Documenting the American South Logo
Loading

Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social History: Electronic Edition.

Johnson, Guion Griffis, 1900- 1989

CHAPTER IV RURAL LIFE

Table of Contents

Previous: CHAPTER III SOCIAL CLASSES

Next: CHAPTER V THE TOWN



Page 80

CHAPTER IV
RURAL LIFE

           WE SEE, in the short space of forty years, an almost total revolution in our habits, and customs," lamented Salisbury's only newspaper in 1820. "We behold very little of that plain republican simplicity which characterized our fathers--a ridiculous pomp, and an enervating luxury have usurped its place: and instead of witnessing a hardy race of freemen growing up, we see an effeminate, puny race of dandies: instead of rosy-cheeked damsels, fresh and blooming as the morn, we see too many of those sickly, delicate things, . . ." 1

           Thirty years later Raleigh's conservative Register was sounding the same note. Fulton's steamboat had set the country running a mad, neck-or-nothing steeplechase. A new generation of Americans had come into existence who were building a ginger-bread civilization in comparison with the solid masonry of the past. "This is the age of high pressure. . . . Men eat faster, drink faster and talk faster, than they did in our younger days, and, in order to be consistent on all points, they die faster. . . . It is to be feared that the invention of the lightning telegraph will give an additional go-ahead impulse to humanity, equal to that imparted by the rush of steam. If so, Progress only knows where we shall land." 2

           The "fast age" ushered in by the industrial revolution had far less effect in North Carolina than it did in most States. "The settlers in this part of North Carolina," wrote a British traveler in 1844 after a visit to Greensboro, Salisbury, and Salem, "seem to be quiet, old-fashioned people, content with little, and not at all disposed to trouble themselves with the mania of internal improvements." 3

In 1857 the Reverend H. E. Taliaferro found Surry County much as he had left it as a boy: "With most of the people a rifle, shot-pouch, butcher-knife, and an article they dubbed 'knock-'em-stiff' were of vastly more importance than larnin; while the

Page 81

younger ones preferred the sound of the fiddle, a seven-handed reel, and 'Old Sister Phebe' to a log-pole school-house. Yet for all this, they were a clever folk, . . ." By hard labor and the most rigid economy, they lived well. But they had no extravagancies; money was scarce, and "corrupting fashions seldom reached them." 4

           Social life in North Carolina was largely rural in character, for the majority of the inhabitants lived on plantations and farms. For the most part, the people were thrifty and hard-working, warm-hearted and good natured, taking their work or play as they found it. 5

LIFE ON THE PLANTATION

           Life on the large plantation represented the most refined type to be found in rural North Carolina, but even here, if the planter looked well to the future, he spent far more time at business that at recreation. Charles Pettigrew, planter and Episcopal minister, wrote in 1802, "I am under . . . the fullest conviction that overseers require little less oversight from their employers than the negroes require from them, & that in point of fidelity, there is not so much difference between white and black." 6

           Forty-five years later his son wrote in the same vein: "A Plantation to be well managed should never be left but at very short intervals . . . if it is a matter of life & death, & the owner is of any use then he should go away, but not otherwise." 7

Likewise, the household duties of the thrifty matron consumed a large portion of her day. 8 The wife of even a wealthy planter sometimes sighed for leisure in which to make a trip to town or to visit friends.

           Nevertheless, the planter's work gave him some leisure. He had time to cultivate hobbies, and, thus, many entered politics, serving in both the State Legislature and in Congress. The planter had time for scientific experiments, reading, and elegant letter-writing if not the composition of essays and books. "My plan is to amuse myself with improvements in agriculture, and as my principal business to resume a course of general reading which my appointment six years ago interrupted," wrote John Steele in 1802



Page 82

after resigning the office of comptroller of the United States Treasury. 9 A planter of Colonel Willie Jones' intelligence and wealth had time to cultivate "liberality of sentiment and benevolence toward his fellow-men," an "engaging and social turn," a "friendly and hospitable disposition." 10 Colonel Henry Shelby's home was "the abode of Hospitality, where the respectable stranger found an early introduction, and the child of want forgot his misfortune." Like John Steele, Colonel Shelby spent most of his leisure in self-education. "In mental acquirements few men surpassed him," wrote the Raleigh Register. "His literary taste was pure and classical; his understanding, deep, active and vigorous. His colloquial powers seemed to flow from an inexhaustible fund of mental treasure." 11

           The reputation of the planter for hospitality was well deserved, although often it has been exaggerated. A stranger was seldom welcomed into the family as a guest unless he brought letters of introduction, 12

but if he were well attired and conducted himself with the demeanor of a gentleman, the host often graciously waived the formality of an introduction. "Travellers with any pretensions to respectability, seldom stop at the wretched taverns," wrote Elkanah Watson of Massachusetts after a trip to the South, "but custom sanctions their freely calling at any planter's residence, and he seems to consider himself the party obliged by this freedom." 13

           But on one occasion a wealthy planter of Gates County received Watson coldly because he appeared at the door in a coal cart with a miserable horse and a tattered Negro boy at the time the planter was giving a dancing party. Although he had entertained Watson several years before, he now had no recollection of the man, and from his suspicious mode of traveling, was reluctant to believe his story. He would have turned the traveler out in a heavy rain to seek a tavern several miles distant had it not been for the latter's persistence. "In the succeeding summer," wrote Watson, "I again, at the close of a day, for the third time in my wanderings, approached the mansion of this gentleman. He now received me as he might have received a General, and in truth I and my man Mills made quite a military display." 14



Page 83

           A North Carolinian, when traveling in sections of the State where he was unknown, sometimes fared not so well as the Northerner. If he applied for accommodation at the home of a casual acquaintance, the "money mad" host was likely to charge him the regular tavern fee. When General Jeremiah Slade traveled across the State to Tennessee in 1819, at one place he received "every demonstration of unalloyed friendship and almost relative affection" when in the presence of "genlmn. & ladies of the first standing." 15

But when he was preparing to leave the next morning, his host presented him with the exorbitant bill of eighty cents for breakfast, dinner, and horses' feed.

           The plantation home, with its house servants, horses, coaches, home-grown food, and varied amusements, might well be a hospitable place. On every plantation where there were more than twenty slaves at least one was set aside as a house servant. The very young and the old were usually engaged in the house, while the full "taskables" were more profitably employed in the field. For instance, the house servants on Henry C. Middleton's Weehaw plantation near Georgetown, South Carolina, were "a cook that is not a full task, a girl of twelve and a boy of fourteen." An old man was "stable boy" and coachman for the family and an old woman was gardener. 16

Stephen A. Norfleet of Woodbourne in Bertie County often put his house servants at other work during the rush season; and when his wife became ill in 1858, he employed a white housekeeper. In some families, however, the household retinue was large: a cook and assistant, a butler in uniform, a parlor maid, a personal maid, a "boy" to serve the master, a nurse if there were children, a liveried coachman, a gardener, and a stable boy.

           It is no wonder that distinguished visitors in the South remarked on "the perfect ease and politeness" with which the planters entertained in their homes. Sir Charles Lyell, however, did not think southern manners entirely dependent upon "mere wealth and retinue of servants." "There is a warm and generous openness of character in the southerners," he wrote. ". . . they have often a dignity of manner, without stiffness, which is most agreeable. The landed proprietors here visit each other in the style of English country gentlemen, sometimes dining out with their families and



Page 84

returning at night, or, if the distance be great, remaining to sleep and coming home the next morning." 17

           The planter whose home was near a village was often host at tea, a dinner party, a dance, or a week-end excursion. In 1833 Henry Barnard, a Connecticut visitor in the South Atlantic States, described a day spent at Shirley, 18

the seat of the Carter family near Petersburg, Virginia, as typical of "the princely hospitality of the gentle born families" of the South:

           When you wake in the morning, you are surprised to find that a servant has been in, and without disturbing you, built up a large fire--taken out your clothes and brushed them, and done the same with your boots--brought in hot water to shave, and indeed stands ready to do your bidding--as soon as you are dressed, you walk down into the dining room--At eight o'clock you take your seat at the breakfast table of rich mahogany--each plate standing separate on its own little cloth--Mr. Carter will sit at one end of the table and Mrs. Carter at the other--Mrs. C. will send you by two little black boys, as fine a cup of coffee as you ever tasted, or a cup of tea--it is fashionable here to drink a cup of tea after coffee--Mr. Carter has a fine cold ham before him of the real Virginia flavor--this is all the meat you get in the morning, but the servant will bring you hot muffins and corn batter cakes every 2 minutes--you will find on the table also, loaf wheat bread, hot and cold--corn bread--

           After breakfast visitors consult their pleasure--if they wish to ride, horses are ready at their command--read, there are books enough in the Library,--write, fire, and writing materials are ready in his room--The Master and Mistress of the House are not expected to entertain visitors till an hour or two before dinner, which is usually at 3. If company has been invited to dinner they will begin to come about 1--Ladies in carriage and gentlemen horseback--After making their toilet, the company amuse themselves in the parlor--about a half hour before dinner, the gentlemen are invited out to take grog. When dinner is ready . . . Mr. Carter politely takes a Lady by the hand and leads the way into the dining room, and is followed by the rest, each Lady led by a gentleman. Mrs. C. is at one end of the table with a large dish of rich soup, and Mr. C. at the other, with a saddle of fine mutton, scattered round the table, you may choose for yourself, ham--beef--turkey--duck--eggs with greens--etc--etc for vegetables, potatoes, beets--hominy . . . after you have dined, there circulates a bottle of



Page 85

sparkling champagne. After that off passes the things, and the upper table cloth, and upon that is placed the desert, consisting of fine plum pudding, tarts, etc, etc,--after this comes ice cream, West India perserves--peaches perserved in brandy, etc,--When you have eaten this, off goes the second table cloth, and then upon the bare mahogany table is set, the figs, raisins, and almonds, and before Mr. Carter is set 2 or 3 bottles of wine--Maderia, Port, and a sweet wine for the Ladies--he fills his glass, and pushes them on, after the glasses are filled, the gentlemen pledge their services to the Ladies, and down goes the wine, after the first and second glass the ladies retire, and the gentlemen begin to circulate the bottle pretty briskly. You are at liberty however to follow the ladies as soon as you please, who after music and a little chit chat prepare for their ride home. 19

           Leaving Shirley, Henry Barnard went to Raleigh where he visited Thomas Pollock Devereux, a large slaveholder in North Carolina. His reception there was "a fine specimen of the real southern hospitality and manners." In Chapel Hill, Barnard was delighted to find Professor Elisha Mitchell, a graduate of Yale and native of Connecticut. After spending the evening at the professor's home, he wrote, "I should not have known from anything I saw at his table, or the manners of his family, that I was out of Connecticut. I didn't see two or three black servants standing at your elbows to execute your slightest wish, even to pushing the salt cellar a little nearer, if it is a foot from you." 20

Such an evening was a relief to the young New Englander after having experienced several weeks of southern hospitality.

           At night the planter might entertain his guest with a deer hunt. A party carrying guns and brandy would enter the woods, scrambling over briers and ravines close behind a Negro carrying lighted charcoal in a pan. In case a deer was found, the light from the pan would blind the animal and the gleaming eyes of the victim would offer the sportsman an excellent target. But this method of deer hunting sometimes resulted in the death of a stray cow or horse so that in 1784 the Legislature made it a misdemeanor. The custom persisted, however, and the Legislature passed a more stringent law in 1810. A restricted season for deer hunting had been established in 1784, 21

but by 1810 deer were no longer plentiful in Eastern North Carolina. 22 When Elkanah

Page 86

Watson visited the State in 1786 he was the guest at a deer hunt near Warrenton. "I was no sportsman," he wrote, "but was anxious to see the sport, and, mounted with my gun, rode to an abandoned tobacco field. A party of negroes had preceded us with a pack of hounds, to range a circuit of woods, and to insure us game. We were placed in proper positions across the field; . . . In a few minutes, we heard the distant yell of the hounds, approaching nearer and nearer. All dropped upon one knee, with guns cocked. We heard the rustling of leaves and bushes: . . . In a twinkling, two noble deer brust into the clearing, directly in front of me, with the hounds in full cry at their heels." 23

           Raccoon and opossum hunting was a favorite night sport of the young boys on the plantation. Followed by a troop of yelping 'coon and 'possum dogs, the young masters would traverse the neighboring woods in company with several slaves bearing lighted pine torches.

           Hunting, especially for wild turkeys, ducks, and quail, was also a day-time sport on the plantation. The fox chase was a popular diversion, but the abundance of the game and the unfriendly attitude of landowners toward trespassing hunters made it impracticable to follow the customs of the English chase. 24

A few affluent planters kept as many as twenty-five fox hounds, and everywhere, on plantation and farm alike, there were dogs trained to the chase. Fishing, 25 cockfighting, and horse racing were also favorite forms of recreation. 26

ANTE-BELLUM FASHIONS

           Hunters in North Carolina seldom dressed for the chase unless it was to don their oldest clothes for fear of tearing new ones in the mad rush through thicket and forest, but at a dance or on a visiting party the dress of the gentry conformed to the dictates of fashion from Charleston, Petersburg, Philadelphia, and New York. Styles did not change rapidly in the State. 27

A particular mode of dress might have been worn a year or more in Richmond before it was generally adopted in the villages of North Carolina,

Page 87

but the leaders of society in the State always had a definite idea as to what was in style and what old-fashioned.

           At the opening of the nineteenth century, everyone had discarded the bell-hoop of the late Revolutionary period, the drole, a pad worn on the abdomen, which quickly followed the fashion of hoops, and most had put aside the cul de Paris, a pad worn a posteriori. The ladies of 1800 "muffed themselves up in muslin," trying to hide even "the smallest part of the neck from the most observing eye." They had discarded stays and moved about in great freedom with short waists, long petticoats, covered bosoms, and flowing hair. 28

But this was not for long. In 1807 the ladies had again taken to stays and low necks and the Edenton Gazette was writing in alarm, "Our females are declining and sinking into the regions of death, from an adherence to the curse of fashion. The cob web vesture, lighter than the vapours of summer, the dampened bare arms and neck, are the costume in which our ladies now brave all the variations in our extremely variable climate." 29

           Instead of swathing themselves again in yardage, leaders of fashion shortened the dress almost to ankle length, lowered the neck still further, and reduced the number of petticoats until in 1812 a horror-stricken Pennsylvanian attempted to pass a law requiring the women of his State to wear at least three petticoats. A wag suggested that if the State Legislatures did regulate female dress the women in defiance would soon be dressing "throughout the summer without even a single Petticoat and wearing flesh colored pantaloons" with only a muslin over them. 30

           Those "evil-conceived, torturing machines styled corsets" were destined to go again. By the late summer of 1820 a correspondent of the Western Carolinian was rejoicing that "the young ladies of Salisbury, with the exception of a few old offenders, seem to have cast off such unbecoming appendages as worthless frippery, and content themselves with appearing in a shape nature designed them to appear in--their muscular systems unrestrained," leaving them "free to move and act with unaffected ease and native gracefulness." 31

           And so the game of keeping up with the fashions continued throughout the period. Dresses were now long and high-necked;



Page 88

now full, short, and low-necked; now straight and slender in front and gathered into a "Grecian bend" in the back; now gored and close fitting about the waist. To the newspapers "it was laughable enough to see ladies obliged to walk as erect as a soldier under arms when padded; and the next time we meet them to view them stooping forward with the load of the rump behind"; 32 or it was alarming to see them "go out to dinner parties in February and March, with an inch of sleeve and a half-a-quarter of bodice." 33 The hooped skirts which again came into fashion in the late fifties shared the same fate; but they had at least one defender in Dr. W. C. Lankford of Franklin County, who called off the editorial corps, saying, "There is no article of dress which should receive more patronage from the ladies than the hoop. It has superseded the half-dozen heavy skirts formerly worn. It combines grace, beauty, and elegance, while it gives ease and comfort to the wearer." 34 But Dr. Lankford joined in the general lament that "the absurd edicts of the mighty Moloch of fashion," have too overwhelming a sway "upon the female mind and are responsible for her ill-health and weakly constitution."

           The materials used for an evening gown were of silk, velvet, or wool; the silk being taffeta, satin, canton, or a heavy brocade, according to the fashion of the moment; the wool being usually a soft cashmere or a light mixture of silk and wool. After about 1820 when mill-woven cotton goods came into general use, the ordinary clothes even of the gentry were of calico and similar materials. Sheer muslins and dimities were also fashionable for elegant summer wear.

           Homespun, both cotton and woolen, which had been used in large quantities in the first half of the century had been relegated by the forties to the poor whites and Negroes. In 1830 the Miner's and Farmer's Journal of Charlotte had written, "When I see a farmer appear in company genteely dressed in homespun, I think of Solomon's description of a good wife," adding, "if the farmer's family wants new clothes, the industry of his wife supplies them." 35

By 1860, however, looms and cards had been stored in outhouses and every miss must have her "store boughten" calico.

Page 89

At a meeting called in Asheville "to consult upon the means to live more independently," N. W. Woodfin contrasted "the manner in which our people dressed twenty-five years ago and now. Then all wore homespun, now those who do so are the exceptions. Twenty years ago there were looms to be found in every farm house--now it is hard to get a good piece of home-made jeans." 36

           The dress of the men of the gentry class, although not as elaborate as that of the women, was none the less sensitive to modes of fashion. For some time after the Revolution the style of the well-dressed gentleman had something of the military effect with cocked hat, blue coat, and crimson velvet cape. 37

A gentleman dressed in fashionable style in 1805 would have on, if he fancied making a display, a London brown coat, high rolling cape, velvet pantaloons of a dark color to harmonize with his coat, a silk swan's-down waistcoat yellow striped, and Suwarrow jackboots. Over his arm he would carry a drab great-coat and in his hands a pair of tan leather gloves. 38 If he were calling for dinner, a black silk waistcoat would replace the yellow stripes and black velvet slippers the jackboots. His hat was small-brimmed with a high crown.

           After the War of 1812 the term dandy became well recognized in North Carolina. The requisites of a dandy in 1820 were considered to be a cue, a cane, a pair of large pantaloons, and "a sufficient store of affectation." As described by a newspaper correspondent, posing as a German farmer who had encountered a group of men in fashionable dress, a dandy was a creature fit for the mad house. "I saw a whole parcels of a de peoples wid dare cravats tied on likshd de Methodist preachers," said the old fellow. "Day had on coats not half so long in de back as mine wife Krotata's calico gown is; and dare breeches . . . was pig enough to make mine wife two petticoats and three night caps. Day had vone little yellow stick in dare hands wid a pig puck's horn on de head." 39

           Still the rage of "the ruffled-shirted gentry" continued. In 1845 a North Carolina planter lamented the worship of dress which was infatuating the State: "All this impropriety grows out of the extravagance in dress & lazyness to work for it, & when



Page 90

people become given up to dress they will sell themselves for it. It is an awful curse." 40 The average planter, however, dressed in a conservative manner. 41 He usually wore a white stock of silk, linen, or more often cotton. His waistcoat for ordinary wear was of drab wool. His suit was also of dark wool, with the coat, which usually had a cut-away effect, of a mildly contrasting material. The trousers were loose and high waisted, and to prevent bagging they had a strap which was worn under the shoe.

           The style which the country folk followed in cutting garments tended to remain the same from year to year, but there was by no means an utter disregard of the prevailing fashions. The complaint from local newspaper editors was, in fact, that the farmers aped the styles of their betters too much for their own welfare. 42

A northern visitor to North Carolina in 1833, however, described the rural inhabitants as being shabbily dressed. 43

           When Braxton Craven started to school at New Garden about 1840 he carried over his shoulder a bag containing a few shirts of homespun and several pairs of knitted socks. 44 He had on a

broad-brimmed woolen hat, a loose coat and baggy trousers of blue jeans, and a pair of stitched-down shoes, made by sewing the uppers to the soles so that the seams were turned out instead of in. For Sunday he had a pair of welted shoes. Welted shoes, however, were difficult to make and the possessor of such a pair used them carefully. It was customary for even the women to walk bare-footed to social gatherings, carrying their shoes which they put on just before arriving.

SOCIAL LIFE ON THE FARM

           On the farm the housewife performed many of the domestic labors. Social occasions were, accordingly, less formal than upon the large plantations. A dinner or "dance frolick" entailed heavy burdens on the housekeeper whose labors already kept her busy early and late, but she seemed to relish the extra work, and spent long hours at apple jacks, sweet potato pies, and jelly cakes. The prosperous farmer prepared bountifully for his guests. He usually kept open house on Sundays, in anticipation of which his wife began



Page 91

her baking on Friday. In case of an emergency she could always find an abundance of sweet pickled peaches, wild plum jam, and blackberry acid on her cupboard shelves.

           Among the poorer classes visitors were likely to be asked to share the regular family meal of hog and hominy served in heavy earthern ware upon a pine table. In 1837 when William H. Wills, a Methodist preacher and merchant of Tarboro, made a trip to the Lower South, he complained that he was served nothing except fried pork, eggs, and coffee from Tarboro to the State line. The second night of his journey he stopped in a pouring rain at a small farm house. "Having alighted, I first saw my horse provided for, and then after a little came on more Meat & Eggs & Coffee! All was very clean however and the coffee much better than what I before had found.--They were poor people but I expect as good as they knew how to be." 45

           The man who worked his farm, supported his family, obeyed the laws, paid his taxes, and drank his glass of grog in good humor with all the world was a respectable citizen and a leader in the social activities of the neighborhood. His fireside was a favorite gathering place where the men would draw close to the broad hearth, smoke their corncob pipes, spit tobacco juice into the fire, and pass a mug of brandy around. 46

After discussing the common news of the settlement, the weather, and the condition of the crops, they would naturally turn to politics. If a ghost had lately made its appearance in the neighborhood, the conversation would center about witchcraft. The women who sat with their knitting on benches just back of the men would keep steadily at their work and a conversation of their own.

           Recreation on the farm often combined work and play. Throughout the ante-bellum period such forms of amusements as corn shucking, wood chopping, house moving, fence building, and cotton picking were popular. 47

At the gatherings in which the young people predominated, more courting and frolicking were done than work. The refreshments on such occasions were usually persimmon beer and roasted sweet potatoes. When the hour for

Page 92

serving arrived, the potatoes would be raked out of the fireplace and the ashes dusted off with a turkey wing.

           Every prosperous farmer would give an annual corn shucking to which all who lived within a radius of five or six miles were invited. The host would place upon a long table in the yard beef and mutton stews, roasted sweet potatoes, pumpkin pies, and apples. Jugs of whisky and brandy were plentiful and were patronized so frequently that many guests would fall asleep in the shucks. At midnight when the crowd had dispersed, the thoughtful host would drag the drowsy ones into the house and lay them on the floor by the fire. 48

Those whom too much whisky made quarrelsome would sometimes come to blows and break up the gathering with a brawl.

           In 1849 the men of the Pungo Creek settlement gave one of their neighbors a fence-building spree. Fire had destroyed about a hundred rods of his field fence, and no sooner was it known than a group gathered and went to work to repair the damage. They mauled and carted rails, and put up the fence in an incredibly short time. 49

           Quilting was a long and tedious task if done by one woman; but, when the housewife was assisted by a dozen neighbors, she might complete the quilt in a day. The guests would usually assemble in the morning, bringing their own needles and thimbles. Amid a lively conversation, needles would fly back and forth. Scattered over the surface of the quilt might be seen four or five round tin boxes containing pungent Scotch snuff. Now and then a seamstress would take from her mouth a small black stick from three to four inches in length, and, after dipping it in the snuff box, rub her teeth briskly with it. This process completed, she would resume her work continually moving the brush up and down or from side to side, engaging in conversation all the while. Some dippers, less expert than others, would soon have their snuff, like an overseer's wages, spread "from y-ear to y-ear."

           In 1833 Henry Barnard of Connecticut was surprised to find in North Carolina that "the ladies, aye fine ladies, eat snuff," and if gentlemen come in "all the apparatus will disappear as if by magic." 50

The country women, however, were open in their habit

Page 93

of snuff dipping and were not ashamed when they came to market to walk along the streets with brushes in their mouths. In 1845 a correspondent of the Carolina Watchman thought that the use of snuff was a daily habit among all ranks of female society throughout the length and breadth of the State. 51 A European gentleman once offered his snuff box to a lady in North Carolina and to his amazement she thrust in a toothbrush. While he was waiting to see how she would poke it up her nose, he was even more amazed to see the brush disappear into the lady's mouth. In 1855 the Carolina Cultivator of Raleigh was still condemning the habit of "snuff rubbing" among the women of the State. 52

DANCE FROLICS

           In some communities "dance frolicks" were held as often as twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday nights. The young men would "gallant the girls" to the frolic, and dancing would last until midnight. The musician would be a local fiddler who would also call out the steps. Amid the sound of merry laughter and the cry of "Salute your partner," "cut the pigeon wing," the dance would proceed. Mint-sling, blackberry acid, and cider were served between dances and not infrequently the men also had their whisky and brandy. But as the camp-meeting movement 53

grew more popular, dancing came to be frowned upon. 54 The fiddle became an instrument of the devil, and the pious looked upon the mere possession of one as an indication of an irreligious spirit.

           In 1821 a dance in Randolph County was turned into a prayer meeting. When the young men began to select their partners for the first dance, one of the most popular girls there refused to join the rest; and when the music started, she dropped to her knees and prayed aloud. The fiddler fled for home and most of the dancers likewise sought protection in escape, believing that the devil was in hot pursuit. The less superstitious who stood their ground were soon won by the praying girl. From that time, prayer meetings took the place of dance frolics in that neighborhood. 55

           Singing schools were a popular diversion for the young people toward the close of the ante-bellum period. Groups of boys and



Page 94

girls in their teens thought nothing of walking several miles to participate in such a gathering, and when once a singing school had been started in the neighborhood an epidemic of them seemed to break out. Young Mary Clark of Catawba County wrote in 1858 to her brother in Texas:

           The farmer was as fond of hunting and fishing as the planter, and spent many a winter day in tramping the woods with his guns and dogs. Janet Schaw, a young Scotch woman who visited North Carolina on the eve of the Revolution, thought that the farmer was more concerned about being a good marksman than about raising a good crop. 57

In 1833 a group of landholders of Currituck County petitioned the Legislature for a law to prevent fowling at night in the winter months on the rivers and waters of the county, saying that the birds were becoming wild because of it. 58 A law had been passed as early as 1784 making it unlawful to hunt on posted grounds, but poaching was a common practice. In 1859 an attempt was made to prevent hunting with guns and dogs on Sunday, but the bill was promptly defeated. 59

           Fishing was considered one of the "natural rights of man." On the assumption that fish were a bounty of nature, it was argued successfully that they were free to all. Accordingly, any obstruction, such as fallen trees or a mill dam, which prevented the free passage of fish up a stream was unlawful. The Legislature was annually deluged with petitions complaining that a mill dam or a fishery at the mouth of some stream obstructed the run of the fish and so divested the people of their natural rights. 60

Shad and herring

Page 95

were especially prized and the diminishing numbers which came in the spring into the sounds and up the rivers were looked upon with anxiety. Every spring one might see innumerable wagons and carts on the public roads making their way to the fisheries from distances of a hundred to a hundred and fifty miles. From as far west as Guilford County they came, exchanging their hard earnings for loads of fish, and returned home to make what profit they could from the sale. 61 In 1852 a lay day was imposed upon all fisheries in the State to safeguard the supply of fish.

           With some poor whites, fishing, like hunting, was a business as well as a recreation. In 1857, for instance, a petition from Martin County stated "that the free & unobstructed passage of fish, up the Roanoke River, has, in time past, been a great public blessing, to those residing on, near, & for many miles from said river, that a great many persons in indigent circumstances, have annually, made it a business, to resort to said River, & by means of sien or dip nets, to supply their families with fish, and other necessaries of life." 62

The sport entailed no great amount of outlay and usually resulted in a temporary increase of supplies for the family larder. A corn-husking or quilting party involved an expenditure of provisions which many, even in the yeoman class, could not afford; whereas hunting and fishing carried with them their own justification.

THE COUNTRY TAVERN

           Besides their private social functions, the planter and the farmer alike found recreation at certain public social centers, such as the crossroads tavern, the country store, the "merchant mill," the church, the schoolhouse, and the lodge. A goodly number of taverns were sprinkled throughout North Carolina, and could be found on public roads at a distance of six or seven miles apart. They were so important as centers in the daily life of the surrounding country that the people computed intermediate distances by them. At the tavern, or ordinary, as it was also called, farmers met to talk politics, play at all fours, 63

make bets, and stand treat for mint-sling or brandy. Every ambitious tavern subscribed to at

Page 96

least one State newspaper, which was carefully thumbed by all who knew their letters.

           At the opening of the century, most of these country taverns were log huts or rough weather-boarded buildings. The more prosperous ones consisted of several rooms, but most of them had only one large room with no interior division. In one corner was the family bunk, in another a pine chest, and in a third a railing which formed the bar. Upon this a rum keg and a tumbler were arrayed. The rest of the furniture consisted of several split-bottom chairs and a rough pine table. An English traveler in North Carolina who claims to have visited twelve country taverns gives the information that one might always know an ordinary, on emerging from the woods, "by an earthen jug suspended by the handle from a pole; the pipe of the chimney never rising above the roof; or a score of black hogs luxuriating in the sunshine and mud before the door." 64

Such was the country tavern of 1800.

           Quite a different picture has been drawn by Frederick Law Olmsted, a New York journalist, who visited the State in 1856. He spent his first night in North Carolina at a piney-woods stage-house. "It was right cheerful," he said, "to open the door . . . into a large room, filled with blazing light from a great fire of turpentine pine, by which two stalwart men were reading newspapers, a door opening into a background of supper-table and kitchen, and a nice, stout, kindly-looking, Quaker-like old lady coming forward to welcome me." 65

His bedroom was a separate house connected to the main building by a platform. Before a bright blaze in the broad fire-place was a stuffed easy chair. On the hearth was a tub of hot water to bathe his weary feet.

           The bar was probably the chief attraction of the tavern, for drinking was common, and here could be obtained liquors which could not be made at home. The sale of West Indian and continental rum, of claret, Madeira, port, and Teneriffe wine, besides the domestic whisky, beer, wines, and cider, formed an important part of tavern business. A tavern keeper had to obtain a license before he was permitted to retail spirituous liquors by a measure less than a quart. As the opposition to the sale of liquors by the



Page 97

small measure increased, the law regulating the issuance of these licenses became more rigid and the tax higher.

           By the close of the period a person wishing to retail liquors was required to apply to the county court for a license which could be granted only if seven justices were on the bench and if two witnesses who had known the applicant more than a year swore to his good moral character. 66

At the first of the century the license tax was only four dollars but by 1860 it had been increased to twenty. 67 The tendency to run up large bills for liquor led to a law prohibiting a "keeper of an inn, tavern, or ordinary, or retailer of liquors by the small measure" from selling liquors on credit to a greater amount than ten dollars unless the person so credited should sign a note for the debt. 68

           Habitual drunkenness was quite generally frowned upon, but no stigma was attached to "restrained drinking." In fact, a moderate use of liquor was generally considered healthful. This belief was common not only in North Carolina but in the Lower South and in Hispanic-America, in fact, in all climates where bilious fevers were prevalent. 69

Grog was often taken before breakfast to whet the appetite and "to keep the fevers off." Fretful babies were soothed with a teaspoonful of diluted liquor, reputed to be a certain cure for colic. 70

           No holiday was thought to have been celebrated properly unless one succeeded in "getting a little corned." 71

Concerning this custom, Dr. Brickell wrote in 1731: "I have frequently seen them come to the Towns, and there remain Drinking Rum, Punch, and other Liquors for Eight or Ten Days successively, and after they have committed this Excess, will not drink any Spirituous Liquors, 'till such time as they take the next Frolick as they call it, which is generally in two or three months." 72 A century later the Western Carolinian, commenting upon this same custom said, "It is feared that many of our patriotic citizens will OVER CHARGE themselves with strong drink as this is the anniversary of Independence, so as to overturn reason, it being the custom to get devoutly drunk on such occasions." 73



Page 98

           It is not strange that drinking should have been common since distilling was an important industry in the State. In 1840 North Carolina produced more than a million gallons of distilled and fermented liquors. 74

In the western counties, especially, it was more profitable to market grain and fruits as "corn" and "apple jack" than in the more bulky form. In the East, too, such planters as Stephen A. Norfleet of Bertie profitably turned their large peach crops into brandy. 75

THE CROSSROADS STORE AND MERCHANT MILL

           The country store was another important public social center for the rural population of the State, and even today it has lost little of its former popularity. Here the country folk for miles around met about the roaring fire, exchanged jokes, and learned the news of the neighborhood. These stores, often owned by planters, were located at the crossroads, at junctions of two creeks, or near some important bridge. Such a store was owned by E. D. McNair of Edgecombe County, ten miles above Tarboro, at his country seat, Strabane, contiguous to Sessum's bridge across Deep Creek. McNair annually collected a considerable quantity of various kinds of country produce which he sent in flat-bottomed boats down the creek and river to Tarboro and Washington. 76

The country store often bore the name either of the planter or of his country seat. In 1811 there were seven such country stores in Edgecombe County.

           As the century progressed toward 1860, these stores came more and more into the hands of men who made storekeeping their chief business. Village storekeepers would sometimes enlarge their enterprise by opening stores in the country or a northerner might come into the State and, by associating himself with a native, set up a thriving country store. It would be the polling place for elections. Here militia musters would be held and important holidays celebrated by those who could not take a trip to town.

           "It is very well known," wrote "Y. Y." in the Weekly Post in 1852, "that in every neighborhood through the country, there is a store, and a blacksmith shop; and often a merchant-mill or factory.



Page 99

It very often happens that country merchants keep spirits for sale. And not a few among them think themselves obliged by policy, or the laws of hospitality to ask a customer who comes in to take a drink of grog. This pernicious practice as surely draws together neighborhood loungers, as honey gathers flies. A man in the neighborhood has an axe to be jumped, or a coulter to be pointed. He very prudently determines not to stop one of his hands from work." Giving his orders for the day, he goes to the shop himself and, while waiting for the work to be done, saunters over to the store. "And there he sits, whittling a switch with his pen-knife, talking about hard times and heavy taxes . . . and drinking grog . . . and thus the whole day is wasted. The negroes at home know their master's habits well enough to be assured that he will not come upon them," and of course they do only a half day's work, and that badly. 77

           On Saturday, too, the country store was a favorite resort for drinking, lounging, and horse racing. For instance, in May, 1825, "there was a considerable gathering of people" at Mocksville, near Salisbury; and, "as is too frequent the case at similar Saturday meetings at country stores, too much whiskey had been drank." Some one proposed a race. One of the horses, becoming unruly, left the track and threw his rider against a tree with such violence that the man died instantly. 78

           Those who had "more spirit than to sit all day on the counter of a country store to get a drink of grog," gathered at the "merchant-mill" of the neighborhood. The mill might be one which ground corn into meal or grits, or wheat into flour; it might be one which converted rags into wrapping paper or newsprint or which spun cotton into coarse thread. Those who congregated about the "merchant-mills" were usually "gentlemen farmers, who rise at eight, and breakfast at nine o'clock; ride out into the fields and ask a few questions of the overseer, and then repair to some place of customary resort, whether a tavern, or a store at some cross-roads, or to a merchant-mill." There, with gentlemen farmers like themselves, they would "spend the day in playing marbles or pitching quoits, and drinking toddy; and perhaps, at intervals, sneering at the efforts for agricultural and other improvements."



Page 100

This habit, declared "Y. Y." in the Weekly Post in 1852, had brought "many families from opulence to poverty" and "turned many tracts of fertile lands into barrenness" and was "fast depopulating some of the best parts of the State." 79

THE CHURCH, THE SCHOOL, AND THE LODGE

           As the camp meeting, which came to be sponsored by the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian denominations, won converts, "meeting houses" began to dot the rural districts thickly and to furnish gathering places for the inhabitants. The first churches of these denominations were, in fact, erected in the rural districts rather than in the villages of the State. 80

The exciting methods of the camp meeting appealed to the country folk and furnished an outlet for pent-up emotions. They flocked in great throngs to the camp grounds and, while listening to the impassioned words of the preacher, took a holiday from work.

           Preaching, which was held once or twice a month at the meeting house, was usually an all-day affair. Those who did not have conveyances would walk as far as seven or eight miles to attend, bringing in their pockets a few biscuits to munch. More affluent worshipers would bring great baskets of food which they would spread on the ground for a magnificent picnic. When preaching was not being held, the church house might also be used for a Fourth-of-July celebration, a political meeting, a singing school, or a box supper.

           The church house was also frequently the schoolhouse. When the Reverend Brantley York went about the State teaching short-term schools, he usually met his classes in the neighborhood church. After the establishment of the public school system in 1840, the number of schoolhouses greatly increased and they came, in some measure, to take the place of the church as a public gathering place. The school came to be looked upon as public property, and church members to protest against defiling the House of God. "There exists amongst us a custom against which it becomes us, as Christians, to protest," wrote a correspondent of the Carolina Watchman in 1851. "I allude to the prevailing practice of allowing every petty politician and undignified temperance lecturer to enter our churches, and there, not infrequently, employ language altogether



Page 101

at variance with the sacredness of the place. . . . The Church of God, is neither a Court House nor a Town Hall, and many things that might be innocently indulged in the latter, would be exceedingly unbecoming and sinful in the former." 81

           The fraternal orders drew large numbers from the rural population. Usually the members were of the upper classes, for the amount of the initiation fee excluded many who otherwise would have flocked to the lodges. The Grand Lodge of the Order of Free Masons, which had been extinct since 1776, was revived in 1787, and subordinate lodges began quickly to make their appearance. It is a significant fact that many of these local units were situated in rural communities. In 1815 Davie Lodge at Sandy Run Crossroads in Bertie County was prosperous enough to erect a two-story brick building for its use. The first floor contained one large room while the second floor was divided into three. The walls were "wainscoated chair board high" and the rest plastered and white washed. 82

By 1823 there were thirty-nine Masonic lodges in the State. 83

           The Masonic order was the most popular of the secret lodges throughout the ante-bellum period. Although the Free Masons were the most numerous, the Royal Arch Masons, Ancient York Masons, and Knights Templar also had lodges in the State at various times during the period. The first of the Royal Arch chapters was located at Wilmington and incorporated in 1804. The Grand Royal Arch Chapter of North Carolina was incorporated in 1828 and again in 1854, but only a few local chapters were incorporated during the ante-bellum period. The Knights Templar Grand Lodge of North Carolina and Tennessee had several subordinate chapters in the rural communities. In 1813 the regular meeting place of Freeland Lodge No. 33 was Mock's Old Field in Rowan County and the meetings were held on Christmas, Good Friday, and Ascension Day. 84

The first Yorkish Right lodges were incorporated in 1848, Phalanx Lodge, No. 31, in Charlotte, and Germanton Lodge, No. 116, in Stokes County.

           The first lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was organized in 1841 in Weldon, and the following year the Grand Lodge of North Carolina was incorporated. In 1856, the Grand



Page 102

Lodge had 1,530 contributing members. 85 Prior to 1860 the largest number of subordinate Odd Fellow lodges was forty-eight, but most of these were in the towns of the State, for the Odd Fellows at this time did not make a wide appeal to the rural population. These lodges, whether or not they had their own buildings, afforded a means of recreation to the rural population and as such were important socializing agents.

MILITIA MUSTERS AND ELECTION DAYS

           Although militia duty was irksome to some, 86

it was ordinarily looked upon as a holiday and celebrated as such by heavy drinking, betting, fighting, and sports. All free white men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five were enrolled in the militia and required to report for a company muster at least twice a year. Regimental or battalion musters were held only once a year. Some counties had only one regiment of militia while a few of the large western counties had as many as four. 87 The privates usually selected the place for holding the company musters but the officers chose the meeting place for the battalion musters.

           These companies developed a certain amount of political and social consciousness. The early advocates of elective officeholding usually wanted to vest the franchise in the captains' companies. These companies were often the first to petition the Legislature on important local and state questions. Muster day brought men together who otherwise would seldom have met; and, while the occasion helped to form a local spirit of coöperation, it also kindled neighborhood jealousies.

           In 1787 William Attmore, a Pennsylvania merchant, was in Washington on muster day. "A large number of people from the Country are here," he wrote. "Many disorders in town, the Militia some of them fighting. This is the practice every Muster-day." 88



Page 103

It was long a custom for the champion of one neighborhood to fight the champion of another on muster day. Candidates for election often provided liquor for the day and thus augmented the general propensity for fighting. Leading citizens deplored the custom of "treating" at musters, but it was so much approved by the militia that the practice was quite generally followed.

           Weeks before a certain muster day in Surry County, it was rumored, according to Skitt of Fisher's River Scenes, that Hamp Hudson, the only man in the county who kept a "still-house" running the year round, was "gwine to carry" to the May muster for sale liquor that had been distilled from a mash-tub in which his dog Famus had been drowned. All believed the story, and there was a general determination "not to drink one drap uv Hamp's nasty old Famus licker."

           Muster day arrives. The sergeant calls for the company to "fall in":

           "O-yis! o-yis! The hour of muster have arrove! O-yis! All uv ye what b'longs to Cap'en Moore's company, parade here! Fall inter ranks right smart, and straight as a gun bar'l, and dress to the right and left, accordin' to the militeer tack-tucks laid down by Duane in his cilebrated work on that fust of all subjecks. . . ."

           Cap'en Moore now appears in his old-fashioned uniform, worn probably by some "'Lutionary cap'en" in many a bloody fight. 'Tis an odd-looking affair; the collar of it repulses his "ossifer hat" from the top of his "hade"; the tail, long and forked, striking his hams at every step, and two great rusty epaulets on his shoulders--enough to weigh down a man of less patriotic spirit, and on a less patriotic occasion.

           Thus equipped, "as the law directs," he commences the "drill accordin' to Duane."

           It is now one o'clock. Hamp is sitting under the shade of an apple tree astride his whisky-barrel. "Nigger Josh Easly" is doing a thriving business with his "gingy cakes." By two o'clock the men are noticeably depressed; parched tongues vainly moisten parched lips. Uncle Jimmy Smith is the first to give in. "Famus or no Famus," he declares, "I must take a little." Soon the condemned barrel is dry. "Cap'en," "leftenant," and "sargint" alike forget the hard day's work. The 'litia begin their usual



Page 104

sports and the whole affair ends in "skinned noses, gouged eyes, and bruised heads." 89

           From colonial days, an election was the occasion for general merry-making despite the fact that some were debarred from the polls by the qualifications placed on the franchise. With the practice of electioneering which began to take shape in the "Republican Revolution of 1800," election day became even more of an occasion. In 1811 Dr. Jeremiah Battle of Edgecombe County described electioneering as a certain suavity of manners employed by candidates for popular favor. "It consists," said he, "in a certain peculiar shake of the hand, called by our farmers the electioneering shake--in purchasing brandy and drinking with the people--persuading them to get drunk, whereby they may lose sight of the objects of an election--flattering & gulling the people, with empty professions of extraordinary devotion to their interests." 90

           In crowds the people came, some walking, others riding, bringing the entire family to enjoy the sports of the day. A fiddler would appear, a circle be formed, and the dancing would begin. In another circle would be a fist-and-skull fight for a quart of brandy, while another group would be eagerly following the harangue of a political orator. As political competition increased and electioneering became more widespread, the scenes on election day tended to become more intense. An election day in 1850, as described by the Raleigh Register, is typical of such a day all over the State, the details varying with the relative strength of the two political parties in the given district: "At the polls, there was a slight lack of that calm Roman dignity ascribed to us by our Fourth-of-July orators--inasmuch as the voters skipped about with the vivacity of Frenchmen, and exercised their tongues with the unanimity of old women. If some staid sober citizen was observed making his way to any spot where votes were to be taken and brandy given, he was immediately surrounded" by electioneers, "employing their talents, energies, and lungs, in the wake of conversion." They "mobbed, and twisted, and turned" the voter "in a very hackney-coachman like style, in order to gain his attention to their various claims, until the four points of the compass became . . . a matter of doubt and uncertainty." 91



Page 105

           In 1789 the Legislature established a uniform election day for the State, but so numerous were the petitions for exception from this law and so many were the private laws passed in response to these petitions that a single county might have three or four different elections days. 92

Some of the country folk made a practice of attending each election to share in the brandy provided for the occasion.

           Election days were sometimes arranged so that a candidate for Congress might be present at most of the important polling places in his district. Lemuel Sawyer, candidate for Congress in the northeastern district in 1825, admits that he won the race by treating. The election took place in Currituck the last week in July, about two weeks before the general election. Sawyer visited the county about a week before election but was seized with bilious remittant fever which confined him until election day. "I resolutely kept on my feet, though quite feeble, until the polls were closed" and carried the principal election grounds by forty votes. "Though I learned the next day, my adversary, by means of treating and other electioneering tricks, succeeded in the county at large" by about three hundred votes.

           Sawyer then determined to use the same methods. Two days before the election in the district at large, he went to Perquimans, the most doubtful of the counties.

           There was a separate election the Thursday or day before the principal one, in the upper part of the county, which I attended. I . . . treated pretty largely to such entertainment as the place afforded, in the shape of melons and the distilled juice of the apple, which I repeat, is the most palatable in our opinion, of all the products of the still. I obtained a majority there of four-fifths with the news of which I returned to Hertford, as a favorable prelude to the battle of the next day. Before the polls were opened on the morning of Friday, I distributed my file leaders at their posts, well supplied with proper ammunition and went up and down the ranks to encourage my partisans. We gained the day by an overwhelming majority.

Knowing the anxiety of his friends at Elizabeth City to hear the result of the election, Sawyer wrote them a letter that he had won with the aid of "white ruin, melons, and gingerbread," and "what was droll, sent it by a parson who was passing at the time."
93



Page 106

COUNTRY FAIRS

           Country fairs always drew large crowds. They were established first to provide a market for produce and later, under the auspices of local agricultural societies, to encourage scientific farming. Country fairs were popular in the last decade of the eighteenth century. In the space of two years, from 1792 to 1794, the Legislature had authorized the establishment of fairs at South Washington in New Hanover County, at the plantation of James Campbell in Cumberland, at Brown-Marsh in Bladen, at Laurel Hill in Richmond, at Monroe's and the Grove in Moore County, at the courthouses of Mecklenburg and Lincoln counties, and at Rockford, Huntsville, and Shallowford in Surry County.

           In 1794 the power of establishing fairs was transferred to the county courts. They were authorized to appoint places for holding fairs in their respective counties "for the convenience of the inhabitants, so as to afford an opportunity and give encouragement to industry, by collecting the inhabitants for the purpose of exchanging, bartering and selling all such articles as they may wish or be necessitated to dispose of." 94

Commissioners, appointed by the county court, regulated and conducted the fair. A fair was usually held three days and such articles as, "horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, pork and all kinds of provisions, country produce, goods, wares & merchandize, foreign and domestic," 95 were offered for sale. The importance of these fairs as markets at the opening of the century is indicated by the numerous attempts made to regulate their procedure by legislative act. In 1802 an effort was made to exempt from executions all the produce for sale three days before and three days after a fair. 96

           These county fairs came to attrack strolling players, wire walkers, and jugglers. Drunkenness on the fair grounds was usually considerable. In time, the general disorderliness led some counties to discontinue fairs. They were labeled "sinks of iniquity" and were said to attract all the undesirable persons of the surrounding country. 97

           It is difficult to determine when the first agricultural fair was held in the State. There was an agricultural society in Edgecombe



Page 107

County as early as 1810, 98 but there is no record of its having conducted a fair. The first incorporated agricultural society in the State was the Cape-Fear Agricultural Society of New Hanover County which obtained its charter in 1813.

           A State agricultural society was organized in 1818 with John branches, and in 1822 obtained the passage of a bill for State aid so offered in 1819 for the best crops of hay, corn, wheat, and cotton; for the first discovery of plaster of Paris in North Carolina, for the best barn, and for an effectual cure for common distemper among cattle. 99

The society encouraged the organization of local branches, and in 1822 obtained the passage of a bill for state aid so that county agricultural societies might give premiums.

           The act of 1822 created an Agricultural Fund derived from the sale of vacant land and unclaimed sums in the hands of the clerks of the county courts. From this fund an amount not exceeding $5,000 a year for two years was to be distributed among the county agricultural societies in proportion to the federal population of the county. Whenever a county agricultural society was formed it was permitted to draw from the public treasury a sum equal to what the society had voluntarily raised. A Board of Agriculture was established with a membership composed of the presidents or delegates from the local societies. The Board was authorized to purchase and distribute seeds and to publish the reports of county societies.

           Only a few county societies were organized despite this encouragement, but in 1824 the plan of State aid was continued for two more years in order to give counties which had not yet established societies time to obtain their proportion of the fund. In 1825 the following agricultural societies had claimed State aid to the amount of $812: Beaufort, Chatham, Duplin, Edgecombe, Guilford, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Orange, Rowan, and Robeson, and $200 had been used for the publication of Professor Denison Olmsted's geological survey of the State. 100

The remainder of the Agricultural Fund, $6,334, was transferred to the Literary Fund.

           In December, 1824, the Beaufort County Agricultural Society had its first fair, a cattle show, which it proposed to make an annual



Page 108

occasion. Premiums ranging from two to ten dollars were offered for the best exhibits of cattle, hogs, sheep, and household manufactures. "We were much gratified at the interest evinced on the occasion," wrote an officer of the Society, "and have no doubt that the next, which will take place the ensuing Fall, will be very generally attended, and from the zeal displayed by some of the members, that in a few years our Cattle, Hogs, &c., will equal those we are so often reminded of by our brother Editors in the Northern States." 101 The Greensborough Patriot thought that the cattle show which the Guilford Agricultural Society held in Greensboro in 1827 showed the general lack of interest which farmers had in agricultural improvements. "The exhibition of Domestic Manufactures was of an excellent quality, for which the Ladies deserve much credit," said the Patriot, "we are sorry that as much cannot be said for the Farmers." 102

           Between 1813 and 1860 agricultural societies were incorporated in New Hanover, Rowan, Burke, Rutherford, Mecklenburg, Robeson, Lincoln, Beaufort, Richmond, Stokes, Macon, Buncombe, and Craven counties, and many other counties had societies which did not seek incorporation. Most of the incorporated societies conducted fairs, but until the organization of the State Agricultural Society in 1852 it was not often that one society endured long enough to have more than four or five exhibits. The State Agricultural Society was organized under the leadership of such men as Thomas Ruffin, Robert A. Hamilton, Frederick Hill, and J. W. Norwood. The Society established the custom of having an annual fair in Raleigh and encouraged the formation of county societies and fairs.

           A county fair in the fifties was usually held at the courthouse. Premiums were offered for the best displays of farm products, household manufactures, and livestock. The courtroom was usually reserved for the display of "household industries." Here were arranged such articles as vases made of perforated cardboard adorned with painted rice, worsted footstools, bonnets made from long-leaf pine, knitted hats, quilts with crimson borders, hand woven coverlets, and crocheted counterpanes. Here would also be the display of vegetables and fruits. The stock exhibit, which usually made "a tolerably fair show," was held in the courthouse



Page 109

yard or at a local livery stable. 103 In the afternoon an address would be delivered at one of the village churches, after which the crowd would reassemble at the courthouse where the premiums would be announced. From the judges' bench the president of the society would deliver a lengthy speech prior to the announcement of the winners, sometimes interrupted by an uproar on the outside from a street fight or the ridiculous performance of a passing company of "Don Quixote Invincibles."

RURAL SPORTS

           At public gatherings the rural population usually joined enthusiastically in certain favorite games. Members of the upper classes seldom took part in these sports but were often present to swell the crowd of spectators. To a newspaper correspondent of 1810 these games showed "truly primitive ingenuity and freedom worthy to characterise and distinguish the independence of our country." 104

The favorite sports were throwing the sledge, wrestling, jumping over ditches or hedges, fives, long bullets, bandy and probably football, gander pulling, slow racing, shooting, and horse racing. These games were designed to test the prowess or horsemanship of the players and always required considerable physical exertion. In 1810, for instance, a young man dropped dead while playing a game of fives at a muster near Warrenton. 105 He had previously fainted twice and his friends had urged him to stop playing; but, fearing the taunts to which such an indication of physical weakness would subject him, he remained in the field, declaring that he would finish that game if he never played another.

           Fives 106

was a variety of hand tennis played either in open court or against a high wall. It might be played with a small tightly-sewn leather ball and a fives bat, an instrument with a long handle and an oval bowl of wood, or with a larger ball which was hit entirely by hand. From two to ten persons might play the game. When it was played against a wall, a line was drawn on the wall about thirty-eight inches above the ground, another line on the ground about ten feet from the wall, and two other lines

Page 110

on each side to mark out the boundary of the court. Partners were chosen; sides were drawn; and the players tossed up for innings. The first player took the ball, struck it against the wall with his bat above the line on the wall so that it might fall without the line on the ground. His opponent then struck it and the players continued until one of them lost.

           Bandy, called also cambuc and more often goff, was the sport from which golf was developed. Joseph Strutt, writing of the pastimes of the English people at the opening of the nineteenth century, said, "It requires much room to perform this game with propriety, and therefore I presume it is rarely seen at present in the vicinity of the metropolis." 107

But the American players took their sport where they chose and were as often found swinging the bandy on the public square as in an old field near the crossroads store. Throughout the ante-bellum period, the young boys who insisted upon playing bandy in the streets and on the vacant lots in town were a constant source of irritation to law-abiding citizens. The bandy, or bat, had a straight handle made of wood about four and a half feet long with a curvature affixed to the bottom, usually faced with horn and backed with lead. The ball was "a little one," exceedingly hard, made with leather and stuffed with feathers. The game consisted in driving the ball into holes made into the ground and the player who finished the last hole first or in the fewest number of strokes was the winner. 108 When more than two persons played, each player had his bandy but only two balls were used, one belonging to each party, each player taking his turn at striking the ball. The grounds used for the sport varied in different localities. In Scotland a quarter of a mile was usually allowed between each hole, but in the villages and on the plantations of North Carolina the distances were varied to suit the space available to the players.

           Not all the ball games objected to by "Lovers of Peace," writing to the village papers of ante-bellum North Carolina, were bandy ball. Some of them undoubtedly were football, for this sport was popular in England before the reign of Edward III. The ball used was sometimes a blown bladder encased in leather but more often merely a blown bladder weighted with peas or shot so that the ball rattled when kicked about. When a match at football was agreed upon, two parties chose sides and took the field,



Page 111

standing between two goals placed at from eighty to one hundred yards apart. The number of the players was of no importance, and might even be as great as fifty, so long as there was an equal number of competitors. The teams tossed for choice of goals and the team which lost had the privilege of the kick-off. The object of each team was to drive the ball about with the feet until it was sent through the goal of the contending side. This accomplished, the game was won. The players developed many devices at attacking and defending the goals so that before a game was over there was likely to be much "hacking" and "shinning," much sprawling upon the ground, and tumultuous shouting.

           Long bullets 109

was a variant of football. It was played with a large iron ball instead of with a bladder. As in football, the players were divided into two rival groups with each defending a goal. The object was to prevent the ball, which was rolled with great force, from crossing the goal line. Unlike football, it was played with the hands as well as with the feet, and there was much tugging at the ball and upsetting rival players.

           Gander pulling was a game usually dedicated to the celebration of Easter Monday. A tough old gander with neck well oiled with grease and soft soap was hung by the heels to a convenient branch of a tree. The object of the contest was for the mounted players to wrench off the fowl's neck while riding past at full speed. The amusement for the spectators consisted in the oft-repeated failure of the riders to grasp the long-necked fowl. There was also involved the danger of contestants being pulled from their horses.

           The announcement of a gander pulling was usually made several weeks in advance, and was "anticipated with rapture by all bruisers either at fist or grog, all heavy bottomed, well balanced riders, all women who wanted a holiday, and who had a curiosity to see the weight and prowess of their sweethearts tried in open field." 110

The country folk hoarded pennies so that on the day of the contest they might buy whisky, treat companions, and stake bets on their favorite contestant.

           On the appointed day, the spectators would begin to arrive early. The whisky bottle would be circulated among friends and plenty of "the ardent" bought from a vender who served his liquors in broken tumblers, gourds, and heavy mugs. While the



Page 112

crowd waited for the event of the day, a shooting match might be arranged, the target fixed, and the contestants sight their guns. If the skill of a marksman sent the bullet straight to its aim, his reward was a hearty shout which sent his name to the skies. Another group might be absorbed in a wrestling match. Now one and now the other was on top. With muscles bulging and faces distorted, the contestants struggled, forgetting the rules of the sport long enough to draw a little blood. Suddenly one of the wrestlers would be lifted and tossed to the earth with a heavy thud, and the victor would soon be strutting proudly about receiving the hearty slaps of his friends.

           Finally it would be rumored that "the dodging, gabbling, and pulling of the great gander of the day" was about to begin. Swinging from the flexible bough of some near-by tree or from some elastic pole was the venerable fowl; opposite on the other side of the field, the glittering hat which was to be the winner's reward. The candidates appeared on their horses ready for the signal. As the gun was fired, the first in the list sped away amid loud cheering. A sentinel who had been stationed near the gander to urge the horses to greater effort would strike the animal a sharp blow as it passed. The rider would lean forward to grasp the squalling prize, only to make a wild thrust in the air, while the gander continued to sway his neck easily back and forth. Another would follow with the same success, but his place would be taken by one of more determined spirit who with firm grasp would lay hold the gander's head only to find himself unhorsed and dangling for a moment in the air. The next, who already pictured himself wearing the victor's hat, would snatch violently at the oily neck and then lie sprawling on the ground. Shouts of laughter would pierce the air, but the fallen rider would mount again ready for a better fate. I was left for one of more dextrous muscles to seize the neck and with a quick wrench carry off the gory head. 111

           Amateur horse racing or horse running, as this particular sport was called, was another favorite and dangerous contest. An ordinary road was sufficient to serve as a race track. In case a horse left his side of the road the rider automatically lost the race, and this danger was always present, for the horses had seldom been trained. Not infrequently the horse ran into a tree, giving the rider such a blow as sometimes to cause his death. But contestants



Page 113

for a race could be found at any time for a quart of whisky. Slow racing was a more popular sport at a general gathering than quick running, for it was a never failing source of merriment. As described by a writer in 1810 slow running united the strange excellence of trying whose horse shall be slowest while the rider is fastest:

           The social life of the rural population gave the characteristic tone to the whole society, for North Carolina was largely a rural state. Two distinct types of social conditions might be found among the inhabitants of the country with each shading off into numerous intermediate conditions. The one was characterized by the formality and refinement of the planter family which had back of it several generations of good breeding; the other by the rude simplicity of the small farmer. The planter and the farmer shared in common, however, certain public social centers, such as the tavern, the country store, the church, the schoolhouse, and the lodge. They were often to be found rubbing elbows at public gatherings, but on such occasions the small farmers greatly outnumbered the planters just as the proportion of small farmers far outnumbered the proportion of planters in the total population of the State. The ambition of all those who lived in the country was to take a trip to town as often as possible. The planter with his fine horses and carriages might frequently visit the near-by village or he might even maintain a home there. The farmer, on the other hand, was able to make the trip only when he had produce to sell or when a public holiday gave him an excuse to leave his work. The social life of the village had many rural aspects which were accentuated by this close association between country and town.

Table of Contents

Previous: CHAPTER III SOCIAL CLASSES

Next: CHAPTER V THE TOWN