THE COURTHOUSES OF WARREN COUNTY
In laying off the town a special provision was made for a central square, large enough to contain the courthouse, prison and stocks. We also know that a tax was levied on the county, the proceeds of which were to build the courthouse, the jail and the stocks. Miss Mordecai tells us in her History o f Hastings (Warrenton) that the first courthouse was a Dutch-shaped roof building. I have been unable to learn the date of the erection of the first courthouse. There is a painting of it by a Miss Summerville, perhaps a sister of John Somerville, that always hung in the home of that family. When the home was broken up Mrs. Hogue, the oldest daughter, gave it to one of the nephews, Ben Bronson. When he left the county he asked Tasker Polk to allow it to be hung on the wall of his law office, where it is now.
That painting represents it as greatly resembling the courthouses of early Virginia, with a small room in the center for the sitting of the Court, small wings on either side, all single roof with an outside chimney, and a large door in the center of the audience room, with a window on either side, but no steps leading from the door to the ground. It was evidently entered through a porch on the front of the northern wing. There were windows in the rear of the audience room, also 'a front window in each of the wing rooms. There was a well in the yard with a cluster of trees over it. In the southern corner of the court square the picture gives two gentlemen, standing conversing; I have been told that one is W. A. K. Falkener, the educator, the other Dr. Brehon, a well known physician of the town.
The second courthouse was built in 1853, a well proportioned building, handsome and imposing, with four large columns across the front, supporting the roof, on the edge of a broad stone porch. A wide corridor ran through the first floor, on either side were the offices of the Court officers. In the upper floor was a large auditorium, well ventilated by large windows on the north and on the south, in the rear of this courtroom were the two jury rooms, at the west end. Two broad stairways led from the lower floor to the large upper auditorium.
During the Civil War it was rare that a session of Court was held. It was in this courtroom that the ladies of the town were permitted to gather for the purpose of cutting out garments for the soldiers, which they would take to their homes and make with their fingers, there being no sewing machines at that time.
In connection with the courthouse of Warrenton, 1 recall several officers of the court, who through long and faithful service deserve special mention. Benjamin E. Cook, formerly of Petersburg, Virginia, came to the county in the early years of the nineteenth century, and settled in the town. He married a lady of the county, Miss Sallie Marshall, connected with the large and well known Hawkins family. Mr. Cook was elected as Clerk to the Superior Court of Warren County in 1830 and served until 1846. He was succeeded in the office by Mr. John W. White, 1847 to 1862. John White also served in the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions nearly forty years. He was succeeded by his son, William A. White, in 1862, filling out the unexpired term of his father, appointed by Board of County Commissioners.
W. A. White served as a deputy clerk to his father when only eighteen years of age, and was serving in that capacity when appointed to succeed his father. Due to changes in the Code, which were effected by changes in the Constitution, ho was made Superior Court Clerk in 1868, and continued to serve until 1905, when he resigned to Judge R. B. Peebles, in chambers, at Carthage, North Carolina.
Also in connection with the officers of the court we recall two sheriffs: Joseph Speed Jones, who served in that office for Warren County in the forties, and I presume until the election of Sheriff Jones in 1854 and '55, Robert H. Jones who was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, and came to Warrenton to live in middle life. He was a man of very fine appearance, a very handsome brunette, a tall and striking figure, with a high order of intelligence. It was said that he knew every family in the county and probably every voter. Throughout his official life he was as popular with the colored people as he was with the whites. He was impetuous, high-tempered and irascible, and had many enemies, although all of them voted for him; he had as well, numbers of devoted friends, who were actively his partisans at all times. He was retired from the office some years before his death, which occurred in Warrenton in 1890. As I said above, the negroes, with a few exceptions, cast their votes for Sheriff Jones either because they feared him, or because he was kind hearted and lenient in his dealings with them. As evidence of the former theory, there was a well known colored woman, Aunt Dicey Spruill, living in the town, a warm, shouting member of the Colored Baptist Church. The sheriff had threatened to put her in jail if she continued to create such noise and confusion in their meetings. On one occasion, when she became unusually uplifted and excited by the preaching she began to shout, at the same moment throwing off her bonnet and shawl, and waving her hand above her head, exclaimed, "Hold my shaker and hold my shawl and tell Bob Jones I am a shoutin' in the cool." For many years afterwards it became an oft repeated expression in the town and county.
For some years after the War Between the States there was a large law practice in Warren County growing out of the settlements of estates, due largely to the universal custom in most of the Southern States of paying debts of all kinds by note. In the unsettled condition then existing there was a large criminal practice, and quite a number of bankruptcy cases. As was to be supposed, these conditions drew quite a number of lawyers from the neighboring towns and counties, as well as large towns and cities, Richmond, Norfolk, Petersburg and Raleigh to attend the Warren Courts. Among those that made a regular custom of coming were Governor Bragg, B. F. Moore, General William R. Cox, J. B. Batchelor, Colonel T. C. Fuller, Judge Gilliam, Colonel L. C. Edwards, Mr. Lanier, Captain Joseph J. Davis, Captain W. H. Day, Edward Conigland, Thomas Hill, Charles M. and F. H. Busbee.
Montgomery, Lizzie Wilson; Sketches of old Warrenton, North Carolina; traditions and reminiscences of the town and people who made it, Raleigh, Edwards & Broughton printing company, 1924.