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Full text of "Sketches of My Asheboro: Asheboro, North Carolina, 1880-1910"

THE LIBRARY OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF 

NORTH CAROLINA 

AT CHAPEL HILL 




THE COLLECTION OF 
NORTH CAROLINIANA 

PRESENTED BY 

Phillip Russell Papers 



C971.76 

A82r 

C.4 



00006735223 



This book is due on the last date stamped 
below unless recalled sooner. It may be 
renewed only once and must be brought to 
the North Carolina Collection for renewal. 




tP ^ 1 3 m^ - 



•^artr-. No. A-369 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 



http://www.archive.org/details/sketchesofmyasheOOrobi 



SKETCHES 

of 
my 

ASHEBORO 

by 
Sidney Swaim Robins 





ASHEBORO, NORTH CAROLINA 
(1880-1910) 



SKETCHES OF MY ASHEBORO 

BY 
SIDNEY SWAIM ROBINS 



ASHEBORO, NORTH CAROLINA 
1880 - 1910 



Published by: 
Randolph Historical Society, 1972 



TABLE OF COWTENTS 

The Lot I Grew Up On 1 

A Landmark Goes In The Night 6 

The Old Courthouse Center 8 

Randolph Court In Session Around 1895 13 

Echoes of Randolph Court 18 

J. Addison Blair and Son Colbert 21 

William E. Mead 25 

Three English Captains 30 

Uncles, Aunts and Baldwins 34 

What Asheboro Ate 39 

Uncle Willis Hamlin and Household 43 

Grandpa's Last Buggy 47 

The Railroad Comes 50 

Wid Connor 57 

Bucolic Wit and Humor — Zeb Vance 60 

Poor White Trash 65 

Schooling In Asheboro 69 

That Old Time Religion 77 

Churchly Footnotes 86 

Skipper Coffin 91 

Marmaduke Circle 99 

How We Began ^ 101 






.1 






PREFACE 

These sketches were all but three written between the late summer of 1968 
and V/ashington's Birthday 1969. They were of course done mostly for my own 
interest and amusement, when not busy at something else. It had often been 
suggested to me that I might write down some memories of Asheboro as it was 
in my early memory. But I have no idea whether anybody, outside my own 
family, will enjoy reading them. It does not matter a great deal. This is the sort 

of thing I could do. 

Having reached the mature age of five in 1883, a year before the Southern 
Railroad built its way into town, my short memory covers a short period of great 
changes. I cast my first vote in Asheboro in 1904, and have never lived there 
since, though never entirely losing connections. So these sketches carry me- 
mories of sixteen years, with echoes from further back. 

It may be necessary to issue some warnings to anyone who does read these 
little sketches. My memory is clear enough on almost everything reported from 
it. But there are a few odd points of wavering memory. Streets may be mixed 
somewhat. There is a difficulty of memory about those two old downtown hotels. 
The Burns House was easy to name in a way, for Barney Burns was the last man 
to run it, and I am pretty sure he sold it to my father. The deed books will 
show. But I have no idea of who ran it when I was very young. The other one, 
I called the Trogdon House, because I have a strong association of Bill Trogdon 
with one or the other of them, and at the moment of setting names down 
"Trogdon" seemed right. But reading over Mr. Blair's History, I see he calls it 
the Hoover House, and again the Asheboro Hotel. (I remember now that Mr. 
Blair is correct.) 

One other little incident: In the sketch of schooling I referred to a lady 
principal or teacher under the name of Miss Lily Hubbard. I now think one of 
the two lady teachers who seem to have had the school that year, was Miss Lily 
Porter, who married a Presbyterian minister named Shaw (she was daughter of 
David Porter and aunt of Miss Hope Hubbard, of Farmer); and I believe the 
other lady may have been named Hubbard. I think so. For an omission in the 
school story, there was a Virginia lady, whose name feels quite like Clenden- 
ning, who had the school headship perhaps. She taught me some good manners, 
and had some echo of Virginia old family about her. Her memory is as strong 
as anything, but was somehow in another pocket when I wrote. 

I judge that nearly everybody ought to try writing down a little of what they 
remember, because if they ever want to recall any of the past for others, the 
setting down something now will, at any future time, help to bring up other de- 
tails and other events. 

Sidney Swaim Robins 



The Lot I Grew Up On 



I was born in 1883 in an old house which before the Civil War had be- 
longed to the Alfred H. Marsh estate. It was on South Main Street; at the 
present moment, 1968, the home of Dr. Hugh Fitzpatrick stands over the cellar 
of it. The older building had been at first a plain, two-story rectangular affair, 
of common type in Randolph. But when young Jim Marsh married they had 
built on an ell which merely joined the old house at one corner. That led to 
the house's having three large stone chimneys. One was at either end. North 
and South, of the original manse; and the other belonged to the ell, being at the 
East end, away from the street, just across that corner of juncture and coming 
within five or six feet of touching the South chimney. That left a nice hide-and- 
seek hole for kids of just the right age, partly fenced in by two chimneys. 
The three fireplaces which backed into the yard must have constituted about 
the most wasteful heating system that was ever devised. They heated a lot of 
the outer world first. Winds swept under the house, for the foundation stones 
were laid without cement. We did manage to have a small cellar at one corner, 
which kept our "Irish" potatoes fairly well. For the fireplace, there was of 
course plenty of wood in those days. My father bought twenty real cords of 
eight foot wood, laid down each fall in the yard at one dollar a cord and 
chopped into fire-logs or stove-wood by a man who received fifty cents per 
diem as pay. The stove was the kitchen stove and was in an outside building. 
Both main buildings and ell had porches opening on the street, though the ell 
porch was at a right angle. There was an old back porch of perhaps ten feet 
square, where we boys were supposed to lug a pile of wood either from the wood- 
house, another outside affair; or from the pile alongside the pig-pen in the 
cow-lot where the axeman chopped it. The yard was not level, and from that 
back-porch there was a set of five or six steps down to a porch running to the 
East, first past the kitchen door and then by the door of a room where our 
colored cook slept. All our food had to be brought up those steps, winter 
and summer. This seems to be the place to bring in a little poetastery written 
years back for the family: 

When we were boys in the Tar Heel state, 

And, naturally, it seemed that supper came late, 

We ate the cold biscuits, brother Henry and I, 

So we'd sure have 'em hot when the time rolled by. 

Back-steps a-perch, we wolfed them down, — 

Less fear of tummy-ache than of cook's frown! 

"Aunt Christian Sedbury," that was her name; 

Black was her face and gaunt was her frame 

She hunted those biscuits; too bad! found them gone; 

Grumbled a little, maybe didn't catch on; 

Jerked out the flour, made buttermilk dough; 

Chunked up the fire, got it rarin' to go! 



Hurray for hot biscuits, butter, black-strap! 
Who wants any ligktbread — the hole-y claptrap? 
Call it hot, call it home-made, beg us to try it 
It may be to blams that the world's on a diet! 
Of course that is romance. 

But it is no romance to say that I suffered more from cold in that old-time 
Southern set-up than ever since in my wanderings, North and West, or any- 
where. Not that the weather itself really got very cold. My father visited the 
thermometer on the front porch every morning, and reported. We usually had 
it ten above zero a couple of times in the v.'inter. I remember just one time 
in ray Asheboro years when it got down to zero. But those stone fire-places 
sent no heat at all upstairs except what went through the ceilings at the wrong 
time of day. In our house, the system in cold weather was to throv/ enough 
ashes over a few coals so that in the morning you would have easy means of 
starting a fire. Of a cold January morning, a fellow would race into his clothes 
when he was called, would jump down stairs and belly-up or back-up to that fire, 
continually roasting on one side while freezing on the other. That is not at all 
hard to remember, any more than many details which went with having nothing 
but kerosene lamps for light when it came night. 

The Marsh place, I was told, had originally contained fifty-two acres. Allow- 
ing for the John Hill place on the corner, v/hich had come to belong to us too, 
it extended on South Main Street all the way from the present extension of 
Worth Street, then nothing but a grassy lane, past my mother's good-sized 
garden, past our house, past our "woodlot," past our cow-barn, past a field-end 
and a meadow-end, down into the hollow and up the next slope to where we 
came to J. E. Walker's line, until the time when my father sold a building-lot 
on the street to O. L. Sapp. Easterly from the Street it extended on a straight 
line across the branch and up to the top of a wooded slope which leveled off 
for the homes of several Colored fam^ilies: Uncle John Bell's, Jesse Lytle's, 
John Smallwood's, Uncle Bob Baldwin and Atlas Baldwin. There was a boundary 
lane to the property up there. 

Behind our house were first two fields of five and three acres, usually 
alternated to wheat and corn. Next there was a seven-acre meadow running in 
an arc all the way from Worth Street extension to Main. Then came a narrow 
strip of poor corn-land merging towards the m.iddie or past (it was another 
arc) into a scrubby woodland which wood-lot continued to Main. In this scrub 
lived many coveys of "partridges" or quail. The boundary for most of this 
was a rail fence which ran straight South to Walker's line. Beyond the fence 
was overgrown pasturage through which trailed that branch which provided 
our end of town with a sv/imming hole. Finally came the real woods mentioned 
before, with a Colored church only a short distance back in it. 

Below our place the Robins branch became first the McAlister branch, then 
the Penn Wood branch, on its way to help make Haskett's creek, which we 
used to cross on a covered bridge about four miles out on the road to Randleman. 
Of course we fished that branch all the way from Ed Walker's line way down 



past "Eck's" dam to the place where Garland Pritchard grew up. We caught 
suckers, sun perch, catfish after rains), now and then an eel, a few of them 
big enough to eat. I knew the small pond on the McAlister place to freeze 
over thick enough for skating only about three times in my real Asheboro 
years. I believe the only boys whose families thought it v>'orth while to provide 
them with skates were the Worth boys, John Wood and his Tom-boy sister 
(my cousins), the Morrises and the Moffitts. These last ran the hardware store. 

I may interject at this point that we usually had about two days sledding 
in snow per winter. We had a sled but it certainly lived a retired life. We 
hunted Indian relics and things like that. But outdoor sports in old Asheboro 
were certainly limited. Of course we played some baseball and cat-ball at 
school and in the streets. 

We usually had three cows on the place, maybe one of them dry. For years 
they wandered the streets and dales South of town, like all town cows before 
we got "stocklaw," and showed up come milking-time at the gate of the cow- 
barn. I am sure I never had to go and help look for those cows. We also had 
as many as three horses when I was verging on high-school age. These lived 
in what had been the barn of the John Hill place, down that other lane a 
hundred yards or so. I might have said that Main Street turned into a lane 
about where it passed our house, for just in front of us it dodged around 
quite a grove of big white or post-oak trees, and then narrowed itself into a 
single rutted track as it went down into the hollow toward Walker's. Those 
horses we soon began riding to "Lizzie" Henley's swimming hole, about three 
miles South of town, down Cox Street and off to the left. After you had once 
learned to swim, as we did on our ov/n property, Henley's hole was the fa- 
vorite of all the Asheboro boys I ran with. At first we had to ride bareback, 
but after a while we got some old saddles, and I wouldn't say we didn't learn 
to split the roads pretty gaily. 

We always had on the place a man v/ho worked by the day, and who 
incidentally was supposed to teach boys how to hoe corn, to pitch or rake hay, 
or to store it in what was sometimes a very dusty and choky barn-loft. Frank 
Robbins would tell me as he pitched hay in: "It'll make a man of 
you if you can stand it!" Our first worker was Clark Hooker, then came 
Frank, then Tom Sledge. We built a cabin for Sledge, over in the edge of 
the woods. These men did the plowing, cut grass for the horses and cattle, made 
corn-mush for the fattening pigs, took corn and wheat to Cedar Falls to be 
ground into flour and meal, planted and harvested the crops on the place, 
helped at hog-killing time, and so on. My father owned two or three farms 
in the country and got his share of the crops from these. On our woodlot there 
was a granary for wheat, a slatted crib for corn that the weevils had the 
best of much of the time, it seemed to me, — as well as a pig-pen and the 
family "back-house." 

My father remained contemptuous of roller-mill "white flour," even though 
mother yearned for and occasionally got a little store-flour from the West 

3 



to make "a decent-looking cake." Also I will mention that most town people 
never have a chance to know how good is fresh corn meal. So going to Cedar 
Falls was a good part of the "Good Old Days." Once we took a cat along and 
dropped him somewhere on Deep River. But the cat showed up back home 
next morning. 

Of all the out-door fun v/e had on that place though, I really think the 
thing I am going to tell about now stands first. In the early winter, up until 
Christmas time, Henry and I regularly had rabbit-gums (box-traps to some 
moderns, I suppose, but the idea born of naturally hollow black-gum logs cut 
into about eighteen inch lengths, closed at one end and with a trap-door at 
the other.) We set them along the rail fence which bounded the outside of 
those last fields. We would find places along the fence where the rabbits had 
discovered a pass, or made one, to our turnip patch. They would gnaw their 
regular crossing places a bit, I suppose to mark or smooth them. We would 
look for these "rabbit-gnaws" along the fence and set our yawning-mouthed 
gums on one side or the other. We caught some dozen or more rabbits every 
winter. We cared very little for rabbit-meat served at table, but we dearly 
loved to catch those fellows. When you got your first glimpse of sprung trap 
or a door down, that was a thrill. Usually he would be inside, perhaps big 
and sassy. It was a trick to get him out without some painful scratches. But 
if you stood the trap up on the back-end and opened the door, there he would 
be with big eyes looking up at you. The trick was to slip your hands around 
his neck and haul him out by the head at arm's length, and then grab both 
hind-legs at once. Then you could sling him and tote safely, in spite of the 
jumping motions and the claws. 

Perhaps there are kinder ways of getting your meat than either this method 
or using a gun. But this rabbit-game was one thing that would get a boy up 
at daybreak on a frosty morning. Taking off down the meadow road which ran 
between our two near fields, you might stop at a persimmon tree or two along 
the meadow ditch. Nobody cut a nice persimmon tree in those days; there 
were a dozen along that ditch and in the middle of the ploughed fields. Then 
there was the turnip patch to halt at, and you had had no breakfast yet. For 
years I could not face the idea of cooked turnips. There was a single chinquapin 
bush near the rail fence which might merit a glance, and, for return without 
rabbit, a few scuppernongs and muscadines which hung on in trees quite late 
in the fall. Even that nice frost which might be on the ground everywhere 
contributed something. 




The top picture shows the old homeplace from the West. 
in front of the house is Main Street. 



The dirt lane 



The upper left shows the old Marsh-Robins house from the North. The lower 
left, from the South, shows the other two outside rock chimneys. The ivy 
is that my mother got from the Talmadge church on a visit to the Thorns 
family in Brooklyn. The right kodak shows Cynthy, I believe the last of our 
cooks living on the lot. The kitchen and her room are off the porch you 
see. in front of her are the higher steps to the house backdoor and dinning- 
room. Back of the post you see one end of the well-house, and a klefer 
pear tree. 

5 



A Landmark Goes In The Night 

For some years of my earliest life I slept in a well-remembered trundle-bed 
which in the day-time lived under my mother's big bed. I distinctly recall just 
two incidents which happened during that period. The first is when I woke 
up in that trundle-bed in the middle of a dark night and found out that I could 
not get the least noise out of my throat. Probably I woke up trying to cry 
and found I couldn't. In any case, the fact is that I had the croup. Managing 
to get up and around the big bed, I finally got hold of my mother. In a few 
moments there was a light, renewed fire on the hearth; and a mixture of 
onions, vinegar, and other spices was a-heating — a familiar remedy in our 
family and one which did not taste as bad as it sounds. It saved the day, or 
rather the night, until the morning brought old Doctor Henley. 

The other incident, also deep night, fell when I was called up and led to 
the North and East corner windows, where there was to behold a great light 
and bustle diagonally across at the corner. The old Jonathan Worth homestead 
was burning down to the ground. I think there was something like a bucket- 
brigade at work trying to save, either a piece of the house, or else the John 
Hill house directly across. Something was said for Henry's benefit and mine 
about the children being glad to be able to make a report in after years of 
having witnessed the occurrence. For our elders felt that it was a historic 
moment and that a landmark was going down. 

Naturally enough, there is not too much recollection remaining with me 
about the looks of that old house when it was standing. I think it stood a bit 
further back than the Charles McCrary house, and it seems almost as if it stood 
at a slight angle to the street. But that is as may be. For its brown color 
and its lawn, with the chairs on it and one time occupation, fortunately we can 
go to a photograph in the collections of the Historical Society. It certainly had 
helped to dress up the East end of the town, what you might possibly refer to as 
the village itself; and the going of that old mansion was undoubtedly an un- 
suspected harbinger of not too far off loss of dignity, and finally of death, of 
the center which country people from every direction thought of as "Asheboro" 
when their thoughts ran in that direction at all. 

Our elders were none of them Cassandras that night, but I gave them due 
credit for recognizing that some day we might like to report of a hushed group 
and of midnight palpitations once in the long ago. And some sense of the 
dignities of the past, that have been lost even, seems necessary in order to 
have real enthusiasm for present and future building and visions. 




(Picture courtesy of Historical Society) 



Home of Governor Jonathan Worth 



The Old Courthouse Center 

The old red brick courthouse was the center of life in old Asheboro. It 
stood in the center of a public "squai-e" which one supposes was the land, or 
most of it, that was given by Jesse Henley to promote the moving of the 
countyseat from Johnson%'ille to Asheboro, where it would be of course more 
convenient for people v.ho lived in the Southern part of the county. For once 
an argument about the geograpliical center of the county must have had its 
way in a county which itself is about as square as any in the state. Somehow 
this "square" or rectangle seems to have disappeared, and we know the court- 
house itself was burned to a pile of rubble somewhere around the beginning 
of the century. Salisbury Street, where it now crosses Main, then ran narrowly 
by the back end of the courthouse. 

The building itself was of red brick as to its outer walls, but showed at 
its top a square wooden cupola in which was hung a bell that we had got 
used to hearing on all sorts of occasions, including fires and elections. It seems 
as if I would recognize its tone novv', and that would be nice, too! The interior 
downstairs showed first double-stairs, and then two wide cross-corridors on 
which opened all the county offices. Upstairs was a sim.ple ante-room with 
double doors, and then the courtroom. As you entered, you faced the judge's 
bench which was against the back, or North, wall. The Clerk's desk was on 
His Honor's left and the witness stand on his right. In front of him was the 
semi-circular bar, edged by built-in seats for clients and special vritnesses for 
the lawyers to turn around and consult. Ai-ound the bar ran a semi-circular 
aisle, beginning from a jury-room door, first passing that witness-stand on the 
left and the jury-box on its right, then past the elevated tiers of benches for 
spectators around to the other retiring-room, which was used by the Clerk 
and other county officers, also as a judge's retiring-room. Deputies stuck their 
heads out of the East and West windows to cry their Oyes. 

That aisle was carpeted with rough, durable, tow mats; and the mats were 
covered with a pretty good layer of sawdust. Together, mats and sawdust were 
to serve not only the purpose of deadening the sound of feet, but also of 
absorbing tobacco spittle. For this second purpose, lots of sawdust was sprinkled 
also on the floor between the witness benches. All the sawdust was occasionally 
swept out and replacsd. But that courtroom was probably the least sanitary 
place in town. In those days the public knew and thought little about sani- 
tation, and I imagine that what sweeping was done came largely to please the 
eyes of squeamish women-folk who had to attend Court but at that time oc- 
cupied the critical position on all uses of tobacco. Most of the farmers and 
lawyers chewed. My father's leading idea for dealing with the toothache, an 
idea he had followed long years, was to get a chew of tobacco going. He said 
it quieted the nerves of the teeth. 

The courtroom was used for all sorts of purposes, political meetings, organ- 
ization moves, concerts, public gatherings of any kind. It was used even for 
amateur theatricals. And the Colored schools held their Commencements there 

8 



sometimes, notably when Uncle William Mead was their teacher-principal. 

Around the courthouse was that square, which was often a noisy and riotous 

I place, especially on Tuesday of the first week of Court. We long had two 

I Court sessions a year, middle of July and in December. The first week was 

alv/ays given to criminal cases, and the second one w.ss roughly reserved for 

the Civil Docket. The judge often had to call a halt in the proceedings of a 

trial and order the sheriff to go down and restore order and quiet around the 

building. The noises arose from horse-traders, venders of patent-medicines, 

I shillabers for peep-shows and the like, and lastly from quarreilers and battlers 

likely stimulated by country brands of raw John Barleycorn. Many of these 

hawkers moved from one Court to another, and, in Asheboro at least, Tuesday 

was sure to be the big day. They camped oftentimes by open fires alongside 

their wagon-tongues, and slept in their v.-agons. Tliis was also the vv-ay with 

many witnesses and principals to appear in Court. 

There were a lot of horse-traders around on Tuesday of Court, and somehow 
they seemed to make more noise than anybody else. Of course the animals 
themselves helped some. And showing off horses in crowds is noisy business. 
In July particularly, with windows open, it often sounded like Bedlam out there. 
I recall Palmer Craven as one local trader, partly because he was an early 
boy-friend of mine and got into horse-trading when I was still in the middle 
of High School. At a younger age we used to sneak biscuits for him when 
he came to those back-steps I have mentioned, and he v;ouid ask us to find 
"just a little piece of meat of any kind" to go Vv'ith the biscuits. He got little 
' encouragement at hom.e to go on in school if he ever got there at all. One 
I day, when I had got to high school, and Palmer had left "home" and accumul- 
ated a nag or two, the town was all laughing about him. A-straddle of a raw- 
boned nag, he vvfas heard to challenge another trader; "I see it's hog-killing' 
time at your house? " "How's that?" "Well, I see you're ridin' a cracklin'!" 
A crackling, if you don't happen to knov/, is v/'nat is left of a fat piece of 
sowbelly after you have "fried it out" and extracted all the lard. I am not 
certain but that if Palmer had owned some other father than old Murphy 
i Craven, to make him go to school, he might have become a leader in some 
form of an early Youth Movement. He made a living SYv^apping horses for a 
while, and he had a sense of humor. It's one of those things we can't do any- 
thing about except to wonder. 

Another Tuesday of Court, a kind of advertising man got permission to 
erect a rude shack in the open square to display liis patent fire-extinguisher. 
He put kerosene on it and set it off during the Court's noon intermission. Then 
he turned on his hand fire-extinguisher in the presence of an expectant crowd. 
He himself had swallowed the advertisement (he was not a regular court- 
follower and had failed to try his machine out adequately), but his extinguisher 
failed to swallow the flames, which soared on to glory, producing one of the 
most hilarious scenes you ever saw. 

Sometimes the sherriff did not really succeed when he went out to restore 
a measure of quiet in the square. Occasionally he had to bring back a cul- 



prit or two to stand unscheduled before the judge's bench. Then the judge 
would look very severe, administer a lecture about the dignity of the Court 
and the crime of interfering with its proceedings, possibly binding them to 
appear before him later. 

I spoke of the old courthouse as the center of life for the whole town. 
What there was of Main Street from Worth dov.-n to the square v/as all the 
shopping center we had. On the Southwest corner of it at the square was one 
of the town's two old hotels, the Ploover House, or The Asheboro Inn. To the 
West of it and around the corner a bit was an open space extending back to 
the jail. It was where a lot of horse and wagon outfits camped during Court 
week. The only building at the West end of the courthouse square was the Wood 
and Moring store, which had the open lot on its South side and the Salisbury 
road coming up along its North side. On the other side of Salisbury and across 
and down a little was Allen Woodell's house and shoe shop (Salisbury sloped 
to the West). I have spent many an hour in that shop while Mr. Woodell was 
mending my only shoes, mostly re-soling them. More nearly on that side of 
the square and of Salisbury street going by was Frank Rush's house, and 
alongside him the Ross and Rush livery stable. Next, Cicero Hammer long 
had a law office, and that brought you pretty well up to the little, muddy, 
red lane which has since been transmogrified into North Main Street extension. 
Across that and fronting the square was McAlister and Morris's big general 
store. Then curving around the Northeast corner of the square some small 
shops, including a lady's hat-trimming parlor and I believe a home or so. At 
Salisbury Street and facing on it were two homes, the first somehow associated 
in my mind with Yancey Cox, who was a leading surveyor in the county, the 
second occupied by white-headed Enoch Brookshire and his wife, neither of 
whom often appeared in public unless you mean in their own yard. Across 
Salisbury and fronting on the square as Wood and Moring did at the other end, 
was the house, the lot, and the law office of J. A. Blair, our county historian. 
From Blair's law office West to Main Street again, there was back-entry space 
for some of the stores and then the red-brick side-walls of the Moffitt hardware 
store. That bounds the square. 

Taking off from the square on the East side of Main back to Worth, there 
came first that hardware, then, after it got built, the red brick office of the 
Republican county paper, the Randolph Argus, a Stedman grocery, Brittain and 
Sapp's law office, a drug store, another small shop or two (along here my 
order may not be letter-perfect), then another old hotel with a kind of arcade 
in front, more anciently known as the Trogdon House run latterly by Barney 
Burns. This arcade was favored by visiting lawyers at Court time. The Judge 
would be there most every time. Colonel Jim Morehead, of Greensboro, oc- 
cupied the same room every time he came and made it his office. He and the 
others sat outside their doors in the evening, the Colonel always smoking a 
pipe with a long stem which would be either the bored root of a bamboo or 
else a verj' fragrant fig-bush stem with pith burned out to make it hollow. 
We had lots of fig bushes growing against our outside chimneys, and the 

10 



Colonel counted on renewing his stock of fig stems from us. I kept a stock 
of those stems on hand myself until I quit smoking only some seven or eight 
years ago — for occasional use. On beyond the Burns hotel came a small gro- 
cery and candy store run for some years at least by Moss Burns. At the corner 
of Worth after an open field-end came the Courier office. About many of these 
buildings, and not least the Courier office, there hangs many a tale. 

The West side of old Main Street was less thickly settled at that. The 
Hoover hotel had a little field behind it on Main. Then came M. S. Robins' 
law office, perched rather high, a couple of yards maybe, above the street. It 
was of two rooms. There was a woodshed behind and two Murillo cherry trees 
in the backyard. I once fell cut of one of those cherry trees and took a chunk 
out of the inside of my left calf, and I can still show the scar to prove to any 
Doubting Thomas that all the tales I tell about Old Asheboro are faithful and 
true. My father's law office is .still on the lot, living a demoted life as a garage 
in Mrs. Sheriff Hayworth's backyard (1968.) 

After that law office, came what is now called the oldest house in town. 
Built I believe by Alfred Diffee, it was in my time the home of Sheriff Bije 
Moffitt. More lately it has been the property of two Eugene Morrises, father 
and son. Then came the post-office, long run by Mrs. RlcCain with the help 
of her son Jim and his family. It was approached by double steps up and a 
platform. From there the street was open to the corner. 



11 



K 



II 



4 A 

G 



l-:M- 




-1 in- Tfe: : 







S' 



(Map courtesy of Miss Hope Hubbard) 

Map of Asheboro as it was in 1875-1885 drawn by Mrs. C. C. Hubbard, the 
former Miss Frances Porter. The North and South streets running from 
left to right are Fayetteville, Cox and Main; the East and West streets run- 
ning from North to South are Salisbury, Worth and Academy. The old 
courthouse square is easily recognized. Key to this map is in the Asheboro 
Public Library. 



12 



Randolph Court In Session Around 1895 

I have a good many recollections of that old courthouse. In the days when 
I was growing up, lawyers seemed to be our big men because they included 
most of the big politicians and made the biggest and best speeches. It seems 
( as if it was the ideal of nearly every ambitious boy in those days to make a 
good extempore speaker or orator of himself. It was the heyday of Southern 
oratory, when that was a good deal more the style than it is anywhere today. 
I know that I myself was caught up iji adulation of orators, in spite of, or 
perhaps because of, the applicability to me of a comment my father once made 
I on good, honored, Mr. Blair, that he could not "get his tongue to fire." I was 
the last Secretary of the Walter H. Page Literary Society at the High School, 
but was slow in discovering that I was not built for a good extempore speaker. 

In my judgment, the best native-born spell-binder we had in Asheboro in 
my day was Wiley Rush, son of Zebedee F. Rush. Cicero Hamm.er was good 
at hammering juries in a big blustering way, seldom grammatical, showing 
always a dominant personality. He was equally well known as Editor of the 
Courier and Democratic County Chairman; and later was to become known 
as Solicitor and Congressman. As Solicitor he originated for the Supreme Court 
of the United States one of the most famous cases in the legal textbooks: the 
case of Hammer against Dagenhart. Both John T. Brittain and O. L. Sapp were 
good before juries, good in picking juries, good in knowing hov/ to appeal to 
a jury's ways of thinking. But it is unfair to start really calling any roll of 
our local bar. It seems more to the point to recall just here one of the pictur- 
esque figures at the Randolph bar, or I guess really at any bar anywhere around, 
Col. James T. Morehead, of Greensboro. With his fine physical figure, his 
white hair and goatee, his alpaca coat hanging loose, he was my first and 
abiding picture of an old Southern Colonel. Always ready and warm to the 
point, booming and bustling in manner, suave before the judge, naturally loud 
of voice, no one had so much Court presence and style as he carried. Dignified 
and with an echo of older days, he naturally helped to form my idea of what 
a public speaker in the tout ensemble should be. But I doubt if he had the 
native gift of speech that Wiley Rush had. 

We had other able lawyers in Asheboro and from away who simply made 
no particular impression upon me as orators or debaters. I once said to Colonel 
William Penn Wood that my father was no public speaker. He turned to me 
chidingly, as if I had been an irreverent son, and said: "Your father is a strong 
speaker." I suppose some of the others were that too. G. Sam Bradshaw kept 
his light underbushel by being Clerk of the Court for a long time. I under- 
stand that he Vnade a reputation after leaving Asheboro. There were other 
fading and coming lawyers of Randolph's own. 

There is one likeable figure of a man, a genial figure, without whom Ran- 
dolph Court would not have been what it was for a long time. That is Benjamin 
F. Long, of Statesville, long Solicitor of the District, afterwards Judge, and a 
familiar face in Asheboro. His brother Jake, reported to have been state head 

13 



of the Ku Klux in Reconstruction Days, appeared once in Randolph Court and 
was an object of special interest on that account. Of him I got no significant 
impression. 

Several other prominent Greensboro lawyers put in a day or two pretty 
regularly with us; Barringer, Major Scott, James E. Boyd, Caldwell. Captain 
Frank Robbins, of Lexington I believe, was frequently to be seen. From Concord, 
came Col. Paul B. Means, whose son Gaston became a sort of famous national 
figure when the Lindberghs were hoping to get back their stolen baby. From 
Carthage came the first Spence we ever knew. These are simply those of a 
particular generation, the one before the last I suppose, whom I well remember. 

I have mentioned that the courthouse served many other public purposes be- 
sides being a place to hold Court. I remember Governor Aycock and James 
T. Pou speaking from its front steps. Those Teachers Institutes of the turn 
of the century brought such men as Alderman, James Y. Joyner, Charles D. 
Mclver, to hold sessions within its interior. I attended some of those Institutes. 

One of the most famous lavi^'ers of the state, Cyrus B. Watson, of Charlotte, 
appeared in Asheboro just once, in connection with a case which you will easily 
see had special interest for me. Governor Jonathan Worth was probably the 
most famous man who ever lived in Asheboro. But his brother, Dr. John 
Milton Worth, had considerable position as well. He was one of the contractors 
for the Plank Road, having built the section of it which ran through Asheboro. 
My father drew up his Last Will and Testament for him, and as an old friend 
and associate in politics, had to consent to the Doctor's determined demand 
that he sign it as a vWtness. In doing that, M. S. Robins made an exception 
to one of his firmest rules as a practitioner of the Law. After Dr. Worth's 
death, young Robert Bingham, then of Asheville, later editor of the Louisville 
Courier Journal and Ambassador to Great Brittain, who was a grandson of Dr. 
Worth, contested the Will. Allegations were made of undue influence on the 
part of Mrs. McAlister, daughter in the home, and wife of Col. A. C. McAlister. 
Robert Bingham came to Asheboro in the gray uniform of the Bingham School 
of Asheville, which School was owned by his father Robert Bingham, Sr., and 
in which he himself was a teacher. He was then a handsome figure of a 
young man and focused my eyes as he v.-alked up and down the street. 

The competence of the old Doctor to make an unprejudiced Will under his 
circumstances was brought in question. The old man had been quite out of 
circulation for a considerable time. I myself recall seeing him only on my 
way to school, when he would sometimes be sitting in a wheel chair on the 
porch at his own end of the McAlister house. The chief or head Bingham 
lawyer was Cyrus B. Watson of Charlotte. In cross-examining M. S. Robins 
as a witness to the Will, Watson was under the necessity of making as little 
as possible of the Robins testimony, which had given Dr. Worth a clean bill 
of mental health. In one way or another he insinuated that M.S.R. was growing 
old himself and probably losing some of the keenness of his own mind. In 
very truth my father was up against one of those situations which cause most 
lawyers probably to have an iron-clad rule against signing a Will they have drawn 

14 



themselves, as a witness. Perhaps Watson might have used that very fact as 
proof of a brother lawyer's having lost some of his grip. In any case, some of 
Cy Watson's cross-examination was pretty hard for a fellow lawyer and old 
acquaintance to take. I am not telling this in defensa of my father, who may 
indeed have been something of a prejudiced witness for his old associate and 
friend. As we grow older v/e probably conclude that there are not as many per- 
fect unprejudiced witnesses to anything as we once supposed. Happily, the 
case was all at once settled out of court, the parties to it falling metaphorically 
upon one another's necks and agreeing to let the Will stand. I do not know that 
there was no material concession or compromise made to bring settlement about. 

Somehow, from early years, and in spite of the winter session of Court 
being usually in school-time, I managed to spend a whole lot of time in that 
old Courtroom. Much of the time, I sat alongside my father, who I know rather 
hoped to make a lawyer of me as well as of my brother Henry, but never said 
anything about that. Most of his business in later years was Civil Cases, and 
it was the Criminal ones that interested me far the most. He did not attend 
Criminal court half the time, being busy with other matters at his office. But 
somehow the other lawyers got used to seeing me inside the bar-rail, where I 
could hear many of the side-whispers, could note every detail of facial expression 
from lawyer, client or witness — even the nervousness of hands. My legal 
education was well advanced before it caught cold, or possibly caught a virus 
of philosophy, and died. 

I well remember the case of Jule Cranford, a deputy sheriff on trial for 
murder. He had shot and killed a Negi'o man he was trying to arrest in the 
Negro's own home. The widow alleged it vifas a killing with no excuse of even 
a gesture on her husband's part. Cranford went on the stand for himself and 
swore that the man was reaching for his gun, which hung against the wall. 
The all-white jury found the defendant not guilty. I could read the expression 
on the face of the Negro woman. It seemed to be saying: "What a fool I was 
to bring this case into Court! I should have known better." When the jury 
was dismissed, I remember as if of yesterday how Jule Cranford stood behind 
his lawyers at the aisle-end of the defendant's box and, with tears running 
down his face, shook hands with and thanked every juror as he passed by. At 
that moment he did not look to me like any malicious culprit. Of course it is 
possible, that like many of us under faintly similar circumstances, the thought 
did weigh on his mind that he just might have been a little bit hasty in his 
reaction with his pistol, under the excitement of the moment. But when shall 
we learn that passing events can be seen differently and interpreted differently 
by different parties, not all at the same angle of vision anyhow? Our prejudices 
come into both what we see and what we remember. So psychology teaches 
now. There was something Jule Cranford did not quite like living with in 
Randolph, so he sold out and went West somewhere. 

I heard a good many divorce cases such as boys of my age were not sup- 
posed to hear. If M. S. Robins had been in the bar, I think he would likely 
have sent me home sometimes. There were other cases too which brought you 

15 



into touch with unfavored reaches of lower parts of the vocabulary. One boy 
in a Randolph village had hit another with a baseball bat. The defendant 
pleaded Guilty, with a request to be heard before penalty was assessed. His 
defense or plea to the judge was that the chief accusing witness, the smitten 
boy, had called him a certain name. Judge Wm. S. O'Brien Robinson, of 
Goldsboro, was on the Bench. He wheeled around in his chair until he faced 
the state's witness: "Did you call him that?" "Yes, Sir," responded the boy, 
rather sheepishly. "Judgment suspended on payment of the cost," thundered 
the judge. "Human nature can't stand that. If he had killed you, I (jould have 
said the same thing if the Law allowed me." Colonel Morehead, defendant's 
attorney, jumped to his feet with a beaming smile, and said, "I knew your Honor 
would say that." The State Solicitor, looked as if the name-calling was a new 
point to him, and the boy's parents surely looked taken aback. 



16 







(Picture courtesy of Historical Society) 
The old Courthouse which stood at the intersection of Main and Salisbury 



17 



Echoes Of Randolph Court 



Murder cases were very scarce in Randolph Court in tlie days I recall. But 
there came along one from the lower part of the county which I attended the 
trying of for long hours at least. The victim was one Romulus Owens. His widow, 
Elizabeth, an uncle of hers, and I believe a younger woman and a younger 
man, were indicted for conspirational murder. The alleged conspirators, along 
with the victim, constituted a single household. The case rested entirely on 
circumstantial evidence, a good deal of it medical. One of the doctors who 
bore testimony was Dr. Sara Henley, Asheboro's only medicine man over many 
years. I forget nov;' whether he testified for the prosecution or the defense. 
One line of testimony said that there were marks around the defendant's neck, 
appearing to be the marks left by a rope biting into the flesh, and consistent 
with marks which would have been made by the family well-rope. The other 
line of medical testimony was much more dubious and vague about the reading 
of those mai-ks on the neck. The case had occasioned great stirrings in the 
community, and in fact had extended them as far as Asheboro. The parties 
were unpopular where they lived and there was rather hea\'y prejudice against 
them which had extended widely. Col. Jim Morehead and my father defended 
and I believe J. T. Brittain assisted the Solicitor. I am sure Brittain was in- 
volved in the case and likely Sapp with him. In seeking a jury, the defense 
issued one peremptory challenge after another, having plenty of them, since 
there were at least four defendants being tried at once, each one having around 
twenty peremptories at his or her disposal. The defense lawyers seemed for 
one thing to prefer jurors who lived in parts of the county remote from parties 
charged wdth the crime. The Owens group were finally found Not Guilty, 
which of course meant that the jurors felt the case had not been proved be- 
yond a reasonable doubt. I have nothing more to say about that of course. 

But it was certainly a case to teach a boy something. I had long wondered 
how it was possible for lawyers on opposite sides of this case or that to be, 
or to appear, so firmly convinced that they had the right of it on their side. 
How could they get so warm without being dead sure they were right. The 
Owens case brought that great psychological question to a head for one boy. 
I asked my father out of Court how he could possibly be so sure his clients 
were not guilty when everybody down where they came from, and nearly 
everyone in Asheboro, was so sure that they were guilty. The question may 
have bothered him a little, especially when I quoted to him what this or that 
man of his acquaintance was saying; but after a minute he gave me a talk on 
how waves of prejudice could get started about people who were disliked for 
any reason, and how these waves could spread until they engulfed a whole 
case with most unfair pressures. 

It must have been about that time that he told me he had never taken but 
one client in a criminal case where he was not convinced of having the correct 
side. That was the case of an old Negro, on trial for arson, in the burning of 

18 



a tobacco barn. The old Negro had confessed guilt to him, had pleaded deep 
provocation, and professed contrition. As the law then stood, he could, if 
found guilty, have been hanged. My father said that, because of feeling that 
the penalty was too severe, he had taken the case and won the old man his 
freedom. 

There was a famous killing down in the upper edge of Montgomery County, 
about which no legal question was ever raised in Court, but which yet in later 
years had a most interesting echo in Randolph Court. And I was on the scenes 
both when all Asheboro was galvanized and gripped in sorrow over the killing, 
and again in Asheboro Court when the echo came up. When "Bije" Moffitt 
left off being sheriff of Randolph, he presently turned into a revenue officer. 
Trying to arrest a blockade distiller down in Montgomery, he was shot and 
killed by the man, who was unquestionably resisting arrest. Before the smoke 
cleared the distiller went down too, Moffitt having got off a shot, or one of 
his two deputies. His deputies were Tom Hoover and Lee Freeman. Up from 
Montgomery a-straddle of a bare-back horse, came Lee Freeman; Tom Hoover 
having been left on the spot to guard the two bodies until help should arrive. 
It was a blockading community down there, with great hostility to the revenue 
laws; and nobody knew what might happen. I did not see Freeman arrive, 
but by reports he came in something of a lather. And soon all Asheboro was 
agog, and more than that. For Sheriff Moffitt was one of the most liked men 
in the county. I did see the rescue party take off down the road. They had 
been in too much of a hurry to get a wagon with a bed in it. In nothing but 
the running-works of a two-horss wagon they started from the corner where 
stood the Wood and Moring store on Fayettevilie, where now stands the First 
National Bank. I don't recall who the driver v^as, but I do recall that Webb 
Freeman, Lee's brother, and my uncle. Will Moring, were of the party. Un- 
doubtedly Lee went along to help them find the place. There v/as so much 
excitement, so much talk of a war-like atmosphere down at the scene of the 
killing, that I was not sure hov/ many of them v/ould get back. But in due 
time we heard that they were back with the Sheriff's body. 

Some years after in the old county courthouse, Tom Hoover was a character 
witness for somebody. The opposite side was trying to discredit him as a 
witness. Counsel began cross-questioning Tom Hoover about his part in that 
Montgomery killing of the distiller. Counsel may have been going on to ask 
which dropped first, Moffitt or the other man; also about the split-timing of 
the second shot, and about who fired it. There had been a lot of speculation 
on those questions, wondering about those questions in cold blood instead of 
under the e.xcitement of the occasion. Further questioning on the case in 
Randolph Court did not appeal to the Solicitor, who at this time was Wiley 
Rush. As Attorney for the State, he rose from his seat, addressed the judge, 
and said: "Your Honour, the present line of cross-questioning of this witness 
seems to threaten the opening up of a matter of history upon which by uni- 
versal consent the mantle of silence has been allowed to fall, and I suggest 

19 



that it is not in the public interest that it proceed further." There followed a 
brief conference of bench and bar, at the bench; and Tom Hoover was dis- 
missed from the stand. In later life he freely told personal friends that he 
had fired the shot. (Dr. Oliie Presnell told me that.) 



20 



J. Addison Blair, and Son Colbert 

I Mr. Blair was known to the other lawyers and some contemporaries as "Ad" 
'Blair. His home-place occupied the whole east end of courthouse square South 
of the Salisbury-Franklinville road, although after his death the family re- 
moved to a house built by O. L. Sapp, on Worth Street between where Frank 
"McCrary nov/ lives and the P. H. Morris house on the corner of Cox St. His 
law office was in a corner of the yard, a two-room rectangle looking North. 

I Of course he was a conspicious figure around the square. He v/as a smallish 
man rather than big. He was slov/-moving, deliberate and sedate in manner, 
quiet-spoken and somewhat hesitant in speech. He wore a smile, at least for 
young people; and he welcomed boys into his office almost any time and liked 
to talk to them. He was "apt to teach," appeared giad to stop what he was 
doing and to explain things to you. He seemed to me an old man when first 

I I knevv? him, but that must have been an illusion unless he married late in life, 
like my father. He had six children, two of them younger than I. He wore 
whiskers but no mustache, which reminds me of the fact that, at the time, 
nearly all the older men of town did v.'ear whiskers. How fashions do change! 
Now it is the very young men that wear the whiskers, v/hile older men are 
pretty unanimously clean-shaven. It might be that the old people once used 
whiskers to suggest their wisdom, whereas the young now use them to prove 
their virility and maturity. 

Mr. Blair had cultivated certain wider interests that no one else in Asheboro 
shared or manifested so plainly. He was interested in natural history, and on 
the wall of his law office hung the first saw-fish sav/ I ever beheld. There 
were other tokens of far reaches of sea and land. He had a few Indian relics 
in a glass case. The fact that he became our first county historian and pub- 
lished his pamphlet on county history at his own expense and risk, proves that 
he pored over the town records with lively interest and also treasured the tales 
of Martha Bell, Andrew Hunter at Faith Rock, Naomi Wise, and others. 

In many ways he exemplified the faith, the spirit, and the inheritances of 

the Quaker or Friends movement, to which he belonged. Looking back from 

here, it surprises me to have no impression of his ever having attended, or sent 

' his family, to either of the two churches in town, Presbyterian or Methodist 

(Episcopal. They all must have attended public worship from time to time, for 

some of the family were musical; and, besides, most of the public entertainment 

we ever got was at the churches ■ — with a little at the courthouse. I imagine 

' that the Blairs had Quaker Meeting often or regularly in their own home, 

maybe with one or two other people I never spotted as Quakers, and frequently 

with guests. 

He was the only man in Asheboro who seemed to feel any responsibility 
for visiting the school. He did that about once a year, and, unless he brought 
somebody else along with him, always responded to an invitation to address 
the student body. I remember one traveling Quaker elder who became a 
familiar face at school, and who had been introduced at first by Mr. Blair. His 

I 21 



themes were like Mr. Blair's, but he introduced a sort of vividness, and one 
of his talks that I remember v/ell will do as a sample for him and Mr. Blair 
also; and v/ill also suggest to you that even people who loudly object to re- 
ligion's being brought into the schools might not find fault with such talks as 
this. They might not recognize the talk as a kind of religious preaching. This 
Quaker had a way of holding up some object in his hand, to attract the wonder- 
ing gaze of restless boys like myself: a lead pencil, a piece of chalk, a rubber 
band. Once it was a postage stamp, which he said was like a boy, because 
"you had to lick it before it would stick." This particular time, he held a hand- 
ful of pumpkin seeds, v/hich he dri'obled from one hand into the other a time 
or two. The talk was about a boy who was sent out with a hoe to put some 
pumpkin seed into the corn-hills which had been planted, that is dropped and 
"covered," the day before. The boy did all right for a while, but as the sun 
began to get hotter and hotter, he began to feel lazier and lazier. After a while 
he sat down in the shade of a tree near the end of a tow and began to dream 
of going fishing and things like that. Presently he laid his head down on his 
elbow, and next thing you know he was fast asleep. When he woke up the 
day was far gone. He realized with a start that he v/as in to "catch it" from his 
father. He had fallen before temptation. There was only one thing to do. He 
planted a few more hills and then hid the remaining seeds under a rock he 
had turned over, and started for the house. But, woe to him! there was a big 
blue jay who followed him along the path, jumping from one tree-top to an- 
other. And the bird kept screaming into the boy's ears: '"You hid those 
pumpkin seeds under the rock! You did! You know you did!" The speaker of 
course gave a very lively and m.usical rendering of the blue jay's call. Of 
course it was the boy's own conscience talking. Well, all of this elder's school 
talks, and of Mr. Blair's too, v/ere sort of like that; and, as I said, it might be 
that you could get away with that kind of preaching in school today without 
anybody recognizing it for what it is. In fact it was a Quaker sermon, and 
contained the most characteristic of Quaker doctrines, that of the Inner Light. 
Mr. Blair was a Republican, somehow or other the only Republican law- 
yer in Asheboro although Randolph County went Republican as often as the 
other way. The county-seat itself was strongly Democratic, I know not why. 
It is funny now to recall the way our whole communication with and regard for 
the Blair family v.'ould approach, or descend to, a kind of nadir or lowest 
point, as election time came along. Then to most of us childi'en, and to most 
adults too I think, the Eiairs would suddenly become "Black Republicans." The 
"black" was a hold-over from Reconstruction days, when many respected white 
people had lost their votes by remaining unreconstructed, and the Negroes 
were running the legislature with the help of a handful of carpetbaggers from 
Ohio and such places. In the late 1890s, the Negro question had as much to do 
with making the Eeraocratic party as Thomas Jefferson ever did, and it con- 
tinued to dominate our politics until a Constitutional Amendment with a cer- 
tain famous Grandfather Clause, settled "the Negro Question" for the time 
being. Of course that was all a long time before the Negroes began to show 

22 



their interest in Civil Rights by voting Democratic, and before many whites 
began tallying and voting Republican without ever guessing that things may 
have gone topsy-turvy, so that they actually were Republicans without having 
found it out. Well, back in the late 1830s we began at election-time to look 
down our noses at the Blairs and a few others in our midst until the fight v/as 
all over. Then we liked the Blairs and appreciated their fine qualities as much 
as ever. 

Mr. Blair was one of the founders of the first and only Republican paper 
in the county that I ever heard of. The Randolph Argus, whose red-brick home 
was built near the beginning of a new century on the lot where it still stands 
now. He was the first editor. Ills son Colbert ran the printing office connected 
with it; and as time went on and Mr. Blair became somewhat disabled, Colbert 
took over the news-gathering, much of the typesetting, the writing and the 
editing, the printing and mailing, of the paper. He had some help from his 
younger brother. Garland, who went through Guilford College however while 
Colbert kept his nose to the grindstone, except, I believe, for one year at 
Guilford. The newspaper institution has itself finished the education of a good 
many printers. It became Colbei't's life, whereas his younger brother went 
traveling and presently lost his life in a road accident somewhere out west. 

I learned to set type in the Argus office, alongside Colbert; although on the 
whole I came to have more associations with the Courier. He must have been 
somewhere from three to five years older than I, but in retrospect he was 
the best just plain friend I had among all the boys of Asheboro. The word 
"plain" means I am excluding relatives. I had tv/o brothers after a while, and 
a lot of cousins among the Morings, the Coffins and others. But Colbert and 
I must have had some similarity of tastes and interests. Away back in very 
early years he and I each had a drawer full of personal belongings, properties 
and curios, some of them a bit too heavy to go around even in a boy's bulging 
pants-pockets. I remember more than once taking my drawer down to the Blairs, 
where Colbert and I got up into their hay-loft, and proceeded to swap and 
trade, giving boot very likely, until a very large share of our two property- 
holdings changed hands. Like some other people, both of us had collections 
of tags from plug tobacco. You hunted industriously on streets and in front 
of the stores for those things. We roamed the branch and fields together oc- 
casionally. We even talked about subjects more and more. You could not possibly 
quarrel with Colbert about anything. His personality, even in those days, re- 
minded me of a big St. Bernard dog. Perhaps that comparison v.'ill help the 
reader to understand how he could associate as much as he long did with a boy 
so much younger as I. Up to college age, when I lost sight of him and he 
left town, he was as close a friend as I had in Asheboro, and I learned a lot 
from and got a lot out of him. We even got so we could talk politics a little, 
and he shook some of my easy assumptions or prejudices. Colbert went West 
by stages, a traveling printer. Eventually he ran a printing office, and very 
likely a small newspaper alongside, somewhere in Oregon. Around forty years 
ago I got his address from one of the family and exchanged a few letters with 

23 



him. He was then a widower with one daughter. Retired, he was seemingly 
spending a good deal of his time on the front porch. I suspect his newspaper 
life had been too sedentary. In the last letter I had from him there was a 
certain nostalgic aroma I shall never forget. There were not avenues enough 
open in the days of our starting out. Neither Colbert nor I was ever just a square 
peg in a round hole. Both of us were odd pegs in odd-shaped holes. I judge I was 
the luckier of the two. But the age of electricity has brought so much choice 
and widened opportunity for everybody, and only a little less perhaps for 
the children of these "ghettoes" we hear about. For a long time after the Civil 
War, a lot of Southern boys grew up in a kind of ghetto. There were too 
few opportunities to get inspired by near examples of things to do. There 
were too few amusements even, too few contacts that challenged minds. I my- 
self have seen brilliantly what just a little industrial development and a few 
more beckoning or suggestions of things society needed done, could do for 
the backwoods people of my native Randolph and all the South. All that many of 
us needed was a chance at life. I say, let Black Power contemplate this very wide 
fact besides seeing its own certainly harsh difficulties! In Colbert Blair's last 
letter he wrote me two very suggestive lines about how he found it and didn't 
find it. He wrote, "I tell you Sidney, it is better to wear out than it is to rust 
out." 



24 



William E. Mead 

I 

j It was either in 1882 or 1883, as he himself told me, that a young man of 

I twenty or thereabouts came to Asheboro from Brooklyn, N. Y., who made a 
considerable impression or mark on the town, and of whom I have thought 
as one candidate for the post of "the most unforgettable character" of the 

: place. That is of course, if the town v/ants to claim him. His name was William 

i Ernest Mead. 

It was not too long after the Civil War that he came, and the first blank point 

' to make about him is that he came as a sort of Quaker missionary. I do not know 
how he got the appointment as principal or superintendent of the Colored schools 
of the town, but that v/as his job when I first remember him. One sus- 



pects that the leading Quaker of the tov/n, none other than our county his- i" 



torian, J. Addison Blair, Attorney, had a leading part in it. He boarded with 
the Blairs for a v/hile, and I am sure it was through the Blair family that he 
made some of his first contacts with the white people of the village. 

But there was another Brooklyn family already in our midst which helped 
him a lot in getting gradually accepted by the town as a whole. That was the 
. family of Frederick D Thorns. Mr. Thorns himself came from England with a 
' Scotch wife and settled first in Brooklyn or Manhattan. After a while he left 
1 the big metropolis to come to Asheboro, where he was interested in some Ran- 
dolph gold mines or gold prospects. Almost needless to say, he made no money 
out of those interests although they were long continued. Probably the Hoovers 
of Hoover Hill are the only people who ever made any money in Randolph 
gold mines to speak of, and their mine petered out. But after a while, two of 
the Thorns daughters married into well-known old Asheboro families. Agnes 
Thorns married John W. Bulla, son of Bolivar Bulla, long time County Clerk; 
I and Mary Thorns married William H. Moring, Jr. That was the Republican and 
1 the Democratic sides of it; and not being caught on the horns of that political 
dilemma in his connections must have been a great help to young William 
Mead, who was soon at home in or with both of those families and their con- 
nections. All the children of those two connections at least, and I suppose a 
: good many others, came to call him "Uncle" Mead. It may be remarked that 
there were some prominent families in the town who never did quite accept him 
or approve of what had brought him there. 

He sometimes played the organ or piano in the Presbyterian Church, one 
of the two White churches in town (the Colored people had more varieties.) 
But something which must have helped him most of all after awhile was that 
he became a sort of medical missionary among the White people. He sat up 
with the sick all over town, and assisted and shov/ed sympathy where there 
were deaths in the family. Particularly was this the case where there were 
young people sick and dying. It seems to me as if we had an awful lot of those 
situations in those days, though it may have been because I was young and 
meeting some of those facts for the first time and in a small town where 

25 



ij 



everybody knew everybody else. Particularly was Mr. Mead likely to become 
interested and involved if there was a boy of the right age in the family. He 
idealized boys after the fashion of mothers. We certainly had a lot of typhoid 
fever epidemics in town in those days. Knowledge that the chief germ-culprit 
was likely to be either milk -or water-supply v/as slow getting around. I re- 
member one boy slightly older than I who was down for a long time with 
typhoid, with Uncle Mead reported sitting up at that house, and who finally 
died of it. And I well remember how I shocked Uncle Mead one day long 
after he had left Asheboro by casual mention of this particular boy's having 
had the bad habit of throwing rocks (we never called them stones) at smaller 
boys passing by on their way to Sunday School. He gasped, and couldn't 
believe it. 

But that was not the extent of his interest in boys. He organized a glee 
club among them. In the latter days of his life when I was visiting him in 
Brooklyn, he gave me some photographs to take back to Asheboro, one of them 
being a picture he had taken (he was a camera fiend and an early one) of 
that glee club. I think I turned that particular photo over to Eugene Morris, 
who appeai-ed in the group with a banjo. Before my childhood was far ad- 
vanced enough to register such matters, he had adopted two white children, 
brother and sister, the first a little older than I. Then at the mother's im- 
portunity he adopted the daughter also, because she wanted to marry and the 
husband-to-be did not want the girl around. Both of those children were away 
a good deal of the time, perhaps with him during school-vacations at first. 
But they were back at his home in Asheboro some of the time for several 
years, and I played now and then with the boy at Uncle Mead's home or on 
the street. At that time they lived in the old Benjamin Elliott house, behind 
the Presbyterian Church and fronting on Fayetteville. Also I saw the girl with 
my cousins in the Moring home. It may have been about the time of the 
adoptive father leaving Asheboro for good that these two children finally 
disappeared, first to school in the distance, and then after a while the boy 
into business and the girl into a distant marriage. But it seems as if it should 
have been before leaving Asheboro that Father Mead informally adopted two 
or three other Asheboro boys, who went to Brooklyn with liim to go to school 
for a while and then returned to their families. I remember being momentarily 
a bit jealous of Herbert Slack and Ernest Redding, thinking how nice it would 
be to have a whet of big city life. You see New York was then further from 
us backwoods people than Timbucktoo is now. You also see that Uncle Mead 
loved boys — loved to help them along and to have their company meanwhile. 
The first scene in which I have clear recollection of him belongs to the time 
after he had come to live in the Elliott house. It was at a Christmas party 
he threw for children of around my age. There was a good-sized Christmas 
tree in a North window of a big front room, and of course there were the 
usual mysteries and songs. No doubt he himself acted Santa, for he always 
loved opportunities to do that; but of course my not advanced age did not 
detect him at it. He was ever a grand master of ceremonies. When he put his 

26 



head under that black hood which shrouded his camera (no modem Kodak for 
him or in the times I am talking about) he could order people around like a 
photographer you know; and could bustle and enjoy himself at it. 

I think it must have been during his earlier years in Asheboro that he 
married. He told me all about it one day in later life, but I have forgotten 
the details, except that he married a woman when she was literally, not figur- 
atively, on her death bed, with himself standing at the foot of that bed and 
only a handful of people present. I find I am not absolutely sure it was in 
Asheboro, though equally surely I have always assumed that it Vvfas. Everything 
fits in, that way, except that I do not happen to remember anybody else in 
Asheboro referring to her or to that marriage in any particular way. I think 
it was generally knov/n about in a way. I do not knov/ what the wife's family 
name was. He always spoke of her by her given name or short name. And 
there is one other thing I remember about his being a sort of benedict. People 
often teased him about not taking some girl or other off the waiting line. I 
have heard him say, it seems as if more than once: "One perfect woman is 
enough." He said it with enough unction too, as if he meant it. 

It must have been several years after that Christmas party that I recall him 
as master of ceremonies at a Colored schools Commencement in the Court room 
of the old courthouse of an evening. I recall that the white people of the 
town had been invited, even urged or asked, to be present. Again he was 
quite in evidence as master of ceremonies at large, with capable Negro teachers 
managing their classes or prompting their pupils. It was a gala occasion, nothing 
left out except these gowns for graduates of lower schools that we see nowdays. 

It is time to mention that the Colored schools, or the Negro people of 
Asheboro, outgi-ew Uncle Mead or his kind of leadership. That seems to have 
happened about the same time that the white people began to pretty fully 
accept him. But the thing is natural enough anyhow. I suppose that as our 
Negro people began to rise, they began to want to do their own flying. They 
began to want to have teachers and officers of their ov/n race. Whether Uncle 
Mead's wonderfully suave bossiness or his type of ceremonial managership 
began to feel like a restraining and repressing dictatorship, I do not know. 
But it very well might have done so, with the highest of motives on both sides. 
They probably wanted more freedom to be themselves. He probably wanted 
to teach manners for them as he did for everyone else. In fact, he was a nice 
man, in some respects at least somewhat feminine in his ideas of table-manners 
or any other kind of protocol. He eventually resented a little their graduation 
in sentiment from his leadership, and that was natural too. They came to seem 
to him not appreciative enough of that sort of missionary work to which he 
had given his life. I wonder if all missionaries do not come to share this 
feeling of his in proportion as they have been successful. If we succeed at all, we 
make self-starters and democrats out of our pupils. 

At any rate William E. Mead left Asheboro, having I suspect, more warm 
friends in the town, white and black, than anybody else in the town. For one 
thing, there were no class restrictions at all in his friendships and affections, 

27 



no color boundaries, no politics, no religious sectarianism. To everyone he 
shone as a human being. 

He lived again in Brooklyn for a while. When I was fourteen years old they 
took me out of school and let me go alone by train to Clinton, Massachusetts, 
where there was an uncle by marriage (Blanche McGlohon's father) who was 
overseer in the Lancaster cotton mills. I say I went alone by rail. The fact is 
that it had been carefully arranged for Uncle Mead to meet me in Jersey City 
and break the joint of the trip. Ke did that for me as he did for ever so many 
Asheboro greenhorns in those days. He showed me the city by trolley. He 
kept me in his home overnight. He put m.e ne.xt afternoon late on the Fall 
River boat. I managed to get lost later at Framingham junction in Massachusetts, 
and arrived by a later train than expected; but that was none of his fault. 
Later in the winter, when I was working in the Lancaster Mills, he came to 
Clinton himself and flaxed around a lot vrith that busy camera of his, from 
which I have faded photos. More than that, he took me on a trip to Boston, 
where we spent a couple of nights alongside a big brewery in Roxbury, with 
the owner's family, of which two boys had been in his schoolroom somewhere. 
Under his wing, I roamed the Harvard Yard, little thinking that six years 
later I would be there for a spot under my own steam power. The following 
summer, on the way home to Asheboro, I stopped overnight again with him 
in Brooklyn. All Asheboro counted on him in such ways. 

Not too long after that, he was teaching in an F.F.V. school somewhere in 
Virginia. I suspect that it was in Richmond and that I was attending a Virginia- 
Carolina football game there, with the Chapel Hill rooters, I saw him again 
on his school campus, slept with him in the same big bed, as people more 
often did in those days. As said above, he had reacted a bit against aspects 
of his early Asheboro efforts; and he cautioned me not to let out that he had 
once been a teacher in Negro schools, saying that it would be his finish in the 
place where he was. One can think of that as a purely defensive measure. He 
did not so much need boys in his home in that period of his life, having all 
the school contacts. 

The next time I saw him, for present memory, was after my Harvard days 
and when I was a poor clergyman in Kingston, Massachusetts. My mother 
and cousin Agnes Moring, later Porter, had been visiting me. On their return 
home, I came with them as far as New York, where all three of us spent a 
night at the Mead Brooklyn home. He then had no boys but had a beloved aunt 
in his home and was supporting a step-mother who had never been appreciative 
of him but for whom he felt a responsibility. He was giving music lessons 
right and left to support the three of them. He told me once that he had in- 
herited $20,000, quite a sum for the 1880s, but had spent it all in his missionary 
days and on his proteges. 

Still longer years elasped before I saw him again and had the closest en- 
counters with him ever, and came to know him more and better. The other day 
only there turned up a letter of his to my Aunt, Mrs. W. H. Moring, Jr. telling 
of his visit to this old farm in Conway, New Hampshire, where I am now sit- 

28 






1 ting down to wi-ite about him. He had formed the habit of bringing his "Auntie" 
to the little town of Swanzey, N. H., the home of Denman Thompson, famous 
actor in the play, Way Down East. I drove down to Swanzey and brought him 
and three boys he had in tow across the state and up to this place, where they 
spent a few days, the boys camping out in a tent over against our near woods. 
One of the boys was a Jewish boy who was on a visit to him from Ohio for 
the summer. The other two, younger, were Polish boys whom he had adopted 
on the plea of a distracted mother v/ho knew that she was definitely headed 
for an insane institution. They were well-mannered, appreciative, boys. They 
all fitted in happily with all my family. After they had left my boys began and 
long continued to intone a certain adage or saying after those Brooklynites: 
"The oily bold gets the woim." 

I After that, came removal of my family to Ann Arbor, Mich., for ten years, 
'and some more years at Canton, N. Y. (I was a teacher now) before I saw 
Uncle Mead on at least two trips to Nev/ York and Brooklyn. 

The first of those occasions he was living in a fairly good house on a fairly 
nice street, supporting himself and his two sons by music lessons. Also he was 
teaching them their Roman Catholic catechism, preparatory to the rite of Con- 
firmation. I suppose he had been forced to promise to do that in order to get 
permission to adopt them. But he did it with perfect grace and v/illingness. No 
sectarian he! He himself had by this time formally changed his allegiance 
from Quakerism to the Episcopal Church, partly, as he freely said, in order 
to make himself eligible for a nearby Episcopal Home when he could no longer 
' work — for his boys. 

i| The la.st time I ever saw him he was living with his two boys in cramped 
quarters in the back end of a small laundry. He v/as doing the cooking, patch- 
ing, ironing, and much of the washing for those three boys and himself, in 
spite of the fact that he lived in the back-end of a laundry. He continued to 
be a very religious man, in all the practical essentials of that. He would be 
found "laboring in the vineyard" until the Lord took over. I believe he always 
continued to think of Asheboro and Brooklyn as his two homes, and if he had 
inherited more money and had not spent it immediately he might have liked 
to return to Asheboro to end his days. There are more things to tell about 
his Asheboro life which can't be told as yet if ever. So says loyalty to his 
memory and to him But maybe I have told enough to make him a candidate 
for being a most remarkable man. 

1^ Along in 1936 or 1937, I \wote him a letter addressed to that Brooklyn 
laundry. It came back from the dead letter office evidently, with a statement 
that he was not known by people now at that address. 



29 



Three English Captains 

Somewhere in the midst of the 1880s three British "Captains" arrived in 
Asheboro to make it their home. They were dearly associated, and I assume 
rather than know that they came together and were old friends. They were 
"Captains" Winn, Wainman, and Fisher. It was generally supposed that they 
had retired from the British army and had been in some foreign place like 
India. Whether the title of "Captain," so evenly handed out to all three of 
them, was justice or a kind of courtesy, one does not know. 

The most prominent memorial left upon the town by one of them is, I 
suppose, the name of Wainman Avenue. Whether Winn is commemorated 
anywhere at all is more than I know. B. J. Fisher certainly made the biggest 
splash of the three at the time. Apparently he had more money to throw around. 
He not only built the biggest house, but he laid out a sort of park around it, 
with white board fences much in evidence, something of gardens near the house, 
extensive stables and kennels. As for the kennels, he and his friends used bird 
dogs to follow after the plentiful coveys of quail or "partridges" that we had 
around Asheboro. They made extensive use of the services of John Betts, eldest 
son of Uncle Joe Betts, who was a sort of professional guide in that field. As 
for the stables, the main thing I rem.ember is that Captain Fisher had a famous 
stallion named "Champ" that he drove to a two-wheel gig, often appearing down 
the street. He was reported to have driven Champ to Greensboro in two hours 
time. In those days we called Greensboro twenty-eight miles over the road, 
which was rough in places and full of mud-holes. But Captain Fisher wore a 
jockey's cap and loved to split the road. I think it was the Fishers, and pos- 
sibly after the other two Captains had died, who lost a little daughter who 
is buried in the old Methodist cemetery. That is at least their most poignant 
memorial or marker of the present day. I believe Sunset Avenue was first 
called Fisher Avenue; in fact I am sure it was informally called that, just as 
longer before the lane that was there had been called the Gluyas pond road. 

Of course the three arrivals caused a considerable centering of interest and 
gossip, for many of their ways were strange and new to the town. I hold in 
mind one clear picture of Captain Winn, although I am sure I must have seen 
him a good many times. He was coming up Main Street from the direction of 
the old postoffice and was just turning the corner on to Worth Street. He 
walked with a free and wide, limber-legged, stride. He wore knee-boots over 
his pants, with a plain, flaming-red shirt, and there was a pistol tucked into 
his belt. That picture printed itself on the memory of a five or six year old 
boy playing in the thi'oat of the lane which later became an extension of Main 
Street past our house. I recall hearing gossip to the effect that it had seemed 
necessary to hint to the newcomers that it was not felt good form for a man 
to wear pistols on the streets of the village. No doubt British boys of those 
days, even those who did not join the army or get to India, were brought up 
on Buffalo Bill and to read Bret Harte. And having no realistic vista of the 
vastness of the country, no doubt when foreigners landed in New York they 

30 



felt themselves on the edge of the frontier if not of the Wild West. Still 1 
rather thinli it was the quail, the rabbits, and the wild-turkeys that were left, 
which chiefly brought this trio to Asheboro. 

It was not long before there was a moment of great excitement for the town. 
It couldn't have been more than a year or two from the time I got that clear 
picture of Captain Winn before, one morning, the whole town was electrified 
by the news that he had died in a loud fit of delirium tremens. Make no mis- 
take, the name of what he had died by was central in the first resounding 
rumor. I have no idea now whether Captain Winn had been a married man 
or not. 

Captain Wainman I recall as a slightly built man, dressed for the streets in 
a light checked suit or tweed (maybe a Harris tweed), such as I was unfamiliar 
with. I don't think I ever heard his voice. But within a year or two more after 
Winn's death, came again that same resounding report of a man dying in the 
night in a shouting fit of d. t. And that was Wainman. He left a wife and at 
least one little girl. I have no doubt in the v/orld that if older people than I, 
who knew these men better, were VvTiting this page instead of I, they would 
have things more homely and perhaps appealing to say of the two Captains. 
But I didn't know them very well, and you have some idea how a boy is built 
to register and remember some things. 

IMrs. Wainman soon left Asheboro. Her lawyer in the settling of her hus- 
band's estate was Col. Jim Morehead, of Greensboro. She consulted him by 
letter and by visits to his office. In that room of the University Library at 
Chapel Hill, where they kept original documents and letters for future histori- 
ans to know us better by, there is a file of Col. Morehead's papers. There are 
some letters and communications about the Wainman inheritance in the Col- 
onel's file, and in particular there is a black-bordered envelope (he did not 
usually keep the envelopes), with a letter inside written on the same paper 
of mourning, which letter he must have kept for personal interest rather than 
as any record of a legal transaction. It shows some more of the mother's na- 
tural concern about her little daughter, and there is one extraneous reference 
which caught my eye in going over the Morehead file some years ago, for 
another purpose. I am sure Colonel would not have kept anything that would 
conceal personal secrets, or anything else that Mrs. Wainman would object 
to seeing brought out to attention of others. What I was caught by was a mere 
remark to the effect that the name of the person she was talking to him about, 
at his office, "the other day" was Simon, Lord Lovat. 

Now the first Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat (1667 - 1747), of the time when 
Scottish pretenders were trying for the Scottish or British thrones, was ap- 
parently one of the most famous, or infamous, men that ever lived in the 
Highlands of Scotland. Graduate of Aberdeen University, able to quote Horace 
and Vergil in the original, as well as Shakespeare and others, the Encyclopedia 
Brittanica at least gives a very hectic report of the man, with no punches pulled. 
He raped a great lady in her castle, and then, to get her estates, to be sure 
forced a marriage upon her. It is said that he won some portion of the lady's 

31 



consent after a while, to some of this. But from this point in his early life on, 
he was candidate for the place of history's worst turncoat. He betrayed and 
double-timed every man or pai-ty that ever trusted him until, a weak and ill 
old man, he was caught up with finally, and was hanged way down in London. 

The presence of that note, in that mourning letter, in Col. Morehead's pap- 
ers, may suggest to some that the Wainman family had roots in far North 
Inverness-shire and the Fraser country where one Simon, Lord Lovat continued 
to follow another, as head of the tribe. If there had been any close family 
connection, the letter would doubtless have been burned. But it suggests to 
me that Wainman, who, like IVinn, had been what is called a "remittance 
man," very likely came from some "gentle," possibly some "noble" family of 
the old isles. We have no idea whether they were wanted, cared for, back home. 
But it is sort of harsh to reflect that they exiled themselves so completely to 
come to a strange world and beat out their hearts maybe in a nostalgic life that 
ended in a wild night, neither one yet thirty years of age. 

After the death of his two friends, B. J. Fisher took a renewed grip on life. 
I think it must have been before the death of that little Fisher daughter, that 
I recall being allowed to tag along to a Christmas party at the Fisher home, to 
which party my younger brother, Duke, had been the one originally invited. 
There was a tree, and the Captain played Santa. When he was not Santa, I 
heard his wife call him "Jack." 

It is more than likely that three such deaths should have made Asheboro 
look dreary to the Fishers. Anyhow the Captain moved to Greensboro, where 
he went into the real estate business rather extensively for the times. He was 
certainly one of the early workers in that field. There is a great park, Fisher 
Park, named in his honor. The first noise of his operations came when he 
bought one, or was it two, of the town's ancient hotels. More than that, he 
had his old guide-friend, John Betts, come to Greensboro to run a hotel for 
him. That set Asheboro agog. We had not thought of Jolin Betts as a candidate 
for running such an anciently appointed and citified business. I remember 
one day when our whole town was laughing over a report that John Betts was 
serving watermelon for breakfast! Indeed it may be that the joke was on 
Asheboro itself, that time. Most of us had then never heard of orange juice 
for breakfast either. Undoubtedly W. P. Wood, J. E. Walker, and others who 
went for a week every summer to Saratoga or White Sulphur Springs had met 
that Yankee or foreign innovation; but not most of us. Our idea of beginning 
the day was mostly homin/ grits, with gravy or molasses and butter, and occasion- 
^ ally dishes of eggs with ham or bacon. That watermelon for breakfast may have 

reflected a Yankee motion and wave of the future which was to bring in some 
wider ideas of breakfast menu, containing, in particular, fruits. Oh, we may 
have used cantelopes in season. But Asheboro breakfasts, and those other meals 
with too much grease in them, so as to make many of us red-pimpled in the 
face, began to suffer a sea-tum about the time I left Chapel Hill to go North. 
That was in the fall of 1904. When I came back I began to get cereals of all 

32 



kinds, instead of the only occasional oatmeal; and with orange juice, 
later in the day more vegetables not soaked in pork fat. 
I Meantime, Captain Fisher's tale goes to Greensboro. 



— also 




Captain B. J. Fisher's Home as seen from Sunset Avenue 




[Courtesy of Mrs. C. A. Hayworth) 
The Fisher Home after it became the Memorial Hospital 



33 



Uncles, Aunts, and Baldwins 

Most of the established Colored families of Asheboro, or families that had 
been there from before the Civil War at least, excepting the Coxes, had mem- 
bers old enough to be addressed by everybody as "Uncle" or "Aunt." We never 
called them anything else. 

For example, there were the Lytles. Now a Captain Lytle had commanded 
a company in the Revolutionary War, in the 10th regiment of N. C. Continen- 
tals, under Colonel Abraham ^Shepherd. My own great-great-great grandfather 
(twice over) Marmaduke Victory, was in Lytle's company, and I presume it 
was largely a Randolph company. But if the Lytle name was not killed out, 
then it died out so far as white people are concerned. But it had prominent 
Colored people to represent it in Asheboro. They were what was known as 
Free Negroes. That means they had possessed the right to vote before the 
adoption of our 1835 Constitution, which took away that right, and which new 
Constitution was fought, tooth and nail, on that account and because of the 
denial of citizenship to Roman Catholics, by the author of our State hymn, 
The Old North State. I am referring of course to Judge William Gaston. 

The Lytle name was represented in Asheboro by Uncle Jesse and Aunt Maria, 
by Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary, and by Joe, who was of the next generation 
younger and ran a barbershop for whites, when he came back to Asheboro, as 
he did from ventures elsewhere. Uncle Jesse was the Worth McAlister outdoor 
man or steward as long as he lived. He had little to say on the street, but 
walked with a certain dignity and met boys with a sort of quizzical smile. 
With a pretty long beard for a Colored man, he reminded me somehow of some 
Old Testament character or other. Aunt Maria dressed as neat as a pin and 
was strictly high-cut from every standpoint except color. Like most of the 
Colored women who lived on the hill to the East of ours and the McAlister 
meadows, she did washing for a short list of established customers. 

Uncle Bill Lytle was married to her sister, Aunt Mary. Their house is still 
standing on the corner of Cox and Wainman or KLvett Streets. Uncle Bill had 
a barbershop in his home but frequently came around to people's houses, 
bringing his hair-cutting and shaving tools. He sharpened razors too. He 
long cut my hair for fifteen cents, whether on our West-wing porch or in his 
shop. He had some old hand-clippers which pulled like the dickens. 

I think he was skilled at some trade like brick-laying, but he had achieved 
or assumed a certain amount of free-play. He had a garden with fruit trees in 
it. And he was decidedly one of the town's guides and Ninu-ods. Among people 
I knew, either he or John or Rufus Betts, had the best ideas about where to 
find the last of the wild turkeys there were around. In fact, he was an enthusi- 
astic hunter. He was highly respected and liked by everybody. His wife. Aunt 
Mary, yms seamstress for a lot of people. In that capacity as well as others, 
she was often in and around our house, and seemed to be a sort of member 
of the family. She belonged to the class of superior people, black or white; 
and everybody really knew it. 

34 



Leaving the Lytles, there was Uncle John Bell and his wife Aunt Lu. They 
lived on the top of that hill behind us to the East. He was a carpenter by trade, 
if I remember. They had one son whose name I have forgotten, but I recall that 
my mother encouraged me to go over and play with him. She regarded the 
Bells as top-cut from the humanistic point of view. 

There were no Aunts and Uncles among the Coxes, but they ranked high 

iin the Colored community. I think Harry, John and Anne were sibs. I believe 
Harry and John were both bricklayers, and I knew they were both leading arti- $ 

zans. Besides that, over long years, John was the entrepreneur who, come 

: Springtime, brought us our treat of a roeshad from the Cape Fear river. UntU 3 

we got our branch railway in 1889, that shad must have come over the road j,, 

from High Point, and at some risk of loss of freshness and flavor. But I do |J! 

I not remember ever feeling anything to complain about in it. John Cox would ij 

have a box of shad, packed in ice, over at our corner, and we would go and (iJ 

choose. Asheboro still lived on a post-War Spartan diet, and a good roe-shad 'Ii 

I 
practically made a day of celebration. Anne Cox came and did our family wash- i, 

ing, at the wash-house out in the yard. She got bar ovv'n v\atcr at the well-house \ 

fifty feet away, heated it in the big iron pot seated in a white clay arch, and !.|* 

boiled some of the clothes. Over long years she even made her own soap, and i(|; 

: for help on that there was an ash-vat against the back-wall of the wash-house t" 

I which provided the lye. We made our own hulled-corn (hominy) with some of p 

that lye. h 

Uncle Bob Baldwin and wife Aunt Maria lived on that same ridge to the 

' I East. They were pretty old. In fact Uncle Bob told us one evening, when offer- 
ing baskets for sale at our front door, that he was a hundred and thirty-eight 
years old. It seems doubtful that he could have kept a careful record, or known 
actually just how old he really was. He did look more like Uncle Remus than 
anybody I ever saw. But I feel sure he could not read or write. His speech 

. was a bit thick, and on that account and in the light of his claim to longevity, 
it may be that he was an original unwilling immigrant to this country, perhaps 
from the West Indies or some place where they did not speak English too 
clearly. But there is no question about his claim to be 138, for we quizzed him 

: a while on that. 

I I have more than once seen Uncle Bob and Aunt Maria trudging up the lane 
(East Worth Street to you), carrying on head and shoulders, both of them, a 
load of baskets that made them look like human mushrooms. I suppose that 

i is West Indies style. In their case, the material for baskets was in part our 

! plentiful branch-willows. 

I do not know exactly what relation another local celebrity, Atlas Baldwin, 
was to Uncle Bob and Aunt Maria. He was regarded as the strongest man in 
Asheboro. Tall and wide, deep-chested, he had arms and shoulders like a 
gorilla, full grown and big as I suppose they come. His legs were certainly 
not large in proportion, and when they were displayed you could look upon 
him as a bit top-heavy; but the total impression of might and muscle was there. 

35 



We almost always had three hogs to kill, "dress," salt, and bestow in our 
outdoor smokehouse around Christmas time or before January was out. When 
hog-killing time came along, we always sent for Atlas Baldwin to act as master 
of ceremonies. I remember one year in particular, when v/e had three Poland- 
Chinas weighing each from 300 to 325 pounds. When it came to scalding those 
great unopened carcases to get rid of the hair. Atlas offered to bet anybody 
that he could, by himself, souse one of them (it may have been the biggest — 
I do not remember that) into the hogshed of scalding water that had been 
heated at an open fire. Well, the bet was taken, maybe by someone who wanted 
to see Atlas perform. Of course there was danger of his getting scalded. Well, 
I saw that heave. He took the whole slippery hog in a body hold, carried him 
the step or so, got the hog's nose posed on the rim, and then leaned backward 
and pushed out until the burden slid in nose first, as it should. Thinking of 
that, I have often wondered how it happened that Atlas's parents picked such 
a good name for him. 

At those hog-killings Atlas Baldwin always asked for and got some of his 
favorite pieces of pork, which were the lights. And when we boys were roasting 
some bits of tongue at the open fire, I have seen him stick his great hand into 
the middle of the blaze and, holding it there, very slowly turn it over and back 
a time or two; and then without any hurry take it out and ask if you could 
see anything the fire had done to it. The answer was No, of coui'se. He him- 
self claimed the performance was painless and wanted us to accept it as a piece 
of magic. My mother, being told about it, merely opined that by this time Atlas 
Baldwin probably wore a skin as tough and hard as a rhinoceros hide. 

About once a year, my father sent for Atlas to come and clean out our well, 
of which father was very proud. For it furnished plenty of good, clear, "free- 
stone" water, whereas the water yielded by the well at the John Hill house 
next door, was definitely limestone and unpleasant to the taste by comparison. 
Our well was housed in a yard building, which contained a buttery at the far 
end; and towards the kitchen porch consisted of roof and lattice-work sides. Of 
course there was a windlass attached to the roof. The well was supposed to 
be some twenty-five feet deep. For its annual cleaning, what water could be 
got out with buckets and windlass was thrown out on the grass. Then Atlas 
would let himself down the well, with the help of the rope and toe-holds on 
the edges of the rocks which v/ere the well's lining. Then he would fill the 
bucket with mud and slush for a while, sending it up to some assistant at the 
top. Then the rope would be made fast above, and he could come up in reverse 
of the pattern of his descent. I suppose this was the usual m_ethod of cleaning 
wells. But to see that enormous man come budding out of a hole in the ground 
was a wondrous sight the first few times I ever sav/ it anyhow. I guess he 
must have looked over and tested the rope each time, but do not remember 
that part. 

The Baldwins, one family and another of them, v>'ere the biggest Colored 
family native to Asheboro to the best of my knowledge and belief. Uncle Bob 
and Aunt Maria were credited with over thirty children, but somehow these 

36 



were the very first Colored people to begin leaving Asheboro and streaming 
North or West as soon as they began to grow up. It was one of that family that 

j furnished Robert Bingham v/ith a valet when he went to Louisville to live, I be- 
lieve as a lav/yer or something before he got into the newspaper business with 
the Courier-Journal. 

Of course if I went much further in speaking of Colored people who be- 
longed to native Asheboro families, I should surely run into mistakes. I shall 

mention two or three more that I am pretty certain of, and then stop. There ijj 
was old Don Stith, last care-taker of the Ian-yard rroperties on the West side of 

Park Street. He lived on that place by himself for quite a while after the J. 

tanning business vv'as ail over, and to my earliest thoughts he seemed to sort ,, 

of haunt it. Whether he was always around to catch up with any boys who f". 

went hunting bullfrogs, I do not know; but that may have been it. Then there i'[; 

was "Chess" Thrift, "vvho v/as a mighty cook, often sent for to help in putting I 

j on and serving banquets. You often saw him around with v.'hite cap and apron, I 

dressing the part of a chef. For a considerable time he served as major dome i 

for Hal M. Worth. ^, 

Other Colored people I like to recall are Taylor 'Waddell and Martha Jane .'' 

I* 

Waddell (no relation to one another so far as I know), William Heni-y and ,i;' 

Catharine McSwain, Jim Hill, Wesley Brower, Dave Kepler, Lindsay Holmes. i''| 

I will end with a v/ord about Lindsay. He long worked for Cicero Hammer, and k 

at all sorts of jobs. I remember him best as pulling the lever on CounfiT press, h! 

and I rise to say that Lindsay needed no Joel Chandler Harris to help him tell 

stories about Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and other animals. He could tell original C,! 

stories bringing in Brer Rabbit and other such characters by name; and Lind- P 

"I 

say is the man who showed me that those stories which Harris collected down in Q 

Georgia must have come all the way from Africa in part. J 




JESSE LYTLE 



THOMAS CHESTER THRIFT 
(better known as "Chess") 




(Pictures courtesy of Historical Society) 



38 



What Asheboro Ate 

I When you consider that in Asheboro eighty years ago nobody, not even 
doctors, knew much of anything at all about calories, vitamins, carbohydrates, 
proteins, is it not a wonder that we grew up at all? Some of us were pimple- 
faced from too much fats, and some grew slender and light bones; but on the 
whole we made it. 

In my home we certainly did not have a real meat dish once every day, al- !ti 

though it is true that practically all our vegetables were cooked with scraps of 
salt pork in the water. But apart from that, many families were vegetarians one j 

day after another. Our list of vegetables was much shorter too than it is today. ^^ 

We lacked carrots, parsnips, winter-squash, eggplant, chard, spinach, sweetcorn I 

(we used field-corn.) Asoaragus was not exactly unheard of: our family had the > 

feeblest possible remains of an old bed dating maybe from "back before the i' 

war." We had turnip greens and collards before the big world knew them, but ;ii 

Duly white turnips and not rutabagas. A few garlic roots of ancient heritage still :;j 

grew alongside our wood-pile in the wood-lot, to serve as a delicacy for a few 
old-time Negroes who knew about them and regularly asked to visit them. You D 

could not buy any greens at a grocery store, or any vegetables much except i;i 

white potatoes. ;'"i 

I have many times, at home as well as in farm houses, sat down to the dining i 

table with just a big bowl of one particular vegetable, like cornfield peas (black- ]J. 

eyed peas to some people), or snap beans, which dish was supposed to be the '' 

staple of dinner, apart from bread. Of course many people were Bible readers P 

in those days, enough to have read that bread is "the staff of life," and Funda- i,>i 

mentalist enough to believe it. We had plenty of bread at my own home, and the n 

wheat-heart was still in the wheat flour, while very likely the corn meal was more 21 

'Whole and fresher than you can get hardly anywhere today. But to finish the ^' 

tale of that vegetarian dinner aright, it should be added that the better-off part 
of the population could and did get plenty of butter and milk. Ah, doubtless 
that was a saving-grace. We could, by sending children to a neighbor's, buy plenty 
of milk at from ten to twenty cents a gallon. Jersey cows were not scarce either, 
and furnished much of that milk. Cream meant real cream everywhere. And 
many people had a cow or two of their own. Whoever owned cows let them roam 
the hills all day for free food except in mid-winter. For one spring month, those 
cows would spoil both the milk and the cream by eating wild onions. 

Outside of lemons, we had fresh fruits only when native fruits were in season, 
if you allow for apples ripening in cellars until late fall, coconuts visiting for 
the deep winter months, and a few oranges and bananas around Christmas time. 

Of course we had chickens and eggs at the market price, and very likely a 
little egg-supply of our own. You could not buy dressed chickens; you had to 
catch your own and wring his neck, or else buy personal service with your chick. 
The eggs at the grocery stores needed to be caught shortly after they had come 
in from the country. "Case-eggs" from a distance were anybody's bet; they often 
led to sad experiences. As you might guess, we all tended to eat up our chickens 
I 39 



while they were still "frying-size," before they were big and heavy enough to 
repay growing them for the market, or to get your labor out of them if they 
were your own rasing. Good Yankees still can't bear to eat theh- own chickens 
until the poundage is there, and so they don't know? the real meaning of fried 
chicken. For compensation, they raise them to maturity and get their price, or 
they eat them and get two or three meals off the same bird. 

Right here is the place to celebrate real m.olasses — not any of the light- 
colored stuff and not any of the foreign to the subject sjTups. I am talking about 
genuine black-strap, black as the ace of spades, from Cuba or New Orleans. Day 
after day and week after week, with intervals for Sundays and perhaps a few 
other special occasions, my breakfast to grow up on consisted of oatmeal or 
hominy grits with black-strap, or biscuits with black-strap and butter; and of 
course plenty of milk. We didn't let up on the milk pitcher usually until Mother 
said No More. I suspect that and the butter were life-savers. We bought that 
molasses by the jug-ful, and it came out of a big hogshead at the grocery, with 
a bunghole and an awfully slow flow in the wintertime. I have often bragged of 
growing up on molasses, and of course that was where a boy's sweet tooth got 
satisfied to an extent. Those were the years when a whole lot of our candy con- 
sisted of "pulled" molasses too. 

There is a little more rightful qualifying to be done, letting in some more of 
wild nature that drifted into the picture and requires mention. The edges of all 
the fields and certain patches along the branch were haunted with v>ald black- 
berries, and everybody canned them as well as enjoyed them in season. Some of 
the Colored people knew where to find a few huckleberries (blueberries to some 
people), and brought them around to sell. Wagons brought up some Sam_pson 
County Blues from the swamps, as they brought honey and chestnuts from the 
mountains. We had persimmon pudding pretty nearly off the trees, for nobody 
ever cut a persimmon tree that was any good, no matter where it showed up. 
Up against some of our half a dozen stone chimmeys that backed out into the 
yard, fig-bushes flourished a long early and late season. My mother was a cham- 
pion in the field of making fig preserves, and the magic secret of her recipe 
seemed to be ginger, and the best kind of root at that. She utterly scorned pow- 
dered ginger. I have been sent back to a store and on to another one, if neces- 
sary, in order to get the best quality of white ginger root. 

In the same Vi'ay my grandmother Moring was unrivalled family champion, 
and famed in the neighborhood, for making her most wonderful watermelon- 
rind sweet pickles. And those pickles began with her watching day after day, 
and week after week if necessary, to get the right watermelon. The rind must 
have the right ripeness, thickness, brittleness — I suppose poi'osity. And then 
the process was not one day's work. It went by stages and took several days. 

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 luxurious desserts. I have spoken of Chester Thrift 
as a famous cook, (I wondered once if Chess cakes were named for him), and 
I guess there were as many well-known ones among the colored people as 

40 



among the whites. In fact, they had the more professional cooks anyhow. 
But my cousin Blanche Wood was noted for her chess cakes and again for 
superb coconut frosted cakes — out of sight from any canned supplies but 
I the coconut right out of the shell, and you might say "in the milk." 

That reminds me of some homesick lines a fellow once wrote about my 
mother's coconut custard pie: 

I ■ Sing Riley, Sing Field! Help out with this story 

I . Of autumnal facts and things gustatory. 

j . There's frost on the pumpkin, there's all kinds of pie: 

Sing boy-time eating and yearning to try! 

, Come deep in the fall, the old Stedman store 

I Got a shipment of coconuts, whiskered galore; 

I Glamorous tokens of South Sea demesne, 

I Tiding of bays where sunny palms lean. 

I You wondered if head-hunters started from this; 

: Like Robinson Crusoe discovered the bliss 

Of split-open heads, meat, milk, and ferment. 

You brought one home, cracked it; Ma nodded assent. 

'• She never on "custard" pie wasted her gift, 

I Knowing egg needs a magic it's sad face to lift; 

1 Thank God she'd not heard of "coconut creams" — 

One more sweety-tweety to join the bad dreams! 

She grated that coconut fine as she could. 

Put the milk in the custard, stirred it all good. 
i It's no use to sprinkle with dry, bony, gristle; 

I Pies needn't have beards because coconuts bristle! 

j You stood there seeing a round kind of halo, 

J Mixing up cooks with the Magi they tell o'; 

i Then plop in the oven; then out that rich brown: 

r"De Gustibus non ," "Nunc dimmitt's," . . . Going down! 
At that, I have missed the home brand of sausage not made out of scraps 
but out of some of the best meat of some of our own hogs, more than any 
Asheboro dessert. The last I ever heard of that kind was from some friends 
near Plymouth, Mass., who also raised their own hogs. 

Of course I did not know all the good cooks in town, and you had better 
judge some of those I didn't know by some of those I did, I am ready to 
admit, by way of getting off the home lot at least, that when it came to making 
real chocolate cake, with hard, not gooey or yaller but black frosting and 
inlays between the multitude of layers, my mother always seemed to me con- 
servative or afraid of extravagance. They did a better job of that at my Uncle 
Will Moring's or at some church suppers. 

If you ask me who did the best job making persimmon pudding, I have to 
admit I haven't the faintest idea. And I want to go back and cover the whole 
ground by saying I do not believe in champion cooks much more than in champ- 

41 



ions anywhere else. It seems to me that people should give up this confounded 
vanity of judgment and conventionality of picking the most beautiful girl in the 
town, or the state, — or, God save the mark — nominating a "Miss Universe." 
Maybe the angels take time to laugh at that one! There just "ain't no such 
animal." About every time they have a beauty-judging contest, I can find 
one in the group I like better than the one the judges picked, and my judg- 
ment in such subjects is far better for me than theirs. I advise you to stick 
to your own judgment too. Different things are good or beautiful for and 
to different people, and that goes to the bottom of the question really. There 
was no Miss or Mrs. Asheboro in the field of cooking. For that matter, I am 
not saying the best fried chicken I ever got was not out of one of those New 
Hope township country wagons that choked the near woods when Farmer 
Commencement was going on under one of those brush arbors they had every 
year. But we had our many chefs to look Paris or any place in the eye, and tell 
them their cooking is good for special occasions or for a change and refresh- 
ment of taste now and then. 




-■■-■....: ai,SSw-.^ .y^"^, 

CENTRAL HOTEL 



42 



Uncle Willis Hamlin and Household 

Uncle Willis Hamlin had more than his share of surprises, contradictions, 
and puzzlements ahout him. He and his environs aroused a boy's wonder, 
while his personality aroused liking and regard. You never caught him at work, 
or busy with anything much. He was getting along in years to be sure, when I 
began to know him, but he seemed to have more than his share of leisure. If he 
took the world or his politics very seriously, he never had very much to say 
about such things. You first heard of him for going on fishing expeditions with a 
crony or two more than for anything else. The most likely place to come up- 
on him, after business moved up town, was on the wide apron, or front porch, 
of Wood and Moring's General Store, at the comer of Fayetteville and Sunset 
Ave. There he appeared as a jack-knife whittler, in a cane-bottomed chair 
leaned back against one of the posts. 

He dressed roughly, a good deal like a typical clodhopper; and I believe 
he wore brogans on his feet. He had neither horse nor mule at his place. He 
walked. He always appeared clean-shaven except for his chin-circling, nearly 
white, whiskers. He showed all the symptoms of being poor. He lived in the 
edge of a Colored neighborhood. If he had ever had any educational advantages 
beyond a little early free-schooling, I never heard of it and I doubt it. He 
had spectacles which he used for some newspaper-reading, when time-killing 
there at the store. But there was something rather cultured beyond what you 
at first expected in both his voice and liis speech. In fact that point should 
be widened a bit. It was worth anybody's while, when some matron of the 
village passed that corner, to see Uncle Willis bang the front legs of the chair 
he was leaning back in down on the porch floor, rise to his feet, swing his 
old hat — I picture that as a wide-brim, soft, summer, straw hat — in a wide 
and sweeping arc as he made a bow, and smiled wide. They all responded 
with something like, "Howdy, Uncle Willis." But none of them ever stopped, 
as I seem to remember it, to really chat or to enter into general conversation 
with him. Along with Louis Bulla and one or two other non-conformists, he 
never appeared in Church. He never attended select public gatherings, though 
you might see him in the court room when Court was in session, or at some 
political gathering or speech-making. I am certain I never saw him in anybody 
else's house except his own. 

And yet he exuded friendliness and wore a pleasant and smiling face. He 
was more than approachable; he was inviting to anybody who felt like exchang- 
ing a few words. He had a ringing laugh that could be heard as far as any- 
body's, and it was often to be heard. People delighted to report his jokes or 
accounts of his fishing-trips, even when some of the jokes or reports may 
have been stale enough, like this one. "How many fish did you catch. Uncle 
Willis?" "I got just ninety-nine. Sir." "Why, Uncle Willis, why didn't you make 
it an even hundred?" "What! do you think I would tell a lie for one little fish?" 

He lived on what was known as the Oaky Mountain road, the first house on 
the left, after you started down the red lane from the old courthouse, crossed 

43 



the wet-weather brook on a low plank-bridge, and passed the Colored school- 
house half way up the first rise to where the lane leveled off. His house was on 
perhaps a quarter of an acre of ground with palings around most or all of it. 
It was a two-room house on one level, with a kind of sleeping loft for the 
left-hand room as you went in from the front. The cooking was done at an 
open fireplace with wide hearth in the North room. That may not have been 
so exceptional for those days as you might think. It was the time when we 
were all beginning to hear of and see "airtight" stoves for heating and often 
for some of the cooking too. The family, besides himself consisted first of a 
housekeeper who went by the name of Mrs. East, whom it seems as if I never 
saw without a sunbonnet on, indoors or out. She had very little to say, when 
I was around, — practically nothing. Then there were two boys some three 
to five years older than I, named John and Arthur East. John was the elder 
by a year or so. John went to school, Arthur never did so far as I ever saw. 
I have been in that house a number of times, frequently when hunting Indian 
relics in Uncle Willis's garden (with his permission) or just beyond in the 
back yard or fields of Jim Hill and Wesley Brower. I once found a complete, 
3 or 4 inches wide, Indian spade in Uncle Willis's corn-patch, old enough to 
be colored yellow white on the outside. That would suggest not too much 
hard banging with holes in that garden, and not too much interest in Indian relics. 

I do not know what other occasions carried me into that house, though 
John East was a fellow I admired greatly for his gifts and learned something 
from. Uncle Willis was proud of him, and he had a right to be. I often walked 
home from school with John paii-way, because my home was on one of his 
convenient routes. He could quote passages from the editorials of Henry 
Woofden Grady, editor then, or just before, of the Atlanta Constitution. When 
it came Friday afternoon at school, and every boy or girl had to speak a piece 
he had learned, John's favorite spouting was a famous essay Editor Grady had 
written about The New South. Walking home, John would quote the Texas 
iconoclast Brann, whom I first heard of in that way. I think I was first really in- 
troduced to "Bob" IngersoU by John East, although my father had a volume 
or two of IngersoU on his shelves. "Every birth asks us whence, and every 
grave asks us whither?" John would swell out and quote that. He could and 
did quote Shakespeare. He was the only Asheboro teenager who ever did that, 
to my knowledge. In particular he loved to quote a Shakespeare passage in 
defense of the poor bastard. My confoundedly abbreviated edition of Bartlett's 
Quotations refuses to help me locate it. But John would stick up his chin 
and want to know if the bastard did not have two hands, and two feet; two 
eyes and two ears; the same kind of feeling as anybody else; the same human 
nature? I don't think I am wrong in referring the passage to Shakespeare. I 
believe there was a bookcase behind the door that folded back into the rear 
room of that cabin. Obviously there was a brief supply of good Literature 
somewhere around, for Asheboro had no library in those days. 

Why did it never occur to me, or what in the world ever kept me off from 

44 



ever asking that boy to come in and have a look at my father's library, which 
. was certainly one of the best in Asheboro. Was there a settled belief that 
he would shy off? Maybe I did try and have forgotten. 

John was a central pillar of the Asheboro Literary Society, or at one time 
the Page Literary Society, at the schoolhouse, — the second name just after 
John Hammer, younger brother of Cicero, had written Walter Hines Page 
and got his permission to borrow the name. John had a gift of eloquence or 
debate, even if perhaps he was not so much of a born orator as Charlie Ross. 
Charlie could make his points, and could also appeal to the emotions and "turn 
on the rousements" better than John East. But I believe John could or did 
more often surprise you with a new line of thought, or with a rebel idea. 

John, as I said, was the pride of Uncle Willis's eye. The sight of John's 
report card was one of his greatest pleasures. Any compliment to John was 
food to his heart and soul. I saw him exude this kind of satisfaction more than 
once. I got away from Asheboro, and coming back and inquiring for John a 
few years after, the news I got was that he was running a native fruit stand, 
selling peaches, melons, that sort of thing, down towards Troy. The next time 
I asked, nobody could tell me anything about him. 

One thing I do firmly believe. If in the times of which I write there had 
been around Asheboro half as many men with means as there are now, John 
East would have been offered a scholarship at some college. If "freedom of 
opportunity" is one of our main slogans i:i this present stage of American de- 
mocracy, then a good illustration of a fellow who missed or lacked opportunity 
is John East. I still would not say that he or anybody else in Asheboro ever 
lived in a "ghetto," for they used to have a gate to those places in Europe, 
and they turned the key after dark. That has never quite been done in the 
United States, though you certainly cannot say our Asheboro Negroes ever 
had anything like "freedom of opportunity." I recall my Asheboro sister-in- 
law looking out of the breakfast window at a Colored boy who was mowing 
the lawn, and saying: "I tell you it is a hard, hard thing in Asheboro to be 
born with a black skin." She was referring mainly to the kinds of jobs that 
were not open to all bright-enough minds. 

One of the things I like to recall about Uncle Willis is how he had time to 
talk with boys about Indian relics, or anything that interested them. And I do 
recall his giving me, unasked, one spontaneous piece of advise, — giving it 
apropos nothing in particular but just bursting out v/ith it, just having a 
moment of seriousness in which to go preaching: "Keep your hands off a 
nice girl, Sidney!" He repeated it. 

Somehow back a piece Uncle Willis must have offended v/hat are called 
the respectabilities, or the mores. It left him sort of on the outskirts of local 
society without killing a kind of inevitable regard for him. I do remember 
being told that he "was related by blood to the Alstons of South Carolina." 
All I know about any family of that name is that there is a famous Revolution- 

45 



ary-days house in the big bend of Deep River, in Moore County below, known 
as the Alston house. Whether there was such a well-known family, whether 
it possessed any tinge of genteelity or of top-status in South Carolina, whether 
or how Uncle Willis may or may not have been related thereto, I neither know 
nor much care, except as it may have added an eighth of an inch to the pickle 
he may have got himself into. But I mention it for that reason. 

It was pleasant, even more than that to me, to hear that towards the end 
of his days they made Uncle Willis a Justice of the Peace. I heard that he 
was delighted by that. Of course I do not know whether he felt that a certain 
kind of isolation which had fallen upon him in his earlier days had been due 
to his own sins or to other people's conventionality. If it was the first, he was sort 
of taken back into the fold, or forgiven, when he was made a Justice. If it 
was the second, he never had complained but doubtless he enjoyed a little 
public recognition. 



46 



Grandpa's Last Buggy 



I Sometime in the 1840s, my maternal grandfatlier, William Henry Moring, 

'St., came from Greensboro to Asheboro. Born in 1815, he had been for some 

years living under the wing of his uncle, Christopher Moring, who was one 

of the innkeepers of Greensboro and also ran a stage coach line to carry 

mails and passengers. Grandpa had learned something about buggy making 

: before moving to Asheboro. 

I Shortly before him, or possibly at the same time, had come David Porter, 
I from the same place, Greensboro. I do not know how well the two had known 
one another beforehand; but pretty soon they together were running a buggy- 
making shop on Fayetteville Street. The shop stood at the South end of the 
Moring lot as that fronted on Fayetteville. The old v/hite Moring house was 
just East of the Southern Railway depot, its lot fronting half a block on Faye- 
tteville and running West to Park Street, with pine woods for its West end. 
David Porter lived on the same side of Fayetteville, just a few rods beyond 
the buggy shop. All very convenient! 

This enterprise, which may have been known as Porter-Moring or Moring- 

1 Porter Buggyshop, must have focused some little interest in Asheboro, v/hich up 

I to that time had possessed only two tan-yards and one brick-yard to represent 

i industry, — so far as one knows. And the buggyshop gathered or trained 

some good artizans, notably some of the Presnells and the Burnses. The 

business was quite successful for a while as tilings went in those days, but 

was damped down very low by the Civil War. During that war Grandpa drove the 

1 mails to High Point, for Southern Railway connection. After the War, the buggy 

shop revived and must have run on until towards 1880. David Porter died, 

in the early 1880's and not too long after his death the business folded. 

|l Born myself in 1883, the shop was standing idle and a bit forlorn in my 

I earliest recollections. But Grandpa held on to it as a private workshop and 

a place to putter around; and whenever any piece of wood or iron equipment 

at our house got out of fix, we would take it up to him there, to be repaired. 

It must have been not far from 1890, when Grandpa was 75 years old, 

1 that an event happened which I very well remember. Grandpa scraped the 

rust off himself, and decided that he was going to make one more buggy "if 

it was the last act." The family encouraged him enough, for they well knew how 

the old man had been suffering in his lack of real occupation and very likely 

haunted in his dreams. I dare say he wanted to prove that his skill was still 

with him. And the family were sure that the effort would give him something 

real to be busy about and make him feel younger. 

I saw a good deal of the building of that buggy, for it went on to what 
seemed to my childish mind a teri'ibly long time. I observed some of the 
processes very closely. I remember that when it came to making the wheels 
(they were good hickory), he had the sense to send for Dan Presnell, who had 
achieved local fame on that end of the job. Dan shaved and fitted those 

47 



spokes. I guess he made the hubs and fellies. I remember clearly his applying 
the iron rims to the wooden circumference, and then to me, hopeless aspect 
of the rim not being big enough. Then Dan heated the rim, and on it went. 
An early lesson in physics! 

I could not say positively how much of the buggy Grandpa made all by 
himself, and it doesn't matter. He may have sent for Arch Presnell, who later 
ran our biggest blacksmith shop, to make those iron rims. What I do remember 
is that for the longest time, when I would be going home by the long route, 
he would be puttering around doing something or other for, or about, or to 
the buggy. Along towards the end, the buggy would be standing out in the 
yard, if it was clear weather, and he would be at work on the upholstery or 
putting coat after coat of black paint on the body, or wheels, or shafts. I 
thought he never would get done. 

At last things got to where, when anybody asked him how he was getting 
on, he could heave a sigh and say he was coming to the end. And then it was 
two more days, and then the buggy was finished. The old shop had once more 
gone through its birth-pangs. What was Grandpa going to do vnth that new 
buggy? I guess this must have been before the Southern railway reached 
Asheboro in 1889, or shortly after, because nobody around Asheboro needed a 
new buggy or had the money to pay for one like that. 

In discussion around the table at home, I learned what he hoped to do with 
it. Naturally it was through my mother, his eldest daughter, that he had let 
it leak to my father that he hoped to be allowed to borrow our old roan horse, 
Frank, and take that buggy on the road. It is one of the occasions on which 
I remember seeing a certain benign expression on my father's face. He made 
no difficulty, shared what amounted to a family appreciation of an old man's 
enterprise. 

V/ell, Grandpa hitched old Frank to his new buggy and set off down the Plank 
Road, into the regions of Moore County, where many of the people still had 
Porter and Moring buggies, and who knew quality, finest materials, and a 
finished product when they sav/ it. We didn't hear from him for a week or 
more, and didn't expect to. We knew that, going or coming, he would spend 
some time at the Coffin place. His second daughter, Ida, had married Alex 
Coffin (Will Coffin's father), and lived at a post office knovv-n as Carter's 
Mill, unless I forget names. It was in what is now the town of Robbins. We 
thought he might halt there on his way towards Carthage, and let Alex Coffin, 
who was postmaster there, send out word, far and wide, that "Old Tip Moreen" 
was down with a new buggy to sell from the old Asheboro shop. Or Grandpa 
might drive all the way to Carthage, making a noise among old business 
friends as he went. In short, we didn't worry much about it. There were friends 
to stop with all along the way. We rather expected that he would be enjoying 
himself, as he explored what the market was willing to pay. 

In something not far from a week, he was back. He came a-straddle of 
old Fi-ank. In lieu of a saddle he had belted a blanket to Frank's back, arran- 

48 



ged to carry the harness in some sort of a bag attached, and had taken his 
time on the road. 

I guess we were a little bit relieved to see him, after all, for reason of 
possible accidents or weather. But this was before, must have been before, 
that old-fashioned rheumatism got him down so badly. There was evident in 
him a sense of solid satisfaction over having carried out his idea. I guess the 
best thing of all, if you can have it, is never to retire at all from some sort 
of real job, even if you keep at it without any employer, or on your ov/n. But 
even belated rebellion against rust and dust is better than nothing. 




Moring Family gathering on lawn at Moring home on Fayetteville Street 
where new part of first National Bank is located now. Front row, left 
to right: Walter Bulla, Annie AAoring, Sidney Robins, Marion Moring, Edith 
Moring, Mrs. Annie Robins, Mrs. Agnes Bulla; at left in two big chairs: 
Mr. and Mrs. Frederick D. Thorns; Back row: Will Coffin, Beatrice Bulla, 
W. H. Moring, Jr., Mary Thorns Moring (Mrs. W. H. Moring, Jr.), William 
Penn Wood, Julia Thorns, Agnes Moring. 



49 



The Railroad Comes 

Some time in the warm part of the year 1889, I lay on the roof of an out- 
building in the front yard of my Grandfather Moring's old white house, which 
was a stone's throw East of the new Southern Railway tracks. My cousins Agnes 
and Edith Moring were beside me, and our chins were more or less propped on 
the comb of the roof, and our gaze fixed on the scene out in front. There were 
a lot of people there, gathered to see the first passenger and freight train, 
passenger car on the end, pull in from High Point. Most of us had some time 
since been out to see the laborers, with no power tools, but only picks, shovels 
and wheelbarrows, dig a slot for the tracks through the last low hills that 
barred passage into town. But today was a genuine acme or climax. The train's 
whistle blev/ in the distance, presently nosed around the distant bend, and then 
with sufficient roars and puffs, came in to the stop. Of course there were some 
ceremonies, but all I remember of those is the presence of Col. Andrews, a 
famous railroad man of whom we had heard. 

This was not so very far from the time when we had just seen or were 
about to see our first motion pictures, which all consisted so far as I remember, 
of big mogul engines approaching out of the distance, — without as yet any noise 
being reproduced. Still those silent pictures were impressive enough at the time. 
This day when the first train came in, there was plenty of noise, and although 
most of us had seen trains or been on them from High Point or Greensboro 
a way, there was some little excitement. In fact there was enough to make 
me, whenever I recall us kids perched on that shed roof with the train puffing 
in, at least think of a story which Buck Robertson, an older student at Chapel 
Hill from up in the mountains, used to tell. It was about a couple of old people 
up there in his native haunts who had walked twenty miles to see their first 
railroad train. They tramped to where the road-bed ran through a deep cut, 
and hung their chins over the edge of the cut. First the train blew in the 
distance, then nearer a time or two; then the engine came into sight; then with 
a lot of noise and great puffs of white steam both sideways and up, whisshed 
its way through the cut. "There now, Mary," said John. I told you we would be 
all right here." "I know, John," said Mary, "but it v/ent through endways 
that time." I think we all felt there was some big new experience of some 
sort coming to Asheboro. 

But people's forsight is not too rich. The very first change in the town 
that we noticed, I do believe, was that the new depot was providing an im- 
portant gathering place in the middle of the afternoon for a considerable part 
of the town's population. In fact there was a small knot of people who became 
noted for being there every day; and they kept it up for ten years or more 
than that. Of course Tom Hoover was there every day with his express wagon. 
And it seemed that everybody wanted his mail in a hurry. That came down 
from High Point by rail, and it didn't take long to sort the mail after the bags 
were unloaded. For a little while the bags went down town to the old post 
office; but shortly the postoffice had to be moved nearer to the depot. A 

50 



second reason for people lining out in that direction as soon as they could 
get loose! The fact that the train was not expected to be quite on time only 
made more time to visit. 

For years, A. M. Rankin was "Captain" or conductor of that train. The 
first engineer's name escapes me. But Claude Pierce, of Greensboro, was the 
first fireman; he was a second cousin out of a large family. Eck Burns was chief 
brakeman. Wc saw a lot of thess men over the years, because they all spent 
the night in Asheboro and took the train back to High Point too early every 
morning. Captain Rankin eventually married Lena Blair, daughter of Atty. 
J. A. Blair, after having waited a good many years for her to grow up. A quiet 
and patient man was he. 

In no time at all we were hearing of little villages popped up over-night 
along the tract to High Point. The first or nearest was Spero, six miles out. Then 
the train, for its own reasons of convenience, backed into and out of the town 
of Randleman, which was considerably larger than Asheboro and home of 
two or three cotton-mills. After Randleman came Sophia, Glenola, Trinity. 
At the last of these there was Trinity College, in which were the beginnings 
of Duke University; but the village at this time was a college community on 
one small street. 

In Asheboro it was hardly any time at all until stores began moving away 
from Courthouse Square and Main Street to re-cluster or sprawl around the 
junctions of Worth Street and Fayetteville, and of the latter with Gluyas Pond 
Road, or Fisher Avenue, or Sunset Avenue, as that was called in succession. 
Very shortly W. D. Stedman moved his grocery up to sit on a part of the 
lot now occupied by the Wachovia Bank. W. J. Armfield with his Bank of 
Randolph did not get there to occupy more of that lot until 1897 I believe. 
Next to Stedman's seems to have been a jewelry store, and then Tom Carter's 
barber shop. Tom cut my hair there for quite a while, still at fifteen cents 
a whack; and he gave me my first shave. It was at his ovra suggestion, and 
his big glass caused me to see the wide grin he was trying to disguise as 
he administered it. 

Across the street from this clump of business, on the corner of the Moring 
lot, was re-planted Wood and Moring's big general store. This fronted on 
Fayetteville and snaked back a long way. Near its rear end shortly appeared 
Poole's Hardware, fronting on what was to become Sunset. Next to that was the 
Standard Drug Company, which I believe really got placed first. Then came 
W. J. Scarboro's sort of emporium. When the postoffice moved, it dropped 
in there somewhere. It was an avenue with only one side for some time. 

Down on the North corner of Worth, where my earliest memories somehow 
recall nothing except Joe Lytle's barber-shop, very soon Doc McCrary and Tom 
Redding started a hardware, and soon seemed to be selling buggies by the 
dozen. I am sure they made more money in the buggy yard for quite a while, 
although they ran a progressive store. Presently they sold buggies with hard- 

51 



rubber tires. Eugene Morris, Sam Teague, and Will Coffin began driving around 
smartly in those, and it gave them an advantage with the girls over all other 
beaux. (I called on Sam in Tallahassie some five or ten years ago, and he was 
in the Florida legislature a year or so ago.) On the other corner of Worth, 
long stood another town center, so far as looks and history go, — the old 
Presbj'terian Church v/ith its grove of oaks crowning a knoll or high bank. 

Out of sheer business convenience, and of course with nobody planning 
anything except his own business, Asheboro swapped its old center for a new 
shoulder, or an elbow or two; anyhow not for another real center of anything 
except shopping. Fires contributed quite a lot to making the shift. One fire 
down on Main took J. M. Boyette's drug store and J. T. Brittain's law office, 
perhaps another building or two. The hole that fire made on the East side 
of Main was never filled to do business. The old court house itself did not 
burn until a bit after 1900; and that, wdth the county offices all within it, 
sort of maintained a ghost of the old order for a time. I forget whether one or 
both of the old downtown hotels burned down before the court house. 

My father had always been a conservative investor. He lacked any share 
of that industrial vision (or else he mistrusted it) which way back before the 
Civil War had come to men of Randolph like Dr. John Milton Worth, John M. 
Randleman, Henry B. Elliott, Hugh Parks, Elisha Coffin, W. H. Watkins and 
others. So he had over the years gone on putting his savings into rather poor 
Randolph farms, where it did not get lost, but increased precious little in his 
lifetime. But he had got accustomed to the idea of that old Court House as 
the center and heart of Asheboro, and when the owner of the old Asheboro 
Hotel came to him with the offer of a real estate bargain, he bit and he bought. 
And a little later another hotel owner who was more alert in business than he 
was, more av.'are of that exodus of everything up towards the depot, offered him 
the other hotel at a bargain, and he bought that one too. Of course he was a 
total lawyer and had no idea of going into the hotel business. He rented 
both of those hotels, for a time at least, to the people v/ho had been running 
them. 

Well, the Asheboro House burned down first, almost taking his law office 
with it, and left nothing after a little cleaning up but a squarish corner lot 
of the cloddiest, hardest, most exhausted land in Randolph County. It seemed 
not to have a particle of mould or humus left in it. I know, because we manured 
it and tried to grow corn there, and I hoed on it, and it was the saddest go 
I ever saw or had to do with. My brother Henry and I tried to have a peanut 
patch up against the law office. I judge that, after the removal of the town 
center and all business building interest elsewhere, there was about as little 
left of that real estate investment as ever was. And my father had never ac- 
cepted the modern idea of fire insurance. It was a total loss. 

The Burns House across the street (Main) from his office served the Court 
and visiting lawyers a few years longer. I believe it went in the same fire 

52 



1 

;'that took the Boyette drugstore, for I remember my father saying he had lost 

j,; as much as anybody in another fire than the first hotel fire, and that the fire 

of which he spoke was one which involved many other owners. My father 

} was a lawyer, and secondly and by early training possibly a bit of a farmer. 

' But he should have stayed clean out of the hotel business, either as owner or 

!( operator. I would say if he didn't know the operating side he should let the 

|i owning side alone. Why is it we all want to try something else that we know 

: nothing about, like the successful comedian who must try doing Hamlet before '' 

1 he dies? 

I There is a human incapacity also among people who have been a part of ' 

i a real historic center, with their whole life wrapped up in it in one way or i,, 

another and now grown old, to take in such a vast overturn as took place in ]';' 

Asheboro pretty rapidly after the coming of the railroads. The Page road from IJ, 

j Aberdeen edged in presently to add its part. ;i 

I confess to you that I think it would have been nice if a little townplanning !l' 

) had been to-be-had-in those days v»hen the heart and lungs as well as the stomach ,i 

of Asheboro was removing. I say nothing about any soul or about any other i,., 

'center,' unless you mean a "Shopping Center." We once had a town which had i'| 

grown around a natural center that gave it some dignity and perspective. For |;| 

one thing, it was at a square, county, cross-roads. What were the county ,|l 

fathers deciding when they voted to rebuild for a courthouse up town, jammed ""I- 

in amidst v/hat-nots, on a slope instead of a level, with no fairly spacious '11 

't 
grounds around it, vi'ith no invitation to a modern hotel on a corner? I would 

'-111 

say nothing much in the matter of long-run convenience in this present day % 

of the automobile. A little sense of historic atmosphere v/ould in itself have £ 

paid some dividends 'oy now for many people. And a center for dignity, beauty 4 

and trees, is something to consider as well, I well know I am talking nonsense iij[. 

from the commercial point of view. But v/hen we have made money enough 
in Asheboro, we may vi'ish we had thought of some of these other things. Is 
there or not any lesson for future planning in what happened to us once upon 
a time? 

I have told you how my dad nearly lost his shirt in those two old hotels, 
but I believe I told that for the humor you would find in it. And after all, he 
did not lose the whole of his shirt; only a large piece of its tail. At this 
moment I am wishing there were something in Asheboro which would seem 
natural and familiar to eyes of older men of Asheboro than I, — maybe to some- 
body like old Governor Worth! 

"And I could wish my days to be 
• Bound each to each in natural piety." 




Corner of Fayetteville and Sunset. Fred Baldwin is crossing the street. 




Sunset Avenue looking West about 1900. 



54 



/^ , 



J r, 




Tk* ^ple of Atkeh»r0 an J of the County of Randolph will 

\^Hpletion of the 



aod Soutl^^ri) (Railroad 




f/j^btM^Wititiguishetl 



Tffnrl>f>r¥-iznii of KandolpH 



Camntjf, wc have the honor to request your presence. 
'■' , , . IV P WOOD, 

\ CAm'n Cvm. nf ArraHfremtHls. 



i COMMimC or iNVrTATION. 



I; . J T. COCKER 



SAMUEL A HENLEY, 



W P CRAVEM 



(Invitation courtesy of Historical Socitey) 

Invitation to the celebration on the completion of the railroad into 
Asheboro from High Point July 4, 1889. 



55 



Railway Station, Asheboro. N. C. 




(Picture courtesy of Historical Society) 

The Southern Railway depot which stood on the South Side of 

Sunset Avenue at the tracks. 

(from an old post card of 1914) 




{Picture courtesy of Miss Esther Ross) 

ROSS & RUSH LIVERY STABLE 

Transportation before 1889 was provided by horse-drawn vehicle. Livery 
stables were very necessary businesses. The Ross and Rush Stable was 
located in the old Courthouse Center. 



56 



Wid Connor 

Winborne Connor, ordinarily referred to as Wid Connor, is the man who 
had the most funny stories told about him in my Asheboro. The one that every- 
body knew came out of his Western travels subsequent to the Civil War. He 
had been a brave soldier in the Confederate Army. When the War was over 
he took off for the West somewhere and was gone for several years. When 
he came back of course he was asked to tell of his travels, where he had been, 
how he had found work, what he had done to feed himself. It was a hungry 
time. Reconstruction Days, and I guess he was pressed on that. He told some 
pretty tall yarns. And the one which everybody knew was about "digging 
coconuts out in Wymaho." 

We were provincial people in those days, and 1 doubt if there were a half 
dozen people in Asheboro who had ever seen a real coconut tree, and Idaho 
was about as far off then as the moon is now, this 1969. Also we had a high 
percentage of illiterates, and it may well be that "Wid" Connor had got one 
of those early starts in the Army and been out with Bob Lee or Stonewall 
Jackson when he should have learned to read and write. 

There was a veteran over in Chapel Hill, by the name of Lloyd, who could 
not read or write so long as he lived, but yet managed to build and run a 
successful cotton mill and incidentally founded the town of Carrboro. 

Wid Conner was an able-enough citizen. He was our chief house-mover. In 
fact he did pretty nearly all the house-moving that was done in Asheboro. 
Living up in the edge of Central Falls, some seven miles away, he was ready 
to turn up with his horse and wagon, some wooden rollers made of sawed-off 
logs, big jacks and heavy planks, whatever else was needed. Of course the 
horse pulled the house on the level, and there were holes for pike-staffs in 
the rollers, so that one could help the horses or put on the brakes. He held 
up more traffic than anybody else around by quite a long shot. One happy 
time for us kids was when Sam Bradshaw was getting ready to build himself 
a home on the old Governor Worth property, and offered Mrs. Rachel Ingram, 
or "Mangum" as she was known in my family, a little house across the street 
from us if she would have it moved off. Wid Connor blocked the corner of 
Worth and Main with it in an exciting way, but got it around without any 
overnight stall of traffic, and eventually down the lane (now Worth Street 
East) past our horse-barn to a small lot my father had let Mangum have. 

When he was at work a little late or wanted an early start next morning, 
Wid would build a fire and camp out by it under what he once, for my benefit, 
called "the banner-wings of heaven." He may have had a poetic soul. 

I remember one or two personal interviews with him, for he excited my 
curiosity, and even then I loved to get good stories to tell at supportable. I 
suppose the truth is that I just hung around him until the gushing stream of 
talk he had turned up something worth telling others about. 

One time, was, I remember, when he was either camped or getting ready 

57 



to camp down on the edge of the courthouse square. He was ridiculing people 
who taught that the Earth was round. ''Kow can it be round," said he, "when 
the Bible says that the winds blow from the four corners of it? How can it 
have four corners if it is round?" Being in high-school then, I did jump in with 
the supposed fact that ships travel all around the Earth and get back. 

"Shucks," said he, "they get up around that air North Pole that you hear 
about, and git turned around without knowing it and come home." 

If you think that can't be a true story of any half-way intelligent practical 
man of business within a lifetime past, I will tell you another from another 
interview when the Panama Canal was being talked about or actually dug. 
He was excited on the subject. I don't know where or how he got his "facts." 
But he declared that the water in the Pacific Ocean was a mile higher than 
that in the Atlantic, and that if the canal was cut through nobody could pos- 
sibly tell what the awful consequences would be to people living in those parts. 

There must be many good stories from the rather untutored imagination 
of Wid Conner left hanging around Asheboro in somebody's mind. For the 
man was famous as a source of stories and odd sayings. 

I am not telling you these stories which I myself picked up just to make 
fun of V/id Connor, who paid his own way through life as well as anybody. 
My thought about him is that he probably missed his schooling by fighting 
for the rest of us. There were no pictures or photographs in the newspapers 
of his days, to help educate people about foreign places and the peoples of 
this Earth. There were no richly colored magazines lying around in the barber 
shop or in any doctor's office. Magazines were sold in those days chiefly for the 
solid articles or the romantic stories that were in them, not for the pictures 
and the ads. Newspapers at the turn of the century were usually identified 
with some editor. We took "Josephus Daniels' paper" more than any News 
and Observer. There was a paper in Charlotte known by an editor named 
Tompkins. The Louisville Courier Journal was Henry Watterson and the 
Atlanta Constitution just had been Henry Woofden Grady, in person. Papers 
were journals of opinion by the editors, of local news, and of just a little 
hearsay or articles about the big world, not a part and portion of big business, 
geared to the purpose of making money like every other business. 

The consciousness that we had an illiterate electorate is what fired a group 
of able N. C. youngsters clustering in a knot around the year 1900: Charles B. 
Aycock, Charles D. Mclver, Edwin A. Alderman, Philo P. Claxton, James Y. 
Joyner, Walter Hines Page — all of these within the state of North Carolina. I 
happened to see every one of these men in action except Page, and I saw him 
on the Page Railroad train on his way north from Aberdeen. They led a kind 
of youth revolt, except that it was centered on training teachers first, maybe 
with subterranean feelings for the rights of unborn generations of children. 

Wid Connor as a provider of humor is a very good illustration of what 
could happen to, what could stunt the mind-growth, of a generation: namely 

58 



Hack of opportunity to learn. If we have blossomed in this century like the 
! green bay tree, and if our state has become great and even conspicuously noted 
in some respects or for a fevi^ of its best men, it is the belated opportunity 
which in the still pioneer days before the Civil War we only smelled from a 
considerable distance, and which, after that War, was painfully delayed by 
the poverty and the other effects of Reconstruction Days. 




iXj^t^ itrvA^X' \r"-^HL_ ^IfX o^JLo- CI cAvOi- J^D, 1*^0 



Rich Brick Yard June 20, 1900 

{Picture courtesy Miss Cleta Rich) 



59 



Bucolic Wit and Humor — Zeb Vance 

There was a lot of having fun in old Asheboro, but I am free to confess that, 
looking back, it seems to have been on rather a bucolic level. We laughed 
rather easily and didn't need to be really witty or anything like that. We had 
two or three people around, like Louis Bulla and John T. Brittain, that we 
thought of as town wits. The only story of Louis Bulla I happen to remember 
still is about somebody catching him at work on the famUy wood-pile and 
calling out: "Hello, Louis, splittin' wood, are you?" "No, you damn fool, 
can't you see I'm knittin?" Our supply of mild fun came to us rather easily, 
and maybe that is why we didn't go very far to look for it. 

Along towards 4 o'clock on a hot summer day, people sat on their front 
lawns, not their back lawns if they had any, maybe with a cut watermelon or 
a pitcher of iced lemonade and some cake or cookies on a table. Pretty soon 
the law offices would close, and presently a clerk or two, perhaps the pro- 
prietor in person, would be going home. Many of them felt free to drop in, 
whether invited or not, wherever they saw a gay party. Going up Worth street 
in the middle of the 1890s, I have often heard the laughs on the Moring lawn 
before I got around the Presbyterian Church. People would be recounting 
the least bits of funny or odd incidents of the day, and they laughed a-plenty. 
What I am telling about is most too public to be called gossip. Maybe the fun 
was because we were just happy enough, perhaps without knowing it. 

Every fellov/ would be teased about his girl, if he had one; and every girl 
about her beaus. That began in school at grammar age, although B. Frank Page 
and Bertha Coffin were the only two people who v/ere going steady even in high 
school years so far as I remember. O Yes, Sam Teague and Etta Blair got 
there pretty soon, or about the end. But when I was at tow-head level some- 
body wrote on the fly-page of my grammar book: "I'll bet a hat I get Pat", and 
I was teased a full share about that. Somewhat later I was led to attempt a 
Cliristmas poem myself and spent an evening hour or so squeezing out a dozen 
lines of which the only ones I remember are: 

"See the Church and women filing 

With their children up the aisling". 
My mother quoted that at me for years. You can't say budding youth got 
much encouragement to produce literature then. But her original comment 
was in two Lines which I suspect she had been hearing all her life: 

"He's heaps more of a poet 

Than a sheep is a go-at." 
However she did love Tennyson's 

"I came from haunts of coot and hern, 

I make a sudden sally 

And sparkle out among the fern 

Ta bicker down the valley". 

60 



My father had a few Shakespeare quotes, humorous ones, at hand; notably 
what Julius Caesar said about fat and lean men like Brutus and Cassius. There 
were no book-clubs or public libraries back there, and I don't suppose our 
minds got stimulation enough to produce noteworthy wit and humor at large. 
"Light-hearted and bucolic" seems to tell the public story. 

It seems even more that way when I think of some of the practical jokes 
made up to produce a little extra fun. One time, Col. J. Ed Walker's cronies ' ' 

put up a mean game on him. Of a bright morning, he started down town in <■ 

gay spirits, swinging his cane and likely humming a tune. The first conspirator i. 

met him near the postoffice, and hailed: "Hello, Ed. Why, you are not looking 
so spry this morning. What's the matter?" The Colonel responded that he " 

was feeling fine. The next conspirator, possibly Parsons (Pass) H. Morris, < 

met him a little further down. He halted short, stepped back a pace, and :' 

slowly said: "Why, what in the world is the matter with you, Ed?" By the ( 

time JEW got to the Penn Wood store and Penn addressed him in a similarly j' 

serious manner, they had him down. He said, "I know I ought not to have ] 

come out this morning, but the fine day tempted me." He went home and went ' 

to bed. Not so very funny, but hilarious in his share of further teasing. ^ 

Just about the same gang made some other man sick by getting him to •' 

enjoy some 'chicken' soup really made out of turtle, and later telling him he ■'■ 

had eaten something which all his life he had detested the very thought of. [l 

This next prank was at least harmless and not worked on the home folks. iij 

It was in 1892, time of the famous Chicago Exposition or World's Fair. A i|^ 

number of people went from Asheboro, and not least notably our High Sheriff. '[• 

W. F. Redding, I, had been elected county sheriff and he was not only (so I II 

believe until better informed) the tallest of all the Redding tribe until this ' 

hour, not overlooking his son or Long Tom Redding of Caraway, but the tallest \ 

man in the county or within reach. I don't really know whether he was nearer 
6ft. 7 inches, or 6ft. 10 inches. Ask the family about that. But he was pleasantly 
referred to as the High Sheriff. Well, he fell into the humor of a group of his 
friends who were going to the Chicago Fair. I think Tom Winslow, Register 
of Deeds, had a hand in it. They got the High Sheriff to go along wearing a 
pair of shoes with extra high heels and a tall beaver or silk hat. It was re- 
ported that the party made quite a splash on the Exhibition grounds. I suppose 
people thought of our sheriff as somebody out of one of the booths. And I 
suppose the prank represents a small town, in horse and buggy days, too quiet 
days, trying to attract a little wide public attention to itself. 

Of course funnier things th^n made-up pranks can happen in real life any- 
where, and now and then we got one of those. This incident echoes as if told 
to me by my brother Henry, but it plainly enough goes back to real horse-and- 
buggy days at or before the turn of the century. I could not give you the 
names of the heroes of the story, although one of them was an Asheboro lawyer 
and might possibly have been John T. Brittain. He would have much enjoyed 
telling such an adventure. 

61 



This lawyer had business in Carthage, a little over thirty miles away which 
at around 4 miles per hour, meant a fairly long day's drive for horse and men. 
He and his liverjonan driver got to the usual stopping off place, or inn in 
Carthage some time after supper was over; but the kindly landlady agreed to 
"wrastle up a bite" if they would wash-up and wait. Presently they were called to 
the table, sat down, and with their keen appetites were all ready to pitch in. 
But the landlady halted them by saj'ing: "Grace first, gentlemen. Nobody 
eats at my table without first saying Grace." "I dont know any", said the 
lawyer, "and I dont think Jim does." "Then you must each of you say a verse 
of Scripture", she declared. The lawyer turned his gaze towards his plate and 
in a moment came up with his verse: "Jesus v.-ept". "He shore did", chimed 
in the man from the livery stable. So they ate. 

Up to just about the turn of the century we certainly did have one man in 
North Carolina who was widely accepted as a wit and a teller of funny stories. 
That man was Zebulon Baird Vance, Civil War-time Governor, and after Re- 
construction long-time United States Senator in Washington. There were years 
back there when it seems that all the funny stories there were to be told, if 
they were in any sense orphans or anonymous, seemed to gravitate towards 
Vance, or to be fathered upon him. He was an example of that phenomenon of 
history: Give a man a certain name, and all the loose things that come under 
that name tend to be referred to him. That makes it all the odder that at the 
present time I can recall only two stories that certainly went with Vance or 
his name. They are both very like him, and like the rough mountains in which 
he grew up. 

But anyhow and quite independently of the theme of humor, I want to tell 
of the one visit of Vance to Asheboro after I was old enough to take an interest 
in such matters. This happened towards the close of his career, somewhere in 
the middle of the 1890s, when Cleveland was President and was engaged in an 
argument with the Free Silver-ites like W. J. Br>-an, in his own party. Vance 
was supporting Cleveland in the matter of maintaining the Gold Standard. 

I am not sure whether we built him a brush-arbor to speak at or not. But 
I am clear that he spoke outdoors from a platform amongst the oak trees on 
the old School lot, quite near the Bulla fence. There had been a march from 
the Courthouse Square in which the Confederate Veterans took a leading part. 
There were still fifteen or twenty of them in it at that late day. I recall many 
of the familiar faces among them either from this or earlier, or from many, 
parades. There would likely be Captain C. F. Siler, L. F. McMasters, Winborne 
Andrews, Winborne Connor, and Asheboro's own Wm Penn Wood and Col. 
A. C. McAlister. Vance was naturally staying at the Worth-McAlister home, 
Dr. Worth being brother of his successor in Raleigh, Jonathan Worth. I re- 
member that because my father had tried to get Vance and was a wee bit 
disappointed. But he should not have been, as my mother told him well, even 
though he had been for a time Vance's Secretary. 

62 



Col. McAlister, like Captain Siler, had got his own title in the honestest and 
proudest way of any, in the actual armed services. But no doubt he could 
have become a bit of a martinet at his time of life and after having long since 
become accustomed to marshalling and drilling parades and like. But of course 
John T. Brittain had a sort of native-born irreverence for dignities and dis- 
ciplinarians. I believe it may have been on this occasion that Mr. Brttain re- 
marked: "I teil you, if somebody would just give Colonel McAlister a pair 
lof feather britches, he would make the best hand to raise young chickens that 
ever was." I tell that story not exactly on Col. McAlister, but on Mr. Brittain's 
account. For he was as lively a wit as we had, even if a bit caustic or irreverent. 
In his office in his latter days, I recalled this comment of his to him, v/hich 
calls for confession that I have sometimes been too ready for iconoclastic humor. 
"Did I say that?", said Mr. Brittain. He had forgotten it. 

i The Asheboro band was a feature of that Vance speech-making. We had 
a pretty good one over long years, always led and trained by Albert Betts. 
Their usual fee for attending a school occasion was $15, but I do seem to 
recall the public joining in an effort to get them some uniforms. They cer- 
tainly made enough cheap contributions to the town. Albert Betts, son of 
Uncle Joe, was a wood-worker by trade and had lost about half of two im- 
portant fingers on his fingering hand. But I was fascinated to stand close and 
see how he could and did make that cornet go just the same, in spite of those 
stubs of fingers. That cornet rang clear, loud, and true, in the lead. To me 
at least he seemed a perfect wizard with it, especially when he did a solo. I 
was for one quite ready to be told that he was great among the cornet-greats. 
His brother Rufus played the trombone, and I think it was brother John who 
belabored the big drum. Sister Hannah was leading alto in the Methodist choir. 
■All of this helps to remind us how music tends to run in families where a 
tradition of it lies. You just don't pick up quality of life, especially with 
musical or artistic tones in it, in any one isolated generation. I would like 
to knov/ if there was not some Moravian or German blood somev>'here in the 
Betts family. 

But to get back or around to the feature of the day, Vance's speech: that was 
one of the greatest disappointments of all my boyhood yeai's. You see there 
was that background. Hardly anybody in North Carolina today is able to im- 
agine what a reputation as orator and story teller Zeb Vance had. Possibly 
:that repute was somewhat greater among Democrats than among political oppon- 
ents, but it was big enough to bring him big audiences of all sorts and kinds. They 
flocked to hear him this time. Physically he was still a magnificent man to look 
at, well over six feet tall, well proportioned, handsome of face, noble orbs for 
' eyes. But on this day of my opportunity to see and hear him, he looked old, 
worn out, unless it was that he was disgusted with political life. I suppose 
I his speech was weighty and convincing. I might as vvell confess that is not 



63 



^r^ 



what I was ready and listening for. Where was the fire? Where the uplifiting 
oratory? Where the stories to remember? With me, it was a case of one of those 
build-ups of a reputation that upon this occasion utterly refused to justify itself. 

But after my own buildup to you about Vance as a story-teUer, I can't 
althogether let it go at that, v/ith no illustration at all. I said that I now re- 
member just two sure-enough Vance stories, that is, belonging without much 
doubt to him. And so I will tell one of them. Both of them are sufficiently off- 
color not to have been told in mixed audiences and to have shocked a little 
bit even in a public speech which had to go into the records. Maybe the one 
I tell will draw from others some more of the good ones, the laughs, that 
haunted the shadow of the man. 

This one comes from the United States Senate, at a time when the Republican 
majority was about to pass a pork-barrel bill allotting Federal money for 
dredging a small river or stream in Wisconsin or Michigan. Vance was acting 
in the role of a "watch-dog of the treasury" and deriding this appropriation. 
"Why, Mr. President and Fellow Senators, this is ridiculous. How can anybody 
justify the spending of Federal money for dredging such insignificant streams 
as this. Why, Mr. President, I could piss across this stream." "Order, Order, 
Order", came the shouts from the floor. "The Senator is out of order", said the 
Vice-presidiftfr" "Mr. President", said Vance, "I know I am out of order. If I 
weren't, I could piss twice across it." 







Old "Drake Hotel" owned and opertated by B. B. Burns, later purchased 
by M. S. Robins. It was located on the East side of Main Street 



64 



" Poor White Trash" 

"Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man, 
Washed his face in the fryin' pan, 
Combed his head with the wagon wheel, 
And died with the toothache in his heel." 

Asheboro once owned an old fellow by the name of Dan Tucker. I remember 
him as living somewhere in the Westerly environs of the town, and showing 
himself in public quite infrequently, but always noticeably. He was rough 
and somewhat uncouth, miserably clad in what looked like somebody's cast- 
offs, of course illiterate in speech; and I reckon that is why we all learned 
that old backwoods rhyme as well as we did. He forced us to think of it 
whenever he put in any sort of an appearance, although he was harmless and 
well-meaning enough so far as I ever heard, never accused of anything more 
serious than just his appearance. 

I really suppose that most old old towns have had their string of characters 
of the sort, who really seemed not to belong exactly to the body politic, 
unless you mean in the sense of being hangers-on or perhaps sometimes public 
charges. Asheboro certainly had its share of poor whites who lived a miserable 
hand-to-mouth existence, and slept in hovels or maybe, in the summertime, 
outdoors. When it is said of them that some may have had a low mentality 
but that none of them had ever had any opportunities until it was far too 
late, that is as much as any of us have the right to say. I feel quite sure we 
lacked the wisdom to deal with them as God would have liked us to deal with 
them. And I also suspect that we lacked some of the means that are at hand 
now. 

All Randolph and all Western Carolina has had wonderful opportunity since 
1900 to learn how much capacity, and how varied, there was in the mass of 
us at the turn of the century, which capacity had never had a chance. This 
country had always been poor. In Colonial days, our Western farming and 
livelihood was poor because we had no roads or navigable rivers; and to market 
a bushel of wheat or corn over our muddy roads, which did not lead to any 
place that had money anyhow, cost as much as it did to grow that bushel of 
corn in the first place. That, and taxes, is what the war of the Regulators 
was about in the 1760s. After the Revolution, we developed very little in- 
dustry and grew only a mite richer, for the old reasons. The Civil War gave 
us additional reasons for being poor. I really suppose it was the plank roads; 
then, quickly, the coming of the railroads; then better farm roads and through 
ones; and electricity, that hit us in rather swift succession and began to pry 
us out of our sort of ghetto. 

I had been away from Asheboro after 1900, so far as living there means, 
but 1 remember how my ears began to pop at reports. We discovered that we 
had men among us who possessed enough ability to make a lot of money and 

65 



become really rich. First thing you knew, there was even a 'millionaire' next 
door. People of my Asheboro time never would have been able of course to 
guess which ones were to be millionaires, or how they would make it. 

I remember driving in horse and buggy days through those cotton-mill 
towns we then had on Deep River, and seeing the girls leaning out of the mill 
windows, in bags of old dresses, more than likely with sweet-gum toothbrushes 
for dipping snuff hanging out of their mouths. The difference came gradually 
but unbelievably fast. Even twenty years ago, if you went to those same towns 
you would find all the girls dressed as well as anywhere else for what they were 
engaged in doing. And they all had Sears Roebuck catalogues at home, and 
had begun even to keep up with Paris fashions to a degree. And while I have 
been familiar with New England factory or mill-work, I aver that none of it 
is superior to ours in its aspect of intelligence. 

We have discovered how much more education the mass of us could take. 
Why, many of the old timers, including by hearsay my grandfather Robins, 
used to think that the thi-ee R's were education enough for ordinary people 
and farmers in particular: reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic! I don't know but 
we were afraid of education back there: we had been taught so long by re- 
ligion that questioning, doubting, and practically any novelty of reaching out, 
was sin or next door to it. Cultivating the mind was dangerous! 

Even the people we thought of as poor whites, even some of our disreputable 
families, have blossomed out since opportunity opened up for white people. 
Now it has begun to open for blacks — not fast enough in these days of more 
education. It was Ai'istotle who said that revolutions are not made by slaves, 
but by the half-free. I am saying we have had our eyes popped many times 
though. /- 

Speaking of disreputable: Asheboro had its families whose younger people 
never looked you in the eyes when you met them. They didn't go to school. 
The parents were a bit more hardened, but that is the pity of it. There comes 
a mental picture of one of these white families (I mean a recall) coming up 
a lane very close to my home, strung out in a line, or Indian file, wearing 
ragged clothes revealing rusty hand and necks, sunbonnets if anything on the 
girls' heads, excuses for shoes or barefooted, scarcely looking to right or left 
— glancing I think, ve^y likely on the way to see a little of civilization while 
acquiring five cents' worth of salt pork at a grocery. Sitting alongside my 
friend Sam Walker, while he was running a grocery, I have seen him sell less 
than five cents' worth at a time, whether to white or black, dipping down one 
hand into a barrel of salt and pulling out some of the small pieces. These people 
had no conversation. If you made them talk, they would be evasive, shy off, 
turn away. In fact they acted more or less like wild animals, though throughly 
reined in by something — perhaps by an intimidating air or atmosphere of 
respectability or difference of tribe. 

The family of this kind I most often saw lived in a log cabin in an oak grove 
not more than a mile from our house. But we hardly ever went to the edge 



of their clearing. They cleared to get firewood, a little at a time. The boys 
used to say that if you walked through the edge of the clearing you might 
see people jumping and running out of the bushes in opposite directions, 
somebody possibly there you might think you knew, but who was trying hard 
to keep from being recognized. When that family came into town there was 
one boy who very plainly had had a negro father. O Yes, gossip, utterly 
unresponsible and not be trusted gossip, used to hint that there was "good" 

I blood in some members of that family. 

It is better to tell something like the truth even about Asheboro. In this day, 
and tomorrow, we do not want to be dreaming of old Asheboro as a place, 
or existence, we would love to go back to. It had some beautiful people and 
things in it. But in some most important respects it was definitely inferior 
to the Asheboro of this moment. It was definitely inferior in the matter of 
possibilities open, and of challenge to all that is in a body. 

One certainly suspects that the draft of the first Wold War did some- 
thing for some families. It probably showed some of the nlembers that if they 
exhibited a little fortitude, a little bit of the ability to endure hardships, a 
readiness to take things as they come, as well as a little courage under fire, 

i that they were the equals of anybody else whatever in some very practical and 

I unmistakable ways. That is a mighty yeastly revolution! under some of those 
heads they had had more than their share of preparation for "making good." 

' Presently one heard of a young girl in an underprivileged family of Asheboro 

I taking a job in a Government office in Washington. I hope she didn't change 
her name. Old man Opportunity had at last got around to her door and knocked. 
Very likely he had showed up at the very first in a public lav/ which said that 
all children within the township limits must go to school. That law was a power- 
tool going to work in the region of the humanities. I really suppose our 
poverty programs have sometimes opened opportunity where there had been 
none. So mote it be! When you are a baby you can't fight an even-handed 
battle for yourself. Nor can you at five or six years. And only a few years after 

' that, the hopeful part of the battle is all over. The rest of it is just the forlorn 
hopes v/hich may indeed be better than nothing. 

But perhaps the real matter worth study would be observations of what 
the coming of industry, the making of more jobs, have actually done for some 

' of the kind of families I have recalled. Maybe it could not be published yet, 
that study; but it would be good for some people in churches and town offices 
to know the results of that study. I have been too far away from Asheboro, 
so far as living there is concerned, to know anything in that direction. But 
I do know that when I go there now I no longer see people marching Indian- 
file, with that look of utter "don't belong" to the human race, or America, 

1 on their faces. 

' You will observe that nothing much has been said here about our problem 
of civil rights for Colored people. I would prefer to think, to hope, that the 

67 



body of them no longer think of themselves as outside the life of the town. 
I hope that by this time they are coming to feel as some of my "Uncles" and 
"Aunts" somehow succeeded in feeling to an extent, that the town would in the 
future at least be theirs as much as anybody's. 



68 



Schooling in Asheboro 

The teachers you remember are not the ones who taught you books, but 
those who taught themselves, who gave you their personality to react to, re- 
vealed their own inspiration and feeling about life. That is probably the reason 
we have lasting and important memory of so few teachers. I suppose all good 
or fair teachers put a portion of themselves into their work, even in these days 
of too large classes, too much paper work, too much struggle to grade large 
numbers of pupils and pass them on; but most teachers seem to lack the freedom 
and free-play they need to do their best. What are we going to do about that? 

Of some teachers we remember one or two odd characteristics, habits, or 
incidents; but the point is what we get out of them as teachers. And to some 
of them we owe a great debt, more than we can ever pay. It is a great pro- 
fession, a part of that one profession which has as its objective making or 
stimulating the growth of human beings and "changing human nature." 

Before I was six or eligible for public school, my parents sent me and my 
older brother Henry as well for a year or more to a private school carried on 
in her own home by Miss Nannie Bulla. She lived in the Bolivar Bulla house 
on the Cox Street corner next what was for many years the only school building 
and lot of the town. She was a tall, handsome, lady, the best soprano voice 
and church soloist in town. She was kind and thoughtful for kiddies, saw that 
they had their rubbers and wraps on and off right, taught them to read in 
Holmes' First or Second readers, and to use their slates for writing and I 
suppose for a figure or two. That is all I remember and it seems enough for 
those tender years. 

The big three-room frame public school building had been put up not more 
than a year or so when I started in there, for I remember the inside as well 
as the outside of the one-room school which preceded it, and remember being 
in it once and seeing three older girls in the front rows looking up: my cousin 
Blanche Wood (Redding), Rowena Moffitt (Morris) and Minnie Hancock (Hammer.) 
The new schoolhouse had one big room which housed all the pupils except the 
primary kids, who had one of the two smaller rooms and were provided with 
a separate entrance. Most of my time at least, that room was presided over 
by Mrs. Jennie Hancock. I suppose it was when all the windows were open, 
that she used to stick her head out of the window and say: "Oh, Mr. Gurney, 
will you please get my mail?" That was addressed to Gurney Henley, son of 
our Doctor, who was a part time scholar about ready to leave us. The primary 
children never forgathered with the rest of the school, but the intermediate 
children, of whom I began as one, all had their desks in the main big room, 
and went for their class sessions to the other smaller room in turn. The main 
room was heated by a large stove in the middle of the front-and-back center 
aisle. It could get awfully cold in that room, and in deep winter we spent a 
good deal of time snapping our fingers and getting permission to go over and 

69 



sit by the stove to study. There were usually empty desks around it, and I 
suppose a chair or two. 

It was a considerable task for the principal, who was also a teacher, to 
maintain order in that room, although it never held more than seventy-five 
or eighty of us. He spent a good proportion of his time going ai'ound the 
room with a ruler in his hand, looking over shoulder, occasionally applying 
the ruler a little. 

The school was then ungraded. Some of us would be much more advanced 
in one or two subjects than in others. I myself, when rather well advanced 
for age in most subjects, was sluggish and out of line in arithmetic. I still 
have to add a column of figures three times, and then do not feel quite sure 
of myself. When one teacher wanted to arrange his penmanship groups, I got 
an astonishingly high ranking^ as sheer result of loving to see my John Hancock 
so much that I had practiced it until it made too good an impression for my 
own welfare. If all forms of egotism reacted against us as fast as that one 
did to cause embarrassment, it might be a good thing. 

It seems as if the first principal or two I knew were ladies. Certainly I 
recall a Miss Hubbard there when I was quite small. She was a dignified and 
impressive woman, and maintained good order within her orbit, which may 
have been the main room. 

But the first principal to make a striking and abiding impression upon 
me was certainly James B. Game. He was a disciplinarian, a cracker of the 
whip, a man who intimidated you. Perhaps he was a teacher; I was too young 
to know anything about that, my classes being in the Intermediate room. My 
picture of him is without smiles in it. But he was a man who commanded 
respect and kept things going smoothly. Some ten or fifteen years ago. I saw 
the name of James B. Game on the faculty roll of the University of Florida, 
Gainsville, and wondered if that was the man I remembered. Those were days 
when many University students taught school to earn money or to pay schooling 
debts. 

As presiding over that big room, I next remember two Durham brothers. 
The elder had Stonewall Jackson for his given nam's; and the younger one was 
called Plato. The latter was afterwards long a well-known teacher at Duke 
University. I am at this moment wondering if he is the teacher who started 
me too high up in penmanship class, where pride went before a fall. He had 
a pleasing, large, personality, smiling a good deal. "Stony" was the disciplinar- 
ian of the two. 

Somewhere along there, after the Durhams, came "Charlie" Tomlinson, from 
the Archdale community. I was coming along in years when he arrived, for 
I clearly recall his doing me out of a victory at the Friday afternoon spelling- 
match for the whole school by giving a handsome girl three or four chances 
to spell a certain word, vidth me next in line and eager, but knowing I would 
get but one chance if it ever got to be my turn. He smiled at the handsome 
older girls, and from this eminence of the years, who can blame him? A man 

70 



needs some fun in teaching school. Anyhow, while I hated him at the moment 
and used to recall what the word was we were spelling, until fifteen or 
twenty years ago, I have grown mort tolerant and have now forgotten it. (I 
think it was "stupendous.") 

Somewhere on the line came in James M. Bandy, from Trinity, a retired 
professor who had not followed Trinity College to Durham, on its way to be- 
come Duke University. He was better with the older part of the students. 
His specialty was mathematics and he spent hours at the board in the big 
room, diagramming arithmetic and beginning algebra — incidentially explain- 
ing the logical syllogism to his hearers. From him I learned that three dots 
in a triangle mean Therefore. But he opened the opportunity for some of the 
smaller kids to show they were not amused nor helped to concentrate on their 
lessons. Along about this time, the idea of diagramming grammar was creeping 
into schools from those Teachers Institues they hekl in the courthouses; and that 
was a business my father, an old time teacher, was openly contemptuous of 
and snorty about. I suspect the reason was that in his day the teaching had been 
frankly adapted to the smarter boys and girls; and the dumb ones, who could 
use a lot of diagramming and other helps, were simply neglected. Nov/ we 
have to teach everybody. In his days only the few were supposed to get be- 
yond the three r's. 

Then came, as principal of our school, one George H. Crowell; and I think 
many of my contemporaries will join me in saying that he made an epoch in 
our schooling life. I was getting to adolescent a£e v/hcrc a s::ark may find tinder 
to catch; but I feel sure I can speak for some Vv-ho were older and some who 
were younger than I. The man was a lumbering, bulky, loud-voiced, intense sort 
of a man, — on his way already to becoming a Methodist preacher and orator. 
All at once, morning prayers became a feature of school. There was not a 
Roman Catholic or a Jew in town to object, and first arrivals of such sects 
would have sung small anyhow. We learned many familiar Methodist hymns 
by heart. His big, booming, voice dominated the singing as it often did the 
room when he was merely just teaching a class up there in the front benches. 
I got my first feeling of the beauty of some English poetry while still an urchin, 
when a Senior class was on the front reciting-benches studying Scott's 
Lady of the Lake and Tennyson's The Princess. 

The splendor falls on castle walls 
And sunlit summits old in story; 

The long light shakes along the lakes 
And the wild cataract leaps in glory. 
Our Friday afternoon recitation period took on meaning. It scared me badly 
to stand up in public and deliver a declamation I had learned by heart, but 
nevertheless there was nothing else I so loved to do and so honed to acquire 
skill and confidence at doing. I guess we all acquired a piece or two and got 
them tagged as ours for reciting. Tom Worth spoke Horatius at the Bridge 

71 



while his brother George had a humorous piece about an old Negro and his 
mule named Nebuchadnezzar. An older fellow from the country, named Hancock, 
recited Hohenlinden. John East would speak a piece from Atlanta editor Henry 
Woofden Grady. My specialty was The Burial of Sir John Moore. I can pin 
down only one of the girls: Esther Ross recited: 

Miss Flora McFlimsey of Madison Square 
Was always complaining of nothing to wear. 

At Commencement everybody recited, and the older ones were supposed 
to write orations for themselves. I tried but wound up with a mosaic into 
which Mr. Crowell felt obligated to poke a few orotund sentences. We were 
sent into the woods in pairs to practice declaiming at one another. Joe Ross 
asked me: "Did you write that part?" I had to admit it was something Mr. 
Crowell had tacked on. We once built a brush arbor and had Commencement 
outdoors, something the people down at Farmers did every year, where many 
of us visited. 

Under Crowell the school began having theatricals and pageants. I was 
too young for much of that. But those things certainly added to the school 
life. So did the Page Literary Society for boys, which met every Friday evening 
for debating whether there had been progress in history, or arguing woman 
suffrage or Free Silver (that would be in 1895 or 1896.) Charlie Ross and John 
East were easily our two debating leaders, though Milo Hammond, John Hammer 
and the Blair brothers were notev/orthy. 

Mr. Crowell was full of enthusiam and eloquence himself, and you surely 
see that some of it must have been contagious all around. He loved poetry 
and was devout in his religious piety. He loved boys, and maybe girls in the 
proper way of that. He was ambitious for his students and felt responsible 
for their moral education. There he got into trouble and met resistance which 
led to the necessity of some rather sad expulsions. When Bamum's circus, 1 
think it was, came to town, the big boys wanted to attend the circus in the after- 
noon instead of school. He felt the circus had an immoral side, and that the 
boys should go in the evening if at all, and with their parents. He started 
whipping a row of big boys, met resistance, and it all led to two or three boys 
leaving school when they should not have done so. K Crowell had not gained 
a pretty firm grip on the town in other ways, he would probably have been 
compelled to go. Are you of those who think we ought to have perfect teachers, 
politicians, lawyers, labor union leaders? Teachers are desiderated for, expected 
to be, gifted in every aspect of their work rather than men of very special 
or rare good gifts? Where do you suppose is the supply of all-around per- 
fection? There surely is a demand for it, and from all sides. Every profession 
or job would like to skim the crop of not only gifted but perfectly rounded and 
matured material for itself. 

I think George H. Crowell acted more like yeast in the dough than any 
teacher I ever saw until I met Horace Williams at Chapel Hill, and William 
James at Hai'vard. In later life he became preacher, teacher at a Texas college, 

72 



President I believe at the college founded in High Point. A big man in spirit, 
generous if opinionated, hot in his old time religion and its ideas of compul- 
sory morals, I found him "apt to teach," gifted with some divine enthusiam. 
I am glad Asheboro did not wait for a perfectly well-balanced and truly broad- 
minded man when they engaged him. 

I omit speaking of Newbold, who followed Crowell I believe, for the good 
reason that I was away in Massachusetts. After him, "Fatty" Holmes gave me 
an enthusiasm for Greek studies, and encouraged me in writing rather than 
in speaking ■ — something in which I had more of a chance. Once on a horse 
and buggy trip with him into the country somewhere, he pointed with his 
I whip to a cornfield bright in the sun and asked me the color of the cornfield. 
I O course I answered green. He said it was white. And he made me see it 
i that way or think of it for the first time. Maybe an edge of green where the 
! sun did not fall right, but white from side to side. He v/as of the artistic tempera- 
ment and some thought him a bit effeminate or feminine. He taught me to 
respect artists, and to remember that they can see things that I cannot see at 
first. In fact he gave me a certain youthful modesty against just expressing 
myself as I stand "in my stocking feet." He reminded me that there is a teacher 
for everything, as well as a bevy of us half-baked novices impatiently popping 
our eyes at the big world and telling what we see without waiting for artists 
of one kind or another. I for one had to do an awful lot of growing up, and 
some of these men, as well as many of their successors, have helped me on 
a lot from where I was. 



73 




(Picture courtesy of Historical Society) 

The Female Academy was built in 1839 and is still standing at the Armfleld 
homeplace on North Fayetteville Street. This building was used for a 
private school for young women from 1839 until the late 1880's except for 
the war years (1861-1865) when it was used for barracks. The property was 
sold and the funds were applied to a public school for Asheboro. This 
picture was made by Mrs. J. E. Carson around 1900. 



74 




(Picture Courtsey of S. B. Stedman) 

The first public school building on the Fayetteville Street property. 
This picture was taken in 1895 

The old Male Academy which was erected in the 1830's was located on 
this same property. It was used for a barracks during the Civil War. The 
militia parade ground was near the academy. The academy was either 
burned or torn down. The wood school building was built in the early 
1890's. It too burned later. 



75 




The graded School was built in 1909 on the same Fayetteville Street 

property. 




Fayetteville Street School after the wings were added 1923-1926. This 
property was sold in 1969 and the school was torn down, thus ending 
more than a hundred years of its use for school purposes. 



76 



That Old Time Religion 



I begin this Marcii 7, 1969. About two weeks ago I found that over the Fall 
and Winter last I had written, on the side of some other pursuits, fifteen 
sketches of boyhood scenes and happenings in Asheboro. And I had done it v/ith- 
out having written anything about that institution which for all people of the 
town, young and old, probably meant more even than the schools. Why had I 
not found ready and seeming worthwhile tales or tale of anything, or anybody, 
connected with the churches there? Why was I still unable to get started on 
any word at all that would show respect and significant memory for the old- 
time religion back there? The cause was not disrespect, but there was a road- 
block. And only this morning it has come to me what that difficulty or road- 
block was. 

It was that I had nothing worth saying about that side of Asheboro that 
would not bring myself in too much. I had set out to tell tales about the setting 
in which I grew up, and at least had kept that purpose in the center. But 
religion is a very personal thing — in fact the most personal thing there is — 
and it simply refuses to be written about in that impersonal way, unless maybe 
by someone who indeed feels himself to be a rank outsider to what he is writing 
about. 

Having found out the reason, I am going to defy the difficulty and apply 
the straight forward method of writing about what I knew of religion in Ashe- 
boro, leaving the history of the churches to those already in that field and v/ho 
have records at hand. 

Any picture of the Asheboro in which I grew up, or the Randolph, which 
does not feature the churches and the brush-arbors, the religion-colored or dic- 
tated mores, and the strenuous efforts to "convert" the young (especially), is or 
would be most out of focus. 

As I face the subject and the matter, very present to me is that week-end 
bath, which came either Saturday night or Sunday morning. With us that was 
in one of those vride-flanged tin tubs. At some times of the year to be sure, a 
Saturday afternoon trip to the swimming-hole, made that dispensable. Then, I 
recall getting out one's Sunday clothes on the Sunday morning, and the shining 
up of shoes. Never that I remember had I but one pair of shoes though, and I 
never wore shoes in summer. How tough those foot-soles would get within a 
week or so of barefooting it up and down and hither and yon. About the time 
the shoes had been shined, the Presbyterian and the Methodist Episcopal Church 
bells began ringing in companionship, in spite of the fact that the Presbyterians 
would not hold their Sunday School until late afternoon. Families of children, 
teachers, some parents, began sedately walking in groups past the corner, but 
getting into single and careful line when side-walks were all mud, as was often 
the case. At every corner other homes were debouching their dressed-up progeny 
and accompaniments on to the converging trail. Before we got to the church, 
the Methodist bell at least would be ding-donging again, and we usually made 

77 



it just about in good time. The Presbyterians held their Sunday School later so 
that the children could get a second dose if the first one proved not enough. 
And sometimes we did apply for a second treatment. There was nothing else to 
do of a sociable or playful kind. No Sunday paper! No shift to old clothes! There 
would probably be family calling later if nothing else. 

The dominant personalities of the town ran those Sunday Schools, even de- 
corated them. Col. J. Ed Walker was for donkey's years the booming superin- 
tendent and singing-leader at the Methodist Church. Wm. Penn Wood would be 
on hand as church treasurer, maybe to keep the School collections, anyhow to 
be a prominent corner-sitter in the older men's class. G. Sam Bradshaw, clerk of 
Court, later W. J. Scarborough, had the older girls class. Rufus Fraizer taught the 
teen-age boys group. Good man, everybody remarked on how he worked up his 
lesson for presentation! At times he certainly strove hard to get Saint Paul's 
travels straight, as well as at other times the Gospel scenes. I remember being 
awfully son-y for him one Sunday, when he turned his questions to one or two 
of us who were supposed to be decently bright in the public schools, and we 
showed all too plainly that we had not done our homework. That Sunday it 
seemed to me that I saw him almost throw up his hands in despair. 

Miss Hope Hubbard of Farmer tells me that her grandfather David Porter 
was long superintendent of the Presbyterian Church Sunday School. She says 
also that he often acted as sexton and sometimes would roll a wheelbarrow full 
of wood from his own home to church of a Sunday morning, to fill the maw of 
the good-sized stove up front, which was the only means of heating. I think I 
remember his son Sam performing that wheelbarrov; act. I remember the Pres- 
byterian church as for one reason or another hard to heat, and it may be their 
heating-system was devised only to heat up by afternoon. 

There v/as an interval between Sunday School and Church, and usually 
this was spent either in front-steps gossip or in walking all over the cemetery, 
and inspecting many of the grave-stones. Believe it or not, there was a Sunday 
when I v/as fourteen years old, or else fifteen, that I spent that interval follow- 
ing grave-yard paths alone, and muttering or moaning to myself: "God is dead, 
God is dead!" Not so uncommon an adolescent disease even then, as one might 
think! 

The adult population began streaming along, and the choir began refreshing 
on the anthem a little, as soon as Sunday School was out. Presently you missed 
hardly anybody from the central part of the town except the Presbjterians, a 
few sick people or ancients, Louis Bulla the town non-conformist, skeptic and 
wit, and J. A. Blair and family, Quakers. At that, I do believe Florence Blair 
sang in the choir. For Methodist preachers, my memory goes back as far as Mr. 
Futrell. Asheboro being the county-seat, I suspect it had quite as able and good 
preaching as it deserved from the supply. I remember as preachers who could 
talk well, A. E. Carter, A. W. Plyler, as well as Presiding Elder Frank Wood. 
These men were all orators, and they didn't bore me except when they spoke 
too long. I recall Parker Holmes as definitely a kindly and good man. 

78 



The Presbyterians for a long time had Dr. Egbert Smith, from High Point, 

who preached there in the morning, and then behind old Dobbin got down to 

Asheboro for the late afternoon assignment. Or did he come from Greensboro? 

Anyhow he belonged to that Smith family which adorned the state in more than 

one profession. Later at Chapel Hill I contacted his brother, C. Alphonso Smith, 

biographer of O. Henry. 

II Within my quite early years we lost two well-known members of the local -'] 

Ibar to the ministry: Mike Bradshaw, and J. T. Crocker. Bradshaw became a 

I Presiding Elder down East. I think this helps to show how close the churches 

1 were to the town and to the top and brains of it. However something G. Sam 

Bradshaw said to me might have had a little to do with his brother and Crocker 

leaving the bar to be clergymen. He told me that my father, v/ho had by long 

service become the dean of the bar, "set ises so low that it was exceedingly 

difficult for other lawyers to make a good living" — especially no doubt the 

younger men who were just trying to get into the field. I simply mean that 

when a man has to spend too much time staring at the blank wall of his office, 

the Holy Ghost has a good chance to come in and speak to him. And in those 

days there was not a great deal of legal business anyhow. Two two-week terms 

I of Superior Court was all that custom or law called for, one week criminal and 

I one civil; and usually Court adjourned before its two weeks were out. Office i 

I business corresponded in measure, one supposes. 

I Not only did the churches dispense what religion got dispensed by preaching ! 

such as the age afforded. They were also the prime source of culture, in the '' 

narrower sense of that word, for most of the town and country. There was no i'* 

public library in the county, unless you mean the typical children's shelf at the ]■' 

church rear. Town and countryside were pretty much alike. Every first - rate 
! farmer had a short shelf with half a dozen books on it. I read P.T. Barnum's I- 

. autobiography off such a shelf while spending a week on the Alexander Murdoch I 

farm at Lassiter's mills. We must remember that as late as this there were 
many people in Randolph, both white and black, who could not read or write. 
I There were and still are other regions not too different from us in their 

reading habits. When I retired from teaching and got my books hauled to Con- 
way, New Hampshire, the truck driver, who had delivered another part-load on 
his way, found a heavy old quarto book of some kind in the bottom of his truck. 
He tried to leave it on me so as to be rid of it. "Better take it," said he, "it's 
got lots of readin' in it." A friend of mine from Hanover, same state, told me 
the story of two men on the street talking about what to give a common friend 
of their^for Christmas. One of them said: "0, give him a book." The other said, 
"He's got a book." 

Pope Leo back in the Dark Ages told people who objected to statues in 
churches, and pictures in the glass window, that these were the books of peo- 
ple who could not read. 

Sermons in my early experience sometimes sent you home to look up a 
Bible story and find out how the story really came out. The Old Testament was 
read a lot. Sermons helped me to find some of the juicy parts and passages of 

! 79 



the Old Testament, parts no elderly and loving friends would have encouraged 
you to read. 

The nevi^spapers of the day I do believe did more for people than they 
do now in the way of editorials, but they certainly now give you vastly more of 
world affairs than we got from our old newspapers. Our weeklies hardly got be- 
yond local gossip, births and deaths. Preaching, even if from texts, mentioned 
many famous names you might be tempted to look up. Occasionally they dealt 
a bit with significant moments of history. 

I am making the simple point that sermons in our kind of desert had some 
educational value of a broad kind. Perhaps their most common theme was that 
people should not let themselves be caught by this terrible monster whose name 
is Doubt. I guess we were taught that to use the huinan mind where it might 
lead to any different conclusions than those involved or implied in the church's 
system of mores and Sabbath observances, was Sin of the worst kind. But even 
so, the harangue which was intended to prove that, and such reasoning as came 
from the pulpit, could be and often v/ere used by some minds to reach the op- 
posite conclusion. Even the Bible has to be interpreted, and varieties of inter- 
pretations of the very same texts have produced most of the different kinds of 
sects and denominations that we already have. Because the Roman Church knew 
that the Bible in the hands of the people would lead to variant interpretations 
and to splitting up into sects, it tried to head off the whole notion of letting 
people have the Bible in their own hands and in their own language. 

Every Wednesday evening over long years my mother claimed me for es- 
cort to her Wednesday evening Prayer-meeting. I suppose that was when I was 
about the right age to be available and unoccupied. But also you saw some of 
the girls there, and a few boys. And I liked to sing, most anything I could learn 
by rote. The prayers of the stand-bys of the church got to be stock affairs. John 
Wesley had told them it would be that way if they kept confining their preach- 
ing to the same walls and the same people! I suppose I picked up a fairly good 
old-time Methodist vocabulary for praying. But one positive thing anybody could 
learn at such places is that for Methodists religion is an inner experience, not 
just something to argue about or to reduce to words. 

The church had parties and picnics, and some effort was made to get hold 
of and to feed for once some of the children of the poorer and more distant 
families that did not get to Sunday School. Around Christmas time, there was 
not only Santa Claus, the candy bag and the orange, at the Christmas tree in the 
church, with much of the town present; but there v/as also joyous singing of 
Christmas carols. New and juicy things to sing were found by the organist, my 
Aunt, Mrs. Mary (Thorns) Moring. Nowhere else have I ever heard this one: 
"Jingle, jingle, jing, jing, jing; 
Jingle, jingle, jing; 
Jingle, jingle, come Kris Kringle, 
Come to the Christmas tree." 
Somewhere she had dug up sleigh-bells for us kids on this one. 

A very major part of the religious story is those revivals which the Metho- 

80 



dist Church saw to our having at least once a year, with some supposedly gifted 

orator from a distance to do the preaching. These men had not only religious 

fervor but gifts of speech and of language, in the first place calculated to attract 

1 the crowds. I remember stepping inside a revival tent near the depot in High 

I Point one time and hearing the orator, who was preaching against cigarette 

smoking, tell his audience that if the Almighty had intended men to use their 

I noses for smoke-stacks he would have turned them the other end up. Such turns 

of speech and other platform gifts drew unbelievers, and made the fame of the 

great Southern revivalist of that time, the Rev. Sam Jones. Jones once asked a 

I Durham congregation how many of them had read the book of Samson. The most 

I pious woman in the church, knowing she had read the whole Bible through more 

I than once, raised her hand, and got a terrible lashing for not knowing there was 

ino such book. 

i| But of course the honest effort and felt responsibility of the devoted 

'pastors of small towns like Asheboro looked towards converting their young 
people and bringing them into the church. And these revivals usually did add 
some of these, a few, every time they were held. It is also true that there were 
certain ones in town who seemingly "got religion" all over again at each revival. 
They could be pretty well depended upon to start the march on the sawdust 
' who preached there in the morning, and then behind old Dobbin got down to 
trail. I wondered about that routine of being converted and backsliding and con- 
verted over again although I do not mean that it was typical. The Presbyterian 
i Church had a different tradition and, as a rule, did not go in for revivals. How- 
■ ever they fell in line a time or two, and Mad their own, hardly distinguishable 
i in kind. 

I I myself cannot report that I ever went through anything like a typical 

religious conversion. And as a matter of fact I never joined any church what- 

- ever until after I had earned what they call a doctorate in philosophy. Then, 

I having, I suppose, had an overdose of the intellectual life, instead of going into 

' teaching that subject, I accepted a proffered ministry in a village New England 

church where I "preached" for some seven years, still without ever having joined 

; any church. Then I helped to sort of reorganize the platform of that church and 

joined it, not upon any "profession of faith" but upon a covenant which had to 

do with common purpose and aims. That would not have been possible under 

some kinds of denominational rule of course. 

But I was strongly affected, like others of my age, by some of these Metho- 
dist revivals. Once the evangelist called for "penitents" — or whatever it was, 
three or four times, and was successful in getting his handful of my contem- 
poraries. Then, in a sort of last act, not uncommon at revivals, he asked any who 
proposed henceforth to live a Christian life to come up and give him their 
hands. I arose, got up to the front, and shook hands with him. In the act of 
shaking hands, I felt a definite physiological sensation descend upon me which 
I once described in writing but have never told anybody about until now. (In 
other words, that former writing did not see the light.) It felt as if a ring of 

81 



lightness (not color but weight I am talking about, that is non-weight) had fallen 
upon and around my shoulders. You might think I had been reading about poor 
old Christian in Pilgrim's Progress, losing his burden. And that is quite possible 
to think of as back of the experience, for along in those years somewhere I did 
pore over Bunyan's book. But I did not think of any such analogy then, indeed 
I did not think of any analogy at all. No doubt at all there was some kind of 
relief from emotional pressure which took that form. But an interesting point 
about it to a psychologist might possibly be that after less than so many seconds 
I was disturbed about it rather than elated or lifted up. I was definitely afraid 
I had got myself into something I did not and could not understand. I walked 
home feeling queer, with the ring of lightness persisting. I wanted to ask some- 
one about it but was too shy. During dinner I am sure I was unusually quiet. 
After dinner, I asked permission to visit a cousin vi^hom I had picked out as 
about the most sensible and knowing person of near my own years, if a bit older. 
That was Mabel Wood, later Underwood. I found her in the Penn Wood front 
yard, snipping roses at the beds between front door and gate. I walked around 
and around with her among those rose beds, watching the buds fall in to her 
basket, discussing the revival. She gave me her parents' opinion that the emotio- 
nality of these revivals could be overdone, and often was. Somehow that view 
comforted me. There is no other word for it! But, believe me or not, it took all 
of a week for that distinct feeling of a ring of lightness around my shoulders 
to pass away. I am definitely sure that I was somewhat relieved as well let down, 
perhaps a trifle demoted and restored to nature, when the thing was clean gone. 

Out of that experience I got at least the point that religion is, or can be, 
an experience, sometimes physiological in part but mental and all-over as well. 
I got the Methodist point that religion is not something you maybe believe in 
but something that gets you. I have never lost that point of contact with Metho- 
dism. Religion and God can either of them be something to take you by the 
scruff of the neck, call you 'a mean thing,' and tell you to seek to get right. As 
St. Augustine said, not to know God, is not not-believing in him; it is not to see 
him. Hippo's saint might as well have added, "or not to feel him." 

As to my eventually joining a church on the basis of a Covenant of Purpose 
instead of a Confession of Faith, that is the way some of the old New England 
covenanters did it, including that company which came on the Mayflower. They 
signed a remarkable and most readable covenant in the cabin room of the May- 
flower before they landed, a covenant which was to serve in both religious and 
political realms if I remember aright. It is worth looking up. 

Somebody may think I have forgotten my geography lesson, got clean away 
from old Asheboro, and picked up in imagination the wrong congregation. But 
let us see about that. Many of those New England Congregations had formed 
under George Whitfield and John Wesley while those two great revivalists were 
working together, while they were developing their common more or less Puri- 
tanical religion. To be sure Wesley had kept company with the Moravians too, 
and now his disciples and theirs were side by side in North Carolina. How is it 

92 



for religious and other family connections with some of the New England 
Yankees? 

Certainly the Worths of Randolph, the Coffins of Randolph and Guilford, 
and others, were nothing in the world but transplanted Nantucketers. And what 
about the rest of us? Up until two years ago, I knew my own Robins ancestry 
only as far back as a great-great-grandfather of that name who is found standing 
on Randolph lands in the 1750s, and had probably been around for some time. 
In some other connection I may some day want to report on these interesting 
adventures in family genealogical research. 



83 




Asheboro Presbyterian Church on Worth Street. Organized 1850; 
building erected in 1851-1852. 




The Presbyterian Church after it was brick veneered in 1920-1921 



84 




i ti > t If t I 



(Picture courtesy of Historical Society) 

First Methodist Church on Salisbury Street at City Cemetery. 
Picture made in 1886. 




The Gatekeeper's House for the Fisher Estate as it looked after it was moved 
from Sunset Avenue to Lanier Street. It is now the property of three 
Women's Clubs, but for many years it was owned by members of the 
Cavlness family. 



85 



Churchly Footnotes 



Heading over the sketch I have written called The Old Time Religion, I am 
reminded of the need of a certain footnote which might be added to it, and 
which might as well be extended to some of the other sketches. No doubt at all, 
I have right along tended towards describing things the way I first saw them, 
or got familiar with them; and have paid less than proper attention to changes 
that came about within my time. Conversely, I have sometimes placed houses on 
lots to which they came later but nevertheless became very familiar there. 

In the case of the churches, I spoke of Asheboro as long having had just 
two churches for the White people, and of the Presbyterian and Methodist bells 
both ringing of a Sunday morning for Sunday School at the Methodist Church. 
[ think that continued to be the situation until not far from the time the rail- 
road came in from High Point, after which event the town began growing 
rapidly. But it seems sort of disrespectful to leave it at that, since three other 
churches were firmly rooted in the village by the time I was in the middle of 
school years. 

The Methodist Protestants must have had a pretty strong base in the county 
before they built at the county seat. Cicero Hammer's father was a Methodist 
Protestant minister. So was Henry Lewallen, well-known and at first living just 
a bit Southwest of town. The building of their church on Fayetteville Street is 
associated in my mind with the coming of the large family of Romulus R. Ross, 
which I am confident filled its fullest pew. Ross came to town to be County 
Sheriff. After my time the group became known as the Central Methodist. 

The "Christian" denomination had three churches in the county as early as 
1872. I was coming along in school when they built on the next corner of Cox, 
South from Worth, diagonally across from the old Bolivar Bulla homeplace and 
the schoolgrounds. Our near neighbors, the A. E. ("Bije") Moffitt family, had a 
great deal to do with that church, and I am sure took a lively hand in building 
it. I think they came to town when Bije Moffitt was elected sheriff, and that 
may have been as early as 1888, or even before that. 1 do not know that there 
is a "Christian" church in town now, and that makes me want to tell a little 
about certain associations of Asheboro people with the denomination. The de- 
nomination is the one which built Elon College, and I think most, if not all, of 
the Moffitt family coming of age went there. 

Sheriff Moffitt's second son, Emmett, deserves special mention, I think. For 
he was an able man and a builder. He not only went to Eion College, but went 
on from there for a graduate year at Harvard. Then he v/ent back to Elon in 
some teaching capacity but eventually became president of the college for a 
good many years. And after retiring from there, he had an aggressive or enter- 
prising career in Asheboro. 

I think Emmett Moffitt may have been the first Asheboro boy to go to 
Harvard. I remember he came home from Cambridge one summer wearing pants 
with extremely wide legs. I took them for the Harvai'd mode. As we know, width 



and tightness of pant legs, for men and women too, now, is a thing that goes 
around in a cycle. It must have been a later turn of the wheel which gave Will 
Rogers the opportunity to quip that the style in pant legs for men was so wide 
that you had to take three steps before your pant-leg moved. That joke made me 
recall Emmett Moffitt going up Worth Street to church somewhere, himself 
about in front of where Charles McCrary now lives. 

After a goodly term of being president at Elon, as v/e said or noted, Emmett 
came back to Asheboro and turned entrepreneur. He launched some sort of a 
wood-working industry, possibly a wheelbarrow factory, in which is brother 
Herbert joined him after a while. But he remained a man of wide interests, in- 
cluding a strong interest in religion. He long pushed a sort of missionary move- 
ment out at West Bend. It was as late as 1914, when I was back in Asheboro for 
a visit, that he got me out there with him and got me into trouble of which I 
shall say no more than that I was not built to be a missionary, and he got me 
up into his pulpit where I felt like the devil. He had a way of making you see 
something as a duty which I think must have been hard for any young and 
groping youth to resist. A college president needs that sort of gift probably. 

With the "Christian" movement as a whole, there was one other Asheboro 
family which had at least an historic connection of which I want to speak. There 
are, or were, at least three movements or denominations in the United States 
which have at times and places used for themselves the simple name of "Christi- 
an," with no further qualification or specification. Perhaps the largest of these 
movements centered in the Middle West, especially Ohio, I think. Its properest 
name or distinctive name has always been The Church of the Disciples. But at 
times they were called "Christians," and at other times "Campbellites." That 
last was given for a distinguished founder of course. This denomination estab- 
lished and published The Christian Century, a paper of national note. The second 
of the three denominations of Christians I spoke of is the one to which belonged 
the family of my life-long friend, Ralph Harper, of Kinston, N. C, who always 
insisted that his inherited denomination was neither Campbellite nor that of the 
Elon College founders, but yet "Christian." That is ail I know about it. The 
third one, which Asheboro knew, besides being "Christian" and associated with 
Elon, long wore the nickname of "O'Kellyitos." My mother referred to it by 
that name, except in public when being polite. You know, not many denomina- 
tions have enjoyed the privilege of naming themselves while avoiding popular 
nicknames. The Quakers named themselves "Friends," and I believe like that 
name best to this day. But, "O'kellyite" was never a weak name or a bad name. 
People's memories of their founder just failed them. 

Before the American Revolution, James O'Kelly, from the North of Ireland, 
was Superintendent or Presiding Elder of the Southern or Virginia District of 
the Methodist Church under Francis Asbury and John Wesley. He was a famous 
circuit-rider in the wilderness, and withal a church-builder. At the same time, 
he had a mind of his own which sometimes he used inconveniently for his 
superiors. He was a leader among those in Kentucky, Virginia, and the Caro- 

87 



Unas who waved off or disregarded some of Wesley's rules, in particular one 
about the rite of Communion, or The Lord's Supper. The congregations he 
gathered and led, and a good many which gradually came to know of him, 
wanted to enjoy the Communion Service; but Asbury, and Wesley in the back- 
ground, ruled that they could not be allowed to do that unless some properly 
ordained minister in good standing was present with them for the occasion. 
Some of them broke over and upon occasion observed the rite anyhow, and 
Francis Asbury had to visit place after place especially to straighten them out 
on that. 

At the beginning of the Revolution there were only a handful of ordained 
Methodist ministers in the whole United States, all of these having been or- 
dained in England before they came over, and nobody this side of the v/ater 
having authority to so ordain anyone. When V/esley summoned all of these back 
to England after outbreak of the War, almost all of them returned to the old 
country. A few went into retirement. Asbury was the only one v/ho went on as 
before. He knew Wesley well enough to wi'ite letters of protest and to "appeal 
from Philip," well not exactly from "Philip drunk to Philip sober," but "from 
Wesley uninformed about the breadth and depth of the need to Wesley better 
advised by a devoted lieutenant." Asbury continued to be tolerated, by Wesley 
perhaps as a sort of stake around which to begin rebuilding the movement in 
America after the rebellious colonies should be bought back to their allegiance 
to the British Crown. Meantime there simply was no legal way for American 
followers of Methodism to have the Communion Service; but the lav/ kept on 
getting broken here and there. Like Prohibition, this one could hardly be en- 
forced. Only at the end of the Revolution, did V/esley ordain or appoint Asbury, 
Dr. Coke, and I believe one other, to act as his delegates in the business of 
ordaining others. In doing so Wesley had to act as a bishop, and to tell his 
reluctant brother Charles that he verily believed himself as true a bishop as 
any man in England. Charles thought that was a separation from the Church 
of England and the end of everything. 

This measure took hold and helped to heal one open wound in the Methodist 
movement. But there were other points of difficulty that kept coming to the 
top. At a general convention held in Virginia not long after the War, there was 
a rebellion led by James O'Keily, on the question of whether the appointments, 
or the stationings, of the Methodist pastors should be entirely centralized in the 
hands of Bishops Asbury and Coke, or v/hether those who were dissatisfied with 
their appointment should have a right of appeal to the General Convention it- 
self. We see that this was a question of democracy in the movement. You might 
even say that some of the Methodist preachers were rebelling against Wesley 
on the same lines on which the country as a whole had rebelled against George 
in. Asbury sought in vain to heal this split without making any concession. The 
group of Southern churches which followed James O'Kelly's lead went off and 
formed a convention of their own, calling themselves at first Republican Metho- 
dists. Why they ever changed that name seems an interesting question. The other 

88 



party settled down to the name of Methodist Episcopal. Somewhere in the 
middle of this controversy, the O'Kelly group also began clinging very closely 
to a point which John Wesley himself had stood for at one time, namely that 
all the teachings and doctrines of all Protestants ought to be stated Ln Biblical 
language. He thought that all Christians really should be ready to agree if that 
was done. This point of teaching I recall hearing emphasized time after time in 
that "Christian" church which stood for a spell on the Cox Street corner. 

Three miles out of Chapel Hill on Route 54, towards Raleigh, there stands a 
roadside tablet memorializing James O'Kelly by pointing South on a narrow 
road which brings you within two or three miles to a chapel and an old ceme- 
tery. Nearby and only a stone's throw from corners of Orange, Chatham and 

Durham counties, stands an O'Kelly homesite, with a house on it still. Across / 

S 
the road from that Chapel which holds the O'Kelly grave, and down the road 

a few hundred yards South, stands a garage or store, which, ten years ago, I 
was told was in the middle of the plantation of "Uncle" Alfred Moring. Maps 
of around 1850, will show on the main road to Raleigh from the West a \illage 
named Moringsville. Alfred Moring married an O'Kelly, exactly of what relation- 
ship to James I know not but very probably his granddaughter. 

For Alfred Moring's father, "Sergeant" John Moring, had moved together 
with James O'Kelly from Virginia to Carolina, and they had settled alongside. 
John Moring was treasurer of the O'Kellyite convention of churches from near 
the beginning. John was father of Christopher Moring, first Master of the 
Masonic Lodge in Greensboro, and a hotel or inn-keeper there, as well as master 
of a line of coaches such as the times had in our rugged country. William Henry 
Moring, Sr., who came to Asheboro in the l&lOs was son of a second John 
Moring, and grandson of the first. His sister EUza, for whom my mother was 
partly named, married Matthew Yates, a well-known Baptist missionary to China. 
That provides the Moring family with a fair trace of a connection with both the 
"Christian" and the Baptist movements. 

There is a biography of James O'Kelly to be found in some of the older 
state libraries. 

The third church I was mentioning as having come to Asheboro before I 
left there is the Holiness one. I guess that came a little later than the other two. 
It was a product of the Holiness revivals which came not far from the turn of 
the century, and I think that, years ago at least, you could have got pretty clear 
agreement that Frank Birkhead was the inspired leader and founder of it. Frank 
was always a good work-man, but until middle life he did nurse the bottle. 
However conversion during that Holiness rising provided him with a new hold 
on life. In fact he was long regarded as the very best example at hand of what 
that old time revival religion could do for a man by way of lifting him out of 
a bad habit and giving him a new hold upon life. 

There had been a Quaker group owning a building and functioning as a 
public group in years before mine. It was on the W. J. Armfield lot and is now 
in the act of becoming changed into a permanent home for the Randolph His- 
torical Society. 

89 



J/^^ 



It seems odd that Asheboro had to do so much growing before the Baptists, 
largest denomination over the state as a whole, came to be represented in the 
village. In fact all the Baptists I met in earlier years were Primitive or Hard- 
shell Baptists, and they were getting scarcer then. It may be that Randolph was 
sort of Hardshell Baptist territory, and that may help to explain some things. 
For the Hardshell Baptists v/ere not missionaries, and perhaps they did not 
even stress building churches so much as others. They got along without settled 
ministers too. My father was brought up among them and in a family of that 
connection, though he never joined any church. 

When I go on to remark that the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the Roman 
Catholics, the Evangelicals, none of them, were realistically represented in my 
time, that may lead somebody, in this day of churches getting together and 
uniting denominations in an ecumenical movement to ask: "How many churches 
do you think a town which, beginning about where you took up the story had only 
three hundred and fifty people in it, really needed?" 

I only bring that question forward to give me a chance to ask a question 
for my own ignorance, and then to stop. I do not exactly remember Asheboro 
as having only 350 people in it. But I do remember telling it that way many 
times, and may have had more to go by when I first so told it than now. Was it 
ever actually that small as a county-seat, with Randleman ha\'ing around twice 
as many? Does it mean there were 350 voters or 350 taxpayers, 350 when you 
count or don't count children? I may have found the figure in the 1890 census. 
I recall transcribing the taxpayers list into a big county book, for pay, one 
summer around 1897-9: could I have got the figures from that? Somebody can 
look the matter up if they are interested. I would like to know whether I have 
been telling things right in that particular. And behind that, remembering other 
things just right? But the main point in this sketch was simply to get back to 
where Asheboro was a very small place, considerably out of the world; and to 
report a little about the kind of churches we had. 



90 



Skipper Coffin 



Oscar Jackson Coffin, famous head of the School of Journalism at Chapel 
Hill, was only three or four years younger than I, so that we grew up in 
substantially the same Asheboro. My five years younger brother, Marmaduke 
or Duke, knew him much better in early days than I did. But first and last 
I came to know him quite intimately, and may be able to sound a brief note 
of my own about a man whom many living people actually saw more of than 
I ever did and that the town cannot fail to recognize as having been one of 
the best gifts it ever made to the state and who reflects honor upon itself. 

My first recollections of "0. J.", or "Skipper" Coffin came from the time 
when he was a babe in arms down in the first home his family ever had, at 
Carter's Mills, in Moore County. His father. Alec Coffin, owned a tiny farm 
and ran a store and postoffice near Bear Creek, and in or very near to what is 
now known as the town of Robbins (named I believe for a man who started life 
under the moniker of Rabinovitch). When I first saw this baby boy of the 
Coffin family, he was just balancing off a family which had started off with 
a son, Will Coffin, then had acquired two girls of its own and perhaps already 
had adopted two nieces. I will admit it seemed to my tender years that the 
family was inordinarily proud of him. That was when I was making them a 
visit of a week or so. Those girls kept thrusting him upon me so they would 
have more room to contemplate and admire him in new scenery; or I felt 
that was it. I found him the meanest, scratchiest baby I had ever seen. He 
wanted to claw a fellow's eyes out. He was a fighting wildcat. He had no 
respect for his elders at least, though some of them may have got him tamed 
to their approaches by this time. From my point of view he was pulling no 
punches, while I wanted to fight back and of course could not. The first part 
of that stayed with him spiritually all through life. He was not inclined to 
observe proprieties. He wanted to scratch under the smooth surfaces of life. 
He was not intimidated by dignities or willing to leave mere reputations owing 
the field. -^ 

They moved to Asheboro and settled in the old John Hill house on the 
corner of Main and Worth streets, with the responsibility of looking after the 
common grandparents already installed there, William Henry Moring, Sr. and 
Jane Jackson Moring. After Grandpa Moring died, Grandma occupied just 
the ell of the house which projected itself into my mother's garden, and the 
Coffins soon built a house of their own, still standing, on the corner of Park 
Street and Sunset Avenue. During the years they were next door, I recall a 
good deal less of Oscar than of any others of the family, adult or young. The 
time-gap between our ages was at its very widest just then, I am sure. 

Oscar began to register on me about the time Alec Coffin told my mother 
that Marmaduke Robins was ruining his boys by letting them read all the time 
instead of putting them at work at something or other, like his boys. He was 
refusing to consider at all the very irregular chores we were needed and used 

91 



H 



for on the home place, like hoeing the corn and helping get in the hay. Those 
things were not paid for and didn't constitute a job. His own Will was clerking 
in a store and Oscar was employed in a wheel-barrow factory. Uncle Alex was 
pretty nearly right about me anyhow, and first off in the simple matter of 
eyes. I almost ruined my eyes those years. We were spending the long days 
around the house, I at least in the library most of the morning, Henry doing 
I hardly know what, the two of us riding the horses to Henley's swimming 
hole in the afternoon, often with the hired man along when we had three 
horses. That was to give the horses "exercise," and my father approved of 
that. Except for one vidnter in a cotton mill in Clinton, Massachusetts, where 
an uncle was boss in the carding-room of the Lancaster Cotton Mills (1897-8 
that was), I had never earned a dollar in my life when I graduated from college 
in 1904. But, as said, my cousins Will and Oscar were at work earning, and 
I was sometimes very conscious of that and wondering how one got into a 
job of that kind. Somehow am sure I would have been afraid to go around 
asking anybody if he could use me. 

The time came along when I was being "prepared for college." That was 
an enterprise by no means so common as it is in this day. It had originated 
in my case with our father, who had long since got Henry and me assuming 
vi^e were destined for Chapel Hill, where he himself had graduated in 1856. 
Meantime Will Coffin made his final choice, of business; and I do not believe 
there were any family thoughts about O. J. going to college. He was at work 
in a factory, and learning many things which even then I heartily wished that 
I knew. He was getting to know his town in ways I never knew it, though 
both of us loved it and never ceased to do so. He got to know Tom, Dick and 
Harry from the inside as well as the outside. That is to say he "communicated" 
with them, to borrow a very modern word. He liked people as people and as 
curiosities, and I imagine at least that some of the riff-raff (I do hate though 
to classify people even by using a term of that sort) got to like him pretty 
well. One came to hear that he was causing a certain anxiety in the family 
by showing a bit of wildness. His father and mother died quite closely to- 
gether, and his brother Will, now head of the family, was quite disturbed at 
times. In particular I heard that Oscar was learning the taste of com liquor. 

I guess that 0. J.'s notion of going to the University was due to his somehow 
developing an ambition and initiative of his own. He got there after I had 
graduated in the Spring of 1904, and I believe a year later than my younger 
brother Duke, who went there in the Fall of 1904. He got there when there 
were more temptations to get started in some growing business than there 
were in going to college. Asheboro and High Point were growing industrially, 
and young men were seeing non-illusory ways of getting rich. The modern 
idea that the quickest road to a fat job is by way of college, and the more 
degree from college the better, had not got around when O. J. went to Chapel 
Hill. I think he was following an inner urgency to find what he would be 
good, and happy, at doing. He may not have been fully conscious of having the 

92 



making of a newspaper man within him, but they must have been there. 

I was out of the state all the time he was going thi-ough at Chapel Hill. First 
distinctly new hearing of and about him came when he was cub reporter on 
a Charlotte newspaper. I was trying myself out as a country clergyman in 
Massachusetts about that time, and during a sort of retreat made for the purpose 
of deciding what I really wanted to do with my life, I made Oscar a short visit 
in Charlotte, probably over a couple of nights. I slept in the same room with 
him and the same bed. He took me around to call on all the Chapel Hill 
friends that had settled in Charlotte (several of them were budding lawyers), 
and we had a lot of talk about this and that. 

There was a sequel to that Charlotte visit which involves me personally 
more than I like, but which is so honorable to Skipper Coffin, and so revealing 
of him, that I cannot possibly omit it. I went back to New England, to what 
I had been doing on a sort of temporary basis (I was a New England clergyman 
for seven years without ever having joined any kind of a church whatsoever.) 
Presently I worked out and wrote out a long and maybe thoughtful sermon, 
and sent it to 0. J. for comment. Back it soon came with a comment from 
"the horse's mouth." He wi'ote me: "There is not a spark of life in it from 
beginning to end." That to an older cousin to whom he had looked up with 
some respect, partly because of age, partly perhaps because it was Horace 
Williams at Chapel Hill who had got me a scholarship to do graduate work 
at Harvard, and had helped me to get into the troubled state of mind I was in. 
Horace held the belief that Southern boys needed to be waked up and their 
minds started growing, even it it was painful at first. 

I will not say I had the grace and the sense of humor to gratefully appreciate 
that response when it first came. But I knew he was telling the absolute 
truth. I knew he was right about my current "self-expression," just as not 
far from the same time, Josiah Royce, who had advised me to wi'ite a philosophy 
paper or two, had been right in losing or burning the efforts I sent him. But 
I will say that over many long years now I have been chuckling over what 
O. J. wrote me about my 'sermon.' The fellow did not pull his punches. He 
gave it to me without gloves. It shows you part of what made Skipper Coffin 
beloved by his boys in that School of Journalism. He taught his students to 
engage in reporting of the kind that had life in it. It was the only kind that 
would feed the flame of life within them. 

It seems unnecessary to bother about sequence on the calendar from this 
point of my story. 0. J. may or may not have been with a Greensboro paper 
for some years. I know he long had a column in the Greensboro paper which 
often figured or featured Randolph and Asheboro news. Lastly, I believe, 
before the call to Chapel Hill, he was on a Raleigh paper and doing a great 
deal of commentation on legislative affairs and personalities like Henry Page 
of Aberdeen and Cicero Hammer of Asheboro. He handled these people with 
bare hands, tobacco spitting and all. Those were years of much agitation over 
political questions of the time. Questions of freedom of speech for teachers, 

93 



freedom for college teachers to consider with their classes all sides of political 
and ethical issues, questions of religious freedom involving efforts on the part 
of trustees and churchmen to protect young rainds from disruptive or new 
ideas, were stirring the age's big cauldron with a mighty spoon. O, that also 
was a challenging time in which to live! And many, many people were already 
scared to death. O. J. had a share in all that, and he was ever on the side 
of freedom. 

It may have been after he got to Chapel Hill that he stood out on one 
particular kind of freedom that was indeed rare anywhere in the South: freedom 
from party. Perhaps it was the so-called Negro question that started things 
that way, but voting the solid ticket down the line surely was a tradition in 
North Carolina. Except perhaps in town and city elections, splitting a ticket 
was hardly thought of as allowable, and least of all among politicians. But it 
was when O. J. or Skipper Coffin was Chairman of some Democratic Committee, 
I believe it was chairman of the Orange County Democratic Committee, that 
he publicly announced he was going to vote for the Republican candidate for 
Congress. That was Idyl Ferree, of Asheboro. He knew Idyl from of old, and 
from top to bottom. But even in these latter years, I have seen many of my 
acquaintances change all their political convictions to Republican ones, without 
knowing, or confessing to themselves, that they were Republicans in all the 
essential of the matter. The prejudice in favor of mere names, or against 
independents in politics, still has a good deal of life left in it. 

During some of these years 0. J. began writing that column in the Greensboro 
paper (that is where I saw it at least.) It was the same genre as James Russell 
Lowell's Bigelow Papers of Civil War times, although at times rougher and more 
uncouth than those. The humor, bent, and sympathies of the writer were more 
obvious, I think, than the rhyme or the poetry. Some of his political references 
were too far off for me to get. But clipped passages from it sent me from various 
sources evinced and fed a live interest in affairs in Carolina and in Randolph 
County. He had me fishing again on the Penn Wood branch, in imagination. 
He was referring to antics in and around Asheboro and recalling familiar 
names in a way that made me homesick. Once I remember he talked about 
Phil and Filmore Presnell in the same piece. I remember Filmore coming 
downtown the day after a big storm, and telling people about the lightning 
striking the home chimney. Said he: "If I hadn't 'a dodged just when I did, 
it would have got me for sure." 

But real close associations, closer and more habitual, I think than ever 
before, came about in the early 1950s when, after what is called "retirement," 
my wife and I began spending a part of our winters in Chapel Hill. Skipper 
Coffin had then been for some years Dean of that School of Journalism. When 
I showed up in his office one day after a long period of mutual not-seeing, he 
stood up with a smile which was really worth seeing and getting. It came 
from the inside of him as well as the outside. It was the smile of a teacher 
who makes real contacts with his students, and who is in the habit of looking 

94 



for real contacts. Certain old roots began growing again from both sides, until 
we were in closer understanding than we had ever been before. Frances and I 
began going down, most every Friday night when the Coffins were not engaged, 
and sometimes for dinner or supper with a game of bridge to follow with him 
and Gertrude. He led me at other hours to a sort of famous local institution 
called The Shack, which he described as the only place in Chapel Hill where 
you could get a beer viath a sandwich and a place to sit down and push your 
feet under. To be sure we were joined there a time or two by the ablest 
legislator the state had in those years, John Umstead. So the place could 
hardly have been as disreputable as some inclined to think it. You did not 
exactly have to get elected to membership there, but the proprietor was careful, 
when I went there alone, to tell the group present that I was a friend of Skipper 
Coffin. That wiped off all looks of suspicion and brought a question or two 
of friendly sort. I had drives with Skipper to Asheboro at least once, and to 
Durham and other places as well. We talked of cabbages and kings, of pol- 
itical moves he saw with Xray eyes. 

He retired in the middle fifties, and not far from the time we Robins felt 
ourselves led to move on to Florida in search of a warmer winter climate for my 
air-passages, or sinuses, if you want to be dignified or learned about it. When 
he retired, he soon moved to Raleigh. The only explanation I heard for that 
move was that it was so he could stop di'iving in traffic but could get down- 
town by bus and attend to or make new contacts around the Capital. He suf- 
fered terribly from asthma those last years, and it was without rjiuch doubt 
a release when death took him. That happened when I was far away somewhere. 
But I am glad that I was able to see some of the wonderful flow of letters 
from his former students. He had taught them to think of their part in the 
newspaper game as a fine art, a life-giving art; and not merely as a fifth wheel 
to another wide packet of big business operations beginning and ending in a 
countinghouse. 

I conclude vnth a newspaper letter from one of his old students, Robert 
Ruark, the novelist. I came upon it in my copy of the morning's Tampa, Florida, 
Sunday Tribune December 30, 1956: 



O 



Robert Ruark 



O. J. Was Fine Journalism Prof 
Even If He Did Create Ruark 



One of the lights in my life went out 
the other day when a magnificently 
cantankerous gentleman named Oscar 
Coffin died in Raleigh, N. C, possibly 
from boredom. He retired last June 



as the head of the journalism school at 
the University of North Carolina, the 
thought-factory which unleashed me on 
an unsupecting world. 
It is impossible to estimate how many 



95 



newspapermen O. J. Coffin created in 
liis own image. He left an editorship 
of a Carolina daily newspaper to head 
up the journalism school at the univer- 
sity and turned out working pressmen 
at a furious rate for 30 years. He may 
have created a few monsters, such as 
me, but mainly his fledglings got jobs 
and held them, progressed in them and 
achieved recognition in them. 
* * * 

ONE THING is certain: Coffin turn- 
ed out a small percentage of amateurs, 
and practically none of his boys and 
girls wound up in the advertising bus- 
iness. Very few became book-authors, 
a shameful profession, the Skipper al- 
ways said. 

O. J. was a humorously irascible gen- 
tleman whose hooked nose and craggy 
chin gave him the appearance of a 
truculent turtle. He had a pair of 
piercing blue eyes behind frosty glass- 
es and a laugh that could be remi- 
niscent of the croaking of ravens. Some 
of this was asthma, but a lot of it ar- 
rived from the sardonic view that there 
was very little room in his racket for 
ineptness. 

He had an idea that a man writing 
a piece ought to know what he was 
writing about, so that it at least might 
be intelligible to the author before he 
palmed it off on the public. 

The Skipper had been a school-teach- 
er, a reporter, a columnist, several 
kinds of newspaper executive, an edi- 
torial writer and finally an editor-in- 
chief before he started pounding 
knowledge into the knotty heads of 
young squirts who wanted to viTite the 
Great American Novel that very min- 
ute. While discouraging this. Coffin 
taught them the rudiments of a co- 



herent, short sentence. 

HE TAUGHT THEM the value of the 
"ain't," for emphasis, and suggested 
that the world was far from perfect and 
that the people in the world shared its 
imperfections. 

To that end, he dispatched his hope- 
fuls to such unlyrical places as police 
courts, insane asylums and state pris- 
ons. He issued assignments at the first 
of the week and reviewed the efforts 
on Friday, which was laden with peril. 
He read the works aloud, vrith approp- 
riate comment. His sarcasm blistered 
the paintv/ork, and his very occasional 
praise sent you soaring over the week- 
end. 

THE MAN'S SOLIDITY made him a 
clearing house for newspapers as far 
north as Baltimore. Even in the midist 
of the depression. Coffin's boys and 
girls went to work straight out of 
school. Editors held most vacancies for 
O. J.'s cubs, largely because they 
didn't have to teach the cubs very 
much about covering and writing a 
story. 

I fell under the man's spell in an 
unusual fashion. I was not a journal- 
ism student, but I came dov;'n with an 
attack of love for a doll who was. The 
old professor asked me, in an inter- 
view, why I wanted to take up journal- 
ism in the Winter quarter of my sen- 
ior year. I replied that I was in love 
with Miss So-and-so, and this was the 
easiest way I could contrive to keep 
her under my eye. 

"I like a practical man," O. J. said. 
"And she is the prettiest girl in the 
class. You're hired. She'll get married 
before she ever makes a newspaper 
hand, but I got some ideas about you." 



96 



I CAN SAY with a whole lot of pride 
that he gave me the first job that de- 
veloped in the Summer of 1935 — 
"because," said he, giggling evilly over 
a slug of bourbon, "the job is so damn- 
ed awful that you're the only man I 
got who's ornery enough to take it. I 
give you a month outside." As a mat- 
ter of fact, I lasted three, before coun- 
try-weekly claustrophobia in Hamlet, N. 
C, drove me out into the Northern 
snow. 

The Skipper and his tiny razor- 
tongued wife, Miss Gertrude, took us 
all to raise, and we spent more time in 
his house than his son, Wilson. 

The salty old boy had an unholy 



pact with Phillips Russell, the noted 
biographer who taught creative writ- 
ing. Dr. Russell would inject us with 
quiet culture and 0. J. would adapt it to 
harsh practicality. They worked to- 
gether as cynically as a thief and his 
fence, with Phil Russell hitting us over 
the head with Japanese hokku and Cof- 
fin adapting the ancient art form to 
the vulgar present. 

Well, he's gone now, as all the good 
ones go, although some several thou- 
sand of us thought he was imperish- 
able. If he's someplace where he can 
read his obits, he probably has already 
produced a blue pencil and is busy 
hacking them to tits. 



97 




(Picture courtesy of Asheboro Public Library) 
OSCAR JACKSON COFFIN 



98 



Marmaduke Circle 

(This piece of local history is a slight re-editing from the Asheboro Courier- 
Tribune of September 5, 1960.) 

Even since observing that the town of Asheboro has given a dead-ender 
off South Main the name of "Marmaduke Circle", I have thought I might offer 
the Courier-Tribune and its readers a little account of the travels of that name 
before it got on to that sign-post they have put there. It is a uncommon name 
but one well-rooted in Randolph County. 

It goes back to one Marmaduke Vickory, or Vickery, who, at least according 
to an old aunt of mine, came from the old world with his wife. The Moravian 
Records, Volumn n, in an early-page footnote, mention him as witness or some- 
thing to a land-survey in what is now Randolph County in the year 1753. He 
was one of the farmers who rose in arms against the Colonial government 
and its place-men five years before the battle of Lexington and Concord. 

Armed with anything from squirrel-guns to pitchforks, they were 'defeated' 
or dispersed at the battle of Alamance by Governor William Tryon, whose 
palace has been recently restored in New Bern, and who had cannon and a 
number of trained soldiers or trained militia. After the battle, Vickory was 
among the captives that, instead of being hung, were exhibited, chained to- 
gether, in the streets of Moravian Salem. Authority for that statement, with 
Vickory mentioned by name, is his great-grandson Lyndon Swaim, long editor 
of the Greensborough Patriot, in a footnote to Eli Caruthers's Life of David 
Caldwell. Tryon was trying hard to discourage rebellion and the rough handling 
of county officers who charged poor people unreasonable fees, sometimes double 
the legal fees. But let tyrants beware! Randolph Circle commemorates Marm- 
aduke Vickory and his neighbors. 

Born in 1715, Marmaduke Vickory was later a soldier in the Continental 
line during the Revolution, and a son of his spent a certain winter with George 
Washington at Valley Forge. 

His Will, as we find it recorded in one of those old record-books discovered 
by Mrs. Laura Worth in a damp corner in the old courthouse basement, was 
probated in Asheboro in 1788, with Christopher Vickory and Marmaduke Vickory 
(Junior) as witness, Sampson Vickory being executor of the Will. Old Marma- 
duke had three boys with him at Alamance battlefield and several of his boys 
were Revolutionary soldiers. I have been told that all the Vickories of Randolph 
are decended from him. 

Among his other children, Marmaduke the first had two daughters named 
respectively Elizabeth (Betty) Swaim and Charity Swaim. You see both of 
those daughters married Swaims. Betty married John Swaim who lived a long 
life in Randolph County and raised eleven children. Charity married William 
Swaim, the grandfather of writer O. Henry. According to the speaker at a 
Swaim Family reunion at Level Cross in 1892 (I was there and saw and heard 

99 



him, but am relying upon a copy of liis address also, for the sort of questioning 
but nodded-at statement) all the Svvaims then living in Randolph were descended 
from John. I suppose the others were over the line in Guilford. 

Betty gave the name of Marmaduke to a son, and Charity did the same to 
one of hers. There had been at least four Marmaduke SwauTis in Randolph 
before the name was handed on to my father, Marmaduke Swaim Robins. 
Incidentally he was descended from both Betty and Charity. He was a lawyer, 
and his portrait hangs on the wall in the courtroom in Asheboro, alongside 
my brother Henry's more recent one. 

Those two daughters back there were proud of the first Marmduke for 
something. Perhaps it was not just being at Alamance, or the service as 
Continental soldier. Perhaps it was the patriotism and public spirit that was 
in him and remained as a tradition, among the family. He was an honorable 
and leading citizen in his day. 

And now Asheboro and the County have, perhaps without fully intending it 
or knowing very much about old Marmaduke Vickory, done something to help 
bring his name back into county traditions, done something even to slightly 
help commemorate the battle of Alamance and what it means, still means. 
Certainly in first line, all the Vickories and all the Swaims of Randolph, and 
all their connections, have a right to be mildly pleased. The name was theirs. 
Now is has gone out of style. But at one notable point Asheboro is calling 
attention to it. 

Marmaduke Circle is situated on a lot on which Marmaduke Robins lived 
his active years out with just a little preface. Before he bought the lot or 
farm it had belonged to Alfred Marsh. I for one would be glad to see the 
names of Marsh, Elliott, Penn Wood, names that mean a little in local circles, 
given to things as prominent and sticky as streets and driveways. And that 
can be said with special emphasis for names that in any degree at all help 
to recall important traditions or events, events that have some chance of 
echoing on and on. It is not only the bad and crippling traditions and mores 
that hold us in bonds; there are also good traditions some of which bind us 
to things ahead and to the public exertion of our freedom for the forward 
adventure. 



100 



How We Began 



The first kind of local history that ever really interested me was Indian 
history. About five years ago I turned over to Mr. Coe at Chapel Hill, Indian 
relics man, something between a peck and a half-bushel of Indian arrows, 
spears, knives, needles, scrapers, bits of pottery, one or two tomahawks, one or 
two sinkers, all picked up amid chips lying around enough to suggest some of 
the things were made right there on the spot. 

Mr. Coe said some of the things were pretty new and some pretty ancient 
in form and pattern, but I think I may be one of the few people who have first- 
hand knowledge of how Asheboro really began. 

It began as an Indian village, that is, as an established camp-site, because 
nearly all of that stuff was found in Asheboro and within a little space not much 
bigger than the lot the court-house now stands on. 

Asheboro and Randolph County are surely indebted to J. Addison Blair for 
getting out a pamphlet on Randolph back in 1890. He did some things well 
enough so that others so far have mainly copied him for the old days and I 
don't see how anybody can make a better book on the same subject for a while 
yet, though it is coming. There are some inaccuracies in it, and a whole lot of 
prose poetry. Here is one poetic sentiment from the book, and you want to re- 
member that it was written seventy-one years ago: 

"It might be refreshing, in this age of fashion and progress, while the 
effacing hand of time and change is fast obliterating every relic of the past, 
and every cherished emblem of domestic life has well-nigh lost its mean- 
ing and significance, to revert briefly to the simple and rustic manners of 
the long ago." 

Maybe we have never felt that things v/ere changing too fast and old ways 
fading too fast; but I doubt it until corrected. 

Mr. Blair had been over the old county records which were probably better 
stored in the old Main Street courthouse than in this one, up to the time when 
Mrs. Hal M. Worth began hauling them out of the damp. I will refer to a few 
things he does mention and then go on with some others he does not. He tells 
of the founding of the two county-seats, the first one at Johnsonville where 
Andrew Jackson appeared to practice law in 1788. He is the source of common 
knowledge of the story of Faith Rock in Franklinville; and he recounts other 
of the harsher exploits of the Tory, David Fanning. By the way, David Fanning 
vvi-ote a book afterwards telling about his Revolutionary exploits, and it might 
be interesting to have it reviewed. 

Mr. Blair tells about Randolph being involved in the Regulator war 
against Governor Tryon, and praises Herman Husbands who owned more 
than eight thousand acres of land on Sandy Creek and Deep River before he 
saw the handwriting on the wall and sold all of it he could, preparatory to 
skipping out. 

Mr. Blair calls him the leader of the Regulators at Alamance and praises 

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his bravery as if that were in battle. But in fact, Husbands never joined the 
Regulators at all, although he wielded a doughty pen in their interest and once 
at least signed a general circular or petition they sent ai-ound. But he was a 
Quaker and no man of war. He was no relation to Benjamin Franklin, as Mr. 
Blair seems to think he was. He also wrote a book or two about his experiences 
in North Carolina after he had founded a town up in Pennsylvania. One of these 
books was called An Impartial Relation and another A Fan for Fanning (Ed- 
ward Fanning of Hilisboro, Tyron Pal). They reveal a man very clever with 
his pen, no doubt given to reading B. Fi-anklin; and he was a much higher type 
of man, I think, than he has been repressnted. Like Thomas Jefferson, for a 
very long time his life got written up mostly by his enemies. 

Mr. BIsir tells about many of the early founders of the county like 
Martha and William Beil, and puts in a good many amusing notes. He 
doesn't tell about Sandy Creek Baptist Church being reduced, as others do 
tell, in the first summer after the battle of Alamance, from over six hun- 
dred members to twenty. 

They decided they could not live under the momentarily victorious tyranny 
of Tryon, the man whose "palace" at New Bern we have just helped to rebuild. 
That was a time when we and South Carolina shared in the same kind of re- 
bellion but they got off more lightly because of having had a more sensible or 
humane royal governor. 

Mr. Blair doesn't tell about the county commissioners voting to build a 
road to cross Uwharrie at the Widow Lassiter's fish-trap, wherever that was; or 
at the Painted Rocks. He doesn't tell about six Hoovers from Hoover Hill and 
around ail giving their pov;er-of attorney to somebody in the same year and 
pulling out for the West. 

That was when Herbert Hoover's tribe got out. Perhaps it is when 
originated the definition of a North Carolina gold-mine as "a hole in the 
ground owned by a damn fool." 

He doesn't tell what the court did with the rather many "base-born" chil- 
di-en brought before it; apprenticing them to learn "the mystery of tanning or 
weaving"; or "the mystery and art of black-smithing": or the plain "art" of 
"spinstering." He doesn't tell how in 1792 the woods got so full of cattle, sheep 
and pigs, that they started the practice of marking them with a shallow-fork, 
an underbit, an overbit, or something in the ear. Some of us remember how 
that v/as, before stocklaw came in. 

Mr. Blair doesn't mention the Manumission and Colonization Society or- 
ganized to encourage people to free slaves in their wills, or churches to buy 
them up, or the state to do something, maybe some colonizing. This society had 
its center for N. C. in Guilford and Randolph. Chai-les Tomlinson says it once 
tiad 38 branches and 1600 members in the state. Its last president was an Ashe- 
boro lawyer. 

The father of Governor Worth and Dr. John Milton Worth was a charter 
member, and Dr. Milton himself attended some of its last meetings. The biggest 

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slave-owner in Randolph, General Alexander Gray, was a member. General Gray 
got his start by being storekeeper in Johnsonville when that was the county 
seat, and he got to be a general as leader of the N. C. militia taken into national 
service at Wadesboro for the War of 1812. You tell me whether he went on into 
that war and maybe got to New Orleans to see a man he had seen practice law 
in Johnsonville fight the British. 

Changes in our laws started many of this Manumission Society's people 
moving West. By no means all of them were Quakers. The Quakers had all freed 
their own slaves before 1800. But the Congressional district which included 
Guilford and Randolph was long called the Quaker District. 

And Governor Worth was to the end of his days often referred to by his 
enemies as "that old Nantucket Quaker." That is where his people came from 
not too far back. 
(Reprinted from an article in the Courier-Tribune, April 6, 1961, page 4B. \. 
This paper was prepared for a program for the Randolph Book Club short- 
ly before it was published in the Courier-Tribune.) 



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