Tag Archives: Tarboro

The Bell Witch from Upper Town Creek (Edgecombe County)

The ghost in “America’s greatest ghost story” is an Edgecombe County native.

She left home and made a big mark in Tennessee. Recently, she inspired the celebrated movie, The Blair Witch Project.

She is often identified as Kate Batts (note the Edgecombe name) but better known as “the Bell Witch” after the Edgecombe expatriate family whom she haunted. The Bells left Upper Town Creek in 1803 and moved to Robertson County in Tennessee, where they and others from Edgecombe County settled.

Probably, no American ghost story is more extensively documented than the Bell Witch story. It is the subject of books, articles, documentaries, movies, and now Internet blogs and posts.

In short, the witch haunted Edgecombe native John Bell and his family and others in Tennessee over as long as two centuries. Early on, she mostly tormented her victims but sometimes she was kind, singing hymns and serving fruit to the ones she liked. Ultimately, she poisoned and killed John Bell and then she disrupted his funeral by singing drinking songs while the mourners tried to sing church music. Following Bell’s death though, and continuing well into the 20th century, she seems to have mellowed, merely visiting and hanging out from time to time with residents and others in the region .

In her first appearance, the witch confronted John Bell in a Tennessee cornfield. Famously, on that occasion, she manifested as a dog with the head of a rabbit. (This account, of course, is very consistent with Edgecombe County history. Not a single sighting of a dog with a rabbit’s head has been reported in Edgecombe County since the Bells left in 1803.)

Later, the witch appeared in other forms and often she spoke or acted without taking visible form. On that first appearance, Bell ran her off by firing his gun at her. Later, she was more persistent.

Different accounts explain where she came from.

One holds that John Bell had an affair with an Edgecombe County neighbor, Kate Batts, and then broke it off. This provoked Kate to threaten to tell the neighborhood how he had mistreated her. In response, Bell locked her in his smokehouse and left her there, tied up, until she died. Bell then left North Carolina for Tennessee with his family and Kate’s spirit followed. She haunted him to his death.

A second account is that Bell’s Edgecombe farm overseer, John Black, took up with Bell’s daughter, much to Bell’s disapproval. Ultimately Bell killed Black. By this account, the overseer’s spirit pursued the Bells from Town Creek to Tennessee. The ghost was identified in Tennessee with the corporeal Kate Batts who was among others who had moved from Edgecombe County to Tennessee and settled in the same area as the Bells. She had disputes with them out there.

Either way, it started with sex in Edgecombe County. So many things do.

The Bell Witch haunting is a long and continuing Tennessee tale and it has won a place in Tennessee history. But the ghost came from Edgecombe County and for those who have grown up in Edgecombe and later left home, the notion that Edgecombe ghosts may follow you wherever you go comes as no surprise.

Nor does the idea that sex and sorrow leads to no good end.

 

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.

 

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-grown lawyer now prominent NC leader, delivering access to justice

And now it’s time for a word from our sponsor.

Our sponsor (indirectly anyway) is the North Carolina legal system.

Unhappily, it has come upon some hard times in recent years.

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As recently noted, our economy and society have become extraordinarily more complex as compared with the days when tobacco was king and music had a back beat you could not lose. In today’s more complex world, vastly more people need legal services than ever before. And many fewer can afford lawyers than before.

This falls most heavily on the poor, of whom North Carolina has many. Twenty-three percent of North Carolinians cannot afford lawyers when they need’em. Eighty percent of the legal needs of poor people are not met.

That’s bad news. The results clog the courts system, burden the State and slow our economy.

The good news is that a Tarboro native and lawyer is at the forefront of bringing legal services to people who can’t afford them. She is a leader at the State and national levels — and she is widely recognized for her exceptional abilities and good works.

Celia Pistolis, formerly of Baker Street.

In her role as Director of Advocacy at Legal Aid of North Carolina, Celia supervises one of the largest staffs of lawyers in the State and manages what is surely the largest network of law offices. In her role as chair of the North Carolina Equal Justice Alliance, Celia also leads the principal association of all the major providers of legal services to poor people in North Carolina.

Celia was honored in 2012 by UNC Law School, which granted her a Distinguished Alumni Award, putting her in company with some of the most accomplished lawyers in North Carolina and beyond. The North Carolina Bar Association awarded her the Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award as far back as 2002. And the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation selected her to receive a special sabbatical award in 2011 in recognition of her service.

Celia is an important leader doing badly needed work. She is in the middle of a distinguished career. A great Tarboro lawyer.

So, MidLaw’s sponsor, the North Carolina legal system, has great needs and Tarboro-born-and-raised lawyer Celia Pistolis is a key leader in meeting those needs. She is getting results.  In 2012, the total impact of legal aid in North Carolina was $48,775,276.

There’s a lot more to be done. Federal and state funding have steadily been cut. Private resources are needed. It’d be a good thing to give Celia’s organization a few bucks.

The Lawyers Weekly Interview, Part II: details never before revealed about life & career of MidLaw scrivener

149HThe last post before this one set out the first part of the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly’s article and interview with MidLaw’s scrivener. Heath Hamacher wrote the Lawyers Weekly piece, and edited the interview “for length and clarity.” Below is Part II, the rest of the interview, which mostly addresses personal biographical details.

LW:   Tell me a little about your upbringing and how you came to get into the practice of law.

MIDLAW:   I was born and raised in Tarboro and Edgecombe County, North Carolina, which I later learned is the center of the universe. My father was in the horse-and-mule business until that played out and his work subsided into farming. What I learned about farming caused me to develop an interest in other ways of earning a living.

I got onto the path that led me to law practice late one evening many years ago when, in the course of a gentlemen’s card game, one of the players remarked that anyone who signed up to take the law boards the next day would be released from duty and provided with transportation to either Long Binh or Saigon where the tests would be administered.

I signed up for a day off, and one thing led to another.

 

LW:   Tell me about your practice area and exactly what you do as an attorney.

MIDLAW:   I started in a very general business law practice, focused mainly on litigation; then I followed opportunities that led to me becoming the general counsel of the North Carolina Savings and Loan League and later the North Carolina Bankers Association, and to representing financial services companies.

The time came about 15 years ago when my partners, Jim Williams and Dan McGinn, came and asked me to consider becoming the managing partner of our firm. I thought about that and agreed to do it if the partners approved, but on two conditions; namely: (i) that I could not both serve clients and also be managing partner at the same time, and (ii) that I would not be required ever to fill out a time sheet again. (I was bluffing about the second one, but it worked.)

At midnight this past December 31, Reid Phillips became our managing partner and now I am sort of rebuilding what I do. Something will come up.

 

LW:   Where did the idea of doing a blog come from? Its subject matter is pretty eclectic. Do you just write whatever’s on your mind?

MIDLAW:   Before there were blogs, I wrote a regular series of posts for the North Carolina Bankers Association’s website; before that, I wrote legal memoranda which the S&L League published. I started doing the blog because I wanted to understand what blogs are and how they might be used by law firms. Something I published on the blog (about hummus) got written up in the Greensboro newspaper, and all of a sudden I was in the blog business.

The blog is focused on a few topics: (i) mid-size law firms and law practice management; (ii) 19th Century NC lawyers (mostly from Edgecombe and Guilford Counties) and some things about Tarboro generally; (iii) legal services delivery (I am on the IOLTA board); (iv) the importance of liberal arts education; and (v) something we call the MidLaw Diet, which is about hummus mostly.

I certainly do not write about whatever is on my mind. I might get sued.

 

LW:   Tell me about your family. Are you married? To whom? How long? How many children and their ages.

MIDLAW:   I am well and truly married to Sally Patton Winslow, as I have been ever since 1980. We are the parents of Margaret Winslow who is 32 years old and lives in Greensboro, where she is Director of Strategic Initiatives at Elon Law School; and of Ted Winslow who is 27 years old and who teaches languages and literature and lives in Castellón de la Plana, Spain.

 

LW:   What do you do when you manage to find some free time? Any hobbies besides blogging?

MIDLAW:   We have this great place in the woods in southwest Virginia, where I engage in sedentary pursuits and limited physical activities, and where I like to go whenever I can. Also, I am very involved as a trustee of a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania (Westtown School) and of Guilford College in Greensboro. Hobbies might include reading or something. Maybe cooking.

Socialized milk and whiskey in Tarboro

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Jimmy Emerson, Flickr

Tarboro’s municipal milk plant is getting attention. First from the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. More recently, in the January issue of Our State magazine.

At the time, I never thought it odd that a government agency delivered milk to our door. When I went to other places and they had to go buy milk at a grocery store, I thought that was odd.

Later, I moved to France and found whiskey at the grocery store. And, sheeps’ brains once a week at the student restaurant.

In Tarboro, we had socialized milk, socialized whiskey. Free-market sheeps’ brains.

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Tales from Tarboro’s graveyards: lawyer interred there was first person to “take the Fifth” before Congress

William L. Saunders UNC Library

William L. Saunders
UNC Library

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William L. Saunders is buried in Tarboro in the Calvary Episcopal Churchyard. The historical marker just off Main Street at St. James, says Saunders was the editor of the Colonial Records of North Carolina and North Carolina Secretary of State. He had been a Confederate colonel. The marker does not tell that Saunders was also the Emperor of the Invisible Empire (the Ku Klux Klan) in North Carolina, a not-particularly-successful lawyer, a founder and editor of what became the Raleigh News and Observer, and a trustee of the University of North Carolina .

Saunders was not from Tarboro. His wife was. She was a Cotten. That’s how he came to be buried in Calvary Churchyard.

UNC (Chapel Hill)’s Saunders Hall was named for him in 1920, then it was renamed this year (it’s now called “Carolina Hall”) in light of Saunders’ career as a white supremacist and leader of the KKK.

A sidelight is that Saunders is believed to have been the first person ever in a Congressional hearing to refuse to answer questions asserting the privilege against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In 1877 hearings, he refused to answer questions about his KKK activities. One hundred times. He did not answer. The phrase “I decline to answer” is inscribed on his Tarboro tombstone.

Lawyer. KKK leader. Likely involved in fomenting racial violence. Buried in Tarboro.

Him refusing to testify doesn’t really surprise me.

Nobody in that graveyard is talking.

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Tarboro & Greensboro lawyers at center of the story of Jim Crow & voting rights from start & now

fryeSome time back MidLaw pointed out the centrality of the voting rights laws to the careers of legendary Tarboro lawyer George Henry White and legendary Greensboro lawyer, Henry Frye.

Last week, the New York Times Magazine published a major article, “A Dream Undone, Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act” in which it reported that the story goes on.

The Times put Brooks Pierce’s Henry Frye  right at the center of its report for his role in rolling back the Jim Crow system fifty years ago. But two years ago, North Carolina rewrote its voting laws again and now the North Carolina voter ID law is referred to as one of the “most restrictive voting rights laws since the Jim Crow era.”

gwh-photoAnd, it falls to MidLaw to recall that Tarboro lawyer George Henry White was at the center of the story when Jim Crow laws began in 1900. When North Carolina enacted its Literacy Test effectively eliminating African Americans from the voting rolls, George White decided not to run for re-election to Congress from Tarboro and the Second District. That marked the beginning of the Jim Crow era. White’s decision was reported in a Times article at the time, and the Times printed his famous farewell speech in Congress on page one.

White’s biographer says that the closing lines of White’s speech “were among the most widely remembered and widely quoted lines from any speech by a black American for the next half century.”

This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress; but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised, and bleeding, but God-fearing people, industrious, loyal people – rising people, full of potential force.

book ghwRaleigh’s News & Observer also marked White’s departure from Congress and hailed the new era, quoting a North Carolina legislator to a much different effect:

Geo. H. White, the insolent negro, who has so long represented the proud people of North Carolina in the Congress of the United States, has retired from office forever. We have a white man’s government in every part of the old State, and from this hour no negro will again disgrace the old State in the council chambers of the nation. For these mercies, thank God.

Benjamin R. Justesen, George Henry White, An Even Chance in the Race of Life (LSU Press 2001).

Tarboro’s George White was central to the story in 1900. Fifty years later, Henry Frye was central to dismantling them. Now, after another fifty years, the fight goes on.

The Times wrapped up its article last week by quoting Frye on where we are today:

It’s not quite what it was a long time ago. It’s more sophisticated now.

 

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.]

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.