Old Mill of Guilford

IMG_20160611_094837026 IMG_20160611_094857405_HDR IMG_20160611_094914991

I was driving toward Stokesdale, NC to pick up my dog (it was being boarded while I was on vacation) and passed something that gave me pause.  It was a working grist mill!  That is something you don’t find everyday.

I had to stop and check it out.  The mill, called Old Mill of Guilford, was being tended by a nice lady from Germany.  She and her husband had moved to the US to become farmers and she worked at the mill during the week.  She told me that she was not the miller, but gave short tours and sold their products from the store. She walked me through the process of grinding and hopping the corn to make grits.  They have three millstones and one is 200 years old.

The mill was originally opened in 1764 by Daniel Dillon and was seized by Cornwallis before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse to grind corn for his soldiers.  The mill has been working ever since.

After the short tour I ducked into the store at the back of the mill and bought a bag of grits and a bag of oatmeal.  There were many other products including polenta, which led me to ask a question that I had always wondered about.

“What’s the difference between grits and polenta?”

“Polenta is ground finer,” says the German woman.

This brought up a memory about the Neapolitan war bride who ran her namesake Angie’s Italian restaurant in Gastonia when I was younger.  She told me that she was raised by nuns in an orphanage and when they served polenta she would stick it under the table like chewing gum so she wouldn’t have to eat it.  She also had a large portrait of the legendary NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano behind the register and she would sometimes point to it and say that he ate here, but would then get sad and say, “The cancer.”

A funny coincidence happened the next day when we ate brunch at Lucky 32 in Cary and I saw on their menu that they served Old Mill of Guilford grits.  It was a pleasant surprise.

Check out their website for more history and products.



Quakers in North Carolina

1708 albemarle

1708 Moseley Map of Albemarle

After Ancestry.com finally got back on line after 3 days of denial of service attacks, which seems to be happening to many high profile websites in the past few weeks (including my beloved Feedly),  my patrons were noticing many Quaker records were coming up in general searches.  I did a little research and found out that Ancestry had recently added 11.2 million new Quaker records.  And for North Carolina genealogy research, Quaker records are extremely important.  Quakers were instrumental in NC’s founding in the Albemarle region and continued to be a leveling force against the Anglican elite (see Cary’s Rebellion and read an earlier blog post A Very Mutinous People, the Struggle for North Carolina 1660-1713 by Noeleen McIlvenna) and a voice of reason against slavery (they were founders of the Underground Railroad), but importantly for genealogy, they kept copious amounts of detailed records.  So Ancestry has become an even more of a valuable tool for Eastern North Carolinians of English ancestry.

But they weren’t just active in the eastern part of the state, the North Carolina Government and Heritage Blog has a post about a correspondence that was reprinted in the May, 1790 edition of the North Carolina Chronicle between General Nathaniel Greene and Quakers who lived in the vicinity of the just fought Battle of Guilford Courthouse (in Guilford County).  In the letter he beseeches the Quaker community to help the wounded that were left near the battlefield by the Continental Army as they chased  Cornwallis to Wilmington. The Quakers respond that they would do what the can but they had also suffered from the British troops.   The State Library of North Carolina is interested in finding out why the paper reprinted the letters a decade after the battle.

Author Sharyn McCrumb to Speak at Barton College


Today is the last day that you can register for the Friends of Hackney Library Spring Dinner and Lecture that is on April 1 with the featured guest award-winning North Carolina writer Sharyn McCrumb.

The Barton College Friends of Hackney Library will welcome award-winning Southern writer Sharyn McCrumb as the featured speaker for its Spring Dinner and Lecture on Tuesday, April 1. The event, to be held in Hardy Alumni Hall on campus, will begin at 6 p.m. with a wine reception and book signing, followed at 7 p.m. by the dinner and program. The author’s books will be sold at the book signing and following the program. This event is sponsored in part by BB&T.

Reservations are required. Tickets for the dinner event are $35 per person, with reservations accepted through Monday, March 24. Members of the Barton College Friends of Hackney Library may reserve tickets for $30 per person. Table reservations must be for a total of eight persons. Space is limited, and the Friends are encouraging those interested in attending to make their reservations as early as possible. Please contact Luann Clark at 399-6329 or the Friends at fohl@barton.edu for reservation information.

I read her new book King’s Mountain about the Revolutionary War battle and I enjoyed its sparse but engaging prose.  I grew up right next to the battlefield in Gaston County and it is a place that brings back wonderful memories of summer camp and picnics even though a ferocious battle was fought there between the Overmountain Men from Watauga (and a lot of locals don’t forget) and the Loyalists under Gen. Patrick Ferguson.

Read more about the dinner and lecture at Barton College

Southern Campaign Revolutionary War Pension Applications


Part of James Robinson Jr. of Chester County SC’s Revolutionary War pension application. Signed by the Gamecock himself General Thomas Sumter.  There were many James Robinsons during this period in the backcountry of SC and western NC and are difficult to sort through.

Last night the local history and genealogy librarian from the Rocky Mount, NC Public Library gave a great presentation on a problem she had tracking down a patron’s Revolutionary War ancestor.  The complication she had with the ancestor, who was named John Evans, was that a previous researcher had combined records of two different John Evans into one person.  One lived in Anson County and one lived in Nash County.  She was able to discern these two individuals by looking closely at deeds and pension applications.  The pension applications really sealed the the deal and the patron was was informed that the John Evans she was looking for lived in Nash County and was forced by threat of hanging into the patriot militia for 18 months as punishment for talking about joining a band of Tories in Edgecombe County.  One of the resources she used was the Southern Campaign Revolutionary War Pension Applications website.  I had used the site before but for some reason I had forgotten about it, so today I’ve had a lot of fun poking around looking for my distant relations that were involved in the American Revolution.  It is a great resource, go try it out!

A Chat about the Book, Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick


Soon to be movie starring Ben Affleck (not a joke)

Recently I read two books: one was great and one was pretty good.  In this post I am going to discuss the pretty good one, Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, first.  The great one, The Black Count: Glory, Betrayal, and the real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss, I will discuss at some later date.

I had read two of Nathan Philbrick’s books, In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (the true story of Moby Dick) and Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War (Pilgrims, pilgrims, pilgrims) before I read his new book Bunker Hill.   So I was familiar with his writing and I think that he is a very competent author of pop nonfiction.   In Bunker Hill he recounts the period in Massachusetts surrounding the Battle of Bunker Hill, perhaps the bloodiest battle of the American Revolution.  He does something slightly unique with the book by focusing on a lesser known founding father, a man named Dr. Joseph Warren.  Warren was an interesting figure in that he was a medical doctor and also the president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Major General of the colony’s militia who assumed the rank of private so he could fight in the front lines of the battle on Breed’s Hill, where he lost his life.  The author also humanizes the British troops portraying them as not some monolithic boogeyman but as people with real reservations about fighting their fellow Englishmen and were suffering many deprivations being stuffed into Boston with few supplies.

Some passages that  stand out to me are little things such as the irony of the British troops playing the medieval ballad Chevy Chase as they march unknown into conflict at Lexington and Concord.  Chevy Chase (or the Battle of Otterburn) is an account of a battle where the English army led by Henry Percy (Hot Spur), Earl of Northumberland, chases the Scottish army into Scotland only to be defeated in a rare medieval night battle. Furthermore, Philbrick paints a very nuanced depiction of George Washington. Although he is a bit of an haughty Virginia slave owner and doesn’t hide his contempt for the more egalitarian population of New England, which they often resent him for, Washington comes to respect their fervor, fighting skills and ingenuity. Likewise, he is initially against using free black men as soldiers until he is confronted with the fact that the most lauded soldier for bravery during the battle of Bunker Hill, a battle where many white men ran away from conflict, was a free black man named Salem Poor.  The author portrays astutely Washington’s  ability to rethink internalized beliefs by allowing free blacks to serve in his new Continental Army now that he has seen how they can fight.

The depiction of the battle of Bunker Hill (actually Breed’s Hill) is the best writing of the book.  You can really get a feel for how desperate and murderous the battle was. And although the British won the field, their casualties were many times that of the Americans, casualties that were vividly depicted by the author, thrusting you into the grim reality of battle.

The main thesis of the book in my view is that the elites like Joseph Warren and George Washington won the revolution,  but I have always leaned on the  history from below approach, which compels me toward the belief that it was the common man such as freed-man Salem Poor at Bunker Hill or the 58 year old family man, Jason Russell, who was killed on his doorstep defending his home along with twelve other militiamen during the battle of Lexington and Concord, that really won the revolution through their bravery and sacrifice.


Good ole Howard Pyle

Evil Air: Malaria in the American South


Image shows the range of Plasmodium Falciparum in North and South America.
From 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

Feb. 6, 1692: Taken ill a Seventh time:  with a Tertian Ague: about 3h p.m .it began & was of the same nature with my last which I had all January, but this was the worst.
Feb. 12, 1692: Before noon, a 4th fit. With which I shook about 3h p.m. & then went to bed: where I had a very violent Feaver; this being the worst fit of all: my breath very short; & delirious…
(Mann 2011, pg. 106)

Samuel Jeak, a merchantman in Southeast England, was suffering from an infection from a plasmodium.  The plasmodium is an insidious parasite that conducts a coordinated assault causing red blood cells to burst open with up to ten billion new parasites overwhelming the immune system and causing chills and fevers.  Although the immune system can eventually beat back the assault, the plasmodium will hide out in your liver for years waiting to attack again.  This is of course malaria, a disease that was endemic to the American Southeast at least until the 1940’s and had a strong hand in the formation of the South’s economy and culture.  Recently, well yesterday, I finished reading Charles C. Mann’s sequel to 1492, 1493: The New World that Columbus Created.  And although I had an extensive discussion of the entirety of 1492 in an earlier blog post I am going to focus on a chapter titled Evil Air.  The author, Charles Mann, does a superb job in drawing on resources to show how malaria impacted the Columbian exchange.

Malaria had impacts beyond the immediate sufferings of its victims. It was a historical force that deformed cultures, an insistent nudge that pushed societies to answer questions in ways that today seem cruel and reprehensible (pg. 116).

Could malaria be a reason that slavery became entrenched in the American South but died out north of the Mason Dixon line?  It’s an interesting question that Mann tackles expertly.

            The English word for malaria comes from the Italian word for evil air.  But the old Latin term for malaria is tertian fever which describes periods of fever and chills that occur in a forty-eight hour pattern. You are sick one day and then fine the next, fine the next day and then sick the following day.  The pattern continually repeats itself which is why it was it was given the Latin term for three days which follows the Roman pattern of counting time from the beginning of one period to the beginning of the next.

Malaria did not exist in the Americas before 1492.   Europeans brought the plasmodium vivax parasite to the Americas from southern England, where it thrived during the colonial period.  Europeans from areas where the plasmodium vivax historically lived acquired certain immunity to the disease if they suffered from it at some point in their life (and survived), which is called seasoning.  Therefore these Europeans did not suffer as severely as did the Native American population during the early years of colonization.  Even so the plasmodium vivax caused much suffering and death among European colonists who hadn’t been seasoned. However, a new type of malaria, brought over from Africa with the first African slaves, was devastatingly fatal to all Europeans as well as the Native Americans.  This was the plasmodium falciparum.

The original slave trade in the South was of Native American slaves.  The Mississippian Native American culture that dominated the Southeast was a culture that practiced slavery on a large scale.  They usually took slaves through ritualistic warfare.  Eventually  these slaves could become members of the tribe, or they could be killed in reciprocation for the killing of a tribe member.  The newcomer Europeans were quick to take advantage of this labor force made available through Native American slave catchers until its collapse in the early 1700’s as Native American populations imploded due to Old World diseases, which included malaria.   The possible replacements for Native American slaves were indentured servants from Scotland and Northern England and African slaves.

To the North, Colonial New England was a society that had slaves.  But slaves from Africa were expensive, much more expensive than indentured servants from Europe.  Adam Smith even stated that slaves were not economically viable.  This was true in New England where slavery eventually fell out of favor and the more economical indentured servants became the labor of choice.  However, indentured servants usually came from regions in Britain that did not have any malaria.  These newcomers that had never been exposed to any type of plasmodium died in staggering numbers soon after they arrived in the South, and with the introduction of falciparum, no European was safe.  In some parishes around Charleston three out of four children died by the age of twenty.  In the same period of these malarial fueled die-offs, there was a people that were increasing in number to the colonies that were almost completely immune (ninety-seven percent) to vivax and about fifty percent immune to falciparum.  These people were coming over as slaves from West and Central Africa.

The Southern plantation owners did not know that Africans had a strong resistance to malaria, nor did they know what malaria even was.  They just saw that Africans survived where Europeans and Native Americans died.  Still, Africans died in large numbers from brutality and other diseases that they were subjected to in the chattel slave society that existed in the South.  But when malaria and yellow fever (another deadly mosquito born disease that Africans have resistance to) outbreaks occurred the Africans were left standing while other populations withered away.  These outcomes gave the advantage to the large plantation owners with an African slave labor force over the small farmers with indentured servants.  Also, it just so happens that falciparum is very temperature sensitive and the dividing line where falciparum can live is below the Mason Dixon line.  Above the line is too cold for it to survive.  It is also no coincidence

General Wade Hampton III's plantation house ruins on top of Quinine Hill in Columbia, South Carolina.  The Hamptons went to their home in the North Carolina mountains during the fever season.

General Wade Hampton III’s plantation house ruins on top of Quinine Hill in Columbia, South Carolina. The Hamptons went to their home in the North Carolina mountains during the fever season.

that plantation homes with their high windows that let in a breeze (that kept away mosquitoes) were frequently on a hill with a manicured, treeless lawn that happened to keep away mosquitoes; nor that the plantation families usually went North to Rhode Island or to the mountains during the worst times of the year (fall) for malaria,  while the yeoman farmer and poor had to stay and suffer and die in the malarial zone, therefore creating a more stratified society.  African slavery was not caused by malaria but malaria offset the economic impediments as defined by Adam Smith. The author also documents a similar pattern occurring in the falciparum ravaged slave state of Brazil as compared to the falciparum free Argentina where indentured servants made up the labor force.

Mann also gives evidence for malaria helping to win the revolution by severely reducing the effectiveness of Cornwallis’ largely Scottish troops.  And may be a major reason that the Northern armies lost so many battles in the early years of the American Civil War marching into the falciparum zone where the tertian fever rate was calculated as high as 233% with soldiers suffering from fever 2 times or more.

To conclude, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created provides a extremely well researched overview and analysis of the mosaic of the changes that happened as a result of the Columbian Exchange.  As well as an intense examination of how the introduction of Old World diseases such as malaria to the Americas was a large factor in the destruction of the Native American cultures and peoples that had existed for millennia and the helped to bring about the brutal enslavement of the Central and Western Africans.