Friday, September 30, 2022

No Railroad for Milton, Caswell County, North Carolina: 1850

No Railroad for Milton, Caswell County, North Carolina: 1850

After many years of lobbying for the Richmond & Danville Railroad to run through Milton, NC, the battle finally was lost.

The Greensboro Patriot (Greensboro, North Carolina), 12 January 1850

Democratic Party Meeting: 1850 in Yanceyville, North Carolina

Democratic Party Meeting: 1850 in Yanceyville, North Carolina

In 1850, Caswell County Democratic Party leaders met in Yanceyville to select delegates for the next Democratic Party Convention in Raleigh, NC, to nominate a candidate for NC Governor. Note the attendee names, which of course included the ubiquitous Nathaniel Jones Palmer.

The sense of the meeting was to support David Settle Reid as the Democratic candidate for NC Governor in 1851. Whig editor of The Milton Chronicle, Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans, criticized the Democrats for again suggesting David Settle Reid should run, as he had been defeated in the last NC gubernatorial election.

Of course Reid won, was re-elected, and then was elected to the US Senate. So much for the opinion of Evans, who later abandoned the Whig Party and became a Democrat.

Reid's election began a Democratic Party domination of North Carolina that lasted some 125 years.

"Democratic Party Meeting." The Milton Chronicle (Milton, North Carolina), 16 May 1850

Hon. D. S. Reid

"It appears that the Democrats wish to sacrifice this gentleman again. Now we do enter our solemn protest against their serving so clever a fellow so badly. He deserves better treatment at their hands, and should receive it. He has been of some service to that party, and it would be cruel in them to immolate him upon the altar of defeat again.

"Yes, it would be a sacrifice to run him as a candidate for Governor again; once beaten is bad enough, to be beaten twice would be rather too severed for a man that has such keen sensibilities as Col. Reid."

The Milton Chronicle (Milton, North Carolina), 16 May 1850

Monday, September 26, 2022

The "Milton Banner" -- Milton, Caswell County, North Carolina

Milton Newspapers: Milton Banner

Here we have discussed Milton newspapers of the early 1800s and the editors thereof. In 1845, another such Milton newspaper was proposed: the Milton Banner. It was to be a Democratic publication, apparently to oppose the Milton Whig newspaper: the Milton Chronicle (Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evens, editor).

Whether the Milton Banner was published requires additional research. It would have been a staunch supporter of Democratic President James Knox Polk (1845-1849), a protégé of President Andrew Jackson. 

The proposed publisher, and presumably the editor of the Milton Banner, was Barzillai Graves. This person has not been fully identified. I have three potential entries in the Caswell County Genealogy database.

The Weekly Standard (Raleigh, North Carolina), 26 February 1845

Click image to see a larger version.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Yanceyville and Danville Plank Road

In 1852, the North Carolina General Assembly chartered the Caswell Plank Road Company. Thomas Donoho Johnston, Abisha Slade, Dr. Allen Gunn, W. B. Bowe [probably William Bradley Bowe], and John Kerr were named directors and authorized to open books in Yanceyville and elsewhere to receive subscriptions not in excess of $50,000 for the construction of a plank road from Yanceyville to some point on the Virginia line where it would meet another road leading to Danville. Shares were $50 each. Under its charter the company had power to condemn land for the road, could enter into contracts, could erect toll gates, and do a variety of other things necessary for the performance of its work. The charter specified that profits were not to exceed 25 percent a year and that the road constructed were to be not less than sixty feet wide.

Newspaper Item: Richmond Dispatch, Tuesday, 16 August 1853.

J. S. Totten became president of the company, with Thomas Donoho Johnston secretary-treasurer. William Long became one of the most important stockholders, purchasing a number of shares at different times between 1853 and 1859.

By 1855, the plank road to Danville had been located and graded to Hogan's Creek, construction having begin at the Virginia line, with about one mile planked. The route also had been surveyed from Hogan's Creek to Yanceyville.

By June 1856, the Yanceyville to Danville Plank Road was open, being one of just two interstate plank roads with which North Carolinians were involved.

This plank road between Yanceyville and Danville apparently was a financial success, with its income realized from tolls charged.

What happened to the Yanceyville-Danville plank road during the Civil War is not known. However, while maintenance may have been deferred, the road was still operating in 1868. This is evidenced by a record showing that in March 1868 J. M. Rawlins petitioned the court for compensation for repairing the bridge across Moons Creek on the plank road near Samuel S. Harrison's property.


Eventually, the plank road between Yanceyville and Danville apparently deteriorated and reverted to dirt. In 1905 a North Carolina state law observed that the roads of Caswell County were badly in need of repair and a referendum was authorized in May on a $40,000 bond issue. If approved, a highway commission of five men was to be elected by the county commissioners and under their supervision highways would be opened, graded, and improved. Provision also was made for rebuilding bridges. The proposal apparently failed.

A private law of 1909 incorporated the Caswell County Macadam Road Company to operate under the direction of S. G. Woods, B. S. Graves, F. W. Brown, R. L. Mitchelle, J. M. Hodges, and R. T. Wilson. Stock in the amount of $125,000 was authorized. The objective of the company was to construct a macadam road from Yanceyville to Danville (actually to the Virginia state line) to be operated as a toll road. B. S. Graves was president and J. P. Swanson secretary-treasurer. Some stock apparently was sold but no road built.

It may be that no Macadam road ever was built between Yanceyville and Danville, and that the next major improvement to "Old 86" came in 1926. The Caswell Messenger issue for March 4, 1926, reported that the contractors who were to build a concrete road from the Virginia line near Gatewood to Yanceyville recently had been in the county seat. Construction was expected to begin shortly, and supplies began arriving about ten days later. When this concrete road was completed is not known.

Source: Powell, William S. When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977. Durham: Moore Publishing Company, 1977, pp. 491-493, 513-516.

Reference: North Carolina Plank Roads

Sunday, September 18, 2022

North Carolina Internal Improvement Convention: 1833

North Carolina Internal Improvement Convention: 1833

In 1833, a North Carolina Internal Improvement Convention was held at the Presbyterian Church in Salisbury, Rowan County, North Carolina. Many North Carolina counties sent a representative. Nathaniel Jones Palmer (c.1805-1854) represented Caswell County.

Palmer introduced three resolutions:

1. That it would be expedient to construct a railroad from the Dan River at Milton to the Yadkin River near Salisbury, passing through Caswell Court House (which became Yanceyville in 1835), Haw River, Greensboro, Salem, and Lexington.

2. That the navigation of the Roanoke from Milton to Weldon can be greatly improved commensurate with the quantity of freight the proposed railroad would send down the river.

3. That the North Carolina legislature should be encouraged to aid the Roanoke Navigation Company in improving the Roanoke River from Milton to Weldon or Blakely, the present terminating points of the Petersburg, Portsmouth, and Roanoke Railroads.

The Charlotte Journal (Charlotte, North Carolina), 2 November 1833.


Editor's Note: Of course it is the Dan River that runs past Milton, Caswell County, North Carolina, but the overall navigation system was referred to as Roanoke of which the Dan River is a tributary.

Merritt Child Killed in Caswell County, North Carolina: 1832

Merritt Child Killed: 1832

Based upon the report of the Caswell County Coroner, Thomas Gunn, the two-year-old son of Sidney Merritt was "murdered" by an enslaved "negro" woman named Amy. She was "owned" by Stephen Dodson of Milton.

Sidney Merritt was employed by Dodson as "overseer."

Amy used an axe on the child and confessed, stating: "That the devil persuaded her to kill it."

"Murder of Merritt Child." The Charlotte Journal (Charlotte, NC), 15 May 1832, reprinting an item from the Milton Spectator newspaper.

Editor's Note: The "owner" of the enslaved person Amy most likely is Stephen Lewis Dodson (1778-1852).

Jackson Meeting in Caswell County, North Carolina: 1832

Jackson Meeting in Caswell County: 1832

Andrew Jackson served as United States President 1829-1837. In April 1832, a "Jackson Meeting" (Democratic Party) was held at the Caswell County Courthouse. The purpose of the meeting of Jackson supporters was to nominate a delegate to attend the national convention at Baltimore to select a candidate for Vice President to run on the ticket with President Andrew Jackson.

Attendees included: James Rainey, Paul A. Haralson, Nathaniel J. Palmer, Calvin Graves, Quinton Anderson, John E. Brown, Col. John R. Clark, Dr. Willis M. Lea, Dr. James E. Williamson, and Col. Thomas W. Graves.

Caswell County was part of a district that included Rockingham County and Stokes County. The Caswell County meeting resolved to support Robert Galloway of Rockingham County as the district delegate to the national convention.

Source: "Jackson Meeting in Caswell County." Western Carolinian (Salisbury, North Carolina), 30 April 1832.

Editor's Note: Martin Van Buren was selected as Jackson's Vice President.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Asa Thomas Mills Sale

Caswell County, North Carolina

Deed Book M, Page 279

Asa Thomas of Caswell County to Thomas Jeffreys of same, for $1500, 2 acres on Country Line Creek near Milton with a grist mill and two saw mills. 27 July 1802. Acknowledged in open court.


I have not found information on the purchaser, Thomas Jeffreys. However, there are two possibilities in my database:

1. Thomas Jeffreys (1769-1832), married Mildred Elizabeth Mitchell

2. Thomas Jeffreys (1796-1846), married Keziah B. Watlington

There also is a Thomas Jeffreys who married Kesiah Donoho, about whom I have little information.

Note the Thomas "Jeffrey" mentioned in the following:

One of the earliest references to the Thomas Mill is in a 1796 act of the North Carolina Legislature authorizing an inspection warehouse and the laying out of a town at the site of the warehouse. It was to be located near the mouth of the Country Line Creek at the Dan River on the property of Asa Thomas. Commissioners Thomas Jeffrey, Archibald Murphy, William Rainey, Archibald Samuel, and James Saunders were empowered to lay off thirty acres at or near the Thomas Mill into half acre lots and to establish a town to be named Milton. See When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County, North Carolina 1777-1977, William S. Powell (1977) at 100.


Newspaper Article: "Asa Thomas Mills and Property for Sale." The North-Carolina Journal (Halifax, North Carolina), 15 March 1802 

Friday, September 16, 2022

Nathaniel Jones Palmer 1849 Milton Land Grant

 Nathaniel Jones Palmer 1849 Milton Land Grant

On November 27, 1849, Nathaniel Jones Palmer (c.1805-1854) was issued a North Carolina Land Grant for 2.3 acres beginning on Broad Street in what now is downtown Milton, Caswell County, North Carolina.

Click image to see a larger version of the property description, which was down the hill on Broad Street in Milton to Country Line Creek.

Note the reference to Lots 38 and 39, which are well-documented. Remember that Broad Street in Milton generally runs east/west. The easterly property line was established by two rocks on Country Line Creek.

I find this surprising as I believed all the Milton property had been developed. Was land abandoned and reverted to the state? Why was this not part of the original Milton land lots/plats?

Monday, September 12, 2022

Oddfellows Lodge: Yanceyville, NC

Oddfellows Lodge: Yanceyville, NC

Reverend John Grasty's diary mentioned an Oddfellow's Lodge in Yanceyville in September 1849. On the 28th he attended a meeting at which some kind of anniversary was observed and John Kerr made the primary address. On October 10, 1850, Grasty attended another meeting of the Oddfellows and saw several new members initiated.

Source: When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977, William S. Powell (1977) at 426.

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Gallows Near Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina

Where were the gallows near Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina?

It appears the gallows were near the county poor house. This would have been just north of Yanceyville on or near what now is the County Home Road.

J. W. Grant. Gallows Execution. North-Carolina Free Press (Halifax, North Carolina), 28 Dec 1827.

Grim duties were also required, hence one follows with almost baited breath the entries made in May, 1849, of court being in session in Yanceyville and how the minister mingled with the people of the green. Then comes a rather cryptic reference to "Margarette," a slave woman, who is found to have murdered her two children and whose trial is in progress. "Went to the C. H. and heard the lawyers speak for Margarette." Two days later one reads of the minister going to the "gaol" to give spiritual service to the condemned woman. Then comes the following entry:

"May 25, 1849. Went to gaol, Margarette said she hoped God had forgiven her sins, that she was very happy and willing to die, that she loved the Savior and all mankind. At 12 I stood in the carry-all under the gallows and preached the funeral of Margarette from Jeremiah 17:9, "the heart is deceitful above all thing and desperately wicked. Bro. Wilson then followed in a few remarks. We prayed and then shook hands with Margarette commending her soul to God. We then left the ground before the execution. Oh it is a solemn thing to attend the last hours of the condemned."

Source: Diary of Reverend John Sharshall Grasty (1825-1883)

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Senator John Walter (Chicken) Stephens Was Not Murdered

Senator John Walter (Chicken) Stephens Was Not Murdered 

The term murder often is used loosely. However, when it is displayed on a North Carolina historical marker, it should be used with appropriate legal and factual precision. Homicide is the killing of one person by another. Murder is a form of criminal homicide where the perpetrator intended to kill the other person, sometimes with premeditation (a plan to kill). Whether the homicide was "criminal" can only be determined in an appropriate legal proceeding. Since no such legal proceeding resulted with respect to the killing of Senator John Walter (Chicken) Stephens, he was not murdered.

In the case of John Walter (Chicken) Stephens, there undoubtedly was a homicide. A Caswell County coroner's court of inquiry so concluded in 1870. The jury found that Stephens "came to his death by strangulation caused by a small rope drawn around his neck in a noose and by three stabs with a pocket knife, the blade of which is about three and half inches long . . . done by the hands of some unknown person, or persons. . . ."

And, there are two "confessions" to the killing. The first was by Dr. Felix Roan on his death bed in 1891. The second was by John G. Lea, a written statement released after his death in 1935. However, neither of these "confessions" had any legal impact. While the two accounts differ as to the participants and the method of killing, both show that a group of men planned and carried out the killing of Senator John Walter (Chicken) Stephens in the Caswell County Courthouse. Several of the men purportedly associated with the killing were arrested and brought before a grand jury. However, no indictments resulted. None of the men were ever tried. None of the men ever submitted to a court a guilty plea. Thus, it is incorrect to say that Senator John Walter (Chicken) Stephens was murdered.

Some have objected to this analysis believing that it is an affront to the memory of Senator Stephens and in some way absolves the killers. To the contrary, using the word "murder" suggests that a court was involved and that some form of punishment was meted out, which is not the case. The killers suffered no adverse legal consequences. Some have objected to this analysis with the statement: "What difference does it make?" I believe the response to that kind of thinking is obvious. The facts and the law matter. It seems that the Ku Klux Klan planned to kill Senator John Walter (Chicken) Stephens, and that this plan was successfully implemented at the Caswell County Courthouse in May 1870. No person was tried for the killing. No person entered a guilty plea with respect to the killing.

Accordingly, while the facts overwhelmingly support a homicide, it is incorrect to say there was a murder.