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CHAPTER II

HISTORICAL SKETCH OF WARRENTON

History records that during the American Revolution "there were no Tories in Bute," and its patriotic people could not endure the name of Bute, that being the name of the former favorite, friend and Prime Minister of George III. In 1779 the county of Bute was divided (the line being run by a Mr. Christmas) into the counties of Warren and Franklin. Their patriotism, however, seems not to have been sectional or local, but national, as the names of the two counties indicated. Warren was named for Dr. Joseph Warren, the patriot and soldier who fell at Bunker Hill, and Franklin for "sleek Ben Franklin," the Boston patriot, the great philosopher, and America's greatest statesman of that era, the son of a tallow chandler and soap boiler.

Warrenton, the county seat of Warren County, was incorporated in 1779. A plot and survey of the streets and lots and public squares was made in that year by William Christmas, a citizen of Franklin County, and afterwards a state senator from that county.

The act of the Legislature (1779), appointing commissioners and trustees, namely, William Johnson, Philemon Hawkins, Edward Jones, John Faulcon, Adkin McLemore, and William Duke for laying  out and carrying on the town, provided that they should lay off and set apart, out of the one hundred acres already purchased,  a lot or square convenient and sufficient for courthouse prison and stocks; and also to lay out one hundred other lots, each to contain one-half acre, with convenient streets and squares, the surplus of land, if any, to remain as a common for the use of the  town. The lots were numbered and sold by subscription at fifty dollars per lot, no one person to be permitted to subscribe for more than six lots. The subscribers afterwards drew by lot or chance for the several plots. There was a stipulation that a forfeiture should be incurred in case any subscriber or purchaser should not build within three years upon his lot a brick, stone, or well-framed house, not less than twenty feet long, sixteen feet wide, and at least ten feet pitch, with a brick or stone chimney. I have no information as to the time of the erection of the courthouse, jail and stocks.  By an act of the Legislature, April 1, 1783, special tax was allowed to be levied on the property of the county for that purpose. Until the courthouse should be erected the act provided that the courts should be held at the home of Thomas Christmas.

From all that I can learn it is probable that at the time that Warrenton was laid out there was not a single residence house standing on its site. There was a granary, used for the storage of grain collected from the taxpayers for war purposes, what was known as the grain tax. There had been a small settlement at the forks of the Shady Grove and Halifax (the old stage coach line) roads, consisting of a storehouse containing groceries, commonplace dry goods, tobacco and liquors, blacksmith and wheelwright shops for repair of vehicles and shoeing the horses of the stage line, and for the convenience of the surrounding country people.

From the forks of the roads the stage coach line was diverted from its course in a northwest direction to the new town, one half mile off. Before the town was incorporated the old stage line (Halifax road) ran from the forks of the roads in a southwest direction along the southern border of the Col. William R. Johnson place, afterwards the home of William Eaton, Jr., to a road running southward to the old William R. Johnson place, afterwards the Kemp Plummer, Jr., residence, and now the property of John Hudgins. It then continued its course . across Fishing Creek, at the ford at the well remembered "swimming hole" of the town boys ; then on by the John Watson place and the Alexander S. Jones home (Woodley) to the place known as the Gilliam Wilson store, on the road to Salisbury, over Tar River, where Louisburg now stands, and on to where Raleigh is now situated.

The information concerning the settlement at the forks of the roads was given my husband by his old law partner and friend, William Eaton, Jr., as they stood on the spot in one of their afternoon walks, he pointing with his cane to the old roadbed still visible in the field, in the direction of his home.

The new stage road entered the town from the southeast, and delivered' the mails to the postoffice,  for many years located on the ground where now stands the residence of Mrs. Henry Williams. The stages left the postoffice by a road running west across Front Street, between the old Davis store and the Somerville place (which in 1870 was enclosed and cultivated), thence along by the Somerville burying ground,  in the garden of the residence, and across the fields over the Horse Branch, on the road that now leads to Louisburg from Warrenton.

For the first fifty years of the town's life its means of communication with other towns and markets were very limited, the old stage line from Richmond to Columbia being the only important track of commerce or travel. Between the time of the settlement of the town and the building of the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad, freights were hauled from Richmond and Petersburg by wagon, and those who traveled between Warrenton and other parts of the country did so by private conveyance more than by the stage coach.

A very primitive method of transporting tobacco from Warrenton and adjoining counties to the markets at Petersburg and Richmond prevailed at that time. The hogsheads containing the tobacco were cylindrical in shape, about five feet long and four feet in diameter, and made of pine staves the length of the hogshead, four of five inches wide, and three-fourths of an inch thick, bound together by hoops made of splits of white oak timber. Into these hogsheads the leaf tobacco, stripped from the stalk, nicely cleaned from dust and dirt, and bound together in small bundles, with a smooth leaf of the tobacco holding the bundles together, wrapped around the top of the stem ends, was placed in regular order and pressed by a beam and screw so closely and tightly as to weigh from twelve to eighteen hundred pounds. Spikes of iron, oak or hickory, seasoned, were driven into the center of each end of the hogs-head and answered as axles, around which were fastened the ends of a piece of hickory or white oak split, forming a pole to which was harnessed horses or oxen, the motor power by which the hogsheads were rolled to the end of their journey.

The tobacco farmers themselves would generally ride horseback in attendance upon the caravan, and frequently by concert would get together in companies and have a kind of outing or pleasure journey, as well as attend to the business of the sale.

After the completion of the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad, and the spur from Hicksford to old Gaston, Weldon and Gaston became depots for the freight of Warren and the adjoining counties, until the completion (in 1839) of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad, which ran within three miles of the town.

The growth of the town was very slow for the first twenty-five years of its existence. Only a few scattered houses were built in that time (notwithstanding the requirement in the Act of 1779, that a house should be built on each lot) none of any pretension, and very few of two stories. In architecture they followed no style, the plan -of each being original. If a second story was added it was after the pattern of the "salt-box houses" of New England, so called because of the resemblance to the box made to hold salt and kept hanging on the kitchen wall. (This style of house was adopted to evade the tax put on two-story houses built in the colonies.)

The salt-box house was of the two stories in front, the back part of the roof sloping down so suddenly as to make a half story, and. then down over a single story, the protruding eaves of which formed the back porch.

At the early period of the town the families of means and prominence lived on their estates in the country, many of them large, and cultivated by their negro slaves. They only visited the village to attend the court sessions, or to trade at the small retail stores. Theirs was the idea expressed in the Act of 1779 .that the town was made for the residence and benefit of  traders and artificers.

In this connection it will be interesting to refer to a habit or custom then, and until after the close of the war 1861-65 natural and usual, but now obsolete, that of the town people visiting in the country on holidays and Sundays (Sundays especially) for social enjoyment and festive occasions. The reverse is the rule now. Everybody who can, has left the country and lives in the towns and cities; and the people of the country districts enjoy few of the real comforts, and scarcely any of the luxuries of life.

There were a number of persons of foreign birth included in the small population of Warrenton in its early days. In Ellen Mordecai's sketch of the town, History of Hastings, she describes several individuals, emigrants from England, Ireland and France, and a Hessian who was a teamster and carpenter. With the exception of Henry Falkener's family (English) there are no descendants of those people there today. In those early days, too, quite a colony of Scotch people settled there, and some of the old residences are known by the names of the original settlers. Those Scotch were induced to settle in Warrenton through the influence of Peter Mitchel (my grandfather) who emigrated from Elgin, Scotland, in 1797, and arrived at Warrenton in the early years of the nineteenth century, having gone from Norfolk, where he landed in this country, to Petersburg, where he remained a few years, and Thomas White, who had come from Kirkaldy, Scotland. These two gentlemen had gone into general merchandise business in Warrenton, had succeeded, and had married ladies from the county My grandfather had married my grandmother, Elizabeth Person, and Thomas White, Sallie Johnson.

The members of this Scotch colony landed at, or near, Norfolk,' and, then found their way to Warren-ton. I can recall the names of some of these Scotch people: Anderson, McRorie, Jeffreys, a friend of my grandfather Mitchel, who died unmarried and was buried in the Mitchel burial ground, about four miles east of Warrenton; the Coopers, who moved to Granville County, the Reynolds, and, I think, the Varells. There is an old burial spot near the town, about one hundred yards south of the residence of the late Dr. Joel King, where some of these Scotch emigrants were buried. It has been abandoned many, many years, and there is nothing in sight except a few sunken mounds. Indeed, the road from the town to John Hudgins's home, the Kemp Plummer, Jr., place, runs across some of the graves. I have seen the place. As, at that time and for many years afterwards, all who owned homes used a corner of their own garden as burial places for the members of their own family and kinspeople, it can be easily seen that some of these foreigners who did not own their homes, or were perhaps without families, as I knew of several that were single men, would be buried in a plot prepared for that purpose.

An instance illustrative of the Scotch clannishness was told me by one of that birth in reference to the death of one of those Scotch settlers. One of the friends of the dying man was anxious to go into the room to see and be near him, but being denied that privilege by those in attendance on account of his violent and noisy grief, he threw himself on the floor outside and placing his mouth at the crack of the door prayed lustily that God would spare his friend, and that if "He must take some one, must have a victim, there was a 'cuppen' (cow pen) full in the town that could be very much better spared."

 

End of Chapter II

 
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