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

Johnson, Guion Griffis, 1900- 1989


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           THIS STUDY of the main currents of life and thought in North Carolina from the close of the Revolutionary period to the era of a new war is an attempt to describe the processes of social change. In the transition of a community of people from one philosophy of life to another, there are many gradations. All do not think alike or live alike. A few lead the way to a new order; but, long after the majority has fallen in line, a few still lag behind. This study is consequently a picture of the way the average North Carolinian lived his life between 1800 and 1860 with occasional details of the extremes to give emphasis to the whole.

           In 1860 the average North Carolinian had seen many changes since the turn of the century. He had lived to see the results of the inventions of the steam engine and of the spinning-jenny. He had seen cables traverse his State from Virginia to South Carolina to bring news of the outside world by "lightning telegraph." He had seen the stage coach give place to miles of railroads stretching north and south, east and west. He had seen property rights gradually give way to human rights at the polls, and he had seen the "eastern oligarchy" yield to "the unterrified democracy" of the West. He had seen the introduction of a public school system and the building of colleges. He had seen the State take a hand in the care of the insane, the deaf, and the blind. He had seen a convulsion of religious emotion at the opening of the century which added great numbers to the denominations and created new sects. He had seen the churches go out in the "waste places" seeking for members. In the field of medicine, he had seen the superstitious folk doctor gradually give ground to the trained practitioner. He had seen smallpox vaccine lessen the scourge of that dreaded disease and he had lived to see the introduction of chloroform, that "heaven-sent miracle." He had seen the newspapers grow from puny sheets to organs of power and prestige. He had seen his State gradually acquire a native literature.

           But he had seen other things as well. He had seen North Carolina drop from third to twelfth rank in the nation's population.

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He had seen his farm lands grow sterile from exhaustive methods of agriculture. He had seen his neighbors pull up stake and leave for more fertile regions in the South and Northwest. He had seen those left behind, bilious and despondent from malaria, fight against the competition of slave labor. He had seen the large planter growing more and more dependent upon slavery and slavery itself creating an ever increasing social problem as the black population grew in numbers. He had seen slavery become a great moral issue and insinuate itself into every phase of life. Of recent years each gale that swept from the North and West was bringing with it louder and louder imputations against the peculiar institution.

           He had heard other echoes of reform. He had heard it said that the State should take a hand in caring for the poor unless it wished the poor eventually to smite it down. He had heard it said that the superior courts were inadequate and that the county courts ought to be abolished. He had heard that the State had the bloodiest criminal code in the nation, that it was unjust to hang a man for a crime when he might be sent to prison instead.

           On all sides he heard people saying that the present generation was building a gingerbread civilization, that the youths of 1860 had become "extravagant and effeminate, fond of fine clothes and rich living, well-timed music and delicate women." In the towns he saw sleek horses and handsome barouches, satins and hoop skirts; but on the small farms he still saw women laboring by day and by night, both in the house and in the field, to aid their husbands in feeding and clothing the family. Despite divorce suits and the agitation for larger property rights of the married woman, the wife's personality was still legally merged in that of the husband.

           The average North Carolinian himself was confused by all this talk of reform and this malediction of the present generation. He went to church on Sunday, paid his taxes, and was at peace with the world. But he was at peace only so long as his taxes were low and he had enough left over from the sale of his crops to buy a few of those little luxuries which made life worth living. He had little time for reading; he acquired his knowledge through the ear, caught simultaneously without study and without trouble in the group at the crossroads store, talking over the news and the politics of the day, at church, at the muster-ground or tax-gathering,

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at the electioneering from the speeches of those who had been to Raleigh or to Washington. He sturdily supported the opinions which he gleaned and prided himself in the belief that he had evolved them out of his own wisdom.

           This picture of North Carolina--a body politic emerging from the simplicities of the frontier to the complexities of civilized life--has cast long shadows, prophetic fingers pointing to the inevitable for a hundred years to come. The years between 1800 and 1860 shaped the future; it was a time of origins which still control many ways of life in North Carolina.

           This study has been generously financed by the Institute for Research in Social Science of the University of North Carolina. It was planned originally as a study of "the newspaper press as a social force" under the direction of Gerald W. Johnson, at that time professor of journalism in the University of North Carolina, now editorial writer for the Baltimore Sun. Although this project has been greatly changed since Mr. Johnson first outlined it in 1924, it still retains something of his original plan. When it was decided to enlarge the study into a social history of the State, R. D. W. Connor, then professor of history in the University of North Carolina and now United States Archivist, gave many hours to discussion and suggestion and sympathetically guided the work during the first three years of research.

           Many others have facilitated the research and organization of the study, patiently helping to uncover obscure data difficult to obtain, graciously improving the manuscript in style and perspective. Dr. A. R. Newsome, professor of history in the University of North Carolina, and Dr. C. C. Crittenden, secretary of the North Carolina Historical Commission, have read the entire manuscript and made many valuable notations. Dr. J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton, director of the Southern History Collection in the University of North Carolina, Dr. Avery O. Craven, professor of history in the University of Chicago, Dr. T. J. Woofter, Jr., co-ordinator of rural research in the Works Progress Administration, and Dr. Jesse F. Steiner, professor of sociology in the University of Washington, have read Chapters I to VI. Dr. G. W. Paschal of Wake Forest College, Dr. Paul Neff Garber of the Duke University School of Religion, Miss Adelaide L. Fries, archivist of the southern province of the Moravian Church in America, Dr. S. M. Tenney, curator of the Historical Foundation

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of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, the Reverend Charles C. Ware, corresponding secretary of the North Carolina Christian Missionary Convention, and the Reverend A. S. Lawrence of the Chapel of the Cross have read Chapters XII to XV. The late Dr. B. U. Brooks of Durham read Chapters XVI to XXIV. Dr. J. S. Spurgeon of Hillsboro has read Chapter XXIV, Dr. A. C. McIntosh of the Law School of the University of North Carolina has read Chapters XXI and XXII, Mr. J. A. Warren of Chapel Hill has read Chapters XIV and XV. Professor Ernest R. Groves of the University of North Carolina has read Chapters VII and VIII, and Dean Elbert Russell of the Duke University School of Religion and Professor S. T. Emory of the University of North Carolina have read portions of chapters.

           The materials used in this study have been obtained largely from North Carolina libraries, but the search for data has also led to such diverse sources as the Library of Congress and a farm-house attic in Texas. The librarians of the University of North Carolina and of Duke University have made their collections accessible for the purposes of this study. Miss Mary L. Thornton, librarian of the North Carolina Collection in the University of North Carolina Library, has been especially untiring in her assistance, as have Miss Elizabeth Hailey, assistant of the circulation department, Miss Georgia Faison, reference librarian, and Mrs. Lyman A. Cotten, in charge of the Southern Collection. Mr. B. E. Powell, reference librarian of Duke University, and Miss Katherine Hall, reference librarian of the University of Chicago, also have given valuable assistance. Dean R. B. House, Dr. A. R. Newsome, and Dr. C. C. Crittenden, who have served respectively as secretary of the North Carolina Historical Commission during the period of this research, and their assistants, Mrs. Susan T. West, Miss Sophie D. Busbee, and Mr. D. L. Corbitt, have greatly facilitated the collection of data. Miss Carrie L. Broughton, librarian of the North Carolina State Library, has patiently verified data, and Miss Pauline Hill, assistant librarian, has assisted in the location of materials. The late Marshall deLancey Haywood, Supreme Court librarian; Miss Nellie Rowe of the Greensboro Public Library; Miss Adelaide L. Fries of the Moravian Church Archives; Dr. S. M. Tenney of the Historical Foundation of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches have all assisted in the location of materials in their care. Dr. and

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Mrs. J. S. Spurgeon of Hillsboro and Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Warren of Chapel Hill have discovered material in private hands and made it available for this study. During these tedious years of research, Dr. Howard W. Odum, director of the Institute for Research in Social Science, and Dr. Katharine Jocher, assistant director, have been sympathetically co-operative. Of Dr. Jocher's secretarial staff Mrs. A. E. Bevacqua has helped most with the details of the study. During the period of the collection of data, Miss Jessie Alverson typed many of the documents. To each of these and to many others, unnamed but nonetheless appreciated, I am deeply grateful. To my husband, Guy B. Johnson, I am especially indebted, for upon his sociological insight I have relied constantly.

G. G. J.

Chapel Hill North Carolina

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