Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Silas McDowell, on Morganton (part 1)

Morganton and its Surroundings Sixty Years Ago, excerpt, by Silas McDowell, c. 1877, manuscript (transcribed by Ann Walker, ©2009)

    In the year 1830 on Hunting creek, Burke County, there died an old German named Christian Bottles. The old man had acquired a local fame that rested on the single fact that he had run his wagon betwixt Morganton and Charleston for more than forty years. During this time it was his hap to bring from Charleston to Morganton, and at different periods three mechanics, who, afterward, made their mark upon the social world, and the first of these left a very ugly mark. His name was Caleb Poor, by trade a tanner, and from the state of Massachusetts. The second was named E[d]ward Williams. He, too, was from Massachusetts, and his trade also was that of tanner. The third one was named Silas McDowell, born in York District, S. Carolina. The above is but an introduction to a long story.

    In the month of July 1816 Bottles drove his wagon to the store of Thomas Walton in Morganton, and on the opposite side of the street of a small brick hotel kept by Mrs Nancy McEntire and her son William, while the real head of the family was James McEntire, who was then, at the age of ninety, blind, helpless, and confined to his apartment, while Mrs McEntire was a a small sprightly old lady, and apparently short of sixty. With Bottles was a slender youth, apparently, not out of his teens: he was fair of skin, lustrous dark eyes, set deeply beneath an ample forehead, teeth pearly white and dark curly hair.

    Bottles presented the youth to Walton in these words– "Col. Walton this is a young tailor I picked up in Charleston and brought mit me; what you tink [sic] of his looks, and how you like him?"

    Walton shook the youth's hand cordially, and then turned to Bottles and observed. "Bottles you have asked me two questions and I will answer but one of them, and that is in relation to the young man's looks: his looks spring in my mind a fantastic conceit that takes about this shape. Nature must have been in a fickle mood when she started to make him; she commenced to make a pretty woman, changed her mind, and the result of her job was a handsome little man." "Yes, and per the too laddies he ish as goot as he ish handsome, and right down charmante," Bottles replied. The youth blushed and remarked, "Friend Bottles has made up an opinion in my favor on a very short acquaintance, which, no doubt, wants to be modified if he knew more of me." Walton took the youth on up the street and presented him to Mrs McEntire and her bachelor son William–a small oldish looking man, and utterly bald headed. When the eyes of Mrs McEntire met those of the young man she appeared strangely agitated, and hurriedly asked, "Young man, are you not from Ireland, and are you not related to the Maxwells?" Both these questions he answered in the negative: but still the old lady kept her eyes on him, and they held two, big, trembling tears. There was a cause; but that, in its proper place.

    After dinner the young man asked Mrs McEntire to point out the direction of their Church, at which she replied, "Young man, I am ashamed to tell you that Morganton has no Church, and never had one; nor has she any educational building. To confess the truth, Morganton has no use for a Church, because there are but four professors of religion in the place, and these are my son William, daughter Matty Walton, and myself : the other is Dave Tate's black man, Brooks." "And where do you bury your dead?" the youth asked. She replied, "We have a private burying ground two hundred paces west of this, and there my oldest daughter Jenny Walton is buried, and there also will my old man and me be buried: but the public burying ground is over the river near Quaker Meadows meeting house. Twenty five years ago a bright young man named McKamey [Makemie] Wilson--he was a presbyterian preacher; he organized a Church at Quaker Meadows and preached there for 20 years: but he married Polly, the lovely daughter of Alexander Erwin, and children came so fast that his salary did not support him, and he was compelled to leave, and we have had no regular preaching since; but Mr Wilson attends once a year to administer the sacrament to the old members." "But do tell me," she continued, "why is it that the first thing you wish to visit in our town is a Church?" "Oh, I hardly know why," he replied. "It is not the Church, but the graves where the dead repose that I want to see: sometimes I am attacked by a feeling so incredibly lonely that I feel like that crazed man we read of in the gospel, who made his abode among the tombs." The old lady uttered one short exclamation– "Unfortunate young man!" and wept.