Return to Hyde Co. Main Page
Owned by Merlin Schenck Berry, grandson
Images & transcriptions are compliments of Betsy Olkowski
I have always been interested in the history of Hyde County and of my family. Yet, until recently, it had never occurred to me that my grandfather's diary might be of general interest for Hyde County history. I wish to thank Mrs. Lenora Rayburn Bright for giving me the idea of donating a copy to the Hyde County Historical Society. In June, 1984, I was in the Court House, mentioned the diary's references to her family, and offered her copies of sections referring to them. She suggested I might share the contents with the people of Swan Quarter. My immediate thought was, how dumb of me not to have realized how interesting the diary would be to anyone whose family or friends lived in the town at the time. Still, it was not until December that I wrote R.S. Spencer offering a copy. He responded with enthusiasm, suggesting I write an article. I set to work reading through the diary, taking notes and writing. So engrossed did I become that it was difficult for me to realize I was in the late 20th Century. I was living two pasts--Grandfather's and Swan Quarter's in 1916-18, and my own in the 1940's and 1950's, for many people appeared on the pages who lived on into my youth, and some who live still. I kept my handkerchief at the ready to wipe away the tears of memory.
No one in the family had ever mentioned a diary. The Rev. Brothers had died in 1934, almost a year before my birth. At his death, his effects had been distributed among his children and his widow. This widow continued to live at the Masonic Home in Greensboro where they had met in their retirement. She died in 1947, but still there was no mention of a diary. It was in 1956 that I learned of its existence by one of those chance coincidences that make life so uncertain. Mrs. Nita Tunnell, the second wife and widow of Mr. Joseph Jones "Buck" Tunnell (1875- 1955) of Lake Comfort, was living at the Masonic home in Greensboro. In July she wrote to me that the matron was cleaning out some old drawers and found a portion of Grandfather's diary. I received it under separate cover soon after. I thumbed through it, put it aside, and took it up occasionally at family gatherings, but for the most part it stayed tucked away. Only during the past year did I begin to read it through. It was at this time that the events recounted above began.
Charles Clary Brothers (1860-1934) was born in Elizabeth City, attended Rutherford College, and became an ordained minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. While pastor of what was probably his first church, the Aurora charge, he met and married Mary (Mollie) Montier Weston, whose immediate family, though living in Pamlico County, was of the Hyde County Westons who had lived on and worked the land on the south side of Lake Mattamuskeet well back into the 18th Century, if not before. Over the years, Grandfather and Grandmother moved from church to church, as is the wont of the Methodists, and had seven children. Then, in 1898 Mollie died after childbirth. Left with five small children (two having died), Charles turned to his wife's relatives for help, distributing the surviving children among them. One of the girls, Mamie (1891-1945), came to Hyde County to live with her mother's sister, Mrs. Etta (George) Weston of Juniper Bay. The following years saw her in school at Coharrie and Littleton, but she was frequently at the Westons. It was there that she met and, in 1909, married John M. Berry (1881-1974), a young farmer who lived nearby. The young bride wanted the young man, but was not excited about the lot of a farm wife. So, when opportunity came, they moved to town, Swan Quarter, where he became a rural mail carrier. In 1915 they built a house piece by piece as the money came in. Finally, after years of living in parsonages here and there and depending on the good will of relatives, Mamie Weston Brothers Berry had a place of her own, and there she and her husband lived until they died.
Meanwhile, her father, Charles, found himself unable to continue his ministerial duties; he was "superannuated" (retired), tried to hold another pastorate, and again retired. About 1915 he came to Hyde County to live near his eldest child and eke out his living on annuities, product-vending, and the largesse of family and townspeople. His sojourn here may have lasted into the early 1920's; the only thing I know for certain is that he spent his last years in the Masonic Home and died there. He was buried in the Methodist cemetery in Catawba, N. C., where he had been pastor years ago when his wife had died.
The portion of Grandfather's diary which survives covers the period from March 10, 1916 to December 25,1918, all of it while he was in residence in Swan Quarter. His first residence was the house at "Battle Ground Farm," a name I have never heard of or read other than in the diary. The diary indicates the farm was owned by Mr. S. S. Mann and Miss Annie Watson. This house still stands north of the O. A. Peay School just beyond Job's Corner, at the intersection of old and new routes 264. When I was growing up, it was called the "Goat House," probably because many goats grazed there, as noted in the diary entry for April 21, 1916. He lived there until October 31, 1916. The diary entries during this period frequently include the names of people who lived between his house and Swan Quarter, and whom he often dropped in to see on the long walk--the families of Misters Joe Swindell, Joe Rayburn, Milton Credle, C. C. Cahoon, S. S. Mann, and Lewis Swindell. Staying at the Rayburn house were Mrs. Parkin and her two young daughters, of whom Grandfather was very fond and about whom he worried when they were ill.
During his stay at the Farm, he attempted "chicken-raising" to help pay his way; unsuccessful at this endeavor, he gave it up and decided to try his hand at other things. To do this, he would have to move. On November 1, with the help of Mr. Joe Swindell and his son, Hugh, and of Asa ("colored," no last name given), he took up residence at the Lupton Hotel in the heart of Swan Quarter adjacent to the court house. This was one of the three hotels in town, and it was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Silas Lupton. There he stayed at least through Christmas Day, 1918, the date of the last entry in the portion of his diary which survives.
Grandfather, it appears, was an inveterate socializer. He was out almost daily visiting, attending church or prayer meeting or funerals, or dining at one the three hotels--the Lupton, the Harris (across from the buildings which, in the 1950's, housed the Texaco station and the Mack Cuthrell auto repair shop), and the Swindell, which in the 50's was operated by Miss Pearl Sadler; now on the site are the new offices of The East Carolina Bank. On occasion he even invited himself to someone's house for dinner. He also met and talked with people in his attempt to make ends meet. The support he received from the North Carolina Methodist Conference varied in amount from year to year, seeming to depend on the church's resources; at the Annual Conference in December, 1917, his share of the Claimant's Fund was $130. During the year, some supplementary money might be sent. To supplement this income, he tried many things that now and then brought in a pittance , such as the failed chicken business. He sold many items on commission, such as books (one was titled The Fraters), "Giant Heater" lamps, and a new knife and scissor sharpener. Having a gift for artistry, he was often called upon to paint advertising signs for entertainments, fund raisers, and the town businesses. Last, but by no means least, were the gifts to him from the good citizens of the town. Very many of his meals were through invitation, many pieces of clothing were from individuals or groups, and many of the meals he prepared himself included gifts.
The diary is largely a matter-of-fact recording of daily activities; even in the few instances when he mentions unpleasant situations, he rarely reveals the details which would explain how they came about. He mentions two or three of his own personal confrontations. Grandfather had some definite opinions and so, apparently did his daughters. "I ate dinner at Mamie's, and left immediately afterwards as she made it unpleasant for me by talking politics." (June 19, 1917) Alas, his daughter had married into a Republican family, while he himself was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. A misunderstanding with the merchant, Mr. Dick Tunnell, over the qualities of the latter's heating oil, was settled amicably with an apology from Grandfather. " I need more of the Grace of God to help me to be more patient and forebearing."
He mentions three conflicts which reached the courts and were widely discussed. In June of 1916, Tom Long, a lawyer, cut W. T. Berry with a knife. The trial came up in July in Recorder's Court conducted by Judge Charles Carter. In a packed courtroom, Long was pronounced guilty. In an earlier incident, in May, Walter Spencer, "a young lawyer", made an attack upon Rev. R. R. Grant, the minister of the Swan Quarter Methodist Church. This also came to court, where Spencer plead guilty and shook hands with Rev. Grant. The third case occurred in 1918, George W. Harris versus the Sanford Harris heirs. In none of these does he reveal the cause of the conflict and, in the last, he forgets to mention the outcome of the trial.
Court days were important as social occasions. Hotels looked forward to increased business, goods were sold around the courthouse to raise money for various causes, and visiting judges and lawyers were expected to deliver orations, usually on the subjects of patriotism and Christianity. The most notable persons to visit Hyde were generally those associated with law and politics, one of the best connected being Judge Frank Daniels, brother to Josephus Daniels, at the time Secretary of the Navy. Ex-Governor W. W. Kitchin also spoke once in this period.
A visitor of no particular note at the time, but who almost half a century later would cause "quite a stir" among the populace, was staying at the Dan Berry house in June of 1916. On the 25th, the diarist "Took dinner with Dan Berry & wife [nee Noi Daniel]: her brother's wife and little son are visiting her." The "little son" was Clifton Daniel, of Zebulon, who years later married Margaret, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Truman of Independence, Missouri.
Patriotism was a subject much in everyone's mind in 1917. Diary entries from April, 1917 to November, 1918 recount the United States' participation in World War I. Boys were being drafted and sent off to training camps. The towns people entertained them and sent them off with prayers. The first registration (which was nationwide) occurred June 6, 1917, and required the registration of all men born between June 6, 1886, and June 6, 1896. On August 8 the examinations began, and on September 3 a supper was given in the Odd Fellows Hall for the boys who were soon to leave. Of the "12 or 17" white boys drafted only Rube Berry and Grady Credle attended, as did only two of the five colored boys. The local draft board members present were Misters George Carter, S. S. Mann, Will Watson, and Dr. R. E. Windley. In May 1918, 42 boys were entertained before being sent off to Camp Jackson. The only named one was Munsey Weston. They were served ice cream and cake and, "after the boys and girls had formed a ring, and skippt around the O. F. Hall [Odd Fellows], I left." (5-27-18) Next day they left on the "gas-boat" Mot.
In support of the War there were "Liberty Loan" drives, Jewish Relief Fund drives, etc. Postage on letters went up from 2 cents to 3 cents on November 2, 1917. Food and fuel rationing was a subject on everybody's mind. On November 29, 1917, there was an entry note that there is "neither sugar nor kerosene to be had in the stores." In the following January, he mentions that the merchants have received allotments of sugar; he bought 3 lbs., "1 a lb. is regulation price." And, on May 11, 1918, he writes: "I have a permit, from the State Food Admt approved by our Co. Food Admt, to purchase flour without having to buy cereals with it, as is the law during hostilities." Another part of the war effort was "wheatless Monday" to conserve food, quite a sacrifice in the harsh weather of January, 1918, when there were also some almost "heatless days." Eating habits had to change; he sought eggs for breakfast, but they too were a casualty of the war. If not scarce, they were certainly expensive, for he comments that they were 40 cents a dozen in December 1917. As a means of stretching things and as a way to make some money, he used and sold "Egg-Sub", an egg substitute (perhaps in powder form?), for 25 cents a package, supposed to serve for 3 dozen eggs, "In cooking only."
Compounding the troubles brought on by war were those of the weather and disease. All of us who grew up in Hyde know about old man Weather's unpleasant visits in summer, drowning or blowing down crops, or ripping them to shreds with hail, and in winter sending harsh cold blasts down on a people used to milder climes. Add to these the occasional assistance from humans in starting fires, and you have "as many troubles as you need", as I used to hear Mamma and Daddy say. For seven days in May 1916, he feared a fire would engulf the house he was living in at Battle Ground Farm. Favorable winds and rain finally ended the danger. In May 1917 hail broke out windows and badly damaged cotton crops. In August of the next year he awoke at midnight to find water coming in his rooms at Lupton's Hotel. "I hurriedly dressed, and waded to Mamie's (this house was and is at the corner of Church and 2nd street, and was one of the houses highest from the ground) nearly waist deep. Found Ephron Spencer and family, and Macon Harris and family there. Wind S.E.: it later shifted to S.W. & then W. The worst storm I've seen since 1887--Hatteras." It was several days before things were back to normal--drinking water contaminated, floors and walls defaced.
Between the hail in '17 and the floods in '18 had come the awful winter. On Christmas day, 1917 it was cloudy and 50o, about normal. The next day it became colder and snowed. On the 29th the snow fell all day and the temperature was 34o. Sunday, the 30th, the snow was heavier, in some places reaching the tops of fences. "The thermometer was 15o at about 8 a.m. and 14o at 6 p.m.. On January 4, 1918, the mercury sank to 10o. It moderated some during the next two weeks, but the early morning readings were seldom above 30o. Churches and schools postponed meetings until, finally, after three weeks, a late January thaw arrived. When decent weather returned, the diarist records an outing with the Henry Boomer family (the Swan Quarter, not the Lake Comfort, Boomer family), after a fine dinner at their house. "About 3 p.m., all of us went to see two old graves in the woods, and they have been much talked about. Two Midyetts (brothers) were buried there in 1806--nearly 112 yrs. ago. The two slabs are of heart cedar, and on one of them is chizzled these words--`Christopher Midyette who died Aug. 28th day 1806 aged 57 ye. You living friends as you pass by, As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you must be, Prepare for death and follow me.' The other slab was not as distinctly marked as the above, and I did not write the inscription. They are solid boards except at the ground where some of it has rotted off. Vandalism is apparent also. They are about a 1/4 of a mile from Henry Boomer's home."
The chief means of travel and communication was by boat, to Belhaven or Washington, where one could board the train. During the cold spells transportation was also affected. The boats were frozen in. Now and then a car was dispatched to Belhaven for mail. When the boat did get the mail, on January 15, it returned with four cartloads with "some of my papers dated Dec. 30 & 31." Captain Thad Brown and the boat "Mot" are the most frequently mentioned boatman and boat. (He does not mention names in the case of the mail-boat which burned in Rose Ray in June 1916; he records only that "crew and passengers were saved.") Travel time varied, of course, depending on wind or other problems, such as going aground at the "Haulover" because the beacon light was out (12-13-17). When that occurred the normal Belhaven trip of 3 to 4 hours, took 4 ½. Seven hours was a normal time for the Swan Quarter--Washington run. In late 1917, the fare from Sladesville to Belhaven was 40 cents. The train ride from Belhaven to Greenville cost $1.40. This may have represented a clergyman's discount.
Automobiles were fairly recent inventions and very expensive; very few people owned them. The two types he mentions are the Ford and a Paige. The early autos could be dangerous just to start: "I learned that Mr. Tripp (Harry) had his arm broken while cranking his car in Currituck" (5-6-17). Nevertheless, the "horseless carriage" was on its way to replacing the trusted horse as the primary means of transporting humans and goods. Rev. Brother's son-in-law purchased one to deliver the mail on the Rural Free Delivery (RFD) route. Non-business hours saw some heavy use, too. On Sunday, May 14, 1916 after Sunday School Service, and dinner with the Charles A. Jones family, "about 4 p.m. I went to Mamie's, and they were about ready to take Mrs. Jerome Jarvis and Marina home: Emma Spencer (Efron's wife) and Mildred also went, and so did I: there were only ten (10) in the auto-car, including children and babies. We had a good outing in the country." The other new mode of transportation, the "aeroplane," is mentioned and War Ended This Morning at 6 O'clock. Thank God!!!!! The children are celebrating, tonight, bells, tin pans, hollowing. Bells rung, guns fired, speeches made. Hurrah!!! The following Sunday church service was given over to "Praise for Peace."
December came in with snow and the weather stayed dreary through most of the month, but at least the temperatures were normal. On the 10th, a fair day, Grandfather, Rev. Grant, and Rev. S. A. Nettles, of Fairfield, took the Mot to Washington, on their way to the Annual Conference in Goldsboro. They left 25 minutes late, at 8:20 a. m., after workmen had unstopped the pipe on the boat. This caused them to miss the most convenient train, via New Bern, so they had to go by way of Tarboro on the Atlantic Coast Line route. They were due in Goldsboro at 10:20 p. m.--a 14 hour trip! At the Conference, Rev. L. T. Singleton was the new minister assigned to Swan Quarter but, of course, he did not make the return trip with Grandfather; he must return to his old charge to prepare for moving. Grandfather's train trip back was by way of New Bern and required only four hours to reach Washington. On the 19th he left Washington from the Norfolk and Southern depot at 9 a.m., left Belhaven on the mail boat at 3:49 p.m. and arrived in Swan Quarter at 7:07.
Now he awaited with great anticipation the visit of his only son, Weston, who was in Army service. (His third child, Penelope, or Neppie, was teaching in Morganton.) Several people came to his quarters to see the pretty welcome card he had put on the wall for Weston. On the 23rd, Weston arrived! Grandfather felt blessed for many reasons at this Christmas season. On the 23rd, for instance, he had received a "Duke check" for $71.43, on the 24th Mr. and Mrs. Lupton invited him and Weston to dinner, and his old Elizabeth City class-mate, Dr. R. N. Cartwright of Fairfield, sent him a nice box of sausages, and Mrs. Tripp gave him a $5.00 check. On Christmas Day, he wrote: "The Lord has been so good to me through my friends. Weston and little Charles [Berry, his grandson] came around in time for breakfast. Miss Maysel Lupton brought me a box of layer cake, this morning. Mamie sent me 21 eggs and 2 lbs. sausage. I read, aloud, my morning Bible-Lesson, and Weston and I bowed in prayer, and I prayed for each of my 3 children. May God bless them." With these words he ended this volume of his diary, the only volume, I suppose, that will ever be found.
Most of us are too busy, most of the time, to let the voices of the dead speak to us. But I think it wise and good to pause now and then, to listen to them, and whisper our thanksgiving. Through all the years, through all their faults--and ours--we cared, we loved, we wept and, when they were no more, we grieved in our hearts all the way down to the depths where words can never go. And we drew strength, and grew, from the indestructible roots they put down in the cherished soil of home.
Merlin Berry - 1998