Monday, October 12, 2009

Lossing’s Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution

Continuing with my series of blog posts on travelers’ descriptions of their journeys between Hillsborough and Salisbury, North Carolina, I present Benson J. Lossing’s Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution. Lossing traveled all over the east coast visiting and researching important (and not so important) Revolutionary War sites and most of the book is about the history of the Revolutionary War. His account of Greene and Cornwallis’s Race to the Dan is a classic on the topic and is wonderfully detailed, but weaved into that narrative is Lossing’s own narrative about Lossing’s trip from Hillsborough to Salisbury in 1849. Lossing’s penchant for story-telling is delightful. In reproducing his story I have mostly edited out the Revolutionary tales. Those parts of his book are also well worth reading, but they distract from the 1849 narrative.

My comments are in [square brackets]. The more interesting footnotes from Lossing’s book are included here in (parentheses). Enjoy:

I employed the first morning of the new year (1849), in visiting places of interest at Hillsborough, in company with the Reverend Dr. Wilson. [This must have been Alexander Wilson, the schoolmaster of the Caldwell Institute in Hillsborough and later the founder of the Wilson School in Melville, near Swepsonville, NC.] The first object to which my attention was called was a small wooden building, represented in the engraving on the next page, situated opposite the hotel where I was lodged. Cornwallis used it for an office, during his tarryings in Hillsborough, after driving General Greene out of the state. After sketching this, we visited the office of the Clerk of Superior Court, and made the fac similes and extracts from its records, printed on pages 573-4. We next visited the headquarters of Cornwallis, a large frame building situated in the rear of Morris’s Hillsborough House, on King Street. Generals Gates and Greene also occupied it when they were in Hillsborough, and there a large number of the members of the Provincial Congress were generally lodged. The old court-house, where the Regulators performed their lawless acts, is no longer in existence. I was informed by Major Taylor, an octogenarian on whom we called, that it was a brick edifice, and stood almost upon the exact site of the present court-house, which is a spacious brick building, with steeple and clock. The successor of the first was a wooden structure, and being removed to make room for the present building, was converted into a place of meeting for a society of Baptists, who yet worship there. Upon the hill near the Episcopal church, and fronting King Street, is the spot where the Regulators were hung. The residence of Governor Tryon, while in Hillsborough, was on Church Street, a little west of Masonic Hall. These compose the chief objects of historic interest at Hillsborough. The town has other associations connected with the Southern campaigns, but we will not anticipate the revealments of history by considering them now.

At one o’clock I exchanged adieus with the kind Dr. Wilson, crossed the Eno, and , pursuing the route traversed by Tryon on his march to the Allamance, crossed the rapid and now turbid Haw, just below the falls, at sunset [apparently at Swepsonville]. I think I never traveled a worse road than the one stretching between the Eno and the Haw. It passes over a continued series of red clay hills, which are heavily wooded with oaks, gums, black locusts, and chestnuts. Small streams course among these elevations; and in summer this region must be exceedingly picturesque. Now every tree and shrub was leafless, except the holly and the laurel, and nothing green appeared among the wide reaching branches but the beautiful tufts of mistletoe which every where decked the great oaks with their delicate leaves and transparent berries. Two and a half miles beyond the Haw, and eighteen from Hillsborough, I passed the night at Foust’s house of entertainment, and after an early breakfast, rode to the place where Colonel Pyle, a Tory officer, with a considerable body of Loyalists, was deceived and defeated by Lieutenant-colonel Henry Lee and his dragoons, with Colonel Pickens, in the spring of 1781. Dr. Holt, who lives a short distance from that locality, kindly accompanied me to the spot and pointed out the place where the battle occurred; where Colonel Pyle lay concealed in a pond, and where many of the slain were buried. (About a quarter of a mile northwest from this pond, is the spot where the battle occurred. It was then heavily wooded; now it is a cleared field, on the plantation of Colonel Michael Holt. Mr. Holt planted an apple tree upon the spot where fourteen of the slain were buried in one grave. Near by, a persimmon-tree indicates the place of burial of several others. [This footnote is to a part of the text that I omitted, but the note is interesting and relates also to this part of the text, so I included it here.])The place of conflict is about half a mile north of the old Salisbury highway, upon a “plantation road,” two miles east of the Allamance, in Orange county. Let us listen to the voices of history and tradition.

[Here Lossing gives a long and detailed account of Pyle’s Massacre, which I am omitting.]

I left the place of Pyle’s defeat toward noon, and, following a sinuous and seldom traveled road through a forest of wild crab-apple trees and black jacks, crossed the Allamance at the cotton factory of Holt and Carrigan, two miles distant [the village of Alamance]. (This factory, in the midst of a cotton-growing country, and upon a never-failing stream, can not be otherwise than source of great profit to the owners. The machinery is chiefly employed in the manufacture of cotton yarn. Thirteen hundred and fifty spindles were in operation. Twelve loons were employed in the manufacture of coarse cotton goods suitable for the use of the Negroes. [Slaves wore clothes made from a cheap, coarse fabric called osnaburg. The Holt's made mostly osnaburg and a much finer plaid.]) Around this mill quite a village of neat log-houses occupied by the operatives, were collected, and every thing had the appearance of thrift. I went in, and was pleased to see the hands of intelligent white females employed in a useful occupation. Manual labor by white people is a rare sight at the South, where an abundance of slave labor appears to render such occupation unnecessary; and it can seldom be said of one of our fair sisters there, “She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.” This cotton mill, like the few others which I saw in the Carolinas, is a real blessing, present and prospective, for it gives employment and comfort to many poor girls who might otherwise be wretched; and it is a seed of industry planted in a generous soil, which may hereafter germinate and bear abundant fruit of its kind in the midst of cotton plantations, thereby augmenting immensely the true wealth of the nation. [Boy, was he right about that. In 1849, the only other cotton mills in the Haw watershed were at Big Falls (Hopedale) and Saxpahaw. By 1881, there were 12 and by 1900 there were dozens.]

At a distance of two miles and a half beyond the Allamance, on the Salisbury road [more or less NC 62], , I reached the Regulator battle-ground; and, in company with a young man residing in the vicinity, visited the points of particular interest, and a made the sketch printed on page 577. The rock and the ravine from whence James Pugh and his companions (see page 576) did such execution with their rifles, are now hardly visible. The place is a few rods north of the road. The ravine is almost filled by the washing down of earth from the slopes during eighty years; and the rock projects only a few ells above the surface. The whole of the natural scenery is changed, and nothing but tradition can identify the spot. [Almost makes me think that he did not find the right place.]

While viewing the battle-ground, the wind, which had been a gentle and pleasant breeze from the south all the morning, veered to the northeast, and brought omens of a cold storm. I left the borders of the Allamance, and it associations, at one o’clock, and traversing a very hilly country for eighteen miles, arrived, a little after dark, at Greensborough, a thriving, compact village, situated about five miles southeast from the site of old Guilford Court House. It is the capitol of Guilford county, and successor of old Martinsburg, where the court-house was formerly situated. Very few of the villages in the interior of the state appeared to me more like a Northern town than Greensborough. The houses are generally good, and the stores gave evidence of active trade. Within an hour after my arrival, the town was thrown into commotion by the bursting out of flames from a large frame dwelling, a short distance from the court-house. There being no fire-engine in the places, the flames spread rapidly, and at one time menaced the safety of the whole town. A small keg of powder was used, without effect, to demolish a tailor’s shop, standing in the path of the conflagration toward a large tavern. The flames passed on, until confronted by one of those broad chimneys, on the outside of the house, so universally prevalent at the South, when it was subdued, after four buildings were destroyed. I never saw a population more thoroughly frightened; and when I returned to my lodgings, far away from the fire, every bed in the house was packed ready for flight. It was past midnight when the town became quiet, and a consequently late breakfast delayed my departure for the battle-field at Guilford Court House, until nine o’clock the next morning. [It would be interesting to compare this with contemporary press accounts of this fire.]

A cloudy sky, a biting north wind, and the dropping of a few snow-flakes when I left Greensborough, betokened an unpleasant day for my researches. It was ten o’clock when I reached Martinsville, once a pleasant hamlet, now a desolation. There are only a few dilapidated and deserted dwellings left; and nothing remains of the old Guilford Court House but the ruins of a chimney depicted on the plan of the battle, printed on page 608. Only one house was inhabited, and that by the tiller of the soil around it. Descending into a narrow broken valley, from Martinsville, and ascending the opposite slope to still higher ground on the road to Salem, I passed among the fields consecrated by the events of the battle at Guilford, in March, 1781 to the house of Mr. Hotchkiss, a Quaker, who, I was informed could point out every locality of interest in his neighborhood.

Mr. Hotchkiss was absent, and I was obliged to wait more than an hour for his return. The time passed pleasantly in conversation with his daughter, an intelligent young lady, who kindly ordered my horse to be fed, and regaled me with some fine apples, the first fruit of the kind I had seen since leaving the James River. While tarrying there, the snow began to fall thickly, and when, about noon, I rambled over the most interesting portion of the battle-ground, and sketched the scene printed on page 611, the whole country was covered with a white mantle. Here, by this hospitable fireside, let us consider the battle, and those wonderful antecedents events which distinguished General Green’s celebrated Retreat.

[Lossing describes the Race to the Dan and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in great detail, a wonderful account that I am omitting here.]

I left the Guilford battle-ground and the hospitable cottage of Mr. Hotchkiss, at noon, the snow falling fast. At four miles distant, on the Salisbury road, I reached the venerable New Garden meeting-house, yet standing within the stately oak forest where Lee and Tarleton met. It is a frame building with a brick foundation. It was meeting-day, and the congregation were yet in session. Tying Charley [his horse] to a drooping branch, I entered softly. A larger number than is usually present at “week-day meetings” had congregated, for a young man of the sect from Randolph county, thirty miles distant, and a young woman of Guilford, had signified their intentions to declare themselves publicly on that day, man and wife. [I think it would be straight forward to identify who this couple was.] They had just risen before the elders and people when I glided into a seat near the door, and with a trembling voice the bridegroom had begun the expression of the marriage vow. His weather-bronzed features betokened the man of toil in the fields, and strongly contrasted with the blonde and delicate face, and slender form of her who, with the downcast eyes of modesty, heard his pledge of love and protection, and was summoning all her energy to make her kindred response. I had often observed the simple marriage ceremony of the Quakers, but never before did the beauty of that ritual appear so marked with the sublimity of pure simplicity.

At the close of the meeting, I learned from one of the elders that a Friend’s boarding-school was near, and, led by curiosity, I visited it. [What school is this?] The building is of brick, spacious, and well arranged. It was under the superintendence of Thomas Hunt, a son of Nathan Hunt, an eminent Quaker preacher. An incidental remark concerning my relationship with Quakers, made while conversing with the wife of the superintendent, caused her to inquire whether I had ever heard of here father-in-law. I replied in the affirmative, having heard him preach when I was a boy, and expressed the supposition that he had long ago gone to his rest. “Oh no,” she replied, “he is in the adjoining room,: and leading the way, I was introduced to the patriarch of ninety-one years. He remembered well when the New Garden meetinghouse was built, and resided in the neighborhood when the wounded and dying, from the field of Guilford, were brought there. Although physical infirmities were weighing heavily upon him, his mind appeared clear and elastic. When I was about departing, and pressed his hand with an adieu, he placed the other upon my head and said, “Farewell! God’s peace go with thee!” I felt as if I had received the blessing of a patriarch indeed; and for days afterward, when fording dangerous streams and traversing rough mountain roads, that uttered blessing was in my mind, and seemed like a guardian angel about my path. Gloomy unbelief may deride, and thoughtless levity may laugh in ridicule at such an intimation, but all the philosophy of schools could not give me such exquisite feelings of security in the hands of a kind Providence as that old man’s blessing imparted.

The storm yet continued, and the kind matron of the school gave me a cordial invitation to remain there until it should cease; but, anxious to complete my journey, I rode on to Jamestown, an old village situated upon the high southwestern bank of the Deep River, nine miles from New Garden meeting-house, and thirteen miles above Bell’s Mills, where Cornwallis had his encampment before the Guilford battle. The country through which I had passed from Guilford was very broken, and I did not reach Jamestown until sunset. It is chiefly inhabited by Quakers, the most of them originally from Nantucket and vicinity; and as they do not own slaves, nor employ slave labor, except when a servant is working to purchase his freedom, the land and the dwellings presented an aspect of thrift not visible in most of the agricultural districts in the upper country of the Carolinas.

I passed the night at Jamestown, and early in the morning departed for the Yadkin. Snow was yet falling gently, and it laid three inches deep upon the ground; a greater quantity than had fallen at one time, in that section, for five years. Fortunately my route from thence to Lexington, in Davidson county, a distance of twenty miles, was upon a fine ridge road a greater portion of the way, and the snow produced but little inconvenience. (These ridge roads, or rather ridges upon which they are constructed, are curious features in the upper country of the Carolinas. Although the whole country is hilly upon every side, these roads may be traveled a score of miles, sometimes, with hardly ten feet of variation from a continuous level. The ridges are of sand, and continue, unbroken by ravines, which cleave the hills in all directions for miles, upon almost a uniform level. The roads following their summits are exceedingly sinuous, but being level and hard, the greater distance is more easily accomplished than if they were constructed in straight lines over the hills. The country has the appearance of vast waves of the sea suddenly turned into sand.)

Toward noon, the clouds broke, and before I reached Lexington (a small village on the west side of Abbott’s Creek, a tributary of the Yadkin), at half past two in the afternoon, not a flake of snow remained. Charley and I had already lunched by the margin of a little stream, so I drove through the village without halting, hoping to reach Salisbury, sixteen miles distant, by twilight. I was disappointed; for the red clay roads prevailed, and I only reached the house of a small planted within a mile of the east bank of the Yadkin, just as the twilight gave place to the splendors of a full moon and myriads of stars in a cloudless sky. From the proprietor I learned that the Trading Ford, where Greene and Morgan crossed when pursued by Cornwallis, was only a mile distant. As I could not pass it on my way to Salisbury in the morning, I arose at four o’clock, gave Charley his breakfast and at earliest dawn stood upon the eastern shore of the Yadkin, and made the sketch printed upon page 601. The air was frosty, the pools were bridged with ice, and before the sketch was finished, my benumbed fingers were disposed to drop the pencil. I remained at the ford until the east was all aglow with the radiance of the rising sun, when I walked back, partook of some corn-bread, muddy coffee, and spare-ribs, and at eight o’clock crossed the Yadkin at the great bridge, on the Salisbury road. The river is there about three hundred yards wide, and was considerably swollen from the melting of the recent snows. Its volume of turbid waters came rolling down in a swift current, and gave me a full appreciation of the barrier which Providence had there placed between the Republicans and the royal armies, when engaged in the great race described in this chapter.

From the Yadkin the roads passed through a red clay region, which was made so miry by the melting snows that it was almost eleven o’clock when I arrived at Salisbury. This village, of over a thousand inhabitants, is situated a few miles from the Yadkin, and is the capital of Rowan county, a portion of the “Hornet’s Nest” of the Revolution. It is a place of considerable historic note. On account of its geographical position, it was often the place of rendezvous of the militia preparing for the battle-fields; of various regular corps, American and British, during the last tree years of the war; and especially as the brief resting-place of both armies during Greene’s memorable retreat. Here, too, it will be remembered, General Waddell had his head-quartes for a few days during the “Regulator war.” I made a diligent inquiry during my tarry in Salisbury, for remains of Revolutionary movements and localities, but could hear of none. The Americans when fleeing before Cornwallis, encamped for a night about half a mile from the village, on the road to the Yadkin; the British occupied a position on the northern border of the town, about an eighth of a mile from the court-house. I was informed that two buildings occupied by officers, had remained until two or three years ago when they were demolished. Finding nothing to invite a protracted stay at Salisbury, I resumed the reins, and rode on toward Concord. The roads were very bad, and the sun went down, while a rough way, eight miles in extent, lay between me and Concord.

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