Visit of Edward Everett (1859),
Tryon Palace, Stanly Family,
Davis Family, Revolutionary War
in New Bern, Gaston Family
[From: The Daily Journal, September 17, 1882]
“There is given
Unto the things of earth which time hath bent,
A spirit’s feeling; and where he hath lent
His hand, but broke his scythe, there is a power
And magic in the ruined battlement,
For which the palace of the present hour
Must yield its pomp, and wait till ages are its dower.”
We quote the above lines again as applicable to what will follow. Moreover, a slight mistake in the printing before destroyed the beauty in the sentiment and made the poet say just the reverse of what he designed. But there is truth as well as beauty in the poem, and truth cannot be given too often when it is calculated to exalt, refine and instruct.
We inadvertently stated Mrs. Thomas Devereux was the daughter of Mrs. Pollock. It should have been Mrs. John Devereux, who was the mother of Thomas P. Devereux and the grandmother of Mr. John Devereux of Raleigh and Mrs. Judge Clarke of Newbern.
On Wednesday, the 13th day of April, 1859, the writer of this fortunately received an invitation to join two distinguished gentlemen in a hasty walk about our town. The “gray of the morning” was the signal agreed upon to start. With the crow we were out. First to the Cemetery, then to the old Palace Green, around to the old Spaight residence, now Maj. Dennison’s. There Spaight died when wounded in the duel with John Stanly in 1802. Next by the Episcopal Church, onward to the lot where the elder Spaight was born (Mr. Holton’s) down to the Davis printing office lot (Mrs. Capt. Green’s), then to the Haslin corner (the Misses Custis), and to the lot opposite (Mr. T. Green’s), on which grew the Live Oaks, and under which De Graffenried first met the Indians. Next along the Neuse by the Pollock-Hunt house (Mr. Bryan’s) to Judge Manly’s, up to Gaston and down Change street to the old cypress. The Stanly mansion had been passed the evening before, and of the visit to the Cemetery and of the ruins of the Palace we may say something presently. The rapid walking made a pause desirable, for not more than one hour had elapsed since the start. We sat on a log that had drifted on the shore, and watched the sky above the emerald line, on the opposite bank, one mile and a half away—first purple, then glowing, then ablaze—the sun rising from his golden bed covered the green foliage of the trees with light. Not a cloud drifted in the atmosphere, the air was sweet with spring blossoms; the grass glittering with dew; the Neuse was still—not a ripple on its broad bosom. Looking down it fifteen miles, to our eyes it appeared like an immense field of ice. We gazed at the water and our thoughts ran back. The Indian had on it, in his swift bark canoe, hurried to and fro either for game or battle. In it he had plunged when heated by the chase. The Indian maiden too had there bathed, with a suit that, for convenience, might cause envy in the most fashionable and attractive belle at the seaside, in summer. In the shade of this tree, not doubt, he had often rested when no voice was heard except that of the savage—when around it, then in the dreary wilderness, the bear, panther, and wolf were made to fall by the directness of the arrow and the force of the bow. The tomahawk, too, may have been fastened in its trunk, red with blood, while tales of its victims were told and retold with the glee of the demon. Aged dweller of the shore! if thou couldst have spoken and told of the scenes about you since you sprang from the earth, in which you now have such strong hold, what an opportunity you would have had for a splendid chapter in history. Under your broad boughs stopped for a moment a renowned statesman, and the world, perhaps, could find no greater scholar. We refer to the Hon. Edward Everett. The Hon. John R. Donnell, a gentleman possessed of stern integrity, good sense, clear intelligence, and extensive information, was with him. Donnell was as fluent in conversation as Everett. Couldst thou have told them how our fathers built the first vessel, described the rude tools, the men that worked with them, the ship afloat with flags flying and sails swelling in the wind; told what Washington said when near you; what Greene said; what John Wright Stanly said; what Spaight said. And again it may be that De Graffenried, Lawson, Michel have been with you. The beautiful and captivating Esther Wake, too, may have trusted you with her love secrets during her rambles; and, for all we know, you might have something to say about her perfect and charming figure while bathing in the Neuse. Governor and Lady Tryon also might possibly have some of their idle conversations repeated. We repeat, if thou couldst have been given the power of speech, what a dazzling page we could have had in history from a great statesman and a greater scholar. Thus you have had within the reach of your shadow men from the lowest state of ignorance and barbarity to the highest state of civilization, cultivation and learning; from the wild Indian in the forest to a Washington to an Everett. So long, so long, have you withstood the blast of the storm and the axe of civilization, still unbent, unbroken looking proudly down on centuries.
Stand, sacred relict of the past, let fiercest tempest rise,
Tumultuous thunders roll around thy crest, mad lightnings rave;
Still stand, and let centuries pass ere prostrate lies
This stern dweller of the shore by “time’s overwhelming wave.”
And palsied be the arm that lifts the axe to strike you down.
The time allowed for the walk was now fast expiring and we hurried on, passing the old residence of Benners Vail, where now resides Judge Clarke. It is rather singular that Judge Clarke should have revived the charter of the Harlowe and Clubfoot’s creek canal and set on foot its enlargement exactly where, more than seventy years before, it was projected by Mr. Vail. He was not only its first and earliest, but most efficient supporter during his life. After his death, Dr. Manny of Beaufort, who married Vail’s wife’s sister, was made the President of the Company, and occupied that place when the canal was opened for vessels. We finally reached the old wharf of John Wright Stanly and there separated.
Mr. Everett was the guest of Judge Donnell who, with the writer of this, an hour afterwards accompanied the distinguished visitor to Goldsboro, where he met a committee from Raleigh. Mr. Everett came here to deliver his celebrated Washington lecture, the proceedings connected with it we desire soon to have printed. Of course, during the walk, much was said by Mr. Everett and Judge Donnell respecting the preservation of the Union, and the past and future glory of the country. Both were then apprehensive of a rupture, but thought in the end judicious counsel ought and would prevail. Gaston and John Stanly Mr. Everett knew intimately, and they were, by him eulogized. At their tomb his remarks were eloquent and effective. He said he concurred with Mr. Webster in the opinion that the table talk of William Gaston would make a most interesting and valuable book, and it was a misfortune it was lost. Touching the marble he exclaimed: “He was like this, polished and without stain or blemish.” On Stanly’s tomb he read these lines from Gaston: “Long let the affectionate and grateful remembrance live of his genius, his learning, his courtesy, his eloquence, his virtues, his personal charities, and his public services.” Saying at the conclusion, “Amen.”
Much was said at Tryon’s Palace, or what there is remaining of it, which we may repeat in the future, when we have more time, as we wish to return to the Stanly wharf. It is now the property of W.F. Rountree, Esq. Some years ago it was purchased and rebuilt by Mr. A.T. Jerkins of Newbern. Nothing but the bed of the wharf with rock on it was then there. In the Revolutionary war John Wright Stanly had an armed brig burned by the Tories at this wharf and the day Dr. Alexander Gaston and Col. John Green were shot. Stanly, fortunately, was absent North, where he had gone to confer with Robert Morris respecting money for the army, or unquestionably he would have been killed, as it was openly proclaimed by the Tories, that one of the objects in visiting Newbern was to kill him. His warehouses, containing large quantities of sugar, coffee, molasses, and salt were burned and thus his loss was great, if his life, by his absence, was saved. We have heard his son, James G. Stanly, say his father was absent at the time of the Tory raid. So have I heard the same statement within a few years from Jacob Gooding, the father of our present townsman Mr. Jacob Gooding. Mr. Gooding was the clerk of Thomas Turner, who was the partner of John Wright Stanly. Gooding went to New York as far back as 1807 and bought for Turner goods. He witnessed the duel between Stanly and Spaight, and some day we will tell the spot where it occurred. The old servant of John Stanly, Moses Kennedy, who, for faithful services and good conduct, his master had emancipated, and again and again has told me and others that he had often heard his master, when lamenting the death of Dr. Gaston, state how fortunate for his father he was absent when it occurred.
No British troops were stationed either in or around Newbern during the war and no armed vessels of the British was ever in our waters after Independence was declared.
In the month of August, 1781, Major Craig, of the British army, whose headquarters were at Wilmington, advanced at the head of a small detachment of regular troops and a gang of Tories towards Newbern with a view of occupying the city. The Tories were several miles in advance and rapidly entered the town on the 20th of August. The Whigs, thus surprised, had but little opportunity to make a regular stand, and after an ineffectual resistance, gave up the contest. Dr. Gaston, however, knew too well the hatred and ferocity of his foes, to surrender himself into their hands and hurrying off his wife and children, endeavored to escape across the river Trent when he was shot as before stated with Col. Green.
We copy most of the above from a sketch of the life of William Gaston.
There were only fifteen or twenty Tories that reached the town, but the Whigs, thinking Craig’s entire command, as they were so told, would immediately follow, remained passive—when they learned differently they started the Tories and gave pursuit as far as where is now Goldsboro.
The crew of Stanly’s vessel had been discharged or of course she would have been pushed from the wharf and then could have defied all the Tories in the State without boats. Mr. Jerkins found when rebuilding the old wharf one of the cannon of this vessel.
Judge Gaston said, in a town meeting when John Stanly died, “He was the son of John Wright Stanly, a merchant of the greatest enterprise and most extensive business ever known in this State;” and we find this inscription on a marble slab in Christ Church yard, Newbern, the letters almost now from age, invisible from the beating of the rain. This tablet sacred to the memory of John Wright Stanly, a man whose various talents employed in extensive commerce and tried by uncommon vicissitudes deserves a marble monument. He died June 12th, A.D. 1789, aged 47 years, and his wife died July 2, A.D. 1789, aged 39 years.
Mrs. Stanly was the daughter of Richard Cogdell who was shot at by these same Tories and marks of the balls for years and until the old Cogdell house was burned since the late war, remained in the facing of the doorway. William G. Bryan, Esq., resided there for a number of years and hundreds of times has he pointed out to others that mark of Tory hatred to Whigs.
Mrs. Stanly was too the sister of the mother of George E. Badger and from that stock did he inherit most of that transcendent genius which will give him imperishable fame. But his father, Thomas Badger, was a man of superior intellect and uncommon ability. George E. Badger’s rich memory, generalization or concentration of mind he inherited from his father. Such talent should make a great mathematician, yet Mr. Badger always admitted he never was skilled at Arithmetic. His masterly reasoning faculty then must be called genius. He undoubtedly was the greatest genius North Carolina could, up to this time, claim as her son. But we have given enough of the history of John Wright Stanly to show that it was not probable, hardly possible, that he should be drawn out to reconnoiter as the Lieut. of Capt. John Davis, who we are informed was a son of the printer James Davis. We should just as soon expect to have learned Robert Morris was on such an adventure. Capt. John Davis might have died as is claimed for him the death of a patriot, we have nothing to say to the contrary. If he did to save his country yield his own life a sacrifice, he has won the meed of heroism. His name should forever be kept green in the hearts of his countrymen. His heroism however must have been exhibited elsewhere than in the harbor of Newbern. We repeat, for his heroism a monument too high or too durable could not be erected to his memory.
But we find one year before the first act for the erection of Gov. Tryon’s Palace, which incensed the Whigs, the following letter:
“To the Honorable William Tryon, Esq., His Majesty’s Lieutenant Governor and Commander in Chief in and over the Province of North Carolina:
“The well-being of a country in a great measure depends on a system of good and wholesome laws properly and duly executed, etc. When virtue and goodness eminently appear in men of elevated stations they become public blessings and claim esteem and veneration. Permit us, therefore, sir, to anticipate the future happiness of this Province, by His Majesty having been graciously pleased to place so distinguished a character at the head of us, especially at a time of life which gives us reasonable hopes of Your Honour’s long residence there.
“Flattery is a mean vice, and to an honest mind truly detestable; to avoid an imputation of this I have only to appeal to all ranks of people, yet acquainted with Your Honour, for your exemplary piety and charity, your loyalty and attachment to His Majesty, your steadiness in pursuit of the true interest of the province, the easiness of access which you allow, and the candor and consideration, affability and good nature, from all men.
“I am persuaded, your honor, etc.,
“Your honor’s most dutiful and most obedient humble servant.
Yet the father and son may have differed, we admit. We are anxious to learn something more of Capt. Davis, and if he did fall as is said no one could go beyond us in extolling him. We know Davis, true and unyielding under any circumstances; so did we also know Stanly, not more easily moved. Alexander Stanly, it will be recollected, once found eleven stubborn men on a jury, when George killed Foster, and convinced them they were wrong after days of argument. Alfred Stanly also satisfied the Federals in the late war, that they could not convince him, save him or persuade him against his will. Both the grandsons of John Wright Stanly. A real Stanly would have to be trepanned before he would change position or an idea. We have two of the great-grand daughters of John Wright Stanly now residing in Newbern, Mrs. C.C. Clark and Mrs. Dillingham.
Many of the citizens of this place can recollect the cannon at the entrance of the alley leading to the wharf, belonging first to Elijah Clark then Bennet Flanner and last to Charles Kelly. The storehouse there, burned by the Confederates to get clear of some material in the house of Mr. Jerkins adjoining it, was John Wright Stanly’s originally, and escaped destruction when his warehouses were burned. The cannon were on some of his vessels, fourteen of which were captured by the British in a neutral port in the West Indies and for which the Stanlys never received in any way, a dollar. Stanly, before the war, was rich, though was afterwards poor. He loaned at different times to Gen. Greene for the army, about $80,000 and only a fractional part of this sum was ever returned in any way to the heirs of Stanly.
Lossing says, “Robert Morris” was continually active in the great cause during the war. He fitted out many privateers. Some were lost, others were successful in bringing him rich prizes, and at the return of peace he estimated that his losses and gains were about equal. He was, you see, more fortunate than Stanly, who lost all.
John Stanly married a Miss Francks, the grand-daughter of John Fonville, of whom we have heretofore spoken. The mother of Moses Kennedy was the nurse of Mrs. John Stanly. Many of us remember Peggy Stanly, Moses’ mother, and undoubtedly to her in a great measure was Moses indebted for his freedom—as Mrs. Stanly had much affection for her old nurse. Miss Francks was wealthy, which enabled her husband to finish and reside in the John Wright Stanly mansion, which he did from a year or two after his marriage to his death, which occurred in 1833. He was born in 1774.
John Wright Stanly’s first residence was on the lot of Daniel Stimson, Esq., and Mrs. Stimson is now cultivating flowers where long years ago was the greatest variety in the State. A beautiful garden was then laid out, spacious greenhouses were also there, containing the rarest flowers and shrubs. There too, hundreds have tripped the light, fantastic toe, the kind of amusement of which our fathers and mothers were very fond. But they are all gone, the last one swept off by time’s overwhelming wave.
[From: The Daily Journal, September 29, 1882, in response to the above article.]
Captain John Davis.
Wilson, N.C., Sept. 16, 1882.
EDITORS JOURNAL:--Your correspondent “D.” promised to convince “H.R.S.” in his communication this week that he had located his hero, Capt. John Davis, in the wrong place, and behold, he attempts to do so by asserting that it was impossible that a great man like John Wright Stanly should have been second in command to the son of the printer, James Davis; and to place the matter beyond all controversy he publishes a letter from Jas. Davis to Gov. Tryon, written twelve years before the war, to cast a shadow on the old man’s loyalty. It is to be hoped that he was loyal to his King at this time, and when it became his duty to embrace the cause of the colonies twelve years after, he gave up his friend Tryon and King George and did the public printing and other duties faithfully, as history informs us he did.
Perhaps New Berne’s historian has associated James Davis the printer in his mind’s eye with some typo who did not reflect much credit on his craft, and it may enable him to investigate the matter if he desires to do so more intelligently, to state that Davis the printer was an educated gentleman, and the equal of Stanly in every respect, except, perhaps, in wealth.
Two of his sons were educated in England, and John, the oldest returned home just before the war began. The family know nothing of him except what has been handed down by tradition, beyond the facts that he held a commission of captain, the proof of which is in the War Office at Washington, and an old family register, which states that he was born in 1755.
The squib of “H.R.S.” was not intended to cast a reflection on Mr. Stanly’s name and fame, who was no doubt a patriot and a gentleman, and it may even be a mistake that he was acting as lieutenant in this enterprise, but as to his capture with Davis there is hardly a reasonable doubt. The occurrence was accidentally spoken to “H.R.S.” who was at the time reading a copy of the JOURNAL with one of “D.’s” letters, but as it is now in print for the first time perhaps in one hundred years, if any confirmation of the fact can be obtained you will hear from me again. T.C.D.