A TEACHER ON HATTERAS
ISLAND - 1876
Contributed by John L. McGowan, Florence, S.C.
Two letters from Henry Lawrence McGowan (1853-1938) to Alexander Berry (1854-1924)
Rodantha, Dare Co., N. C.
April 29, 1876
I do not think that I was ever better pleased than I was to your letter of the 24 inst., for I had heard of your failure at Kinnakeet and I was really in suspence to know what your luck had terminated in.
There is the most sickness here now I ever saw which has badly injured my school. I have in all 24 pupils but do not have and average of only fifteen principally on account of sickness. I have been sick myself ever since you left and am no better now, but I keep up all the time.
I have not had the pleasure of an acquaintance with any of the girls. They seem a little backward and I donít shove in, but I think I will have a fine time after a while. I have already received several compliments from some of the best.
I almost fancy I see you slung to that Lady you mentioned, for I know just how you looked. If you think she is genteel I advise you to go for her. Perhaps it would be better for you. It would cause you not to think so much about home.
You would have been extremely amused if you had been here last Sunday night. They had prayer meeting at the school house, Old Fred Longís meetings donít touch them and they told me I had never seen anything yet. There were both men and women engaged in shouting and screaming as if the Devil really had them. Such Alex, are the fruits of ignorance, which abounds in such a mass here. I think without a doubt that this is the most illeterate spot in the whole [ Page 2 ] civilized world. I donít think there is a young girl here that can write her name; or a single young man that can write a letter to be understood, but some of them are beginning to appreciate the value of education, while there are others in fact the majority are very careless which keeps them under.
I was summoned before the Magistrateís Court last Saturday as a witness. The case was Ben Pugh came to Zeak Hooperís one night and abused him a little, and he took some action against him, but Pugh would not attend the trial because he was in Government service, and maintained that the civil law cound not hurt him, but I donít know what will be the final end of it. Old Zeak talks about trying him before the U. S. Court, but I reckon he will drop it.
I have had some very disagreeable weather for teaching school, which has given me a very deep cold and has made me quite sick.
I will look for another piece of paper to finish my letter. I intended on going to Roanoke today to be examined, but the man wasnít ready. I reckon I shall go some time next week. Alex, letís write to each other once a fortnight regular. It will not cost much and will be very interesting to me.
I wrote a letter last night to Jennie and am going to write another before long to my darling Dep. just to keep Joe scared off. What kind of time do you think they are having around there now? I reckon Joe with his Hell bound advasary (George Fisher) will strike out again to try their luck over. If George does succeed in his infernal desire it is going to work bad for him. I make no threats, but I simply state if he [ Page 3 ] does not stop medding (sic) with my character I shall stop it myself if I have to try the virtue of powder and ball.
If you write to Rube and John soon state to them where I am and what I am doing.
Write to me soon and tell me all the news in general. Take some Saturday for it and write all day as I have done.
You had better burn this piece for fear it might get exposed. Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain,
H. L. McGowan
This is a copy of the letter I found among my fatherís papers.
A. B. ďAbĒ Berry, 3020 Colonial Avenue, Norfolk, Va.
July 22, 1876
When your letter reached me I was in quite a large crowd, but I stole away for a few moments to give it a slight perusal until a more convenient opportunity for a thorough examination. In company with yours were two others, viz., one from Jennie and one from Laura and Dep., simply stating that they expected to be at Hatteras Camp meeting. I also received a letter from the above couple about three weeks ago, and I also received that picture that I was telling you about. I will leave it to your superior mind to judge how good I felt.
Alex, I really think without a doubt your letter was the most interesting you ever wrote. I think you improve both in composition and penmanship; as for myself I am going backward as fast as time can move.
I would like very much to have been with you at Beaufort on the 4th inst. I think you must have enjoyed it. This vacated and dreary land has no such charms as that. They are all so religious that they could not stoop to such low vices, while some of their hearts are as black as the gates of hell itself.
I would like very well to be at home while Mary and Hattie are on the Bay. Oh! What a time we could have if we were there. It makes me think of last summer which never can be forgotten, but will grow fresher as long as memory last, but I hope we shall both be there, as you say, to the big turnout on North Lake.
You had quite a hazardous time during your travel. I know just how to sympathize with you from experience of my own; but I am very glad you have located such a delightful spot, where you can enjoy yourself so well. I expect you are now brushing up to escort that young lady around. Is she pretty? Does her mind appear to be [ Page 2 ] easily impressed? If so, go for her. I know you have a slick tongue and can talk her about right.
Old Naomi, like you, did not succeed in getting a school at the Cape, so she has quit teaching. I have forgottens the fellow name that is sparking her, but I think he ought to write to you for reference, as to her character. I reckon you could give him a fine description of her. I will keep a bright look out for news and will apprise you all I hear from her.
I have the pleasure of informing you that I have yet a very large, assiduous and interesting school; but my term is drawing fast to a close. I have but two more weeks to teach and I shall be done. The people would like for the school to continue; but the times are very bad with them as fishing has failed almost entirely and the consequence is, they are not able to hire me.
After Camp Meeting at this place the 15th of August inst., I shall expect to make my way back again home. I want to be home by the big September if I can. I would like very much you could be there at that time to help me enjoy myself, for I am sure your presence would greatly promote my pleasures.
Well Alex, how goes election, for anigh I reckon you have concluded to take hold of the right wheel and help us out of the mire and give Tilden a large majority; that the noble banner at Washington may for once spread itself with honor, and wave with triumph over a good ole democratic president. Now is the time, Alex, to make yourself useful while you are needed. I seldom get any newspapers and I donít know what is going on in the world; but I have been informed that Vance is nominated for governor and [ Page 3 ] T. J. Jarvis lieutenant governor on the democratic ticket. Well we will say no more about politics.
My letter that I received a few days ago from Laura and Dep stated that they thought of a great deal when they were having nice times, and how they used to enjoy our company, but the one I received from Dep previous to this one was a little more touching. It closes with the following beautiful lines:
ďOh! that I had been ten thousand miles away ere I saw thee on that fatal, fatal day.Ē and I give in responcre another as touching as I was able to pen. I would not give you full description as space will not permit.
You said you often thought of home. I am sure it is my case. In my dreams I often imagine myself enjoying myself, but I have only to arouse from my slumber to find it all a somnambulistic fancy. I am expecting to go to Hatteras Camp Meeting next Friday where I hope to meet some of the folks from the Bay. If you write directly I shall be able to get it before I leave, as I do not expect to leave before the 21st or 22nd of August, but I shall write you another one any how before I leave here. If you think your letter will not have time to reach me here, direct it to Lake Comfort. Please excuse my hasty written letter. This leaves me well as usual and hoping it will find you the same.
Yours forever truly,
H. L. McGowan
Henry Lawrence McGowan (1852-1938) s/o William McGowan and Rebecca Davis; m. Geideppie Dell (Deppie) Stotesbury
Alexander Berry (1854-1924) s/o John Berry, Jr. and Sallie Ann Stotesbury; m. Joseph Anna Swindell (1850-1932)
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