Rambles about Town:
East Front and New Streets
[From: The Daily Journal, August 27, 1882]
We are once more at the corner of East Front and Neuse streets, and immediately on the margin of Neuse River, in width here one and a half miles. The names of both of these streets have in time been changed. Originally East Front and South Front were Neuse Front and Trent Front streets. I could show now, in an old paper, town lots offered for sale on Trent Front street near Middle street. The name of New street was changed by the town authorities a few years ago, after strong and sensible opposition to it by the present editor of the Newbernian. As he said, if the change were made, for the chief reason given, that the street ran to the Neuse river, Queen the border street, should be first selected, or Broad, one of our widest streets, as both ran to the Neuse. We agree with the Newbernian, as we never could see any benefit to be derived from the change, while in the future confusion may arise from it. New and Neuse are not very dissimilar in sound, the way the two words are pronounced by many persons, and if it were deemed proper by our town authorities to have a Neuse street, why not give us the “Neuse Front” back again, and not take away the name of a street (New) which was in the “bygone” made as celebrated for talent, by our eminent citizens, as the Fifth Avenue in New York, is at this day for wealth. Why just there, that unpretending house at the Corner of New and Craven streets was the home of William Blackledge. He was a prominent citizen and member of Congress, and if he did do his electioneering with garden seeds, which he carried in his sulky box and distributed among the old ladies in this district, we don’t know but what it was preferable to the long and windy harangues of this day to motley crowds. If the voters listen at all, afterwards they follow the dictation of a few men. How few are they that act and think for themselves, that hear such speeches, and that cast aside self interest and act from patriotic motives; that vote fearlessly for what they believe to be right?
But while William Blackledge was not famous for great talent he had two sons, Richard and Thomas, for the short time they were allowed to live, dazzled and flashed amid the bright stars around them in this town.
To prevent misunderstanding it is well to mention here we had at different periods two Blackledges in Congress from this district. Of William S. Blackledge, the nephew, we may hereafter have something to say.
On the opposite corner, on these same streets, New and Craven, from the home of the Blackledges, was the home of William Gaston, and on New street, a few steps from the old mansion, was his office. In it he slept on a small bed for years and up to his death when in Newbern. Though married three times he was long during life a widower. The office, with the exception of the removal of a chimney, stands today as when he last occupied it. It will be recollected he died in Raleigh in 1844 after an attack of apoplexy, on the Supreme Court Bench. Judge Gaston’s son—he had but one, Alexander—when at school was thought by some would in after life eclipse in intellect his father. The “Cat Hunt” written by Alexander Gaston when he was quite young, for a Northern sporting magazine, was an admirable picture of the chase, and it was then believed he would gain an enviable reputation at least in literature. His friends, however, were disappointed; their predictions were never verified. His mind, like an immature ripe fruit, seemed to mature and decay at once. The writer of this has a copy of his “Cat Hunt” and ere long will get you to give it a place in the columns of the Journal. You will find it as well written and as interesting as the recent description of fishing in Beaufort Harbor by on of Georgia’s fine writers.
On the same square on the corner of New and Middle there is a house now the property of the heirs of the late Thomas L. Mitchell that was for a time and during the most eventful part of his life, the home of the younger Spaight. There he arranged many of those exciting and famous political campaigns when in opposition to John Stanly, John H. Bryan and others, for the Legislature and for Congress. There then, too, hospitality was dispensed with a liberal hand, and the free use of the “reddening punch” carried our fathers back to the convivial and spirited days of the old Bryan tavern.
Opposite on Craven street was the Stanly mansion, where resided John Stanly. Still we think it stately, though it passed through all the years of the Revolution. It has an aristocratic appearance, of which the Republicanism, beginning with the ending of the war of independence and extending to this day, could not rob it. It is the most appropriate monument that could have been erected to the memory of its projector, John Wright Stanly. This patriot is entitled to a monument in brass or marble. But it may be said, as Mr. Macon said, “since the invention of types monuments are fit for nothing.”
The dust of Nathaniel Greene, distinguished among distinguished captains and patriots, rests in an unknown grave. He was the friend of Stanly and Stanly was his friend when in need. When in sore trouble for his country he came to Newbern, and Stanly loaned them forty thousand Colonial pounds. This debt Greene afterwards attempted to pay, as his country would not (the money was borrowed for the army), with some of his land in Georgia, from which, however, the heirs of John Wright Stanly never did obtain a dollar. When in Newbern during the Revolution, though, the interior of the Stanly mansion was only partially finished, Greene was in it. Two rooms were prepared for Washington in it also when he was in Newbern after the close of the war, though he received people in the Palace.
Macon selected a stony place, where the plow could not turn his dust, on his plantation in Warren County. There he was buried as would have been one of his plainest neighbors. He was opposed to show, and was Republican in action and faith. No man could affect so long as did the simplicity of a Republican unless he was truly one. In a letter to the Newbern Spectator, July 7, 1835, it is stated:
“The Convention, after much squabbling and confusion, was finally organized on Thursday evening last, by the election of Mr. Macon, one of the delegates from Warren, to the Presidency of the same. He evinces great simplicity and plainness in his dress and manners, being clad in white domestic with a blue striped vest of the same material. He has lost none of the vigor of his intellect, and exhibits an uncommon familiarity with parliamentary forms and usages.”
We believe, after being Speaker of the House of Representatives for a term of years, and then United States Senator until he voluntarily withdrew from the Senate, this was his last public service. Yes, he believed, as another has also said, that since the invention of types monuments may foment the arts, but are equivocal proof of gratitude in the builders, who may be as movable by vanity as patriotism. He had rather see the great reposing in their family vault than pressed by sculptured piles. It sounds very finely; it serves—
“To paint a moral, or adorn a tale.”
to read the emotion with which Alexander is reported to have beheld the tomb of Cyrus in a “a paradise,” or pleasure garden; how he did homage at that of Achilles; how he behaved towards the statue of Xerxes, etc. I had as lief, or rather hear of the champions of freedom, the victors at Marathon, at Leuctra, or Salamis. Historians and poets construct the best monuments; their memorials are more lasting than the proudest pyramids that ever aspired to the clouds. Mr. Macon had also been a guest in the house.
In the Episcopal Church grounds there is a modest marble slab, on which is written: “John Wright Stanly died in this town in the year A.D. 1788, aged 47 years.” As was the custom here once to allow, without punishment, the defacement of gravestones by mischievous boys, the figure 1 was cut before the 4, making it now read 147 instead of 47 years of age. However, in a few years more all the writing on it will be obliterated, as is the case with some of the gravestones now there on which not a word can be seen.
In consequence of the alteration of the figure referred to above, the dates on the gravestones of all the Stanly’s that have died within recent years will, upon examination, be found in words. Thus when the stone for John Stanly’s grave was sent here from the north, the dates on it being cut in figures, it was sent back and they changed to words to prevent easy alteration. But some day we expect to visit Cedar Grove Cemetery with you and speak at length of the Stanly’s and others entombed there. If you are tired, we are yet on New street. I am not done with its history. John Stanly’s office was on New street, not far from his dwelling, and while the doors of the house of Spaight were never shut on his Republican friends, the doors of the house of John Stanly were quickly thrown open to his Federalist supporters. Residing near each other, sometimes punch would overthrow the judgment of these two zealous advocates for a while, consequently fights with fists and sticks in that locality were not infrequent on the eve of elections. John Stanly’s office remains, too, as it was a half century ago, and is occupied at present as is Gaston’s, as a dwelling house. It will not be forgotten that this great man was stricken down with palsy while speaker of the House of Commons of North Carolina and while in the act of speaking in 1827. He afterwards lived some years, completely wrecked, mentally as well as physically—weaker and weaker in body and intellect until so feeble did he get that Mr. Badger often told how it affected him to see Mr. Stanly, his relative (they were sisters’ children), once so strong, reduced to the condition of a little child and sucking like one on a stick of candy. He died in 1833. A subscription immediately thereafter was made to erect a monument in memory of Stanly, or certain sums were promised by a number of our citizens for that purpose and a list of their names was kept, we think, in the Merchants’ Bank of Newbern. No money, however, was collected, and his own family, after waiting for years, put the slab on his grave we have before mentioned.
Obliquely from the Stanly office and on the north side of Middle street is the Presbyterian Church. We have before spoken of the longevity of some of its founders in Newbern. Now we can give the names of six of the original thirteen and their ages: Lydia Steuart, 78 years; Dr. Elias Howes, 71 years; Lucretia Jones, 80 years; Mrs. Eunice Hunt, 79 years; Robert Hay, 96 years; John Jones, 76 years. By adding the ages of the six together it will be found they make 480, or an average of 80 years.
To cross the street again on the corner of New and Hancock streets, is the old home of a once remarkable colored citizen of Newbern, John C. Stanly. It is now the residence of George W. Bishop, Esq., and previous to its occupancy by him it was for a number of years in the possession of Capt. M.A. Cutler, to whom it was sold by Stanly when he moved in his house on the adjoining lot, now the property of the Methodist Church, where their distinguished Minister, Dr. Burkhead, resides. It may not prove uninteresting to your readers to have a brief history of this Stanly, who was the associate and confidential friend of many of our most eminent professional and prominent businessmen.
John Caruthers Stanly was originally a slave, Jack Caruthers, and was born the property of Capt. Alexander Steuart, his mother was an African, Ebo woman, small in stature and very black. She was brought here during the days of the slave trade under British laws and protection. Jack was put, when a boy, with an old French negro barber that came here from one of the French West India islands, who called himself Ceaser West, and Jack Barber, as he was then called, proving himself meritorious, was, quite early in life, liberated, as the following act of the Legislature will prove:
WHEREAS, Alexander Steuart and Lydia his wife, have by deed under their hands and seals, given, granted and confirmed unto John Caruthers Stanly, a person of mixed blood, heretofore their slave, his freedom as a reward for his meritorious services, and whereas the said John Caruthers Stanly is desirous of having his emancipation confirmed by law;
And whereas, Amelia Green, a free woman of color, has petitioned this Legislature to emancipate her daughter, Princess Green. Be it therefore enacted, that the said John Caruthers Stanly and Princess Green, by the said names are hereby emancipated and set free; and the said persons hereby liberated and each of them are hereby declared to be able and capable in law, to possess and enjoy every right, privilege and immunity, in as full and ample manner as they could or might have done if they had been born free. December, 1798.
Stanly, immediately after his emancipation, bought his wife, a woman not black, but too dark to be called a mulatto. She belonged to the ancestors of the Merricks in Jones county, and called herself Hitty [Kitty?] Merrick before being freed by her husband.
Thus you see, under our laws, Stanly could, if he had not have had his wife emancipated, held wife and children as slaves and sold them at pleasure.
We had the law in one or more instances practically tested in Newbern. A black man named Jacob McClure sold some of his near relatives when there was a demand for slaves in Alabama and they were carried there, and it might be done today if the law existed in the land. It would not do to risk morality and affection to prevent it, when we see no mercy shown to the poor brutes tugging, exhausted in the sand or mud with a heavy load and the burly driver on top of it. We are satisfied hereafter the animals will ride and the drivers pull if our Creator is just, and who can doubt it?
But John C. Stanly did, by speculation and industry, manage to buy and raise about sixty slaves after he was freed and held them to the most rigid accountability for laziness or impudence—the lash was plied freely to his slaves and to almost an equal number of free colored boys and girls at the same time in his service. He had several plantations and his servants on them had no time to play. Some of his children owned slaves up to the recent war. The girls, only associated with white persons and the boys were all educated. John Steuart, Alexander, Benjamin, Joseph and Charles. Ben was nearly black, though a twin with Joe, and thus was kept in the back ground by his mama, while Joe, bright in color, would engage in the games with the white boys on the Academy Green. John C. Stanly, however, towards the close of his life was pinched for the means of living. His rule was to whip his Negroes well, work them well and clothe and feed them indifferently.
We cannot omit a little incident connected with Stanly in Kinston court in about 1823. John C. Stanly and Mr. McKinly had a suit about a tract of land in Lenoir; John Stanly and William Gaston were his lawyers, and Mr. Graham, John W. Bryan and Frances L. Hawks were the lawyers of McKinly. Mr. Stanly first spoke, then Bryan; Mr. Gaston followed. When Hawks was replying an old gentleman named Davis asked Mr. Gaston, sufficiently loud for Mr. Hawks to hear him, “what nigger is that now talking, for he discourses mighty well, and the one on his side before him did mighty well too, and I hear them other two niggers there by them (meaning Mr. McKinly and J.C. Stanly) are both mighty rich.” McKinly and Hawks were dark and Mr. Bryan was far from a blonde.
It was in Stanly’s barber shop that an incident occurred and though a thrice told tale in Newbern, I will repeat it.
Dr. Hugh Jones walked in his shop one day and drawing from his cane a long sword, took a seat to be shaved. Turning to one of the assistants of Stanly, Brister, he said, “now cut me Brister and I will run this sword through you!” Brister did shave him apparently without trepidation and without cutting him. Afterward he being asked how he kept so cool replied, “I at once fully made up my mind to cut Dr. Jones’ throat if I cut his face.” Those who knew the disposition of the negro barber believed it. Thus, Jones was foolishly imperiling his own life unconsciously. But the sword exploit was never there repeated. John Caruthers Stanly was always dignified, polite and unobtrusive, and those who shunned him for reason of his color, he was equally as anxious to avoid.
This talk, Messrs. Editors, has been too long and perhaps had better divide it in your paper. Now just a word or two more. I know it was the understanding if I would write carelessly and not see the proof, I must take the consequences of mistakes. I still agree to it and must praise your printers for doing so well with my bad writing; yet I want you and them to do this for me. An old man in our country carried his son, nearly grown, to school for the first time. He called the school master out and said, “now, Charley Kelley, here is my boy and he is a big, strong fellow. I never felt before I could spare him from work to waste time larning. Now I want to tell you, you need not try to make his handwright level and sarten like yourn for ye’ll never do it, darned if you will, taint in him. But just wear out your last hickory whip to make the le-gu-ality of his figers beyond any man’s discourse or dispute.” We should have had the fire in Newbern in April 1843 instead of in 1841; and in the paper before, Newbern filled with young men of extraordinary ability in 1822 instead of 1882. I believe in using the whip. It would help men very often. Don’t you think so, as well as make smart boys? All the history of Newbern has not yet been told. D.