Revolutionary War Soldier, Benjamin Farmer

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This marker is on a nondescript lot on the corner of Keenan and Tarboro Streets. Supposedly the lot also contains the Farmer family graveyard, but there is no evidence of it on the property.

 

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Last week a local man brimming over with knowledge and curiosity about Wilson County history came into the library looking for information on Benjamin Farmer, a man who lived on a farm in what is now downtown Wilson and served in the in the Edgecombe County Militia in the Revolutionary War.  The local man is named Louis Neal and it turns out he has a rather famous collection of Wilson County artifacts and memorabilia (Louis is also the proud grandfather of an LSU football player).

Mr. Neal had been investigating a vacant lot downtown on the corner of Keenan and Tarboro streets.  He had always heard that there was an Indian graveyard on the property and during the course of his investigation he came upon a nondescript bronze marker with name of the aforementioned Benjamin Farmer on it.  This marker was placed by the DAR at some unknown point in the past and listed that Benjamin served in Captain Lytle’s Company during the Revolution.

Mr. Neal didn’t really need my help because he knew to turn to the writings of the Herodotus of Wilson County, the Bede of Nash County, the Tacitus of Edgecombe County, yes the venerable Hugh Johnston.  And this is what Hugh had to say about Ben Farmer:

Benjamin Farmer, son of Isaac and Elizabeth Farmer, was born in the present Halifax County, North Carolina in 1756 and died in Edgecombe County in 1837. He married in 1779 to Elizabeth “Bettie” Dew, daughter of Arthur and Mary Dew of Edgecombe County. She was born in 1766 and died after 1852 in Edgecombe County. She and her husband were buried in their old family graveyard on Kenan Street near the corner of Tarboro Street in Wilson, North Carolina. Considerably diminished in size, it is the only family graveyard that has survived within the growing boundaries of this city. Their home formerly stood on a hill N.W. of Tarboro Street, about where the City Water Tank now stands, and it is said that they owned at one time all the land N.W. of the present Atlantic Coast Line Railroad within the City limits. This may very well have been true, before the rapid growth of recent years.

Some years ago the DAR erected a boulder of native stone and a bronze tablet over the grave of Benjamin Farmer to commemorate his supposed service in Captain Lytle’s Company, Tenth North Carolina Regiment, during the Revolutionary War. Actually, Benjamin Farmer of Edgecombe County was a first-cousin to Benjamin Farmer and brother William Farmer of Johnston County who both served in Lytle’s Company, but there is no question that the first Benjamin was a Patriot and served in the Edecombe County Militia. There is an interesting tradition handed down in the family that, when the British under Lord Cornwallis passed through this area in 1731, they could not be convinced that Benjamin Farmer was away at war and not hiding near by in the woods until they went into the fields and actually saw his wife’s little footprints everywhere in the newly ploughed land.

This is just part of what Hugh has to say about Mr. Farmer and it is too bad that the lot doesn’t have a historical marker next to it because it could be an important point of interest for residents and visitors to the city if they knew wear to look.

Whirligig Park, Now with Whirligigs

IMG_20150331_113222634For a while people were complaining that the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park had only one whirligig. Well complain no more because there are now eleven. Thirty-one whirligigs are slated to grace the park at its completion.  But they have a long way to go, for there are no pathways, landscaping, fountains, amphitheater, etc. However, the main attractions (whirligigs) are well on their way to completion thanks to the ingenious workers at Conservation Headquarters who are doing an extraordinary job getting these long neglected, singular examples of folk art preserved and back in working order. IMG_20150331_113243607IMG_20150331_113302551IMG_20150331_113306415

Portrait of Capt. Jesse S. Barnes is actually of Maj. Thomas A. Martin

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These portraits are now known to be Major Thomas Martin of the 13th North Carolina, Co. E. (the the one on the left has been colorized) and are found in the Liljenquist Family Collection at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs divisions has announced that their two ambrotypes of  Wilson County native,  Civil War soldier and namesake of a local SCV chapter, Captain Jesse Sharpe Barnes, was mislabeled and the portraits are actually of his cousin (or maybe his wife’s cousin), Major Thomas Alston Martin.

This was all made possible by the tireless work of Katharina Schlichtherle, historian, teacher and friend of the Wilson County Local History and Genealogy Library.  Katharina is a resident of Germany but last summer she visited Wilson County for her ongoing investigation of the local Barnes family in the 19th century and performed some research at our library.

During her research online, she came upon an image in the book, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina, in the Great War 1861-’65 (digitized and online at the Internet Archive) that was labeled Jesse S. Barnes, Capt., Co F.  This portrait was not the same person labeled as JS Barnes in the LOC collection.  This image was in the LOC Collection but it was labeled only as “South Carolina Militiaman” because of his SC uniform.  It turned out that Jesse had joined up in South Carolina before North Carolina had seceded as many North Carolinians did at the time (North Carolina was the last state to secede).

As to how they figured out that the other portraits was of Major Thomas A. Martin, Katharina told me that during a curator’s examination of the portraits, a piece of paper serendipitously fell out of one of them that read “Friend Tom Martin”.

I stay in touch with Katharina and try to help keep her Wilson County and Civil War obsession fed.  And it has worked! She is coming back next summer.

The news about the name correction was in an article that Katharina sent me in this month’s Military Images Magazine.

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The actual Captain Jesse Sharpe Barnes of the 4th North Carolina Infantry in his South Carolina Militia uniform also of the Liljenquist Family Collection at the LOC.  His career was cut short, dying at the battle of Seven Pines on June 1, 1862.

1926 Winoca, Yearbook of Wilson High School

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1926 girls basketball team won every regular season game and defeated Ayden 53-0

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One of the well designed pages from the yearbook. Girls almost universally had their hair cut short and many wore furs. The boys used buckets of pomade, and I’m sure it was Dapper Dan brand.

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Ella Rachel Vick is my favorite student in the yearbook. She’s got old fashioned curls, her nickname is “Vanilla”, her quote is about how she will not dance, and she won the Carolina Laundry Medal in 1925.

One artifact of the Harper family collection was a 1926 Wilson High School Yearbook.  This yearbook is a beautiful creation: the pictures are sharp, the design is elegant, reflecting the dominant art deco style of the period, and it does an exceptional job of recording the life and times at the high school in 1926.  But this was an economically strong period in US history and the  money to make such a beautiful yearbook would not be available to a public school almost twenty years later during the war years and the quality of the yearbooks during that period reflects this.  The economy is also mirrored in the clothes that the students wore in their photographs which couldn’t be more obvious when you quickly notice that every other girl is wearing what looks to be a mink stole, which is about the fanciest accessory ever worn in a school picture. There’s a school picture of me wearing Mork suspenders, which is about the least fancy thing ever worn in a school picture (for people who are wee babes or out of the late 1970’s to early 1980’s tv loop, Mork was and alien played by Robin Williams on a show called Mork and Mindy, which oddly, was a spinoff from Happy Days).

This yearbook was the property of Miriam Brown an English Teacher at the school, who was also a granddaughter of Luby Alexander Harper.

This would be the last year that Wilson High School would go by that name, for the next year it would be renamed Charles L. Coon High School after the late principal and superintendent.

The Wilson Daily Times and Zion’s Landmark Started Here

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Zion’s Landmark is the Newsletter of the Primitive Baptist Church and is a great source of genealogical information. It was printed in this building along with the Wilson Daily Times and you can see their names fading from the brick facade. Image belongs to the NCSU Libraries’ Rare and Unique Digital Collections.

Wilson Daily Times

Image belongs to the NCSU Libraries’ Rare and Unique Digital Collections

The great- granddaughter of Pleasant Daniel Gold (founder of the Wilson Daily Times and Zion’s Landmark) was visiting today from Tennessee, so I poked around for some information about him and came across two photographs of the original WDT building.  The images are a part of North Carolina State University Libraries’ Rare and Unique Digital Collections. and there are more pictures of Wilson County architecture and agriculture at their site.  According to the metadata, P.D. Gold started the the Wilson Daily Times from this building in 1896 and ran it for two years before handing it over to his brother, John Gold, to run while he moved to Greensboro to start the Jefferson Standard Life Insurance  Company.  The building was probably destroyed soon after this picture was taken in 1959.

A Free Online Course in Genealogy: RootsMOOC

RootsMOOCThe North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources is offering a free introductory course in genealogy!   Free? I can afford that.  They will help you get organized and point you to the best resources, tools and techniques.  This free online course will be offered on March 23- June 1 and will be taught by the sublime staff of the State Library of North Carolina.  So what are you waiting for? Oh right, March 23.

North Carolina’s Rich Dialect Diversity

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My father used to tell me, “I swanny Will if you don’t stop scaring your sister with that Admiral Akbar mask, I am going to tear it half in two!”   Well the mask (I had won it in a Return of the Jedi coloring contest at the mall) was eventually torn half in two.  And according to the book I just finished reading , Talking Tarheel (2014) by Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser, the word swanny is a word found in the rural Piedmont dialect of North Carolina (it doesn’t say anything about half in two though).

The book concerns North Carolina’s regional dialects and I found it to be informative and engaging but also quite innovative in its addition of QR codes that allows you to access video and audio examples of dialects all over North Carolina (check out the audio-visual links here).  The authors, professors of English at NC State, separated the state into 6 major dialect areas: Appalachian, NC Piedmont, Coastal Plain, Tidewater and Outer Banks.  But there are also other dialects and languages within those areas, including: African American, Lumbee, Cherokee and Latino.

Their detailed research has revealed some new revelations in the mosaic of dialects that we are fortunate to have in our state.  One interesting finding is how varied African American Dialects are in NC, which are sometimes viewed as a monolith in “white” America.  But there are some surprising speechways from the rural to the urban and from the Outer Banks to the Appalachians, and many are far removed from the urban dialect portrayed in popular culture.

The authors also try to dispel the myth that the Appalachian and Outer Banks vernacular is some sort of Elizabethan English time bubble.  It turns out that their English is as living and mutable as any dialect, their isolation has just allowed a few words and grammatical structures to survive where in other, more connected, areas it has died out.  If you read my review of John McWhorter’s book  Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, you will have already read about some antediluvian grammar that still lives on in NC, ie. “Mary is a singing.”  Also, one of my favorite examples of how the Outer Banks vernacular has been evolving is their use of the word “dingbatters” for tourists.  They picked up that word from watching Archie Bunker on the TV sitcom All in the Family. However, I do have a beef, I have read a hantle (a lot) of literature about the Scots Irish dialect of the Carolinas (esp. From Ulster to America by Michael Montgomery, who is probably the leading expert in Scots Irish speech ways and Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fisher),  and as an armchair linguist who took one undergraduate linguistics class, I don’t think the authors emphasized the impact Scots Irish had on the Piedmont and Appalachian dialect regions enough.  There are hundreds of words that came out of their distinct dialect that has examples in writings from Ulster (also lowland Scotland and the English border) and their diaspora in America. Examples of Scots Irish words that have occurred in Ulster and America:  jouk- dodge, fornest-next to,  lowp-jump,  hantle- a lot.  But in their defense the researchers for the most part adhered to the results of their own research.

But the part I found most interesting is the chapter on the legacy of American Indian Languages.  Unfortunately, the only language remaining out of the six American Indian Language families that were historically found in NC is Cherokee, and presently there are only 200 to 300 fluent speakers of the language left in North Carolina.  But there is another American Indian tribe living in NC that is the ninth largest tribe in the United States and is the largest non-reservation tribe in the US and they are the Lumbee tribe of Robeson County.  This enigmatic tribe lost their language (or languages) sometime in the 1700’s but they speak a dialect of English that is as singular as the one found in the Appalachians or the Outer Banks and I am going to cover them in depth in another blog post.

The authors end the book covering the great Latino migration into North Carolina and the cultural and language ways that they are adding to our mostly monolingual state.  Drawn to our manufacturing and agricultural job opportunities, North Carolina is now third in it the nation for numbers of rural Latinos and number one in monolingual Spanish speakers.  Also, ten percent of Mexican immigrants speak an indigenous language and some of them do not speak Spanish as their first language but Otomi, Mixtec, Nahuas, Purhepechas,  or Triques.  However,  only half of the Latinos in NC are from Mexico, the other half are from El Salvador, Panama, Guatemala or any other Central or even South American nation (my sister-in-law is Peruvian and lives in NC).  The term most commonly used for Spanish speakers by Anglos in NC is Hispanic which is also the most used term on the East coast, but in the West they use the term Latino.  Hispanic was found to be the most disliked phrase among Latinos because it was wholly created by the US Census and is considered a “white person’s” word.  Lastly, the researchers have found that many bilingual children of Latino immigrants speak with a rural southern accent but with a distinctly Latino rhythm adding a beautiful new dialect to the already diverse speechways of our state.

Wolfram and Reaser view North Carolina’s richly diverse language quilt as one our most important resources.  Although dialects change and die-out, the authors believe that there will not come a time when all Americans or North Carolinians speak alike.  They seek to document the language and history of North Carolinians from the ones who were here at the founding to the more recent arrivals.

Also investigate this article: What linguists say about Kevin Spacey’s bizarre Southern accent on House of Cards

In the show House of Cards, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is from Gaffney, SC, a town that has a very similar culture and accent to my hometown of Gastonia, NC by virtue of them both sitting on the I-85 textile corridor about 30 miles apart.  I can tell you that I never met anybody that dropped their “r’s” there like the Frank Underwood character does, if anything they added more “r’s”. Well that is not exactly true my best friend’s mother and father dropped their “r’s” but they were from the Lowcountry of South Carolina and they stood out.  One of our favorite pastimes was to imitate his mother, “Da-vid, don’t you duhty up my kitchin.”