THE HOMES OF OLD WARRENTON-CONTINUED
THE HOME OF BEN COOK
On the lot on the corner of Main Street and Fifth Avenue, where now stands the pride of the town, Hotel Warren, there was built more than a century ago, the home of Benjamin Cook and Sallie Marshall, his wife, of the county. It was a very quaint old house, with two front entrances, with a porch to each one. The yard was shaded by a thick growth of mulberry trees, and buttercups covered the front yard instead of grass. '
Mr. and Mrs. Cook were the parents of a large family, five sons and four daughters, Rev. Charles M. Cook, a minister of the Methodist Church, B. E. Cook, Jr., James A. Cook, Dr. Joseph Cook, and John Thomas Cook. The daughters were Mrs. Wade, Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Blackwell, 'and Mrs. Mary Green.
Mrs. Green was in many respects a very remarkable woman. At an early age she was left a widow with two sons, Dr. Isaac Green, of Weldon, and Benjamin Green, of Warrenton, both now dead. She was post mistress at Warrenton from 1865 to 1906. Her politics were never known; she was appointed under a Republican President, and was re-appointed by different parties for the next forty years. She was thoroughly impartial in hanging the picture of each succeeding president on the walls of her home. She was known at the postal department in Washington for her devotion to her official duties, and reliability and competency. Her mail matter, always attended to by herself, never missed but one train in all those years. She was a highly intelligent woman, wrote good English, and her handwriting was excellent. She had a very retentive memory, and was full of reminiscences of the town and county. One of the most striking and gruesome incidents of her childhood that she told, was seeing her uncle, Mr. Marshall, of the county, while acting as a specially appointed guard to a man convicted of murder, carry the prisoner to the Episcopal Church, the Sunday before his execution, with a rope around his neck, and seat him on the bench just under the pulpit, in order to have his funeral sermon preached.
In the southwest corner of the yard of the old Cook Place there stood, until recently removed, a small one-story building in which Mrs. Green kept the post office; in the rear she had her residence. There was an alcove between the office and her room, which none were allowed to enter except by invitation; over the door was written, "Private as the Grave.". She knew every one's hand writing, she knew nearly every one's voice. She was a member of the Episcopal Church, very generous, and very charitable, a very positive character, with very warm liking for many. She was most highly respected in the town, where she had lived all her long life, with the exception of a few years when she was first married, and lived in Memphis, Tennessee.
The small house in which Mrs. Green lived was erected originally by Mr. Cook for a dry goods store, which he kept for some years, also a jewelry store. Just before the war it was occupied by a Jew, Mr. Kann, as a small dry goods place, he moved to Memphis. J. C. McCraw also occupied it as a store for a few months after the town was burned in 1881.
On Main Street south of the old post office, was a very old house, immediately opposite Emmanuel Church. The first peg. r remember residing there was a Mr. Archer, the Methodist minister, and his family. Then it was the home of Thomas Christmas, a brother of James Y. Christmas. Just prior to the war, W. H. Cheek and T. A. Foote had their rooms there.
The two-story house, fronting on Main Street, immediately north of the small store occupied by a Mr. Bingham, and later by "Uncle Jack" Batchelor, was the home of a Scotchman, Mr. McRorie who must have been one of the Scotch colony that we have written of in the early life of the town. This house must be somewhat more than a hundred years old. Before it was made to face south, it had only an entrance stoop, fronting west on Main Street, with only one step up into the living room. During the time it was occupied by John Price and his family they added a nice broad porch enclosed by green blinds, up to the ceiling. I think it is not so now, as it fronts south. As Miss Ellen Mordecai knew the McRorie household well and liked them, I will tell of them in her own words, a simple unworldly family, living the "Simple Life," which in this day of unrest is very refreshing. with but few exceptions the social lines were not closely drawn in the early times of the village, so Mr. McRorie and his wife and their daughter, Polly, also the maiden aunt, Miss Patsey Best, who resided in the home of this highly respected tailor, were all liked and visited, and when Mrs. McRorie became an invalid from consumption much kindness and sympathy was shown her and the family. She was one of the few persons attacked by it whom it did not flatter by false hopes, she knew as each symptom succeeded the other that she was so much nearer the termination of her existence. Her sufferings were borne without a murmur, and with unshaken confidence in the wisdom and tender mercy of a superintending Providence.
She awaited with Christian hope and pious humility her approaching destiny. Her daughter then in her sixteenth year, a good sensible girl, had been brought up to usefulness, and with habits of industry and economy she was well prepared to depend upon her own efforts for a comfortable support. Polly was also an affectionate and dutiful daughter, and a great comfort to her parents. The maiden aunt, who had lived with them many years, promised to remain an inmate of the household after Mrs. McRorie died. The old father no longer worked at his trade, except to make his own clothes, knowing he had enough to make them comfortable, living as they did quietly and frugally. Their son, an officer in the navy, was highly respected and when at the expiration of each cruise he would return, it was pleasing to observe how dutiful and affectionate he was to his parents and aunt, how attentive and kind to his sister and what interest he took in everything about them. With his own hands trimming the yard, training the bushes and vines, nailing planks here and there on the garden fence, and making all such timely repairs as would not only give a neat and tidy air to the place but also to save expense and thus keep old associates together, and above all how happy he appeared to be at his humble home. But alas, on the West India Station poor Davy McRorie, early in life, fell a victim to yellow fever. His mother never knew it, till as we trust and hope their spirits met and recognized each other in a more permanent state of existence.
The family had previously been informed of his death. His trunk containing his few books and his uniform had been brought to the United States by his brother officers and carefully forwarded to the beloved home of the deceased. The mother was on her deathbed and neither the husband nor the daughter had the heart to open it. They received it in silent sorrow. The poor old man took it in his arms as it was handed to him from the stage and carrying it softly to the little chamber, which since his wife's illness he had occupied, he placed it in a corner by his bedside where he could see it from his pillow, but he never spoke of it. He put the sealed up key in his pocket without a word of lamentation, when that with the little trunk was handed him from the stage which stopped for the purpose at his door. He said, "Thank ye," in his Scotch accent, to the gentleman who delivered it, and that was all. He never alluded to it afterwards nor to the loss of his son. Some weeks after this, while the aunt and the daughter were at a neighbor's and the old man at home alone, he opened' Davy's trunk and taking from it a little sword, he hung it near the fireplace in his daughter's chamber as if he felt she would like to have something of her brother's to rest her thoughts and eyes upon at leisure hours, when she had time to look up and think and when her heart felt more solitary because her hands were unemployed. For himself, the father kept the treasured trunk beside his bed and when Davy's birthday came around the poor old man took out the clothes and spread them on the grass plot in the back yard, and he placed his usual seat, a low, list-bottomed chair near the back door, so as to be out of the way of all passersby, and there he sat and watched all day long the now useless uniform of his soldier boy, unheeding all else that chanced to interpose. At sunset he folded them up with his own hands, put them back again into the trunk, locked it and put the key in his left waistcoat pocket, and when supper was ready, he took his seat as usual without a word, or unusual look or audible sigh.
Through a highly prized letter from Mrs. Ellen Mordecai, the niece of the author of "Hastings," written to me in her 95th year of her memories of the old town, when she attended school there in her tenth year, we learn that the McRorie household loved flowers and grew them in their side yard. She wrote of collecting flowers for the May Pole, and said she could "never forget the beautiful crimson peonies given me by Miss Patsey Best."
The next occupant of this old place was a family by the name of Stammire, of whom I do not know anything. The neat family that resided there was the Price family, of whom I have written elsewhere. In 1869 they bought the old Person Place, some two miles northeast of the town, where both Mr. and Mrs. Price died, he in 1884, and she in 1890.
I think that the place was then purchased by William Williams, a former slave of John T. Williams, familiarly called "Uncle Billy." He was a mulatto, with straight black hair, wore a moustache and chin whiskers, which very much resembled in texture a white man's beard. He was shambling in his walk and round in his shoulders, but his eye was quick and small. He was put to the shoemaker's trade early in his life, and for many years before and during the war he worked for John R. Johnson. His wife, "Aunt Jennie," when a slave, was sold to a man in Alabama. During the Confederate War, Williams had saved enough money to buy her, and he got a white friend to make the purchase, and bring her back to Warrenton. During the thirty years succeeding the war, with the aid of his wife. he made a fortune of between twenty-five and fifty thousand dollars, and invested it well. He traded in every thing that was legitimate. He speculated in notes and bonds and lands. He kept the beef market that was at Warrenton, and a livery stable.
After Emancipation he learned, without a teacher, how to read and write and cipher without loss to himself, was honest and trustworthy, and had the confidence of the entire community in his integrity. His financial success in life, under all the conditions of the times, is proof of his ability. In his last will he devised most of his estate to the granddaughter of his wife, Laura, who married Harrison Taylor, and still resides in Warrenton.
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.