Archive for the ‘folklore’ Category

Randolph County’s First Christmas Tree?

December 24, 2014
Godey's Lady's Book, 1850- a revised version of  the Illustrated London News, edited to Americanize Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1850- a revised version of the Illustrated London News, edited to Americanize Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

North Carolina in 2014 ranks number two in the nation in Christmas tree production, right after Oregon.  Every year the state’s 1600-odd tree farms produce some 50 million Fraser Firs, the most popular type of Christmas tree, worth about $100 million dollars.[i]  Add that to the relentless drumbeat of Christmas music and lights and shopping, it is hard to realize that Christmas wasn’t always the way it is today.

If you flip back to my 2010 post of Nannie Steed Winningham’s reminiscence of the Confederate Christmases of 1862, ’63 and ’64,[ii] you will note that there is no mention whatsoever of Christmas trees.  Santa Claus came down the chimney, as usual, and filled up the family’s stockings with gifts.  There was too much eggnog, and there was a visit by the scary “Christmas Waifs” demanding hand-outs.  But no tree.

In fact, Christmas was not at the time of the Civil War an actual official holiday.  As Dickens had Scrooge point out in A Christmas Carol, it was up to an individual’s employer whether to give the day off from work.  The City of Asheboro itself was created on December 25, 1796, when the state legislature, meeting for a regular work day, passed “An Act to Establish a Town on Lands of Jesse Henley, in the County of Randolph, at the Court House of said County.”  Not until 1870 did Congress establish Christmas as a federal holiday.

Illustrated London News, 1847.

Illustrated London News, 1847.

The modern American versions of both Thanksgiving and Christmas began to take shape during the Civil War period, and both traditions owe much to the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who lobbied regularly for Americanized holidays.   The magazine at Christmas, 1850, printed the first widely-circulated picture in America of a decorated Christmas evergreen; it was a repurposed 1848 engraving of the British Royal Family with their tree at Windsor Castle which had been published in The iIllustrated London News.[iii]  Reprinted throughout the 1860s, the image became the iconic picture of an American Christmas tree.

Minolta DSC

Another influential magazine, Harper’s Weekly, is largely responsible for our modern image of Santa Claus himself.  Cartoonist Thomas Nast, a sketch artist for the magazine, created an illustration for the Christmas, 1861 issue to accompany the Clement Clarke Moore poem, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”  That was the first published image of Santa in a reindeer-drawn sleigh with a bag full of gifts slung over his shoulder.

Federal Santa

Federal Santa

However, the fact that Nast also showed Santa delivering copies of Harper’s as gifts to Union soldiers on the war front soured the picture for Southerners.     The Richmond Examiner editorialized that this Northern image of Santa Claus was nothing more than an “Dutch toy-monger,” a “transflated scrub” from New York and New England “who has no more to do with genuine Virginia Hospitality and Christmas merry makings than a Hottentot.”[iv]

Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle, 1857

Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle, 1857

It wasn’t that Christmas trees were unknown in America at that time.  The British Royal Family brought the custom into England, and in a backhanded way North Carolina has a tie to that.  The wife of George III, Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (the namesake of Charlotte and Mecklenburg county), set up a Christmas tree at a party she gave for children in 1800.  Princess Victoria liked the custom and a tree was placed in her room.  In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the 13-year-old princess wrote:

“After dinner… we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room… There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees…”[v]

The custom became even more widespread after Victoria’s marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert, and by the early 1840s there were newspaper ads for Christmas trees that promoted their fashionable German origins and their popularity with children.  The Moravians of Salem are thought to have brought the custom of Christmas trees to North Carolina.  Randolph County had its few Moravians, but even more Lutherans, Amish, Dunkers and other German sectarians.  But I have seen no record of their Christmas celebrations.

tree engraving

Christmas Tree in Church

The first reference to a Randolph County Christmas tree that I know about comes from the manuscript “Reminiscences” of W. M. Curtis, a carbon typescript dated 1940.  Walter Makepeace Curtis (1867-1955), a Methodist minister, was Secretary-Treasurer of Greensboro College for 34 years.  His autobiography begins,

“I was born on February 18, 1867, in Franklinsville, Randolph County, North Carolina.  My home was on an island with Deep river on the south and a mill race on the north.  This race began at a dam across the river at the west end of the village and emptied into the river at the Franklinsville cotton mill.

… My father, Dennis Cortes Curtis [1826-1885] (he always signed his name D. Curtis) was the son of James Curtis, a farmer who lived a few miles south of Franklinsville….

“There was a public schoolhouse for the children of the village near the Methodist Church, but the school was in session only three months of the year, and my father was anxious for his children to have better educational opportunities so he employed a governess… My father was superintendent of the Sunday School in the Methodist Church, and he took me to Sunday School when I was quite small….

 Holly_Tree_by_Chase_Wood_-_geograph.org.uk

“At Christmas we had a Christmas tree in the Sunday School.  The tree was always a large holly with red berries.  Some time before Christmas my father would drive to Greensboro and purchase presents and decorations for the tree.  On the night before Christmas, as soon as it was dark, my little four-wheel wagon was loaded with Christmas things and I, with some help, pulled the wagon up to the church, where my father and others arranged the decorations and presents on the tree.  Individuals were permitted to have their presents, with the name of the recipient on each one, hung on the tree.  There were a good many of these, and it was interesting to hear the names called out.  Each one receiving a present would go forward and get the gift.  This Christmas tree celebration was always held on Christmas Eve, and was quite an event in the village.”

Although Curtis doesn’t give a specific date for this tree, it had to date from before the Curtises moved to Greensboro in 1880, and probably can be attributed to the period around 1875.[vi]

1836-The Strangers Gift Boston first american-christmas-tree

The first published American illustration of a Christmas Tree, from The Stranger’s Gift, printed in Boston, 1836.

This is in accord with the introduction of trees into Christmas celebrations; they often were introduced to the public places at churches, hospitals and charity bazaars, and their familiarity there slowly led people to set up private trees at home.  It also seems to have been understood that Christmas trees were used to provide gifts for the underprivileged.  Varina Davis noted in her 1896 recollection of Christmases in Richmond during the war years, ” like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky came the information that the orphans at the Episcopalian home had been promised a Christmas tree and the toys, candy and cakes must be provided…” [http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/on-the-homefront/culture/christmas.html]   As late as 1906 a charity was set up specifically to introduce decorated trees to poor children in London slums ‘who had never seen a Christmas tree’.[vii]

Handrawn sketch from 1812 or 1819 by John Lewis Krimmel of Philadelphia.

Handrawn sketch from 1812 or 1819 by John Lewis Krimmel of Philadelphia.

The first Yule trees were small ones that sat on a table, decorated with dried fruit, popcorn, pine cones and homemade paper chains and baskets for nuts.  A tree was not brought into the house and decorated before December 23rd, “the traditional “First Day of Christmas,”  and the beginning of the 12-day Christmas season that ended on Twelfth Night (January 5th).  To have a tree up before or after those dates was considered bad luck.

A non-evergreen Christmas tree from the 1850s.

A non-evergreen Christmas tree from the 1850s.

Not all Christmas trees were evergreens.  In the late 1800s and, most probably, long before, home-made white Christmas trees were made by wrapping strips of cotton batting around leafless branches creating the appearance of a snow-laden tree.  Only those presents too large to be hung on the tree were placed on the tree skirt underneath the tree.  Most presents were small, and edible gifts were among the most highly prized gifts hung in small baskets on the tree.  During the war, one soldier from a New Jersey regiment recorded in his diary, “In order to make it look much like Christmas as possible, a small tree was stuck up in front of our tent, decked off with hard tack [a hard cracker] and pork, in lieu of cakes and oranges, etc.” [viii]

Thomas Nast, from Harper's Weekly, Jan. 3, 1863

Thomas Nast, from Harper’s Weekly, Jan. 3, 1863

(Even in the early 1960s, those of us who watched “The Old Rebel and Pecos Pete” on WFMY Channel 2 knew that the only proper ending of our answer to the question “What do you want for Christmas?” was “X,Y,Z, -and Nuts and Fruits and Candies.” As late as 1943, the singer of the wartime song “Ill Be Home for Christmas” was longing for “presents on the tree” (not under the tree).

This was a survival of the ancient European tradition.  Decorated trees were part of the stage sets for medieval religious mystery plays that were given on December 24th on the “name days” of Adam and Eve.  Those trees were hung with apples (the “forbidden fruit”) and wafers (representing the Eucharist and redemption).  Bakers made pretzels and gingerbread cookies for the tree that people took home as souvenirs. In 1570 a small tree set up in the Guild-House in Breman, Germany was decorated with “apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers”.  In 1605 a German visitor wrote: “At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlours of Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold foil, sweets, etc.” The many food items were symbols of Plenty, the flowers, originally only red (for Knowledge) and White (for Innocence).

The 2012 White House tree in the Blue Room.

The 2012 White House tree in the Blue Room.

Americans did not take easily to the foreign custom of Christmas trees.  Franklin Pierce had the first Christmas tree in the White House in 1846.  But President President William McKinley reportedly received a letter in 1899 saying Christmas trees “un-American,” and his successor Theodore Roosevelt banned Christmas trees from the White House because he feared that Christmas trees would lead to deforestation.  Roosevelt, however, was undercut by his own youngest sons, Archie and Quentin, who in 1902 went outside and cut down a small tree right on the White House grounds and hid it in a White House closet.  Roosevelt acknowledged the event in a letter in which he wrote:

Yesterday Archie got among his presents a small rifle from me and a pair of riding boots from his mother. He won’t be able to use the rifle until next summer, but he has gone off very happy in the riding boots for a ride on the calico pony Algonquin, the one you rode the other day. Yesterday morning at a quarter of seven all the children were up and dressed and began to hammer at the door of their mother’s and my room, in which their six stockings, all bulging out with queer angles and rotundities, were hanging from the fireplace. So their mother and I got up, shut the window, lit the fire (taking down the stockings of course), put on our wrappers and prepared to admit the children. But first there was a surprise for me, also for their good mother, for Archie had a little birthday tree of his own which he had rigged up with the help of one of the carpenters in a big closet; and we all had to look at the tree and each of us got a present off of it. There was also one present each for Jack the dog, Tom Quartz the kitten, and Algonquin the pony, whom Archie would no more think of neglecting that I would neglect his brothers and sisters. Then all the children came into our bed and there they opened their stockings.[ix]

naststockings

It sounds to me as though Teddy’s idea of Christmas was not very different from Nannie Winninghams- stockings were the place Santa left the presents.  More than 100 years later, what we think is our “traditional” Christmas has been shaped by the media, retailers, film and recorded music of the 20th century more than we ever realize.

[i] WUNC TV website data.

[ii]  https://randolphhistory.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/confederate-christmas-in-randolph-county-2/

[iii] Karal Ann Marling (2000). Merry Christmas! Celebrating America’s greatest holidayHarvard University Press. p. 244.

[iv] Marten, James (2000). The Children’s Civil War. University of North Carolina Press. P120

[v] The Girlhood of Queen Victoria: A Selection from Her Majesty’s Diaries, p.61. Longmans, Green & Co., 1912

[vi] The obituary of Curtis’s mother in the Greensboro Daily News of 23 August 1918 gives frame for this assumption-

“Mrs. Lucy Ellen Makepeace Curtis died at her home, 108 Odell Place, yesterday afternoon, at 4:15 o’clock. For a number of years, Mrs. Curtis had been living with her son, Rev. W.M. Curtis, of this city. Mrs. Curtis was born at Petersburg, VA, December 25, 1839. Soon after her birth her parents, George Makepeace and Mrs. Luc Makepeace, settled at Franklinville, where she grew up. She was married to Dennis Curtis, of Franklinville, October 11, 1860. Dennis was a native of Randolph County and was prominently connected with the Franklinville Manufacturing Company, the Deep River Manufacturing Company, and later with the mercantile business firm of Odell and company of this city.  In 1880 Mrs. Curtis moved from Franklinville to Greensboro when Mr. Curtis became personally associated with the firm of Odell and company….”

[vii] http://westminsterabbeyshop.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/the-history-of-the-christmas-tree-in-britain/

[viii] http://www.historynet.com/christmas-in-the-civil-war-december-1998-civil-war-times-feature.htm

[ix] http://www.ncregister.com/blog/matthew-archbold/the-president-who-banned-christmas-trees-and-the-boy-who-snuck-one-in#ixzz3MVw7I6Qj

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More on Charlie Poole and Daner Johnson

July 15, 2014

Charlie Poole porch swing

I have recently had several inquiries regarding Charlie Poole and Daner Johnson from people who have read my previous posts.  I purposefully didn’t include a lot of genealogical material there, but as usual, many of the interesting details of the lives of local people relate to their families.

Since Daner is supposed to have been the teacher of Charlie, I decided to go back and unearth as many facts about their family connections as I could find.

The Pooles.

There are a couple of direct entries on Charlie Poole in ancestry.com, but all entries have issues, especially with dates of birth and death.  I prefer to fall back on what census takers recorded first hand at the time.

There is a lot of understandable confusion over when Charlie Poole’s  mother may have died, stemming largely from the fact that his father John Philip Poole supposedly married two sisters with very similar names.

John Phillip Poole and wife appear in both the 1900 census of Randolph County and the 1910 census of Alamance as just “John Poole” and spouse “Bettie.” Ancestry.com entries list his birth year as 1853, but the 1900 census says he was born in March 1850 in NC, and his father was born in NC.

John Poole’s occupation in 1900 is listed as “Cotton Mill Spinner;” in 1910 it is listed as “Cotton Mill Lapper.”  [The Lapper Room was part of the process of opening bales of cotton and making flat sheets or laps of cotton which would then be sent to the Carding Room.  From the Carding Room, roving bobbins would go to the Spinning Room.]  Both censuses says that John Poole cannot read or write, and is a renter of a house (not a farm) in each place.  Franklinville Township included the mill villages of Franklinsville, Island Ford, Cedar Falls, Central Falls and Worthville, all within a 9-mile stretch of Deep River.

1900 Census Randolph (Fville)

Poole 1900 census

 

Bettie Poole is listed in both censuses as a house keeper.  The 1900 census says she is the mother of 9 children, 8 of whom are living.  The 1910 census says she is the mother of 13 children, 8 of whom are living.  The 1910 census says that only she and her son “Ralf” can read and write.  In the 1900 census, only son Lea had attended school that year.

The following children of John and Bettie Poole are listed in 1900 (birth dates from census; death dates from ancestry.com)

Sarah E (b Oct 1878) d 1933 (occupation 1900, “Cotton Mill Spinner”)

Leroy (Lea) R (Jan 1884- 1957)  (1900- “Cotton Mill Spinner”)

Ralph (Aug 1889-  )  (1900- “Cotton Mill Spinner”)

Charlie C (March 1891) (different birth year from most listings) (no occupation)

James (Feb 1894)  (no occupation)

Giles (Jiley) M. (Aug 1896)  (no occupation)

Henry M (Aug 1897)  (no occupation)

In the 1910 Census the family has moved from Franklinville TS in Randolph County to Faucette TS in Alamance County [The Haw River mill village is partially in Faucette TS and partly in Haw River TS.  The villages of Glencoe and Hopedale are also in Faucette TS].  Sarah is no longer listed in the family, and Lea lives in a neighboring house with his wife Julia, age 21, whom he married in 1906.  They have a daughter Mary E., age 2.  Lea’s occupation is listed as “Cotton Mill Spinner” in 1900 and “Cotton Mill Slubber” in 1910.  [A Slubber was one of 3 different roving frames used in the Carding Room preparing cotton for spinning].

In 1901 Ralph’s occupation has changed to “Carder,” so he worked in the Card Room with Lea.  “Charley”’s occupation in 1910 is  “Cotton Mill Oiler.”  This was necessary to keep the machinery in good operating condition, and there may have been oilers in each separate “Room,” or they may have been sent where ever they were needed.  In 1910, James, “Jiley” and Henry all worked as “Cotton Mill Doffers.”  Charlie’s job as an oiler could be seen as a step up from doffer, but didn’t require particular speed or skill, as a doffer might.

In 1910 the Pooles obviously live in an Alamance County mill village, as they are surrounded by mill occupations.  In 1900 one neighbor, Anderson Diffee, is a “Cotton Mill Bailer” [i.e., employed in the Cloth Room, baling cloth for shipping].  The next neighbor, Jessie Bonkemeyer, is a farmer.  On the pages before and after the Poole entry, there are 5 weavers and  two spinners listed in 4 families among numerous farmers.

1910 Census Alamance

Poole 1910 Census Alamance

The Johnsons.

Sorting out the Johnson family is not so straight-forward, but I think I have put something together from assorted ancestry.com records and census records.

Hiram Johnson, age 55, is listed as a Miller in the 1870 census of Surry Co, NC (Mt. Airy vicinity).  His wife is Lydia Shields, age 54, born in Moore County, NC, near Carthage.  The 1870 census lists their children as follows:

Elizabeth, age 24, “House Keeper” [born circa 1846]

Lydia, age 23, “At home”

Elizabeth, age 15, “At home”  [born circa 1855)

Hiram, age 15, “At school”

Cindee, age 10, “at home”

Louisa, age 4, “At home”

The Charlie Poole listings on ancestry.com list what may be the two Elizabeths as-

“Betsy Ann, 1850-1896)” and

“Bettie Ellen, 1850-1911”

Obviously these dates don’t fit, but the nicknames might.

Ancestry.com lists the father of Hiram Johnson as Ransom Johnson, c1790-1852

Ransom is listed as having two children with Susan (unk. Last name)-

Hiram,

Acquilla (3-3-1813 in Alamance County -1869)

Acquilla Johnsonmarried Philipena Cornelia Moser (1815-1910) in Alamance County.

They had at least seven children (one of which, another Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Johnson, married Samson Bunting in 1861 and died in 1876, so thankfully doesn’t muddy the already murky Bettie/Betsy Johnson waters).

One of their daughters, Nancy Lou Johnson, apparently had 4 children, at least 3 of whom are listed as “unknown father.”

Dora E. Johnson (1864-1958, father David Breedlove)

William Arthur Johnson, 1883-1948 (he later had 13 children of his own)

Napoleon P. Lusien Johnson (1870-1955), who married twice and may still have living children)

Daner Gordon Johnson, 1879-1955.

082309_0416_CharliePool9.jpg

So, Daner Johnson’s paternal grandfather Acquilla Johnson and Charlie Poole’s maternal grandfather Hiram Johnson were brothers.

That means their parents (Bettie Johnson, whichever one, and Nancy Lou Johnson) were first cousins, and Daner and Charlie were second cousins. (Not first cousins, as I said in my original blog post)

Here is what I have found specifically regarding Daner in the public records:

In 1870 census takers found Nancy Johnson, a “seamstress” aged 30, living in the home of her sister Harriet Johnson, age 34.  Her daughter Dora E., 6 and Thomas, age 2, were “at home.”  The Johnson sisters lived next door to Anthony Moser, age 46, a farmer with 7 children, who was also their uncle, brother of their mother Philapena.

In the 1880 Census Nancy Johnson, aged 41, is listed as a single head of household living in “Randleman Mills” NC.  Her daughter Dora E., age 16, is employed in a cotton mill.  Nancy has sons Napoleon P., aged 9; William A., aged 4, and Danie G., 8 months.

The 1900 census shows 62-year-old Nancy as the head of her household, a farm in Cedar Grove township of Randolph County.  She owned the land subject to a mortgage, and had 15 animals.  Her son Napoleon L. Johnson, 29 and single, farmed the land.  Her son Dannier G. Johnson, single, had “no occupation.”  Daner and his mother could not read or write, though Napoleon (known as “Nep,”) could.

In 1910 Napoleon, 39, is married to Jennie, 34, and they have a daughter Lora, 6 months old.  Jennie Trotter is listed in genealogy indexes as dying in 1915.

The 1910 census found Daner Johnson living in Siler City, NC, boarding in the home of John J. Foster, age 54.  Johnson, aged 29, is living there with his wife Lilian, age 18.  They have been married one year.  Daner’s occupation is listed as “self-employed automobile mechanic,” and he had been out of work for 8 weeks in the previous year.  According to the census, he can read and write.

In 1920, Napoleon, 49, is single and Minnie Underwood, 32, is living in his house with daughter lora, 10, and James Johnson, age 8.  Minnie (1887-1965) at some point married Napoleon and they are both buried in the Holiness Church cemetery in Randleman.  Their daughter Lora or “Loray” never married and was still living with them at the time of the 1940 census.  Loray Johnson was the informant providing information for the death certificates of both her father and her uncle Daner in 1955.

082309_0416_CharliePool10.jpg

Daner and his mother Nancy are both buried in the Melanchthon Lutheran cemetery west of Liberty in Randolph County.

 

Mac Whatley, 7-15-14

“Blockading”: The oral autobiography of Dove Coble

October 24, 2013
Ready to run the Blockade.

Ready to Run the Blockade, from http://www.louisville.com

This is about half of an oral history interview I recorded with Dove Coble (1900-2000) at his daughter’s house on 1 March 1997.  Dove was a delightful fellow who remembered just about everything that had ever happened to him.  I had a great time talking with him, and it was the only interview I ever did with someone willing to talk about the business of running moonshine, a big part of the economy of the county in the late Nineteenth and the first half of the Twentieth centuries.

The long and colorful tradition of moonshining in Randolph County ran from Black Ankle on the Montgomery County border, through Seagrove and Millboro all the way north to Level Cross.  After the Civil War the federal government established a system of licensed distilleries in which Treasury Agents would collect a tax on each gallon of whiskey produced.  There were many “Government Stills” established across Randolph, but for each legal still there were at least two illegal producers.  Moonshiners refused to run a “government still” and pay the excise tax.  In Prohibition days (and afterwards) running the illicit liquor from the stills deep in the Randolph County countryside up to the thirsty markets in the North was a major source of cash income.  Though glass “Mason” jars were invented before the Civil War (many were produced up into the 1900s with the mark “Patent Nov 30th 1858”), moonshiners kept many a Randolph and Moore county potter in business up until World War II.  And transporting those containers to the ultimate buyers was the province of the “Blockade Runner,” or “Blockaders,” a very conscious reference to the Civil War “greyhounds of the sea” which ran the federal blockade of southern ports to supply the Confederate war effort. 

Dove Coble died just a few weeks short of his 100th birthday, and was buried in Gray’s Chapel, or “York Town,” as he called it.

My name’s William Dove Coble.  Senior.  That’s my boy at Eastern Randolph [his son, Dove Coble Jr., was a teacher at ERHS].  I was born the 11th of June, 1900.  If I live to see June I’ll be 97.   I was born over there on Sandy Creek; Brower’s Mill.  It’s Kidd’s Mill now, on Sandy Creek, back in the woods there. My daddy, Rossie Coble, died in 1917, and was buried over at Gray’s Chapel, and I’ve been there ever since.  There was five of us boys and three girls.  I was the oldest child.  They’ve all gone but me and my youngest brother, Truman Coble, lives there in Ramseur.  Seventeen years younger than me.  My daddy died in March, and in June I was seventeen, and then Truman was born after that.  My father lived in the country.  Shelly Coble was my daddy’s brother, and Will Coble, and Clem Coble, they’re buried this side of Town, there where Joe Buie’s father is buried.  Charlie Coble and Ham Coble, they’re my closest kin.  I lived over here at Gray’s Chapel, not at the schoolhouse, but on up the road where that dairy barn is, at the rock wall.  Hackett Road.  That’s where Dove Jr. lives.  My wife passed away and I’ve been over here at Opal’s [his daughter in Asheboro] since ’82, when Curtis Coble passed away….

I never did get no education, never got to seventh grade.  I get more now out of the Upper Room than I can the Bible.  The stories, you know; I ain’t got no education.  I can read, and write my name.  I started off at Patterson’s Grove.  The schoolhouse was on what you called the Ferguson road, the road from Ramseur to White’s Chapel.  I went there four years, and then over to White’s Chapel, at a little schoolhouse there, didn’t go there but one.  Just five or six years.  I moved all over the country.  I wasn’t doing nothing but running around.  We just drug up, to tell the truth about it.  I’m lucky to be here.  I lost my daddy, and I wasn’t 17; there was nine of us, and no welfare nor nothing.  It was Hoover days.  Can you imagine how I lived?  Just drug up.

I lived over there in the country when the war ended, close to Brower’s Mill.  My daddy died in 1916, and the next year I had to register.  I was up plowing corn there in the back yard, plowing around saw logs in the field.  Momma come out in the field and waved at me; we heared the bells and whistles blowing at Franklinville.  We didn’t have any telephones.  They tied them whistles down; you can imagine the racket.  Both mills sounded the same; they both had whistles; you couldn’t tell one from the other.  I registered for the war in Ramseur.  I.F. Craven ran the draft board.  He lived in a big house behind the drug store beside Fred Thomas, who run the broom shop.  I’ve got that little card; it’s the only thing I’ve got to know when I was born; didn’t get no birth certificate.

My grandpaw W.H. Coble, William, is buried right there in that old cemetery, Old Salem.   I never remember any church there, I don’t know where it fell down or what.    He’s where the William come from.  Leeshy, my grandmaw, that’s where they got the Dove;  from Dunc Dove’s crowd; my grandmaw was his sister.  They lived up towards White’s Memorial.  Dunc and his son Tracy lived there on the hill next to Dr. Fox, on that street above Burnice Jones.  My grandpaw come down on a wagon and we went to that old wooden store [the lower company store]; went and got molasses out of a fifty-gallon drum with my grandpaw.  That was back before I went to school, Nineteen Five.  The Company stores were just old country stores.  They had everything in the world you wanted in there.  But I didn’t buy nothing.  Didn’t have to buy nothing.  Wasn’t nothing I could buy.  I didn’t have no money; what could I buy?

1924 Open Cab Express Body Model TT- Ford's first pickup.  Before that model year Ford only provided the truck chassis, and local wagonmakers purpose-built the bodies.

1924 Open Cab Express Body Model TT- Ford’s first pickup. Before that model year Ford only provided the truck chassis, and local wagonmakers purpose-built the bodies.

I come there to Franklinville in Twenty.  Ed Routh, Ernest’s daddy, and Paul, and Iula, found out I needed work.  I drove a truck, the first one they ever had in Franklinville.  One ton Ford truck, open bed, to haul flour and feed and everything they made.  Had a cover for it, but it was open, open bed.  Open cab, no glass.  I hauled flour to Seagrove and Siler City, and loaded it on the train.  They shipped it to the college up there.  Women’s College bought the flour direct from the mill, and had it shipped up there.  It was too far to drive then.  Wasn’t no such thing as a hard surface.  64 wasn’t built.  No road down to Ramseur, or anywhere.  Did without ‘em.  Parks Buie told me that Joe would order five gallons of oysters of a morning, tell them to put them on the train down on the coast, and they’d come to Greensboro and down to Franklinville on the second train, that run after dinner, and he’d get it of an evening.  Five gallons of oysters for a dollar and a quarter.  The train went up in the morning, met the trains and stuff in Greensboro, and come back after dinner.

Guess how much I made in six days.  Ten dollars a week for six days, ten hours a day.  All day.  Went in six in the morning, stayed till five in the evening.  An hour out for dinner.  If they didn’t fix for me I walked back to the house for dinner, next door to Burnice Jones, where he lives now.  That house above it.  I lived with my great aunts, Bell and Lizzie and Effie Luther.  They’re all buried around there.  They worked in the mill before I went down there. My aunts were fine people, but they was old then.  They was retired.  Two of them never married.  Old widow women.  They looked after me, they was good. I maybe paid $5 a week; if I wanted to pay them anything I did, but I didn’t have to.

Ed Routh was the head knocker and manager.  He was the flour man.  Bascom Kinney ground the corn meal.  Old Davis, across the river, he was there part of the time.  They’re all gone.  They bought the truck while I was there.  I was the first driver they had, anyway.  I could drive anything then.  The first job I had, I helped put flour in the sacks, meal, flour and everything.  Corn meal went in little bitty bags, ten pounds.  Plain corn meal. They didn’t have no self-rising to start with; they put it in after I went down there. Excelsior was the plain flour; Dainty Biscuit was the self-rising.  I bagged that flour, and Ernest helped before he went on the road.  Ten pound bags; twenty-five; and them big bags is what they shipped.  They put ninety-eight pounds in them.  The college got maybe ten bags in a shipment, every week, or whenever they needed it.  I first hauled stuff through the wooden bridge, the covered bridge.  Mr. Routh lived right up there by the mill.  Basc Kinney lived next door, that worked for Ed as a miller.…

[I] Went to work in the roller mill.  Me and Ernest worked there, and his daddy.  Ed Routh done the most of the work.  He could do most anything, kept everything just as clean as a woman.  He kept us wore plumb out to keep the spider webs and things cleaned up. That mill, it run by water then.  The water wheel was in the lower end, the back end.  The race run around behind the mill, and a chute come out of there, going under to the water wheel, and the shaft run back under the mill and the belts went on up.  All of it was ground by water then.  Didn’t have no lights to start with; they finally got up to date, and got electricity.  And the cotton mill run by water then, too….

I had an old T-model, $150 copper head T-model, ‘Fifteen.  I got Joe Buie to let me have a little money, maybe a hundred dollars, and my aunt give me some. There wasn’t no bank, they put that in after I went there.  That store opened up, and the office for both mills.  I didn’t have to have but two or three hundred dollars, but I didn’t have none.  I got it the first year I was down there.  Twenty-one.  $150; drove it; kept it for five years, and I got that much out of it when I sold it.  Then when the A-Models come out, I got another one.  I had a A-Model when I got married….

1927 was the first production year for the Model A Ford.

1927 was the first production year for the Model A Ford.

[John] Clark changed everything [about Franklinsville in 1923].  But of course I was blockade running around all over the country, wasn’t married or nothing; didn’t stay down there much.  I was maybe in Siler City one night and somewheres else the next.  But I still worked every day, ten hours a day.  Back then, the hours weren’t nothing. Bob Craven, who lived in that last house by the trussell, said he could remember me going by there of a morning at daylight, going to the mill.  He said, “You was crazy as hell, then.”  I said, I didn’t have no choice.  I stayed at home there, piddled around so we didn’t starve.  You know what we had.  Just nothing.  Hoover Days.  I don’t care what your politics are. If you lived through Hoover Days, you won’t forget it, if you live to be a hundred.  I sold liquor of a night, when I was driving the truck [for the roller mill]; me and Benton Moon.  Did you know him?  Fanny Burke was his wife, and Roy Holliday married her later.  Me and Benton would go over in York Town and get a case every night.  All of them around there, Doc Cheek, that run the drugstore, he’d drink it just like water.  That’s what Franklinville was like when I went down there.

You could buy liquor anywhere you wanted it. There were a few government stills around, but I never did go to none of them. Over here in Lineberry where I live now, George Allred had one back up in the woods there.  And there was one there at Shady Grove.  Sharp Kivett, he’d give you the history of that.  Fletcher Pugh, owns that sawmill on that road, he could tell you the truth about it.  Sharp Kivett and George Allred, that’s the only two government-mades I ever went to, knew where the places were.

From the New Georgia Encyclopedia

From the New Georgia Encyclopedia

But I went to all these others, all over the country.  We had plenty of it around White’s Chapel. York Town, or White’s Chapel, it’s all the same to me.  People there made blockade whiskey, it wasn’t government liquor.  My daddy made liquor all his life.  Old man Warren Langley over here at Staley, down close to the government still at Staley; his boy Clarence died here last year;  Warren Langley was number one.  The Toomeses were good up in Level Cross.  But if you wanted good liquor, back in below Seagrove, down towards the river, old man Lucas was the one. Cross the railroad and go back down there by Luck’s, and wind around not more than a mile back over in there.  If he had bad liquor he’d tell you so.  He’d say, “I ain’t got nothing for you this week.”  I wouldn’t buy no burnt liquor.  And he

had enough sense, if had a little burnt liquor, he wouldn’t put it off on one of his customers.  You know, the mash, what makes the steam off the whiskey, if it stuck to the bottom of your still, it burnt.  It ain’t nothing to brag about, but they’d take me when I was little, and they’d poke me there after the fire was took out, and have me clean that still out.  I’ve been in one many a time.   If you make it right, you had copper from where you put it in the still.  Then it went to the wooden doubler, and then it went up in the cooler, and when it went on out down there where you catch it in a jug, it was liquor.  If it come out there, and there weren’t no bead on it, they wouldn’t save it.  You’d check the temperature by looking to see if it beaded up on the copper.  You’d shake it.  If it’s right fine on you, it ain’t rig

ht.  It all used to be made out of corn; they made out of sugar later.  That man in Staley, to start off with, he wouldn’t have no sugar liquor.  He made corn liquor.  Oscar Langley was one of Warren’s boys.  He used to play ball in Ramseur and he was drunk as a fool, and they couldn’t tell it.  He was a pitcher, I believe.  It’s all behind me, but I’ve seen lots of things in my time.   There ain’t a place between here and Staley, creek or branch or road nor nothing else that I ain’t been.  I’ve been down to a still on that Hickory Mountain road, from Siler City to Pittsboro.  It ain’t nothing to brag about, but I’ve been there.  It was the way to make money.  But I didn’t drink none of it.  I found out, it was to sell, not to drink.  I’ve never been drunk in my life.  My brother, he took enough for me and him both.  It just ruint him.  But you can’t convince him of that, even now.

Not many people would fool with brandy.  Some of them made it, and some didn’t.  I had the most brandy that’s ever been over in there.  I had twenty gallons up there in Lineberry, in the barn.  Clark Millikan made it for me, the first brandy he ever made in his life. That was R.C. Millikan, who died here recently.  I went to the mountains and got a whole load of apples, put it in the barrell, and kept it till it worked over.  Made cider.  Put them in a barrell, put your sugar in it, or after it sours you can make it without if you clear it up.  While it’s working you can’t still it.  It’s got to work over.  Clark made a little money.  But he died over here with his britches open [in the nursing home], just like me and you’s gonna do.

Moonshine run, from serbianforum.org

Moonshine run, from serbianforum.org

I could make $10 in a night.  That’s the reason I went home; I told Ed Routh I could make more than that by going to York Town one day a week.  Well, he said, you just come on and work for me while you’re here, and I’ll pay you as much again as you’re getting.  They paid me five out of the mill and five out of the Company.  It all went to different names.  Roller mill got credit for this; the mill got the other.  I still run around everywhere, but he didn’t know it.  I didn’t ever fool with it around there [the roller mill].  Ed would take a drink, but I didn’t know till after he was Register of Deeds that he ever did.  He wasn’t a drunkard, but after he’d come back to Ramseur, he told me, when you get some good, you can bring me half a gallon once in a while.  But politics didn’t change that man.  He didn’t change because he had an office job.  If you’d started down there where I did, barefooted, no daddy, you’d know about how you’d feel.  Then when you’d get up a little, you’d get above it.  But Ed was number one, and Joe Buie was just as good.  He wouldn’t tell you no lie, nor cheat you either.  And that old Spoon boy, one armed man, the banker there, run the bank beside the office; if I didn’t have a dollar I could go in there and get it.   The Sumners lived in that house across the road.  John, and George, the county doctor.  And two girls.  Dave Sumner let me put my new car in that shed behind the house, wouldn’t charge me a cent.  Edison Curtis lived up on that hill on Depot Street, and Henry Curtis, and Polly Newsom, and Will Thomas lived down through there.  There wasn’t anybody in Franklinville or between here and Staley I didn’t know.

A quart Kerr jar of white liquor.

A quart Kerr jar of white liquor.

Sometimes you’d pay $5 for six gallons; you’d take it and peddle it out; people would buy it, and you could double it.  I took it right down town there [Asheboro], where the bank used to be [Bank of Randolph], and people would give me orders to take some to Greensboro.  They couldn’t get blockade liquor in Greensboro.  They had to come out somewhere else and get it.  They could buy liquor, but they didn’t want that.  That man at the bank would say, “You go take Ben Cone five gallons.  He lives out there toward White Oak.  Just drive on out there like you own the place.  Drive in there like you have groceries.”  I had pretty good nerve then.  But they never caught me.  Tommy Brookshire that lived at Randleman was the deputy here one time.  I was going to town one night, right down here where the hospital is; I was in one of those A models.  Well, he just drove up to me and was gonna stop me, and I just turned round and went down that side street, and didn’t see him any more that night.  And he didn’t see me.  That’s as close as anybody ever caught me, but I didn’t stop.  Them days is all gone.

I stayed there till the last day of Twenty-five.  Got married, and never did work any more down there.   I moved up here to Lineberry, Acie’s Store up above Gray’s Chapel.  I didn’t have no land, and I bought that schoolhouse for $200.  Put a new roof on it, and rented it since I’ve been over here.  I give it all to the young’uns, where Acie Lineberry’s store was.   And that Highway from Asheboro to Liberty wasn’t built then.  They built it with horses. That’s how long I’ve been there.  I met my wife over here at Grays Chapel.  She was a Hackett.  She come from over at White’s Chapel.  I got married the last week of the year.  Went up there and still run around all over the country and everywhere else after I was married.  Siler City and Seagrove, or below Seagrove, was as far as I ever went.  You know what they call Black Ankle?  I used to take to a store back in there, ten miles back on that river.  Mandy’s Store.  I’ve been in there and bought liquor since I been big enough to go back.  See, I stayed down there, sold liquor, peddled liquor, and everything else.  I don’t mind telling you.  All around Franklinville, and Black Ankle, and everywhere else.  I got pretty good on my feet then.  In 1928,  I had a little money I’d saved, and I got an A-model.  Paid for it peddling liquor.  But I went in debt building this bridge here in Central Falls in Twenty-eight.  That’s where I went in debt.  I made enough to get out there, but went in debt $500, and had to give my bootlegging car away.

But I had an old truck. Do you believe I drove an A model from Greensboro to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in one day?   I had that truck, and I knew a boy that had business up there, and he helped me buy a new truck here, and I went to South Carolina and sold liquor; earned enough to pay for my land over yonder in two years.  Now, then, what can you do in two years?  Go in debt, that’s all you can do. But there was money in trucks, if you worked it out.  I had to work it out; it wasn’t give to me.  I went to Greensboro and I told them, I gonna mark me a route to Pennsylvania.  He laid down a sheet of paper and said you just follow this highway till you hit the mountains.  You don’t go round them mountains, go right on through them till you get to Pennsylvania.  It’s seventy miles from where the President is over to Lancaster.  I drove up there from 8:00 till 9 that night.  I went by myself.  My old truck was up there; kept my new one here, and went to South Carolina.

When I got out of debt I quit fooling with it.  Old man Jewell Trogdon, a preacher here in town, he was the one caused me to get out.  He just told me, over here in Gray’s Chapel Church, “What if the Lord would take these two girls away from you?”  He knowed I was running around here and yonder and everything else.  Old man Trogdon showed me where I was wrong.  So I told the man over here who built this bridge, “Ed, you better make good of this liquor.  These two cases is the last.”  He said, “What do you mean?  You can’t quit!”  I said, “Yes, I have, I’ve done quit. You can drink it, but I ain’t even gonna sell this.”  I stayed and got enough to pay for my land off what I done that year.  I had $2,000 when I got done.  I got my first truck in ’28, over here at Central Falls.  And then went down there and got enough to pay for my land.  And I went on to carpentry work, and never fooled with no more liquor.

I know time changes everything, but I’ve seen a lot of things since ‘seventeen.

Confederate Christmas in Randolph County

December 10, 2010

This is best-known of the autobiographical reminiscences of Nancy (“Nannie”) Steed Winningham.  It is been reprinted over the years in various sources, without much editing or explanation.  Once it was erroneously reprinted as “A Confederate Christmas in Asheboro,” despite the fact that Mrs. Winningham clearly recites the wagon ride to her grandparents home in the country.  As a “Christmas Gift” to you blog readers I am offering the original text here, and will serve up footnotes and explanations in another post.  I hope to track down the rest of the Winningham letters and publish them here, with annotations.

This illustration by Thomas Nast, entitled “Christmas Eve, 1862” appeared in the January 3, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, published in New York City.  The appearance of our modern American “Santa Claus” was largely the pictorial creation of Thomas Nast, and this engraving includes two of his earliest depictions of him and his reindeer in both upper corners.

A CONFEDERATE CHRISTMAS IN 1864

By Mrs. James Lafayette Winningham

Note to the original from Miss Laura Worth:  “Mrs. James Lafayette Winningham was the daughter of John Stanley Steed and Rachel Director Swaim. She wrote several letters in 1919 about old Asheboro which were published in the Courier in response to other reminiscences. Her daughter brought the original letters to the Historical Society in 1959. During her last years she lived in Greensboro.“


As I was born in 1857, I can remember Christmas of 1862-3-4. The first two were much the same. My mother always took the children home to her father’s for the holidays. In their home were our three young aunts and a young uncle, all full of life and fun, and about ten grandchildren. Of us there were my three brothers and myself.

On the morning of Christmas Eve what a scurrying there was to get our home-made things packed. A hasty lunch and by the time one of my married uncles came with his team, everything was ready and we arrived in good time for supper, which to us children was a feast indeed, but I suspect it was a little of the pig killed for Christmas, if one was left by that time; lye hominy, sweet potatoes, persimmon pudding, pumpkin fried in pork gravy with maybe a taste of “good coffee” for the elders. This was kept carefully hidden away in Grandmother’s lowboy. The young people had wheat or potato coffee and the children mugs of milk.

Grandmother owned a little black girl who was a year or two older than I. Her mother, a young slave girl, had died at her birth and Grandmother had reared her on a bottle, and kept her for her personal waiting girl. Like most southern children, I loved Harriet as much as if she had been my own sister.

At last, after much excitement, the stockings were all hung — Harriet’s too with the rest, and the sand man came along. Then in about seventeen seconds the pine knots were blazing in the big fire-place and Santa Claus had been there, for wasn’t there the tracks of his sleigh in the big, wide chimney — made by my uncle with the poker “as was a poker”.   In our stockings were “goobers”, as we called the peanuts, walnuts, ginger cakes and Oh Joy! two or three sticks of striped candy. I’m wondering to this day where it came from for we had not seen a stick of striped candy in a year.

After breakfast my aunties started the eggnog; then about ten o’clock their friends, mostly young boys, came in to wish all a merry Christmas, but expressed in those days as “Christmas Gift” and to get a drink of eggnog.  It was there in the big bowl all the morning and we were all given a generous taste.

Just before the one o’clock dinner we were playing in the yard, when from the front porch my aunt Sue exclaimed: “Oh, Look! There they come!” I looked and until my dying day I shall never forget the fear and horror that filled me. There were sixteen or eighteen old bony horses with trappings of anything that could be found, with strings of rags of black, blue, red or white. The riders were young boys, with their coats turned wrong side out and wearing horrible—looking false faces, singing and making all kinds of discordant noises. I made one dash to the side of my boon companion, Harriet, and asked in a trembling voice: “Which is it, the old bad man or the Yankees?” which to a southern child at that time meant much the same thing, the bad man, if anything, playing on the winning team. Being assured it was only the boys, my fears were allayed and I enjoyed the strange spectacle. They rode around the village several times and disappeared. As I look back upon it, I suppose it was a scraggly, pitiful attempt to carry out the old English custom of the waifs of England, which had been handed down from their English ancestors.

After dinner some old men and boys came in with flutes, banjos and fiddles (not violins) and played for an enthusiastic house full of friends and neighbors. Sometimes I almost seem to hear now the sweet, sad music played so martially – “The Bonnie Blue Flag”, “The Girl I left behind me”, “Hurrah for the Southern Rights, Hurrah! Hurrah!” and “Hurrah! for the Homespun Dress the Southern Ladies Wear”.

Through all this trying to have a little fun ran an undercurrent of solemnity and anxiety, and many questions of “Have you heard any more from husband, father or son?” were heard.

Late in the afternoon I passed the open kitchen door and Grandmother stood leaning against a cupboard with her head in her arms crying as if her heart would break and it almost broke mine. I asked Harriet why she was crying and she said, “Mars Luther Clegg had drinked too much eggnog” — her baby boy, just a youth. I wondered why she allowed them to make it but it was a Southern custom hard to break.

My father and my uncle owned and operated a large tannery, shoe and harness shop. They had a contract with the Confederate government to furnish shoes to some of our soldiers and that kept them in the service at home.  Early in 1864 my father sold his interest in the business to my uncle and in a few months was drafted and sent to eastern Carolina, where he was in the service, though not in the line.

It seemed to me that Christmas in 1864 began about December 10. We were told on getting up in the morning, that our mother was sick and during the day she became much worse. One of our kind neighbors brought her black woman, “Aunt Patsy”, and they stayed through the night. Soon they sent for our faithful family physician, who on account of advancing years bad about given up his practice until the war began and the younger doctors were all in the service of their southland. He gave my mother tender care and attention, with no thought of ever rendering a bill- his payment being the service of my father to the flag. On the morning of the 10th we were told we had a little brother named for his daddy. Oh! I suppose he was welcome but Christmas loomed darkly ahead. No daddy, no trip to “Grampys”, no shoes, no clothes hardly, no picture books, no dolls, no candy and just no “nuthin”.

On Sunday morning my uncle rode by while we were playing in the road, and be asked: “Boys, where are your shoes?” “We haven’t got any”, my brother answered. He told them to go to the shoe shop Monday and be measured for shoes. I was sorry my own were not a little better or else worse so that I could have a new pair.

There was a man in our town called Captain Pragg, who owned a dry goods store. A few days before Christmas he sent one of his men to the house to tell my mother that if she would send for it he would give her a nice ham for a present. She was very pleased and never forgot the courtesy.

My aunt from the country came and brought us all something for Christmas.  My present was a balmoral (petticoat) which she had carded, spun and. woven herself. I never told anyone but I could never drum up enough patriotism to like that coarse, scratchy petticoat. And that wasn’t the only thing I could never learn to like.

To this day when my husband occasionally likes a supper of milk and mush or corn bread and milk, the vision of a big, grayish-brown earthenware jar of milk and a bowl of mush or the plate of thick corn pones, with perhaps smudges of ashes on the brown crust, that depending on the skill of the one who lifted the lid with its burden of coals and ashes from the skillet, comes to me and I say “You may have it all,” I’m afraid it will give me indigestion.

And the Christmas baby — well, his father never saw him until he came home after General Lee’s surrender and by that time he was almost five months old.

Notes on A Confederate Christmas

December 8, 2010

“Santa Claus in Camp, 1864” by Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly.

Introductory Note:
“Mrs. James Lafayette Winningham…”
On 24 May 1876 Nancy Hannah Steed married James Lafayette Winningham (ca. 1853- 1930), the son of Siebert Francis Marion Winningham and Laura Ann Lyndon.  Winningham was born at Union Factory, now Randleman, North Carolina.  [Internet geneaological research on the Winningham and Steed families was largely posted by Donald Winningham.]

“…was the daughter of John Stanley Steed and Rachel Director Swaim.”
John Stanley Steed (22 Feb 1829 – 3 May 1899) was the son of Charles Steed (15 May 1782- March 1847), who served Randolph County both as a member of the North Carolina Senate and as a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives.  His mother Hannah Raines (born circa 1788- died after 1850) married Charles Steed on 25 Jan 1806.  John Stanley Steed married Rachel Director Swaim (15 Nov 1835 – 27 Nov 1880) about the year 1852.

Paragraph 1:
“As I was born in 1857…”
Nancy “Nannie” Hannah Steed was born 14 June 1857.

“My mother always took the children home to her father’s for the holidays”
Rachel Steed’s parents were Joshua Swaim (1804-1868) and Nancy H. Polk (1808 – 14 April 1865), who married in Guilford County on 1 September 1824, but lived in the Cedar Falls area (the area west of Franklinville, south of Grays Chapel, and east of Millboro).  The Christmas of 1864 may have stuck in Nannie Steed’s memory because it was the last she would have with her maternal grandmother Nancy Polk Swaim.

Maternal grandfather Joshua Swaim was the son of William Swaim and Elizabeth Sherwood, and nephew of the Clerk of Court Moses Swaim (1788-1870).   Joshua and Nancy Swaim were buried in the old Timber Ridge cemetery near Level Cross.  Here is a link to photographs of their tombstones: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~davidswaim/TimberRidge.htm

“In their home were our three young aunts and a young uncle, all full of life and fun, and about ten grandchildren.”
Nancy and Joshua Swaim of Cedar Falls had the following children, several of whom had moved West before the time of the Civil War.  Numbers 7 through 10 are Nannie’s “young aunts and uncle”:
1.  James Polk Swaim (November 21, 1825 – February 04, 1890); m. Sarah McDonald about 1848; died in  Franklin County, Ark.
2.  Elizabeth Swaim (September 30, 1827-  June 28, 1846).
3.  Margaret J. Swaim, b. March 22, 1829- February 29, 1848.
4.  Mary Swaim (b. ca. 1831); md. Mr. Glass before 1854.
5.  William Walter Swaim (February 10, 1833 – died October 17, 1905 in Eldora, Hardin County, Iowa); m. Mary Ann Davis, ca. 1859, in Hamilton Co., Indiana.
6.  Rachel Director Swaim, (November 15, 1835 – May 27, 1880); m. John Stanley Steed on October 07, 1852.  [Nannie’s Grandma Swaim]
7.  Luther Clegg Swaim (b. ca. 1837, d. ca. 1868) [Nannie’s Uncle “Luther Clegg”]
8. Susannah Swaim (b. ca. 1840); m. J.L. Coble, September 04, 1862.
9. Hannah Swaim (b. ca. 1841); m. Henry C. Green, October 06, 1864.
10. Martha Swaim (b. ca. 1847).

{The family information is Included in the Polk family genealogy, posted by Kathy Parmenter at http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/POLK/1999-07/0931116431 }.

“Of us there were my three brothers and myself.”
As of this time in the story, John and Rachel Steed had the following children:  Emily, born 1853, who died in infancy; Wiley Franklin, born 1855; Nancy Hannah, born 1857; Henry Luther, born 1860; Joshua Nathaniel, b. 1862.

Paragraph 2:
“The young people had wheat or potato coffee…”
Imports of coffee and other delicacies were reduced almost to the point of nonexistence by the federal blockade of southern ports.  According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_substitute ), Roasted acorns, almonds, barley, beechnuts, beetroots, carrots, chicory, corn, cottonseed, dandelion root, figs, okra seed, peas, Irish potatoes (but only the peel), rice, rye, soybeans, and sweet potatoes have all been used as coffee substitutes.  Roasted and ground wheat as a non-caffeinated substitute for coffee was popular again in the United States during both World War I and II, when coffee was sharply rationed.   “Postum”  was the brand name of an instant-style coffee substitute made from wheat bran, corn and molasses which was popular in North Carolina in the 20th century, but production was discontinued in October, 2007.

Paragraph 3:
“In our stockings were…ginger cakes…”
Ginger is a tropical root imported from Africa, Jamaica, India or China.  It was a much-loved spice during the Civil War era; ginger beer, ginger ale, and all sorts of ginger cakes and breads were popular.  Some recipes could be rolled out, cut into shapes and hung on the tree; some were soft like bread and others were hard and crisp.  The following recipe from a Civil War reenactor group makes crisp, sugar- coated cookies suitable for putting in a stocking:

3/4 cups shortening

1 cup sugar

1 beaten egg

1/4 cup molasses

2 tsp. soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

2 cups flour

Combine shortening and sugar into a cream; add the egg and molasses and mix well. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the shortening mixture. Mix until combined. Roll into walnut sized balls and roll in sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 7 – 10 minutes.

Paragraph 4:
“…my aunties started the eggnog…”
Various milk punches were known in Europe and brought to America, so the exact orgin of Egg Nog is obscure.  “Nog” is an old English word with roots in East Anglia dialects that was used to describe a kind of strong beer which was served in a small wooden mug called a “noggin”.   “Egg nog” is first mentioned in the early nineteenth century but an alternative British name was “egg flip,” a punch made with milk and wine, particularly Spanish Sherry.
Internet sites repeatedly cite an unnamed and unsourced English visitor who wrote in 1866, “Christmas is not properly observed unless you brew egg nogg for all comers; everybody calls on everybody else; and each call is celebrated by a solemn egg-nogging…It is made cold and is drunk cold and is to be commended.”
The English author Elizabeth Leslie regularly published cookbooks on both sides of the Atlantic from 1837 to 1857.  Her Directions for Cookery, published in 1840, introduced the concept of the “sandwich” to America.  This recipe for Egg Nogg comes from the edition of 1851:
“Beat separately the yolks and whites of 6 eggs. Stir the yolks into a quart of rich milk, or thin cream, add half a pound of sugar. Then mix in half a pint of rum or brandy. Flavor with a grated nutmeg. Lastly, stir in gently the beaten whites of three eggs. It should be mixed in a china bowl.”

Perhaps the last word on Confederate egg nog would be the recipe of Mary Custis (Mrs. Robert E.) Lee herself::

-10 eggs, separated

-2 c. sugar

-2 1/2 c. brandy

1/2 c. and 1 tsp. dark rum

-8 c. milk or cream

Blend well the yolks of ten eggs, add 1 lb. of sugar; stir in slowly two tumblers of French brandy, 1/2 tumbler of rum, add 2 qts new milk, & lastly the egg whites beaten light (very fluffy).  Allow to “ripen” in a cold but not freezing place; an unheated room or porch was the common location for Mrs. Lee.

From The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book (UNC Press, 2002), by Anne Carter Zimmer.

Paragraph 5:
“…expressed in those days as ‘Christmas Gift’…”
The phrase “Merry Christmas” was popularized around the world following the appearance of the Charles Dickens’ story, A Christmas Carol in 1843.  Robertson Cochrane, Wordplay: origins, meanings, and usage of the English language, p.126. (University of Toronto Press, 1996).  “Christmas Gift!”  is an earlier Southern tradition, used as a greeting.   The first person saying it on Christmas morning traditionally received a gift.  See “Whistlin’ Dixie: A Dictionary of Southern Expressions” by Robert Hendrickson (Pocket Books, New York, 1993).

Paragraph 6:
“Which is it, the old bad man or the Yankees?”
She is using a euphemism for “the Devil,” a word considered to be so much a curse word at the time that a well-bred young lady was not allowed to use such language.  The Devil was on the side of the Yankees, just as God was supposed to be on the side of the Confederacy.

“Little Christmas Waifs Are We”- 19th century Christmas Card

“…the old English custom of the waifs of England.”
It is unclear whether Nannie has here conflated two distinct Christmas rituals from medieval England, or whether the traditions had previously merged in the antebellum South.
The surviving English tradition is of the Christmas “Waits,” musicians and singers who go from door to door “waiting,” or caroling.  According to the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, “wait” is the name of a medieval night watchman, who sounded a horn or played tunes to mark the hours.  By the 15th century waits had become bands of itinerant musicians who paraded the streets at night at Christmas time, and became combined with another ancient tradition, “wassailing”.  It gradually became expected that the musicians would receive gifts and gratuities from the townspeople, and often “those who went wassailing would dress up like street waifs or ragamuffins.”  http://www.cafepress.com/+christmas_waifs_sticker,320599343
One other British custom of the Christmas season was specifically aimed at soliciting alms.  “Thomasing” anciently occured on 21 December (St Thomas’s Day) when the village poor people visited the homes of their better-off neighbours soliciting food and provisions to help them through the winter. Also called “Gooding,” “Mumping,” and “Doleing,” the earliest reference is from the year 1560, but the custom gradually declined through the 19th century as poor relief was institutionalized, and laws were passed against ‘begging’.
In the South this tradition may have inspired a tradition of inviting local orphans or “waifs” to spend Christmas afternoon with rural families or in urban church socials. [books.google.com/books?isbn=0253219558 ]  In 1864 the “ crowning amusement” of Christmas day for the Davis children in Richmond was “the children’s tree,” erected in the basement of St. Paul’s Church, decorated with strung popcorn, and hung with small gifts for orphans.   (First Lady Varina Davis’s 1896 article “Christmas in the Confederate White House” makes an  interesting contrast to Nannie Steed Winningham’s story of Christmas in rural Randolph County;
http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/on-the-homefront/culture/christmas.html ).

The First Confederate States Flag

Paragraph 7:
“ The Bonnie Blue Flag”
-is a marching song associated with the Confederacy.   The song was written to an Irish melody by entertainer Harry McCarthy during a concert in Jackson, Mississippi, in the spring of 1861 and first published that same year in New Orleans.  The song’s title refers to the unofficial first flag of the Confederate States, the symbol of secession from the Union bearing the “single star” of the chorus.   The “Band of Brothers” mentioned in the first line of the song is a reference to the St. Crispin’s day speech in Shakespeare’s play Henry V.
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bonnie_Blue_Flag]
Here is the song:  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21566/21566-h/music/bonnie.midi

“The Girl I left behind me”
-is a popular folk tune.  The first known printed text appeared in an Irish song collection in 1791; the earliest known version of the melody was printed in Dublin about 1810.   It was known in Britain as early as 1650, under the name “Brighton Camp”.  It was adopted by the US regular army as a marching tune during the War of 1812 after they heard a British prisoner singing it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Girl_I_Left_Behind
The song can be heard here:  http://www.contemplator.com/england/girl.html

“Hurrah for the Southern Rights, Hurrah! Hurrah!”
-Hurrah! Hurrah!/ For Southern rights, hurrah!” is actually the first two lines of the chorus of  “The Bonnie Blue Flag.”  ‘Hurrah! Hurrah! For the Southern Rights, hurrah!’ is an alternative reading of the line that is only found in Gone With The Wind, page 236.  Both undoubtedly reflect the way singers at the time added ‘the’ to mirror the same article in ‘the’ Bonnie Blue Flag.

“Hurrah! for the Homespun Dress the Southern Ladies Wear”
-”The Homespun Dress,” also known as “The Southern Girl,” or “The Southern Girl’s Song,” is a parody of The Bonnie Blue Flag that oral historians have found in variant versions all over the South.  Most authorities attribute the words to Miss Carrie Belle Sinclair of Augusta, Georgia.  See Songs of the Civil War, by Irwin Silber, Jerry Silverman; Dover, 1995, p.54.  The lyrics can be found at http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/RmOlSngs/RTOS-HomespunDress.htmlv

Oh, yes, I am a Southern girl,

And glory in the name,

And boast it with far greater pride

Than glittering wealth and fame.

We envy not the Northern girl

Her robes of beauty rare,

Though diamonds grace her snowy neck

And pearls bedeck her hair.

CHORUS: Hurrah! Hurrah!

For the sunny South so dear;

Three cheers for the homespun dress

The Southern ladies wear!

Paragraph 8:
“…Mars Luther Clegg had drinked too much eggnog.”
“Mars,” short-hand for “Master,” was used by enslaved people as a general title of respect, in the same way that white people would use “Mister.”
Luther Clegg Swaim was born in Cedar Falls in 1837.  On February 1, 1866 he married Dorcas Aretta Odell (1828-1918), daughter of James Odell and wife Anna Trogdon.  This was the second marriage for Dorcas Odell, the sister of J.M. Odell and J.A. Odell who worked for George Makepeace in the factory stores at Cedar Falls and Franklinsville.  John M. Odell was the first Captain of the Randolph Hornets, Company M.  Her brother Laban Odell became Major of the 22nd Regiment, and was killed at Chancellorsville.  Her first husband was her second cousin, Solomon Franklin Trogdon, who died in 1860.  She had two sons in the first marriage, and a daughter with Luther Clegg Swaim before he died in 1868.  Dorcas’s son Williard Franklin Trogdon became the original geneaologist of the Trogdon family, publishing the family history which provided this information in 1926.

Paragraph 9:
“My father and my uncle owned and operated a large tannery, shoe and harness shop.”
The J. S. Steed family is the very first one listed in the Western Division of Randolph County’s 1860 census; his occupation is listed as “Tanning,”  and a 17-year-old boarder living with them is listed as “Apprentice Tanner.”  Family #2 in that census is David Porter, a buggy manufacturer and grandfather of author William Sidney Porter.  I believe the Porters lived on the southeast corner of the intersection of Salisbury Street and the Plank Road (Fayetteville Street)- where First Bank is today.

The 1860 Census  of Manufacturing for Randolph County lists “J.W. & J.S. Steed” as engaged in “Tanning… Boot and Shoe Making…[and] Harness Making.”  6 employees in 1859 cured “1400 sides of harness, sole and upper leather” worth $2000; made 40 pair of boots worth $300; 250 pair of shoes worth $500; and 50 setts of harness worth $900.

The Steeds probably lived on Salisbury between Cox and the Plank Road, but the location of his tannery is unclear.  The only tannery I am aware of that was ever located in or around Asheboro itself is the one located on the site of the present-day Frazier Park, across Park Street from Loflin Elementary School.  The branch that heads in a spring (now piped underground) on that site is called Tan Yard Branch.

“My uncle” probably refers to the “J.W. Steed” listed on the Census of Manufacturing; this was Joseph Warren Steed, born ca. 1806, and little else is known about him.   It could also refer to John Stanley Steed’s brother Nathaniel Steed (3 May 1812 -10 Nov 1880).  In 1832 Nathaniel married Sarah (“Sallie”) Redding (9 Oct. 1811 -10 Aug. 1852), daughter of John Redding and Martha Jane Swaim.  They are buried at Charlotte Church, on Old Lexington Road west of Asheboro.

“Early in 1864 my father… was drafted and sent to eastern Carolina, where he was in the service..”
[Some of you Civil War experts, trace his service record, please.]

Paragraph 10:
“…our faithful family physician, who on account of advancing years bad about given up his practice until the war began…”
Could this have been Dr. John Milton Worth, (28 June 1811 -5 April 1900), who studied at the Medical College in Lexington, Kentucky and practiced in Asheboro up to the time of the war?  A substantial part of Dr. Worth’s war years were spent overseeing the Salt Works near Fort Fisher, so this may be some other faithful family physician.

“On the morning of the 10th we were told we had a little brother named for his daddy…”
John Stanley Steed, Jr., born December 1864.  The Steeds would have five more children over the next 15 years.  Rachel Steed evidently died during childbirth in 1880.

A view of antebellum New Bern from the Neuse River

Paragraph 12:
“There was a man in our town called Captain Pragg, who owned a dry goods store…”
The name “Pragg” is not found in the Randolph County census records for 1860 or 1870, but “Isaiah Prag” does appear in Randolph County marriage bond records for April 19, 1865, when he married “Mrs. Jane Sugg.”  This was apparently the second marriage for each of them, as according to family genealogical records “Mrs. Sugg”‘s maiden name was Jane Adaline Andrews (1841-1907).  She may have a family connection to Lt. Col. Hezekiah L. Andrews of western Randolph, who was killed at Gettysburg.
Isaiah  Prag was born 20 October 1824 in the town of Hadamar in the state of Hesse, Germany.  He first appears in America in the 1850 census of Annapolis, Maryland, with wife Rose Adler (1827-1864), and a new baby, Mary.  Prag would ultimately have 8 children by his first wife, and 7 by his second.  By 1860 Isaiah and family have relocated to New Bern, NC, where he is in business as a “merchant.”   From June 1, 1861 to February 10, 1862, the state Quartermaster’s office paid receipts totalling $13,113.20 for purchases from Isaiah Prag.  He evidently provided most of the “dry goods” or clothing needed to equip at least two companies of Craven County volunteer troops: Company F and Company K (The Elm City Rifles):  98 suit coats and pants; 74 flannel shirts and 199 striped shirts; 218 caps, 141 pairs of “drawers” and 160 pairs of “pantaloons;” not to mention 556 overcoats- enough for 5 companies!
Isaiah Prag is also listed as an “Ordinance Sergeant” in Company B of Clark’s Special Battalion of the North Carolina Militia, but further details of his military service are not yet known.
Prag’s initial connection to Randolph County is also unclear.  It is possible that he was involved with the local factories in the production of underwear under contract to the Quartermaster.  His work supplying the army may have forced him to leave New Bern after its capture by federal forces on March 14, 1862.  It doesn’t seem likely that Prag would have been allowed to frequently cross enemy lines if his family remained in New Bern, but  Rose Adler Prag is said to have died in New Bern on July 20, 1864.
The 1870 census finds Isaiah and Jane Prag in Calvert County, Maryland.  The 1879-80 city directory of Baltimore (p. 625) lists 6 separate families of Prags, with Isaiah listed as selling furniture.  The 1880 census finds him settled in Cambridge, Maryland, the seat of Dorchester County on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay.  This is where family records place him at the time of his death, April 18, 1889.
It appears that Isaiah and Rose Adler Prag were Jewish, and may have been one of the first Jewish families to reside in Randolph County.  That may be why Isaiah gave the Steed family as valuable a gift as the ham would have been in 1864- religious dietary laws would have prevented him from eating it.
[Sources:  US Census records for the years cited; Randolph County Marriage Bonds; Miscellaneous Records of the North Carolina Quartermaster’s dealings with Isaiah Prag or Pragg, preserved in the National Archives at Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861-65 ; the Park Service online list of Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, at http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/>; Prag family geneaology records on Ancestry.com at http://trees.ancestry.com/pt/person.aspx?pid=1078239925&tid=16758860&ssrc= .]

Paragraph 13:
“My present was a balmoral (petticoat) which she had carded, spun and woven herself…”
A Balmoral was a long woollen petticoat which was popularized by Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.  Usually of striped fabric, it was worn immediately beneath the dress so that it showed below the skirt.

The woman wearing a Balmoral in this “carte de visite” is Rachel Bodley (1831-1888), the first female chemistry professor at Philadelphia’s Women’s Medical College from 1865 to 1873.

Paragraph 14:
“…a bowl of mush or … plate of thick corn pones.”
Corn Meal Mush was made two different ways, and it appears that Mr. Winningham liked both of them.  The first was prepared in rolls like sausage or in loaf pans like modern liver pudding.  The cook would cut it in slices, dredge in egg yolk, dust in flour, fry and serve with butter, molasses, syrup or powdered sugar.  The second method was to boil the corn meal in a saucepan just as if preparing raw oatmeal or grits.  It was then served hot in a bowl topped with milk, sugar, fruit, raisins, nuts or ice cream.
“Corn Pone” is corn bread made without milk or eggs, and either baked in hot coals (as described by Nannie Winningham) or fried.

Modern Corn Pone Recipe (makes 4 servings):

Ingredients:  3 cups cornmeal; 3 teaspoons salt; 2-3 cups water; 3 tablespoons lard

Directions:  Bring water to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Add cornmeal and salt and immediately remove from stove. Mix well.  Melt half of lard in a baking pan to coat. Stir remaining lard into corn meal mixture. Pour mixture into baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until golden brown.

Ches Thrift’s Pickling Pear Tree

February 1, 2010

[Chess Thrift, date unknown, from Robins, Reminiscences of My Asheboro.]

Researching and writing local history often runs up against the veil of Time, which is often much more of an iron, not a lace, curtain. We have no real idea of the aboriginal name of Deep River, for example, and no real way to ever find out. Agricultural history is another area where information was such common knowledge it was seldom written down. One of these days I’ll write here about Greeson Wheat, our once-premier local variety of winter wheat. But here’s the story of one adventure in identification: Chester Thrift and the Pickling Pear Tree.

For many years my way to and from work took me past an elderly and not-very-healthy-looking tree growing on the north side of Old Cedar Falls Road in Asheboro. For most of the year it was nondescript and virtually invisible, but for a couple of weeks in late March it sported a striking cloud of white blossoms; and I confess I ignored it because I thought it was yet another Bradford Pear, that darling of 70s and 80s landscapers. I call them lolly-pop trees, because they have that perfect shape for preschool artists; they’re pretty twice a year, when they flower and when the leaves turn red in the fall, and they are sterile so they never have fruit. Bradford Pears are originally native to Korea and China, grow really fast, and rarely live more than 25 years without limbs splitting off. Plant a real tree, people, not Bradford Pears.

But then one September I noticed the tree was raining hundreds of mottled yellow fruits the size of ping pong balls.

The first time I stopped to investigate this phenomenon, I discovered that what I thought were yellow crab apples were actually some kind of pear: exquisitely sweet, miniature round pears profusely dropping from a scrawny, thorny tree. I never knew there were such things, and when I investigated, I found that the tree shouldn’t exist. Only wild pears have thorns, I discovered; they taste bitter and are only used to provide the rootstock for the usual named varieties: Bosc, Seckel, Keifer, etc. Because, like roses and apples, all of the historic named varieties of these plants are perpetuated by grafts, so that each Old Blush rose and each Macintosh apple is literally a clone of the ancient original of that name.

My tree on Old Cedar Falls Road was too elderly to tell if it had once been grafted; it had been cut back and pruned repeatedly, and had sprouted out time and again from an old stump. I asked the neighbors, but that intersection was in transition, and no one knew the story of the tree, but they did know its name: The Pickling Pear Tree.

Another gap in my knowledge revealed: I’ve seen plenty of pickles from cucumbers; I’ve heard of pickled peppers, pickled beets, pickled eggs; pickles from watermelon, okra and crabapples—lots of odd things, but never pears. But there it was on the internet: not just one but many recipes for pickling pears [http://www.cooks.com/rec/search/0,1-0,pickle_pear,FF.html ], especially Seckel pears, which are usually considered the smallest variety of pear (about the size of a tulip blossom). The end result was a sweet, spicy dessert treat that I’m told people ate like candy.

The whole point of pickling, historically, was to preserve perishable food so that it was available in some form during the winter months. Without refrigeration or freezing, drying and canning were the best ways to make the glut of the summer vegetable and fall fruit harvests last until the next year. Pickling can be accomplished by anaerobic fermentation using salt or salty water, which is how beef and pork were pickled to feed sailors on long voyages. Fruits and vegetables are usually pickled by marinating them in vinegar, often with added herbs like garlic, mustard seed, cloves and cinnamon, which have antimicrobial properties. Any kind of pear could be pickled, but larger pickles required peeling and slicing, which makes the finished product fragile and mushy, and reduces the shelf life. So these tiny bite-sized pears would have been the perfect size to core and pickle like crab apples.

It was only by chance that I found out anything more. One day while talking with Miss MacRae, an elderly teacher I had known since elementary school, I mentioned my pickling pear tree. “I don’t know about that tree,” she said. “People used to have pickling pears, used to put up quarts and quarts of them. But the only one around here who had pickling pear trees was Ches Thrift. He had apples, pears, peaches, all sorts of trees in his garden. He had a pickling pear tree.”

What little I knew of Chester Thrift (c.1853-1929) came from Sidney Swaim Robins, the first boy from Asheboro to go to Harvard, back before World War I. When I went to Harvard he was still living in Wayland, Massachusetts, and several times I went to dinner with Sidney at the instigation of Marion Stedman Covington, his cousin. Sidney was the author of a number of books, most of them related to his profession as a Unitarian-Universalist minister. His little book, “Sketches of My Asheboro, 1880-1910,” (published by the Randolph Historical Society in 1972) is an invaluable source for anyone interested in the daily life of 19th century Asheboro. “…’Chess’ Thrift was a mighty cook, often sent for to help in putting on and serving banquets. You often saw him around with white cap and apron, dressing the part of a chef. For a considerable time he served as major domo for Hal M. Worth” [p.37]. “Cooks were known and appreciated in Asheboro. It seemed that each one had a special receipt and routine to be famous for. And of course they ran loose in the branch of famous desserts. I have spoken of Chester Thrift as a famous cook (I wondered if Chess cakes were named for him), and I guess there were as many well-known ones among the colored people as among the whites. In fact, they had the more professional cooks anyhow” [p. 40].

An unpublished source has even more information. Walter Makepeace Curtis (1867-1955 ) was born in Franklinville and served as the President of Greensboro College in the 1940s.  His grandfather, George Makepeace, lived in my house. In 1940 Curtis wrote his autobiography, a manuscript copy of which was given to me by his daughter Marion Moser.   On page 9 of the manuscript, Curtis writes:

“One of my Negro friends during my boyhood days was ‘Ches’- Chester Thrift. He worked for my uncle, G.H. Makepeace, and I often saw him when I was with my cousins, which was a good deal of the time. Ches was also frequently at my home. He was easily amused, and his laugh was hilarious. He would often lie down on the floor and roll over several times with uncontrollable laughter. Ches was a good cook and was famous for his cakes. He was often called upon to bake cakes for weddings, and years later when his home was in Asheboro, scarcely a wedding occurred there without cakes furnished by Ches. Years later when my oldest daughter graduated at Greensboro College, Ches, then an old man, was there. Lucy had sent him a commencement invitation and he came up from Asheboro, bringing with him cakes which he make especially for the occasion. Lucy invited her classmates into our home, Ches served, and all present had a good time. Ches preached occasionally, but I never had the pleasure of hearing him. His hobby was educating young Negro girls who never could have gone to school without his aid. A large number of girls were recipients of his generosity.”

I discovered even more in a circa-1913 Courier note entitled “Uncle Chester Thrift Gives Interesting Item of History.”

“Uncle Chester Thrift, one of the town’s oldest and most respected colored citizens, was in The Courier office last week and told of some interesting bits of old history.  Uncle Ches went to Franklinville last August, where he lived in childhood.  His mother, Annie Thrift, belonged to Isham Thrift, who lived where the hotel now stands [the Grove Hotel, or “The Teacherage,” stood facing Deep River in Franklinville just north of what was the Randolph Mills Office building].  Aunt Annie took her two sons, Solomon and Chester, to a secluded place there each Sunday morning to pray.  The place then used for her ‘prayer spot’ is now the site on which Franklinville’s new M.E. church stands [built 1912].  Uncle Chester feels very kindly toward the church and feels it was built on holy ground.  It would be well if more of the mothers in this day and time would take time to teach their sons to pray.”

And my final discovery was his obituary, published in the Greensboro Daily News on December 24, 1928:

HEART ATTACK CLAIMS “UNCLE” CHES THRIFT /  Former Slave Negro Had Been Servant to Many Prominent Families/ RESPECTED BY WHITES.

“Asheboro, Dec. 23.– ‘Uncle’ Chester Thrift, ancient, honorable and much beloved negro man of Asheboro, died in his home here last night from a heart attack.  He was a familiar figure on the streets, and was out yesterday afternoon greeting his white friends, and carrying a large split basket that he always had with him.

“Uncle” Chester was born about 75 years ago in New Orleans, he and his mother being bought in Louisiana by Isham Thrift of Franklinville Township, and brought here just prior to the Civil War.  After the war was over and the negroes were freed, Chester’s mother lived with the Makepeace and Curtis families of Franklinville until Chester was 15 or 16 years old.  When Chester was just a boy, he went into the homes of the Worth and McAlister families of Asheboro, serving them almost continuously until his death.  He was the servant of H.M. Worth for more than twenty years on a stretch.  He also served the families of Curtis, Foust, Penn, Kelly and McAlister of Greensboro, and the Worth families now of Durham.

“He was one of the most expert cooks North Carolina ever produced, especially being noted for his cakes, persimmon puddings and pies.  He was an authority on cooking possum.  He has probably baked more wedding cakes than any other cook, his services being in demand in many cities of the state when a fine meal was to have been prepared.  His cakes and persimmon puddings have been sent all over the United States.

“Uncle Chester was one of the few of the old school, and was a welcome visitor in any home in Asheboro, or elsewhere where he was known.  He was deeply religious and philosophical, and gave much sound advice to the younger generation, both white and colored.  He lived in North Asheboro [north of Salisbury Street and east of Fayetteville Street] in a comfortable little cottage that was kept immaculately clean, and was nicely furnished with things that his white friends had given him.  At Christmas times “Uncle” Chester was the recipient of loads of gifts from his innumerable white friends.  He went home last night with a load that had been given him while he was down town.  He lived alone, with the exception of a negro boy that he furnished a room for company.

“Funeral services will be held Christmas day at two o’clock and interment made here [Asheboro].  Services will be in charge of the local negro Odd Fellows, of which he was a member, together with his white friends.  He had always requested that he be buried three days after his death, as the Saviour rose the third day, and he expected to.  The third day now falls on Christmas.”

That’s quite a tribute, especially for a black man in the 1920s, published in an out-of-town newspaper.  There’s no doubt Chester Thrift was one of the most respected members of the entire Randolph County community.

I can’t say that my Cedar Falls Road pickling pear tree was actually one of Chester Thrift’s pickling pear Trees. But it was someone’s, because fruit trees only survive if someone grafts new ones before they die. That’s why, last fall, I got some water sprouts from the tree and sent them off for grafting. This spring, I’ll be able to plant my own Pickling Pear Trees at the house where Chester Thrift once worked for G.H. Makepeace, and when I do, I’m calling them Ches Thrift’s Pickling Pears. You can’t tell me I’m wrong.

Rabbit Gums

November 6, 2009


When I was growing up and visiting my mother’s family near Union Grove Church on the border between Moore and Randolph counties, I sometimes would stumble across one of these odd contraptions set up in the edge of one of the distant fields: “Rabbit Gums” my uncles and Grandfather set out to catch dinner. I never developed a taste for bunny, but I was fascinated with their traps.


The Chriscoe rabbit gums were wooden rectangular boxes made of thick sawmill plank, with the far end closed and a trap door at the other that slid down like a guillotine. The top of the door was tied to a stick balanced on one end; a notched trigger clipped into the box and held the door open. Rabbit food (apples/ carrots/ turnips/ etc.) was put inside the closed back end; when an animal (not always a rabbit- I remember hearing stories about angry possums and skunks caught in rabbit gums) crawled in the box and nibbled on the food, the trigger would pop loose and slap the trap door down to catch the rabbit. Most of the time.

The “gum” part of the name Rabbit Gum is a holdover from farther back in history, when black gum trees were burned to hollow out the center, making natural boxes for bee hives, chicken nests, rabbit traps and etc. “Gum” became a generic term for whatever served the same purpose as that original hollow block of Gum wood. This internet hunting forum page has pictures of a natural black gum rabbit trap. [Here’s the link unembedded- http://www.huntingenthusiast.net/viewtopic.php?t=2917&sid=9a46a54fca77896678c6bbcef9df44cb ]


Local historian Frank L. FitzSimons of Henderson County, NC, wrote here of rabbit gums-

“In early days the fall of the year was the season to set rabbit gums. This was before rabbits were protected by stringent game laws and wild rabbits supplied a sizeable portion of the fresh meat eaten during the winter months. At that time it was not against the law to sell wild game in our stores and meat markets. It is rarely done now but in the days of another generation practically every boy on a farm in Henderson County had a string of rabbit gums …

“Every farm boy used his own favorite bait in the traps … Some held to apples. Others claimed that onions were better than apples. Some boys baited their gums with salt. Then there were those who argued that the best bait of all was a combination of cabbage leaves, onions and salt.

“My uncle taught me to bait traps with apple slices. This was his preference because apples were readily available that time of the year and would keep in the trap for a long while. In addition to placing a large slice in the trap behind the trigger, he also placed tiny bits of apple in a pathway leading to the entrance.

“At the beginning of one winter a rumor spread through town that some boys were killing and skinning cats for rabbits. The market for rabbits was completely wiped out until some wise person came up with the idea of leaving the fur on one hind foot for identification…. When a boy caught a wild rabbit, skinned and dressed it for sale, [and] the fur was… left on one of the hind feet… the purchaser could know the animal being sold was actually a rabbit.”


I discovered these homemade rabbit gums in a former parking lot next to a textile mill in Salisbury that was being torn down. They gently reminded me of the 1950s in rural Randolph. But an April 2007 Craigslist post from Morehead City announced a bigger business:

I HAVE JUST FINISHED BUILDING OUR 2007 STOCK OF RABBIT GUMS….AKA RABBIT TRAPS……ALL HARDWOOD CONSTRUCTION FROM AGED USED PLANKING! WE HAVE 3,652 NOW IN STOCK AT 39.95 EACH PLUS SHIPPING & HANDLING— FIRST COME FIRST SERVE………..”

Obviously rabbit gums haven’t vanished into history quite yet!

“Rebecca” Pitchers

October 25, 2009
1930s Rebecca Pitcher by Log Cabin Pottery (signed).  The tall narrow form identifies it; the handle is more practical than most, and would have fit into the kiln much better than the J.B. Cole-style tall looped handles..

1930s Rebecca Pitcher by Log Cabin Pottery (signed). The tall narrow shape and flared spout identifies it; the handle is more practical than most, and would have fit into the kiln much better than the J.B. Cole-style exaggerated loop handles..

The blog “Potters for the N.C. Pottery Center” has an interesting and useful new post about “Rebecca” pitchers, which were one of the most popular products of local potters during the “art pottery” era of the 1930s and 40s.  Go to their blog entry here.

The name comes from the Biblical story of Rebecca at the well of Nahor in Genesis, Chapter 24.   Isaac, son of Abraham, was old enough to marry, and Abraham sent a servant to the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia to find a suitable young woman.  The servant arrived at the local well with ten of Abraham’s camels, and planned to ask the young women of the city for a drink of water.  Any one who not only gave him a drink, but poured water for the camels, would be the one sent by God for Isaac’s wife.

“Rebecca, who was born to Bethuel… came out with her pitcher on her shoulder… And she went down to the well, filled her pitcher… And the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your pitcher.”  So she said, “Drink, my lord.”  Then she… let down her pitcher and gave him a drink.   And when she had finished… she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.”  then she hastened and emptied her pitcher into the trough, ran back to the well to draw water, and drew water for all his camels.  [verses 15-20]

Rebeccas from the 1940 JB Cole catalog.

Rebeccas from the 1940 JB Cole catalog.

The form was one of the most popular products of the J.B. Cole Pottery on the border between Randolph and Montgomery counties.  Their 1940 catalog displays many different sizes and several different forms of Rebecca pitcher (see the catalog here).   The children of J.B. Cole, Waymon and Nell, both lived in Randolph county and were familiar figures at the pottery for more than 60 years; they both made Rebecca pitchers large and small and in a myriad of different glaze colors.

Rebecca jugs were one of the first forms which were “just for show,” meaning that they had no day to day use.  The tall, narrow shape and impractical tall looped handle of the jugs were impractical for almost any method of dipping and carrying water in rural North Carolina.

Stoneware milk pitcher (signed), made by my great-grandfather W. Henry Chrisco.

Stoneware milk pitcher (signed), made by my great-grandfather W. Henry Chrisco.

The standard utilitarian forms were pitchers and jugs.  Pitchers were short and fat, with wide mouths, usually used to serve milk;

Stoneware jug made by the Taylor pottery in Petersburg, VA.

Stoneware jug made by the Taylor pottery in Petersburg, VA.

Jugs were round and bulbous with narrow mouths, usually used to store and transport liquor.

Islamic ewer from Iran, ca. 700 AD.  Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Islamic ewer from Iran, ca. 700 AD. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The shape of a Rebecca pitcher is that of a “ewer,” an ancient ceremonial form with a single tall handle and a flaring spout.  This was definitely NOT a traditional North Carolina form, and was probably copied from Sunday School literature which illustrated archeological forms.

Modern Rebecca Pitcher by King's Pottery.

Modern Rebecca Pitcher by King's Pottery.

The form is still offered in some fashion by most of the Seagrove area potters.  Here’s one from King’s Pottery, which has their website here.

Manly Reece

September 15, 2009

Manly Reece, circa 1855.

In my entry on Charlie Poole I mentioned the Charlie Poole Festival, which is held each year in Eden, NC, the combined town in Rockingham County formerly known as Leaksville, Draper and Spray. Charlie Poole lived and worked in Spray in the second half of his life, and now there is an effort to create the “National Banjo Center” on the Dan River there. The banjo museum would highlight Poole’s contributions to American musical history at or near the Spray Cotton Mill site, “ground zero” or “hallowed ground, as far as the music world is concerned,” said one of the promoters. (see March 26, 2009 article at http://www2.godanriver.com/gdr/news/local/rockingham_news/article/eden_strums_closer_to_housing_national_banjo_museum/9995/ ).

Not to take anything away from Charlie Poole or the economic development activities of Rockingham County, but southern banjo history- even North Carolina banjo history- has a much wider sweep and deeper pull than is found just along the Dan River. Here locally, Charlie Poole’s teacher and mentor Daner Johnson (mentioned in the previous article) not only taught Charlie but a generation of other local banjo pickers. No recordings of Johnson are known, but his Randolph County pupils Kelly Sears and and Glenn Davis are both featured on “The North Carolina Banjo Collection,” musician/ folklorist Bob Carlin’s excellent 1998 Rounder double-album which demonstrates the evolution of banjo-picking through 20th-century recording history.

However, the history of the banjo didn’t start with Charlie Poole or Daner Johnson. The roots of the instrument are agreed to be found in Africa and the transplanted traditions of African-American enslaved people in the antebellum American South. Less certain is how the instrument made its way into white southern culture. Joel Sweeny (1810-1860) of Appomattox County, Virginia, is the earliest documented white banjo player, and popularized the instrument in New York with his group of blackface minstrels at least by April 1839 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Sweeney ).

Sweeny’s tour of England, Ireland and Scotland in 1843-44 is credited with introducing the banjo to Europe. (Bob Carlin recently wrote a book about Joel Sweeney, too- http://www.minstrelbanjo.com/SWEENEYindex.html ).

But in Randolph County, the roots of the banjo can be traced to Manly Reece (1830-1864), a native of the area between Franklinville and Liberty. For almost everything I know about Manly Reece I must give credit up front to Andy Cahan, musician, historian, antiquarian bookseller and former Chapel Hill resident.  Andy came South from New York where he had been a featured artist (along with Bob Carlin) on the influential Kicking Mule album “Melodic Clawhammer Banjo” (http://www.amazon.com/Melodic-Clawhammer-Sapoznick-Carlin-Perlman/dp/B001HGPTNY ). As a young music historian and grad student Andy conducted oral history interviews around Galax in the 1980s on Manly Reece that led him directly back to Randolph County. His research paper “Adam Manly Reece: An Early Banjo Player of Grayson County, Virginia” was written for a class at UNC in 1987, and I am much obliged to Andy for sharing the paper and accompanying photographs with me. [It is one of the most valuable works of Randolph County and southern banjo history that has never been officially published, and I hope that is remedied soon!]

Banjo built by Manly Reece ca. 1848.

Through born in Randolph County, Manly Reece introduced the banjo to the Galax, Virginia area. His father George Reece, a blacksmith, was one of the twelve children of William Reece and Elizabeth Lane, who are buried in the Sandy Creek Baptist Church cemetery (see the church’s prior entry). George’s sister Agnes was the second wife of Elisha Coffin, underground railroad conductor, builder of my house and the 1838 cotton mill in Franklinville (see his prior entry), making her the aunt and Elisha the step-uncle of Manly (all history is genealogy!).

Detail of Manly Reece banjo- the back of the neck.

George Reece is remembered by his descendants to have played the fiddle, and Manly is said to have learned to play the banjo while just a boy. Manly’s own banjo, which is still in the possession of family members, is said to have been built by him before the family moved to Virginia between 1846 and 1848. Once settled in Galax, Manly played with the legendary fiddler Greenberry Leonard (1810-1892), who trained Emmet Lundy, one of the earliest recorded fiddlers in the area.  Manly’s banjo originally had 4 strings, but before he went into the army he’d converted it to 5 strings.  The family remembers that Manly played first in the clawhammer style, and later learned to fingerpick.  He could play many Stephen Foster songs, so Andy theorizes that Manly could have learned from a passing minstrel show (though I’ve found no references to those playing the Randolph County area).  Andy believes that Manly introduced the banjo to the Galax area, partly based on letters written to Manly after he went into service with the Confederate Army, where women write that they miss him and haven’t heard the banjo played since he left. His banjo was returned to his family after Manly was killed in March, 1864, while riding on top of a troop train in the Petersburg area.

Julia Reece Green and unknown fiddle player (original from Kahle Brewer)

Manly’s sister Julia Reece Green (1842-1911) learned to play the banjo from Manly, and passed the skill to her grandson Kahle Brewer. Kahle Brewer was a well-known old-time musician in Galax of the 1970s and 80s, and became a mentor to Andy Cahan and other expatriate students of southern musicology.

L-R: Allen Hart (banjo); Wayne Martin (fiddle); Kahle Brewer (fiddle); Alice Gerard (guitar); at Brewer house in Galax, VA, August 1988.

[From Kerry Blech website, http://home.comcast.net/~blechfam/gallery3.html .]

Andy Cahan’s initial research is still the last academic look into the antebellum roots of Randolph County music.  We’re missing fifty years or more from the story of 19th century music in the county, and perhaps some day that link can be uncovered. Between the time the Reeces moved to Galax in 1848 and the time a young Daner Johnson began to play circa 1890, at least a generation or two of musicians passed their banjo knowledge along. Whoever that was-–Daner Johnson’s teacher and mentor– is currently unknown. But Manly Reece, Daner Johnson and Charlie Poole were all born in northeastern Randolph, within a 5-mile radius of each other, so it is obvious that “ground zero” for the Johnson-Poole banjo tradition rightfully can be located somewhere just north of Franklinville, in Randolph County.

Naomi Wise

June 3, 2009

Tomorrow is my 22nd annual walk and talk on Randolph County history for the Asheboro-Randolph Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber’s “Leadership Randolph” program was the whole reason I started this blog several years ago, and the reason I developed the Randolph County Chronology and Bibliography that are attached to the blog. In my attempt to get things down in writing that I’ve spoken to the class about for years, I’ve written more here this year than in all the other years combined. Some major topics I have avoided, however, because they really need a modern, in-depth treatment—more than I can usually justify on this site.

Naomi Wise is one of those topics. The nutshell version is that Naomi Wise, an unmarried Randolph County girl, was supposedly drowned by her lover, Jonathan Lewis, in a lover’s quarrel in April 1807. Beyond that, details vary, but over the years the story was set to song, and became very popular. The song is now considered the oldest American murder ballad, and its music is actually the living landmark of the event.

The murder on which the song is based really happened in Randolph County more than two hundred years ago, yet sadly, little physical evidence remains. The tombstone shown above is located in the graveyard at Providence Friends Meeting, on Providence Church Road west of New Salem Road in Providence Township, Although a hundred or more years old, the stone is not original; it moreover bears an inaccurate date of her death. Perhaps that makes it the perfect emblem of the story of Naomi Wise.

I’ve told the story for Leadership Randolph, and lately in the computerized multimedia age I’ve played the 60s Doc Watson version on CD through my Jeep speakers. Here’s the 21st-century equivalent, the embedded YouTube video of the Doc Watson recording-

Doc Watson is just the most contemporary artist who has sung a version of this song. Folkorists such as Bascom Lamar Lunsford and others have collected and recorded other versions, with widely-varying lyrics. As discussed at length in the most recent publication on the subject [NAOMI WISE: Creation, Re-Creation and Continuity in an American Ballad Tradition,” by Eleanor R. Long-Wilgus (Chapel Hill: The Chapel Hill Press, 2003)], the many versions of the ballad occurred as a lost original version was gradually passed down from singer to singer since the actual events occurred.

(a copy of the ballad of Naomi Wise in the handwriting of Miss Laura Worth, on a 1920s voter registration form)

The “standard” version of the ballad is the one attached to the 1851 narrative story by Braxton Craven entitled “Naomi Wise: Or, The Wrongs of a Beautiful Girl.” Craven, the headmaster at that time of the Normal College, soon to be Trinity College and ultimately Duke University, romanticized the story so as to make Naomi Wise an innocent victim and heroine of the story in a fashion that is still familiar with the Lifetime movie channel, Nancy Grace and Greta van Susteren on cable TV. In Craven’s story, the innocent virginal 18-year-old orphan girl was lured to her doom by a dastardly sexual predator who was ultimately caught and punished for his crime. That’s the version perpetuated in the ballad text printed by Craven, and in its numerous reprintings and transfigurations over the years. It’s a version that was probably written to conform with the age-old English song tradition of “Murdered Girl” ballads.

A story I’ll tell you

About Naomi Wise,

How she was deluded

By John Lewis’ lies….

He promised to meet me

At Adams’ springs;

He promised me marriage

And many fine things…

I got up behind him

And straightway did go

To the banks of Deep River,

Where the water did flow…

“No pity, no pity,”

The monster did cry;

“In Deep River’s bottom

your body shall lie.”

The wretch them did choke her,

As we understand,

And threw her in the river,

below the mill dam….

(The Story of Naomi Wise was once considered the signature event of the Randleman area, and for several years high school students acted it out in a spring pageant on the riverside. But the bicentennial of the event in 2007 passed without notice.)

As Eleanor Long-Wilgus discusses briefly in her much longer analysis of the ballad lyrics, the true story is, as usual, much less black and white. A detailed analysis of the history behind the ballad can also be found in “Omie Wise: The Ballad as History,” by Molly Stouten, published in Spring 1997 issue of The Old-Time Herald magazine. Hal Pugh, owner and operator with his wife Eleanor of the New Salem Pottery, are modern Randolph County’s guardians of this story, and have done more research than anyone else I know about Naomi Wise (publish! Publish!) In recent years an early 19th century document has been discovered in the Special Collections of the UCLA Library which is the only contemporary account of the event. Entitled “A true account of Nayomy Wise,” it is a lengthy poem found in a penmanship copybook belonging to Mary Woody and her brother Robert Woody.

“To Such as here [hear] and Wants to Know

A Woman Came Some years ago

Then from a Cuntry named by hide [Hyde County, in eastern NC?]

In Randolph after did reside

And by Some person was defil’d

And So brought forth a bastard Child

She Told her name neomy Wise

Her carnal Conduct Some did despise

It was not long till She’d another

That might be Call’d a basturd’s Brother…”

The actual story appears to be that unmarried Naomi Wise was in 1807 already the mother of Nancy (b. 1799) and Henry Wise (b. 1804), and was probably pregnant by Jonathan Lewis, a well-to-do store clerk employed by Benjamin Elliott, the Clerk of Superior Court and future owner of the Cedar Falls cotton factory. The “Bastardy Bonds” for Nancy and Henry can be found in the Randolph County papers at the NC State Archives (for years they were hidden by local historian Laura Worth, who disapproved of the facts). Following the child support law of the time, Naomi charged each father with “begetting a child on her body;” each man then posted a bond publicly insuring that the county would never have to pay to support their children.

(Cost sheet from November 1810 term of Superior Court, showing the expenses of arresting and holding Jonathan Lewis for trial.)

Apparently the argument between Naomi Wise and Jonathan Lewis arose when she revealed her pregnancy, but demanded that Lewis marry her rather than post a Bastardy Bond. Lewis was in fact charged with her murder, jailed after the inquest, but escaped before trial. He fled to Elk Creek Indiana, where he was eventually re-arrested and extradicted back to Randolph County. Jonathan Lewis was tried and acquitted for the murder of Naomi Wise in 1811 (all of these court records are in the state Archives).

What physical evidence remains beyond the site of her grave?

“He promised to meet me at Adams’ Springs” — Adams’ Spring is located on the west side of Brown Oaks Road, about a hundred yards south of the Woolen House (NS:11, p. 116 of my architecture book) which fronts on New Salem Road.

The local school was once located near the spring, which was for many years marked by a gazebo. Nothing marks the spot now, save oral tradition.

To the left of the shed in the grainy newspaper photograph above is a piece of paper tacked to an almost-invisible stump—the very one, it was said, used as a mounting block for Naomi Wise to mount Jonathan Lewis’ horse and ride to her death. This is the kind of local landmark once a common part of every historic site, but gradually lost to the passage of time and the deaths of all those with first, second or third-hand knowledge of the event. Compare the open landscape of the early-20th-century photo with the modern view of trees, weeds, scrub pines and brambles…

Finally, the site of the murder survives: Naomi Falls, taken near dusk from the Naomi bridge over Deep River. The camera position is just west of the site of the remodeled Peter Dicks Mill (see that entry), and the distant rocks in the center water mark the site of the falls and ford once covered by the dam impounding water to power the 1881 Naomi Cotton Mill. Here it is in daylight….

And here, a hundred years ago- Victorian picnickers at the site of the murder….

(from the historical photograph collection of the Randolph Room, in the Asheboro Public Library.)

There you have it—Randolph County’s most famous murder.  Both more, and less, than local history recognizes.

NOTES:

Here’s the wikipedia link:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omie_Wise .  The article perpetuates some errors but includes a good general overview of the topic.

Here’s an internet transcription of the classic Manley Wade Wellman retelling of the tale in his book Dead and Gone; it is by far the most readable version of the story:  http://www.allredfamily.org/naomiwise.htm .

Local historian Calvin Hinshaw says that he was told back in the 1950s by New Salem resident George Newman Hinshaw that the narrative poem first printed by Braxton Craven was written by Levi Beeson and his mother soon after the event.  The format of the poem copies a traditional “ballad of experience,” which always begins with a call to the audience (“Come all ye-“) and then proceeds to explain the sad story of the subject victim.

There are MANY different versions and printings of the original Craven story, and even more versions of the ballad.  The original ballad, reconstructed by Eleanor Long-Wilgus, was said to have been sung to the hymn tune “How Firm a Foundation,” composed in the 18th century by Anne Steele (It works- try it with the Craven ballad transcription).   Two of the most recent singers to try out the ballad are Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello- quite a journey from the banks of Deep River in 1807!