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

Johnson, Guion Griffis, 1900- 1989


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           A TRAVELER in North Carolina in the ante-bellum period was likely to notice no great difference in the manner in which the country folk and the townspeople spent their leisure. "The generality of the towns are so inconsiderable that in England they would scarcely acquire the appellation of villages," wrote a Briton after a tour of North Carolina shortly before the American Revolution. 1

Ante-bellum North Carolina was a civitas sine urbibus. It had no business centers which could compare with Petersburg, Richmond, Norfolk, or Charleston. Only two towns in the State had a population of more than five thousand at the close of the period; and, of the twenty-five towns listed in the Census of 1860, thirteen had a population of less than a thousand.

           The following table shows the size of the towns in the State as given by the census reports of 1850 and 1860:



  Population Number of towns
Number of towns
Less than 500 5 4
500 1,000 11 9
1,000 2,000 4 6
2,000 3,000 2 2
3,000 4,000    
4,000 5,000 3 2
5,000 10,000 1 2
Total   26 25

           In 1860 Wilmington and New Bern had populations of more than five thousand; Raleigh and Fayetteville, of more than four thousand; Charlotte, Beaufort, Edenton, Elizabeth City, Henderson, Hendersonville, Kinston, Salisbury, Tarboro, Warrenton, and

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Washington of more than a thousand. All the rest had less than a thousand, scarcely deserving "the appellation of villages."

           Ambitious North Carolinians bitterly pointed out that the State was merely a crossroads between Virginia and South Carolina. North Carolina, mourned a Legislative committee reporting on a bill to incorporate the Mecklenburg Gold Mining Company in 1830, was "A State without foreign commerce, for want of seaports, or a staple; without internal communications by rivers, roads, or canals; without a cash home market for any article of agricultural product; without manufactures; in short, without any object to which native industry and active enterprise could be directed, or which could offer a stimulus to exertion." 3

In the antebellum period North Carolina did not possess the economic factors which tend to build large towns; nevertheless, there was a slow process toward urbanization underway. It is noticeable first in the period between 1815 and 1825 during the fervor for canal and road building which Archibald D. Murphey ushered in. The number of hamlets and crossroads communities in the State receiving postal service had risen from 82 at the opening of the century to 301 in 1823. 4 The next movement toward urbanization began about 1835 when the State first launched its program of railroad building, and another movement began about 1845 when the State experienced a period of industrialization. 5


           The first towns in North Carolina were erected at points convenient to navigation; then, as the frontiersman pushed westward, at the juncture of trails leading west, north, and south. Thus Warrenton, Hillsboro, Salisbury, Charlotte, Statesville, Morganton, and Asheville all came into existence. Wilmington derived its importance from its location near the mouth of the Cape Fear, but the sand-choked inlet prevented its being an excellent natural harbor. Added to this was the fact that the port was denied an extensive back country to feed its commerce. New Bern was located near the mouth of the Neuse River and thus was the market town for the region watered by the river and its tributaries. Fayetteville, the third largest town in the State in 1860, was located at the fall line of the Cape Fear and derived its importance from the

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fact that it was the only convenient market in the State for the produce of the back country. Raleigh, legislated into existence in 1792, had become the fourth largest town in the State by 1860, not from its advantageous situation, but from the fact that it was the State capital.

           Most of the towns in the State were significant only as being the seats of justice of their respective counties. It was convenient for a man to buy and sell at the place where he also attended to his public business. In 1852 a petition to the Legislature from Statesville declared that "the Court House and the necessary offices form the nucleus around which every inland town of our state is built. Around this nucleus, arise Hotels, Retail Stores, Mechanic's Shops of various kinds, Physician's and Lawyer's Offices, and Mansion Houses and Churches." 6

The location of the county seat became, therefore, a matter of rivalry with the result that the courthouse was sometimes located at a sterile and unfrequented spot.

           In 1821, for instance, the seat of Surry County was Rockford. The town was located on a hill, the level surface of which was perhaps not more than an acre. It was surrounded on the north, east, and west by still higher and more rugged hills, while on the south it was bounded by a narrow strip of low ground which separated the town from the Yadkin River by some two hundred yards. A few persons had bought up all the town lots, but this was of small consequence, for there was no encouragement to settle on such a forbidding site. Only three families made their homes there. 7

The Yadkin River divided the county into a northern and southern section, the southern portion being the more populous and enterprising. Yet Rockford was situated in the northern section, because the hill on which the courthouse was located marked the center of the county.

           In 1822 Davidson County was so determined to have its courthouse located in the exact center of the county that the Legislature commissioned President Joseph Caldwell and Professor Elisha Mitchell of the University of North Carolina to determine that point with mathematical nicety. "The center of the County it seems," said President Caldwell in making his report, "must first be precisely ascertained, and upon that spot precisely the Courthouse must be built; as though one or two or even five miles were

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really of so much consequence as necessarily to decide a question of this kind, against all other advantages and considerations." He would urge that a county seat be located upon "a spot recommended at once by the quality of the soil, the pleasantness of the site, the prospect of health, and the opportunities of business" so that the country folk on visiting the town might return home "with improved feelings, minds enlarged, information increased, their various business in courts and stores finished to their minds, and their publick spirit gratified and excited by the scene of general activity and prosperity." Instead, the county seats of North Carolina were places of "wildness and rudeness, intemperance, ferocity, gaming, licentiousness, and malicious litigation." 8

           Despite internal improvements and the beginning of the cotton mill industry, the towns of the State, except for a few favored ones, grew slowly. The rate at which the population increased in the four largest towns is given in the following table:




Town 1840 1850 1860
Wilmington 4,744 7,264 9,552
New Bern 3,690 4,681 5,432
Fayetteville 4,285 4,646 4,790
Raleigh 2,244 4,581 4,780

           The completion of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad in 1840 doubled Raleigh's population in the next decade. The railroads terminating in Wilmington helped to double that town's population by 1860. The Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad with Beaufort Harbor as its terminal put New Bern clearly in the second rank by 1860. But Fayetteville had been left off the main railroad arteries. As early as 1819 Archibald D. Murphey had written to Thomas Ruffin: "I thought it as plain as Truth itself, some time Ago, . . . that Fayetteville would become an insignificant Village, if Improvements were not speedily made for bringing the Trade of the Deep and Haw Rivers, and of the

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Pedee, to the Cape Fear. . . . I fear . . . that the place will go to Ruin. . . . Mr. Conty has completed his Survey of the Lumber River Canal, and laid out the Route of the Canal. . . . His Report is favourable, very favourable. His estimates of the expence are $372,000. Would Fayetteville do this Work, and open the Cape Fear to Haywood, We might concentrate at this place one half of the Trade of the State." 10 But almost a half million dollars was too staggering a sum for North Carolinians to raise for internal improvements in 1819. Fayetteville continued to remain at a standstill despite the fact that the town entered feverishly into road building in the late forties. In the last twenty years of the period its population increased by only 505.

           Kinston is another example of the struggle which the North Carolina villages had during the ante-bellum period. On a high bluff some twenty-five feet above the Neuse River, in what is now Lenoir County, a few families had taken up land prior to 1762 and had designated the place as Atkin's Banks. In 1762 the General Assembly authorized the laying out of a town there by the name of Kingston. It was a healthful situation, high enough to escape the "miasma" of the adjacent swamps and abundantly supplied with fresh water. For a while the village flourished and there was hope of building a prosperous town which would attract the trade of farmers along the upper Neuse and its tributary creeks. But New Bern was more favorably situated at the mouth of the river and many years before had a similar dream of drawing the trade of the Neuse River country. Lenoir County, too, soon became involved in feuds which divided the population into contending parties, nullified legal authority, and jeopardized personal safety. 11

           In 1800 Kinston had a population of 107. 12

In 1810 it was still the only town in Lenoir County, but it contained only ten families. The courthouse was a small wooden structure with a courtroom and offices for the clerk and recorder. Other buildings were in the same style, for, as a correspondent of the Raleigh Star explained, the ambition of the people seemed not to run toward elegant homes, "but more to the spirit of accumulation." During

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the fever for canal building about 1815, Kinston again dreamed of being a commercial town, and again New Bern drew most of the trade. By 1850 the population had increased to only 455. But the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad brought a wonderful change. During the next decade Kinston's population almost trebled, reaching 1,333 in 1860.


           The center of each town was usually the courthouse with the stocks and whipping post occupying a prominent place in the courthouse yard. 13

The town as a rule had but one street worthy of the name. At one end, just opposite the courthouse, were the stores and shops; while spread out along the length of the street were the homes of the most prosperous citizens set a few yards back in groves of trees. Every self-respecting town of at least five hundred inhabitants contained a tavern, five or six retail stores, a blacksmith's shop, and perhaps a shoe shop, a church or two, and a male or female academy, "situated eligibly, and neatly appointed, upon lots purchased by the citizens." 14

           The larger towns usually had a public market where country produce was brought for sale. When this was not the case, the courthouse yard or the street in front of the courthouse served the purpose. Some towns, such as Raleigh, Fayetteville, and Wilmington, boasted a city hall, the first floor of which sometimes housed the town market. A center of activity in every village was the grog shop or tippling house, as the local saloon was called. Each town also had its public water pump located conspicuously at a central point to serve as a water supply for those who did not have private wells, as a watering trough for horses, and as a precaution against fire.

           A few towns in the State were built according to some plan, notably New Bern, Salem, and Raleigh, but most villages were left to grow at will. Baron Christoph von Graffenried plotted New Bern so that it would have two main streets, one running from the Neuse River toward the forest and the other at right angles to it, intersecting the narrow strip of land between the Trent and the Neuse. The church was to be placed at the intersection of the two streets and thus command the town. He also planned for

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two other streets to follow the shores of the rivers. They were to be broad and the lots three acres each "since in America they do not like to live crowded." 15 The Tuscaroras sadly put an end to Graffenried's planning, but the town was later built upon the same large outline. Today it is sometimes called the "Athens of North Carolina." 16 When Bishop Asbury visited there in 1802, he wrote, "Newbern is a trading and growing town; there are seven hundred or a thousand houses already built, and the number is yearly increased by less and greater additions, among which are some respectable brick edifices; the new courthouse, truly so; neat and elegant; another famous house, said to be designed for the Masonic or theatrical gentlemen; it might make a most excellent church." 17

           Count Zinzendorf drew up in London the plan for Salem, a circle with an eight-cornered church in the center. Eight streets were to radiate from the church, "each with twenty town lots, to be interspersed with gardens and rows of shade trees in double circles." 18

But when the town was actually laid out, Count Zinzendorf's plan was obviously impracticable. Instead, it had a main street, sixty feet wide, with six streets each thirty-three feet wide, crossing at right angles. When Elkannah Watson toured North Carolina in 1786 he found that Salem "comprehended about forty dwellings, and occupies a pleasant situation." Every house "was supplied with water, brought in conduits a mile and a half." The Moravian chapel was "a spacious room in a large edifice, adorned with that neat and simple elegance, which was a peculiar trait of these brethren and their Quaker neighbors." 19

           The builders of these little North Carolina towns left many of the forest trees standing so that the mire of streets and the shabbiness of unpainted buildings were often mitigated by graceful branches of pine and oak. The residents, too, shaded their lawns with elms and embowered their houses with flowering shrubs. A Connecticut visitor described ante-bellum Hillsboro as the finest village he had seen in the South. "Several beautiful residences," he said, "with large gardens, full of flowers and fruit trees, crown

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the eminences around it. If the houses had a new covering of paint--and the yards were a little more neat, and there were fewer blacks, you might suppose from external appearances, that you were in a New England village." He also thought Greensboro "a very pretty place" and Charlotte "a very beautiful village . . . formerly famous for its splendid dinners and evening parties." 20

           In 1820 a British traveler described Raleigh as a town of wide streets, "which all terminate in the surrounding forest." "The white frame-houses, with their neat Venetian blinds, which the heat renders almost indespensable to the smallest house, give the town a clean and interesting appearance." 21

Near the close of the period a northern journalist found Raleigh to be "a pleasing town--the streets wide and lined with trees, and many white wooden mansions, all having little courtyards of flowers and shrubbery around them. The State-House is, in every way, a noble building, constructed of brownish-gray granite, in Grecian style." 22

           In 1828 a British visitor thought Fayetteville "a very pretty and fluorishing town" with excellent tavern accommodations, 23

but in 1837 a native of Tarboro visited the town for the first time and was disappointed in the appearance of the place because it still bore traces of the fire which had almost destroyed it in 1831. "A traveller forming his opinion of the town from the Country he traverses and in which it is settled," he wrote, "will be astonished that such a place is sustained and he would almost come to the same Conclusion with the Dutchman, that 'they lives by cheatin one another.'" 24 Wilmington early attracted the favorable comment of visitors. Many of the buildings, wrote one, are "brick, two and three stories high with double piazas, which make a good appeara[nce]." 25

           Although the towns did not present scenes of bustling enterprise and thrift, their quiet charm led visitors to think them pleasing despite the general air of neglect. The white wooden mansions which attracted northern travelers were the homes of the prosperous lawyers, planters, and officeholders. A planter whose land lay near a village not infrequently made his home in town.

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This class of resident held much of the town property in Eastern North Carolina.

           The towns of Western North Carolina presented a somewhat different appearance. There, houses tended to be smaller, and the inhabitants made less of their gardens. In 1802 F. A. Michaux, a French scientist, described Morganton as containing

Lincolnton, he said, "is formed of the junction of forty houses, surrounded by the woods like all the small towns of the interior." By 1840 Lincolnton had become "a beautiful and flourishing village," with the property "greatly divided, and owned principally by hard working mechanics, whose whole substance is invested in the houses and lots." 27 The principal charm of these western towns lay in their being situated among the hills and streams of the Blue Ridge, but they also boasted mansion houses and broad shaded streets.


           Towns were established in colonial North Carolina by legislative act and by royal charter. 28

After the Revolution a town appealed to the Legislature for incorporation. The act of incorporation delegated specific rights and privileges to certain local officials. The type of government granted the incorporated town varied in detail according to the demands of the petitioning town. During the ante-bellum period scarcely a Legislature assembled that was not called upon to settle by private acts innumerable questions relating to local town government. As a remedy for this situation, there was codified 29 a general law relating to the government of incorporated towns, but even today a town can make no important

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change in its form of government until it first obtains from the Legislature an amendment to its charter.

           The General Assembly, by act of 1855, vested power to make by-laws and regulations for the government of a town in a mayor and commission made up of not more than seven nor less than three citizens of the town. These officers were to be elected annually by ballot by all free white males who had paid the annual tax imposed by the town commission. To be eligible to the office of commissioner one must have possessed for at least one year a freehold or a leasehold in real estate situated within the town. The mayor was given the powers of a justice of the peace to issue process, to hear and determine all cases that might arise under the town ordinances, to enforce penalties, and to execute the laws made by the commissioners. An appeal from his judgment to the superior court was allowed as in the case of a judgment rendered by a justice of the peace.

           Most of the important towns of the State had been incorporated previous to the passage of this act. Their charters show the tendency to place the control of the city government in the hands of the landed class, for in many instances a property qualification was required both for voting and holding office. The government of Raleigh is interesting as an example of the change which was gradually taking place in town government during the antebellum period. An act of 1795 placed the government of Raleigh in a commission of seven persons who were appointed by the General Assembly. 30

The commissioners were not required to be residents, and it is known that four of them were not, although they did own lots within the corporate limits. The commission was given the power to elect a treasurer, clerk, and intendant of police. The clerk was to hold office during good behavior and the other two officers for a period of one year. This form of government continued until 1803 when the Legislature granted the town a regular charter. Under the new law seven commissioners and an intendant of police were to be elected annually by all freemen who were residents and owned a lot within the corporate limits.

           Dissatisfaction soon arose, however, and the charge was made that those living on Halifax and Fayetteville streets monopolized

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all the offices and the money arising from the city tax. The General Assembly, accordingly, divided the town into three wards, giving the eastern ward the right to elect three commissioners; the western, one commissioner; and the middle ward, five commissioners. The taxes of each ward were to be spent therein by the respective commissioners. This law was a frank concession to property and the gentry class, for a census taken the next year indicated that the eastern ward outnumbered the middle ward by fifty-seven white polls, while the middle ward possessed the preponderance of slaves. 31 The plan of having three distinct boards of commissioners to expend the town tax proved unwieldy, and a law was passed in 1813 establishing one governing body of seven commissioners elected by the three wards, with the middle ward again having the greatest number. 32

           Some friction continued throughout the ante-bellum period. It found expression in a quarrel over the erection of a new city hall in 1840 and in a demand in 1856 for an entirely new set of commissioners. 33

In this year a resident opposing the long supremacy of the middle ward, declared through the North Carolina Standard that the present situation was insufferable: Despite such protests, new elections brought little change, and the powerful middle ward continued to control Raleigh's civic life.

           In Wilmington the aristocracy also dominated the town commission. Before 1843 the government was vested in five commissioners elected biennially. 35

In 1842, however, a group representing the popular element obtained the passage of a bill, without the knowledge of the large property-holders, providing for the annual

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election of seven commissioners. 36 Upon learning of this act, a town meeting was called which passed a resolution protesting against "all interference on the part of the Legislature of the State with the internal regulations and public government" of the town without the advice and consent of its citizens. John McRae, chairman of a committee to petition the Legislature, gave as the chief reason for objecting to the new law the fact that it provided for frequent elections. "By the frequent recurrence of said elections a partisan spirit is ever excited," he said, "social feuds are engendered, and the harmony of the community seriously if not lastingly disturbed." 37 The act, however, was not repealed despite an effort to do so the following year. During most of the period the justices of peace of New Hanover County Court elected Wilmington's mayor, or magistrate, but in 1850 the Legislature made this office elective by the town residents. 38

           The government of Salem was unique in that it was under the control of the Moravian Congregation until the act of incorporation which was passed by the General Assembly of 1856-1857. The Salem Congregation Diacony had been established in 1771. 39

It assumed all responsibility in the erection of buildings in Salem and leased from the Unitas Fratrum a tract of 3,158 acres for the purpose of maintaining the township.

           In 1826, some 2,485 acres of this tract were sold to the Diacony. Under this system no individual could own a house in Salem and only a member of the Moravian Church could lease one. Thus all the municipal affairs of the town were controlled by the Congregation Council of the local church. But with the erection of Forsyth County in 1849 and the building of a courthouse near the town, it was no longer advisable for the church monopoly to be maintained. Accordingly, the Council voted November 17, 1856, to abolish the policy of restricting leaseholders to members of the Moravian Church, and a few days later a town meeting was held and a petition drawn asking for a charter from the General Assembly. 40

[40 MS in Legislative Papers, 1856-1857. The resolutions of incorporation were introduced at the town meeting by Francis Fries. They were in part as follows:]

["Whereas, the authorities that have hitherto had the supervision of the spiritual welfare of the Moravian Congregation in Salem, & at the same time also, of all the municipal affairs of the Town, have for some time become satisfied, that a separation of these mixed duties would be advantageous to the spiritual as well as temporal prosperity of this community, & have therefore recently abolished the old system of government; and]

["Whereas under the new order of things, any one, without regard to religious qualifications, may become a citizen of the place, buy lots in fee simple, and not be subject to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction hitherto exercised; and]

["Whereas, under the peculiar lease by which all the citizens of Salem heretofore held their lots, the authorities had power to make and enforce rules for preventing nuisances, & for preserving the health of the citizens, to keep in repair the streets & bridges in town, & make improvements where necessary, to care for lighting our streets in the night, to procure a sufficient nightwatch, & generally to make such rules & regulations for the better government of the town as were deemed necessary,--but by abolishing the old system, the former authorities no longer claim the right to exercise these powers;--Therefore resolved,]

["That in the opinion of this Meeting, it is highly important, that . . . powers such as those above enumerated should vest in some body."]

As long as the town was under the jurisdiction of

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the Congregation Council, it was generally conceded to be one of the best regulated towns in ante-bellum North Carolina.


           The functions of a town commission varied with the character and interests of the commissioners as well as with the type of the community, but there was a general complaint that the duties of the governing body were performed indifferently. Citizens of Raleigh, for instance, frequently accused their commission of following a do-nothing policy, but in 1858 residents of Trenton complained that their commission was enforcing the laws too rigorously. 41

           The general act of 1855 gave town commissions power to levy taxes on real estate, retail liquor dealers, shows or exhibitions charging an entrance fee, on dogs, and on hogs, horses, and cattle running at large. They were also empowered to appoint a town constable and fix the salaries of the town officers; to establish and regulate public markets; to prevent nuisances and safe-guard health; to keep streets and bridges in repair; and to regulate the quality and weight of bakers' bread.

           Nearly every town commission had four standing committees: a committee appointed to attend "the due repairing of the streets"; another, "the keeping in order the Public Pumps"; still another, "the repairs of the Grave Yard"; and a fourth, "for classing the Citizens as Watchmen." 42

A commission might also, on occasion, appoint a committee to examine into the practicability of conveying

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water to the town in pipes; it might encourage the planting of trees, purchase a new fire engine, or pass an ordinance for the better observance of the Sabbath. It might even become daring enough to forbid owners to allow their hogs to run at large. In case of an epidemic of cholera or small pox, the commission was always prompt to order the citizens to use lime about their premises and to have their privies cleaned. In some cases, as, for instance, in Raleigh, Fayetteville, and Asheville, the commission appointed boards of health.

           In an attempt to obtain the coöperation of the residents in the execution of an ordinance, a commission might call a town meeting, but the town meeting in North Carolina did not function in the New England sense. For instance, in 1806 the commissioners of Raleigh, wishing to divide the citizens into a night patrol, called a town meeting before passing an ordinance to that effect. Whereupon, the meeting resolved the measure to be inexpedient and "recommended it to the city Commissioners to appoint two proper persons as a Patrol, to designate their duties, and allow them such a salary, to be paid out of the city taxes, as will make it their interest to perform them." 43

Wilmington had a council composed of mayor, recorder, aldermen, and the freeholders. The consent of the freeholders was necessary before the commission could fix the tax rate; freeholders took part in debates on other subjects; and even served on committees. 44

           Most of the ordinances which a town commission passed had to do with police regulations. "We are glad to find that the Board has determined to use a greater degree of energy than heretofore in maintaining good order in the city," wrote the Raleigh Register, of February 1, 1822. "For this purpose several Ordinances have been passed, which direct the apprehension and punishment of vagrants, gamblers, swindlers, prostitute women, and disorderly negroes. The Constable is also instructed to use greater vigilance than heretofore in the exercise of his duty. . . . The City Watch will hereafter be set at nine, instead of ten o'clock at night, and the Constable is directed to patrol the streets till nine." The most frequent type of town ordinance had to do with "the better observance of the Sabbath" and the control of the Negro population.

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For "keeping the Lord's Day holy," town commissions usually made it illegal to watch cock fights within the city limits or to play games, such as bandy, ten pins, long balls, or fives. They required that all shops be kept closed, that grog should not be sold during church services, and, in most instances, that all vehicles of transportation, such as boats, wagons, carts, drays, and later railroad cars, not be loaded or unloaded during the day.

           Ordinances relating to Negroes greatly restricted that class of the town's population. 45

The curfew, which was rung in most towns during the first half of the ante-bellum period, was especially designed as a warning for the Negroes to clear the streets. In 1807 a respectable citizen of Edenton called on the town commission to establish a curfew there and "to select a sufficient number of vigilant and trusty men" to enforce its observance. "Were this effected," wrote the citizen, "and notice given every night, by ringing of the bell, at a proper hour, that all negroes should be at their places of abode and all noise and riots cease, . . . good order, peace and decorum, would reign in our streets, and our midnight slumbers be undisturbed by the rude din of noise and rioting, or the distressing apprehensions of fire and other casualties." 46 Even when there was no curfew, town patrolmen were required to stop Negroes on the streets after about ten o'clock at night. If the Negro were free, he might show his badge; if slave, his pass and thus escape punishment. Otherwise he was subject to ten stripes well laid on. Slaves could not buy or sell without written permission from their owners, and all found carrying packages or jugs were stopped and required to show their permits.

           In some towns, especially in Edenton, Fayetteville, Wilmington, and Washington, the free Negroes were required to register with the town clerk and to wear cloth badges on their left shoulders bearing the word FREE. Raleigh would not permit a free Negro to reside within the city limits unless he had obtained permission from the commission.

           It was the Negro population which led most towns to adopt a night watch. In some places the constables patroled the streets; in others the citizens were divided into patrols, each with its captain, taking turns at watching the town; in still others, the town commission employed a salaried watchman. Even in towns where

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the citizens took turns at patrol work, some residents hired substitutes. In 1802 "Quandry" asked of the Raleigh Register why the commissioners "do not appoint a sufficient number of patrollers so as to patrole the streets every night, in order to discover and suppress fire and robbery." 47 In 1808 "Mentor" announced in the Edenton Gazette that the inhabitants of that town, "roused by a just sense of their danger, have established a nightly patrol, who perambulate the streets, and cry every hour of the night." 48

           To have lighted the village streets at night might have been almost as effective as a patrol, but most towns did not take this step until late in the period because of the fire hazard. It was not until 1830 that the commissioners of Raleigh provided a few lamps for lighting Fayetteville Street, but in a few years the town was again wrapped in darkness. In 1835 the Register rejoiced that the commissioners had resolved to light the streets again so that "the nocturnal traveller, in his perambulations through the town, can no longer say 'Silence how dead! darkness how profound!' " 49

Charlotte installed street lamps in 1853. The commission appointed a committee to buy twelve lamps and posts and instructed the constable to buy a barrel of oil. The town watch washed the lamps "once a week during the dark of the moon." 50 But after the Charlotte Gas Light Company had laid pipes in 1858 the commission contracted for eight lamps which were to burn from twilight until ten-thirty at a cost of $600 a year. 51 Wilmington also had gas lights in the closing years of the period, having depended previously upon whale oil lamps. 52 When New Bern lighted up with gas on September 15, 1859, "the Light Infantry and the Elm City Cadets were out on the occasion." 53

           The inhabitants of every town in the State considered it an inalienable right to allow their stock, and especially their hogs, to roam at liberty through the streets, and despite ordinances to the contrary, many of them exercised this right even to 1860. As early as 1740 Edenton obtained a legislative act permitting any person in the town to impound swine running at large. Such an animal was to be sold and the money given to the poor. More than

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seventy years later, however, the Edenton Gazette was reminding the sheriff "that there are a vast number of fine fat Hogs at large again in our streets, to the great annoyance of the citizens generally, . . ." 54 In 1852 when the commission of Murfreesboro sought to extend the town limits, those who would be included in the new incorporation fought the measure on the ground that "if we were incorporated [it] would exclude hogs from running in the road." 55 In 1851, however, one of the reasons that Lenoir sought incorporation was "the unrestrained passing: of cattle, Hogs, and other noxious animals through the streets [which] render[s] our village disagreeable and unpleasant, particularly in the winter season." 56 But in 1858 Trenton split in two factions over "arbitrary and tyrannical municipal laws" which prevented cattle from running at large. 57 As late as 1856 a northern visitor in Raleigh regretted the singular negligence or more singular economy of the state which permitted the capitol square to be used as a hog pasture. 58


           An important duty of the town commission was to keep the streets cleared for traffic and the sidewalks in reasonable repair. Thus residents of Lenoir, seeking incorporation in 1851, said: " . . . for want of an act of incorporation under which your Petitioners would be able to pass by-laws to Govern their village, they labor under many inconveniences, . . . Owing to the peculiar construction of the Town, and narrowness of the streets, they are subjected to many nuisances, such as wood piles . . . and the difficulty of keeping up the streets by the ordinary system of keeping up roads, . . ." 59

           Most town charters gave the commission authority "for laying out, regulating, paving, lighting, amending, repairing and cleansing the streets, lanes, alleys, wharves, and docks, of the said town; for ascertaining and defining the lines and levels thereof; for fixing and constructing drains and common sewers; for preventing, and removing nuisances and obstructions in the streets, lanes, alleys,

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wharves, and docks." 60 Town commissions usually passed specific ordinances forbidding residents to place wood piles on the sidewalks or in the streets so as to block traffic, forbidding them to dump clay or pour washings from their kitchens or shops in the streets, and requiring them to drain stagnant water off their lots.

           The ante-bellum town followed various methods of keeping the streets and sidewalks in repair. A great many copied the county method by appointing an overseer whose duty it was to call out the male residents to work the streets. Other commissions let out the work under contract, and thus one might find in the local newspapers advertisements such as follows: "The working of the streets and repairing of the sidewalks in the town of Oxford, will be let to the lowest bidder on Saturday the 29th inst. at the Court House door. The contractors will be required to put them in good order forthwith and keep them so until the 1st January next." 61

In case the streets were let out under contract the commission levied a poll and property tax for the purpose. In some cases, as for instance, Chapel Hill, the village streets were regarded as a part of the county roads and worked accordingly. 62

           The upkeep of the streets and sidewalks was one of the chief causes of friction in the ante-bellum town. This was the subject of the protracted controversy in Raleigh previously mentioned between the middle ward and the eastern and western wards, finally ending in a lawsuit in which the Supreme Court declared that the omission to repair streets on the part of the commission was an indictable offense. 63

Earlier than this Fayetteville had taken its fight over street repairs to the Supreme Court, 64 but a mere court decision was not sufficient to insure passable streets. Early in the period the commissioners had ordered ditches dug on the sides to keep streets drained and to prevent the collection of water on the sidewalks and had ordered householders not to throw filth into them. But in 1833 "Health" appealed to the Fayetteville Observer, saying: "You will please be good enough to say (through the medium of your paper) to the Commissioners of Wards No. 3 and 4, that if the nuisances in the Ditches, particularly on the back Streets, be not removed forthwith, we will tell them of it in an

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audible voice in January next. The Ditches on Donaldson, Mumford and Old Streets, are in a horrid condition, . . ." 65

           As early as 1824 the commissioners of Charlotte ordered the sidewalks on Trade and Tryon streets raised above the street level and centered with stone or hewed timber and "posted with post oak, . . . or instead of posts, good live trees. . . ." 66

In 1854 Charlotte let a contract for macadamizing the public square and an eighteen-foot strip on Trade and Tryon streets from the square to the first cross street. 67 By 1837 Wilmington had paved some of its sidewalks and in 1856 let a contract for paving North Water Street with stone. 68


           The danger of fire was always present in the ante-bellum town, for most of the buildings were wooden structures and the water supply was often inadequate to meet the emergency of a conflagration. Every town in the State at one time or another suffered great loss by fire, and some of the larger towns, such as Wilmington, Fayetteville, and Raleigh, several times were burned almost to the ground.

           Protection against fire was one of the most important duties of a town commission. With this in view, commissions generally forbade wooden chimneys and chimneys of mortar and clay, permitting only those of brick or stone. They required that chimneys be built according to certain specifications, as, for instance, three or four feet above the ridge of the roof and only upon stone or brick hearths. Some commissions required that the village chimneys be swept clean from top to bottom once a month or even as often as every two weeks. When stoves came into use, commissions often required that written permission be obtained before the stove was put up, and they passed regulations concerning the manner in which stove pipes should be inserted. They also restricted the areas in which blacksmith shops and bakeries might be erected and passed ordinances concerning the emptying of ashes and the method of carrying fire through the town.

           Before fire companies came into general use in the thirties, fire

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fighting engaged all residents. Edenton required each householder to have his own ladder kept against the house, and New Bern required not only a ladder but two leather buckets. As early as 1745 Wilmington obtained a law authorizing a tax levy for the purchase of a fire engine, but it was not until 1755 that the town bought a "water engine." Other towns, notably New Bern and Edenton, also obtained laws looking toward the purchase of fire engines but the century opened without adequate fire protection for most towns in the State.

           In 1802 "Quandry" asked the town commissioners through the columns of the Raleigh Register, "Whether 'tis better for every Inhabitant of the City to protect his own Property from fire and robbery or for a number to join, and by turns, protect the whole?" 69

A few months before, a group of citizens in Fayetteville had organized a fire company and bought an engine by private subscription. Shortly afterward, a fire occurred which threatened the entire town, and the company rendered such efficient service that it attracted attention throughout the State.

           The Fayetteville company assessed each member twenty-five cents every three months until a sufficient amount had been accumulated to purchase an engine. 70

At regular intervals the company had fire drills under the direction of captains. Each member provided himself with "two leather buckets, two Osnaburg bags, and a suitable hat" which were to be kept hanging within easy reach in his house or store. Newspapers at once caught at the idea, and urged every town in the State to organize against this "devouring element."

           In 1806 the General Assembly passed the first law authorizing the formation of "fire engine companies," giving Wilmington and New Bern authority to exempt members of their fire companies from militia duty. In 1820 the Assembly renewed this privilege in behalf of Wilmington and New Bern and extended the benefit to Fayetteville and Tarboro. Five years later, however, the Assembly repealed the act because fire companies had "served as a screen for those wishing to escape military duty." 71

By 1830 the Fayetteville Observer was earnestly calling for the reorganization of the fire companies. Since the abandonment of the Fayetteville

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company in 1825, insurance premiums had risen so high as to be almost prohibitive. 72

           In the meantime other towns were proceeding slowly to protect themselves against fire. Usually they did not feel the necessity of providing against the danger until a fire had actually occurred. After two attempts had been made to set fire to Plymouth in 1808, a patrol was formed by the inhabitants which walked the streets and cried out every hour of the night. 73

In Edenton a large property owner bought a fire engine of his own and on one occasion saved the town from destruction. 74 In other towns the commissions were usually contented with passing an ordinance that the citizens provide themselves with ladders and buckets. 75 In 1820 a correspondent of the Hillsborough Recorder pointed out in alarm that winter was approaching without any provisions having been made to guard against fire. "We have not an engine, fire-hook, or pump," he said. "If a central building should take fire and make headway before discovered, what human effort, under our present circumstances, would prevent the entire destruction of the most valuable part of our town?" 76 He suggested the organization of a fire company which he thought could be trained for service in a month if the members practiced every Saturday night.

           At this time Wilmington, New Bern, Fayetteville, and Tarboro already had fire companies, as it has been pointed out. By 1826 Raleigh, Lincolnton, and Washington had companies whose members were exempted from militia duty. In 1829 the Legislature extended this privilege to members of all fire companies in the State. 77

Some of the incorporated companies had such fanciful names as the Neptune Fire Company of Washington and the Atlantic Fire Company of New Bern. In 1858 the Legislature permitted the town commission of Tarboro to exempt the fire company from the payment of town taxes to the amount of twelve dollars a year for two years, and in the same year exempted the fire department of Washington from jury duty.

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           In 1785 Salem bought fire engines in Europe, but most of the engines in use during the ante-bellum period were procured from the North. They were worked by hand and ordinarily carried about two or three hundred feet of hose. 78

After the disastrous fire in Fayetteville in 1831 members of the Boston fire department presented Fayetteville with a "Boston built Fire Engine." 79

           By the forties most of the large towns in the State were boasting of "the city fire department." In 1848 Fayetteville had two engine companies and a hook and ladder company, all made up of slaves, twenty-five for each engine and ten for the hook and ladder. Each slave wore a glazed cap with the number of the engine to which he belonged conspicuously marked on the front. 80

About this time Wilmington's fire engines were also operated by slaves and on the occasion of a fire appreciative citizens plied them generously with grog. 81 In the last decade of the ante-bellum period Wilmington had four fire companies. 82

           Fire engines were usually furnished with water from the public wells, but in case of a large fire this supply was inadequate. At one time twelve barrels of vinegar were used in Raleigh when all water in the near-by wells had been exhausted.

           Municipal water-works systems developed more as a means of fire fighting than as a convenience to the residents. In September, 1818, the Raleigh commissioners announced that after three years of work the city water system had at last been completed. ". . . the city is furnished with a regular and constant supply of Water," ran the announcement, "which fills three Reservoirs placed under ground in different parts of the City, containing about 8000 Gallons, besides supplying several Hydrants in Convenient situation, affording Water sufficient for culinary and other purposes, and a supply, always in readiness, in cases of Fire." The water was conveyed in wooden pipes from springs nearly a mile and a half distant. After running about a half mile, the water entered a propelling engine worked by a water wheel which was turned by a stream from Rocky Branch. The water wheel kept four forcing

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pumps in constant motion which raised the water into a tower from which it descended into a reservoir in the State-House yard. 83

           But the system was not so successful as the commissioners had expected. In droughts the springs ran low, and in time the wooden conduits decayed. In 1852 a correspondent to the Raleigh Star urged the town commission to pass an ordinance requiring every person living on Fayetteville Street to have a water pump on his lot, for without such a provision, the town was unprepared to combat a general conflagration. 84

           After Fayetteville's disastrous fire of 1845 various residents suggested a water system for that town. Someone urged that the high ground near the site of the old Eccles mill be bought or leased with the contiguous water power and that a reservoir of hewn logs be constructed thirty feet high. Someone else thought that the object might be "accomplished more easily and cheaply by attaching forcing pumps to one of the Factories within the town, and connecting it with the centre of the town by iron pipes." 85

In 1850 the Wilmington Aurora came forward with a plan to provide that town with water by utilizing the spring near the railroad depot "at the simple expense of conduits." 86 As early as 1778 the Congregation Council employed a certain. J. Krause to erect a municipal water-works system for Salem.


           The town commission was given power to establish and regulate the public market and to prescribe whether produce should be sold by weight or measure. Scales were erected at public expense and a weigher appointed who was directed to charge fees for his service at a rate determined by the commission. The first market house of Raleigh was built in 1799 at a cost of £298 so that farmers might know where "to find a ready market for their produce" and the townspeople where "to purchase such necessaries as are now precariously supplied." The building was "to be of an

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Octagon form, 30 feet in diameter, with a Cupola on the top for a bell; to be set upon eight posts; to have four gates; to be banistered around three feet high; the floor to be laid with brick; the whole to be neatly painted." 87

           From great distances, sometimes as far as two hundred miles, produce was brought in for sale. The trip sometimes involved several days' travel. Almost any night in the fall, one might see near a market town, such as Fayetteville, a number of remarkably bright lights. These were the fires of wagoners who were camping for the night on the edge of an old field ready to get their produce to the market square early the next morning. 88

Around each fire would be a few blacks, joining heartily in the work of the camp, apparently on an equality with their masters. Some might be eating from the same kettle with them, while others strummed on a banjo to the general amusement of the listeners. Now and then a group of wagoners would burst into a camp-meeting song. From another part of the field would come uproarious laughter cut short by a growl for silence, for under low tents or the bodies of great wagons other campers were trying to sleep. These wagons were strongly built and would generally hold as much as seventy-five bushels of grain. They were drawn by from two to six horses, the rear wheeler having a large saddle on his back for the driver. A wagon so loaded would be driven near the market house where purchasers might be found.

           At sunrise the market square was a bustle of activity. The first amusement presented to the onlooker might be a dog fight, for the market place was always alive with dogs, woolly water-dogs, great Newfoundlands, shaggy setters, sleek pointers, and stub-nose terriers, snarling over sheep's feet, growling over cast off bits of beef, running, fighting, and yelping. At this early hour the blacks were to be found in greater numbers than the whites, for the slaves often did the household marketing. It was not unusual to hear a Negro cry out to the owner of a market cart as he entered the square, "Hey, you! I want some of 'em." A correspondent of the North Carolina Standard, declaring that he was neither too proud nor too lazy to do his own marketing, complained that slaves rushed ahead of white men and overbid them in order to get the produce they wanted. "Only one ever attempted this with me,"

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he wrote with warmth, "and he got out of the way of a walking stick in double quick time." 89

           Stalls of the market house came in time to be occupied by townspeople who raised their own produce or obtained their wares from the wagons which had come in with heavy loads of corn, meal, flour, and pork. The farmer frequently found it more profitable to dispose of all his load to one merchant than to sell in small quantities to household purchasers. The commissioners of Fayetteville encouraged the use of the market by imposing a fine on all those found selling produce outside the market house or square. By legislative act of 1834 this ordinance was repealed and it became lawful for produce to be sold outside the market after seven o'clock in the spring and summer and after eight o'clock in the winter. 90

This act also made it unlawful for the clerk of the market to exact a fee unless the blocks or scales were used. In Raleigh no huckster was allowed to sell produce on the streets until after noon. 91 After the market house in Oxford had burned in 1858, the village newspaper urged the commissioners to build a new one which would also be large enough for a town hall. "The old one that was burned was a nuisance," said the editor. "But we ought to have a new one with a Hall above." 92

           In 1839 when the commissioners of Raleigh decided to build a new market house, they resolved to make it large enough to contain a town hall as well, saying that "the citizens should have a place of their own to hold public meetings." 93

When the town commission refused the Mechanics' Association the use of the hall in 1841, the North Carolina Standard called for a showdown, declaring that a town hall was the logical place where all classes of citizens should gather on any lawful occasion. "Of all tyrannies in the world," said the Standard, "that of a city police is the most ridiculous and absurd." 94 After the controversy had raged for about three weeks, the Board of Commissioners resolved "that the City Hall be hereafter used for the following purposes, to wit:

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Public Meetings of the Citizens; meetings of the Commissioners of the City; Fire Company; Uniform Military Company; City Watch; and private Associations or Societies of the City." 95 In a statement to the public, the board expressed the hope that this arrangement would be "highly satisfactory to all parties." In 1840 the town hall in Wilmington stood in "Mud Market" at the intersection of Market and Second streets, a building closely resembling the courthouse except that the first floor was open and paved for the use of the town market. 96 In many communities the courthouse did take the place of a town hall. Here the commissioners frequently had their monthly meetings; here public lectures were held and agricultural societies arranged their displays.

           For many years the courthouse at Elizabeth City served as the village church, town hall, lecture room, and theater. In 1851 after a boisterous meeting which had ended with the destruction of some of the courtroom furniture, the county court resolved that the courthouse should not be opened "for the Exhibition of any show, lecturing, slight of hand, or other purpose whatsoever, save political & religious meetings & county purposes." 97

But the clamor of the townspeople for a public hall was too much for them, and at the June session of 1852 the justices passed an order "that it be made the duty of the Sheriff to keep the Court room Key & not permit the court room to be used for purposes of Exhibition by itinerant performers except upon the payment of Ten Dollars to the county and that they be required to repair any damages."

           Previous to the erection of the town hall in Raleigh the capitol served in this capacity. For a number of years it was the church of the community where all evangelical denominations joined alike in worship. The "long-room," as the Conference Chamber was called, was also the ballroom for the town and surrounding country. On occasion, it was used for less formal gatherings so that in time the space overhead became a mass of rope and wire entanglements. In 1810 the patience of the commoners was exhausted and they ordered the doorkeepers "immediately after the adjournment of the house this day to remove from the Conference Hall, any rope or wires, or other apparatus there found for the purpose of rope or wire dancing, or any hook or staple attached

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to the wall of said Hall for such purpose, and to prevent in the future the introduction for any such purpose." 98


           Any public celebration, such as the Fourth of July, an agricultural fair, a political barbecue, or the visit of a national hero, was a gala day in town. The intendant of police, the magistrate, or mayor, as this officer was variously called, was always on hand to make a speech and take charge of the ceremonies. Sometimes the town commission paid for the expenses of the celebration out of the public treasury. In 1825, for instance, when General Lafayette was in North Carolina accompanied by his son, Washington Lafayette, and his secretary, M. Levasseur, the town commission of Fayetteville resolved "to appropriate from the funds of the town such sum as shall be necessary for the accommodation of Gen. LaFayette during his stay in this place, in such manner as shall comport with the dignity of that distinguished personage and the respectability of the town of Fayetteville." 99

           Lafayette's visit, indeed, set the whole State agog. Governor Burton appointed Colonel William Polk, a polished gentleman who had the distinction of having been wounded at Brandywine, to meet the General at the Virginia line and escort him to the capital. Colonel Thomas Polk, in company with a corps of cavalry from Mecklenburg and Cabarrus and nearly a hundred citizens on horseback, met the party near Raleigh. At the city limits Captain John S. Ruffin, commanding the Raleigh Blues, met the cavalcade and led the procession to the Governor's Mansion amid the firing of cannon and the hearty shouts of the assembled people. Governor Burton received the General with a formal address in which he welcomed the French soldier to the State in the name of the people of North Carolina. Lafayette replied briefly, and, after partaking of some refreshments, he was escorted in state to the Capitol to view Canova's statue of Washington. The sight of Lafayette riding with the state officers to the capitol in a handsome barouche drawn by four iron-grays sent the patriotic crowds into a wild burst of huzzas. At the State House, Colonel William Polk addressed the General in behalf of the citizens of Raleigh and then introduced him to the students of the University who

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had come from Chapel Hill to pay their respects to the State's guest. The day closed with a dinner at five o'clock and a ball in the evening. 100

           President Washington's southern tour in 1791 had set the style for pompous celebrations, it having been in North Carolina, as elsewhere in the South, more like a royal progress than the visit of a "plain republican president." In 1819 President Monroe with Secretary John C. Calhoun and "his Lady" were in North Carolina. As the "Presidential cortege" approached Wilmington, it was met on the old New Bern road by Colonel Cowan, commanding the Wilmington Light Horse. "They proceeded down Market to Front and up Front to the Wilmington Hotel, where the usual formalities of a grand reception were tendered the President." 101

Edenton had "honored the company by a grand ball and supper in the evening, after a sumptuous dinner in the large room of the Court-house." 102 In March, 1849, when "the ex-President, Mr. Polk, and Lady and Niece, together with Mr. Secretary Walker and Niece, and Mr. Grahame, solicitor of the Treasury, and Lady" reached Wilmington, "their arrival was heralded by the booming of cannon, the ringing of bells, and the floating of banners and streamers from stalls, housetops, and mastheads." 103 The visits of President Fillmore, President Buchanan, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Edward Everett were also occasions for grand celebrations, a dinner at which the town magistrate was toastmaster, or perhaps a ball conducted by the town commission. 104

           A guest who caused a furor without the usual pomp, was Mrs. Anne Royall, author of the Black Book, Tennessean, and other works. "Her arrival immediately threw our tranquil metropolis in commotion," wrote the Star upon her arrival in Raleigh. "Many visited her, while others seemed desirous of avoiding her. . . . All who saw her affirmed that they had never seen her like before." 105

Most newspapers ridiculed her openly, referring to her as "Mrs. Napoleon le Grande." Great crowds flocked to town

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to see "this bold woman" more from the desire to view a natural curiosity than to extend hospitalities to her. 106

           The celebration of the Fourth of July was a civic occasion when the townspeople laid aside their work and joined in a public demonstration. The day was usually announced at dawn by the firing of cannon; or, if the town were not fortunate enough to possess a cannon, by the firing of thirteen rounds of small arms. At nine o'clock the independent volunteer corps usually assembled at the courthouse and marched to one of the village churches were the inhabitants had already assembled to hear the reading of the Declaration of Independence and a patriotic address. This over, the corps usually had dinner at the courthouse or at a tavern where as many toasts were drunk as there were States in the Union. If the dinner was turned into a political barbecue or picnic held at some nearby spring or grove, each toast was usually followed by firing a salute.

           Frequently a small group of prominent men of the town would have a separate dinner where they made toasts and sang patriotic tunes. In the afternoon the ladies of the gentry might give a tea in a grove in the vicinity of the town where vocal and instrumental music was the chief entertainment. The day usually closed with a subscription ball.

           In 1823 the residents of Hillsboro celebrated the Fourth by gathering at the Red House near Murphey's Hill at 11 o'clock where they heard Victor Murphey read the Declaration of Independence and Dr. James A. Craig deliver an oration. At 12:30 the procession to the courthouse began, "preceded by a fine band of musicians playing Jefferson and Liberty. During the march there were two companies of infantry under parade, commanded by captains Russell and M'Daniel, which fired a round for each of the United States. When the procession had finished, the company partook of a plentiful dinner and refreshments prepared by captain Wm. Jones." After "the cloth was removed," the company drank twenty-four toasts, among them, "The Constitution of North Carolina--There is no state constitution so perfect, but that time may discover in it defects, and wisdom and justice suggest amendments"; "The Old Batchelors--May the law of the land

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be, that in winter, they sleep under a linen sheet; and in summer three dutch blankets (Cheers, three times three! ! !)" 107

           Other occasions, such as Washington's birthday, a national political victory, the completion of a railroad line, or the gathering of a state convention, might also be celebrated with oratory, feasting, and drinking. In 1800 nearly a thousand attended in Raleigh the celebration of "the birth of the late General George Washington." The occasion was a solemn one because of his recent death. "The day was announced by the firing of Cannon; and . . . the Inhabitants . . . assembled below the Court-House in Fayetteville-Street; and . . . moved in procession to the State-House . . . the bell tolling and minute-guns firing during the procession." "A numerous and respectable assemblage of Ladies" had already gathered at the State House to hear the oration. 108

           Warrenton celebrated Thomas Jefferson's inauguration with "the firing of sixteen platoons . . . (they having no cannon)." At 12 o'clock "the inhabitants from all parts of the county arrived, with countenances expressive of their feelings, and after mutual congratulations upon the happy cause of their meeting, sat down at two o'clock to a large and substantial dinner." Two days later "the Gentlemen of the county gave a ball to their fair country-women; where harmony and good cheer, enlivened by the sprightly dance, was graced with a large collection of the fair and beautiful daughters of Columbia." 109

           The celebration in Wilmington in April, 1840, of the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad was a joyful occasion. 110

Raleigh delayed its celebration until June so that the new capitol might be ready for inspection. Although the exhibition of a "steam carriage" was the most spectacular part of the celebration, parades, oration, and subscription balls were a part of the program. After much oratory the second day of the festival closed with a supper ball in which distinguished visitors from Virginia and the aristocracy of the State participated. Dancing began in the Senate Chamber at nine o'clock and lasted until midnight. In the Commons Hall there was conversation and a "soiree musical which left those who could not squeeze into the Ball room nothing to regret." 111 The celebration closed the following night with a ball in the Senate

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Chamber, "more agreeable than the preceding one," for "the company not being so large, the dancers had a better chance, and improved it, too, by indulging in the hilarities of the evening, until a late hour."

           Thanksgiving Day was not observed regularly in North Carolina until 1849 and then without the ceremony which has later been associated with it. In 1812 President Madison set aside the third Thursday in August as a day for fasting and thanksgiving on the conduct of the War, 112

and in 1815 the General Assembly of North Carolina requested the governor to set aside a day of public thanksgiving in "grateful acknowledgment for the restoration of peace to our beloved country." 113 The governor accordingly issued a proclamation inviting the citizens of the State to meet in prayer and fasting in their respective communities. Many in North Carolina objected to proclamations for an annual day of thanksgiving issued by presidents of the United States on the ground that Thanksgiving Day was "a mixture of religion and civil government." They declared, as did James Madison, that these proclamations "seemed to imply and certainly nourished the erroneous idea of a national religion." 114 Thanksgiving Day, they argued, would become in North Carolina as it had in other States another opportunity for expounding political views to the scandal of religion and the increase of party animosity.

           In 1848, however, Governor W. A. Graham's recommendation for a day of annual Thanksgiving met with general favor. The Raleigh Register hastened to approve, calling on the Legislature not to let another year pass without inviting the people of the State to make Thanksgiving an annual occasion. The day should be "a season for kind, social sentiment--for the forgiveness of injuries--for acts of good neighborhood and especially for the charitable remembrance of the Poor." 115

A joint resolution in response to Governor Graham's request was ratified January 16, 1849. 116 It authorized the governor to set apart a day in every year for public thanksgiving and to give notice of it by proclamation.

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           Christmas, the one grand holiday of the year, was celebrated without official ceremony. Except for doubling the watch, the town commission ordinarily made no occasion of the day, leaving it to quiet church services, visiting parties, and pleasant family reunions. "Christmas is coming," wrote the Wilmington Daily Journal on December 23, 1851, ". . . and were it not for the little and big niggers begging for quarters, and the 'noise and confusion' and the 'Kooners,' 117

. . . and the fire crackers, and all the other unnamed horrors and abominations, we should be much inclined to rejoice thereat. But whether we rejoice or not the egg-nog stock begins to look up. By the by, egg-nog is a most villainous compound to get sober on. The getting drunk is rather pleasant than otherwise--at least, so we have been informed." Christmas over, the editor, reviving, no doubt, from an egg-nog jagg, wrote, ". . . some how it did seem yesterday as if the negroes had a little too big a swing." 118

           Eight years later the Journal wrote in a different vein: "Christmas is past. . . . The Don Quixotes were not strong. A crowd on foot preceded by an ox team was quite amusing. John Kuner was feeble. John Barleycorn retained his usual spirit, and when hit hard and often was sure to return the blow with interest. . . . With a good sense that eschews Blue-lawism, our town authorities on Christmas generally let the boys have their way so far as mere noise is concerned, although order in all essential particulars is enforced.--There was therefore much firing of crackers, rockets, sarpients, etc., and a good deal of cheering and shouting, but nothing worse, and as the night wore on even these ceased, and the town slept." 119


           The deaths of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and Taylor were mourned in North Carolina with quiet solemnity. Each ceremony was the occasion for orations and a funeral procession. In Raleigh the funeral procession mourning President Taylor's death in 1850 was nearly a half mile in length. It formed in front of the Governor's mansion at nine o'clock. The military

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company in full uniform with reversed arms and shrouded colors led the parade. Next came the funeral car drawn by six white horses with housing of black, each horse being led by a groom in uniform. Eight pallbearers accompanied the hearse. After this came other citizens on horseback and on foot. The sad procession made its way to the Presbyterian Church where a eulogy was delivered by Henry W. Miller, a prominent lawyer and Whig leader of Wake County, before one of the largest audiences that had ever gathered there. The Governor's mansion, the post office, and most of the stores and private residences on Fayetteville Street were draped with black. "The measured tread of men and horses--the beat of muffled drums--the loud lamentations of cannon--the woful peal of bells--the closed stores and the mourning Statues on the side-walks--" the sincere sadness which pervaded the whole throng--"all these things spoke, in eloquent terms the sorrowful tribute of a no ordinary admiration for the living Hero, a no common grief for the departed Patriot." 120 Wilmington observed a similar pageantry in April, 1850, when the body of John C. Calhoun was carried through that town on the way to Charleston. 121

           Since colonial times, a funeral had been the occasion for a solemn ritual and the gathering of large crowds. Aside from those who came from respect for the dead, large numbers flocked to the funeral out of curiosity and a desire to participate in the food provided for the entertainment of the mourners. "Provisions of some kind were set out, commonly before the door, or carried round in baskets, and spirits offered freely to those who desired," wrote the Reverend Henry Foote in his Sketches of North Carolina in 1846. "The solemnity of the occasion was sometimes lost in the excitement, and scenes of drinking invaded the house of mourning. To preserve the appearance of religion, someone, an officer of the church, if present, was called upon to open the scene of eating and drinking by asking a blessing on the refreshments prepared." 122

Barbecued meat and brandy were favorite refreshments, although the food provided by affluent families was often varied and abundant enough to be termed a feast.

           In 1808, the Edenton Gazette, after recording the death of the infant daughter of a merchant of that town, observed that "the

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melancholy event furnished the rare and commendable instance of a funeral without a feast:"

           Early in the century it was a custom, with those who could afford it, to provide minister and pallbearers with white scarfs and hat bands of linen of convenient quantity to make a shirt after the ceremonies were over. 124

The scarf was usually of about three and a half yards of linen. It was draped from the right shoulder and caught in a knot with a white rose and ribbons just under the left arm so that the ends of the scarf might flutter gracefully in the breeze. The band for the hat was about a yard and a half of linen. It was tied about the crown so that it might have two long streamers.

           The Sunday following the funeral or at some other convenient time the pallbearers, wearing their decorations, usually assembled at a tavern and proceeded in a body to the church where they were met at the door by the minister who was also decked in his symbols of mourning. This was the occasion of the funeral oration, a ceremony entirely distinct from the actual burial. Sometimes the oration was delayed several months, even years, so that it was not uncommon for a man with crepe on his hat and sleeve to take his second wife to his first wife's funeral. The Reverend R. R. Michaux relates that he once attended "the preaching of a whole family's funeral, some of whom had been buried about fourteen years." 125

           Although the elaborateness of a funeral ceremony usually indidated the social status of the family, there were some who were repelled by such a display. John Bonner, a rich bachelor and member of the General Assembly, was buried with a simple ceremony. The funeral was conducted at his home about a mile from

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Washington. The house was crowded with men and women sitting and standing about the corpse. The coffin had already been nailed and covered with a sheet when the minister arrived. After a lengthy service from the liturgy of the Church of England and a simple funeral sermon, the coffin was taken to the family cemetery by six pallbearers. The hand which supported the coffin was covered with a white napkin; on the left arm was a black ribbon. 126

           It was customary to send printed invitations, bordered in black, both to the burial and the funeral oration. In the towns, these invitations often took the form of handbills which little Negro boys distributed from door to door. Deep mourning was the custom throughout the ante-bellum period. Men sometimes wore crepe on their left sleeves a year or two and widows, who did not remarry, wore heavy veils and black the rest of their lives.


           Court week, general muster, and election day were always busy times for the town commission. Country folk thronged to town in great numbers; "gingy" cake and grog vendors sold their wares on every corner; and all the rowdies from the surrounding neighborhoods were on hand. The town commission met the occasion by licensing vendors and doubling the local police.

           Enterprising merchants made the most of the occasions by selling their wares at good prices; and politicians, by treating the crowds with tumblers of brandy. If a fiddler appeared, someone might start a dance or "h'ist" a tune. Quarrelling and fighting were usual occurrences.

           In 1805 the Pasquotank County Court sought to quiet court week by passing an order "that no person or persons shall erect or form a stand or Booth within the confines or bounds of the public ground in Elizabeth City at the time of the setting of the Court or at any other public time as the clamour and noise of company interrupts the business of the Court and the business transacted in the Courthouse at other times." 127

           Public entertainers, such as wire dancers, Negro minstrels, "Don Quixote Invincibles," and sleight of hand performers were frequently present to lend gaiety to the transaction of judicial business. John H. Bryan, attending Superior Court at Oxford,

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wrote his wife that a group of traveling players drew large crowds every night. "Their singing & dancing," he said, "is as much enjoyed by the country folk as the opera is by the more refined citizens of N. Y." 128

           Battalion musters 129

and elections 130 were also occasions of general celebration. An election day in 1840 at Germantown in Hyde County, resulting in Edward Stanly's election to Congress, was an occasion for feasting and drinking as described by Whig leader, W. B. Hodges: Had the writer been impartial in relating the events of the day, he would have added that a goodly number of Whigs were also sleeping off the effect of too much "ardent" or boisterously celebrating their victory in the village streets with "three sheets in the wind." 132

           As electioneering and party organization came to play an important part in political campaigns, public barbecues grew in popularity as a means of getting votes and of celebrating victories. Distinguished personages received invitations, such as the following one sent from Hillsboro in 1836 by a Whig leader, Cadwallader Jones:

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           All others were informed of the celebration through the columns of the local newspaper. Instead of barbecue, a dinner at some tavern might be given in honor of a man whose candidacy was being promoted.

           In 1840 these political meetings were at their height in the log cabin and hard cider campaign for Harrison. Many towns had log cabins reserved for the semi-weekly meetings of the Tippecanoe Club. After a lengthy political address, brandy and roast beef were usually passed around in large quantities. Whig leaders built a log cabin in Raleigh and christened it Harrison Hall. After a three-hour "oratorical feast," prominent Raleigh women, appropriately gowned in calico, would serve barbecue and brandy.

           In July, 1840, Whigs held an elaborate "electioneering" in Salisbury for Rowan and fifteen neighboring counties. The day was a succession of speeches, parades, barbecues, banquets, hard cider, and log cabins. North Carolina had never before seen such social gatherings in the name of politics. Democrats, quick to follow the example, nevertheless, shrewdly referred for years afterward to the "drunken campaign" of 1840. Henry Clay's visit in 1844 was another opportunity for a great political festivity. Before his arrival, "Hickory Mountain" wrote to the Raleigh Register: "Money is scarce up this way, but if full cribs, fat smoke-houses, and flowing cellars will aid, just tell the feeding committee to serve up such a bill of fare as they want." 134

           It is difficult in many instances to distinguish between the civic life of the ante-bellum town and its recreational activities, for the celebration of the Fourth of July or the hilarities of a political barbecue were as much diversions as they were civic duties. Nevertheless, the social life of a town from the point of view of ante-bellum days was to be found in the gay scenes of a subscription ball, in the dignified lectures of the lyceum club, or in the uproar of the cock pit and the race track. These activities are another phase of town life in ante-bellum North Carolina.

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