Tag Archives: Edgecombe County

Allan Gurganus tells all at Guilford College. Was it in Edgecombe or Nash County?

The Sherwood Anderson family made a major gift to Guilford College several years ago to encourage “the daring and power of the artistic imagination.” The endowment provides scholarships and brings major writers to Guilford’s campus every year.

Allan Gurganus, major author and native of Rocky Mount, was at Guilford this week, teaching and reading his work.

Last night he read a story he said he’s been working on for 40 years. It stemmed from a one-paragraph report he found while looking through Rocky Mount newspapers from the end of the 19th Century. (Was it called “the Evening Telegram” then?)

The circus came to Rocky Mount and a baby elephant escaped. Local citizens caught and killed it.

Gurganus did not say whether this occurred on the Nash or Edgecombe side.

Odd places documented: ECU library wants your papers, photos of Eastern NC, Tarboro

Tarboro is an odd place. Its swimming pool was refrigerated, the town government sold milk, the swimming coach was named after a rodent, and the people filled their Pepsi Colas with peanuts.

So it has become the object of historical scrutiny. The Special Collections Division of Joyner Library at East Carlina University is seeking to document “Eastern North Carolina’s unique culture and history.” It is collecting materials related to the food, music, and traditions of this strange region, including personal and family papers, photographs and other records, documents, and artifacts.

Working with UNC and Digital NC, Joyner is saving everything and putting it on the Internet. To see what they’ve already got, go to this link https://digital.lib.ecu.edu/special/ead/ . They have a particular thing for yearbooks.  https://www.digitalnc.org/collections/yearbooks/

If you have old Tarboro, Edgecombe or Eastern NC stuff, contact

Dale Sauter, Manuscript Curator and Head of Manuscripts and Rare Books Department, Special Collections Division Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858-4353, 252-328-0275, sauterd@ecu.edu

They are interested in “any and all material related to Tarboro, Edgecombe County or any other part of Eastern North Carolina.” They are also interested in projects and collaborations with people, businesses, and all kinds of organizations.

 

An Eastern planter and a Piedmont abolitionist — William Horn Battle hanging out with Richard Mendenhall – Wait! What?

richard_mendenhall_older

Richard Mendenhall

William Horn Battle

William Horn Battle

OK – now I am fascinated.

In Memories of an Old-Time Tar Heel, Kemp Plummer Battle recalls a trip that he and his father, William Horn Battle, made to Asheville in the summer of 1848. Kemp was sixteen years old. On the way, they stopped at Jamestown where they spent an evening with Richard Mendenhall, “an old acquaintance of my father.”

Here is part of Kemp Battle’s account:

Near Greensborough we met an old acquaintance of my father, a refined and educated Quaker named Richard Mendenhall. On parting, he said courteously, “Come and see me, Kemp, and I will entertain thee for thy father’s sake until I know thee and can entertain thee for thy own.” I afterwards found this was a quotation from Swift’s Tale of a Tub.

While Mr. Mendenhall did not keep a hotel, he was willing to furnish meals to travelers at his house in Jamestown (pronounced “Jimston”). My father and I had dinner with him. Some friends had told me that he was fond of testing their knowledge of history. I determined to put a bluff on him. He began by asking me what was a giaour, the title of one of Byron’s poems. I happened to know that it was a name given by the Turks to disbelievers in Islamism. I answered his question and at once plied him with counter historical questions so fast that he refrained from catechising me further.

A nice story. Old-time Tar Heels, indeed. You can visit the Mendenhall home in Jamestown today and see where they were.

But how did William Horn Battle come to be acquainted with Richard Mendenhall? They were an unlikely pair.

William Horn Battle was born and raised in Battleboro (then) in Edgecombe County, a town founded by his grandfather. His family were farmers and slaveholders and founders of one of the oldest cotton mills in the state, which operated with slave labor. Battle himself was a lawyer, banker, judge and North Carolina Supreme Court Justice. He is acknowledged as the founder of the UNC Law School. Conservative at his core, William Horn Battle was the very embodiment of the antebellum establishment. He prominently opposed licensing women to practice law.  Son, Kemp, among other roles, was president of the Chatham Railroad Company, Treasurer of the State, and president of the University of North Carolina.

Richard Mendenhall was born and raised in Jamestown in Guilford County, a town founded by his father and named for his grandfather who settled it. Mendenhall operated what is now preserved as the Mendenhall Plantation. He was a tanner, merchant, and educator. He was also an abolitionist and a founder and president of the Manumission Society of North Carolina. He led in transporting African Americans to Liberia and Haiti. He is said to have been a principal in the Underground Railroad. His younger brother, George C. Mendenhall, was a prominent lawyer, legislator, and UNC trustee. George was a large slaveholder, who formed companies of slaves that operated variously as builders, caterers, farm laborers, etc. Under Richard’s influence, George and his wife transported their slaves to freedom in the Midwest, thereby stimulating celebrated litigation. As a lawyer, George defended abolitionists and free blacks. Richard Mendenhall’s sons were a lawyer, bankers, investors in cotton mills, and leaders in building the North Carolina Railroad.  His son, Nereus Mendenhall, served as president and kept Guilford College open through the Civil War and afterward. Guilford College, when led by Mendenhall, has been characterized  as an “island of moderation, surrounded by a sea of fundamentalism.”

Both the Battles and the Mendenhalls were Whigs and unionists. But, when war came the Battles were ardent supporters of the Confederacy. The Mendenhalls, Quakers, stood aside from the war. Some were imprisoned and abused for refusing to fight. Nereus Mendenhall interceded with Jefferson Davis to arrange legal protections for Quakers and other pacifists.

So William Horn Battle and Richard Mendenhall seem unlikely dinner companions. An eastern planter and a Piedmont abolitionist. Each might rather have regarded the other as a Carolina giaour, than as a dinner-table discussant of literature and history. (Sixteen-year-old Kemp Battle later became professor of history at UNC.)

MidLaw’s theory is that Battle and Mendenhall may have become acquainted in Raleigh, perhaps in connection with Richard’s service in the General Assembly (if he did serve, as MidLaw believes he did).

Or, it may have been that William Horn Battle and Richard Mendenhall were simply a pair of civil, cultivated people, North Carolina leaders, from different backgrounds and with different points of view in what was becoming an increasingly divided society. Old-time Tar Heels.

Cahiers de Hoummous — notice of temporary supply imbalance affecting hummus & tomatoes markets

NOTICE: Current conditions in marketplace may require prompt action

MidLaw has observed a temporary supply imbalance in the market for fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes in farmers markets across relevant regions. Arbitrage opportunities may obtain.

Accordingly, MidLaw is led to reprise the following item which was originally posted at MidLaw & Divers Items on July 2017, 2013. Readers should gauge their responses based upon their own assessments of market conditions in their particular regions.

___________________________________________

BLTSeasonal recipe — hummus and tomatoes

Prepare hummus.

Then, obtain fresh, local, vine-ripened tomatoes. Tomatoes grown in Edgecombe County, North Carolina tend to be best for this purpose. But Guilford County tomatoes are very good.

Wash tomatoes. Slice them according to your usual practice. This will yield a number of tomato-shaped slices or coins. Further slice them into halves or quarters, depending on size. Salt and pepper to taste. You may wish to anoint the tomatoes lightly with oil, vinegar or both. This is optional. (If you elect this option, you might want to add the oil and vinegar first, then salt and pepper.)

Serve halved or quartered tomato slices either in the dish with your hummus or on a separate plate.               

Take a moment to appreciate natives of the Andes for first cultivating tomatoes; peoples of the eastern and southern Mediterranean for chic peas and sesame paste; and eastern and northern Mediterranean peoples for the olive oil. Good people.

Note: This seasonal suggestion has been found to work well as an accompaniment to eggs, and also with mayonnaise, bread, bacon, and lettuce.

Tarboro ranked 6th best place in North Carolina for 2015 in MidLaw Rankings

Community House

RoadSnacks ranked Tarboro the third worst place in North Carolina last week. It’s “the real pits,” they said. My friend, John Graham wasted no time calling attention to that.

No one should be surprised. At least this year’s rank is better than last year’s. But MidLaw was surprised because MidLaw made a site visit two weeks ago. It was legwork for the MidLaw Rankings and also to see Jim Hussey. Things were in good shape then.

People were in good spirits. The place looks pretty good. (Much better than the photo RoadSnacks published.)

But RoadSnack rankings focus on computer things, numbers. And they even read those wrong. For example, they counted low real estate prices as a bad things. Really? The up-side of low real estate prices is that there are extraordinary opportunities to buy property in Tarboro right now. I’m thinking that should boost it onto the “Great Places” list; certainly not land it among the “Worst Places.” Few places in North Carolina can boast the equal of Tarboro’s historic district.

Also: food is virtually charging out of the ground down there. Sweet corn from northwest Edgecombe County is the best in world this year. Edgecombe tomatoes are in the top 10. And, although final results are not yet in, Edgecombe melons always qualify for honorable mention or better, worldwide. (MidLaw must report however, in the interests of objective reportage based on experience from some time back, that the best melons in the world – which must be eaten to be believed – are from Afghanistan.)

In recent weeks the announcement of a new venture has come: beer. A brewery in downtown Tarboro. It will complement On the Square, Tarboro’s celebrated high cuisine restaurant. Beer is not new to Tarboro. People have been drinking it there for some time and sometimes in prodigious quantities. But a brewery? That will be new.

And, even as tobacco seems on a steady decline in Edgecombe, sweet potatoes are on the rise. If sweet potatoes rise, can chickpeas be far behind?

MidLaw has considered these and other factors in light of that ignominious RoadSnack ranking. Upon reflection, MidLaw is prepared to announce its own ranking.

In the future, when public references are made to the RoadSnack ranking, please point out that Tarboro is listed in the MidLaw Rankings for the same period as “6th Best” in the State.

[Note: MidLaw’s rankings for other places in the state have not yet been assigned. However, the likelihood that Tarboro’s ranking might be lowered as other rankings are assigned is considered to be quite remote.]

Sitting here listening to Thelonious Monk

I am sitting here listening to Thelonious Monk as I have done oftentimes before. Monk TIME cover

Except now I know that his mother’s people were from Conetoe. And his mother was from the Edgecombe County side of Rocky Mount. Monk was, too. (For our international readers, these are North Carolina references whose significance is not readily explained but is profound. The difference between the Edgecombe side and the Nash side, for instance.)

This means that Billy Thigpen’s grandfather and Rowland Bullock’s grandfather, for sure, knew Thelonious Monk’s grandfather. My grandfather probably knew him. It means that my other grandfather and his brothers probably knew Monk’s people in Rocky Mount (knew who they were).

What does this mean?

Without doubt, Thelonious Monk is the only Edgecombe County native who was ever on the cover of Time Magazine. He was a genius. I do not have the words for his music. (Try this.)

Is Conetoe in that music? Edgecombe County? Billy Thigpen’s grandfather?

Edgecombe/Guilford lawyers, citizens in Civil War, an anniversary today

henrywyattToday is the anniversary of the fatal wounding of Tarboro’s Henry L. Wyatt at the Battle of Bethel, the first battle of the Civil War (that’s Bethel, Virginia). Wyatt was the first Confederate soldier to die in that War. He was a member of the Edgecombe Guards, under the command of Tarboro lawyer, Col. John L. Bridgers, who later commanded Ft. Macon.

Wyatt was wounded on June 10th, 1861; he died the next morning. Turns out, there’s a debate about whether he actually was the Confederacy’s first Civil War casualty. (Funny, that’s not something you hear discussed a lot in Edgecombe County.)

There’s a nice contrast between Edgcombe County – which supported secession virtually unanimously (in a county-wide vote, only 17 voted against secession) – and Guilford County, which opposed it.

In North Carolina’s secession convention, Guilford lawyer John Gilmer, whom Lincoln had invited to join his cabinet (now famous as the Team of Rivals), was a leading advocate for the union. Edgecombe lawyer and judge, George Howard, chaired the convention and voted to secede. Then, following the firing on Ft. Sumter, President Lincoln called for troops, and Gilmer famously said to Howard, “We are all one now.”

Which led to calling out the Edgecombe Guards under Bridgers and Wyatt’s early death. Guilford on the other hand, became a haven for conscientious objectors and deserters from both armies. It supplied its full share of Confederate troops, and some union soldiers (white and black), as well.

I have gotten interested in the contrasts between the two counties and the roles played by lawyers from both places. A Distant Mirror: How 19th Century Lawyers from Guilford and Edgecombe Counties Are Models for the Next Generation of Lawyers and Firms Worldwide.

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.