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Jonathan Price

[From: The Daily Journal, August 13, 1882]

On Thursday night, the 23d of July, 1822, at half past twelve o’clock, departed this life, Mr. Johnathan Price, after a short but not a painful illness.

When a man who has rendered eminent services to his country, and who by his virtues has endeared himself to a numerous acquaintance, takes of them his last, his ever lasting farewell, it seems to be not improper to take some little notice of his past life, that posterity may be enabled to do justice to his memory, and to profit by his example. And that the life of Mr. Price has been a great public, as well as private benefit, in the way of his profession, no one will deny. Although no body is ignorant of the existence of Price’s Map of North Carolina, it is believed that neither the public utility, nor the difficulty of executing it, have ever been reflected on by one in a thousand. At the time of the undertaking, there was very little typographical [i.e. topographical] knowledge in the country, and to undertake and completely effect the actual survey of the whole State of North Carolina, passing over its whole surface, up and down its numberless roads, laying down with precision, the situation of the State with respect to other States, and the counties with respect to each other—tracing the course of the rivers from their sources to the sea—delineating the mountains, the numerous towns, villages, academies, and county seats, and finally measuring and exhibiting to the eye, upon the map, the distances of places from one to another, with the same exactness as if done with the surveyor’s chain. All this I say required a degree of intellect that determines the possessor to be one of heaven’s great works.

How comprehensive, how interprising [sic] and energetic must have been that mind capable of grasping at a view, both the gigantic plan and all means of its accomplishment. And how superior the genius and perseverance that could execute the Herculean labor. It has been the subject of eulogy, not only in several of the States but also by the reviewers of Europe. It should be remembered that it was a private, not a public work.

His survey of the coast of North Carolina, on which he was employed by the State, is well known and highly approved for its accuracy and is another proof of his mathematical skill, his last employment by the State, was for the purpose of taking the level of several of the counties, ascertaining the degree of descent to the rivers themselves, thereby to determine the proper places for cutting canals. This he performed to entire satisfaction.

We now come to his private character. And here I appeal to the grateful recollections of all my fellow citizens to say how acceptable was always the company and conversation of their old friend (for he was the friend of all) how easy, how unassuming, yet how instructive his conversation. Whenever the opinions of his friends happened to be different from his own, he opposed them with temper and with candor, never with acrimony, or even disrespect. But with what gentleness did he correct whenever it was necessary, the erroneous sentiments or opinions of his female friends: he pleasingly led them to the discovery of truth, by the softness of his tones, and the kindness of his manner: and although they might not become converts to his opinions, they scarce ever failed to become his friends; but never, never did he intentionally wound the feelings of any human being. His capacious mind was amply stored with various kinds of knowledge. Besides that, immediately connected his profession, he well understood Astronomy, Geography, and Navigation; he was a tolerable Botanist, understood drawing and painting very well, and was likewise perfectly acquainted with theology; but in Natural Philosophy, his knowledge was almost boundless. In that domestic household kind too, so common, but so useful, he exceeded almost all other men.

His charity was of the most benevolent kind. Far from confining it to a sect, or even to a country, it extended to the whole human race. As an instance of his practical morality, I will relate a transaction, which he no doubt has mentioned to others, as well as to the writer of this. Many years ago, while living in Pasquotank, he owned a negro man and his wife; these he carried to Philadelphia, and generously and nobly gave them their freedom; this, however, could not be legally done without expense, and it cost him, I think, about three hundred dollars to pass through the forms prescribed by law. Several years afterwards he returned to Philadelphia and had the curiosity to pay a visit to his freed man and woman; they had then a family of several children, and were living very comfortably. But their joy at seeing him was extravagant. Oppressed with the weight of the immense obligation conferred on them, they showed him their children, their house, their furniture, and said all these as well as our freedom, we are indebted to you for, and all the happiness we and our children enjoy; and when he left them their gratitude broke forth in these expressions: “Farewell my dear good master; God bless and preserve you; you have made us all happy, and we shall remember your goodness to the last hour of our lives.”

But perhaps envy or ill nature may whisper—“he had his faults.” True good reader, he had; but where I ask is the human being without faults? He himself did not pretend that he, more than others, was exempt from the common frailties of our nature; but they were as few at least as fall to the lot of other men, and did not touch the heart. To malice, to revenge, to hatred and all the bad passions of bad men, he was an entire stranger. But to the above insinuation, perhaps the best reply would be the words of Jesus Christ: “Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.” I would just remark, that if those only allowed to cast stones, who are without sin, it seems to follow that those who have sin ought no to cast them. In a word, how seldom appears such a man upon the stage of life—perhaps not once in an age. It is not though extravagant to say that on many accounts, Carolina never saw his equal. Like the immortal Franklin, he was self taught, and like him too, the prominent bias of his mind, the strongest trait in his character, was philanthropy, or an unbounded love of the whole human race. He was, in the words of the prince of Poets one of “the noblest works of God,” for he was truly and emphatically not only in practice but in principle—“An honest man.”

Agisilous, King of Sparta, being asked “what ought children to learn” replied “that which they ought to practice when they become men.” The men living in the generation just before Jonathan Price, in Newbern, kept their children constantly reminded, both with the word of God, and of the advice of the Spartan Monarch: and we find in 1882 [i.e. 1822, see correction in August 27, 1882, article], our town filled with young men of extraordinary talent and merit in all kinds of occupations and professions. The writer of this has heard Dr. F.L. Hawks relate with no little merriment that he has known his father to take his brothers and himself Monday morning, before starting to school and give them a lively switching with the remark, “it will arouse you and keep the school master from wasting his time on you.” Price was of the Hawks school—not looking to the wishes of the boy but to the success of the man. We may in this enlightened day object to such teaching, yet it must be admitted that when the Elder Hawks died he left around him young men whose ability, learning, morality and perseverance would have given them high positions in any country or age.

For who shall lightly say—that fame
Is nothing but an empty name.
While in that sound there is a charm.
The nerves to brace, the heart to warm,
As thinking of the mighty dead.
The young from slothful couch shall start
And vow with lifted hands outspread
Like them to ask a noble part.

But a writer says, and is it not the truth, “wherever be your route to understand the world the conclusion will be the same.” Its joys lie in a little compass and the one opportunity of all. What is exceptional in your career is quite as apt to bring pain as triumph. “That which made plain father and mother happy when you came among them, must suffice for you.”

Dr. F.L. Hawks is thought to have been the eulogist of Jonathan Price.

The North Carolina maps executed by Price is now seldom seen, if at all, by our citizens, while his maps of the town of New Berne, made in 1810, is constantly before them, with the extension by William H. Marshall in 1875. Price’s survey of Newbern commenced at the iron cannon at the corner of the Episcopal church fence on Middle and Pollock streets. The gun was captured in the Revolutionary war, by one of John Wright Stanly’s vessels, from a British armed vessel at sea, when it was brought to port. It was presented to the British by Lady Blessington, with her name cast upon it, and if it cannot now, from the effect of time and rust, it could for a number of years be plainly seen on the corner where it now stands.

D.

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