Tag Archives: Guilford County

I need a good statue – the ones we have don’t get the job done


My North Carolina heritage started in the mid-18th Century. After about 1760, my ancestors are from North Carolina all the way down.

Some of them were slaveholders, most not.

One, from Perquimans County, is identified as the first person in North Carolina to have liberated all his slaves because he concluded that slavery itself was immoral. Another, said to be the largest slaveowner in Guilford County, provided for his slaves to be liberated upon his death. This provoked litigation (to the Supreme Court) contesting his will by his disappointed son. His widow, evading local law enforcement, took off with the people to Ohio.

Others included founders of the North Carolina Manumission Society, secret participants in the underground railroad (a participant as best I can tell, it was secret after all), and abolitionists.

But, still others continued to hold slaves. And probably more than anything else my forebears were small farmers, laborers, teachers, and lawyers, preachers. One was an indentured servant.

When war came, two were Confederate officers: one was killed in a daring charge; another served for an initial term, then returned home to his family in Randolph County. Two more were private soldiers, one of whom spent much of his war as a prisoner, while the other one got trounced at Gettysburg then nearly starved to death on a long, solitary walk back to Edgecombe County.

Others opposed the war. One paid the fee that exempted members of peace religions from military service. He provided succor to deserters and escaped POWs for whom Guilford County was a gathering place. Another was imprisoned for refusing to serve in the Confederate army. He was tortured by his North Carolina neighbors at the infamous Confederate prison at Salisbury.

So, what is my heritage? What monument do I claim?

I am not unusual. North Carolina’s story was never one of united, unreserved support for the Civil War. It was never so simple.

Few, if any of us, tie back to only one narrative — or to a simple, narrow “heritage.”

Guilford College president meets with Congress, President

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NC Capitol

War came and North Carolina Quakers were in a bad spot. They were abolitionists and unionists and pacifists to boot.

A bill was introduced in the North Carolina legislature to require that every free male over sixteen years old must publicly renounce allegiance to the government of the United States and agree to defend the Confederacy. The penalty for noncompliance was banishment.

It was a bridge too far. Former governor William Graham, who Bishop Cheshire said was one of the greatest men North Carolina ever produced and who represented North Carolina’s traditions of progress and moderation, spoke against the bill. He said it would be “a decree of wholesale expatriation of the Quakers.” “The whole civilized world would cry ‘shame,’” he said.

And so the bill was defeated, although “not so the hostility” from which it came. “Hatred and malice … fell with much violence” upon North Carolina Quakers.

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Virginia Capitol

Legislation was proposed at both the State and Confederacy levels to provide exemptions from military service for Quakers and other “peace churches.” North Carolina Quakers recruited a committee to go to Richmond and make their case to the Confederate government.

Among the five-person committee was Nereus Mendenhall, the leader of New Garden Boarding School (later Guilford College) in Guilford County. He was “well known as one of the most learned men in North Carolina and a prominent educator.”

At Richmond, they met with a committee of the Congress. It was summer and they met at night outside on the grounds of the Capitol. One of those present said later,

It was the feeling of the delegates that Nereus Mendenhall was preeminently the man to present our case. It seemed impossible, almost, to secure his consent, owing to his natural reserve. Finally, [the chairman] said: “Gentlemen, the Committee is ready. Please state your case.” A dead silence followed. In a few minutes, fearing the committee would not understand or appreciate our holding a silent Quaker meeting then and there, I reached over and gently touched Nereus. He arose slowly, and when fully aroused and warmed up to his subject I thought I never heard such an exposition of the doctrines of Friends on the subject of war.

Later, the group visited Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. Davis received them courteously but remarked that he “regretted to learn” there was a group of people who were not willing to fight in defense of their country.

A statute was passed that exempted Quakers and members of other peace churches from military service upon either payment of money or rendering noncombatant services. A participant in the process said that

To Nereus Mendenhall’s argument, perhaps more than any other one thing, was due the passage of this law.

In later times, some Quakers refused to serve and refused to make payments or perform noncombatant services. Some of them were punished severely.

Mendenhall’s home, The Oaks, was located on what is now NC 68 between Greensboro and High Point in Guilford County. It is for sale by Preservation North Carolina and may be destroyed.

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Nereus Mendenhall

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The Oaks

Guilford College president charged with possessing subversive literature, house for sale

nereus_mendenhall_the_oaks-16Circulating anti-slavery literature was a crime punishable by imprisonment and a whipping in North Carolina in the years just before the Civil War and The Impending Crisis by Hinton Rowan Helper was the very definition of such literature.

Nereus Mendenhall, the Superintendent (president) of New Garden Friends School (which became Guilford College) and himself an abolitionist, owned multiple copies of The Impending Crisis which he made freely available to others. So Greensboro authorities determined to seize his books and put him in jail. They sent out a posse for that purpose.

But Mendenhall’s brother Cyrus, a Greensboro lawyer, businessman and the Treasurer of the North Carolina Railroad, had learned of the plan and sent word to his brother. More to the point, he also sent word to his to his sister-in-law, Orianna Mendenhall. Upon receiving the news, Nereus sat stolidly in his chair and refused to take any action. He continued reading. No so, Orianna. When she saw what Nereus was doing, she gathered up the books and threw them into the fire. Arrest averted. (Go Orianna!)

nereus_mendenhall_the_oaks-21
nereus_mendenhall_the_oaks-19Mendenhall’s home and Orianna’s fire were on a farm known as The Oaks between Greensboro and High Point out on what is now NC Highway 68. The house where Mendenhall received his brother’s message and the room in which his books were burned are now for sale by Preservation North Carolina. The house was built in 1830 and is an architecturally significant example of a Quaker Plan house. If not sold, it will likely be destroyed.

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

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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.

Jury duty of the living dead

pumpkinExcuses from jury duty are rarely granted in North Carolina. So says a boilerplate disclosure set out on the Guilford County juror summons.

Death is a good excuse, but the summons admonishes that jurors should present a death certificate or an obituary to qualify.

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.

Partisan election of judges has led to assassination plots, cannibals & pirates in NC courts

We have gotten past the elections now, if not their consequences. So this may be a good time for me to say that I believe judges should be selected on the basis of merit and competence rather than elected, reflecting membership in a political party or adherence to a political ideology.

Albion Tourgee

Albion Tourgee

The vast preponderance of decisions that judges make – about contracts, torts, crimes, etc. – have nothing at all to do with politics. Justice flows from judges who are independent, unbiased, able and wise – and appear to be so.

I like seeing judges come from all quarters and without labels. And, on the other hand, I am able to identify idiots in every political party. (In fact, this is a talent of mine, and I can do it on very short notice.)

Several years ago, I visited my thoughts about this on the Greensboro Bar Association, in the context of 19th Century Greensboro lawyer and judge Albion Winegar Tourgée and the judicial partisanship in his day. What I said follows, changed only a little.

Judge Tourgée, was the carpetbagger, radical and crusader for racial justice who moved to Greensboro immediately after the Civil War. Ultimately, Greensboro citizens ostracized, threatened and drove him from town. For a time though, Tourgée, the Republican Party and their allies enjoyed political sway here, and during that period Tourgée was elected to the bench.

Judge Tourgée was roundly despised by his political opponents. In the extremely partisan election campaign for his seat, one newspaper characterized Tourgée as “a shallow-brained revengeful yankee.” Another opined that he was “the meanest looking man it has ever been our misfortune to meet.” Not content with that general observation, it went on to say

The pirate; the cutthroat; the despicable, mean, cowardly, crawling, sneaking villain have been portrayed by nature … in every lineament of his countenance. The mark of infamy is stamped indelibly on his brow in the shape of a large protuberance that strikes the beholder with ineffable disgust.

Still others saw in him “a cannibal, a gorilla, the wandering Jew, a Ku Klux or Anti-Christ” and charged (falsely) that he had served time in a penitentiary.

And yet, he was elected to the bench.

Tourgée’s opponents did not desist in their opposition to him after the election. To the contrary, a plot was hatched to assassinate him in his Guilford County courtroom as he presided over criminal proceedings against members of the KKK. The plot was not consummated, but surely a planned assassination betokens an extreme of partisanship.

Despite all the invective, even Tourgée’s opponents at the bar credited him as an able, fair and, most amazingly of all, an impartial judge.

Interestingly, in Tourgée’s time politicians divided up along generally the same lines as they do today; except, in Tourgée’s time it was the Republicans and their Whiggish allies who advocated for an activist government, loose interpretation of the Constitution and levying taxes as needed to support their activist program. Democrats on the other hand, decried government participation in commerce, supported strict constructionism and abominated taxes.

Clearly, deeper wisdom has since come to both parties and they have re-wrought their ideologies accordingly. But it makes you wonder about the merits of partisanship as a guide to enduring truth.

Now, I am not suggesting that partisan judicial elections lead to assassination plots or pirates on the bench. But … that is exactly what did happen once upon a time in old Guilford County.

Just saying . . .