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Mrs. Harper Tells Fascinating Story of Early Pioneers


Gettysburg Times - April 10, 1941

The author of the appended article is a native of Adams County. She has resided in North Carolina for a number of years but retains a warm affection and interest in her Pennsylvania birthplace.

By Mrs. George F. Harper


Wilkesboro, county seat of Wilkes County, in western North Carolina, is a pre-Revolutionary town. A massive oak tree, near the Wilkes Courthouse, was well past its sapling stage when the American colonies were striving for independence; for the Patriot, Colonel Cleveland, is said to have hanged some trouble making Tories from its branches.

An isolated mountain near Wilkesboro is still known as Rendezvous. Here the Patriots were wont to gather in secret conclave; and the word was spread by "grape-vine telegraph", that when Col. Cleveland blew a trumpet blast from the top of Rendezvous, it was a signal that the time had come for all patriots to mount and ride to join Gen. McDowell at Quaker Meadows. And to combine the body of troops crossing the mountains from East-Tennessee, in an effort to dislodge the British and French entrenched on Kings Mountain.

Memorial to Countians

A little way back from the main street of Wilkesboro is an interesting old Presbyterian Church and back of the church lies an old cemetery. Just within the entrance of this burying ground is a plot containing two graves with the following inscriptions:

In memory of
Col. William P. Waugh
Died August 14, 1852
Ages 77 years

He was a native of Adams County, Pennsylvania, but emigrated to Wilkesboro North Carolina in December 1803. A public spirited and valued citizen, a kind and generous friend; and during his long residence in North Carolina a most enterprising and successful merchant.

In memory of
Maj. John Finley
Born in Adams County,
September 2, 1778
Removed to Wilkesboro, North
and lived there until his death
"The righteous shall be ever-
lasting remembrance"

Pioneers Were Cousins

William Pitt Waugh and John Finley were cousins. Both men acquired slaves and with their labor cultivated the wide fertile  bottom lands bordering the Yadkin and River. The plantations of that period were largely self-contained. Each plantation having its carpenter and blacksmith shops, its worker in leather, its loom house where the cotton and wool spun by the females was woven into cloth, or into the beautiful coverlets still to be found in many homes. But some things could not be grown or manufactured on the plantation. Coffee, sugar, salt, tea, certain tools, bar iron and the finer goods for the proprietor and his family - these and many other things had to come by wagon from Charleston. It was a long, hard trip to Charleston. It sometimes could not be made at all in the winter when the roads were impassable with mud. William Pitt Waugh and John Finley felt that Western North Carolina could not properly develop without better trade facilities. So they established a chain of 10 or 15 stores, beginning near the Tennessee line and extending to Columbia, South Carolina. William W. Peden, a nephew of William Pitt Waugh came from Adams County, Pennsylvania to be secretary and treasurer of this mercantile enterprise. This was, undoubtedly, the first chain store undertaking in the south, and possibly in the entire country.


Outstanding Citizens

John Finley (later known as Maj. Finley) married Ellen Tate of Augusta County Virginia, in 1807. The Finleys were, and still are, among the outstanding citizens of western North Carolina.

the story goes that William Pitt wall proposed to the beautiful Mary Taylor Williams but his suit was dismissed; then later the nephew, William Peden, sought the hand of this same lady and was accepted. William P. Waugh  evidently bared no resentment, he built a home in Wilkesboro for the young couple and spent much time with them in the years that followed. Their house still stands. It has a beautiful portico, and the curving frames of the dormer windows are attractive detail of the architecture. The delicately carved mantles were brought from Philadelphia by boat, to Charleston, and hauled by wagon to Wilkesboro. William P. wall built his own home at Moravian falls, five  miles from Wilkesboro. his younger brother, John Waugh also a bachelor, spent much time in Wilkesboro and Moravian falls, but he called the Waugh  place in Adams County his home and always made his journeys between Pennsylvania and North Carolina by horseback. John wall, last of his lying in Adams County, died in 1873 and is buried in the Marsh Creek grave yard.


Untimely Death

Young William W. Peden had an untimely death. He was shot from ambush while riding from Moravian falls to his home in Wilkesboro. He fell from his horse and the faithful animal stood by his dead master until some one passing that way discovered the tragedy.

the wheel of a William P Waugh containing 1829 words is among the Wilkes County records in The Hall of history in Raleigh, North Carolina. the brothers, John and James Waugh, and other relatives and friends, including Mary Taylor Peden, widow of his nephew, were recipients of his extensive estate. To Mary Peden in trust for three children, he left the home and Wilkesboro she was given other lands and money for the support and education of her children. No wonder the inscription on his tomb marked him -"A kind and generous friend".

A man in Wilkes County remarked, after William P. Waugh's death, that "Col. Waugh was a mighty good man, and I know he is in heaven, but I know he won't stay there if he can't find a crossroads where he can build a store".


James Harper Goes South

Another Adams Countian  to come into this western North Carolina region was young James Harper. His father, John Harper, had come to Adams from Cumberland County in 1815 and bought the water power on Marsh Creek known as "Natural Dam". John Harper's first wife was Elizabeth Witherow, from near Emmittsburg. She died before the removal to Adams County and John Harper later married Jane Waugh, a sister of William Pitt Waugh.  Young James, son of John Harper, showed a tendency to lung trouble, and his doctor advised a horseback journey (a thing no doctor would advise today) so Young James rode first to Dark County, Ohio where his older brother John Witherow Harper, was living. then on his return, he concluded to continue his journey into Western North Carolina. This was in the late eighteen-twenties.


Waugh and Harper Store

He rode down the valley of Virginia, stopping for a while  in the home of Samuel Finley, his step mother's cousin. When he reached Wilkesboro, Messers. Finley  and Waugh suggested that a cross roads near Fort Grinder would be an excellent place to establish a store, there being no trading center along the 50 miles between Wilkesboro and Morganton, the county seat of Burke County. John Waugh was to be a member of the firm. The old sign over the door of this mercantile establishment read Waugh and Harper 1829. James Harper must have riden back to Augusta County, Virginia, at various times; for he built a brick house near his store naming his new home "Fairfield", and in 1833 he brought young Caroline L. Findley there as his bride.

in 1840-41 James Harper felt that the time was ripe for the starting of a town on the site of the Indian Fort, Grinder, so he donated 30 acres for the enterprise. Then, because there were no funds to pay a surveyor for plotting the town, James Harper bought a lot facing the proposed Square, and so made the town of Lenoir a solvent organization.


Landed in History

A history of Caldwell County relates that James Harper was a man of education and refinement. A man always ready to espouse any calls relating to the business of educational advancement of Lenoir he died in 1879. Fairfield, the home he built for his bride, is one of the beautiful old places of Caldwell County. It is now the home of his grandson, James Harper Beall.

The Waugh and Finley homes in Adams County were a joining plantations in Carrol's Track. The Waugh place, now the property of heirs of the late Calvin F. Bream, is one of the most beautiful farms in southeastern Pennsylvania. The fields stretch out level as an English Parkway. The house, though quite old, is evidently not the one built by the Pioneer proprietor; for the homes of the early settlers were constructed from the material at hand, feel stone or walls. This present house is George in architecture; the material brick laid in Flemish bond. The windows are well spaced, and the front has a particularly graceful portico


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