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Historical Reminiscences

[From: New Bern Weekly Journal, December 20, 1904]

Historical Reminiscences.
Col. John D. Whitford’s Third Article on Early New Bern and Vicinity.


It has been stated before Bellair became the home of Wilson Blount and here follows the evidence of it: “Sunday Sept. 21st 1789 went to Wilson Blount’s and spent the evening, saw there Polly Leech. She is to be married next Thursday to Col. Spaight Sept. 25th. She is a lovely girl.”

The above is from the manuscript diary of William Attmore from which it was copied, a few years ago through the kindness of his grand-daughter, Miss Rebecca Attmore, and given to the writer. He was also the grand-father of Dr. George Attmore of Stonewall, Pamlico county, and the great grand-father of Mr. Wm. H. Oliver’s children. Mr. Oliver himself is the great grandson of Madam Moore previously referred to. Mrs. William Attmore was the daughter of Judge John Sitgreaves. Col. Spaight soon afterwards Governor of North Carolina on the day and date given above, married Miss Polly Leech whose beauty and sprightliness at the time were proverbial. Her father, Col. Joseph Leech whose mansion then covered the ground where is now Mrs. Basil Manly’s residence and Col. Spaight’s (he was a merchant) place of business was where is Mr. Samuel W. Smallwood’s house. Undoubtedly Mr. Smallwood’s venerable and noble cypress on his lot could have antedated scenes transpiring under its shadow years and years before the Leech-Spaight time, and yet it lifts its top higher and higher as the days pass on seemingly defying the wreck of time.

From what we have read of Wilson Blount prejudices us in his favor not withstanding one of his uncommendable acts as will be seen presently, therefore, dislike to lug him in after a century in any disagreeable scene, yet the truth, if we are recording history should be held to strictly and particularly as it might keep others out of similar trouble. Neither wealth nor high position in society has ever been we believe a preventative of undesirable altercations in families. It was demonstrated in the day of Wilson Blount as at the present time with the frequent and open disputes in the houses of millionaires and the leaders of fashion.

Mr. Blount was not over-powered with conjugal felicity if words have come down to us correctly. Himself and wife would differ and throw red hot words at each other where kind ones should have been substituted. Finally, Mr. Blount proposed a division of the rooms in the house and Mrs. Blount joyfully accepted the proposition. Two friends were called in each selecting one to make the allotment. The rooms on the west side of the passage though were plastered hard white finish and they were given to Mrs. Blount, those on the east side of the passage were to not plastered, but deemed good enough for Wilson Blount and accordingly presented to that gentleman. Mrs. Blount too, was given the right of way next to the railing, up and down the stair. Thus the two friends when through the division had but one friend left in the house. Mr. Blount would never again speak to either one for their kindness in presenting him with cold bare brick walls, and they do indeed look cheerless. That was not all. The situation known to the Polly Leeches, the William Attmores, the Colonel Spaights and others in the fashionable circle added immensely to the insult in Mr. Blount’s opinion and put more gall in his mouth. Mrs. Blount aft that turn in her disturbed life at Bellair was a society individual in the cold, sure enough. But in many ways he was esteemed as a good citizen and if somewhat eccentric, highly honorable, therefore, let us bring him back to say to Mrs. Blount, if man is dreadfully wicked and hateful in the opinion of the gentler sex.

“Not he enticed destruction on our race
He like all men both subject and their Kings
Was wife enough till led by apron strings.”

Mr. Graham Richardson himself is sufficiently old to recall the condition of the walls as given above. But now he is out of that danger—no bare walls for me.

To Colonel and Mrs. Spaight were born three children, two boys, one R.D. Spaight who became Governor of North Carolina and the older Charles Spaight he died in early manhood, but was a member of the legislature of N.C. Mrs. John R. Donnell was the daughter. Her husband for a number of years, a Judge of the Superior court of North Carolina and otherwise a distinguished citizen. Among her children was the Honorable R.S. Donnell, a gentleman of exalted worth, and among her grand-children Mrs. Margaret D. Nelson, our highly esteemed citizen residing at the corner of Broad and East Front Streets, New Bern.

It is well known that Col. Joseph Leech was an important officer with Governor Tryon at the Battle of Alamance. Leech or Hog Island six miles above New Bern, fronting Neuse River was owned by him and at one time he farmed there, thus the lands of Fonville and McIlwean and his own were divided by Bachelor Creek, only on that line. Thus they were neighbors.

In after years and not so many, a dark mulatto calling himself John Carruthers Stanly, though better known towards the close of his life as “Barber Jack” got a farm in the midst of the descendants of those farmers east of Bellair mansion perhaps a mile or two, yet in plain view of it. This colored man had in some respects a remarkable career. His mother a pure blood African girl was either captured or purchased with a string of beads from some African King and carried to the West India Islands, there a Captain Stewart of one of John Wright Stanley’s vessels purchased her and on his arrival at New Bern presented the maid to his wife, Mrs. Lydia Stewart. On the walls of the Presbyterian Church can now be seen a monument to Mrs. Stewart’s memory. In the course of time a boy was born to the African woman at New Bern and when of sufficient age put to the barbers trade. A West India negro before brought here in some vessel at the head of the shop, taking his name from his master, John Carruthers and the name in part was fixed on the apprentice himself, adding the Stanly when Mrs. Stewart had him emancipated in the Legislature in 1808.
(To be Continued.)

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