edgerton attacked the Federal Major Clarkson and felled him with his saber in the road. Major Kennedy having shot his pistol empty resorted to the butt of his carbine, and gave Captain Church, of the Federal side, a staggering blow and knocked him from his horse.
Those of the Confederates who were mounted immediately gave chase to the retreating Federals. The race was run to Tarboro bridge in hope of cutting off the enemy, but when the Confederates arrived the bridge was torn up on the end opposite the
town, while the other end was on fire. The troops went as far as they could and called for aid from the citizens, who gave ready assistance. H. T. Clark, who then was Governor, being in town, passed the first bucket to extinguish the blaze.
The enemy lost seventeen horses killed, forty-five captured, five prisoners at the school house and ten prisoners in the chase, who were sent to Colonel Lamb. Also the capture of Captain Church and Major Clarkton, Federal officers, and sixty-two saddles with equipment were the results of the battle of Daniel's School House.
Again at Newbern in 1865 Captain Edgerton won commendations for himself and company's fighting qualities. The army then returned to Virginia and camped around Petersburg. The regiment surrendered soon after this at Appomattox after distinguishing itself at Petersburg, Plymouth, Broadway, Brigen Mill, Davis House, Peeble's Farm, Hatcher's Run, Newport, Tarboro, or Daniel's School House, Evan's Mills and Blount's Creek. Major Pitt had bravely led the command until April 2, 1865, when he was worn to exhaustion and was reported as captured in the numerous battles in the retreat to Appomattox.
With the exception of a few individuals scattered among the numerous companies of the North Carolina troops, the account of Edgecombe troops is concluded. Among the individuals who served in other companies were Andrew M. Thigpen, second lieutenant, Company C, Forty-fourth Regiment; R. Hicks, Isaiah Thomas, and Richard Thomas, of the Confederate States Navy. Edgecombe also had official representation in the Southern Navy in the person of Richard Battle, master, who commanded in 1863. In addition also to the services of Dr. Baker at Bethel, Edgecombe gave two assistant surgeons—H. C. Herdon and W. T. Harlee—to the Confederate cause. Mention should also be made of the deeds of courage rendered by O. C. Petway. When the Thirty-fifth Regiment was organized, November 8, 1861, at Camp Crabtree, near Raleigh, he was made major of the regiment and was rated as third ranking officer. After the fall of Newbern, March 11, 1862, the regiment retreated to Kinston and was placed in General Ransom's Brigade. Lieutenant-Colonel M. D. Craton resigned about April 10, 1862, and Major Petway succeeded him as lieutenant-colonel. Colonel Petway fought at the battle of Seven Pines, and in the bloody battle of Malvern Hill.
He led a heavy charge upon the enemy ranks, sustaining a severe loss in officers and men. Colonel Ramson received a fatal wound and Lieutenant-Colonel Petway was killed. He was a gallant officer and was scheduled for a promotion at the time of his death.
Major Henry A. Dowd also deserves commendation for his heroic achievements. He received rapid promotion in active military service, having been first lieutenant of one of the companies formed from the division of Captain Bridgers's Edgecombe Guards at the beginning of the war. He received a wound which caused his retirement in 1863. He was appointed quarter-master general and was on the Governor's staff in 1864 and 1865.
William Henry Austin, born 1840, lost his life in the war, and is entitled to honorable record. He had always been in poor health, having left the University of North Carolina in 1858, due to illness. He enlisted June 1, 1862, in Company I of the Seventeenth Regiment. He was promoted to sergeant, but in 1862 was given a furlough home to recruit, because of ill health. In the early spring of the year of 1865 he was given his final discharge and died at Rolesville, March, 1865, while on his way home.
W. T. Parker, captain Company A, October 2, 1862, to December 1, 1863, of the Thirty-third Regiment, and George W. Sanderlin, captain from August 1, 1863, to close of war of same company contributed gallant and heroic service in the battles fought by the famous Thirty-third Regiment.
In the meantime H. T. Clark, speaker of the Senate, of Edgecombe County, succeeded Governor Ellis, who died in July, 1861. Ellis's unexpired term dated from July 8, 1860, to September 7, 1862, inclusive. Governor Clark was a distinguished gentleman. He was a graduate of Chapel Hill, 1826, at the early age of seventeen years. He remained inactive in politics until the death of Louis D. Wilson. The first instance of his gentility and kindness came after Governor Ellis's death. His letter addressed to Mrs. Ellis will compare with the expression of any man. In a letter dated July 10, 1861, three days after Ellis's death, he wrote to Graham Daves:
“I will thank you to convey to Mrs. Ellis, in the kindest terms, my deep sympathy with the great affliction which has fallen upon
her in the death of Governor Ellis and how gratifying it would be to me to offer a word or an act which would alleviate her distress.
“I desire to tender to her the continued use of the Executive Mansion. It would gratify me, if it would prove agreeable to her to do so. Assuring her that it would not in the least interfere with any personal arrangements, I shall have made for my own residence in Raleigh.”
Before the beginning of hostilities in 1861, Governor Clark, as the speaker of the Senate, made an address which was an indication of the policy he would pursue if the authority were ever placed in his hands. In 1860 he made a conservative and logical address, pointing out the seriousness of the political situation, and the necessity of caution and honesty in interpreting the will of the people.
No man of the State has placed upon him a greater responsibility in carrying out the will of the people. He came into power when the State was just beginning to throw its weight into the southern cause. Military organization was more or less dependent upon him as commander-in-chief of the State forces. Yet he more than succeeded. Governor Clark did more for the morale and good of the State troops than has been realized and appreciated. To him much of the credit is due for the efficiency and admirable discipline with which they fought in the war. The regiments were better officered, more proficient in organization than from any other State. Northern writers generally concede this point. It was truly a trying task when men and means was the call from every section, and most commendably did Governor Clark rise to the occasion. It was his honored duty to assign commissioned officers to fifty State regiments, and then to supply and equip them upon the field of action.
Governor Clark was fifty-three years of age when called to the high position, and in the most seasoned period of his life for the arduous duties he had to perform. One of the first acts of his official career as Governor was to divide the State into districts according to counties. Each sheriff was designated as an officer, whose duties were to collect blankets, woolen socks, garments, and
all the useful articles and send them to Raleigh with a list of the donors. In this manner needed supplies for the troops were collected and properly disbursed where most needed.
At no time did the cause for promptness and business acumen become more prominent than when the convention of 1861 decreed to issue a currency for the State. There were grave dangers of a fluctuation of paper money, and its abundance was likely to cause inflation, thereby causing the good intentions of the State authorities to come to naught. The ability of H. T. Clark nowhere showed more conspicuously than in the part he took in this problem. Nowhere does his idea of sound government and clean citizenship cast a more noble luster than in the sedition acts of 1861, the test oaths, and the movement against religious exemption from the war. The partisan spirit was always held in check by him, even in the face of the aspersions and invectives of his enemies. This attitude prevailed even toward the convention which sought to remove him by declaring the office of the Governor vacant. The movement of course was instigated by Holden, who was reported to have wanted the office, but whose plans met with failure.
Governor Clark had the hearty support of J. H. Powell, member from Edgecombe in 1862, 1863, 1864, and 1865. David Cobb and L. D. Farmer served the county in the House of Commons in 1864 and 1865.
Many of these issues are State history, and a repetition of a story repeatedly told. The historians who write North Carolina history are indebted to him for the preservation of our State records. To him more than any one else does this noble task and effort belong. The writer has in his possession a letter written by Governor Clark showing the arduous task and duty performed not only to the citizens of his State, but to the entire literary and historically inclined everywhere. His brief administration is one that reflects an honor upon the pages of North Carolina history.
The people of the county, in addition to contributing their services, sacrificing their personal comforts, and their lives in many instances, gave material aid in numerous ways. No group of people ever had a cause dearer, no people committed themselves more unselfishly. When the approach of the Union forces were daily rumored, and even when they came on frequent occasions,
the people conducted themselves with a cool, sober courage. There were no wild demonstrations betrayed, but a sensible patriotic view of their responsibilities and duty in the crisis. The citizens of Tarboro met March the 20th, 1862, and gave vent to their opinions and expectations at the approach of the enemy. From the Tarboro Southerner one can read:
“Whereas, The military authorities in this department of North Carolina have issued an order that all cotton, naval stores, and tobacco shall be removed west of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad by the 25th instant, or be liable to be destroyed to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy, be it therefore resolved as the sense of this meeting—1
“First. That in our judgment all of the articles above named should be promptly destroyed by fire or otherwise, whenever in danger of falling into the enemy's hands, and that a committee of three in each captain's district2 be appointed by the chair to see to the enforcement of this resolution.
“Second. Believing it impossible to remove the cotton west of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad by the time specified, we respectfully request the military authorities to extend the time to April 15th, and to carry out this resolution we ask the appointment of a committee by the chair to attend to this matter.
“Third. That as the earnest sense of this meeting in this hour of peril to the very life of our young Republic, we believe the cultivation of cotton the present year will make inroads from the enemy and render the staff of life, bread, scarce, and we invoke the farmers of Edgecombe not to cultivate in cotton a larger area than will make one acre to the land.
“Fourth. That we regard ardent spirits at this time as a worse enemy than the Yankees, and respectfully request a meeting of the justices of this county to consider the propriety of ordering the sheriff to seize every drop of spirits of any kind offered for sale, with the understanding that a fair valuation shall be paid the owner of the same, and that should any one offend a second time, then the sheriff shall seize the spirits and pour it on the ground, without compensation.[note][note]
“Fifth. That we recommend to our citizens to remain at home and pursue their usual avocations, should the fortune of war place us temporarily under the enemy's control.”
The people gave and gave of their limited means until they themselves suffered want. Numerous quantities of supplies had been sent from the county to General Johnson's and General Lee's army. Yankee raiding parties paid several visits also and destroyed what was not taken. Horses from numerous farms that could not be hid were seized and carried away, leaving the women and children helpless to cultivate their land in the absence of husband and father. Salt, the most common as well as the most useful article, by 1863, became a luxury. Indeed efforts were frequently futile in the attempt to obtain this article. The freight cost five times as much as the salt is worth today to get it from Wilmington. John Norfleet, in the Confederate commissary, in 1863 ordered sixty-nine bags from Wilmington, with the freight costing him $147.45. J. Potts ordered twenty bags, the freight being $20.00, or one dollar per bag. B. J. Keech ordered ten bags, with the freight amounting to $10.00.
The county also by having an industry of considerable importance—cotton mills at Rocky Mount—became one of the principle sources for cotton goods for manufacturing cloth and surgical supplies. This factory became an object of the Federal forces purpose, and while manufacturing cotton goods for the Confederate army, was burned. The Federal account of this destruction was reported by the commanding officer, who states that in the expedition to Rocky Mount a large cotton mill, a bridge and a large amount of property was destroyed. A Mr. Bagley, of Williamston, then a refugee from that town, in Rocky Mount, gives an awful account of conditions in Edgecombe. These conditions were later reported to the Governor of the State, who sent troops to alleviate conditions. The occasion for these troops resulted in numerous skirmishes in the county. The conditions had reached such proportions that T. W. Moore wrote to General J. R. Stubbs, of Halifax, in December, 1864, that the Yankees, with eight gunboats and fifteen hundred troops, were landing at Williams-town and advancing toward Tarboro. General Leventhrope was accordingly dispatched to check them. The Federal troops, however, reached the county and took or destroyed considerable
property. General Stubbs lost all his property at the Perry place, including negroes, horses, mules, hogs, while all outhouses and barns were burned to the ground.
Sherman, on his march to the sea, passed through the northern edge of the county. His cavalry followed the railroad to Fayetteville, North Carolina, and then came east to Rocky Mount. Sherman reached Rocky Mount in person the 22d of February, and crossed the river on a pontoon bridge February 23d. He gives an account of having his army divided due to the fact of high water washing away his bridge, leaving General Parker on one side of the river with his division and himself on the other.
In spite of all the adversity which afflicted the people, it would be folly to attempt to describe the suffering. Hope was always entertained and assistance rendered. When General Hill issued his request to the county for hands to build his defenses at Washington, Edgecombe responded and sent eighty-eight good hands, thirty-three more than her quota, and those asked for, on a flat boat down the Tar River. In addition, the county in 1862 raised money and purchased 1,000 pair of stout shoes for her volunteers. In 1862 the county also gave the State in taxes $21,689.12,1which was more than the average for the preceding years.
This chapter could not be closed without mention of the women of the county. May their memory be ever cherished, as the source of inspiration and strength of all good and patriotic movements. To them who bore the brunt of war and the curse of reconstruction during the frightful days of 1861 to 1870 honor is hereby accorded. And when the time came Edgecombe's noble women did all that could be done to perpetuate the deeds of their sons, husbands, and fathers. Mention is made of the organization of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In this society to perpetuate the valor and heroism of the sons of the War between the states, Mrs. T. W. Thrash has had a most active part. Preceding and contemporaneous with her were the spirited women of the county. The movement began in 1870 by the women of the city of Wilmington to promote an organization of associated Confederates in every county in the State. Its purpose was to decorate[note]
graves, offer solace to widows and orphans of the Confederate dead, to assist the maimed, blind and cripples who were disabled in the Confederate service. This act has been continued by the ladies in the county through their local organization. A drinking fountain, at an approximate cost of $500.00, has been erected as a Confederate memorial in the city common at Tarboro. The county of Edgecombe contributed the most money for the erection of the Wyatt monument at Raleigh, June 10, 1913, when the fiftieth anniversary was celebrated by the unveiling, with one of Wyatt's great-nephews participating.
The Dixie Lee Chapter, an auxiliary of the U. D. C., is another organization created to keep alive the memory of the deeds of the Confederate dead. This society has contributed liberally in funds and deeds to all worthy and deserving objects. These organizations took an active part in forming the Henry Wyatt Chapter of Selma, formed in 1915, and the William Dorsey Pender Chapter, Tarboro, established about fifteen years ago.
After many suggestions from the Tarboro Southerner and the “Progressive Association of Tarboro,” a beautiful monument was erected in the Tarboro common. Mention is made of the noble efforts of the citizens of the county, and especially the efforts of Mrs. H. L. Staton, Mrs. Anna S. Howard, chairman of the committee; Mrs. Mattie Philips, Mrs. John L. Bridgers, Miss Sallie B. Staton, Mrs. Maggie W. Speight, Miss Bettie C. Whitehead, Mrs. Sadie F. Killelnew, Miss Lucy C. Staton, Mrs. Pattie D. Hart, General W. R. Cox, Captain R. H. Gatlin, Captain W. H. Powell, Gray Brown, Captain Owen Williams, Captain E. D. Foxhall, Lieutenant William Howard, Sergeant J. H. Baker, and Sergeant J. M. Johnson, and Frank Powell.
CHAPTER VII Reconstruction—Social and Financial
No more appropriate name could be given for the events which transpired between 1865 and 1880 than that of reconstruction. Politics were more or less corrupt, dominated to a large extent by the Federal Government; education made no progress, agriculture was neglected; labor was at a premium; commerce and trade stood still; the economic and financial conditions were uncertain; and the racial problem was alarming. The cause for such a tragic state was the Civil War and the adjustment which followed. It is quite impossible for the later generations to realize the untold hardships and suffering the citizens endured during this eventful period.
At the conclusion of the war questions of readjustment were the center of attention and the prevailing issue. Out of them grew numerous problems which had to be given due consideration. The State was under territorial government by the United States; and the Federal authority required, under heavy penalty, that the equality of rights and privileges be secured to all citizens, without distinction of race, color, or previous social relation. It was also required that avowed loyalty to the Union be assured. The President of the United States assumed an autocratic position on the most profound issue in the history of the country. The leading-Republicans warned him that this would result in the complete ascendency of the Confederates. The Republican party, following the Federal lead, evinced in their legislation a determined purpose to keep the men who had been loyal to their country during the direful years of war from any participation in the management of their affairs and to give preference to negroes, scalawags, and carpet-baggers. The determination of the President to adhere to his policy, though apparently condemned by the masses of the party which had elected him, created a spirit of defiance among those who had been true to the Confederacy, for he, too, believed in disfranchisement.
The returning Confederate soldiers had a moral right to believe what their parole said, “Return to your homes and repair your wasted fortunes; build up the interests of your State, and you
shall not be molested.” The Federal generals to some extent endeavored to have this promise observed; but the United States persistently ignored this policy.
Those who fought for the Confederate causes and survived, returned home to find Edgecombe County under martial law. General Martindale, of Washington, had his headquarters at Jamesville, Martin County. A provisional Governor, W. W. Holden, had been appointed, and a conservative representative from each county had been called to provide a form of government for the State.
Under the protection of the Federal Government undesirable men from the North became residents of the county in order to exploit the innocent and misguided blacks and the helpless whites. Politics offered the greatest advantage; consequently Edgecombe witnessed a quick transition from a Democratic regime to a Republican rule. The Democrats were deprived of the right to vote because of their participation in the War, and negroes being enfranchised naturally followed the political lead of their liberators.
One of the important political factors, as far as the Republican party was concerned, was the Freedman's Bureau. It was established by the Federal Government with the purpose of trying cases affecting freedmen, to clothe and feed the suffering, and assist the negro in securing employment. Colonel Savage was the first in charge in the county and proved a very considerate and just man. Captain R. H. Gatlin, of Tarboro, had Colonel Savage and his wife at his house frequently, and the people in the county were reported to be on good terms with him. His station was at Rocky Mount, and a branch agency was later established at Tarboro. Captain Fred De Silver succeeded him about 1868, but he was a man of different type from Colonel Savage. He caused Joshua Bullock, an overseer for Moses Mordecai, who owned the present Dunbar farm immediately after the War, to be put in jail in Raleigh for over a month for whipping a negro caught in the act of stealing bags.
A crew of northern missionaries followed the bureau to Edgecombe County, and a mission for the purpose of teaching the negro was located at the present home of Dr. S. N. Harrell, of
Tarboro, formerly owned by the Lawrence family. The women connected with the mission soon became dissatisfied because of ostracism, and the organization disbanded in 1868.
In 1872 the Freedman's Bureau was abolished by Congress, and after June 20th of that year, the business of Tarboro and the county was conducted through the Adjutant General of the Army. There were many claims for bounties and for damaged property and confiscated lands in Edgecombe, and Goldsboro was made the claim station for all eastern counties, and payments were made there.
Representatives of the Union League, which was organized in the North in 1862 as a political body of Unionists, came to Edgecombe about 1866. At this time efforts were made to establish this organization in every village. The first establishment was at Battleboro. Agents of the Freedman's Bureau had done considerable missionary work among the negroes and succeeded in causing their alienation from the native whites. A few negroes who were to be used for political purposes were initiated in the spring of 1866. The league offered a good substitute for the Freedman's Bureau, which was then on the verge of collapsing. Introduced by northern men of selfish design, it was carried on by them to work on the impulses and passions of the negro. By April, 1867, almost every negro who would be able to vote at the coming election was an ardent member of the league. Private information from old citizens of the county discloses the fact that the negro was under compulsion from the northern leaders to join the league. An initiation fee of five dollars was charged, and monthly dues of ten cents.
A few of the negroes in the county, like one Harvey Dancy and James Harris, declined to connect themselves with the league, preferring to accept guidance from their former masters. Dancy was candidate for employment by the State Legislature in 1870, and of pronounced conservative principles. This worked hardships on the dissenting negro, and under the direction of the carpet-baggers, who feared that the solidarity of the Republican party would be jeopardized, the Union League instituted punishment. In July, 1868, a negro in the county was severely beaten because of his refusal to join the league.
The first local president of the Union League was Major Tatton, who in 1866 was living in Battleboro. Tatton was a carpet-bagger and became famous for his underhand work and corrupt domination of the negro in the county. When he first came to Edgecombe he was employed by the Democratic party to assist in carrying the county Democratic. The idea was to do propaganda work among the negroes and to enlighten them on their new condition. Tatton, however, after collecting all the funds he could, left Tarboro and became connected with the league. He, on a certain occasion, had ordered a negro to be brought before the council of the league for refusing to join. The negro was brought and confined for one day and night, and experienced considerable fright at his hands. Tatton was tried by the court in Edgecombe County and sentenced to six months in prison. The case was presented to Governor Holden, the president of the league in North Carolina, and at his command the district commander ordered soldiers to break the jail at Tarboro and release Tatton. This was done and Tatton in turn released several negroes who were implicated with him.
Immediately following this, Tatton and a number of his followers became involved in another case. This time Wiley Taylor, a negro member of the league, had voted the Democratic ticket. Tatton and his followers had abused Taylor, and the courts sentenced Tatton and his followers to imprisonment the second time. The parties appeared to have had a fair trial, as certified by the Freedman's Bureau agent at Tarboro, who had been requested to be present at the trial. On Monday following conviction Lieutenant Heimer Beaman, agent at Rocky Mount, reached Tarboro with an order from General Canby for unconditional release of Tatton, Barnes, and Maner1 from custody of civil authority, and declaring action of the court as null and void on grounds that the prosecution arose from prejudice on the part of civil authorities and with intention to break up the league. General Canby was evidently prompted in this move by Holden, who was exercising supervision of league operations.
Richmond Staton, a negro preacher, succeeded Tatton as head of the Union League in Edgecombe. He became as widely known as his predecessor for infamous deeds and terror. He had negroes[note]
seized and severely beaten for voting the conservative ticket. On one occasion Staton was arrested by the sheriff of Edgecombe County, together with seven negroes under him. They were brought to Tarboro charged with assault. Finding himself in trouble Staton went to his former white friends to secure bail. He was refused and referred to his political friends as the proper ones to render assistance. He considered John Norfleet, a Republican of the county, as the one most benefited by his vote and influence, and requested his help in securing bail. Mr. Norfleet declined also, leaving Staton to reflect that politics is indeed passing strange.
It was under the reign of the Union League that Edgecombe witnessed what was known as the “Noo Administration of Justica.” The word “Noo” was originated by the Tarboro Southerner, and indicated a satirical opinion on the new regime. Its original import was also closely connected with the idea advanced by northern politicians of the forty acres and a mule to be given to former negro slaves. The tone of this was later changed by negro leaders, who instructed the negroes in the county they would get forty acres and one hundred dollars in cash. It remained for James Harris and Sil Barnes, two negroes in the Democratic party, to dispel this false doctrine. The occasion for the ironic name was a letter written by L. L. Lancaster, when he was elected justice in 1868. The letter was addressed to W. F. Mercer, a leading citizen in the township in which Lancaster was elected justice. In his letter, written December 8, 1868, Lancaster wrote: “We claim one-half of the cotton and one-half of the corn by L. D. Bullock in year 1868, and we shall be to your house to get same December 6, 1868.” The idea being that as a newly elected justice, Lancaster considered himself entitled to some remuneration and would employ his office to collect his due.
In order to promote the interests of the negro politically (so-called) and to corral them for elections, a new brick house was erected in Tarboro under radical guidance and financial support for the accommodation of guests “without regard for color.” At this time all negro leaders were agitating social equality, and the situation was not without comment. H. M. Williams was installed as manager, and the ever observant Southerner in its editorial commended “all violators of the law to the tender mercies
of mine host, Mr. Williams,” and assured them security under his control. Another incident served to fan the flames of social equality and in all probability gave regrets to one of our best religious bodies. A negro bishop came to Tarboro in 1867 and was given permission to preach in the white Methodist Church. This brought considerable criticism against local Methodism, and resulted in harm which was felt in after years.
There were only a few isolated cases, however, in which actual social equality was practiced. The Tarboro Southerner, in 1869, gave an account of a white man applying for license to marry a negress of Wilmington. The register refused, and the editorial comment referred to the act of the register, but stated that Edgecombe had stain indited upon its history. One infers from this that there had been a few cases that slipped through the register.
The dastard measures employed by the Union League proved disastrous in two ways; first, a desertion by honest negroes, and, second, the establishment of an organization to offset its force.1 After the notorious occurrence of whipping deserting negroes and the arrogation to control by force the political course of its members in the county, the Union League received letters from Wiley Taylor, William Taylor, Thomas Jackson, and Fred Mann, colored, who lived near Leggets, and members at Battleboro, of withdrawal, since they did not wish to be held responsible for acts committed by the league. Following their resignations Steven Conyers and George Arrington resigned, and Taylor and others joined the Democratic Club at Tarboro. Prosecution of negroes who voted the conservative ticket continued as late as 1875, at which time James H. Harris, a loyal negro of the South and a Democrat, together with Sam Base, of Toisnot, were attacked by a mob of black Republicans and shot, after escaping from their hands.
The Union League of the county is deeply indebted to one “General” Wiley D. Jones, of Battleboro, whose name was unfamiliar to Edgecombe history until 1868. His achievements were marked with rascality and corrupt swindling of innocent negroes. The multifarious acts of the Union League and the rise of loyal organizations had necessitated a law to forbid meeting of secret societies. Jones saw the way to continue his designs, and immediately[note]
advised the negroes not to hold any more league meetings, since it was unlawful, but to hold prayer meetings, which were only league meetings in disguise. Accounts from 1869 to 1875 indicate that the negro suddenly became extremely religious.
The political effects of the Union League will be disclosed in the various elections which were held in the county from 1866 to 1880. It seems befitting, although distasteful and abhorrent, to give a record of the crimes perpetrated in the name of reconstruction under northern rule and the Union League. It is impossible to read a State paper during this period without reading of some brutal murder or incendiary fires, while the Tarboro paper was inflated with the occurrence of crime and violence. It seems as if the negro had been allowed to release his passion and infest civilization with his new-born liberty. Many of these crimes bear memory to people now living that overshadow the deeds of the dark days of the War between the states. It seems, however, mention should be made of the fact that in many instances the negro was the misguided tool of men of the North.
The economic life of the people in the county at this period was constantly imperiled. The farmer who had his dwelling, his stable, or his barn reduced to ashes was frequently ruined. Edgecombe County in two months in 1869 lost two churches, eight cotton gins, a cotton factory, and numerous barns and buildings, all being incendiary origin. In addition, plunder and theft destroyed thousands of dollars worth of property following a fire. The Union Leagues of the county entered into an agreement for arson and robbery. They were well organized for this purpose. Three unsuccessful attempts were made to burn a block in Tarboro in 1868. On October 14, 1869, oil was placed in some old boxes in a narrow lane between the old S. E. Moore place and the store occupied by R. A. Sizer. The flames were discovered and put out. In 1867 Tarboro had one fire which cost fifty thousand dollars. The fire began in B. J. Keech's stables and in the rear of several business houses. It was traced to incendiary origin. When the stores were burning, the goods were plundered and much stolen. An entire square was consumed. Colonel C. W. Smith, of the Penny Hill plantation, had his gin house burned in February, 1870, at which time two good gins, 1,500 bushels of corn, and 5,000 bushels of cotton seed were destroyed.
The confusion in the civil government and the support given the Union League by the State Government, under Holden, caused an increase of crime in the county. In addition the judges who came to the county to hold court were usually radicals or radical sympathizers. Judge Moore held court with a jury consisting of eleven negroes and only one white man in 1868. These negroes were of the lowest type.
Incidents of negro crimes increased in intensity; while white men were subjected to violence at their hands and innocent women were frequently overpowered and ruined. In 1866 a young man named George E. Griffin, a clerk at Whitakers, pushed a negro, who was newly elected magistrate, aside from the depot platform for some white ladies to pass. The negro swore out a warrant before a negro magistrate, John Judge, and gave same to a deputized negro, who was ordered to take Griffin dead or alive or carry his head. The negro went to the store where Griffin was shaving. Griffin had his pistol over a shelf. The negro reached for the pistol and Griffin asked for it back, all the time walking for the door. As he turned to go out the door, the negro shot him in the back. A crowd of white people heard of the incident and went to the magistrate, but received no satisfaction. The negro in the meantime had been captured and taken to Tarboro, where he was tried and sentenced to death. Judge Jones set aside the sentence, and gave the negro ten years. The negro was sent to Raleigh, and after a short time was pardoned by Holden.
Two negroes, Lawrence Powell and Cornelius Pittman, murdered Cowan, a Jew merchant, in Whitakers. These negroes were tried and sentenced for first degree murder. They appealed and were convicted the second time. It was near election time, and Governor Holden was scheduled to speak at Halifax. He learned of the case through the Union League and pardoned the negroes as the rope was placed around their necks to pay the penalty.
In September, 1869, O. M. Mayo was assaulted in his home by a negro about seven miles from Tarboro. He was severely beaten and was made unconscious. In October, 1868, two ladies, mother and daughter, were traveling from Tarboro to their home in the country and had their trunk stolen from behind their buggy, losing $600 in specie, a large sum in greenbacks and their entire wardrobe.
In the Edgecombe County Court in December, 1866, three-fourths of the cases concerned freedmen and members of the league. The military commander issued an order forbidding negroes to be bound out, and the jail became crowded. In June court, 1867, ninety cases were freedmen, while court for March had omitted all civil cases to try criminals only; the total number of criminal cases were 775. Court for March, 1868, had 100 cases, all freedmen. The expense of confining them for one quarter was over $1,000. As late as 1875 seven freedmen were convicted and sentenced to be hung, six for murder and one for rape.
During the month of May, 1867, Gus Holmes, John Stevens, Jordan Dancy, Hardy Lloyd, and John Morgan, all negroes of the Union League, broke into the railroad office at Tarboro, stole an iron safe containing express money and made away with it.
On March 17, 1870, the grocery store of King and Williams was robbed in daylight of $996 in currency and several dollars in company orders. Other cases of robbery and assault could be mentioned. Usually the acts of the league were mysterious, but later evidence would be obtained. On March 13, 1867, Bennet Hayne, of the vicinity of Leggets, left home to invite some friends to a gathering at his home. He met a party of whites and blacks, and in resisting an attack by them was severely beaten and became unconscious. He was found by an old negro man, who assisted in getting him home. About the same time a citizen of the county was seen to cross the Norfolk bridge, but never returned. In 1868 A. M. Weber had two attempts at his life, the last time being called to the door and struck over the head with a club. The would-be assassin began to rob, but was interrupted by people passing.
Frequently when negroes were detected and arrested they were released by the Union League. In September, 1868, a negro was arrested for larceny; a gang of Union Leaguers and regular delegates to the convention of 1868 for the district endeavored to liberate him.
The negroes occasionally in their moments of frenzy killed each other. In January, 1867, George Holmes, a mulatto, was a candidate for office and lost. He immediately shot Matthew King, his successful competitor. The smell of blood was indeed strong, and a frightened, agitated, impulsive man who had been
given liberty of passion after years of bondage knew no law but the law of license. Dempsey Morgan, a negro, was charged with beating his wife and came clear. He accused his wife of being the cause of his arrest and struck her dead, and disembowelled her.
Although the better class of whites had to tolerate this condition of crime, they bore it under protest. Especially was this true when the sanctity of the home was invaded by their former slaves, who for the most part had been treated kindly and with compassion. The patience of the people was restrained by the forces of the Federals when the acme of torture was reached in the criminal assault upon their women. Before freedom was granted to the negro it was unheard of for him to assault or rape a white woman. Negro and mistress worked together in the field and home. The negro acted as her protector in the absence of husband and father during the War between the states. Even during the last days of the War, when negroes from the county were joining the Federal forces and the Freedman's Bureau, the white women were unmolested. But with the coming of their northern sponsors preaching the doctrine of social equality, the sanctity of woman was no longer respected.
The first case of rape was in number 5 township. Almost immediately afterward another case occurred in township number 6. In January, 1868, Gus Rogers, a negro, raped a white woman in Rocky Mount. In December, 1869, Lew Hines was convicted for rape on a white girl. The subject is repulsive, and only for the sake of attempting to give an idea of the awful days of reconstruction are these cases stated. It is essential to notice that it was only during the day of reconstruction that any such condition prevailed.
It is interesting to note that with all the crime committed no attempt was made at lynching during the reign of Federal agencies. However, there was one case that bordered on mob execution. Gray Hargrove was slain by a negro, Jim Hargrave, a slave belonging to General Lewis, superintendent of the Tarboro and Welden Railroad, before the war. General Lewis and others, upon learning of the deed, drew the negro up by his thumbs. The negro hung too long and the act almost resulted in death. Realizing the seriousness of the act and knowing that
the negro would go to the Freedman's Bureau, General Lewis went first and explained the affair as it occurred. The agent of the bureau replied: “I don't give a d—n, there are plenty more.”
In order to check the lawlessness and violence in the county a branch of an existing organization, the Ku Klux Klan, was formed. The method of organization of the Ku Klux, like that of the Union League, is disclosed in Halminton's History of Reconstruction, and for want of space is omitted here. General N. B. Forest, of Western Tennessee, was the reputed head. In its early formation in the county the society was composed of able and conservative men. The clan had a small muster and carried out the instructions of the leader. Unfortunately very little was published in the local papers concerning the society's activities, and since the remaining few old citizens express reluctance in telling of its operations, very little is known. From private information, however, one act of suppression in the county was obtained that is worthy of narration. During the year 1870 in which lawlessness and crime were at the highest, and just as the Republican party was losing its power in the county, eleven negroes who were believed to be guilty of assaults on white women and burning were secured by members of the Ku Klux, conducted to Hendrick's Creek, about one mile from Tarboro, and emasculated. During the scene it was told that as many negro politicians as could be gathered together were forced to witness the operation. One of the ablest negro leaders in the county became frightened and left Tarboro between daylight and dark, and when next heard from was in Washington City. It was several years before he ever came back to the county. This act terrified the negroes in the county, and prevented repetition of crime.
It is declared by good authority that men who were guilty of offenses of a minor character received a better trial at the hands of the Ku Klux than by the courts. There was, however, no recourse for the victims of the order and no retaliation. That it did much good in quelling crime is indisputable, by the decline of crime after the organization appeared. After 1875 a bad element of whites began to get into the Klan, and since its purpose was about accomplished the leading citizens began to withdraw. In addition to this the negro began to realize that the northern man was his enemy instead of his friend, and after the forty acres and
a mule never materialized he began to lean toward the native whites. This statement is well demonstrated by a negro man who lived on Captain R. H. Gatlin's farm in the county. This negro had voted the Republican ticket and belonged to the Union League. This negro came to Captain Gatlin often and asked him to read the political news, and made this statement: “I am firmly convinced that the Democratic party will work for the best interests of the negro.” This colored man frequently spoke to the members of his race, and on one occasion he had over one hundred negroes in front of him hissing and hooting him down. He backed himself against a tree and told them that they could kill him, but they could not shut his mouth, that this was a free country and that free speech was allowed, and he intended to say what he pleased. In his attempts to lead his race into better things, it was reported that he exercised sound logic and said things his opponents could not confute.
When the General Assembly in 1871 passed a law to abolish all secret political organizations, the Ku Klux disbanded, or all the best element withdrew. Its influence, however, was retained by parties were were banded together to protect the innocent.
In order to brighten the negroes’ hope, when political issues were first agitated, the northern men promised the negro forty acres of his former master's land and one mule. Their slogan was bottom rail on top, or now negro up and white man down. Induced by this theory, advanced and advocated by corrupt politicians, the poor emancipated negro with ten thousand or more just freed, and with many white men disfranchised by the Federal Government, it was nothing but logical that they should vote for the radicals. The first court was made up of negroes, and was termed the “Mongrel Constitution.”
The election in 1869 is an index to the political conditions, and the humiliation the citizens had to suffer. All citizens of the county who had been members of the Legislature, and had held local offices, were disfranchised, as well as those who had borne arms against the United States. Every negro, however, who could boast a man's clothes had the chance to vote. A greater farce had never been enacted. Quite a few white people were
present, but only the radical element were permitted to vote. The Democrats stood with hands in pockets—innocent spectators, while the radicals carried the election.
When the voting was over the ballots were not sent to the court house to be verified, and the result reported to Raleigh, in order that the vote of the State might be known, but was sent direct to General Canby, the autocratic ruler of the Carolinas, in Charleston, S. C. From the list of elected candidates it will be seen how many strangers in politics were successful in securing office in the county. For history's sake a result of the election in the different townships of the county, as shown by the returns to the Board of Commissioners, is given:
Tarboro township elected Alexander McCabe, B. J. Keech, and J. H. M. Jackson (colored) as magistrates, and W. H. Shaw as clerk, E. Zoeller as constable, and John King, T. W. Harvey and David Harriss (colored) as school committee.
Alexander McCabe came to Edgecombe County (Tarboro) before becoming twenty-one years old from New York State, where he was connected with wealthy and prominent people. His purpose in coming South was to engage in the mercantile business. He was a man of good impulses and enjoyed considerable popularity among the people of Tarboro. He married the eldest daughter of Samuel Moore, a citizen of Tarboro. At this time Mr. McCabe became active in the Republican party and was soon its recognized leader. He was of Irish descent and possessed many characteristics of that people. It is reported that he exercised a kindly feeling toward the disfranchised whites, and safeguarded their property and frequently their personal safety.
Lower Conetoe elected W. T. Cobb and Henry Telfair (colored) as magistrates. Clerk, William A. Jones; Constable, E. E. Knight; School Committee, George W. Harriss, William Harrell, Frederick Bryan.
Upper Conetoe—Magistrates, James Howard, John Bryan (colored); Clerk, Benjamin Staton; Constable, James Howell; School Committee, William S. Long, Staton Whichard, James B. Station.
Deep Creek:—Magistrates, M. P. Edwards, John H. Edwards; Clerk, B. T. Mayo; Constable, A. T. Parker; School Committee, D. B. Batts, E. M. Bryan, Israel Merritt (colored).
Lower Fishing Creek:—Magistrates, Benjamin Johnson (colored), Almon Hart; Clerk, C. G. Wilkinson; Constable, Alfred Warren; School Committee, H. L. Leggett, D. W. Bullock, J. W. Johnson.
Upper Fishing Creek:—Magistrates, Mathew Allen (colored), Samuel G. Jenkins (colored; Clerk, A. Dawson (colored); Constable, J. Simmons (colored); School Committee, L. Garrett (colored), Carter Bellamy (colored), N. Bellamy (colored).
Swift Creek:—Magistrates, K. C. Pope, Willis Brown (colored); Clerk, James R. Odom; Constable, S. D. Pool; School Committee, Carey Bellamy (colored), Ned Curtis (colored), Washington Taylor (colored).
Sparta:—Magistrates, William S. Duggan, Frederick Green (colored); Clerk, James B. W. Norville; Constable, William R. Cobb; School Committee, R. S. Williams, Elias Carr, J. L. Wiggins.
Otters Creek:—Magistrates, Joseph Cobb, Watson Harrell; Clerk, Battle Thorne; Constable, Elisha Harrell; School Committee, W. G. Webb, K. C. Lewis, Bennett Hagins.
Lower Township, No. 10:—Magistrates, M. B. Atkinson, J. C. Moore; Clerk, Theophilus Atkinson; Constable, John Lewis; School Committee, Hiram Webb, John Walston, John T. Weaver.
Walnut Creek:—Magistrates, A. B. Nobles, W. H. Knight; Clerk, J. W. Garrett; Constable, Joshua Killebrew; School Committee, C. B. Killebrew, S. D. Proctor, General Bullock (colored).
Rocky Mount:—Magistrates, Spencer Fountain, John H. Harrison, John N. Taylor; Clerk, T. H. Ruffin; Constable, John Pearce.
Cokey:—Magistrates, David Lane, James F. Jenkins; Clerk, Lawrence Lane; Constable, John Lancaster; School Committee, Bythel G. Brown, Guilford Moore, Samuel Clark.
Upper Town Creek:—Magistrates, J. J. Sharp, L. L. Lancaster; Clerk, Jesse W. Williams; Constable, C. S. Braswell; School Committee, John P. Wynn, Jeremiah Batts, Toney Robbins (colored).
After the election two leading negroes conceived the idea of serving the Government in the capacity of postmaster at Tarboro. One thought that a long list of names to his petition would aid him in receiving the position, and so forged the signature of a
large number of negro names and forwarded the same to Washington. The matter was referred to the Congressman from this district; there it was discovered that the applicant was without political support. The Congressman in turn referred the matter to the members of the Legislature from Edgecombe, when the fraud was discovered and nipped in the bud.
After a careful examination of the names returned in the election, the Democrats expressed their surprise and pleasure at the result. In one township the influence of the Union League was sufficient to overbalance all other consideration and an entire negro ticket was elected—notwithstanding the exertion of the moderate white Republicans. In another township the result of effective compromises resulted in the election of some of the county's best men to office.
With an overwhelming majority the negroes elected but twenty of their own color, out of one hundred offices to be filled, and in a great number of townships this result was effected through a spirit of conciliation and compromise on their part. It was only natural to expect the negro to give way to the white Republican's ambition when he was to reap reward by being second fiddler. In fact, the negro voter during the time he enjoyed unrestrained political power, remained at the foot of the Republican party. Out of the average 9,000 Republican majority from 1868 to 1880, in the second congressional district, only five per cent were whites, but the majority of offices were without exception given to this five per cent.
During the campaign of 1869 the county polled 3,800 votes, and of these only fifty were white. The number of negro voters in 1867 was 2,593 compared to 1,194 whites. In 1870 the figures grew even worse, when, out of a total population of 22,970, only 7,858 were white, including sixty-four foreign birth. The negro population had increased over 5,000 in number in less than ten years, whereas the whites showed only an increase of 1,979 in the same length of time.
The feeling of triumph over a Democratic gain in 1870 over the previous election was considered a victory and the result was expressed by two of Edgecombe's most able citizens. Judge Howard said: “So happy an escape from absolute despotism, so complete a repudiation of our base calumniators; so glorious a return
of liberty and good government surely demand great rejoicing.” Governor Clark said: “In the midst of bayonets and military prisons we have achieved a signal and bloodless victory with no crime on our hands and no blood on our flag. While we are proud of our people, we may safely trust them in the great contest for civil liberty.”
For the whites to dominate the negro in politics was a problem greater than that of how England conquered India with India's own troops. It was indeed singular how this number of men could rule 3,780 negroes and keep them in almost absolute political subjection. Bryan, Cobb, Duggan, Keech, Lancaster, McCabe, and Robbins took the offices which paid a good salary, such as register of deeds, clerk, sheriff, treasurer, and supplied the negro with non-paying places in the Legislature. This procedure, however, beneficial as it was to the poor whites and detrimental to the negro, was not to be permanent.
Three factors caused a complete reversion in the political monopoly; emigration of whites, change in the State Constitution, and the awakening realization of the negroes themselves. The most prominent of these was the growing restlessness of the ambitious negro.
In January, 1873, when it became apparent that things were going from bad to worse with no prospects of a change for the better, many of the oldest and more peaceful citizens, began to change places of residence. Emigration assumed such proportions that an “Emigration Association” was formed, with E. B. Borden as treasurer. Edgecombe County contributed $300 at one time to assist in the movement. The Richmond Examiner, in commenting on emigration from the eastern counties of North Carolina, said that of the several parties passing through Richmond, many were grey-haired men of sixty years, while several were children only four months old. The parties reported they were going to the western and northwestern states because they found it impossible to live at home. Many sold their land for $1.50 per acre, and several only had money enough to carry them as far as Cincinnati. There evidently was much suffering in the county. In one month alone one hundred and twelve white families purchased emigration tickets at the depot at Tarboro; certainly some of these
were leaving the State permanently. The question of the county's becoming depopulated began to attract State attention before the close of the summer of 1873.
In the meantime the fact that the best citizens of the State had no voice in the county government began to be felt. Hence a change was made in suffrage requirements by the constitutional convention of 1875. At the same time the appointment of magistrates was vested in the Legislature, and the magistrates in turn elected five county commissioners to manage county affairs. Before this change in the Constitution the radicals inflicted a great curse upon the white people of the county by mismanagement. Plunder and extravagance were the rule, and honesty and economy the exception. The changes made by the revised constitutional proceeding proved Edgecombe's salvation, although many at that time exercised some disappointment. This bill passed in 1877 without altering the tenure of office of the Justices of Peace and county commissioners then in office.
In the meantime the fact that the negroes constituted such a great majority gave indications that radical domination might continue. Especially was this true in regard to town administration. This field of activity offered a greater opportunity in exercising tact and ingenuity than that of county or State politics. To meet this political emergency arose William Pippin. He conceived a plan by which the whites could control town affairs in Tarboro. The old citizens will recall that prior to 1875 there were no wards or districts in the town of Tarboro; in fact, no such provision had been anticipated in the town charter. A census of the city showed that the negroes had the majority and invariable elected all three town commissioners. Mr. Pippin appeared before the State Legislature and succeeded in having the charter amended, dividing the town into three wards. The first and second wards contained the majority of whites in the central part of town, while the third ward included the suburbs, where the negroes lived. This placed the negroes in a position to carry only one ward, and the whites the remaining two wards, and negro domination collapsed.
The county government after 1868 to 1875, gave the people the right to elect county commissioners, magistrates, and school com-
mitteemen.1 This made county government exclusively a local affair, and if the Democrats had a majority, the county government passed under Democratic control. On the other hand, a constitutional amendment of 1875, which placed within the power of the Legislature to pass the law putting in force the new form of government, the county, if it voted solidly Democratic, would not necessarily have a Democratic controlled government, since the State Legislature may be Republican. The latter would be more than probable on account of the great negro majority in other counties in the State, as well as in Edgecombe. This looking into the future caused a demand for repeal of the system then known as “Canby” system. The Tarboro paper says, however, when it became known it would be impossible to secure a repeal, it was a great disappointment to the people, but if it was the best the county's friend could do for the people, “we must needs be contented.”
In order to show the reparation made during the reconstruction regime it becomes necessary to discuss the rule under the two parties. The amount of taxes levied for the county for the year 1867 was $14,681.00 to pay expenses of county, government and schools. Up until March of 1868 only $9,696.07 had been collected, leaving a deficit of $4,984.93. Add to this the increasing cost due to criminal cases which were rapidly increasing, the county expense was more than $8,000.00 behind at the close of this year. In 1866 the Republican commissioners were liberal in aiding the needy. The burden of war had caused a large number of citizens to become dependent on the county for aid. This aid lasted for several years. One instance which serves to show the expense of such a liberal policy was Mrs. A. A. Moore, of Tarboro. To her the commissioners gave 3,000 pounds of pork at 12½c per pound, 10 pounds of flour at $15.00 per barrel, 20 pounds of corn at $5.00 per pound, $100.00 worth of sugar, $60.00 of coffee, $40.00 worth of molasses, 30 cords of wood, costing $150.00, $15.00 worth of salt, $3.00 worth of pepper and spice,[note]
and a loom wheel and cards at the cost of $200.00, making total gift of $1,013.00. In this case, however, the husband who was deceased had left an estate unsettled, and was supposed of some value. This attitude on the part of the party in power was badly abused, and caused fatal financial results. At this time the disfranchised whites had not had their rights returned, and northerners and negroes dominated the county.
After the white people were franchised, the finances were handled some better, and when the Republicans turned over the county government there was less deficit than in the year 1867. Considerable credit is due to John Norfleet for the control of the county finances. He had been associated with the Confederate Government and received his amnesty in 1868. He later became a Republican and clerk of court, a position he had formerly occupied as early as 1841. He was a good business man, administrative official, honest and judicious. He had the reputation of being the best clerk in the State. After he was defeated for clerk he did the business of a lawyer, although he never received his license. He could draw a will and handle legal matters relating to property with much success. He was also a man of fine business judgment. He was always anxious to serve the people, and when Edgecombe County had its government restored in 1868 he watched carefully over its interest, and was elected mayor in 1874.
Immediately after war a meeting was called to appoint county officers. H. C. Bourne gave a barbecue prior to the call for a convention. Mr. Bourne, as were a goodly number of others, was in politics for what it gave, and he suggested a place of chief justice at a salary of $1,500.00 a year. The present Captain R. H. Gatlin, of Tarboro, went to see Mr. Norfleet and told him the circumstances and asked him if enough could be influenced to vote for him in the election, would he serve. Mr. Norfleet in his characteristic way said: “I don't believe any man ought to refuse to serve his people.”
When the convention was called Mr. Gatlin received recognition and requested that the salary of Chief Justice be set before nominations
were made. To this Mr. Bourne objected, but the move of Mr. Gatlin's was seconded, and the salary was set at $3.00 per day for each day served by the Chief Justice of the County Court. It was largely through Mr. Norfleet's efforts that expenses were kept down. The alarming increase gave Edgecombe the name throughout the State as a “Paradise for Thieves,” where people rioted in great recklessness, and the criminal docket was blackened with every crime known to the penal code.
In 1879 effort was made to reduce taxation by imposing extra revenue tax. This served to release the poll tax from eighty-nine cents to seventy-two, but the increase in revenue was still not sufficiently increased to offset the debit incurred and to pay operating expenses.
At the end of the War there was no debt if that which the Supreme Court decided to be unconstitutional. Some of this debt, however, was paid by a Republican board of commissioners. From April, 1865, to September 5, 1868, the expense of county government was $20,300, which was presented to the Board of Audit. In addition there were several thousand dollars not presented which was later discovered and ordered paid by the Democratic board when it came in power. Of this amount $1,500 was outstanding school orders and a debt due the school fund of $2,000. From 1868 to 1878, when Benjamin Norfleet, Robert Norfleet, Republicans, and W. H. Johnson, H. D. Teal, and W. H. Knight, Democrats, were taken out of control and J. C. Dancy, T. U. Whitted, and Clinton Cattle, colored, regained power, the cost of county government rose to $24,000 annually, while under sane white Republican rule it was less than half the amount. The Democrats made even a better showing, but this was due to a return of stable government and economy.
From December 1, 1875, to December 1, 1876, Republican rule cost $23,925.92. From December 1, 1876, to December 1, 1878, under Republican rule the cost was $18,777.55. December 1, 1877, to December 1, 1878, last year of Republican rule, the cost was $20,978.55. From December 1, 1878, to December 1, 1879, the first year under Democratic rule was $7,687.12, while from December 1, 1879, to August 1, 1880, constituting seven months expense,
the amount was $6,492.73. The success of an administration is measured by financial results. A comparative statement, therefore, is given of the expenditures under the two administrations:
|Year||Party||Receipts||Disb's||Bal. On Hand|
In addition during the Republican regime revenue was received from sale of real estate which was also expended:
|Sale of 98 acres of land||$1,788.50|
|Half acre town lot||550.00|
|One hundred and fifty-four acres of land||2,249.00|
|Half acre town lot||539.00|
|Part of courthouse lot||790.39|
|Part of courthouse lot||1,875.00|
|Year||Party||Receipts||Disb's||Bal. On Hand|
The funded debt of the county in 1880 was $15,000 and at the close of the year there was an available cash balance of about $12,000. The first Democratic board, however, paid a part of the old indebtedness of about $4,000, which would have increased the amount of balance on hand at the close of 1880. The Republicans in ten years administration reduced the county debt of only $1,005.78. Another fact is also worthy of notice is that the average receipts under Democratic control was $7,493.64 or only
$26 more than the Republicans received in 1876 and 1877, making the average receipts under the Republicans $23,972.89, and $17,493.64 under the Democrats; a difference of $6,479.25 more each year for Republicans than the Democrats had.
As a closing comparison of the prevailing conditions citation is made of the distribution of the county tax for the year 1875. It was distributed as follows:
Against the general fund and poor fund orders were issued as follows:
|Prisoners in Jail||6,480.42|
From the above account it is to be noticed that the deficit was met, as was the custom, from the school fund.
The closing years of the reconstruction witnessed improvement in both finances and party feeling. The economic life of the people was becoming more stable, and political animosities less apparent. The logical solution for party differences were consummated in politics following 1865, and direction is made to this discussion.
CHAPTER VIII Reconstruction—Politics
One of the most ill-timed conditions continued, although political conditions in the county were gradually getting better. It became necessary under the radical rules for any one accepting public office to take an oath, a “Test Oath,” before being allowed to enjoy political position. This oath caused the office holder to swear that he had not borne voluntary service against the United States, that no aid had been given, that no assumption of office had been made of any office in any government of authority or pretended authority in hostility to the United States, and that no support had been given to any government hostile to the United States. In addition a solemn oath of allegiance to the United States was administered.
The results of this test oath are plainly seen. Whereas apparent franchise was being given to ex-Confederate soldiers and government officials, the power to hold office again was deprived them, due to the fact one could not subscribe to the test oath who had in any way participated in the Confederate cause. A true loyal southerner would not sell his birthright. In order to regain complete citizenship he had to take the oath, consequently it was sometime after 1868 before opportunities for political advancement were opened. Doubtless many unscrupulous men in the county perjured themselves for a few hundred dollars a year. Peace be to their ashes.
General Sickles, soon after he took command under the Federal Government, issued an order declaring the civil government of the State provisional. For convenience of the military government the State was immediately divided into eleven districts. Tarboro, according to her geographical location, was in the eastern district, with Newbern as headquarters and Captain Horace James in command.
The original plan of Colonel Whittlesey, General Sickles's subordinate, was to make each county a subdistrict, and the wrote every member of the convention of 1868, then in session, asking suggestions of desirable men to act as agents. He appeared, however,
to disapprove the appointment of any except military officers, and as there was a lack of these, two to eight counties were included in each subdistrict.
The chief agency to effect his designs was the Freedman's Bureau. That it was used in the hands of designing men for corrupt purposes cannot be contradicted. The chief complaint, however, was not corruption, but of inefficiency and improper management. The Bureau at Tarboro proved to be an influence for good, such also was true at Raleigh, Charlotte, and Salisbury.
General Sickles had the power to remove civil officers, but he did not exercise this right of removal to any great extent. However, when the question arose as to his right to remove civil officers, he wrote Attorney General Stanberry that without military control order could not be maintained. Only in one or two instances was Tarboro affected; the first time was in a town election, which was suspended until the reconstruction acts could go into effect.
In another instance General Sickles had ordered, in general order No. 32, that all citizens who had been assessed for taxes and had paid them were qualified to serve as jurors, and the proper civil officers were ordered to revise the jury lists in accordance with the order. This, although it admitted negroes, was in accordance with the North Carolina law and custom. Governor Worth asked General Sickles to suspend his jury order until October, when it could be ascertained who paid taxes when the sheriff made his returns. Accordingly Judge Barnes in June adjourned Edgecombe Superior Court, because negroes had not been summoned in accordance with General Sickles's order. Judge Barnes was criticized for this act, because the court was ordered held before the order was issued, and the laws existing prior to 1861 were considered as valid. Whatever Judge Barnes's opinion, it is a safe conclusion that his attitude tended to ameliorate the condition and bring about a better policy toward the Federal Government. It had the effect, however, of causing several magistrates to resign.
It is well to recall that at this time the Republican convention was in session at Raleigh, March 27, 1867, composed of ninety-seven whites and forty-nine negro delegates, and that a platform had been adopted denouncing secession and endorsing the
supremacy of the Federal Government. It also approved the measures of civil rights and enfranchisement without any property qualifications, conferred without distinction of color. No Federal Court had been held since 1861. This was due to the military rule and internal state of political chaos. It was August 10, 1867, before the Federal Court was resumed.
Immediately following the assumption of political domination by General Camby under the Federal Government, in 1867, Edgecombe County was divided into fourteen districts. The plan of operation was to appoint a captain for each district for the purpose of supervising the ballot and to exercise more or less jurisdiction over political affairs. The original design, however, proved a failure in consequence of the registration board's inability to procure suitable persons to act as captains and open polls in each district. In addition radical changes had been made in the county government. General Canby dominated the Constitution of 1868, and adopted a county system of his own liking which was patterned after northern ideas. It was 1877 before the old system was redeemed and county affairs were improved.
It was difficult to secure registers. The oath required was such but few natives could stretch their consciences to take it, and suitable northern men in the county had been exhausted. Three of the registers appointed in 1867, M. M. Lowe, W. H. Knapp, white, and Willis Brown, colored, failed to qualify.
The entire county was then consolidated into two voting districts, one being at Tarboro, and the other at Rocky Mount, five districts voting at Tarboro and the remainder at Rocky Mount.
In the appeal for the formation of counties for the election, orders were issued for a popular vote for a constitutional convention and delegates. Tarboro gave 1,191 votes for the convention, with 234 against. The votes for delegates were as follows: H. Baker, 1,352; H. A. Dowd, 1,348; and H. C. Cherry, negro, 1,325. Rocky Mount polled 1,129 for the convention and 1,503 against, and gave Baker 319 votes, Dowd 320, and Cherry 233. Accordingly Baker, Dowd, and Cherry represented Edgecombe in framing the Constitution of 1868. The large majority was considered by the conservatives a victory in the county, as the blacks, if united, could have voted more than two to one. By electing this ticket the county procured the services of two good white men
—one a colonel in the Confederate service and the other a Confederate surgeon. Although the election went off quietly, with both races behaving in a commendable manner, the purpose for which the vote was cast was not comprehended by the majority. A visitor from New Haven, Connecticut, was residing temporarily in Tarboro. Although a Republican politician, he wrote back to the New Haven Register that in the election for the purpose of voting for or against a convention very few whites voted, and that the voting was done by the intelligent (with an interrogation mark) contraband who did not know whether he was voting for “George Washington or a new town-pump.” He ended his letter by remarking that he hoped there may be an improvement in the next generation, for there was certainly room for it.
The results of the election for this year, however, illustrated a most obvious condition in local politics. The number of white voters were 1,194, as against 2,593 blacks. The number of voters listed in the county was greater that those registered. After deducting the one-third nontaxed, the number listed was as great as those registered, no doubt attributable to the fact that the farmers in the county listed employes on the farm.
The convention of 1865 was in no sense representative from a Democratic view, since it was not a call of the people, but of a provisional government that was out of sympathy with the people. Yet notwithstanding this fact the delegates elected could perform a beneficial work. Judge Howard had been a delegate to the Secession Convention, and S. F. Philips had acquired considerable experience in public life. Mr. Philips was appointed on the committee to suggest business for the convention. This committee's report gave appointment to subcommittees to consider the ordinance of secession, the abolition of slavery, revision of the Constitution, Justices of the Peace, acts of the law, legislative courts since 1861 and other issues effecting financial, political, and economic life in North Carolina.
In spite of the concurrent of opinion which prevailed at the beginning of the convention, it was apparent that clashes of opinion would result. Especially was this true since it became necessary to undo the work of the convention of 1861. It, therefore, became logical to observe a sharp difference in the opinion in Judge Howard. As it was in the past and is at the present,
the western counties were arrayed against the eastern—the matter became one of conflict between “opinion and sentiment.” There were those present from the western counties who were not lacking in loud resentment of the secession leaders, whose Unionism was of personal bitterness. In characteristic manner Judge Howard, to adopt his words, “had more faith in those who, without making loud professions of what they have always felt and believed, honestly give up all their past ideas, and avow themselves henceforth good citizens of the United States than in those whose fierce zeal for the Union slumbered during all the years of secession, and only broke out in the hour of the triumph of the Union cause, or in other words, a conquered Rebel will, to my thinking, be much more easily converted into a good citizen than most of these North Carolina Unionists.”
The first clash came in the discussion of the nullification of the ordinance of secession. A resolution to abrogate the secession ordinance was adopted. A sharp debate followed, being led by Judge Howard. He declared that he voted for secession in 1861, but was convinced of its failure, and would do all in his power to revise its effect; and that so far as the United States Government was concerned the ordinance of secession had always been considered null and void, but to the people of North Carolina it was accepted in good faith, and thus maintained by them for four years. Judge Howard did not care to have the responsibility of taking it away. The drafter of the resolution, B. F. Moore, favored it because it would obtain right of citizenship. S. F. Philips expressed the sound sentiment of many, when he said: “The convention of 1861 had expressed an opinion one way, a body of equal rank should register a counter opinion, as the functions of a convention of the people are both legislative and judicial,” it could either repeal or declare null and void the act of a former body. A tentative vote was rejected by a vote of 94 to 20, with Howard voting against it. After the third reading Judge Howard again voted in the negative. Judge Howard related that just before the third reading Judge Manly and D. D. Ferebee were about to leave the hall, but remained with him. Some one turned to him and said: “Howard, let it be unanimous. You have already voted.” Judge Howard replied, “I'll see you damned
first.” Although opposition was strong on the part of the minority the act of secession in North Carolina was abrogated.
In 1868 the negroes still followed a northern political party. The Democratic party in North Carolina allied itself with the National Democratic Party. That alliance expanded and prevails today. To cement a working union between the two, J. B. Whitaker, William Robinson, and J. W. Edmunson, acting as a county committee under the provision enacted by the State convention, held in Goldsboro, appointed George Howard as delegate and William S. Battle as alternate to attend the National Democratic Convention, held at New York, July 4, 1868.
The letters of acceptance of the two men, especially that of Mr. Battle, express the sentiments of the leading thinkers of the day. Considerable light is thrown upon the condition which culminated in political ties in after years. After expressing the opinion that the war was not a rebellion, but a right as the South saw it, Mr. Battle says in part: “To the great National Democratic Party of the North we look in our extremity. It is the only political organization which has shown the least indication of according to us that justice which, sooner or later, history will award us.”
Judge Howard, while more concise, voiced a hopeful future when he wrote the committee that the people had but to be prudent, firm, and just to have their principles triumphantly vindicated.
The people in 1868 began to show signs of a new political life. Many who were still disfranchised sought emancipation from their political bondage. It was this year that William S. Battle, James Cobb, Redden S. Petway, R. N. Proctor, John I. Killebrew, John Norfleet, R. H. Austin, Robert Norfleet, William H. Knight, William W. Parker, Jesse Mercer, Exum S. Moore, John W. Johnson, Thomas Norfleet, Micajah P. Edwards, Lewellyn Harrell, Lawrence Bunting, William H. Johnson, of Edgecombe, received a removal of political disability by act of Congress. At the same time R. R. Bridgers, of Confederate fame, received his political right after more than two years of constant effort. In 1880 disabilities inposed by the fourteenth amendment were removed by Congress in behalf of Thomas W. Hussey, J. E. Lindsay, and J. B. Hyman.
“To whom all present shall come, Greeting:
Now, therefore, be it known that I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, in consideration of the promises, divers other good and sufficient reasons, me thereunto moving, do hereby grant to the said Elisha Cornwell a full pardon and amnesty for all offenses by him committed, arising from participation, direct or implied, in the said rebellion, conditioned as follows: This pardon to begin and take effect if the said Elisha Cornwell shall take the oath prescribed in the proclamation of the President, dated May 29, 1865, and to be void and of no effect if said Elisha Cornwell shall hereafter at any time acquire any property whatever in slaves or make use of slave labor, and that he shall pay all costs which may have accrued in any proceedings hitherto instituted against his personal property.”
In addition Mr. Cornwell had to write the Secretary of State of his acceptance to the stipulated conditions. The Secretary in return wrote the substantiation to President Johnson's reprieve and signified the original was on file.
The conservative State convention for this year provided for State or general organization and county organizations. Each county, by popular meeting or through the medium of existing organizations, appointed a county committee of two persons or captains. The purpose of which was to take charge of all matters in registration, organize local divisions, to make monthly reports to the chairman of the district committee and to keep the State convention informed of all local matters. Edgecombe county enrolled all registered voters who were willing to vote with the convention, and assisted all who would vote to register. The convention had elected the late George Howard, J. J. Davis, M. W. Ransom as members of the State Executive Committee.
In the meantime the Tarboro Southerner, a paper ever loyal to Edgecombe and the South, proposed a meeting of the representatives of the press to meet at Raleigh on June 18, 1868, to form plans to pursue in the campaign of the ensuing year.
Prior to this General Canby had issued an order on May 23, 1868, declaring the Constitution ratified and the radical candidates for State officers elected. Napoleon B. Belamy, Republican, was sent to the Senate; George Peck, a northerner, and Henry C. Cherry, negro, to the House of Representatives, and Joseph J. Martin
was elected solicitor for the Second Judicial District. Henry Cherry was a commissioner of the county for several years, and has the distinction of being the only man, white or colored, who had two daughters married to Congressmen.1 Cherry was a good citizen and an excellent carpenter.
James Cromwell, a worthy colored man, deserves mention for his honesty. He received a unanimous nomination for the constitutional convention, but declined. While he appreciated the honor, he doubted his ability to serve the people in a proper manner, and begged that an abler delegate be elected. There were very few of his race possessed of his candor and earnestness.
Edgecombe polled in April of this year 2,344 votes for the Constitution and 1,158 against it. The number of registered whites was 1,246, of blacks 2,622. The number of votes cast for Thomas S. Ashe for Governor was 1,158, and for Holden 2,337. By a comparison of the votes for the Constitution and Thomas S. Ashe the unity of the conservatives is observable. The number of votes each time was 1958.
The county ticket of 1868 is here given to show who were contending for the county government in that fateful year.
|Honorable George Howard||N. B. Bellamy|
|House of Representatives|
|Dossey Battle||G. P. Peck (northerner)|
|William S. Battle||H. C. Cherry (negro)|
|Benjamin T. Hart||Battle Bryan|
|Superior Court Clerk|
|L. D. Pender||John Norfleet|
|Joseph Cobb||B. J. Keech|
|R. W. Whitehurst||No candidate|
|W. G. Lewis||No candidate|
|H. T. Clark||Robert Norfleet|
|William F. Lewis||W. K. Knight|
|L. R. Cherry||Benjamin Norfleet|
|K. Thigpen||D. Johnson (negro)|
|James F. Jenkins||T. Newton|
Extensive plans had been made for a canvass of the county, led by Judge Howard, Fred Philips, and other able men. A mass meeting and barbecue was held October 24, 1868, and many notables were in attendance, among whom were Colonel R. H. Cowan, Honorable J. R. Stubbs, General M. W. Ransom, Colonels W. A. Jenkins and J. W. Hinton, of Norfolk, Virginia, Colonel E. C. Yellowley, Major John Hughes, Captain J. J. Davis, Colonel Thomas S. Kenan, and other influential citizens of the State. The radicals also had the pleasure of a visitor from Ohio, Colonel Davy Heaton, and Judge Rodman, of Beaufort. The local paper states that more than 10,000 people were present.
The result was an enlightenment to many of the negroes, which later resulted in much good for the county. The lamented Thomas S. Kenan, the conservative candidate for Congress in the Second District, spent many efforts and labored much in the county for the conservative cause, having as his slogan, “Shall negroes or white men rule North Carolina?”
The Republicans had a considerable number of negro soldiers who committed many outrages in support of their ticket. Such negroes as John Jones, of Rocky Mount district, who had been convicted of theft and had been publicly whipped at the whipping post, was chosen by the white Republicans as inspector of the election.
At the end of 1868 the white people, with one accord, laid aside their indifference, and inspired the recovery of their political freedom; emerged from a state of long inactivity into which
northern domination had forced them; and again devoted their energy to vindicate and maintain the supremacy of the white race. The Freedman's Bureau was on its last legs and the Federal military was preparing to be withdrawn. Yet incompetent and unworthy men filled practically all offices in the State and county. It can truly be said that North Carolina was reconstructed upon orthodox radical principles. A few whites, with the aid of the negro, controlled political affairs. The town of Tarboro alone claimed any pretension to real clean rule. N. M. Lawrence was elected mayor, H. H. Shaw, M. Weddell, James H. Bowditch were commissioners. They were elected by “The Citizen Ticket,” and they were of worth and standing.
The result of the election of 1870 was very quiet and without much undue demonstration. After the calm came the storm, which the Tarboro Southerner had the honor of raising. In fact, the election was hardly known to the public before The Southerner, followed by other State papers, began an agitation for the impeachment of Governor Holden. The issue of August 11, 1870, had an editorial as follows: “He is the vilest man that ever polluted public office and his enemies are now crying in trumpet tones against him. Impeach the traitor and apostate, and the renegade, and drive him into the infamous oblivion which is so justly his due.” It was probably due to the anger against him that lead to the demoralization of the Republican party. Even many of his followers hated him with a political and personal rancor.
The Democratic conservatives of Edgecombe met at Tarboro in the county convention, June 15, 1870, and formed plns for the ensuing campaign.
An amusing incident occurred in election of 1870. Battle Bryan, the sheriff, gave notice that an election would be held on the 4th of August for the election of officers and omitted that of sheriff. He explained, however, that he had been advised that the election of sheriff for Edgecombe County could not be constitutionally held until the first Thursday in August, 1872. It appears that Mr. Bryan's lack of information subjected him to some heckling, and to produce a sentiment against the Republican position that once in office never out again. Alexander McCabe was elected, but allowed Mr. Bryan to remain in office.
Frequently in political campaigns, especially in the five years following 1865, personalities were indulged in by the canvassers. During this period the county was wild with excitement over issues raised by different parties. Charges without any purpose save political were accumulated to injure integrity and blacken the character of individuals. Then, as now, the character of many would not stand too much probing, and slight defects were sometimes exaggerated. The conflict between William Biggs, of Tarboro, and Judge Jones, of the Second Judicial District, was perhaps the greatest incident in Edgecombe. This resulted in Biggs losing his right to practice law in Edgecombe courts, and in the impeachment of Judge Jones.
The trouble started in the campaign of 1872, when William Biggs, editor of Tarboro Southerner, attended a radical meeting at Tarboro to represent his paper. While there he was attacked and insulted by a negro, prompted by white radicals. Mr. Biggs had a large cane and struck the negro across the head. This acted as a signal, and more than five hundred of the mob rushed upon him and a few Democrats present. The mob was held at bay by Alexander McCabe, while two colored men, J. T. Scott and Napoleon Patterson, who, knowing the purpose of the radicals, rescued Mr. Biggs, and got him away.
Mr. Biggs, a most loyal Democrat, had supported his party principles with an able pen, thereby incurring the fear and hatred of the radicals in the county. He was commonly suspected of being a member of the Ku Klux.
Following this William Biggs's actions proved offensive to Judge Jones, due to the appearance of articles in the Tarboro Southerner criticising him. Jones attempted to suppress the freedom of the Southerner, and the State papers took up the matter. In the meantime General Lewis had charged Judge Jones with having pronounced in open court a slander against the Williamson and Tarboro Railroad, of which General Lewis was general superintendent. It appeared that one of the directors of the road had been summoned as juror and upon his pleading exemption according to a clause of the charter of the company, exempting officers from military, public road and jury duty, Jones stated that the Williamson and Tarboro Railroad had forfeited its charter more than once, and that it was not in force. General Lewis
protested and Biggs supported him. Judge Jones then deprived Biggs of his right to practice in the court, and attempted to discipline the Southerner. Editor Biggs defended himself and exposed Jones's character. Jones had been placed on the bench as a result of the war; was incompetent in all respects. In spite of this fact he was aided by Mr. Rodman, of Beaufort, who made an attack on the Southerner; and which Governor Holden aided and abetted. Jones's actions while presiding in court were so suggestive of a jay bird, that he was known as Jaybird Jones.
The late editor of the Southerner, Frank Powell, retained a satire in verse against Jones, written by Biggs. It is worthy of copying:
- “It is said by the vulgar, and thought to be so,
- That jaybirds on Friday to Hades do go.
- But it is quite likely they make a limited stay,
- And depart for the earth on the following day,
- But when their namesake Jones goes there to burn,
- For the joy of mankind, he'll never return.”
A bill for impeachment was finally brought against Jones in the Senate for immoral conduct with a negress in Tarboro, and for being indecent and drunk in Raleigh, Salisbury, and Charlotte. In 1872 he was impeached, and at the same time Biggs asked to be restored as attorney and had the privilege granted to him by the Supreme Court.
In the meantime the realization of their declining power began to dawn upon the minds of the negroes, and the fact that they were being worsted in securing political bargains troubled them to a considerable extent. The negro voters in the county found in one W. P. Mabson (colored) a fit representative. Mabson was reported as being a Methodist preacher of some ability. In order to understand the position assumed by the negroes and radicals about the time Mabson appeared, it will be necessary to refer to campaigns of 1871 and 1872.
There were two parties in the field—Democrats or conservatives, and Republicans or radicals. The Democrats of Edgecombe met in convention on Saturday, July 1, 1871, and nominated as their candidates for the State Convention H. T. Clark and William F. Lewis. The convention that nominated these gentlemen was reputed to be the largest and most harmonious ever
held in Edgecombe. Nearly every township was represented, and a wonderful spirit of unanimity prevailed throughout the entire proceedings.
These candidates, who promised a thorough and active canvass in the county, were supported by George Howard, John L. Bridgers, Fred Philips, C. M. Wesson, T. R. Owens, Jr., J. S. Barlow, H. L. Station, Jr., B. H. Bunn, and J. L. Bridgers, Jr., who were the county's best speakers at this time and who explained the importance of the issues at stake. An appeal published in the local paper gives an example of the Democratic sentiment:
“LET FRIDAY THE 13TH DAY OF JANUARY be set apart as a day of fasting and prayer, throughout our habitations. Let no strong drink or other luxuries be used for the three days preceding. Let the people assemble in their places of worship and cry mightily unto the Lord. Let the maidservants whose employment will not permit them to worship during the forenoon ask their employers to allow them the afternoon, that they may spend it in fasting and prayer on behalf of the government and our suffering people.
“Let the minister of the Gospel proclaim this fast and see that it is observed. If this call is heartily responded to, God will deliver us.”
The occasion for this religious duty being the satirical opposition offered to the Republican ticket and nominees, which were as follows: George L. Mabson, Representative, from New Hanover County; Edward R. Dudley, Craven County; Robert Fletcher, Richmond County; Stewart Ellison, Wake County; R. Falkner, Warren County; W. H. Reavis, Granville County; Augustus Robbins, Bertie County; William D. Newson, Hertford County; B. H. Jones, Northampton County; Willis Bunn, Edgecombe County; John Bryant, Halifax County; W. W. Morgan, Wake County; Charles Smith, Halifax County; J. R. Page, Chowan County; and R. M. Johnson, Edgecombe County. The entire number were Republicans.
The Democratic campaign opened with the slogan: “Office-holder's ticket; no convention, increased taxation and ruin,” as compared with the “people's ticket; convention; reduced taxation and restored prosperity.” A county convention was called by the
chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee to meet Saturday, July 1, 1871, in order to nominate candidates for the State convention. The purpose of the State convention was to remove the political chaos then existing. For some unexplained reason the convention was voted down.
In the meantime conditions were becoming more favorable for the white citizens and the Democrats who had taken part in the war. A committee known as the “Southern Outrage Committee” was organized in Washington and considered means of redress for the multifarious deeds perpetrated on the whites in the Southern States. In February, 1871, William H. Battle and B. F. Moore were summoned to Washington to testify before this committee. This action and the sending of these two men proved a very favorable omen to the county, and a terrible ominous indication to northern politicians and the Republican party. The action by the committee indicated that at last some sincerity was shown in the search for a true condition in the county, while it proved to the political fortune hunters in North Carolina who had been gathering in Washington that their day was coming to a close. It indicated that the more thoughtful Republicans were heartily tired of the burdens they had been subjected to during the period of reconstruction.
Messrs. Battle and Moore were men well selected for the making a true and unbiased report of the condition of affairs in the county and State. They were given recognition at the committee hearing and much benefit