Friday, October 25, 2019

O. Henry: Connection to Milton, Caswell County, North Carolina

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William Sydney Porter (O. Henry) Connection to Milton, Caswell County, North Carolina

Smith, C. Alphonso. O. Henry: A Biograpy. London/Toronto: Hodder and Stroughton, 1916.

O. Henry Biography: Ancestry

The image that accompanies this post is difficult to read. Here is the relevant text:

"The resemblances between O. Henry and his mother are still further revealed in these 'Memories of the Mother of a Gifted Writer,' sent me by Mr. William Laurie Hill:

"In the days of the old four horse stage coach and the up and down hill stretch of our country roads leading from one town or village to another, there were but fifty miles of road between the old Revolutionary village of Milton, North Carolina, and the more aspiring town of Greensboro. For a high type of social life old people, although 'stay at home bodies,' claimed many friends even in distant parts. In summer many of her homes were filled with visitors and in those halcyon days of peace and plenty it was a delight to keep open house.

"Milton could boast of having a spicy weekly paper known as the Milton Chronicle that carried its weekly message into all the neighboring counties. The editor was Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans, who originated the character of 'Jesse Holmes, the Fool-Killer.'* This character furnished sarcasm and wit in weekly installments that kept the young people always on the edge of expectancy. . . ."

* Readers of O. Henry will recall that in "The Fool-Killer" he says: "Down South when ever any one perpetrates some particularity monumental piece of foolishness everybody says: 'Send for Jesse Holmes.' Jesse Holmes is the Fool-Killer."  It is interesting to note that O. Henry was here quoting, unconsciously I presume, a saying originated by his mother's cousin. Charles Napoleon Bonapart Evans's mother was a Miss Shirley, sister of Abia Shirley. The familiarity of Greensboro boys with "Jesse Holmes" has here led O. Henry to ascribe a wider circuit to the saying than the facts seem to warrant. From queries sent out I am inclined to think that "Jesse Holmes" as a synonym for the Fool-Killer is not widely known in the South and is current in North Carolina only in spots. "I tried it out this morning in chapel," writes President E. K. Graham, of the University of North Carolina, 'on perhaps five hundred North Carolinians. Only three had heard of it." One of these was from Greensboro and cited Charles Napoleon Bonapart Evans as the author.

Source: "O. Henry Biography," pp. 30-31.

The famous author O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) and Milton's Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans (newspaper editor) are first cousins once removed. Evans's mother is a sister of O. Henry's grandmother (Jane Shirley and Abiah Shirley, respectively).

Want to read this book? It is available at the following libraries near Yanceyville, NC: Elon; Greensboro College; UNC-Chapel Hill; UNC-Greensboro.

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