Sir Nicolaus Koni, sculptor of
the bust of Walter Newbern, and Margaret
Newbern was born August 24, 1908 at Powells Point, N.C. to Walter Scott
Newbern, Jr. and Mattie Leigh Relfe Newbern.
Walter Scott Newbern, Jr. was born
February 22, 1878 at Powells Point and died March 25, 1929 at Powells Point.
He was the son of Walter Scott Newbern, who was born October 29, 1847 at
Powells Point and died September 7, 1918 at Asheville, N.C., where he and
his wife maintained a summer home. Walter Scott Newbern was married to
Elvira Etheridge, daughter of Nathan and Luraner O'Neal Etheridge.
Elvira Etheridge Newbern was born November 3, 1849 at Powells Point and died
February 28, 1933 at Elizabeth City, N.C. Walter and Elvira were also
the parents of Belle Newbern (1876 - 1920), who was married to Charles H.
Brock (1872 - 1936), and Lizzie Newbern (1886 - 1971), who was married to
Nathan G. Bray (1886 - 1967). A third daughter was Lula Newbern who
married Nathan Poyner (1869-1929). Margaret was in Asheville in 1929
when she received news that her father had died. She traveled by
train, making connections for two days, to come home to Powells Point to
make arrangements. The minister at Hebron Methodist Church refused to
officiate at her father's funeral, since he considered her father a sinner
because he had drunk heavily and womanized. A Rec. Mashburn at the
Christian Church at Harbinger agreed to officiate at the services.
Margaret was deeply hurt by this and never was active at Hebron again.
Walter Scott Newbern, Elvira Etheridge Newbern, Walter Scott Newbern, Jr.,
Belle and Charles Brock, Lizzie and Nathan Bray, are all buried at the
Newbern-Olds Cemetery at Olds Hill, Jarvisburg, N.C.
Mattie Leigh Relfe Newbern was the daughter
of Leonidas C. Relfe of Jacocks, N.C. (Durant's Neck) and Mary Elizabeth
Keaton Relfe. Mattie Leigh came to Powells Point as a school teacher
and attended Hebron Methodist Church where she met Walter Scott Newbern, Jr.
The couple was married July 3, 1900 at the Methodist Church at New Hope.
They first lived in Elizabeth City and moved to Powells Point in 1904.
Walter and Mattie owned two homes in Powells Point--one was just south of
the Walter & Elvira Etheridge Newbern home which is currently owned by Mrs.
Verdie Newbern. This house is an East Lake style house, facing north,
along the shore at the mouth of North River at Newbern's Landing. The
house was later owned by the Killingsworths. The other house was about
a mile south of the Powells Point Post Office where it is the current home
of Cindy Cox, widow of Roy Phillip Newbern, and her current husband, Dr.
James Owens reside. This was a two-story house with Victorian trim.
The stables stood across the road until recently. While living at this
house, Margaret became quite close to an old black man, who she knew as
Uncle Jordan (pronounced "Jerden") Fisher, who along with Debbie Gordan,
looked after her and her brother. Walter Newbern, Jr. has a farming
operation at Powells Point where he owned land from sound to sound. In
Elizabeth City he was principal investor in a Reo automobile and Mack truck
dealership, and he was also principal stockholder and secretary of the North
River Line, headquartered in Jarvisburg, which owned the Annie L.
Vansciver. When the children were in high school, Mrs. Mattie
Newbern lived during the week in Elizabeth City so that the children could
attend Elizabeth City High School, and they came home to Powells Point on
Friday evenings on the Vansciver.
Debbie Gordan was a dwarfed and deformed
black woman who had been raised by Nathon Frances Owens (Mrs. Norris Baum
Owens of Jarvisburg). After Mrs. Owens died, Mrs. Mattie Newbern took
Debbie in her home and she remained with her in Powells Point, and after
Walter Jr. died in 1929, Debbie went to live with the family in Durham.
Mattie ran a boarding house for Duke University students, mainly medical
students. My father was fortunate to be able to room there during the
1932-33 school year. She was very fond of the men who roomed there and
called them "my boys". Needless to say, Debbie's boys were always
given lots of extra food, snacks, and treats. Debbie died in 1941 at
Duke University Hospital while being cared for by her boys.
A brother, Walter Relfe Newbern, was born in
1912 to Walter Jr. and Mattie. He received his medical degrees at Duke
University and Tulane University, and practiced medicine in Palm Beach,
Florida. He married a nurse, Shirley Gay Stimson from Statesville,
N.C., and their children are Gay Lehman of Des Moines, Iowa, and Scott
Newbern of Tallahassee, Florida. Walter Relfe Newbern died in 1988 and
the Walter R. Newbern Memorial Pavilion is in St. Mary's Hospital in West
Palm Beach, Florida.
Margaret and her brother moved to Durham,
N.C. where her mother moved after she and Walter Newbern, Jr. were divorced.
Margaret attended Louisburg College and received a degree in medical
technology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Her first marriage
was to a McDade of Orange Co., N.C. Her only child, Jack McDade, was
born of this union which soon ended in divorce. Jack McDade was raised
by his father's family near Chapel Hill. After her divorce, Margaret
managed a tourist lodge at Salem, Virginia. Later she removed to
Philadelphia, Pa. where she pursued a career in medical technology at
hospitals in that city. She was married next to a man named Bailey who
was a metallurgist. They were divorced and later remarried, then
divorced again. Next she married Russell Sage Fowler, vice-president
of the Woodbury Trust Co. in Woodbury, N.J. Together they operated an
insurance agency in addition to his position at the bank and owned an entire
city block of rental cottages in Cape May, N.J. Russell Fowler died in
Margaret cared for her mother during her
last illness and Mrs. Mattie Relfe Newbern died at Margaret's home in
Woodbury, N.J. on September 23, 1943. Margaret remember the sad ordeal
of bringing her mother's body home for burial. From Camden, N.J., Mrs.
Newbern's casket was placed on the train in Philadelphia. Laws
required the train to stop at each state line, the casket had to be opened
and an authority from the state being entered boarded the train and
inspected the casket and it's contents and checked and approved all
paperwork. Margaret was required to be present at each one of these
inspections. Boots Ziegler met Margaret with a hearse when she got off
the Chesapeake Bay Ferry and brought Margaret and her mother's body on the
last leg of the journey home to Elizabeth City.
In 1965, Margaret sold all her property in
N.J. and moved to Islamarado, Florida in Monroe County in the Keys.
She had an extensive shell collection which she had gathered on Sanibel
Island. She also enjoyed visiting Hialeah and betting on the horses.
In 1975 she returned to North Carolina to have cancer surgery at UNC
Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill, and consequently moved to Harbinger to be
near her doctors. Her recovery was successful, and she went back to
work, this time as a night auditor at the Holiday Inn in Kill Devil Hills.
In the 1950's Margaret had become friendly
with Madge McPherson Thacker, and had spent considerable time researching
family histories in northeastern North Carolina. After returning to
Harbinger, Margaret continued her research effort of the various families
which she was tracing. She served as president of the Currituck County
Historical Society. She liked to visit Florida each winter to enjoy
the warmer climate and see her friends.
Margaret continued to work into 1992, and in
early 1993 her only child, Jack, died. In May 1994 Jack's first wife
and the mother of Margaret's four grandchildren visited from Houston, Texas.
This visit brightened Margaret's last days. Lizzie Bowe cared for
Margaret, cooking meals for her, cleaning, and driving her. Margaret
was planning for me to drive her to Cape May after Labor Day. Her
health continued to deteriorate and she died at home at Harbinger on Sunday,
July 8, 1994. She is buried at Old Hollywood Cemetery in Elizabeth
City, N.C. with her mother and grandparents.
I had known Margaret Newbern Fowler since I
was about ten years old. When her two first cousins, Mary Onella Brinn
and Mattie Broughton, were settling Margaret's estate, we all met one day
and remembered Margaret. We all agreed that she was one of the most
intelligent people that we had ever know. I will always remember her
as a warm and caring person who loved the salt marshes of Cape May, N.J.,
the splendor of tropical South Florida, but who always said she was "of
Article by Roy Sawyer, Jr. - April 15, 2003