New Bern-Craven County
Public Library

a member of the Craven-Pamlico-Carteret Regional Library System

Rambles about Town: New Street,
The Academy, Johnson Street

[The Daily Journal, September 3, 1882]
We said, or meant to say in our last, we were not done with the history of New street.

John C. Stanly sold his house, now the residence of Mr. George Bishop, to Capt. M.A. Outten, and not Cutler, as printed. Passing up New street half way between Hancock and Metcalf streets is the Methodist Church, where many sermons have been preached by eloquent and learned ministers. Of this church we shall particularly speak in connection with the old Methodist Church, now Andrew Chapel (colored) on Hancock street, when we are returning from our walk which we shall propose to be down Pollock street, back to the beginning—the Lady Blessington cannon at the Episcopal Church corner.

Crossing New street from the Methodist Church and facing the north, we have the Newbern Academy directly before us and standing on ground made sacred by Newbern’s most eminent sons. There they were taught those primary lessons which Prof. Johnson told the Trustees of the Academy the other evening were so essential, in his opinion, to thorough education afterwards. Yes, there Gaston, Stanly, Hawks, Badger, Spaight, and many others almost as eminent received their early instruction and attributed it in great part to whatever eminence they attained in later life. At this particular time when there is such a revival in education in our town, a brief history of the Newbern Academy may prove interesting to your readers, hence we will attempt it up to the erection of the present school building in 1806.

In 1762, an act was passed for the erection of a school house in the town of Newbern, which was the first effectual act, as stated, for the encouragement of literature. The Newbern Academy is the result of that law. Next, in 1766, we find an act for establishing a school house in the town of Newbern as follows:

Whereas a number of well disposed persons taking into consideration the great necessity of having a proper school or public seminary of learning established, whereby the rising generation may be brought up and instructed in the principles of Christian religion and fitted for the several offices and purposes of life, have at a great expense erected and built in the town of Newbern a convenient house for the purposes aforesaid, and being desirous that the same may be established by law on a permanent footing so as to answer the good purposes by the said persons intended, Be it further enacted, etc., that one lot of land in the town of Newbern lately purchased of William Bastin Whitford by the projectors of the aforesaid school house whereon they have erected the same be from henceforth vested in the trustees of this act incorporated and their successors forever, in trust and confidence, to and for the uses and purposes by the said society intended.

I would here mention, in 1764, an act was also procured for building a house for a school and a residence for a schoolmaster in Newbern. In the act is set forth that the inhabitants of the town and of Craven county were willing and desirous of building a house for a school with proper conveniences for a residence of a schoolmaster, etc., by subscription; and part of the four lots formerly appropriated for the building of a church and other purposes, by an act of Assembly, 21st day of August, 1740, being deemed the most proper and convenient part of the said town for the same; Be it enacted, etc., That half of two of the said lots known in the said plan of the said town by the numbers of 59 and 60, corner of Pollock and Craven streets, shall and is hereby vested in the Rev. James Reed, Mr. John Williams, Mr. Joseph Leech, Mr. Thomas Clifford Howe, Mr. Thomas Haslin, Mr. Richard Cogdell, and Mr. Richard Penner and their successors, as trustees, etc., for the uses, etc.

In 1784 we find An Act to amend an Act passed at Newbern the first day of December, 1766, etc.:

“Whereas the school heretofore established under the before recited acts has answered very valuable purposes, but in the course of the late war, by the deaths and removal of many of the trustees, and from other unavoidable accidents, the building is much impaired and the education of youth neglected.
“Be it enacted, etc., That from and after the passing of this act the said school shall be distinguished and known by the name of the Newbern Academy, and that the Honorable Richard Caswell and Abner Nash Esq., John Wright Stanly, William Blount, John Sitgreaves, Spyer Singleton, William McClure, William Bryan, and Richard Dobbs Spaight, Esqrs., be and they are hereby appointed trustees and directors of the said academy,” etc.

Again in 1795 the following act was passed:

“Whereas the Academy of Newbern hath been unfortunately reduced to ashes by an accident which no human foresight could prevent, and that the utility of the institution was such as to render its extinction a matter of serious and general regret:
“Resolved, That the trustees of the Newbern Academy shall have the use and occupancy of the Palace and its appendages, they keeping the same in repair, subject to be delivered by any future order of the General Assembly; Provided the Wardens of the Poor of the county of Craven may have the use of the kitchen for the reception of the poor of said county.”

After this act the school was commenced in the Palace, as the subjoined effusion of the Rev. Thomas Pitt Irving will prove:

PALACE, Newbern, Nov. 11, 1797.
Messrs. George and Thomas Ellis:
I send you, sirs, a little boy
To buy me neither robe nor toy.
Nor rum nor sugar nor molasses,
Coffee, tea, nor empty glasses;
Nor linen cloths nor beau cravats,
Nor handkerchiefs nor beaver hats;
Nor anything, or les or more
Of all that constitutes your store
Save only this a noon-day taper
And one thing more a quire of paper.
Of these pray send the exact amount
And charge them both to my account;
And rest assured my prayer shall be
Kind sirs, for your prosperitee.
THOS. P. IRVING.

Mr. Irving was principal of the Academy when it was burned, and three years after the above lines were written, through carelessness of one of his negro servants, the Palace was also destroyed by fire. When we reach the Palace we will give the particulars of its destruction. Irving was an Episcopal clergyman and considered a teacher of great merit. He was perhaps the first principal of the Academy. I think he was, though it has been said by some that Rev. James Reed may have been principal before him. There was also a Mr. Benjamin Woods, who was brought here by John Wright Stanly from the North to teach his children. He was an excellent and learned man. He for a while was a teacher in the Academy, whether as principal or assistant, we cannot tell. He studied law and became prominent in his profession. He resided before Gaston in the house on the corner of Craven and Middle streets, and there died many years ago. His widow afterwards married Dr. Elias Hawes. He had a daughter, Mary, who also died there when about 16 years of age, yet she was at the time betrothed to Dr. F.L. Hawks, then a student at the University of North Carolina. He was sent for by her request and hurried to Newbern, but when he reached the town the spirit of one so lovely in life had winged its way to realms to us unknown. She was buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery.

Two or three years before the late war Dr. Hawks came to Newbern, and at his solicitation the writer of this made a visit to the cemetery with him, for the purpose of trying to locate the spot where Miss Woods was buried, as he intended to erect thereon a monument. We could not find the place then, and the war put an end to the effort to do so. And here let me say if you will examine the tombs in the Episcopal Church grounds it will be seen it was no unusual thing for mothers to be buried there at 16 years of age. Some of the young ladies in those days were married as early as fourteen. In an old history of North Carolina before us it is said, “Under these advantages,” meaning our pleasant seasons and rich lands, “we are not to wonder that people in all ranks of life should marry very young. We have heard of grandmothers who were not more than 27 years old.” Newbern no doubt had her share of them. What think the young ladies now?

To return directly to the Academy. It being represented in the General Assembly, November 18th, 1786, that a lot of land with the improvements thereon, in the town of Newbern, commonly called and known by the appellation of the Glebe, which was formerly purchased at the expense of the inhabitants of the county of Craven for the residence of a minister of the Episcopal Church, would tend to the increase of the funds of the Academy if the same was invested in the trustees thereof, the property was promptly “invested” as desired. Just before the war the lot was sold by the trustees and a very advantageous sum received for it. Yet the sale was unfortunate, as the war caused the loss of the amount. As before stated Mr. C.E. Foy’s new residence is on this lot. When the trustees sold it there was no improvement on it and no income derived from it. Hence the sale.

The building now on the Academy Green was erected in about 1806. A number of persons residing in Newbern can remember an accident to the chief carpenter and superintendent of the work. Mr. John M. Oliver who fell from the portico to the ground and was seriously injured. He finally recovered and went to South Carolina where he died some years ago. Mrs. John M. Oliver at the time of the accident was the sister of the late Elijah Clark, Esq. The Academy building originally had a belfry or round house on top of the roof and there the boys would ring out from the bell the joyous notes of the 4th day of July. Now and then, too, give it a turn to annoy the teachers, with the certainty of having paid for their sport with a good rattan will laid on the hand, head, or back, and but for this it would have been a constant annoyance. Teachers and parents on those days did not deem themselves wiser than the Great Teacher of all teachers and were willing to take the Bible as a guide for their action. Does not roguery keep pace with such humanity as we see exhibited in this our generation of crime and extravagant living?

The Academy Square we have shown was purchased of William Bastin Whitford. The two lots extending from New to Johnston streets were reserved by him and on which was his residence. Afterward they were in the possession of the Chief Justice of North Carolina, John Lewis Taylor, and there he lived for a number of years.

On Johnston street opposite Mr. John B. Lane’s carpenter shop is a small square house which was Lawyer Taylor’s office. There has been little or no alteration in its external appearance since he occupied it long years ago. The law cases there examined and discussed by famous lawyers would make volumes. Still, thousands have passed by that building as unconscious of its former greatness as the dead that are wheeled by it, almost weekly, to the Cemetery. After Judge Taylor, Mr. Asa Jones owned and lived in the dwelling house. He was a wealthy citizen who accumulated riches in the distillery of turpentine. Himself and brother, John Jones, being among the first to engage in that business in this State and country. Yet we learn that a few of the trees are yet standing on the sand hills on Broad creek that were chipped for them, with a hatchet, scrapers not then were known. The spirits of turpentine was prepared for transportation by first being put in a small cask then that in a larger one and the space filled with water. The application of glue to the inside of the cask obviated the expense and trouble of the mode of shipment previous to that discovery. Mr. Asa Jones married a Miss Bryan, for whose family the old Bryan Tavern was called. After Mr. Jones, Dr. John A. Guion occupied the house for a term of years, then Mrs. John M. Roberts, a daughter of John Jones and a niece of Asa Jones. Her husband was known throughout this section of the State as Cashier both of the State Bank and the Bank of North Carolina during his life. The house is now in the possession of the heirs of Mrs. Roberts. Mr. Jones added to the Taylor house and I have understood that part of the old Whitford house is still there. I have been thus particular, as this was one among the first lots cleared and settled in Newbern. I will give a trifling incident here connected with the Academy boys and this lot for the benefit of Prof. Johnson. While Dr. Guion was residing there, one season his plum trees were overladen with fruit shining and sparkling in the sun like rubies. Mrs. Guion, thinking she might deter a wholesale robbery by dividing with the boys at school, sent over to the Academy a large waiter filled to overflowing with plums, with the request that the principal, which was either Mr. Mayhew or Mr. Bogert, present them to the boys with her kind wishes for their welfare. This was done and the thanks of the school returned for her generous and thoughtful present. Dr. Guion had his doubts about the result and predicted the stripping of the trees. It is sufficient to say not a plum was on them next day. It was telling the flies where the sugar was. The boys looked upon taking fruit as their legitimate business, and the legitimate business of old schoolmasters if they were caught to flog them for it. But in this instance there was no complaint—the owners of the fruit enjoyed the joke and the boys escaped the rod.

Let me say here, we are not quite done with the history of New street; and also state in answer to several inquiries, that it would not be convenient for me to give the scraps of the history of Newbern in chronological order; and even if the time could be taken to do so we do not think it would be desirable in the limited space that could be allowed in the columns of the Journal, a paper designed to furnish daily news for readers in different portions of the State. My object has been to make the communications of so diversified nature that they ought to appear independent of each other, if sometimes there has been a connection when too long for one issue in your paper. If we can aid in saving anything from oblivion that honor our fathers and that will excite in our youth a laudable desire to imitate them, we shall feel amply paid for our feeble efforts. Moreover, it is gratifying to know that some of our citizens still left among us derive pleasure in being reminded of incidents in this history of Newbern fast passing from their memory.

D.

Return to The Writings of John D. Whitford