Tag Archives: Edgecombe County lawyers

An odd bit of verse with an odd provenance about notable NC lawyers in the 19th Century

An odd little book found recently in a used bookstore (The Captain’s Bookshelf in Asheville), recites the following odd verse, which is attributed to Tarboro’s John L. Bridgers (see below). It features three leading lawyers of 19th Century North Carolina: Bartholomew F. Moore, Judge Robert Strange, Jr., and William A. Wright. All three are figures worth knowing about (see below), but this piece of doggerel about them is its own reward:

Messieurs Moore, Strange and Wright

Met to drink and good cheer to exchange

Said Moore, ‘of us three

The whole town will agree

There’s only one knave, and that’s Strange.”

Said Strange, rather sore,

‘I’m sure there’s one Moore –

A terrible knave and a bite,

Who cheated his mother,

His sister and brother.’

‘Oh, yes,” replied Moore, ‘that’s Wright.’

The book from which this comes is Law Tales for Laymen, written by Joseph Lacy Seawell and published in 1925. Seawell was the Clerk of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Seawell attributes the verse to “John L. Bridgers”. (He says Bridgers “tells” it, not that he “wrote” it.) There were two John L. Bridgers (John and John Jr.).  Both were prominent lawyers, farmers, and businessmen from Tarboro. The elder Bridgers died in 1884. He had commanded the Edgecombe Guards and Fort Macon in the Civil War. His son, John L. Bridgers, Jr., was a local judge and an author of The History of Edgecombe County. He died in 1932. Jr. seems the more likely source of the verse.

Bartholomew Moore was one of that extraordinary line of lawyers who emerged along the Edgecombe-Nash County line. He was among the most distinguished North Carolina lawyers in the 19th Century. Famously, he represented Will in State v. Will, a landmark judicial opinion which arose from Edgecombe County and was a major step forward in establishing the legal rights of enslaved people. Moore strenuously opposed the Civil War and refused to appear in Confederate courts, which required an oath of allegiance. Even so, he remained a prominent and highly respected member of the North Carolina Bar throughout the War and afterward.

Robert Strange, Jr., from Fayetteville, was a lawyer, a superior court judge and a United States senator. He wrote Eoneguski, or the Cherokee Chief, which is said to be the first novel set in North Carolina.

About William A. Wright, a superficial Internet search finds no references, which is Strange, but which permits MidLaw to say nothing Moore, and that’s alWright.

 

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Grady Barnhill: premier lawyer, from Whitakers in a unique line of great lawyers

Grady Barnhill died last weekGrady Barnhill Jr. He was among North Carolina’s premier lawyers and, one surmises, the greatest litigator Whitakers has ever produced, although he made his career in Winston-Salem.

I knew Grady from about the time I began to practice in Greensboro. Early on, I learned that he grew up in Whitakers, which is just a few miles from Leggett where my mother was from, and even closer to Gethsemane where my father farmed. To my regret, I never divined whether Grady lived on the Edgecombe County side of town, or on the Nash County side. (For our international readers, these are North Carolina places whose significance is profound although not readily explained.)

Grady was a partner and leader of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, the great Winston-Salem law firm. He was the archetype of a litigator.

He was determined, tenacious, and tough as a root – and he was realistic, client-focused and (at least in my experience) totally devoid of nonsense. He was about resolving cases favorably for clients, not playing lawyer games. I admired him. Our profession was much the better for him.

Grady’s death calls to mind something I wonder about from time to time. How is it that so many exceptional lawyers have come from the small towns along Edgecombe County’s western border? Whitakers, Battleboro, Enfield. Originally, all three towns were part of Edgecombe. Enfield was peeled off when Halifax County was formed. Whitakers and Battleboro, like Rocky Mount, sit directly on the county line, which was established in the 19th Century by pushing Nash County’s boundary to the east (said to have been done in order to dilute the African American vote). The Wilmington & Weldon Railroad had been routed up that path when the builders of the railroad agreed to move their tracks east in order to attract funding from Tarboro and Edgecombe investors. The county line was later moved to the railroad.

Anyway, what remarkable lawyers came down that line:

  • from Battleboro: William Horn Battle, legislator, Supreme Court reporter, judge, justice, North Carolina’s first revisor of statutes, and founder of the UNC law school;
  • from Enfield: James Edward O’Hara, North Carolina’s first African-American lawyer and second African-American Congressman, together with three chief justices of the North Carolina Supreme Court (Joseph Branch, M. Victor Barnhill, and R. Hunt Parker); and
  • from Whitakers: Grady Barnhill, exceptional trial lawyer, exemplary professional, and key builder of a great and enduring North Carolina law firm.