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Rambles about Town: George Street

[From: The Daily Journal, November 26, 1882. This issue of the newspaper is poorly microfilmed, the below was transcribed from the New Bern Weekly Journal, November 30, 1882.]

We have, Messrs. Editors, deterred these articles for a week or two, to enable you in lieu of local matter, to give your readers a more extended account of the recent elections and also, of the Railroad meeting in Goldsboro.

Now, to resume our journey. We were last at the stump of the Washington and Railroad cedar on the old Palace Avenue. In passing down it towards the Trent we soon come to a slight rise in the ground, it was once greater and some years ago it was cut down to fill in a pond of stagnant water in a field in front of Griffin’s Free School. At the time it was discovered to be an old Indian burying place. The bones of a chief and many Indian relics were there found. A building then which had been Gowan’s rope walk was near it, running along the line of George street. On the same lot the Federals, during the late war, buried many of their dead that died with the yellow fever. The remains of all have been disinterred and reburied elsewhere.

A few steps onward carry us to Cedar street, where it terminates at the wall of Cedar Grove Cemetery. All this street from George street eastly, was taken in when the Cemetery was enlarged. Looking west, not much more than a hundred yards up the slope, was for years the hanging ground and called so, in consequence of the number of executions there within comparatively recent years. The marks of the post holes of the gallows and the graves dug near them still remain. We would pass by the Cemetery as we design to attempt, at some future period, to give its history, the number of interments in it and to say something of the most noted dead resting there, under cedars.

Another square walked and we are at the corner of New or Neuse, or Neuse or New street as it may be to-day. On it, near Mr. W.H. Marshall’s residence, is the largest tree among the many thousands in the town. It is an elm and, though young in age, is a giant in size. We should judge its circumference seventeen or eighteen feet, with a prospect with ordinary care, of having added many feet to its already portly dimensions. Stay the hand with the axe, we importune, and let the tree grow.

Proceeding to Broad street, on the northeast corner, once lived quite a conspicuous colored man, in his day, in Newbern. We allude to Donum Mumford. He was a slave owner and owner of lands, though a plasterer by trade. His wife, Hannah, was the nurse of William Gaston and had him in her arms when she heard of the attack of the Tories upon his father, Dr. Alexander Gaston, to whom she then belonged. We have before told part of the story. The house finally became the property of the Honorable Edward Stanly who left it, in his will, to his father’s old servant, Moses Kennedy, during his life. Moses died in the house two or three years ago, having just previous to it presented the writer with his photograph. The old man was nearing on to ninety years of age though up to a short while before his death, was fond of the sport and was occasionally then seen bird hunting in the fields and woods adjacent to our town. On the opposite corner, west from us, is the residence of Mrs. Susan J. Dudley. Her flower garden is the spot on which stood John Gill’s dwelling and shop. In that shop, a little house with a sharp angle roof, he made his revolving gun in 1829. Afterwards he was robbed of the benefit and honor of the invention by Colt in Washington City. Gill was a genius—a kind of Edison in inventive talent. He too could make wood or metal into any form, with the means at his command, that any other living being could, therefore he first made his tools, then with them, the models of his inventions, whether they were desired to be of wood or metal. In wax work and alum baskets, in his day, he could excel, and now and then he would even make the plaster cast of a face. He was using a material made of old India rubber shoes, on the roof of our county jail, in place of ordinary solder, long before he ever heard of its being vulcanized and predicted what would be done with it. He was a gunsmith, locksmith, silversmith, coppersmith, blacksmith, machinist, in fact as before said, he could turn his hand to any kind of work with the skill of a workman. He would however fritter away days on his “Perpetual motion” effort though at the time his family was requiring his labor for their support. When his hands were idle his brain was not and he delighted in riddles. We will give one here that came from it:

“A creature there was below the sun,
That had a wide extensive run,
He never sinned, or could he know
Vice or any evil show;
Yet within that creature stayed,
A soul that had God disobeyed,
And now within the courts above,
Drinks of the flowing streams of love;
Or in the flames of hell beneath,
Gnaws his tongue and grits his teeth.”

Dr. E.R. Hubbard could testify to the main facts we have stated above, relative to Gill as well as to what I am now about to state:

John Gill was as unsuspecting as a child without guile. He could be trusted and would unhesitatingly trust others, therefore, it was an easy task to mislead and deceive him. He had, moreover, never been from home and knew but slightly the ways of the outside world. When he visited Washington City and carried his gun perfect as a revolver and ready to be tested by actual trial, he then thinking such a course necessary to obtain a patent. It was a “fourteen shooter” and the writer of this, subsequently owned it and held it up to the capture of Newbern, when it was stolen with his furniture in his dwelling. In Washington Gill was confined by illness for some time and while thus situated happened to meet one of Colt’s friends to whom he exhibited the gun. This friend afterwards brought Colt to see it and the gun was taken to pieces and every part of it minutely examined and criticized. Gill was then told by them, “No use staying here and spending your money, you can obtain no patent on any such thing.” He acted upon that advice and after working a while at Harper’s Ferry, soon returned to Newbern, a wiser and poorer man than when he left. It was not long ere he learned what Colt had done and this was the foundation of his great fortune. These facts all went to a committee of Congress before the war, with letters from Mr. James C. Cole, Mr. Samuel Bishop and others, corroborating them, which aided in heading Colt in the renewal of his patent, but he soon obtained one on an improvement which was equivalent to it. Mr. Gill died without property, some years ago. Others, as has been shown, reaped the benefit and honor of his genius and labor; the case however with nearly all inventors. Mrs. Gill, a christian lady, much esteemed in the community, survives him and he has a married daughter also, residing here. He has in another State, two sons, by a previous marriage, we think, living. Beyond the lot just referred to, and in view of us, in the northwest corner of Broad and Muddy street is a one story dwelling with a piazza in front. It is known as the Attmore house—at this time the residence of Mr. Frank Fulford. It has been stated as a fact, by James G. Stanly and others that should have known, that it was the last house Tryon was in in Newbern, and probably in North Carolina. He called there for some purpose, various reasons have been given, but all agree as to the fact, a few minutes before his departure for New York, which as history tells us was not many days subsequent to his return after the battle of Alamance, in May, 1771. The day the Governor left our town and State unquestionably many rejoiced to get rid of him. It has been said by an old Englishman, and with some truth, not doubt, that our inhabitants were, when he was among us, too lazy to work, to honest to steal, to ignorant to learn, to independent to be governed, and were crafty. Tryon with his views and experience at Wilmington must have been somewhat of the same opinion, particularly respecting their independent course. Therefore on the day he turned his back on Newbern he was thinking

“Of buried hopes
And prospect faded”

in connection with his costly Palace. Yet he had been promoted, consequently there could not have been much grief on either side. Still many of our most prominent and patriotic citizens were sincerely friendly to him, and he was cordial and equally friendly to them. This was five years before the Declaration of Independence, it will be recollected, though the storm of the Revolution was fast rising to free North Carolina of English rule forever.

Crossing now the street obliquely, we soon reach the residence of Mr. John F. Hanff. This was the home, on George street, or Palace Avenue, of Major John Daves, a patriot of the Revolution, and the first Collector of the Customs of this Port. It was then an office of much importance, and the early recognition of Major Daves by his great chief and friend, President Washington, was a compliment indeed to be valued. He died in 1804, but previous to that time had voluntarily relinquished the office. Afterwards Francis Hawks, the father of Dr. F.L. Hawks, and the son of John Hawks, the architect of the Palace, held if for over thirty years—from Adams’ administration to Jackson’s. Major Daves was the father-in-law of our venerable, accomplished and highly honored citizen, Mrs. Elizabeth B. Daves, her husband, the late John P. Daves, Esq., being his son. The uniform of Major Daves and many of his papers were burned in the McKinly dwelling, next the Gaston House, in 1843. The destruction of the papers was unfortunate, for if they were now in the hands of either of h is grandsons we could get a valuable acquisition to the history of the United States as well as Newbern. Most of John Stanly’s papers were likewise thrown aside as rubbish. So, also, were those of the elder Gov. Spaight. In time who could count the value of them, and the incalculable loss it will be to those who are to come after us. The example of our fathers who have accomplished the journey of life should be held up as a beacon to us, as ours will certainly be to our children.

A few rods more and we are standing truly on historic ground. We are on the ruins of Tryon’s Palace. The first act for the erection of this building was in 1766. The second relative thereto, as follows in 1767; An act for the erection of a building within the town of Newbern, for the residence of the Governor and Commander-in-chief of this Province—a certain number of lots allowed to be condemned, not exceeding twelve, etc. The square selected (six acres) was between Metcalf and Eden streets, Pollock street and Trent river. An examination of either the ground or city map would show that, to enable Tryon to run George street or the Avenue—it need not be told it was called for the King—in a direct line to Core Point or Clark’s Ferry, he had to change its course from the other principal streets running north and south, and also cut off the most of Eden street. Thus this old Governor is honored now with the name of one of the shortest streets in Newbern, only the length of the side of a square. The squares, too, by this change are cut up into all kind of angles between Metcalf and Muddy streets, and as far north as Queen street. With George street included it will be found there were six acres in the square selected for the Palace, as the act of Assembly allowed. The Palace destroyed and that obstruction out of the way, George street was extended to Trent river. In width it was laid out 82 feet, two feet more than Broad, which was before the broadest street in the town. This was done in honor of the King.

There were two appropriations for the Palace; first, five thousand pounds, and the second fifteen thousand pounds. However, the entire cost was run up to fully $80,000, when completed and ready for occupancy. This was in 1770. Lossing give a representation of it in his Field Book of the Revolution, and we will now let him speak for himself respecting it:
“This picture of the Palace,” he says alluding to the one I have referred to, “I made from the original drawings of the plan and elevation, by John Hawks, Esq., the architect. These drawings, with other of minor details, such as sections of the drawing room, chimney-breasts for the council chamber and dining hall, sewers, etc., are in the present possession of a grandson of the architect, the Reverend Francis L. Hawks, D.D., L.L.D., rector of Calvary Church in the city of New York, to whose courtesy I am indebted for their use. With the drawings is the preliminary contract entered into by the Governor and the architect, which bears the private seal of Tryon and the signatures of the parties, from which I made the fac-simile printed upon page 361. This contract is dated January 9th, 1767, and specifies that the main building should be of brick, eighty-seven feet front, fifty-nine feet deep and two stories in height, with suitable buildings for offices, etc., and was to be completed by the first day of October 1770.” For his services Mr. Hawks was to receive an annual salary of “three hundred pounds, proclamation money.” The view Lossing gives was the north front. He continues: “The centre edifice was the Palace, the building on the right was the Secretary’s office and the laundry; that upon the left was the kitchen and servant’s hall. These were connected with the Palace by a curriform colonnade of five columns each, and covered. Between these buildings in front of the Palace was a handsome court. The rear of the building was finished in the style of the Mansion House, London.”

The interior of the Palace was elegantly finished. “Upon entering the street door,” says Ebenezer Hazzard, in his Journal for 1777, when he visited it, “you enter a hall in which are four niches for statues. The chimney breasts for the council chamber, dining and drawing rooms, and the cornices of these rooms, were of white marble. The chimney breast of the council chamber was the most elaborate, being ornamented by two Ionic columns below, and four columns with composite capitals above, with entablature, architrave and friese.” There is an account still of this chimney-piece in Raleigh, deposited there by Dr. Hawks. He found it among his grandfather’s papers. It is dated December 6th, 1870 [sic].

To continue: “Over the inner door of the entrance hall or antechamber was a tablet, with a Latin inscription showing that the Palace was dedicated to ‘Sir William Draper, the Conqueror of Manila,’ and also the following lines in Latin, which were written by Draper, who was then on a visit to Gov. Tryon:

In the reign of a Monarch who goodness disclos’d
A free, happy people to dread Tyrants oppos’d
Have to virtue and merit erected this dome:
May the owner and household
Make this their loved home.
Where religion, the arts and the laws may invite
Future ages to live in sweet peace and delight.

The above was the translation by Judge Martin, who we shall mention before concluding, in connection with Washington’s visit to Newbern. Martin visited the Palace in 1783, with Don Francisco de Miranda, who stated the structure had no equal in South America. Lossing, writing in 1858, said then the Palace had been destroyed about fifty years, though the two smaller buildings were still standing. He erred: the eastern wing was burned with the Palace and the western wing only remained. We shall allude to it hereafter. Of course, what Lossing has said on the subject was from Dr. Hawks, who obtained the information from his grandfather’s papers, therefore, it is as correct as we could ever obtain. We have seen a piece of the cornice from the Palace. It is now in Raleigh in the possession of Mrs. Mary Speight, daughter of the late Honorable John N. Bryan. One hundred and ten years or more have elapsed since the marble was chiseled and polished, yet, it would not be suspected from its whiteness and beauty. Mrs. Speight also has a marble slab that was in the Palace. The subterranean aqueducts, alluded to in the contract with the Architect are still found and put to use on the lot of Washington Bryan, Esq., whose mansion is on the old Palace square and was there erected two or three years after the burning of that building. No houses were on the grounds of the Palace except those connected with it, until after it was burned in 1800.

We have stated the description of the palace already given as correct as could be obtained, but we will give the opinion of it by one of Tryon’s Judges, Maurice Moore, who had become much embittered and assails the Governor mercilessly as follows:

“In murmuring discontent and public confusion (meaning Gov. Tryon) you left the colony committed to your care for near eighteen months together, without calling an Assembly. The Stamp Act repealed, you called one; and a fatal one it was, under every influence your character afforded you. At this Assembly was laid the foundation of all the mischief which has since befallen this unhappy province. A grant was made to the crown of five thousand pounds to erect a house for the residence of a Governor; and you sir, were solely entrusted with the management of it. The infant and impoverished state of this country could not afford to make such a grant, and it was your duty to have been acquainted with the circumstances of the colony governed. This trust proved equally fatal to the interest of the province and your excellency’s honor. You made use of it, sir, to gratify your vanity at the expense of both. It at once afforded you an opportunity of leaving an elegant monument of your taste in building behind and giving the ministry an instance of your great influence and address in your new government.
You therefore, regardless of every moral, as well as legal obligation, changed the plan of a province house for that of a palace, worthy the residence of a prince of the blood, and augmented the expense to fifteen thousand pounds. Here, sir, you betrayed your trust disgracefully to the Governor and dishonorately to the man. This liberal and ingenious stroke in politics may, for all I know, have promoted you to the government of New York. Promotions may have been the reward of such sort of merit. Be this as it may, you reduced the next Assembly you met to the unjust alternative of granting ten thousand pounds more, or sinking the five thousand they had already granted. They chose the former. It was most pleasing to the Governor, but directly contrary to the sense of their constituents. This public imposition upon a people who, from poverty, were hardly able to pay the necessary expenses of government, occasioned general discontent with your excellency, with wonderful address, improved into a civil war.”

We will, in our next communication, continue with the subject of the Palace. D.

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