Rambles about Town: Pollock Street from Queen to Middle
[From: The Daily Journal, January 7, 1883]
We will now comply with the promise, when we set out on the ramble with you, and return on Pollock street to the Lady Blessington cannon at the corner of the Episcopal Church grounds. Let us start from the head of the street and where it runs into Queen street.
In the point of the land thus made by the two streets is an old one-uprighted-story wood house that could, beyond question, count more years than any other within the limits of the town. It was built on a plantation before the streets were laid out and was for several generations the home of the Bryans. Their lands extended for a number of miles, at one time, west along the Trent road, and we find John Bryan a freeholder as early as 1723. John Council Bryan was the last prominent male member of the family to occupy this house. He died and was buried on the lot near it in 1807. He was the father of the late Mrs. Dr. Mason of Raleigh and the grandfather of Rev. E.M. Forbes, now of Beaufort, and of Miss Justice and Mrs. Disosway of Newbern. There are also other descendants of his in our midst. Mrs. Mason’s neat and interesting work, prettily illustrated, called “A Wreath in the Woods of Carolina,” should be read by every child. The stories in it are all founded upon facts and scenes that occurred in and about our town. She says of a school in Newbern she attended when a little girl, “The high and the low, the rich and the poor, met together, without distinction, save that of merit.” In our time we expect nothing else. In Mrs. Mason’s it was an exception—the line between poverty and riches was generally distinctly marked. The tuition of the schools was beyond the means of the poor, hence then, the great number without education, “the hewers of wood and drawers of water” for those of more means and intelligence. A few steps from the Bryan house which is now the property of Mr. John O. Gardner and we reach German street. On the corner of this street and Pollock is the residence of Mrs. John M. Oliver. It was for a time the home of John Gildersleeve. He came here from Long Island, New York, half a century ago or more, built a jail at the foot of German street, on Lawson’s creek, and commenced speculating in negroes. Below is his advertisement:
NEWBERN, July 15th, 1831.
THE HIGHEST CASH PRICES will be given for
likely young negroes of both sexes, from one to 26 years of age.
Gildersleeve’s jail was constructed of heavy timber, and the key once turned the occupants were secure. releasing prisoners therefrom would have been much more difficult, by accomplices outside, than it would be in turning them out of our present public jail, or any other we ever had in this county. Such preparation for trafficking in slaves was never made by any other person in this community, and it was not in accordance with the feelings of many of our citizens. But as inexplicable as it may appear, Gildersleeve had numerous friends among the colored people, both free and slaves. Some of those free slave-owners actually sold him their own negroes, and one, if not more, sold a near relative. He married in Newbern and moved to Alabama with his family, where he died. The pump near the house is still known by his name, and the water in it was, previous to the war, preferred to any other in the town for its supposed purity. We have an analysis of it, which, at some future day, we will publish, with an analysis of the water from various wells in Newbern.
Two squares walked and we are at Muddy street. In 1771, fearing an attack from the Regulators, Gov. Tryon had a ditch dug from Trent river up this street to Queen street and down Queen to the Neuse. It remained open for some years after the Revolution, and was called “Tryon’s ditch” by our people. Tradition says boats passed through it, but we do not credit this story, as where is now the cemetery the ditch would have been deeper than are the wells of the pumps in that vicinity. Yet, undoubtedly, it had much water in some parts of it. When it was cut there were but two dwellings outside of it, within the corporate limits of Newbern, the Attmore house on the corner of Broad and Muddy streets, and the Bryan house, of which we have just been speaking.
Near Muddy street, on Pollock, is the Forbes house. It is now owned by the Rev. E.M. Forbes. There his father, Stephen B. Forbes, lived from a child. We have before stated he was born in a residence on the Palace avenue. The writer knew him intimately in the last days of his long life. He was then the clerk of the Board of Commissioners of Newbern, when we had the honor to be its executive officer—one an aged man, the other just beyond a youth. His experience, his integrity, his honor, combined with his age, caused me to seek his advice during the stormy period of agitation of the questions for subscriptions to the Railroad, Neuse River Improvement, and the enlargement and improvement of Cedar Grove Cemetery. If we differed he was always heard with respect, and his advice was well weighed before any step was taken against it. Mr. Forbes was kind hearted and benevolent. His charity fell as softly and stealthily as snow-flakes in the night. His left did not know what his right hand did. This was not for a day, a month, or even a year, but through the years was he thus succoring those in want. He would search for persons who were suffering, and where he could never hope in any way to receive more than their blessing in return for his visits, and relieve them if he could. Thus he carried happiness and comfort to many a desolate home. It was not only what was given but the manner in which it was offered that caused the aching and heavy hearts of the poor and needy often to overflow with joy. Years after his attention and liberality to a sick and indigent boy and stranger did he receive from him a beautiful and costly present of silver for his kindness, that no one knew he had ever before bestowed. In the days of our association in the town government it was customary in the winter season for the Town Sergeant (City Marshal) to give a feast or two of oysters roasted in the shell to the Commissioners. This was done in their room, and they much enjoyed it around a hot hickory wood fire. Mr. Forbes, on such occasions, would recall his youth and describe the personal appearance of our fathers, and tell what manner of men they were in private as well as in public life. He had been a member of the Board when John Stanly was its Clerk. He was twenty years of age and present when the Palace was burned. In the course of time there have been in Newbern several literary societies, called by different names. Mr. Forbes was a member of the one that owned the library. He was Register of the county for many years, and kept the books of the society in his office in the court house. He had a printed list of the members, and as one would die black lines were drawn around the name. Thus he went on until there were only three living, and they all officers of the county—James G. Stanly, Clerk of the County Court, Hon. William S. Blackledge, Clerk of the Superior Court, and Stephen B. Forbes, Register. Their places could not have been better filled. The black lines were first drawn around Blackledge, then Stanly, and Forbes without showed he died last of all. Judge Gaston for a long period was the President of the Society. The books, after the court house was burned, were carried with those remaining to the Odd Fellows’ Hall. They are now, we suppose, scattered over the country, north and south. Some of them were valuable, and could not be replaced.
There were at that date (we allude to the oyster feast) but one police officer, and in addition to attending to the duties pertaining to it he was required to superintend all the work on the streets, pumps, etc. Mr. John Hancock filled the place during one term of office faithfully and efficiently, and with all his other duties superintended quarrying the rock and building with it the gateway and wall at the cemetery. The clock on the cupola of the court house belonged to the town, was purchased in 1826, and no better was ever made and set up. The bell was the property of the county, and not only gave us the hours through the day and night, but it was also rung for all fire company meetings, political meetings, or any kind of town or county meetings, as well as to give the alarm of fires. This was a great convenience to the public and taxpayers. We think if our present city authorities would have it done or allow it, it would be found so, and they would for it receive the thanks of our citizens generally. It is now done in Raleigh and Wilmington. In the former city we know the city bell is also rang to give notice for the meeting of the Graded School in the morning. On it, too, is struck the hours and half hours by the city clock. It is the only alarm bell for fires.
Reaching now Capt. Hilton’s residence we will stop and let me tell you Dr. Francis L. Hawks and Bishop Cicero Hawks were born in the small house before us recently occupied as a store. Of the father of these distinguished citizens we have before alluded, Francis Hawks. So we have also to his father, John Hawks, the architect of the Palace. When sent to this country to Tryon, though then distinguished in his profession, he received we have previously said, for his services but $600 per annum, which was allowed to be at the time a good salary. he was a Moore originally from the island of Malta and was educated in England.
On the 20th of March, 1761, an act for the building Court House in the town of Newbern was passed as follows:
Whereas, the county of Craven is at present and has been some years past without a Court House, to hold their courts in and the Commissioners having neglected building and furnishing the Court House, Be it therefore, enacted by the Governor, Counsel and Assembly, and by the authority of the same that a Court House for the said county, not exceeding sixty feet long and forty feet wide in the clear be built on the public lots in the town of Newbern, nearly opposite Mr. Rice’s red house, or on the intersection of Broad street where a Court house is already begun. Whichsoever of the said places they the Commissioners hereinafter appointed for carrying on the said building or a majority of them shall judge most convenient.
Richard Spaight, Esq., Joseph Leech and John Fonville, Commissioners.
“Mr. Rice’s red house” was opposite the Hawks house and near the spot on which now stands the handsome dwelling of Mr. O. Marks. The Rice building was, up to this generation and many years before, the Custom House. A writer in 1834 [?] visiting Newbern, calls it a Custom House alias a Pigeon box. The Hawks’, on the mother’s side, were related to the Rices.
Broad street was selected by the Commissioners for the Court house and by Act the public lots were sold at vendue. We find the court building mentioned as follows in the year 1796:
“Newbern is the largest town in the State. It stands on a flat, sandy point of land, formed by the confluence of the Neuse on the North, and Trent on the South. Opposite the town, the Neuse is about a mile and a half, and the Trent is not three quarters of a mile wide. The town contains about four hundred houses, all built of wood, excepting the ci devant palace, the church, the jail and two dwelling houses, which are brick. The Episcopal Church is a small brick building with a bell. It is the only house of public worship in the place. A rum distillery has lately been erected in this town. It is the county town of Craven county, and has a Court house and jail. The Court house is raised on brick arches so as to render the lower part a convenient market place, but the principal marketing is done with the people in their canoes and boats at the river side.”
This old court house gave place to the brick one built on the same site about forty years afterwards, which was destroyed by fire just before the war. We have a photograph of the walls with the houses then around them, taken immediately after the fire. If five inhabitants are allowed to a house, Newbern in 1796 had a population of two thousand. The houses in Wilmington are given by the same writer at about one hundred and eighty in 1796. Of Washington he says, without giving the number of houses: “From this town is exported tobacco of the Petersburg quality, pork, beef, Indian corn, peas, beans, pitch, tar, turpentine, rosin, etc., and pine boards, shingles, and oak staves. About one hundred and thirty vessels enter annually at the custom house in the town.” The exports of Newbern and Wilmington are not stated. In September 1791 one hundred and forty houses were consumed by fire in Newbern.
To quote again from the writer in 1796:
“The North Carolinians are mostly planters, and live from half a mile to three or four miles from each other on their plantations; they have a plentiful country, no ready market for their produce, little intercourse with strangers, and a natural fondness for society; which induces them to be hospitable to strangers.
"The general topics of conversation among the men when cards, the battle, and occurrences of the day do not intervene, are negroes, the price of indigo, rice, tobacco, etc. They appear to have little taste for the sciences. Political inquiries and philosophical disquisitions are attended to but by a few men of genius and industry, and are too laborious at present for the minds of the people at large in this State. Less attention and respect are paid to the women here, than in those parts of the United States where the inhabitants have made greater progress in the arts of civilized life; indeed it is a truth confirmed by observation, that in proportion to the advancement of civilization in the same proportion will respect for the women be increased; so that the progress of civilization in countries, in States, in town and in families, may be marked by the degree of attention which is paid by husbands to their wives, and by young men to the young women.
“Temperance and industry are not to be reckoned among the virtues of North Carolinians: the time which they waste in drinking, idling and gambling, leaves them very little opportunity to improve their plantations or their minds: the improvement of the former is left to their overseers and negroes; the improvement of the latter is too often neglected. Were the time which is thus wasted spent in cultivating the soil and in treasuring up knowledge, they might be both worthy and learned; for they have a productive country, and are by no means destitute of genius.
“Time that is not employed in study or useful labor, in every country, is generally spent in hurtful or innocent exercises, according to the custom of the place, or the taste of the parties. the citizens of North Carolina, who are not better employed, spend their time in drinking or gaming at cards and dice, cock fighting or horse racing. A strong and very laborious practice prevailed among the lower class of the people before the Revolution, in the back parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia; it was called gouging, and was neither more or less than a man when boxing, putting out the eye of his antagonist with his thumb. How quick, under a mild and upright government, is the reformation of manners. In a particular county, in this State, where, at the quarterly court twenty years ago, a day seldom passed without ten or fifteen boxing matches it is now a rare thing to hear of a fight.
“North Carolina, as already observed, has had a rapid growth; in the year 1710 it contained about twelve hundred forcible men; it is now in point of numbers, the fourth State in the Union. During this amazing progress in population, which has been greatly aided by emigration from Pennsylvania, Virginia and other states, while each has been endeavoring to increase his fortune, the human mind, like an unweeded garden, has been suffered to shoot up in wild disorder. But when we consider, that during the late Revolution, this State produced many distinguished patriots and politicians that she sent her thousands to the defence of Georgia and South Carolina, and gave occasional succors to Virginia: when we consider, too, the difficulties she had to encounter from a mixture of inhabitants collected from different parts, strangers to each other, and intent upon gain we shall find many things in their general character worthy of praise.”
Passing Hancock street on it towards the Trent we see Andrew Chapel. It was erected in this century. The exact date we have been unable to find. It was, however, not long after the beginning of it and was the second church in this place. A writer in 1818 remarks: “There are three houses of public worship, in Newbern, and at present three congregations, supplied with pastors. The Episcopalians, who are numerous and respectable today, have a decent brick church, at present supplied with a Clergyman. The Methodist, the most numerous society of Christians in this place, have a very large and convenient chapel, and are supplied with a regular succession of able and Evangelical preachers. The Baptist have a meeting house, at present, out of repair. They have no regular preacher. Besides these a Presbyterian congregation meet at the Academy for public worship.” In this Methodist Church Lorenzo Dow, the Cosmopolitan, preached many years ago. Concluding the service he notified the congregation that on such a day and at a certain hour and minute, some two or three years in the future, he would again stand where he was and address those then living in the town that would come to hear him. The time rolled around and it was kept in mind by many who notified others and on the day named the Church was packed with our citizens and among them the most distinguished. As the hour he had given out for the service to begin approached watches were drawn and the house was still. Dow had not been seen by any one and it was believed now he could not come to time, when at the very moment he raised up in the pulpit. He had come in town the night before and had there secreted himself. Between his visits here he had been to Europe. In this old Church too, Edwards Deems and Lowe poured out the earliest of their eloquence in strains that foretold of their future greatness as orators and preachers. There Lowe had everything to arouse him and to excite him to the utmost exertion. Before him sat his sweetheart, afterwards so long his wife, a Newbern lady—Miss Wade—the niece of our venerable and excellent citizen, Mrs. John Chadwick. We well remember with what effect the words of this Minister fell upon the ears of those in the crowded church. The slightest whisper could be heard by the occupant of the most distant seat, and with breathless attention was he listened to from the beginning to the end of his discourse. The recent dazzling and masterly effort of Mr. Kingsbury brings back all the power and beauty of speech which nature had given Thomas Lowe to move his audience at will, and makes him, as he was, one of our greatest orators, and his eulogist one of our ablest and most brilliant writers.
We are at last back again at the Lady Blessington cannon. We have had a long ramble with you, and have been among the ruins of the work of our ancestors for months. I trust what we have hastily written may at least benefit our youths. It is the duty of every one to use every effort to improve the family inheritance. May they do it. Notwithstanding some things we have said on the subject, those now in our midst passing rapidly away have done it. The world is better than when our fathers were living. Our town has improved in intelligence and morals. The acts of one generation should improve and aid another. Our children will have that advantage over us.
We stand here and glance over the old graves—at the ruins of the old church. Washington has stood here; so has Monroe; so has Calhoun; so has Green; so has Tryon, and scores of our great men—by this cannon, cast for blood and carnage, to aid in depriving a new world of its liberty, to uphold and sustain royalty and the representatives of royalty.
The general sentiment inspired by such scenes is that of the mutability of human affairs. There is, however, melancholy pleasure in the spectacle before our eyes, instruction in all we see.
“There is a mood,
(I sing not to the vacant and the young)
There is a kindly mood of melancholy,
That wings the soul, and points here to the skies;
When tribulation clothes the child of man,
When age descends with sorrow to the grave,
‘Tis sweetly soothing sympathy to pain,
A gently wakening call to health and ease,
How musical! when all devouring Time,
Here sitting on his throne of ruins hoar,
While winds and tempests sweep his various lyre,
How sweet thy diapason, Melancholy.”
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