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A Mtrger of THE BEAUFORT NEWS (Esiablished 1912) and THE TWIN CITY TIMES (Established 1936)
38th YEAR NO. 13.
BEAUFORT AND MOREHEAD CITY, NORTH CAROLINA FRIDAY, JULY 2, 1948
PUBLISHED TUESDAYS AND TODAY
Memories of Beaufort in the Nineties
By Thomas H. Carrow
(This is the fourth in a series of sketches on Beaufort
during the 1890's).
Where there, is life, food is an Important question. It may
be true that man cannot live by bread alone; nevertheless, he
doesn't thrive very well without it, Everything considered, it
is probable that man devotes more energy to securing his "daily
bread" than to everything else combined. Thus, I am constrained
to mention something about the food our people consumed in the
"Meat and bread" was not only the principal diet, but for
many, it was almost the exclusive diet. I am unable to say what
proportion of the bread consumed was made of wheat flour and
corn meal respectively. It seems to me that the poorer people
were, the more corn meal they ate, while the better advantaged
ones ate more flour. As a child I could not, or thought I could
not eat corn bread, and I knew of many others who felt the same
way. I think that corn meal sold by the peck at 15 to 20 cents.
Flour sold at three cents per pound or less. Thus corn meal was
only about one-third as costly as flour. A popular brand of flour
was Wylie Smith. Corn meal had not reached the status of a
' brand. As far as I can tell, there has been no change to speak of
in the quality of corn meal and flour. My mother's biscuits and
corn bread were just about the same as those made by her great
But when we come to meat, especially beef, there is a dif
ferent story. Range cattle were used for food almost exclusively.
Rarely were they "fattened" as they are now. There were no re
frigerators and, therefore, beef was invariably consumed within
a day or two after it was slaughtered. It was, in consequence,
often tough and had a grassy taste.
Lamb and mutton were handled in the same way with the
same result. With pork it was different. A great many people,
even in town, kept a pig and fed it well till it reached maturity.
Pork, it seemes to me, was just as palatable in the nineties as
now which is another way of saying hogs were well ted. Every
farmer and many town people pul away a barrel or part of a
barrel of salt pork. My guess is that fully 73 per cent of all
meat eaten was fresh and salt pork.
Salt pork and collard greens with corn dumplings thrown
in were popular. But my recollections is that, as a general rule,
vegetables were not consumed by Beaufort people to the extent
they are today; salad, rarely ever. There was one exception
sweet potatoes. Everybody, I think, ate them in abundance as
long as they lasted. White potatoes, "Irish" as we called them,
were not nearly as popular as sweet potatoes.
Fish was a mainstay. Seems to me our family had fish on the
average of three or four times a week. They were more plenti
ful and less expensive than beef. The quality and the variety
were just the same as now, but I notice the present price .is
almost prohibitive. How often I have craved a "mess" of spots,
hogfish, corned mullets, trout, flounder, or blue fish "just out
of the river," cooked like my sister cooked them, dipped in corn
meal and fried in pure lard.
I am reminded of a very pitiful situation I witnessed many a
time. It was not uncommon for fishermen to make a good catch
only to find a glutted market and starvation prices. Occasionally
the opposite was true. In any case, the lot of the fisherman
was always hard. They had to "buck" the winds and tides with
their sailboats, not to mention the calm, which necessitated row
ing to and from the fishing grounds. It's a far cry from a canoe
equipped with a sail and oars to the motor boat used at present
by the fishermen.
My recollection is that before rubber boots were available,
the fishermen stood overboard up to their waists in the water when
they made a haul, even in moderately cold weather. That re
quired plenty of fortitude.
A good percentage of the men on "back landing" and "down
east" engaged in fishing. My impression is that their vocation
gave them a kind of uniform mein, something like running a loco
motive stamps an engineer.
Coming back to food, there's one item I must not omit
watermelons. A lot of new strains have been developed since the
nineties, but there never was and there never will be one superior
in color, flavor, and saccharine quality to an old-time Bogue
Sound watermelon. To me, and at least to many of my colored
friends, the Lord did his level best to please the palate when
he made a watermelon, and nearly everybody in Beaufort liked
them and ate them. Even a big one cost only a nickel, or at
most, a dime. God save the mark I
It is my very clear impression that there waa considerable
musical talent in Beaufort in the nineties. Unfortunately, it was
not developed to the extent it was in the following decade. I
remember very well the faces of those who sang well and played
the piano or the organ. I also remember how well several played
the mouth organ, banjo, or guitar. The tunes were mostly bal
lads and hymns; there were few classical performers.
Miss Lottie Roberts had considerable ability at the piano
and Miss Lucy Davis did also. The late Mrs. Sallie Duncan
Dickinson accompanied us children on the organ at her home.
Mrs. Nathan Carrow performed the remarkable feat of playing
the organ at Sunday services for the Episcopal church choir,
although she did not know a note; she played by ear. Miss Maud
King was the soprano and a very excellent one, and Mr? Jake
Cibble, Jr, was (fee basso prof undo in the tarn choir. . Mr. Jin
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Sims -, '
Wood for fuel was sawed by hand. Pictured here is one of
the well-known sawers in Beaufort during the 1890's.
Davis, a tall handsome man, a regular attendant at church, had
a fine bass Voice. His, daughter, Etta, also sang well.
Coming down the street to the Baptist church, I recall that
Miss Lucy Davis was the organist and that Jinx Rice was the
bass, and a very powerful bass it was. I am not sure whether
Leslie Davis had arrived at the choir stage before I left home or
not, but I do know that in later years he had a fine tenor voice
and did sing in the choir. He also played the fiddle. In fact,
the John Davis's were a musical family.
In the Methodist choir there was Mr. John Wolf who played
his cornet with considerable eclat while Miss Fannie Dudley
(later Duncan) displayed a fine soprano voice and a remarkably
attractive appearance. I am sure she would have excelled on
the stage. Miss Maud Dudley had a lovely contralto voice.
I enjoyed music more at Mrs. Arrington's than elsewhere
She was the piano teacher of Beaufort, the only one I remember,
and she had a lovely daughter, Maggie, who married Cecil Taylor.
Maggie could not only play the piano and lead the songs for the
children, but she was so winsome that all of us boys rather
envied Cecil who captured her fancy at an early age. She had
lovely long black curls and a lovely complexion and no paint
either! I recall a song that was popular with us children that
Maggie sang with much feeing. It ran:
Doris was a village maiden,
Little did she know,
Save the sentence I had taught her,
Oh, I love you so . . .
A very popular waltz at the time was "Over the Waves."
Rag time had not arrived, but there was a popular song that
approached it, "All Coons Look Alike to Me," and another one,
"There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight."
The following songs were popular: "On the Banks of the Wa
bash," "Nelly Gray," "Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground,"
"Old Black Joe," "Swanee River," "The Mocking Bird," and "In
the Gloaming." "Turkey in the Straw," and "Georgia Camp
Meeting" were popular as dance pieces. The latter was preferred
for "Cakewalk." There was a tune called "Fisher's Horn Pipe"
that was a standby for square dancing.
Negroes are rhythmic in both body and mind. They dis
played this predisposition to my great satisfaction when I was
in my teens. There were a number of negro men, I judge in their
early 20's, who used to get together in the evening and sing.
"Bud" Washington had a fine bass, and some of the Davis boys
had melodious voices. Their opportunities for instrumental music
were limited, but one fellow, "Bill" Kelly, was' a marvel with a
banjo. In the evening on a summer night, he would come down
town, stand on the corner and pick his banjo endlessly to the
great delight of the young men and to some of the older ones
A banjo is suitable for clog dancing, and some of the colored
boys were expert at it, but they didn't even require music for
clogging. A clapping: of the hands, especially if done by a num
ber and in the right time, would serve the purpose. I think my
own penchant for clog dancing was absorbed from the colored
fellows. I would watch them and envy them and then get off
by myself and imitate them. Thirty years later at our annual
Railroad Convention in Chicago and pther cities, I was able to
amuse my colleagues by giving them an exhibition of the clog I
learned in Beaufort in the nineties.
As everyone knows, music stirs religious emotions. Thus, I
have seen colored congregation swayed to the point of frenzy,
first by the overpowering oratory of a .clever preacher, then by
"the simple spiritual songs that were the vogue among the colored
people In the nineties. I recall a night in the colored Methodist
Church where some of us children had gone to witness the spec
tacle, seeing the whole congregation standing around the penitent
. ones who had been converted, singing and shouting in delirious
I think it no exaggeration to say that negroes, especially wo
men, sang while at work in the fields, in the home, and else
where more generally than white people did. Their repertoire
was very limited and largely hymns or so-called spirituals, often
jumbled. But the songs always had feeling.
The whites were also susceptible to the effect of hymns, at
revival meetings in particular. When the lime came to render
"Almost Persuaded," those who had hesitated until then, would
go up to the "mourner's bench" and confess their sins and wick
edness, as I did on one occasion. Evangelists arc all psycholog
ists along musical lines! Shakespeare said it: "The man that
hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with the concord of
sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils."
My theme has been music. So it is pertinent to add that
with musical instruments provided and teachers available, the
boys and girls that came after our generation soon learned to
play and sing on a much bigger scale than my contemporaries
did. It was "in" our people and it came "out" at the first op
portunity. I forgot to mention the brass barn that had a rather uncer
tain existence. When it played on the sails up and down the
harbor, it seemed to be music from Heaven to us children. The
strains of the bass horn, played by Mr. Mayo, whose cheeks look
ed as if they would burst, stood out above the rest as the boat
with its white sails glided over the water. "If music be the food
of love, play on" . . . the young folks, in close proximity to each
other would think, especially if it were in the moonlight.
Sails and Sail Making
"Sailing, Sailing Over The Bounding Main," was one of the
most popular songs with the boys and girls of the nineties. We
never went on a sail on which this song was not sung with all
the enthusiasm of youth.
Now, a sail, when hoisted to the top of the mast, boomed out
and "full" of wind is a graceful sight and making a sail in proper
dimensions without its bagging is a fine art. It was also a very
important business in the pie-motor boat era and even more so
before the advent of steam boats. There' may have been others,
but the only sail maker I remember was Mr. James Whitehurst,
who lived in the northwest section of Beaufort. After he cut
the canvas to very accurate measurements, the several strips were
sewed together. He would then lay the sail out on the grass in
the street and measure and cut the rope that was run around
certain parts and securely sewed to them.
There were three principal types of sails: a sharpie sail, a
skiff or canoe sail, and a sloop or vessel sail. Mr. Whitehurst
was a highly intelligent man and had a fine reputation as a sail
maker. Imagine anyone spreading a sail across the street in
this automobile age!
In these days of super power from steam and combustion
engines and electric motors, we are likely to forget what a boon
the invention of the lowly sail was to mankind.
When I think of the sailing boats that plied the inland wat
ers and the vessels that plied the main, it gives me a nostalgic
feeling; of all the memories that, punctuate a varied life, none
are more delightfully impressive than those of sailing both small
and large boats. It's an event in a child's life to learn to row a
boat. It is a more impressive experience to steer a small sail
boat. It is a dream come true when the captain of a sailing ves
sel "gives" a boy the wheel and tells him to steer a sailing ves
sel by the compass, with, say, two gibs, a foresail, a mainsail and
a topsail all ablow. I can remember well the first time I did it.
It was on the good ship "Cherubim," Captain Ben Congleton, in
1896, as we cleared the sea buoy bound for Baltimore.
A power boat maintains her course in the sea with a sort
of uniform undulation. But either a little boat or a large ves
sel under sail, gracefully lunges down the incline of the wave
and partially pauses as it rises to the crest, the driving force
of the wind being in a state of constant variation because of the
unequal thrust of the waves, the angularity of the sail to the
wind, and the position of the rudder. '
When a boat careens, it is the result of one force, the waves,
the extent of which is proportionate to the size of the waves;
when a sailboat careens, she is subject to both the wind and the
waves and the judgment of the man at the helm who is constant
ly appraising the stress of the wind and the force of the waves
without a moment's inattention. What can be more delightfully
thrilling than to be at the helm of a fine boat in a sou'wester
blowing strong enough to submerge the leeward gunwhale, but
without danger of doing so if the helmsman anticipates what may
happen and regulates the movement of the boat accordingly.
Power boa's? Fine! But for sheer pleasure, give me the
rollocking main under a sail in a stiff breeze.
Food, clothing, and shelter are the three major requisites
for living. I have touched upon the first two. I will now make
some reference to the homes of Beaufort in the nineties.
The best houses used for human occupancy, with very few
exceptions, were built prior to 1890, but I have no information
as to dates. Beginning at the west end of Front street and com
ing all the waydown to the Inlet Inn, there were very few, if any,
Ann Street was also built up almost continuously from west
to east. The streets running north and south from Front to
Broad were also fairly well built up. The more pretentious
dwellings were in this zone. In all of Beaufort, I recall only one
brick dwelling, but after the big fire on Front Street in 1888
the stores were made of brick.
It would be interesting to know how many dwellings were
built before the ravages of the Civil War. I gather from frag
mentary memories that a good percentage of the people in Beau
fort were well fixed financially, prior to the War. Some, I be
lieve, made their money in ocean-going vessels, and some in trad
ing tar pitch and turpentine, and some in cotton and other com
modities. Under any circumstances, the Duncan house, at the extreme
west, the Manson house, the Davis house, the Nelson house, the
Perry house, now occupied by J. F. Duncan, the William Sabis
ton house, the Tom Thomas, Sr., house, the Fuller house, the
Dill house, all on Front street, represented what seems to me to
be rather fine specimens in house architecture. I fancy they
lean toward the English type. Same is true of the John West
Noe house and the Henry Buckman house on the extreme west
end o( Ann Street, the Saunders house, the Forlaw house, the
James C. Davis house, the Net Taylor house, the Maybelle Mace
house and others on Ann Street.
On leaving Front and Ann Streets and the few cross town
streets I have mentioned, with few exceptions the house con
struction was very plain and simple and often very small for
large families. There were a few exceptionally fine houses,
away from the elite section. For example, the Benders Jones
house, the "Benny" Jones house in the northeast section; the
John Rumley house and the John Dill house, to mention only k
few. I should also include the Norcom house where "Miss" Car
rie has lived, to my knowledge, for some 60 years, and the Rob
erts house on the corner of Ann and Craven streets.
The home furnishings, compared with what the people ark
using today, were modest. I can't remember any bed springs.
I think I never slept on them till I left home. In a number of
homes, there were very handsome pieces. Pianos were usually
Feather beds were in universal use. I am of the impression
that even very poor people managed to have feather beds. I
can't say where the feathers were secured or what kind they
were. It does seem to me that the feathers from geese were
used, but geese not very plentiful. I have no recollection!
of feathers being sold in the stores. I imagine many families ac
cumulated them over long periods from their own pickings of
geese or other fowl. t'
I remember that a man with an outfit for cleaning feathers
came to town and did some business. Seems to me he exhibited
some bugs he got out of the feathers in the process of cleaning
in order to encourage patronage. Feathers are unique in that
they don't wear out. I imagine there arc plenty around 50 years
old, perhaps 75.
I recall very definitely that some of the less fortunate, both
white and colored, made beds of straw; that is, dried grass from
the fields. It had one merit, a delightful odor, but it soon be
came packed rather hard. I know of a young colored fellow
who for a time slept on the hay in the barn of a farmer for whom
he worked. I
I have slept In hundreds of beds all over the world, but on
a winter night with no heat in the room, the best bed I ever slept
in was my childhood feather bed, making due allowance for my
childish prejudice. ' '
I do not recall that lawn mowers had come to Beaufort up
to 1900, and pretty lawns as maintained by the late Claud Wheat
ly, Sr., at his Front Street residence were rare. Indeed, I don't
know how a lawn could have been maintained except by thai
grazing of sheep or cattle.
Many women kept pretty flower gardens. Roses and nar
cissus and daffodils were the most popular flowers with mig
nonette around the borders. Cape Jassamines (gardenias) were
"imported," it secms(to me, a little while prior to 1890. I recall
the fragrance of these flowers on the John Marshall place just
out of town, when I was a wee bit of a boy. It could be detected
a mile away as you approached the farm, a kind of preliminary
to viewing a beautifully-maintained home.
Speaking of dwelling houses, I notice that some now going
up in Beaufort are of brick construction and have all the mod
ern facilities available anywhere in the world. I also notice that
come of the newer places are suited to the pocketbook of the
occupant, but nevertheless have the latest electrical and plumb-,
ing facilities, thanks to scientific development. The poorest peo
ple in Beaufort and everywhere else in the U. S. A. today have
more facilities and conveniences for living than the rich did in
Of all the things I remember about homes, both white and
colored, the most vivid is how some women, no doubt aided by
their men folks, kept their places inside and out scrupulously
clean and neat. Shining examples were "Miss Lydia Ann" Noe
and Mrs. Celie (David) Williams, who lived in the northwest
section of Beaufort Nearby lived "Miss Sallie" Whitehurst who :
belongs in the same classification. How I loved "Miss Sallle'a"
biscuits and molasses. "Miss Liddy Ann" also looked after my'
appetite and in addition gave me wormwood for my health in the
Spring! God bless her soul! She had four fine daughters and
one son; Annie the youngest, was one of my playmates.
Bodily cleanliness was an obsession with me even as a child.
Thus, I recall a Beaufort institution, the wash woman. Nearly
every family of any means had a wash woman who called for
the clothes, washed and ironed them in her own home and re-- '
turned them, usually on Saturday. My recollections is that 60 -cents
would pay for a family wash. I have often wondered how
they did as well as they did, remembering the lack of water and '
other facilities. There were no washing machines, and the old-'
flshioned washboard, Higgins soap, a flat iron heated by a wood
fire were all the facilities available. They often sang or hum
med as they moved up and down the board, ' , -
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