Rambles about Town:
Pollock and East Front Streets
[From: The Daily Journal, August 20, 1882]
Messrs. Editors: If you will walk we will now start for a ramble about the town. We are at the point where Price commenced his survey, as before stated, the cannon Lady Blessington, at the corner of Pollock and Middle Streets. Let us first go down Pollock street to Neuse river. This was the road before the town had streets. But pause a moment and hear a word about the early history of Newbern.
Christopher de Graffenried, of Berne, Switzerland, born in 1661, was made a Land Grave of Carolina by the Lords Proprietors of that Province in 1709. In the same year about 650 Germans from the Palatinate of the Rhine emigrated to Carolina under his auspices. He was accompanied by his son Christopher, Captain Lewis Michel (our Mitchells descended from him) of Berne, and a number of Swiss. In 1710 he founded the town of Newbern. The Indian name of the point of land on which is now Newbern was Chattoka. De Graffenried was a remarkably handsome man, and gossip says Queen Anne was so much attached to her visitor that her ministers sent him off to America and gave him thousands of acres to get clear of him. Be that as it may, when the Indians massacred Lawson, near Streets Ferry, ten miles above Newbern, they also designed killing DeGraffenried, who was with him, but after he was stripped they were deterred by a gold medal they found on his neck, and by his remarkably white skin and grand figure. They thought he was a great chief of some kind and it was bad luck to kill a ruler. That medal is still in the possession of some of the De Graffenrieds in the State of Georgia. The old Baron, however, soon became involved here in debt sold his lands to the Pollocks and returned to Switzerland. Many of the Palatines remained and their descendants are among our most respected citizens.
Now we must hurry on. A few steps east from the gun bring us opposite to the foundation as you see of the first church of any kind erected in the town of Newbern. The stone slab before us just above the ground was in the centre of the aisle of the church and covered the graves of some of its earliest members. Of course it was the Established Church of England, and the people were taxed to build it. Thus with many after the Revolution it was unpopular, and the lots of the Newbern Academy adjoining the Church property on Pollock and Craven Streets and the lot on which is C.E. Foy, Esq., new house, and the lot recently sold for the new court house, was taken from the Church by act of the Legislature, and it was with much difficulty John Stanly afterwards prevented a similar confiscation of part of the churchyard on Middle Street. The vestry of the Church contemplating trouble if burying were stopped on their grounds, kept it open as long as they could for that purpose.
The first burying ground was on Craven Street. The Journal office covers part of it. The entrance was where the fine brick mansion of the Misses Taylor now stands. The next burying place was the Episcopal Church grounds. In 1800 it was closed by order of the town authorities in consequence of the yellow fever, being brought here in a vessel. At that time it did not cross Broad street, though there was a case and death, Mr. Butler, grandfather of Miss Rachel Brookfield of our city. He died on the corner where now resides Mr. Bangert. But in 1794, and in the late war, it spread throughout the town. Our present cemetery was purchased by the Episcopal Church in 1800 for the reasons before given, and burying then commenced there. In 1854 it was transferred to the town by the vestry of Christ Church, when it was enclosed with the shell rock wall.
To return to the old church. Previous to and during the Revolutionary War an aristocratic lady, Madam Moore, had a “double pew” in it, and in that pew, at different times, sat George Washington, Gen. Nathaniel Greene, James Monroe, John C. Calhoun, and many of the most eminent citizens of North Carolina. This old church was brick; unfortunately it was pulled down after the erection of a larger one. The first minister was James Reed, who had a commission signed by Gov. Tryon and Lord Howe. In the war this truly excellent and pious old minister would pray for the King, when the boys in the congregation, put up to it by their fathers, would beat the drum at the church door and cry “off with his head.” This would be repeated every Sunday, the minister with unwavering fidelity clinging to his royal master.
The brick mound midway the church grounds on Middle street and near the fence is the grave of “Parson” Reed. He was by all called Parson Reed, and with all his persistent advocacy of the cause of King George he had the confidence of our people. They entertained for him much respect and affection up to the day of his death.
A few steps more and we are near the grave of “an honest lawyer indeed.” It is so written on the gravestone in sight which covers the dust of George Elliott, Attorney General of the Province. He died in Newbern a century ago.
Passing on, the slab we see now, level with the close cut grass, is over the remains of a patriot of whom it can be truthfully said we had no greater in the Revolutionary War in proportion to his means and ability. His means too were large, and his talent conspicuous as a merchant. It is the grave of John Wright Stanly. Though not a lawyer he was the first Judge of the Court of Admiralty in North Carolina. Of him we shall have much to say hereafter.
The hickory we are now passing, standing on the southeast corner of the churchyard, with boughs overhanging the sidewalk and shading a pump on the street, is older than the town, and no doubt can look down on several centuries. Near the trunk of this tree for about seventy years was a pine board at the grave of a Catholic priest. When it was removed ten or twelve years ago, to give place to the marble cross now nearly covered over by the evergreen hedge, there was not the slightest indications of decay, while deep grooves were worn in the wood by the long years of rain drops. The little house under the shadow of this hickory, now the law offices of Washington Bryan, Esq., was the home of Moses Griffin, who lived a miserly life and killed himself eating shad when very low in price. Yet at his death, unlike many others with more means, he remembered the poor. Thus we have the Griffin fund for schools today, and but for the war it would now be over a hundred thousand dollars. If there can be any excuse for a miserly life it is to save for the benefit of others—to help those unable to help themselves.
After so much delay again, we will press on. We have now reached the intersection of Pollock and East Front streets, and are facing the Neuse. To the wharf directly in front of us, and only a few steps distant, were brought Dr. Alexander Gaston, father of William Gaston, and Col. John Green by an old negro, John Fisherman, the day they were shot by the Tories from the wharf of an Englishman (Cornell), now the wharf of the Old Dominion Steamship Company, while attempting to escape in a small boat on Trent river. They were shot down and supposed to have been killed, or probably would have been at the time.
Now turn to the west. On the corner lot on our left, where T.A. Green, Esq., is now having a dwelling house built, grew for years the Live Oaks, two of the noblest trees of the American forest. Not unlike the hickory in the churchyard, they were much older than the town itself. Under them the Palatines pitched their tents in December 1709 and King Blount smoked with them the “calumet of peace.” There the Caciques held their councils and their war dance. Under them, too, about 76 years ago, the first circus ever in the country performed, and a few of our citizens remember it. The trees stood unharmed by the axe of civilization for years, and were destroyed in the great conflagration in Newbern in 1841 [i.e. 1843, see August 27, 1882, correction].
If we look to the right on the corner lot where is now the residence of the Misses Custis was the brick mansion of Dr. Haslin. This afterwards became the property and residence of John Washington. There Gov. Wm. A. Graham married Miss Susan Washington, the sister of John G. Washington, Esq., of Lenoir County. The old mansion was burned when the Live Oaks were at the time occupied by James G. Stanly, Jr., Esq. The brick house now on the lot was the kitchen and is still standing as it was in the stormy times of the Revolution. Gaston and Green were dining with Haslin when a man ran in the house and told them the Tories were near, in pursuit of them; they hastily procured a boat and left the shore and were shot as before stated. Being taken back to Dr. Haslin’s it was first supposed Gaston would live but Green could not long survive. The reverse turned out to be true. Gaston was carried to his home the next day. His house was on the lot where the Newbern Bank building was erected, afterwards it was the Merchants’ Bank, and is now the property of R.W. King, Esq., of Lenoir county, and is used as annex of the Central Hotel. Dr. Gaston died there the fourth day after he was wounded. His son, William, was there born and was then only a few years of age. Col. Green recovered entirely and lived some years. His grave is under the present Episcopal church. We wish we had time to dwell on the merits of these men, but must pass on. We have reached the Southeast corner of East Front and Broad streets, and on this corner one hundred and thirty-three years ago James Davis set up the first printing press ever in North Carolina. Fifteen years afterwards he published the first number of the first paper or periodical in the State, under the title of “North Carolina Magazine or Universal Intelligencer.” The residence of Mrs. Capt. Green is on the lot. The writer of this has seen some of the old type found there. John Stanly carried his bride to a little house on the same lot, the foundation of it could still there be found; the Stanly mansion then not having been finished, though commenced before the Revolutionary War. We will say more of this house in connection with John Wright Stanly, the father of John Stanly. Just before Davis started his printing press, the elder Gov. Spaight was born on the Northwest corner of the same square, where is now the residence of Mr. Holton. The house in which Spaight first looked upon the world was pulled down since 1850. This square was one of the first built upon in Newbern.
Let us go to the next corner, Neuse (New) street. The residence just south of it was for years the home of Mrs. Hunt, the mother of George Pollock and his sister, Mrs. John Devereaux, who was the grandmother of Mrs. Judge Clarke, George Pollock being her great uncle. It is the residence now of Henry R. Bryan, Esq., who has recently had it modernized. It was for some years also the home of John Burgwin and then Chester was inspired by the scenes there to write some of his sweetest poetry. Looking west of course leaves the Neuse at our back. On the right on the corner with the width of only a narrow street from us is the residence of Mrs. Judge Manly, of which we have heretofore spoken as the Emery house, where President Monroe and Mr. Calhoun were entertained during their visit to Newbern by our citizens. This house is on a lot the shape of a triangle. Near the point where Short street runs into New street was Bryan’s tavern, the first tavern ever opened in the town. It was on a creek that extended to the lot of the writer of this, where, digging a well a few years ago, a plank wharf was found down in the earth, with cypress shingles in a sound condition under it, which evidently had fallen from the wharf in the water and thus been so long preserved. The Bryan tavern was a great place of resort in its day. Disputes were either settled there or arrangements made to settle them on the field. Balls, too, were constantly given there, and many grand dinners did our fathers enjoy in it for years when rum punch would flow as free as water and he that would not drink to the bottom was considered no man at all. A bowl of this reddening nose beverage was in those days sometimes carried with funeral processions, and the corpse being borne by hand, when the bearers would stop to change hands, the bowl of punch would be brought up and they would regale themselves from it; and were not men as honest and less treacherous then than they are now? Was not the standard of honor higher then than in this day in all professions and occupations? I am inclined to the belief as we add inventions and improve in some of the works of our fathers we improve in proportion in rascality. Some of the old hotel [Bryan’s tavern] can be remembered by some persons now living in Newbern.
You are now tired and so may your readers be when they reach this point, if they ever should, therefore we will stop our talk until another week if you then desire to continue it. D.