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

Johnson, Guion Griffis, 1900- 1989


Table of Contents



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           THE HOUSE to which the average bridegroom in North Carolina took his bride was a humble abode even in 1860. When Thomas Henderson, editor of the Raleigh Star, attempted in 1810 to obtain information about the general state of society in North Carolina, he found that the prevailing style of architecture then, as in colonial times, was the log cabin. William Dickson wrote of Duplin County:

           Dr. Jeremiah Battle said of Edgecombe County: "There are a few well built private houses, some of which have lately been finished. The 'style of building' [in Tarboro] is as it is in the country, generally plain & cheap." 2

Henry Barnard of Connecticut, who visited the South Atlantic states in 1833, said of his trip from Virginia to Raleigh, "The whole aspect of the country is mean--not a decent, painted house, or a neat village the whole way." Later from Salisbury he wrote, "I have visited all the intelligent familys here--and rode 8 or 10 miles into the country in every direction to see the sovereign people in their homes--their log huts, which is the prevading style of building." 3 In 1837 a North Carolinian, William Henry Wills of Tarboro, found the houses along the road from Edgecombe County to Fayetteville "few and poor." 4

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           A common type of log house of the better sort was that which had four rooms, two rooms separated by a partition, with a loft above which was reached by a narrow stairway or a ladder, and a small lean-to at the end of the back porch. The chimney, which was usually built of field stone, was frequently ten feet wide and high enough for an ordinary man to stand in it.

           In 1851 the Southern Weekly Post of Raleigh declared that the average house in North Carolina was neither attractive nor comfortable, and that the people of the State had not improved in their ways of living upon the examples of their ancestors. "How often do we see houses set on the brow of a sandy hill, with not a tree or shrub, or patch of green grass to relieve the eye or refresh the imagination; . . ." In summer they look "like places of penance, bake-ovens whose inmates are suffering all the tortures awarded to the martyred Saints." In the winter, fires "large enough to burn a brick kiln" roared in the immense chimneys, "and the family will be crowding round, scorching and sweating on one side, while the other is shivering with the keen blasts that sweep through open doors and a thousand yawning crevices." "Why do you not," impatiently asked the Post, "make" your houses tight, "and in winter close the doors and keep the windows full of glass?" 5

           Two years later, Professor William H. Owen of Wake Forest College declared through the columns of the Weekly Post, "It is admitted that there are few things in which we are more deficient than in Architecture. The State is covered with huge squares and parallelograms of painted weather boards, which might have been built up into sightly and comfortable dwellings for one half of what they originally cost." 6

He wished that North Carolinians would take more to the cottage style which was "becoming fashionable." 7

           There were, however, stately homes in North Carolina. 8


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1807 Joseph A. Brown of Bertie County, described his plantation house situated on the west bank of the Chowan River as "a large comfortable brick Dwelling House, with 6 rooms on the first floor, surrounded with piazzas, situated 200 yards from the river, a court yard surrounded with handsome railed fencing, near two acres of garden, also enclosed by paling, a two story Kitchen, brick store-House, large Barn Stable, Corn Cribs, &c. &c." 9

           The most extravagant type of "mansion house" in the ante-bellum days was usually approached by a broad avenue flanked with tall elms. The avenue, some four hundred yards long, gradually led up to the house on the crest of a knoll or terrace. About the house were noble forest trees with comfortable seats at their bases. The plantation house at "Rich Lands" in Chowan County where James Battle Avirett grew to manhood is typical of "the big house" of the coastal plain region. 10

Including the piazzas, it was sixty feet square and three stories high, built of North Carolina pine and weatherboarded with yellow poplar. It stood on brick pillars about five feet above the ground to avoid dampness. The broad piazzas on the first and second stories extended all around the house. The windows were wide and deep, reaching to the bottom of the floor. On the first floor two broad halls, cutting each other at right angles, ran the whole length of the house. Along the walls were rows of bookshelves and hammock hooks, suggesting lazy comfort on a hot summer day. On the right was the large parlor with its piano, mahogany furniture, oil portraits, and heavy carpets. Back of the parlor was the master's bedroom; across the hall, the nursery; and opposite the parlor, the family sitting room. The two stories above were for the older children and guests, while the attic was the family storeroom. To reach the dining room and kitchen one had to pass through the large central hall and cross a piazza, for, as in most ante-bellum mansions, the kitchen was an establishment separate from the living quarters. In the kitchen the wide fire-place was equipped with a crane for swinging the large pots and with hooks for roasting, for here the family cooking was done.

           From the kitchen porch could be seen the pump, sheltered by a covered arbor situated in the center of a broad quadrangle. To the right were three smoke houses where pork was cured, also a

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"flour house," "coffee house," and a storehouse for groceries. Back of these in a two-acre enclosure were the poultry houses where there were chickens, turkeys, guineas, and ducks and geese, kept especially for making feather beds. To the left as one looked from the kitchen porch was the vegetable garden and below that the weaving room where most of the "negro cloth" was manufactured. Still farther beyond were the "quarters," the houses of the slaves, and not far off the stables.

           The type of house intermediate between the mansion and the log cabin was the frame cottage of four or five rooms. The architecture was simple. Usually a wide hall, running the length of the house, separated two groups of rooms; or two rooms and a piazza sprawled out in the rear from two rooms at the front of the house, forming together an enormous L or T. The furnishings were simple. The unpainted floors, often kept scrupulously clean by scrubbing with ashes, were covered, if at all, by hand woven rag rugs. The walls were white washed or, less frequently, papered or plastered. The furniture was made from native wood either by the head of the family or by a mechanic in a local cabinet shop. The dutch oven and frying pan were the chief kitchen utensils even after the stove came into general use in the fifties.

           The number of free persons per dwelling in North Carolina in 1790, 1850, and 1860 as reported by the census is shown in the following table:



Year Free Population Number Dwellings Average Number of Persons to Dwelling
1790 292,554 40,018 7.3
1850 580,363 104,996 5.5
1860 661,563 129,585 5.1

           The average number of persons to the dwelling in North Carolina was less than in the more thickly settled states, such as New York and Pennsylvania, and even slightly less than in Virginia, but the extent of overcrowding can be estimated only roughtly, for the number of rooms to the dwelling is not available from the census reports.

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           The qualities often thought of as being peculiar to the Victorian lady were characteristics of the genteel lady long before 1837. Delicacy, innocence, modesty, simplicity, and good nature, "are jewels of inestimable value, in the character of a man or woman," wrote Dr. James Norcom of Edenton in 1810 to his young fiancée, "but in a woman they are everything!" 12

Also in 1810 President Caldwell of the University of North Carolina, addressing the young ladies of the female department of the Raleigh Academy, solemnly assured them that "maidenly delicacy" was the foundation of the social structure. "In the improvement of that delicacy and superior sensibility which it belongs to your nature to possess," said the President, "is found the firmest security for the best state of society which virtue alone can insure and perpetuate." 13

           The ideal woman of ante-bellum days was modest and innocent, graceful in person and gracious in manners. She had a flattering timidity and "modest softness." She was cultivated in the "polite arts" of dancing, music, drawing, and embroidery. She was fond of reading; but, whenever she commenced a work "without having previously been directed by some judicious and thoughtful friend," she would "lay the book aside forever" the moment her eyes fell "upon an impure thought, . . ." 14

Such a ban upon the reading habits of the sex automatically restricted the education of woman to the three R's and a cursory view of a few cultural studies. 15 The well-bred woman did not care to pursue her studies to such an extent that she might be called masculine, for "all those studies and pursuits that qualify women to shine in the society of the learned," tended "essentially to rob them of the attractions" which made them "most fascinating in the eyes of men." The elderly Dr. James Norcom, criticizing a manuscript which a young lady of Virginia had sent him to read, thought the essay would be unexceptionable "were it not . . . a little too masculine," warning her that "estimable female authors" sought to retain their feminine charm in their writings. 16

           Religion was woman's greatest comfort in life. Indeed, females

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needed "the hopes, and the prospects of religion, more, . . . than the other sex." It softened "the pains of living . . . by the hope of dying" and made woman able to bear with "patience and submission" the "trials of disobedience," the "weakness of a feeble constitution," and "a husband of acid temper." 17 Having a greater need for religion than men, women also had greater religious responsibility. "How solemn and how awful . . . is their responsibility," wrote a correspondent of the Western Carolinian in 1822, praising Miss Fanny Badger who spent her time reading Dwight's System of Theology instead of devoting it to "the foolish vanities and licentious practices of the world." Would the female sex "become truly and unaffectedly pious;--the whole moral face of the world would be changed; . . . drunkards, duellists, gamblers, and infidels, would no longer be found in respectable society; and good sons, good brothers, good husbands, good neighbors, good friends and good Christians would every where abound." 18

           In addition to her church work, the well-bred ante-bellum woman might also engage in charity. It was becoming of her to take baskets of food and clothing to the poor, for she should always be a "ministering angel." Above all, however, she should have a regard for "the duties and enjoyments of domestic life." "God in his inscrutable wisdom," wrote Dr. Norcom in 1848, "has appointed a place & a duty for females, out of which they can neither accomplish their destiny, nor secure their happiness!!" 19

"The truth is, Miss Mary," he wrote to an aspiring literary female, "that woman, in her proper sphere & office, is the grace, the ornament, the bliss of life. Out of it, she may shine and dazzle," but "she will soon cease to command attention and admiration, if she lack those characteristics of feminine softness & delicacy & modesty which so eminently distinguish her from our rougher sex. If these divine & love inspiring attributes be wanting, the woman disappears, & we behold in her place, . . . an hermaphrodite, a creature acknowledged by neither sex, & a terror & reproach to both. . . ." 20

           Upon the death in 1845 of Mrs. Ann Sellers, wife of Colonel

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John Sellers of Sampson County, the North Carolina Standard declared her to have been "a rare assemblage of all those amiable qualities which adorn" woman. Her "deportment" was that of an "exemplary Christian." "She was kind to her friends, hospitable to strangers, charitable to the poor and afflicted of her neighborhood, forbearing to her domestics and ever ready to do good to all, . . ." 21

           Travelers in the South often commented upon the differences between southern and northern women. In 1852 the Weekly Post of Raleigh mentioned one such traveler who was "particularly struck" with the beauty of form of the southern woman, "their symmetrical and harmonious figures," their "exquisite taste" in dress, their "proverbial affability and urbanity." "The southern lady is naturally easy, unembarrassed and polite--You may go into the country, where you please--you may go as far as you please from town, village and post office--you may call at the poorest house you can find, provided you don't get among 'Crackers,' and whether you accost maid or matron, you will always be answered with the same politeness and treated with the same spontaneous courtesy." 22

           Writers both at home and abroad also commented on the "physical delicacy" of the southern female. Most critics, overlooking malaria, typhoid, and the general languor of a sub-tropical climate, saw in it the curse of slavery. Southern women, wrote the Weekly Post of Raleigh, "are brought up to be dependent for every little object upon servants, and never acquire the habit and faculty of waiting on themselves. There are many exceptions to this, but it is generally true of those whose circumstances permit the indulgence. This fact has also made an impression upon the minds of the poorer classes, that much muscular exercise is indelicate and ungenteel, and they, too, make as little exertion in the open air as possible." 23

           Certainly by the thirties, it had become definitely unfashionable for a lady to exert herself physically, and she had become what Dr.

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Norcom thought to be her proper sphere, "the grace, the ornament, the bliss of life." There were many, however, who regretted that the industrious housewife had given place to the "hot-house flower." In 1852 the Weekly Post wrote in protest:


           However much the ante-bellum woman chose to appear as a lady of ease, few in North Carolina could actually assume this role. In any successful family whose fortune was built largely upon agriculture, regardless of the number of slaves at their command, "the feeble wife" was no less industrious or economical than "the strong husband." Many a North Carolina husband might have written to his wife as William Atson of Virginia did late in the fifties, "I know that, accustomed to luxury, and capable of shining in society, you have cheerfully worked, economized, and shunned the world." 25

The household duties of a wife, mother to a "numerous offspring," gave her little time for fashionable embroidery, novel reading, and long afternoon naps until she was well passed middle age. Not even the wife of a wealthy planter, with her cook, butler, maid, nurse, and laundress could entirely escape the drudgery. She might not have much of the actual labor to perform, but it was hers to plan and superintend many household industries which today have been taken out of the home.

           The housewife's day usually began a little after six if she had servants, at four-thirty or five if she was a yeoman's wife. The

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efficient housewife was always in the kitchen soon after the cook had arrived and had started a fire in the fireplace or, after the late forties, in the stove. She looked first to the appearance of the cook to see that she was "properly and neatly attired," "bright and glossy in complexion" with hair "combed, braided, or turbaned." She was on hand at the setting of the table, especially if she had recently "installed a new servant." She saw that the butler had a clean napkin to cover the food which he bore across the open passage-way from kitchen to dining room, not only to keep it warm but to protect it from air and flies. She lighted her spirit-lamp to keep tea and coffee hot at the table and then made sure that each person was ready to take his seat before ordering that muffins and batter bread be placed on the table.

           After breakfast, "Virginia ladies, who are proverbially good managers," wrote Mrs. Mary Randolph in her Virginia Housewife of 1831, "employ themselves, while their servants are eating, in washing the cups, glasses, &c; arranging the cruets, the mustard, salt-sellers, pickle vases, and all the apparatus for the dinner table. . . . When the kitchen breakfast is over, and the cook has put all things in their proper places, the mistress should go in to give her orders. Let all the articles intended for the dinner, pass in review before her: have the butter, sugar, flour, meal, lard, given out in proper quantities; the catsup, spice, wine, whatever may be wanted for each dish, measured to the cook. The mistress must tax her own memory with all this: we have no right to expect slaves or hired servants to be more attentive to our interest than we ourselves are: they will never recollect these little articles until they are going to use them; the mistress must then be called out, and thus have the horrible drudgery of keeping house all day, . . ." 26

           One of the imperious chores of the housewife's day was to make ready the lighting equipment before dark should fall. If the household burned candles and the wife was a tidy housekeeper, the candlesticks must be cleaned of drippings and polished; the candles replenished. If lamps were used, the wicks must be trimmed, the bowls filled, and, if the lamps had chimneys, they must be polished. Mrs. Cornelia Phillips Spencer of Chapel Hill, godmother of the University of North Carolina after Reconstruction and writer of much spirited comment on her times, in contrasting housekeeping chores of ante-bellum days with those of

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1890, was impressed most greatly with the difference in the lighting equipment. "In summer," she wrote, "we had to go across the yard to the kitchen for a chunk to light up with. And what blowing and puffing to coax a blue flame to catch upon the candle wick, what dripping of tallow and sperm before this could be accomplished." 26a

           When Janet Schaw visited North Carolina on the eve of the Revolution, she found Wilmington housewives of fashion using in the kitchen the beautiful green bayberry candles made from the native wax-myrtle. They preferred spermaceti candles for the parlor. "The poorer sort burn pieces of lightwood, which they find without trouble, . . ." wrote Miss Schaw. 26b

Lightwood and tallow and sperm candles continued to be used throughout the ante-bellum period. An advertisement in the Fayetteville Observer of August 4, 1846, declared that the North Carolina Soap and Candle Factory of Fayetteville made from forty to seventy thousand pounds of tallow candles a year and largely supplied Wilmington, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Hillsboro with light.

           Various kinds of lamps were also in general use in the ante-bellum period. The small, vessel-shaped lard or sperm-oil lamp, usually made of iron, was a familiar object on the colonial table. The Argand lamp with circular wick and chimney was manufactured in England in 1782 and immediately met with success. It was devised to burn sperm-oil, but a variant of the lamp was manufactured to burn lard. With the manufacture of camphine from turpentine, special lamps were made to burn this fuel, and after 1845 public buildings in North Carolina and the parlors of the wealthy were brightly illuminated. Some kerosene had been sold as an illuminant as early as 1848, but it was not distilled on a large scale until 1854, and it was not until 1859 that it began to be advertised in North Carolina as "the cleanest, most economical, and best light to be obtained except from gas." By 1860 Raleigh, Wilmington, Charlotte, and New Bern had gas lights. At the close of the period, however, the average family in comfortable circumstances still had one tallow candle on the supper table, two sperm candles or a camphine lamp in the parlor for evening, and a tallow candle to carry about the house. 26c

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           Mrs. Mary Mason of Raleigh, writing on "the duties of wife and mother . . . expressly for the benefit of residents of the Southern States, before emancipation, . . ." thought that a mistress should inspect every apartment daily to see that "the whole is swept, dusted, aired, and divested of cobwebs." 27

Bedrooms should be aired daily and beds sunned twice a month. All kitchen utensils should be taken out doors once a week and scrubbed. Chimneys should be swept down every day in the winter before the fires were made and burned out once a month on a rainy day. Closet, cupboard, and pantry doors should be kept shut and locked to keep out cats, mice, and rats, and the mistress herself should carry the keys. If possible, she should strain the milk herself and see that the churns were scalded and aired daily. She should be on hand once or twice a month when the clothes were being sorted in the laundry, when starch was being made, and when bluing was being added to the rinsing water, for "servants have little idea of proportion" and quickly become careless. The mistress should grease the flat irons and later attend to the airing of the ironed clothes unless she had "a careful person in this department." Clothes should be sorted before being placed in the wardrobe and those needing repair mended at once or taken to the seamstress. "Especially your husband's shirts," wrote Mrs. Mason, "should never be put away without buttons, his drawers without strings, or his stockings with holes." This is "one of the greatest annoyances a man can be subjected to." 28

           The mistress should begin housecleaning in February, "as vermin begin to lose their torpor about this time, and bestir themselves to prepare for a progeny." "On some bright day, have all your beds moved out into the sun, shaken, dusted, and searched well," advised Mrs. Mason. "While the beds are sunning, search over all your bedsteads. Wipe them over with cold soapsuds, and carefully stop every crack, seam, and screw-hole with hard turpentine soap." 29

General housecleaning did not begin until the first of May, when the prudent housewife removed all furniture from the house, took up carpets, whitewashed all walls and ceilings, washed windows, and scrubbed all the woodwork. A bushel of unslacked

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lime, slacked in a barrel with boiling water and then whitened with a gallon of flour-paste and a little bluing, was sufficient to whitewash an entire house. One began with the upstairs, doing one room at a time, taking a week or more to finish the job.

           Although with servants to do most of the actual labor, the mistress should supervise the soap-making, the poultry yard, and the garden. "Insist on all your wood-ashes being saved to make the family soap," wrote Mrs. Mason. "Let your servants understand at once that you will not buy soap when there are abundant materials at home for its manufacture." 30

The fowl-house should be swept clean once a week and fumigated every three weeks with sulphur and tobacco. "Have a hole cut in your hen-house door just large enough for the hens to enter; but keep the door locked that the eggs may be safe." The mistress should also know when to have her garden plowed or spaded, when to add manure, what seeds to choose and how to dry them, how to rotate her little crops of vegetables. 31

           But the most exacting duties which filled the faithful housewife's day had to do with the nursery. She turned over the fatiguing work of "minding child" to a Negro nurse, but she supervised the nursery routine, made a great many of the little garments herself, although with a seamstress at her command, and did much of the actual nursing when a child was sick, as was frequently the case. The nursery itself should be "a moderately large room, high-pitched, and well ventilated, with an open fire-place, in preference to either a stove or grate." It should be aired and swept every morning, have a fender for the fire too high for the little ones to climb over, have scanty furniture to give ample room for the children to play, and be covered with "a good thick carpet" to "save their little heads when they fall."

           Children should be dressed warmly in winter and play out in the open air as much as possible. Mrs. Mason strongly advised mothers against "the prevailing custom of extravagant dressing." In winter, children are "arrayed in embroidery and furs, save that the legs, arms, and neck" are "unmercifully exposed to the weather." In summer, infants, "arrayed in an extravagant profusion of laces, ribbons, flowers, and feathers, most uncomfortably placed in a reclining posture, in a beautiful baby's barouche, with

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the top thrown back, so as to exhibit the beauty as well as the finery of the inmate as much as possible," are sent out with "a thoughtless and foolishly fond, ambitious nurse," to vie with others in the heat of mid-afternoon. 32

           The mother should supervise the children's diet herself, leaving the actual feeding, however, to the nurse if she chose. Milk and well-baked light bread or crackers made an excellent breakfast. A young child should not have green corn or new potatoes in summer or be given cake or preserves at night, but "a little salt herring or ham will sometimes give tone to the weak stomach of a child, when suffering especially with diarrhoea." 33

The mother should also administer all medicines herself, "however you may think you may confide in your nurse." "If it should happen," wrote Mrs. Mason, "that you wish to attend a party at night, and your babe is not inclined to sleep, never administer opiates; forego the party rather, if you have not sufficient confidence in your nurse to leave it in her care while awake." 34

           A southern housewife, in addition to her other duties, had to know how to manage her servants. All lady's books of this period, written by southerners, and even agricultural magazines and newspapers gave hints on this subject. Mrs. Mason thought that a good nurse was one of the greatest blessings which could befall a southern housewife. The nurse should be a healthy, honest, well-tempered middle-aged woman, fond of children, not too self-sufficient, free from drinking, snuff-taking, and the baneful influence of superstition. Some housewives were always more or less in the power of their servants. "It is, therefore, wise to get on the right side of them," wrote Mrs. Mason, "so that they will be less inclined to take undue advantage of you." 35

The cook, who was the real power among the servants, should be healthy, brisk, honest, and not too amiable, "for your very amiable cook" is apt to be "over-indulgent to her fellow-servants. . . ." 36

           In the management of servants, praise was far more effective than censure. "Trust them if you would have them honest," but keep provisions locked up in order not to tempt them to do wrong. "Counsel and encourage, reprove and condemn them, as you would your own erring children, . . . Feed your servants bountifully,

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not forgetting to include a portion of the dainties with which their ready hands are constantly supplying you. In this way you will always be rewarded by the agreeable appearance of a cheerful, happy, and contented countenance, and a ready alacrity in your service." 37

           Hard was the lot of a young wife who had not been trained in household management. "Do not fancy it unrefined for young ladies to enter the culinary domain," cautioned Mrs. Mason. "No duty is unrefined. . . . Accustom your daughters while growing up, to aid you in culinary matters. . . . Otherwise they may be unhappy, unprofitable wives, and more of a burden than a pleasure and comfort to their husbands." 38

After a visit to his daughter, Mrs. John W. Brodnax, in 1850, Judge Thomas Ruffin wrote of her: ". . . Polly is getting on very well towards establishing a high reputation not only as a good wife and mother, but a choice house-keeper in all branches, house, kitchen, yard, garden, poultry, and the rest; and, withall, keeps her amiable manners, cheerful smiles, and social qualities, and genteel appearance." 39

           It was not easy to keep cheerful smiles when one had a daily round of nursing, cooking, washing, sewing, knitting, weaving, preserving fruits, and canning vegetables in the summer and curing fresh pork in the winter. As Dr. Norcom wrote to his daughter, after he had taken charge of his household a few days because of his wife's illness:

           Perhaps Mary Sawyer had in mind this very thing when she wrote to her young friend, Mary Shepard, later Mrs. John H. Bryan, "One does not always have a great deal of good humour to spare

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after marriage." 41 Not many years later, Mrs. Bryan complained to her husband, who was then in Washington attending Congress, "You have no idea of the trouble of our numerous offspring, they require such unremitted attention & care, I cannot like many mothers neglect them." 42 Her sister, Mrs. Ebenezer Pettigrew, was having the same difficulty. Although not interrupted by fashionable visitors at her plantation home, Phelps Lake in Washington County, her days were so full of household duties that she found time only on Sundays for relaxation and a little reading. "We have not yet procured another Teacher and I am obliged to bestow some attention on the children, but I find the duties of housekeeping, nursing and teaching are not compatable therefore one of them must be neglected, which is the school, the others being indispensable, my time is always usefully employed." 43

           Some mothers, as in the case of Mrs. Pettigrew, tutored their children in addition to their other duties. The Carolina Observer in 1826 thought this number to be few. "It is to be regretted," wrote the Observer, "that few mothers are either capable or willing to perform so arduous a task." 44

After the establishment of public schools in 1840, some mothers were relieved of tutoring; but many still clung to the old custom, too proud to have their children educated at public expense. In 1852 Mrs. Rebecca McDowell wrote to her relative, Alexander F. Brevard, concerning her young son, "I have never sent him to school and from his progress I am satisfied to teach him a year longer myself." 45

           Wives of the yeomanry class not only did the work associated with the maintenance of the household, but sometimes assisted with the work in the field. They and their children did the lighter tasks of farm work, dropping seeds, chopping cotton, hoeing corn, worming and curing tobacco, picking cotton, and they even helped with the more strenuous work of pulling fodder.


           Legally, the personality of the wife was merged in that of the husband. She could not sue or be sued alone. 46

She could not

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hold property separate from her husband even in her savings unless her husband by some clear and distinct act divested himself of the property and thus gave her permission to claim it as her own. 47 She could not make a will disposing of her land unless her husband specifically authorized her to do so, setting forth his authorization in a will, deed, or marriage contract. In 1841 the Supreme Court handed down the decision that "a married woman can only make an appointment in the nature of a will of real estate under a power of appointment specially given in some deed, . . . But a married woman, by her husband's consent, can make a will of her personal property." 48 In 1844 the Legislature passed an act providing that a will made by a married woman under such conditions might be probated in the court of pleas and quarter-sessions or in a court of equity, 49 a great concession, some thought, to the property rights of the married woman.

           Marriage was itself an unqualified gift to the husband of all the wife was in possession of at the time and all that she should thereafter acquire during coverture whether he should survive her or not. As Chief Justice Taylor wrote in 1827 in his decision of Bryan v. Bryan: "It may be a hardship for a married woman who brings a fortune to her husband, to find herself and her children reduced to poverty; but she knew when she married him, that the law gave him an absolute property in all her personal estate. . . . The hardship might have been guarded against by a settlement, and the not making one, is an evidence that she agreed to share his fortune, be it prosperous or adverse." 50

           The property which a woman possessed at the time of her marriage might be secured to her through a marriage settlement, or contract, entered into prior to marriage and registered as any other deed. The contract, however, could secure to the intended wife only such property as she or the bridegroom actually possessed at the time of making the deed. 51

In such instances, it was customary to place the bride's estate in trust for her "sole and separate use." 52 Property settled upon the wife after marriage, by a special wording

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of the instrument conveying the property, might be secured against the claims of her husband. For instance, William Cain of Orange County bequeathed money and slaves to William Cain, Jr., Willie P. Mangum, and Polly Sutherland in trust for the sole and separate use of his daughter, Mrs. Edward Davis, in order to secure the property against the rights of her husband, and the Supreme Court upheld the grant. 53 The bequest was given for the daughter's use during life and after her death in trust for her children. A third means by which a married woman might obtain control over property was the passage of a private act for her benefit by the Legislature. Such an act secured to her "such property as she might thereafter acquire" by her own efforts. 54

           Several attempts were made in the General Assembly during the early days of the ante-bellum period to enlarge the property rights of married women. In 1804, for instance, Reuben Small of Chowan County presented a bill to secure to married women money arising from the sale of certain household articles. 55

All attempts to alter the status of women in regard to their control of property were resisted, however, until 1848 when an act was passed making it illegal for a husband to sell or lease real estate belonging to the wife at the time of marriage without her consent. 56 This act at once brought up the question of whether it was intended to deprive the husband of his wife's estate by courtesy, but it was not until 1859 that the Supreme Court decided this important question. In Houston v. Brown, Chief Justice Pearson gave a blow to property rights which married women thought they had obtained in 1848: The first significant change in the property and contract rights of married women did not come until the Constitution of 1868, and it was not until the Martin Act of 1911 that the wife was emancipated "absolutely as to all contracts, except with her husband." 58

           Although in most cases the husband had complete control over his wife's property, the common law permitted the married woman to claim dower. If her husband died intestate or did not make a provision in his will fully satisfactory to her, she might signify her dissent before the county court and be allotted a third part of the real estate including the dwelling house. 59

Nor could the husband defeat his wife of dower by a secret conveyance of property. 60 If the husband chose, he might make his wife executrix or administratrix of his estate and she had the privilege of making affidavit to her inventory before a justice of the peace instead of in open court. 61

           The ante-bellum husband not only had control over his wife's property but he was also the master of her person. "The wife must be subject to the husband. Every man must govern his household," said Chief Justice Pearson in his decision of Joyner v. Joyner in 1862. It was for this reason, he pointed out, that the law gave the husband authority over his wife and, in turn, had adopted proper safeguards to prevent an abuse of this power. 62

According to common law, if a wife should slander or assault a neighbor, the husband was made to pay for it. If the wife should commit a criminal offense, less than felony, in the presence of her husband, he, not she, was held responsible. The husband was subject to the payment of his wife's debts even after she had deserted him unless it could be proved that she wilfully deserted.

           But the law also gave the husband "power to use such a degree of force as is necessary to make the wife behave herself and know

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her place." 63 In 1825 the Raleigh Register declared that the general idea was "that a man may chastise his wife, provided the weapon be not thicker than his little finger." 64 Two years later in the case of the State against one Forkner for whipping his wife, tried in Warren County Superior Court, Judge Ruffin held "that altho' in civilized society it was universally considered as dishonorable and disgraceful for persons in elevated situations to lift their hands against their wives, yet the law was made for the great bulk of mankind . . . the only question for the Jury was whether the whipping was excessive, barbarous and unreasonable." 65 In several cases which reached the Supreme Court, the judges discussed the relationship existing between husband and wife. In State v. Pendergrass 66 the Court set forth the amount of chastisement which a husband might inflict upon his wife, and in State v. Hussey declared that "the wife is not a competent witness against her husband, to prove a battery on her person by him, except in cases where a lasting injury is inflicted, or threatened to be inflicted upon her." 67 In Joyner v. Joyner, Chief Justice Pearson reviewed several circumstances in which a husband might be justified in striking his wife "with a horse-whip on one occasion and with a switch on another, leaving several bruises on the person." 68 He held these circumstances to be: abuse in the strongest term and repeated use of the word liar.

           In 1845 a native of Connecticut, signing himself W. J. F., wrote an essay which went the rounds of the national press, pointing out that there was "no essential difference between the legal condition of the married woman and that of the slave." In publishing the essay, the North Carolina Standard said that the writer "fixes upon the mind the undeniable fact, that the wives of Christian husbands are as much slaves, so far as privation of rights is concerned, as the negroes of the utmost South. We have always regarded many of the provisions in our laws in regard to the rights of the married women, as unjust and harsh--as illiberal and tyrannical. . . . The parallel he draws between what the slave is and what the wife might be, is both striking and complete, . . . We have only

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to add the hope that the article . . . may not cause a 'rebellion' among the married ladies." 69

           The wife actually occupied a far higher status than that assigned to her by law. Nor can the extent of her control over family affairs be ascertained by a mere glance at her legal status. In 1820 John Y. Mason wrote to his friend John H. Bryan warning him that if he should embark in matrimony he must "be prepared to have his nose occasionally ground, that he must be fond of servant-whipping, and that he must not drink or play cards." 70

           Husbands frequently depended upon their wives to carry on business in their absence; indeed, the law recognized the wife as the business agent of her husband under certain circumstances. 71

In 1828 John H. Bryan, writing to his wife from Washington where he was attending Congress, said to her after discussing the political situation, "You see I am disposed to make you somewhat of a politician but every wife ought to know something about and take an interest in her husbands business & concerns." 72 A year later he wrote, "You had better endeavor to collect the notes of Wood & Bob Lisbon for the hire of the negroes, particularly the later.-- . . . I am very well satisfied with your disposition of the negroes--you are my smartest as well as most trusted agent." 73

           There also existed between some husbands and wives a companionship which arose from mutual interests in things other than domestic affairs. Mrs. Henry W. Conner went fishing with her husband, 74

and Mrs. Rebecca McDowell studied Roman history with hers. "We have spent this winters long nights in the study of Rome," wrote Mrs. McDowell, "And I am engaged in writing down the most interesting events that have occurred and the lives

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of the principal persons who figured while she was a commonwealth." 75

           In North Carolina as elsewhere in the South wives in genteel families often followed the custom once prevalent among the gentry in England of addressing their husbands formally even in private conversation and correspondence. It is not strange that the custom should have continued in slaveholding areas, where the wife often spoke to her husband in the presence of domestics. Mrs. Ebenezer Pettigrew addressed her husband as Mr. Pettigrew and even in correspondence saluted him as "My dear Mr. Pettigrew" and subscribed herself, "Your dutiful wife, Ann B. Pettigrew." 76

Less frequently a husband addressed his wife formally, but almost invariably he began a letter to her with "Dear Madam" or "Dear Wife." This custom was not so much an indication of the abasement of woman as it was a matter of expediency and a reflection of the formality of the upper classes in the ante-bellum South.

           The meekness of a wife depended more upon individual temperament than upon repressive customs. Although Judge John H. Bryan thought that "a woman who abuses her husband to strangers, ought to have her tongue cut out, or slit at least," 77

examples are not lacking of women who saw fit even to advertise their husbands publicly if they considered themselves as having been grievously injured. As early as 1806 the North Carolina Journal of Halifax carried the following advertisement: 78 The pattern for this advertisement is to be found, of course, in the custom of advertising runaway wives. After 1810, when the Edenton Gazette raised the price of an advertisement for a runaway wife from ten shillings to "five dollars for the first insertion, and two and a half dollars for each continuance" the frequency of such insertions abated considerably although the practice was by no means discontinued. 79


           Many women, even of the upper classes, by frugality and management were able to add something to the family income. Miss Janet Schaw, who visited Wilmington shortly before the Revolution, found Mrs. Cornelius Harnett, the wife of that indefatigable leader of the Sons of Liberty, "a pattern of industry." "They tell me," wrote Miss Schaw, "that the house and every thing in it was the produce of her labours. She has (it seems) a garden, from which she supplies the town with what vegetables they use, also with mellon and other fruits. She even descends to make minced pies, cheese-cakes, tarts, and little biskets, which she sends to town once or twice a day, besides her eggs, poultry and butter, . . . all her little commodities are contrived so, as not to exceed one penny a piece, and her customers know she will not run tick." 80

           Prior to 1840, thrifty housewives could by their weaving alone keep the family supplied with many necessities, but after that date, as one woman complained in a petition to the Tennessee Legislature, the existing improvements in carding, spinning, and weaving by machinery reduced "the labor of females in those branches of domestic industry . . . so low, that there is but little inducement to follow them, except to make clothing for ourselves and our household." As she pointed out:

When this condition arose, some women turned their attention to the culture of the silkworm. As early as 1831 the daughters of Harrison Smith of Wake Forest sold $60 of sewing silk in a few months. 82

           Like Mrs. Cornelius Harnett, many women sold little articles related to domestic industry and their husbands would often permit them to retain for their own use the profits made in consideration of their supplying the family with certain necessary articles. For instance, John Croker, a planter of large estate in Northampton County, gave his wife for her separate use "what money she could make by the use of her needle (she being a good tailoress), the sale of fowls, eggs, butter, and vegetables from their garden." 83

They kept separate accounts at the stores; she lent her money on bond and took the notes in her own name, and her husband even borrowed from her.

           Women innkeepers were frequently to be found, and the operation of a boarding house was considered one of the most respectable ways in which a widow might earn a livelihood. 84

In 1849 the Fayetteville Observer was of the opinion that the Fayetteville Hotel, operated by a certain Mrs. Brown, was the handsomest hotel in the State. 85 Women frequently owned shops, especially those offering articles of feminine wear. In 1818 a Miss Raley opened a shop in Raleigh with the following announcement:

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Miss Jane Henderson had a millinery shop in Raleigh for several years and then sold it to the Misses M. A. and S. Pulliam who were patronized by all the surrounding neighborhood. In New Bern, Wilmington, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Charlotte, and Salisbury women owned and operated their own shops.

           When factories began to be established in North Carolina, some women found employment as "hands." The Lincoln Cotton Factory near Lincolnton was mentioned in 1849 as employing white girls exclusively. 87

School teaching was another position open to women. In 1853 Calvin H. Wiley, superintendent of common schools, urged examining committees to "encourage as much as possible the very poor, and especially poor females to become teachers." 88 Long before this, however, women were tutoring in private families and teaching in the female departments of the local academies. In 1810 Mrs. Falkner's Boarding School at Warrenton was prosperous and well patronized. 89

           The work most often resorted to by "destitute females" was domestic service, laundering, and sewing. When Mrs. Stephen A. Norfleet, wife of a wealthy planter of Bertie County, became too ill in 1858 to manage her household, her husband employed a Miss Virginia Vaughan whom he paid $4 a month "for Housekeeping," a total of $24 for six months work. In 1859 he paid Miss Renny Wooten a slightly higher wage, $60 for the year. 90

Laundry work and sewing were little better. A "Sewing Girl" described her situation in a letter to the Southern Weekly Post in 1851. She was "the elder of five sisters, with somewhat better advantages than generally falls [sic] to the lot of girls of my class, owing to the exertions of a kind father, who died ere the others were old enough to profit by his labor." Her father dead, her mother feeble, how was this young girl to feed six hungry mouths?

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It was clearly too much for the young girl, and now she was appealing through the Weekly Post for a larger field of activity for intelligent young women who were reduced to the sad necessity of supporting their families: "Will our gentlemen merchants take our daughters as clerks? Will you, Mr. Post, and your brother editors, let our sisters set type at your stands, or must the next generation still be doomed to
In poverty, hunger, and dirt
Sewing at once with a double thread
A Shroud as well as a shirt!
To this appeal "Mr. Post" was silent, but a year later he stated his position with an air of gallantry: "We doubt not our lady readers will pardon us for the opinion that their proper position is not in the full glare of public observation--not in the general practice of what are called the learned professions, nor in any employment which would compel them to violate the delicate modesty in which their virtue is enshrined."

           But the movement for "the emancipation of women" was under way even in the South. Free-thinking articles, such as that by the "Sewing Girl," were creeping into the State papers. In 1850 the Carolina Watchman published a story called "The Father," which declared that "all young females should possess some employment by which they might obtain a livelihood in case they should be reduced to the necessity of supporting themselves." 93

The work of Mary Wolstonecraft, Hannah More, Harriet Newell, Isabella Graham, even the activity of "those bold hussies," Anne Royall, author of the Black Book, Susan B. Anthony, leader in the advocacy of women's rights, Lucy Stone, who wanted married women to retain their maiden names, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, advocates of the equality of the sexes, was leaven in the region where "modest softness" and "flattering timidity" were a fetish.

           There are rare instances of women in North Carolina taking an active part in politics long before Miss Anthony's day. In 1795, for instance, Elkanah Watson of Boston arrived in Warrenton while an election was in progress and found the mother of Benjamin Hawkins, formerly a member of the Continental Congress, active at the polls. "I never met with a more sensible,

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spirited old lady," Watson wrote. "She was a great politician; and I was assured, that she has more political influence, and exercised it with greater effect, than any man in her county." 94

           It was not until the Harrison campaign of 1840 that both political parties made a direct appeal to women to use their influence in behalf of politics. The North Carolina Standard loudly objected to "dragging women into politics": ". . . we can scarcely read an exchange paper containing an account of a political assemblage, which does not inform us that it was cheered by 'the approving smiles of the fair.' . . . It is natural that intellectual ladies by reading or conversation, should form some opinions on political topics, it is natural, and it is right.--But our laws confer on them no political power, and therefore, apart from all considerations of social propriety, they should take no political action." Declaring that "the empire of woman is the fireside: her dominion is that of the affections," the Standard continued:

           The next presidential campaign saw almost the same enthusiasm as four years earlier. The "Whig Ladies" of Raleigh had a local artist paint a Whig banner "on fine gray silk" and they worked ardently for Clay. 96

But women's rights had been launched under anti-slavery auspices, and in 1850 when abolitionists joined with advocates of women's rights in the famous Women's Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, the North Carolina press unanimously condemned the movement. "Woman's sphere is about the domestic altar, and within the tranquil precincts of the social circle," the Raleigh Register declared. "When she transgresses

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that sphere and mingles in the miserable brawlings and the insane agitations of the day, she descends from her lofty elevation, and becomes an object of disgust and contempt, . . ." 97 To the North Carolina Standard the convention was a huge joke: "Women made speeches--women acted on committees--and women claimed the right to vote, and in fact, to be men." 98 As the movement gained strength at the North, claiming more and more support from the radical abolition element, it came to be condemned more and more in the southern press. "The most ridiculous escapade of this century, is the unwise, foolish, and incomprehensible position assumed by certain trous-a-loon women at the North," declared the Oxford Leisure Hour in 1858. "All this originates in a false state of society--in a society that at the South would not be countenanced for one day." 99 Nevertheless, southern women in their writings, their church activities, 100 their education, 101 and their daily work, were beginning also to cry, "Equality!"


           The ante-bellum tradition was one of large families. John Bernard, celebrated English comedian who visited North Carolina about 1800, observed that there were never less than a dozen children in a family, adding that "the women seem to bear them in a litter in these regions." 102

William White, for many years Secretary of State, son-in-law of Richard Caswell, the Revolutionary patriot, had ten children. Judge Thomas Ruffin had fourteen children, only one of whom died before maturity. Judge John H. Bryan also had fourteen children. In 1828 after Mrs. Bryan had given birth to another child, her sister, Mrs. Ebenezer Pettigrew, wrote: "I take this opportunity of congratulating you on the birth of a fine son. I have no doubt but the stock will be increased every eighteen months, very fortunate for us, the breed is so good, so smart." 103 Mrs. Pettigrew was herself bearing one child after another.

           Undoubtedly many children died in infancy. The census of 1860, however, lists the number of deaths of children under one for the year ending June 1, 1860, at only 56 in every 1,000 free children. 104

Among the causes of death given, croup, whooping

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cough, scarlatina, infantile fever, worms, teething, and measles headed the list.

           The size of free families in North Carolina as given by the census of 1790 is indicated in the following table:



Size Number Per Cent
1 person 3,519 7.2
2 and under 4 9,237 19.0
4 and under 6 12,973 26.6
6 and under 8 11,245 23.1
8 and under 10 7,460 15.3
10 and over 4,267 8.8
Total 48,701 100.0

           In 1790 almost half the families in the State, or 47.2 per cent, contained six or more members. Almost a tenth, or 8.8 per cent, contained ten or more members; while a little more than a fourth or 26.2 per cent, contained less than four members. The tendency toward large families was in keeping with the general trend throughout the United States. 106

           The average size of all free families in North Carolina at three different periods, 1790, 1850, and 1860, as given by the census reports, is indicated in the following table:



Period Total Free Population Number of Families Average per Family
1790 292,554 52,613 5.6
1850 580,363 105,451 5.5
1860 661,563 125,090 5.3



  Number of families Number of members Average per family
Slaveholding 14,945 87,121 5.8
Nonslaveholding 33,076 178,077 5.4

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           The average size of free families in North Carolina decreased less from 1790 to 1850, six decades, than in the one decade from 1850 to 1860. By 1900 the average size of families had decreased to 5.1 members.

           A midwife functioned far more frequently at the birth of a child than did a doctor, not only because the doctor's fee was higher, but also because doctors were less plentiful. Each community usually had its midwife, and a skilful midwife sometimes practiced in several counties. In 1813 William Hayne wrote to his father-in-law, Alexander F. Brevard, that a friend of theirs was much pleased with the midwife in Columbia, S. C., although she "has not been very long engaged in that business--the former one here being dead." 108

Newspapers usually announced a baby as having been born to the father, as, for instance, "May 18--a son to Peter Warren, Town." 109

           A law requiring registration of births was advocated at various times during the ante-bellum period. In 1829 the Raleigh Register, on observing the passage of such a law in Georgia, asked, "Is not such a regulation desirable in this State?" 110

In 1850 a bill requiring the registration of births, marriages, and deaths submitted in the Senate by Thomas N. Cameron was finally defeated by a vote of 25 to 17. 111

           Most genteel and middle-class families turned over the care of the children to Negro nurses. In cases requiring the expedient as a means of saving life, Negro nurses even suckled their little charges. 112

In 1825 the Hillsborough Recorder protested against the custom of "delivering a child over into the hands of a nurse . . . where it may first learn to lisp vulgarity and obscenity, and from whom it inevitably acquires a pronunciation and accent, such as may never be fully corrected. . . . Many parents are ashamed to introduce their children into society, and well may they," for the child is often "unfit for society; and in the parlour words might be heard from its mouth to put to shame these faithless guardians of its youth." Among the other evils of Negro nurses the writer listed "the propensity to frighten children" and the fondness for

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telling tales of ghosts and genii. Indeed, he had known of children in whom foolish superstitions had been aroused "which education and even religion have sometimes been found unable to counteract." 113 Mrs. Mary Mason of Raleigh, writing in her Young Housewife's Counseller and Friend, declared, "The nursery is the hotbed of superstition. Who does not know that from the very first . . . the inmates of the nursery are controlled by superstitious fear? . . . how often does the nursery-maid still the restless little prattler by calling upon 'the bugaboo to come and catch naughty little Charley!' And further than this the memory of ghost-stories is among the most vivid of early impressions, . . ." 114 In 1847 "Phil," writing a series of articles on children for the Star, thought that "one of the greatest evils now in existence, is that of trusting our children to wicked and ignorant nurses." 115 In nonslaveholding families, the babies were usually left to the care of the older children.

           Family discipline seems to have been as varied in ante-bellum days as at present. Parents desired obedient children, but many were too indulgent or too absorbed with other matters to give them the necessary training. A newspaper correspondent in 1809 was of the opinion that family government "in spite of the modern whims about liberty and equality . . . must be absolute; mild, not tyrannical." 116

In 1810 a writer lamented, "There are no more children." 117 They "now treat parents, their relatives, their masters, with contempt. . . . Licentiousness, pride and boldness, have superceded mildness, timidity and innocence." In 1832 William Hooper, professor of Ancient Languages in the University of North Carolina, in a lecture before the North Carolina Institute of Education, regretted that parents were "generally so injudiciously indulgent." Some children were allowed to "indulge a violent temper without punishment, to domineer over slaves, to struggle with, and even fight their mothers, when they attempted to control them." 118

           In 1841 a citizen of the town rejoiced that "we have a School in Raleigh at last," because at last a man had been found who could keep the students in check. For the first time in many years boys "who have never been under control at home or elsewhere,"

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sons "of our first citizens," were being taught a little self-restraint. The boys of Raleigh seem not to have been abashed long by the new teacher. In 1845 the Register declared, "It is distressing to see so little restraint imposed upon the Youths of our city," 119 to which the Carolina Watchman replied: "We know of no place where the exercise of Parental Authority is more needed, than in Salisbury. . . . We have on many occasions had to be put on public duty after night, and were astonished at the number of boys running to and fro through the streets, (children of those whom we thought knew better how to control them) swearing like sailors, and blackguarding to such a degree, that we know would utterly astonish their parents if they knew." The Watchman thought that every father should know "the whereabouts of his Son after sundown. He ought to know whether he is frequenting the grogshops, the card-table, or any other place where immorality and vice is carried on." 120

           Town ordinances, such as the curfew and the regulation of children's games, passed for the purpose of aiding parents in controlling their children, often fell short of the aim. 121

"Is Nash-Square the public property in such a sense, that it may be taken possession of by groups of rude and noisy lads, during the afternoon of the Sabbath, for their sports;--such as dog-fighting--wrestling--marble playing, &c, to the great annoyance of those who dwell in the neighborhood?" asked "A Parent" of Raleigh in 1853. "If such lads are beyond the reach of parental restraint,--or if these are [children of] parents who do not care to control them, lest it should curb their high spirits, is there no other authority that can and will restrain them?" The writer called on the town commission for a special police for juvenile delinquents who should be confined to the guard-house and released only after their parents had paid a fine. 122 In much the same vein the Weekly Post had written in 1851: ". . . the worst thing we know of about some villages is the manner in which the children are raised; and on this subject we feel that a great reform is needed. Parents . . . often look on it as evidence of spirit and smartness to see their children rudely insulting the quiet and often humble citizens of the Country, gibing them on the streets, doing mischief to their

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horses and vehicles, and making sport of their plain equipments." 123

           In a few instances, the "spirit and boldness" of the ante-bellum youth took extreme forms. In 1805 "a large family of children" attempted to kill their mother because she was too strict with them, 124

and in 1854 a Cabarrus County father, over-wrought by his son's misconduct, hanged the boy for his disobedience. 125

           There were parents who demanded that their children treat them with deference, and they seemed to have had no great amount of trouble in exacting it. The letters of Dr. James Norcom of Edenton to his children are an excellent example of the parental attitude which placed, "Honor thy father and thy mother," and especially thy father, above all other commandments. When he sent his young daughter to a boarding school in Philadelphia, he instructed her to begin her letters to him "with any of the following addresses--viz--Dear & honored Father--my dearest Father--my beloved Father, or my best of Fathers." 126

He was constantly reminding his children of their duty; nor did he cease to exact this duty after they were married and had children of their own.

           According to common law, the child owed the father certain services which the parent had a right to demand. A child's wages belonged to the father and the father had the right to require certain labor of him in return for his support. In 1815 a father brought action for an injury done to him in the loss of his daughter's services in consequence of her seduction, illness, and death in childbirth. 127

Children of the yeomanry were put to work in the fields at an early age. Some were hired out at specific wages for short periods of time, 128 and others were apprenticed until they arrived at maturity, the apprenticeship usually continuing from five to seven years. With the establishment of factories, children were also employed as factory hands at a rate as low, in some instances, as 12½ cents a week.

           The dissenting opinion of Judge Daniel delivered in 1832 in

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the case of Williams v. Barnes foreshadowed the modern attitude toward the relation of parent and child: Judge Ruffin and Chief Justice Henderson held that such a position would tend to "change the character of our people, cool domestic regard, and in the place of confidence sow jealousies in families."

           Upon the father's death, the child was thrown upon the mercy of the orphans' court. By the act of 1762 and the interpretation of this act by several Supreme Court decisions, no one had a right to the guardianship of a child under twenty-one "except as testamentary guardian or as appointed by the father by deed or by the County or Superior Court." 130

The appointment of a guardian was a matter of discretion by the court and the court usually would not rescind an appointment, 131 once made, unless it seemed that injury was likely to result to the orphan's estate. In some counties it was customary for the orphan, on arriving at the age of fourteen, to be permitted to come into court and make choice of a guardian if his father had not appointed one by will or deed, 132 but the choice of the orphan was not binding upon the court. 133 The court was required to take bonds from guardians appointed and the justices of the peace forming the court were held liable for taking insufficient security.

           The act of 1762 required the holding of orphans' courts in every county once a year. The court was held for the purpose of

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examining guardians' accounts, but occasionally the court might discipline an unruly orphan. The Orphans' Court of Edgecombe County, for instance, has on its record for 1800 the following entry:

           "William Robertson being brought before the Court for misbehaviour--it is the sentence of the Court that he be committed to Jaol, there to remain til tomorrow morning 12 o'clock--Ordered that the Sheriff execute the said sentence." 134

           The large number of orphans' accounts consumed much of the time of a county court and leads to the conclusion that the percentage of orphans in the State was high. In six counties, 135

selected at random from different sections of the State, the average number of accounts proved each year was well over a hundred. In Edgecombe County, for instance, the orphans' court proved from 110 to 126 accounts every year between 1831 and 1835.

           The fact that there was mismanagement of orphans' estates and even ill treatment of orphans is indicated by the numerous bills and petitions to the Legislature on that subject. 136

Governor Benjamin Williams in his address to the General Assembly in 1800 urged that an act be passed compelling guardians to return lists of orphans' lands in order to protect orphans against dishonesty. 137

           But the role of a guardian was not always an easy one, and in some instances courts had difficulty in finding persons who would undertake the responsibility. A bill before the Legislature of 1806 declared that "It often happens, that orphans are entitled to considerable estates in woody land, young negroes . . . the income of which will not support them and their sickly constitution will not admit of their being bound out, nor their property allow them to be put on the Parish." 138

In such an instance the guardian had either to support the child himself or sell a part of the orphan's estate. But the procedure to be followed in selling a part of an orphan's estate was subject to complication and delays. The county court had first to determine whether the sale was expedient

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and then to select the part of the property which could be disposed of with least injury to the ward. 139 Orphans with insufficient property to support them were bound out by the county court to earn their "board and keep." 140 Orphans of this class were usually illegitimate children, and children whose fathers had deserted their families or whose mothers had obtained from the Legislature the right to such property as they might thereafter acquire.

           The ante-bellum conception of the family and the laws upon which it was based were built around the husband as the head and ruler of the household. But this ideal was seriously overcast and the laws themselves gradually modified by the extra-legal position of woman. Women engaged in business, and married women found ways of holding and disposing of property long before the Constitution of 1868. Intellectual women had from colonial times taken an interest in politics, and after 1840 it became fashionable to attend political gatherings. Votes for women were being agitated in other parts of the United States and North Carolina did not escape the woman's movement. While the law gave the father unlimited power over his children, he was often prevented from exercising it by the children themselves. The ante-bellum boy was often referred to as "a bold, spirited youth, whose dominion over slaves made him impatient of restraint."

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