Rambles about Town: New Street, Change Street, East Front Street,
The Cypress Tree
[From: The Daily Journal, September 10, 1882]
We were last on New street, telling the joke of the Academy boys and the plums. On the lot adjoining the Academy Green, as before stated, lived for many years Chief Justice John Louis Taylor. He was married twice. His second wife was the only sister of William Gaston. In April, 1818, he presided over the Superior Court in Craven for the last time. Soon thereafter the system of our courts was changed. The Supreme Court, by act of the legislature in the winter of this year was organized with three judges, elected by the legislature—John Louis Taylor, Hall and Henderson. Taylor was made Chief Justice. A communication in the Sentinel of the above date says his last charge to the jury in Craven:
“The Superior Court for this county is now in session; the Hon. John Louis Taylor, Chief Justice, presides, and opened the court on Monday last with an impressive charge to the Grand Jury, a charge which for comprehensiveness of matter, perspicuity of arrangement, chastity of style and eloquent illustrations, may, in our estimation, challenge a comparison with any production of the kind with which the public have been favored. We are among those who are of opinion that addresses of this character, when duly prepared, are calculated to be eminently useful in a community, in preventing crimes and promoting good morality. In his remarks on the [rise?] of drunkenness and profane swearing [illegible?] Judge is peculiarly happy. We know not the essay of the moralist or the sermon of a divine that affords so forcible persuasives against those odious and destructive propensities.”
Judge Taylor afterwards resided in Raleigh. The Academy about this time was in a very flourishing condition, as it had been earlier in its history. The boys of 1780 and ’85, now some of them eminent citizens, were its trustees, and their children were its pupils. Many of their sons, too, afterwards were prominent in the political world—in fact in every profession and occupation, while their daughters were noted for their exquisite loveliness, cheerfulness and accomplishments. In a social point of view then Newbern was at a high point, and had an enviable reputation in the State.
Dr. Freeman was then the Principal of the Academy. On Monday, the 31st September, 1818, commenced the semi-annual examination of the students of Newbern Academy, and terminated on Thursday.
“It is with great pleasure the trustees of the institution have it in their power to state, that out of nearly two hundred pupils belonging to the Academy not a single individual was absent by reason of indisposition, and it was a remark often repeated, with pleasure, by the numerous spectators, that not one countenance exhibited the paleness of disease.”
Remarkable, and recollect this too was the last of August. After a careful examination of the different departments of the Academy, a long report, in which every scholar is named, is thus concluded:
“The trustees are confirmed by every examination in the high opinion they had conceived of the Lancastrian system of education. For rapid and easy diffusion of knowledge, at a diminished expense, it stands unrivalled by any preceding method of instruction. The pu [smudge??] loved every moment of their [smudge??] in habits of order and obe- [smudge??] constantly urged into a laudable [smudge??] to excel, present one of the most beautiful and affecting scenes that [smudge??] eived. The institution owes much to Mr. Attmore for the zeal and ability with which he has enabled us to realize the advantages of the Lancastrian system.
“The trustees would do injustice to their own feelings if they closed this report without expressing their deep sense of the obligations which they and the community they represent owe to the zeal of the able Principal, Doctor Freeman; and their satisfaction with the attention of the assistant teachers.”
Dr. Freeman was a Presbyterian minister, and previous to the erection of either the Baptist or Presbyterian churches preached for his pupils and others in the Academy. His piety was unaffected, and he was beloved for his gentleness. We recently heard an aged lady say: “If there ever was a Christian he was one, we all loved him so much.” No doubt Dr. Freeman would value such an expression from an old pupil of his, if he were now living, more than he would a statue in brass or marble. He lived some years in Washington, N.C., where he also taught school and where we believe he died.
The Lancastrian system was a school in one room organized somewhat similar to the Graded School in different rooms we believe. Monitors, scholars of the school, most advanced, had supervision of the different classes. There was marching and countermarching for books, orders to sling slates and take slates, swing into seats and out of seats, bowing out of school, etc., etc. The different classes stood on the floor in circles at the same time. The teaching in the Lancastrian school was rigid, and the benefit of it was felt by every child in after life. Many of us can speak feelingly on the subject, and have often had Mr. Attmore’s left hand to fall upon our ears like a clap of thunder from a clear sky. He sat on the end of a bench and kept his hand swinging and the inattentive boy near him never knew it was coming until it was there. Many of these young gentlemen promised when strength and age would permit to pay the faithful old teacher back with “compound interest,” yet when years had passed away they were thankful for his discipline and punishment. Mr. Attmore kept up his Lancastrian system of education in a room in the Academy until his death, which occurred about thirty years ago or more.
We have walked now nearly the entire length of New street, and let us by the same street return to the Neuse. As it seems to be misunderstood I would here state that Mrs. Eunice Hunt was the mother of George Pollock and Mrs. Thomas Deveraux; they were own brother and sister. After their birth, Mrs. Pollock being a widow, she married a Mr. Hunt, who was the father of Mrs. John Burgwyn. Mrs. Burgwyn therefore was half sister to George Pollock and Mrs. Deveraux. Mrs. Hunt was not an Episcopalian but a Presbyterian, and to her memory is a tablet on the walls of the Presbyterian church, to which we have before alluded. George Pollock lived for years, when in Newbern, in the house where now resides Mrs. M.E. Manly. He sold that place and bought the John Stanly property, which had before belonged to John Wright Stanly, his father. There Mr. Pollock lived for a few years before his death in the house as it was in the Revolution, near the corner of Middle and New street, the lots extending along New street, on which is the old Stanly office, to Hancock street. The exterior of the dwelling has been only slightly altered. Since its erection, a century ago, a portico in front has been added on the last few years, which may add to the comfort of those living in the house, yet it detracts, we think, from its appearance. The piazza was put to the rear of the house by the late John Blackwell when he owned and lived in it soon after Pollock’s death. It has had several owners since, and is now the residence of Mrs. C.W. McLean, a proper guardian for this still stately structure. It has rooms in it made sacred by the occupancy of George Washington, Nathaniel Greene, and many other eminent persons. When Edward Everett walked by that house he raised his hat, observing, “Once the home of statesmen and patriots.”
We shall allude to this residence again in connection with the communication respecting John Wright Stanly and Capt. Davis from Wilson.
We have before stated the younger Spaight’s residence, during the most eventful period of his life, was opposite the Stanly mansion, and also, on Middle and New streets on the opposite corner from the Spaight house too on Middle and New streets is the Catholic Church. To the liberality and efforts of William Gaston is its erection mainly due. He did not survive long, however, after it was finished. Next we come to his office on New street and a few steps from it was his dwelling on the corner of New and Craven streets. Benjamin Woods, before referred to, owned and lived in this house previous to Gaston. The Blackledge house was opposite on the same streets.
Now we are at the old Bryan Tavern again. The front was north, and in our time on Short street. It is very evident no house of that kind would have been located on the point of a triangular shaped lot with its rear on New, the principal street. Undoubtedly, originally the land of the hotel extended to Craven street west, and to Neuse Front (East Front) street, east. It was then on a creek and after the creek was filled in those narrow streets, Change, Short and New, were opened. In 1723, we find an act increasing the township of Newbern to two hundred and fifty acres, reserving to the owners thereof, the property of such lots as are already sold by William Hancock, attorney of Thos. Pollock, etc., and the rest of the land not already laid out be forthwith laid out into lots of half acre each, with convenient streets and passages, with fronts belonging to the said lots, etc. Next, in 1740, an act was passed allowing persons willing and desirous to be inhabitants of Newbern to take up any lot or lots so laid out as aforesaid, and not before taken up upon the payment of twenty shillings Confederation money, with a pepper corn yearly if demanded, as an acknowledgement to Cullen Pollock, his heirs and assigns, forever for each lot. Provided always, that the person so ever shall take up and have conveyed to him any lot or lots as aforementioned and shall not build or cause to be built thereon within eighteen months after the date of conveyance, a good and substantial habitable house not of less dimensions than twenty feet in length and fifteen feet wide, without shed, every such conveyance shall be void, etc. We will publish more of these acts hereafter and tell also what our fathers paid for their breakfast and dinner with grog, toddy or punch; for a “cold supper,” for a “bed room above stairs” horses kept at livery, etc., etc., at the Bryan Tavern, the Fifth Avenue Hotel in its day. The writer of this was once in a room in the “old tavern” and witnessed with an elder brother the marriage, by our father, an Esquire, of a colored man of Beaufort, James Ellison, to Pheabe Green of Newbern. She was a near relative of the Princess Green, emancipated with John Caruthers Stanly. In those days the marriage ceremony generally ended with “Salute your bride” and the report would follow nearly equal to the explosion of a charge in a gun. It was before free people learned from civilization the Christian spirit of getting clear, at pleasure, of an objectionable wife or husband to try for “another and better pick.” But then, as now, there were some singular marriages in land and our fathers would have their sport respecting them, for instance, from a Newbern paper, 1808:
Married, near Fort Mitchell, on the14th of June, Mr. James Hall, aged twenty-three, to the amiable and accomplished Miss Lucy Frisbie, tender maid of sixty-seven!
“If love’s a flame that’s kindled by desire,
An old stick’s surely best because ‘tis dryer.”
Thus all women were not grandmothers at 27, by a bow shot, previous to this generation.
Now, Messrs. Editors, as imperfectly as I have given the history of New street, you must concur with me in the opinion that it was almost sacrilegious to change its name after it was made so famous by those great men living on it. As long as Newbern is known their deeds cannot be forgotten. They make a State as well as a street and town great. Even more, do they not make a country great?
But we have had a long talk, perhaps too long at the corner of New (Neuse) street and East Front and must pass on, yet let us linger to say that not the least eminent and deserving of honor, among those great men who have resided on New street, in the estimation of his fellow citizens, was the last to fall when ripe for the Reaper. We need not tell we refer to the late Hon. M.E. Manly, who at various times had conferred upon him the highest offices in the gift of the State of North Carolina. His last public service was as Mayor of Newbern. It was then through his influence the name of New street was changed to Neuse street. But with proper regard to his high position and experience, we think it was an error. It was breaking in upon old names, teaching us to destroy old landmarks, changing the guide board of our fathers.
“There is given
Unto things of earth, which time has bent
A spirits feeling, and when he hat lent
His hand, but broke his scythe; there no power
And magic in ruined battlement
For which the palace of the present hour
Must yield its pomp, and wait until ages are its dower.”
Whatever Time touches he hallows.
We pause and linger when we see the traces of his finger, and New street brings our fathers before us. Let us keep their works in view.
Come now, follow the Neuse with us to the corner of Change and East Front streets. On the very spot where stands the dwelling of Mr. Ethelbert Hubbs, was the mansion of Col. Leech. There he for a generation entertained company with an open hand and generous heart. He was the father of the wife of the elder Spaight. She was the mother of the younger Spaight and of Mrs. John R. Donnell, and the grandmother of the Hon. R.S. Donnell. R.S. Donnell had no enemies, and to his friends his heart was always open and warm. As a lawyer he was equal to the best in North Carolina, so said Mr. B.F. Moore, and as a parliamentarian he was not surpassed by any presiding officer ever in our legislature. He could and would have been made President of the State Convention after the war. His feeble health would not allow it, and Judge Reade was chose to preside over its deliberations. The Leech house when erected was on the opposite side of the creek from Bryan’s Tavern. We have heard Mr. William Hancock, who was a descendant of William Hancock, the agent of Thomas Pollock, and father of James Hancock and Mr. Robert Hancock, now in Newbern, often relate how he would come from his father’s residence on the Lion Pasture plantation on Trent River, six or eight miles above this place, on his horse at night to participate in the dances at the residence of Col. Leech. At the Bryan Tavern he would change his dress for a ball suit, which he brought with him tied up in a handkerchief. After the dance, returning before day, and getting his father’s praises for industry and such early rising. The Leech mansion only had four rooms in it, two very large ones and two quite small. The Colonel was fond of company, and never better pleased than when surrounded with visitors. The sideboard with the inevitable punch was in the entry, and every visitor had free access to it, though, strange to say, no such thing as mania-a-potu was then known. Punch at that time seemed to redden the nose and “put a spur in the heel” and keep out of the brain. But are we playing our part as well as our fathers, punch or no punch, dance or no dance? The coming generation must answer?
Turning from this house and looking east we find before us a large cypress tree. Now on the land of the Hon. C.R. Thomas, it was originally the property of the Spaights. Some of the earlier members of the family were there where the remains of an old wharf can sometimes, at low water, still be seen, engaged in the mercantile business. Historians of the State fix the building of the first vessel in North Carolina in Newbern and it was under that tree, so said our fathers living in the Revolution who received the information from their fathers, and we think it can be taken as truth.
“Stern dweller” of the shore,
Two centuries thou canst count
And perhaps as many more.
This tree is on the margin of the Neuse, with its haughty crest lifted up above the elms and cedars on the street west of it. It stands alone and erect, clear of treason and crime. No more blood can cry out against it. The tears of the widow and the hunger of the orphan it never caused—under the shadow of its bows, amid the thunders of the Revolution, when gloom and darkness seemed to be encircling the American Army, Nathaniel Greene stood—the friend and associate of the elder Spaight—it was then Spaight’s tree. We can imagine Greene there almost in despair, his army half famished, half naked, he doubtful, it may have been of the success of the patriots cause. He turns now to John Wright Stanly, Greene is his guest—asks him to give and it is freely given. Money loaned and never returned. With interest it would be millions after the lapse of a century. The pitchy cloud just before threatening, is partially, at least, dissipated. Greene returned to his army with lighter heart and carries joy to his men and their suffering families.
Some years pass by, the smoke of the war rises, the echo of the last gun is hushed in the distance, liberty is assured, our country is free. George Washington stands beside that old tree; a dumb sentinel on the shore, it is; and it tells no secrets. Trusted before, it is now trusted by the great Captain of captains. Washington is the guest, too, of John Wright Stanly, Spaight their friend and associate is with them. He is importuned to aid in uniting States in the union of States, destined it seems, to make the grandest and most powerful nation the world has yet known.
We have before shown John Wright Stanly was after the war the associate of Caswell, of Leech, of Nash, of Spaight, heroes and statesmen. What think you of such a man in such company with such friends, who had cowardly succumbed to the threats of his captors—who for his liberty or his life had basely turned against his countrymen? Would it not be reversing the accepted adage, that a man is known by the company he keeps, and prove that a man is not known by the company he keeps?
In our next communication we think we can convince “H.R.S.” whose admirably told story makes us wish that he would write more of them for the Journal, and that he could assume our task in giving the Bits of the History of Newbern, we say we think we can convince him that he must have located is hero in the wrong place.