Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Silas McDowell, on Morganton (part 3)

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

    ... When Mrs McEntire learned that I had resolved to settle in Morganton she manifested great interest in my success; an interest without abatement all the while I lived in Morganton, a period of a few months over ten years.

    Touching the subject of making Morganton my home she seemed to only one doubt of my success, and that doubt rested on her opinion that Burke society would not appreciate me at my true value; and from the sole cause, that I was a mechanic: informing me that in Burke society there was an inveterate prejudice against all strange mechanics, and that the more intelligent and plausible they were the stronger was the prejudice, and the closer they were watched. And she continued, "The citizens, particularly the parents and guardians of girls have substantial reason for this prejudice, particularly if the mechanic is handsome, intelligent, and of graceful manner. Twenty-five years ago there came to Morganton a mechanic who would have filled the above description precisely; he was by trade a tanner, from the state of Massachusetts and his name Caleb Poor. Among his vast accomplishments, he had a fine voice and was a scientific musician. To shorten the story, he was employed to conduct a tanary [sic] for Col. Waightstill Avery of Swan Ponds and soon eloped with his daughter Mira, the most talented and accomplished young lady in the state. The first time Poor and Col. Avery met he had attempted to ____ him but got soundly ______ himself. Poor turned out to be one of the most fiendish villains Burke County was ever cursed with, but his wife continued with him fifteen years, when he became such an incorrigible scoundrel that her father procured her a divorce, and he settled her and her six children in Buncombe County on a celebrated farm called "Horse Shoe."

    The next man who damaged mechanics in our society was a handsome and intelligent tailor named Thomas Wilson: he eloped with a beautiful daughter of Major Highland of Johns river, turned out a drunkard and vagabond, and soon brought his lovely wife to grief. The fact is—there has never yet come to Morganton but one mechanic who has not turned out to be either a drunkard or a villain, and he is Major Edward Williams, now living in the North Cove 26 miles west of Morganton. Like Caleb Poor he was a tanner by trade and from the state of Massachusetts, and took his start in the world in the tanyard of Col Avery, but afterward, run a yard of his own in North Cove, has made a fortune and has for wife Polly Brown, the sprightly daughter of Daniel Brown, a rich merchant in North Cove.

    My kind landlady continued— "It is safe McDowell, for you to know these facts before you enter Burke society: I know you will rise, but you must go slow for a while, and until, like Ned Williams, you have established a positive character. Of course, your character is negatively good now, because no harm can be said of you, but that won't satisfy the parents of silly young girls, and you are just the kind of man to steal one of these, if you wished it." I thanked the old lady for the compliment, but assuring her that a "silly girl would be the last thing I would ever steal."