Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grave Concerns

Three early governors of North Carolina lie buried along the Trent River in Craven County - Richard Dobbs Spaight, Sr., his son Richard Dobbs Spaight, Jr., and their near neighbor Abner Nash.  Nash (born c. 1740 - died 1786) served as the second governor of the newly formed state from 1780 to 1781. He was later elected to represent North Carolina at the Continental Congress in 1782, 1783, and 1785. It was while attending the Congress in New York City that Nash died on December 2, 1786 and was buried in St. Paul's churchyard. His body was eventually returned to North Carolina and interred in the family plot on Nash's Pembroke plantation. Nash's home was destroyed during the Civil War and his grave site suffered much neglect thereafter.  His sunken grave was visible, though very overgrown, and lacking any type of stone until the plot was cleared and marked by a low brick enclosure and a memorial tablet in the early 20th Century.

Nash Grave 1

Photographs, c. 1930, of Abner Nash grave enclosure and memorial tablet.
The Spaights, father and son, along with at least nine other family members were entombed in a stuccoed brick sepulcher on Clermont Plantation. The elder Spaight (born 1758 - died 1802) served as governor from 1792-1795 and as one of North Carolina's three signers of the United States Constitution in 1787. Spaight was mortally wounded on September 5, 1802 in a duel with fellow New Bernian and politician John Stanly. He died the next day and was buried at Clermont.

Image of Spaight tomb in the The New Bernian, 10 June 1923

Richard Dobbs Spaight Jr. (born 1796 - died 1850) served as governor from 1835 to 1836. Failing to win reelection, Spaight retired from politics and devoted himself to his law practice. He was also very active as a Freemason, serving as Grand Master of North Carolina 1830-1831. Spaight died November 17, 1850 and was interred in the family tomb at Clermont.

The Spaight tomb fared little better than Abner Nash's grave. Vandalized during the Union occupation of New Bern, the tomb went through cycles of neglect and repair until 1934. In June of that year, Spaight descendant Col. Charles Shepard Bryan had the tomb demolished and replaced with a brick and granite walled enclosure

Spaight tomb site as rebuilt in June 1934

Today, the Spaight plot is owned by Tryon Palace Historic Sites and Gardens and is open to the public. The Nash grave remains on private property and is not accessible by the public.

John B. Green III

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Booker T. Washington Visits New Bern

Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington
(From the Wikimedia Commons.)
On November 3, 1910, Booker T. Washington visited New Bern and gave a speech at the Masonic Theater. According to The Sun (3 Nov 1910), Dr. Washington and party reached the town from Washington on the Norfolk-Southern at 11:35 that morning and proceeded to the New Bern Collegiate Institute for a reception. Rev. A.L.E. Weeks, President of the Collegiate Institute, served as escort for Dr. Washington.

The doors of the Masonic Theater opened at 12:30 and "one thousand or more" gathered, despite a seating capacity of 800. Chairs were placed "at every vacant point" according to the New Bern Weekly Journal (4 Nov 1910).

Quoting The Sun (3 Nov 1910)
The Masonic Opera House was beautifully decorated with patriotic colors and a profusion of flowers.
On the rostrum sat Ex-Mayor Jas. A. Bryan, who delivered the introductory address; County Superintendent S.M. Brinson, R.A. Nunn, Chairman Board of Education, H.B. Craven, superintendent City Graded Schools, Sheriff J.W. Biddle, Daniel Lane, of the Board of Education, members of Dr. Washington's party and of the local committee on arrangements.

The house was called to order by Isaac H. Smith, president of the local Negro Business League, who presented Bishop G.W. Clinton, of Charlotte. Bishop Clinton introduced the various members of the party. Major R.R. Moten, of Hampton Institute led the audience in the singing of negro plantation songs. A chorus was rendered by the students of the New Bern Collegiate Institute, after which Rev. D.J. Beckett offered prayer. Leonia Harris rendered effectively a soprano solo, "Carol of the Lark."
After which, Ex-Mayor Bryan introduced Dr. Washington to the crowd, who "heartily greeted [him] when he rose to speak." After his speech (quoted below), Washington left New Bern bound for Wilmington, then back to Tuskegee.

The following is the speech of Booker T. Washington during his New Bern visit, as quoted in the 3 Nov 1910 issue of The Sun.

In accepting the invitation of Bishop Clinton and other prominent citizens  of North Carolina, I have but one object in view, and that is to see for myself some of the progress of which I have heard so much. Let me say right here that from what I have been able to see, I feel that the people of North Carolina of both races have good reason to congratulate themselves upon the success which the negroes of North Carolina are making. The negro has done well in North Carolina. I repeat, he has done well, but he can make himself still more useful in the future than he has in the past, and my object in coming here, as I have stated, is to say something and as far as I am able to suggest something to make the negro more useful to himself, more useful to the State and to the nation, than he has been in the past.

As I have said, I have sought to keep in close touch with the progress of your state, but one who lives outside of North Carolina is at a certain disadvantage in learning about what the actual progress has been.

Both races in the South suffer at the hands of public opinion in one respect, and that is by reason of the fact that the outside world hears of our difficulties, hears of crimes, hears of mobs and lynchings, but the outside world does not hear of, neither does it know about the evidences of racial friendship and good will which exist in the majority of the communities of Mississippi and other Southern States. When we consider all that has taken place during the past forty years, I believe that we have every reason to congratulate ourselves that things have gone as well as they have, that they are no worse than they are.

I am well aware of the fact that there is an element of our white friends who often refrain from helping the negro to the extent they otherwise would, on account of the bugbear of what is sometimes referred to as social equality. I am constantly mingling among members of my own race, North and South, and of all the subjects discussed that is very rarely referred to. Let me say as emphatically as I can, that judging by my experience and observation with my race, nowhere in this country is it seeking to obtrude itself on the white race, and especially here in the South. I think you will find that the more sensible negro is, the more he is educated, the more he finds satisfaction in the company of his own race.

To a very large extent the problem of the negro in the Southern States is a labor problem. In order to secure effective and satisfactory labor from any race, two things have got to be borne in mind. First, people must be taught a love for labor, must be taught the dignity of labor and at the same time given proper methods in the direction of skill. Secondly they must have their minds and their ambitions awakened so that their wants will be increased. No individual labors except as he has a motive for doing so.

The Southern negro wants land, wants a house with two or three rooms in it, wants some furniture, books, newspapers, education for his children; wants to support the minister and the Sunday School, and in  proportion as those wants are increased, he is led to work an increasing number of days in order to satisfy them.

If we would make the negro more useful as a laborer, we must increase his wants, we must arouse his ambitions, we must give him something to live for, to hope for, and just in proportion as his wants are multiplied, are increased in many directions, so that he will want better homes, better furniture, better churches, better schools, more books, more newspapers, in the same degree will he be led to work with more regularity and a longer number of days in order that his increased wants may be satisfied. The mere matter of paying a high wage to an individual, unless his wants have been increased along sensible and rational lines, does not solve the problem.

In all that concerns the welfare of the negro in the South, there is no person in the world who can be so helpful to him as his white neighbor. For instance, our white friends will agree with me, I am sure, that they can help the people of my race in preventing migration in so large numbers to the cities. Our white friends can help in this respect in several ways. First, by seeing to it that life in the country is made just as attractive and safe as life in the city.

The negro wants education for his children. He has an ambition to improve the conditions of his family. If he finds in the city, as he usually does, a school well equipped with good teacher either by missionary effort of by public school funds that is in session eight or nine months in the year, and if he finds in his own community the public school taught in a broken down log cabin with a poor teacher and the school term not longer than four or five months in the year, the negro is tempted to move to the city where he can educate his children.

This is natural and any other race would yield to the same temptation under the circumstances. Our white friends can help the negro, and help themselves at the same time, by seeing to it that the negro family is provided with just as good accommodations in the country as in the city.

Our white friends can help again in preventing the influx of our people to the cities in so large numbers by seeing to it that the people are just as well protected in their lives and property in the country as in the city. When the negro feels that he is likely to be lynched or likely to be made to suffer for any kind of crime, here again, he is tempted to move into the city where he can receive police protection. In all these respects, by facing conditions frankly each race can help promote the interest the happiness, the prosperity of the other race.

There are some things in the life of every race that must settled as speedily as possible before they will be able to make any permanent progress. One of them is the matter of permanent abode, a definite place to live in. A race can not make the highest progress, become in the highest degree useful, until it makes up its mind to settle down somewhere on the soil and become a useful part of the community in which it lives. We must get rid of the habit, which in a very large degree still clings to the race, of being an unsettled people. Some portion of our race moves every year. People live on one plantation this year, on another next year, and on still another  next year. Some have been doing this for a period of twenty years. We can not make progress, we can not make ourselves respected as we should be until this habit has changed.

There is no place in this country where the negro is better off, of in any other country, all things considered, than in our Southern States, and particularly in the country districts. I have had the privilege of traveling pretty extensively throughout this country and in some foreign countries, and I have no hesitation in stating that taking the matter on the whole, there is no place where the masses of negro people are doing so well, are so healthy in mind and body as they are in the country districts of the South. In my opinion, the mass of my people have definitely determined to stay where they are in what in known as the black belt of the Southern States.

All races in the primitive period of their lives who have gotten upon their feet have gotten their start in the country cultivating  the soil. In the city, the temptation to live in idleness, the temptation to drink, the temptation to gamble, the temptation to commit crime are far greater than in the country. In the country we can find plenty of work, can find a good place to live where there is plenty of pure air, where we can become owner of a piece of property, rear a strong, healthy and vigorous family. I urge our ministers, teachers and other leaders to use their influence wherever possible to help keep our people out of the large cities. One influence that is working against the negro today, that is making public sentiment grow against him, is the object lesson of scores and sometimes hundreds of idle men and women loafing about the streets and around the bar-rooms and dens of vice and misery in our large cities. In the country we can save our money, we can invest it in something that will be permanent and useful. In the city the temptation to spend money is against us.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fort Totten

The City of New Bern opened Fort Totten on June 15, 1953, for the beginning of their annual Summer Recreation program. Originally constructed by the occupying Union Forces during the Civil War, remains of the fort's ramparts were still evident in the 1920s.
  Historian Dick Lore wrote in 1998 that "one notable failure at historic preservation ... occurred in New Bern in the 1920s, and our Society [i.e. the New Bern Historical Society] must shoulder at least some of the blame for this failure."
Interior view of Fort Totten as seen in 1884.
Photo from William Garrison Reed Photo Album owned by the library.
  During the 1920s, the subdivision called De Graffenried Park was just being developed and the owners were deciding what to do with the land occupied by the old fort. They offered to donate the land to any historical association willing to maintain it. The Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy declined the offer. The New Bern Historical Society formed a committee to look into the matter, but eventually, declined the offer as well.
  Eventually the mounds of dirt forming the walls of the fort were removed and a playground and ball field were erected on the area. While the city and county became the owners of the property, New Bern City Schools used the property for various functions up to the 1950s. In 1950, New Bern and Craven County offered to sell the property to the Sudan Shriners to build an auditorium. Those plans never materialized, and the Shriners built their auditorium on Broad Street. The City eventually took over maintenance of the park and opened it on June 15, 1953.

[Information from Richard Lore "The New Bern Historical Society: The First Seventy-five Years" Journal of the New Bern Historical Society 11:1 (May 1998), 3-40; and The Sun Journal, January 18, 1950; May 2, 1951; and June 13, 1953]

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Writings of John D. Whitford Available Online

John D. Whitford, about 1904
John Dalton Whitford (17 Aug 1825-13 Sep 1910), legislator, railroad president, soldier and historian, was born in New Bern, the son of Hardy Whitford and Mary James Clark. He married Jeanie Reid. At the age of 21, he was elected Intendent of New Bern (as the office of Mayor was designated at the time). He also served as Collector of Customs at New Bern's port, and soon after was elected President of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad. In May 1919, Judge R.A. Nunn gave a speech detailing the life of Col. John D. Whitford.
At various times during the late 1800s and the early 1900s, Whitford penned articles for the local newspapers detailing the history of New Bern. These articles are being transcribed and placed on the website of the Kellenberger Room for your enjoyment. The articles may be read at