THE HOMES OF OLD WARRENTON-CONTINUED
THE HOME OF LEWIS COLLINS
Passing across the grounds of the Old Female College, on the north of the cemetery of the Plummer family, that was originally in the garden of the Kemp Plummer home, you pass through a cluster of very large poplar trees, and then strike the Old Foundry. When I was a child that was operated by a Mr. Seapark, and was then a very important industry in the town. Some years after the war Mr. Seapark moved with his family to Raleigh, where his family are well known, and are useful citizens. In later years Hugh White and his sons have had, at this old foundry, a cotton gin.
Just beyond the foundry, on the south side of the road was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Collins, a very worthy couple, and much liked by their neighbors. They had one son.
THE RESIDENCE OF JOHN COLLINS
Mr. Collins built a very comfortable home on the west of his brother, Lewis. Mr. and Mrs. Collins were very highly respected in the community. They had no children, their sister, Lizzie, Mrs. Jack Rivers, lived with them. She was the widow of a brave Confederate soldier, who gave his life in the service of his State. Jack Rivers deserves a special mention that we may be impressed with the great change that may be wrought in a man's life by the Christian religion.
I do not know where he came from, nor that he had any kinspeople; when first known in the town life he was a stable boy at the livery stable of Mr. Phillips, on Main Street, south of the Episcopal Church. He was regarded as a common drunkard, and very profane. One night he dropped into the Baptist Church, while a revival was being held. That night he made a profession of religion, and from that hour he was a sober, honest and upright man, self-respecting, and respected by all the town people. He was then about eighteen years of age. A very generous woman in the town heard of this change in Jack, and offered to have him come to her home and live, and sent him to the academy to school for several years. He was always most grateful for her kindness to him. When the troops left for active service he was among them, and made the "supreme sacrifice" at the battle of Belle Grove in the Valley of Virginia.
The father of the Collins family was a northern man, coming to the town some eighty years ago, and settled on the land of a man of means, who never collected any rent from him; he would also come for his supplies of meat from the smoke-house of his landlord. The record of the number of pounds was kept on a slate hanging behind the bedroom door. At the' end of each year Mr. Collins would come for a settlement with his landlord. The result was that the slate was rubbed off clean and a new account started with the New Year. The next generation were independent and worthy citizens.
THE HOME OF GEORGE R. SLEDGE
On the west of these two homes was the residence of Mr. Sledge, a merchant in the town for many years, a native of Greensville County, Virginia. He married Miss Nancy Fleming, of the county, who was noted for her kind heart, and amiable disposition. They reared a large family at this home. Their sons were Thomas, who became a physician, and settled in Pitt County; Robert Lee and Addison Purifoy, who went from Warrenton in early manhood and lived in Baltimore. The daughters were Georgie, who married "Billy" Williams; Janie who married a Mr. Parker; Nannie, who married Orlando Powell; and the fourth daughter, Ava, who married John Parham.
THE HOME OF MRS. SHROYER
Just on the south of Mr. Sledge's home was the cottage of Mrs. Saintsing who afterwards married Edward Shroyer, who had a tin shop in the town as far back as I can remember. When the war begun he went out with the boys of the town, and remained till the close, notwithstanding he had little physical courage. Mrs. Saintsing's first husband was a fine soldier who lost his life in the battle of Winchester, and lies buried in the beautiful cemetery near the town. He left his wife very helpless with three small children, two boys and one daughter, now Mrs. O'Connell. The family moved to Raleigh some thirty years ago.
THE HOME OF O. P. SHELL
Across the street, on the north of the Sledge home was the residence of Mr. Shell and his family, one of the best known men in the town life, and certainly one of the most useful. Mrs. Shell was Miss Mary Turnbull. Their sons were Oliver, Otis, Willis Alston and Fabius Busbee. The daughters Pattie, Mary Lee, and Laura. Otis settled in Dunn, North Carolina, when it was a very small town, where he has succeeded. When his parents grew old and feeble he induced them to come there to live near him. Mr. Shell did not live long after he made the change, and his good and faithful wife survived him a few years. Mr. Shell was born of very intelligent, well educated parents, his father being a physician from Alabama. His mother when I knew her was a Mrs. Wilcox from Halifax County. Mr. Shell came to live in Warrenton before the war, but I think it was after the war, about 1866 or '67, when he commenced to be the indispensable person in the town life, both as to the comfort, the convenience and the business interests of the community. Few men, if any, ever added as much. After the war very few families were in a financial condition to justify their owning carriage and horses, so the commodious and comfortable hack and the two fine well kept horses that Mr. Shell owned met a great need. He always met the midday trains at Warren Plains, and also carried out and brought back the mail bags. Mrs. Green said that she only failed once in her forty years of service to get the mail to the Plains in time, and the question was long and warmly debated as to whose fault it was, hers or Mr. Shell's.
Upon the completion of the Warrenton Railroad into the town Mr. Shell was most deservedly made the conductor and manager of the trains, and so continued until he ceased to be a resident of the town. When he was so promoted, I am sure his passengers of the old hack line greatly missed the long accounts he would give them of the news of the town and county, as he was a man of fine intelligence, and always knew all that was going on. He must have been the very earliest riser in the village, as he was seen at the earliest hour going to the depot in his one-horse wagon for the freight and express, making two trips a day.
Apart from his plying so industriously his daily routine of prosaic duties, he had a poetic side, that developed later in life-at least it was not known until then that he was a poet. I once inquired of him what time in the day he got to write. "Why," he replied, "when I am driving from the depot in the cool of the early day,' along the sandy road, through the shady trees and the laurel growth, sitting on the head of a flour barrel, I put my paper on it, take out my pencil, and write a poem before I reach town." Mr. Shell's gift of versification was lone of the town's great sources of pride; and when from time to time one of his pieces would appear, printed by the local press, and on the long old-fashioned "dodgers" of various colors, they were eagerly received and read and quoted by the townspeople. His vivid interest in all phases of the local life is shown by the following list of the few with which I have been favored, out of the large number he wrote : "Graham's Declamation" and "Graves' Concert," concerning the very popular annual events of the school commencements in June ; "A Proclamation," "The Ten Commandments Via fated," "Warrenton Commencements," "Superior Court Sessions," calling on all good citizens to support the Courts and Judges by their presence ; "The Warrenton Mail," outlining the spirit in which he performed his daily duties ; "A New Year's Token to Becca Williams," an admiring tribute to the belle of. the community; "The Episcopal Sunday School Picnic at Hall's Spring;" "The Night is far Spent, the Day is at Hand," Romans 13 : 12 ; "Be Ye Also Ready," Matthew 24:44. All Mr. Shell's productions were especially religious, showing moral earnestness. The one he liked best was "Get Home by Twilight," which I venture to include here, because it so completely reproduces the domestic note of that simple, undistracted civilization, and made so strong an appeal to the tastes of the great majority of his readers.
GET HOME BY TWILIGHT
Get home by twilight, tea will be waiting,
Much better to sup with your children and wife,
And not waste the time in worthless debating,
When home and its cares are all in this life.
Get home by twilight, no excuse for bad feeling,
Stand up to promise, keep clear of all blame,
Above all in life, be prompt in your dealings,
Especially with those being one and the same.
Get home by twilight, labor no more,
The repast is ready, served in the best way,
The wife in all goodness awaits at the door,
To merit your efforts made for her that day.
Get home by twilight, do promises hold good,
Before Heaven and earth, without favor or fear,
To live for the wife and do all you could,
To protect her best interest while here?
Get home by twilight, who would pretend,
To care for your comforts as the wife,
Your ungrateful actions support and defend,
Amidst the many mishaps in this life.
Get home by twilight, your wife is your friend,
Her motives are full of sincerity of heart,
And what is most needful to perfect the end.
Is concert of action to bring up your part.
Get home by twilight, her smiles will present,
A countenance depicting welcome for you,
And if in the past you have cause to repent,
An humble confession is all you can do.
Get home by twilight, morpheus is stealing,
Your children require composure and rest,
To aid your dear wife is but the right feeling,
So serve them with tea then quickly undress.
Get home by twilight, your presence demands,
A speedy return soon as duties are complete,
Advise with the wife what may be her plans,
And which of her choice she decides you to meet.
Get home by twilight, there is no place like home;
Most husbands are willing to admit of its bliss,
Then wait not for darkness to fly 'round and roam.
Nor monkey with loafers or that thing or this.
Get home by twilight, it is grand to comply,
Our Saviour will bless you when life is done,
To know you faithful or endeavored to try,
Secures all the comforts with Father and Son.
Warrenton, N. C. O. P. SHELL.
With this I conclude my chapters of the old homes of Warrenton. As I leave the subject, I cannot refrain from pausing to pay my tribute of loving admiration to the spirit which pervaded them, as I knew them in my youth and maturity, and which I pray may ever abide in them. They, of course, differed widely in the circumstances and culture of the families which dwelt in them. Some had ample means, for those days, and traveled and had acquaintances in other towns and cities; others seldom left the bounds of the village, and their daily lot was that defined by the poet as "the short and simple annals of the poor." Yet in all, I can truthfully say, there was a uniform spirit of family loyalty and affection, of God-fearing devotion to duty and the simple virtues of careful nurture of children, of peace and contentment. As I look back upon them, typically representative as they were of that period of civilization of the South, my own emotions are profoundly stirred, and so, I think, must be those of the many who no longer remain in those homes, and who yet carry with them, no matter where their lot may be cast, the vivid remembrance of those high and virtuous home surroundings. My own thoughts, as I am sure do theirs, turn back to them with loving affection when I read a tribute of poet or novelist to the blessings of home; and I need make no apology for closing these chapters with the words of John Howard Payne, familiar as they are, but invested with indescribable pathos whenever they are spoken or sung throughout the English-speaking world "Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home; A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there, Which sought through the world is ne'er met elsewhere.
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.