James City, North Carolina

James City, North Carolina is an unincorporated town near New Bern in Craven County. It has a tumultuous but little-known history that can be seen through historic newspapers on Chronicling America.

The history of James City began in 1862, when New Bern was occupied by Union troops in the Civil War. Union officials established a settlement across the Trent River for former slaves who had nowhere else to go. This settlement was named James City after Reverend Horace James, an Army chaplain who was the town’s leader in its earliest years. He later became an agent for the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands. The Union confiscated the land that James City was built on from its former owners.

The location of James City is marked on this map as “Yankees”. Photo from North Carolina Maps (https://web.lib.unc.edu/nc-maps/).

The city thrived for a few years, and became a haven for Black men and women in the years after the Civil War. Homes, farms, businesses, and churches were built and a local government was established. However, the residents of James City soon started facing setbacks. In the late 1860s, bad weather resulted in poor harvests. At the same time, the Freedmen’s Bureau began scaling back its financial support of the town. Lastly, in 1867, the federal government returned the land that James City was built on to the family of its former owner. Land that the town residents owned themselves was now owned by James Bryan.

“A James City Doorway.” Photo from the Digital North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives (https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/archivalhome/collection/dig_nccpa)

These setbacks were disastrous for many of the town’s residents. The population shrunk from 3,000 residents to only 1,100 by the 1880s as people left due to the worsening economic conditions. Those who didn’t leave were forced to either pay rent to Bryan or work as sharecroppers.

The situation escalated in the 1890s, when Bryan began raising rents with the purpose of evicting residents who were unable to pay. Many residents objected, arguing that the land had been given to them originally, and they shouldn’t have to pay rent. Some residents argued that they should be compensated for the improvements they had made to the land, such as the farms and homes they had built. The residents even raised $2,000 to buy the land from Bryan. Each of these efforts to save the town failed. In 1891, the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that the land definitively belonged to Bryan.

After this ruling, tensions in James City were running high. The town’s residents were furious and continued to refuse to pay rent. Newspapers reported on the potential for violence over this matter. The Craven County sheriff attempted to evict the residents but was unsuccessful. According to an article in the State Chronicle, the town residents peacefully resisted him by locking their doors, gathering on the streets, and refusing to answer the sheriff’s questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In April 1893, the First Regiment of the State Guard was ordered to James City to restore order and enforce the law—in short, to force the residents to pay the rent that Bryan demanded. This action was ordered by Governor Elias Carr.

Once the Carr and the state military got involved, the townspeople agreed to Bryan’s terms: rent ranging from 50 cents to $1 for three years. This agreement was reached without violence or significant bloodshed (one officer was killed when he fell off his horse). The residents that were unable to pay were forced to move. In the end, only 700 James City residents were able to remain in their homes.

Newspaper coverage of this event was extensive. Much of the news was informed by racist stereotypes and assumptions about the legality of the Black residents’ claims. Bryan’s demands were characterized as reasonable by the newspapers of the day. In contrast, the Black residents were portrayed as violent lawbreakers, or else as gullible and ignorant. This story is an interesting illustration of the racial dynamics of the Reconstruction era.

 

View full newspaper pages on Chronicling America:

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92072978/1893-04-25/ed-1/seq-1/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068076/1891-05-30/ed-1/seq-1/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92072978/1893-04-20/ed-1/seq-1/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068245/1893-04-27/ed-1/seq-2/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068305/1893-04-24/ed-1/seq-2/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068305/1893-04-27/ed-1/seq-1/

 

Other resources:

Karin Lorene Zipf, NCPedia: https://www.ncpedia.org/james-city

Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project: https://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/james-city/

Butter won’t churn? It’s a witch!

During the days leading up to Halloween, North Carolina Miscellany is posting articles from North Carolina newspapers about one of our favorite Halloween characters, the witch.

Witches tended to be the scapegoat for just about any problem in a person’s life. One common complaint attributed to a witch’s curse was being unable to churn your milk into butter. You could churn and churn, but the milk would never thicken. To fix this predicament, you first had to expel the witch from the churn by taking an old horseshoe and heating it to glowing hot in the fire. It was best if that horseshoe “had been worn on the left hind foot of a baldfaced horse.” You would then take the glowing hot horseshoe, drop it into your churn, and sure enough the butter would come forth.

    

Ackland Art Museum turns sixty

Ackland Art Center gallery
A gallery in the William Hayes Ackland Art Center during its opening weekend, 19-20 September 1958. (Scene cropped from a negative in the UNC Photo Lab collection.)

Birthed as the William Hayes Ackland Art Center, the Ackland Art Museum turns sixty today.  The art center held a special preview for UNC faculty on Friday evening, September 19, 1958.  The official dedication ceremony took place the next morning, featuring a talk titled, “The Role of the College Museum in America” by S. Lane Faison, head of the art department and director of the art museum at Williams College in Massachusetts.  The opening exhibition was a composition of paintings, prints, etchings, drawings, and sculptures from the collections of several college and university art museums across the country.

The university slated Joseph Curtis Sloane, then at Bryn Mawr College, to become chairman of the Art Department and director of the new art center.

Sitterson, Aycock, and Sloane
Welcoming visitors to the Ackland Art Center are, left to right, J. Carlye Sitterson, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; William Aycock, Chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill; and Joseph C. Sloane, incoming chair of the Art Department and director of the Ackland Art Center. (Scene cropped from a negative in the UNC Photo Lab collection.)

William D. Carmichael Jr., Vice President and Financial Officer of The University of North Carolina, accepted the building on behalf of the consolidated university.

William D. Carmichael Jr.
William D. Carmichael Jr. accepting the Ackland Art Center building on behalf of the university. (Scene cropped from a negative in the UNC Photo Lab collection.)

Photographic black-and-white negatives and prints in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Photographic Laboratory Collection document both events, plus a number of artworks loaned for the debut exhibition.

Care to learn more about the Ackland’s origins?  The Daily Tar Heel covered the story, including the background of the William Hayes Ackland bequest and the works of art in the opening exhibition on September 18th in advance of the dedication ceremony, and reported on the formal opening on September 21st.

 

 

 

Captain Coy, Hickory’s Traveling Do-Gooder

Services for the poor in the early 20th century were often rooted in church organizations in most parts of North Carolina. The basic social safety nets that exist now were yet to be in those early decades, and welfare programs in many parts of the country were grassroots efforts led by a few well-intentioned humanitarians.

Captain David G. Coy and his wife were career charity workers. Their story draws from an array of local news stories in historic newspapers in and around North Carolina documenting their efforts. After years in service of the Salvation Army in multiple locations, Captain Coy came to work with the Volunteers of America – a group doing similar work to the Salvation Army – in Hickory. The Coys established a Volunteers’ Home in Hickory in 1916. The Volunteers’ Home had ten rooms that the Coys used to provide shelter for the less fortunate. Coy was able to raise the rent of the house from local churches, and fund the remainder of the expenses through community fundraising.

The Hickory Daily Record documented and celebrated the Coys’ efforts in its pages, and played an active role in promoting the charity work. Coy received a donation of a carload of coal from Mr. Otis Mouser, the vice-president of the Stonega Coke and Coal Company (Big Stone Gap, Virginia).  Captain Coy convinced the city of Hickory to cover the freight cost to bring the coal to town. The Hickory Ice and Coal Company offered space for storage, and coal came to needy families in wagons owned by Mr. Eubert Lyerly.

Captain Coy had been active with the Salvation Army in Johnson City, Tennessee, as early as 1910. The Coys took leave of Johnson City for Silver City, New Mexico in the spring of 1911. “The Captain goes there for his health,” explained The Comet. They again left Tennessee for Cincinnati in 1912, but returned to Johnson City in September of that year, again taking charge of the Salvation Army’s efforts.

In Hickory, the Volunteers raised over $300 in 1916 for their Empty Stocking Fund, providing for a Christmas tree in the town, as well as 58 Christmas baskets distributed to families, each containing foodstuffs for a Christmas feast. The Hickory Daily Record supported this effort with a donation certificate run in its pages through the holiday season. Announcements came out every few days on the Daily Record’s front page, calling for more donations and praising local residents who had given a few dollars.

Captain Coy managed to gather resources to host a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. George Bradley, who had given up their children and suffered from tuberculosis. The couple received shelter in the form of a tent set up outside the Volunteers’ Home. The Hickory Daily Record ran personalized stories such as this (“Tent Is Needed For Young Married Couple,” Hickory Daily Record, January 27, 1917) to promote and draw support for the Coys’ efforts.

In 1917, just months after his Christmas season success, there was a public call for Captain Coy to abandon his efforts in Hickory. City residents discovered that Coy and a friend had spent a few days in Atlanta, and gone through around $200 of the charity funds raised from the public. The Coys later went on to work with the Volunteers of America in Jackson, Tennessee.

A charity coupon for Captain Coy’s Volunteers of America; from the Hickory Daily Record, November 25, 1916.

New Bern, Newbern, New Berne, Newberne

Newbern progress. volume (Newbern, N.C.), 31 Jan. 1863. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
Newbern progress. (Newbern, N.C.), 31 Jan. 1863. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Just how does one spell this city’s name? This was once a question of considerable debate.

Founded in 1710 by Christoph von Graffenried of Bern, Switzerland, New Bern was so named by the Swiss baron for the city of his birth. Graffenried, seeking to enrich himself through mining, led a group of German Palatine and Swiss colonists to the Province of North Carolina. Like its namesake, New Bern sits on a peninsula. The town was settled where the Trent and Neuse rivers converge. The settlement was laid over the Tuscaroran village of Chattoka.

In 1723, the General Assembly enacted that the place be “Incorporated into a Township, by the Name of New Bern.”

Over time the town came to be known by various spellings. Some of the variants included New Bern, Newbern, New Berne, and Newberne. Printed in newspapers, referenced in official documents, and used in every day correspondence, the true spelling of this colonial port town’s name became ever more obscure.

From Petersburg to New Bern
From Petersburg to New Berne, Published in the State Records of North Carolina, volume 15, North Carolina Maps, North Carolina Collection

During the Civil War John L. Swain, a Confederate army captain, used the spelling Newbern as he wrote of his movements in the area.

In 1891 Henry Gannett, a renowned geographer and father of government map making, sparked an orthographical debate when he wrote the city clerk with an inquiry as to the true spelling of the “Eastern metropolis on the Neuse.” Gannett was writing on behalf of the United States Board on Geographic Names, which he had pushed to establish a year earlier. The clerk, William Oliver, responded that Newbern was the proper spelling, and sent Gannett “a bound copy of the Acts of the General Assembly published in 1793” as proof. Consequently, Gannett settled on Newbern as the official spelling. The State Chronicle published the full exchange between Gannett and Oliver in its July 23, 1891 issue.

Six years later, in 1897, the General Assembly established “that the coroporation [sic] heretofore existing as the city of Newbern shall hereafter be known and designated as the city of New Bern, and all laws in conflict with the above are hereby repealed.”

The spelling of the city’s name was still a matter of interest in 1902 when Graham Daves, a New Bern businessman and an avid amateur historian, penned a letter to the editor of the Semi Weekly Messenger on the “Proper Way of Spelling the Name.

Perhaps the persistent debate as to the name of the city has it roots in Christoph von Graffenried’s own 18th century account of the settlement in the Colonial Records of North Carolina or in its translation? In Graffenried’s Narrative by Christoph von Graffenried concerning his voyage to North Carolina and the founding of New Bern in the Colonial Records, the name of the city is spelled at least three different ways.

Now uniformly known as New Bern, the study of the normalization of the city’s name is a fascinating slice of the state’s and nation’s history.

Bison in North Carolina

The Natural History of North Carolina, by John Brickell, 1743.
The Natural History of North Carolina, by John Brickell, 1743.

On January 30, 1919 the French Broad Hustler reported the shipment of “six head of buffalo –three males and three females –to Hominy, Buncombe County” by the American Bison Society. Their arrival in North Carolina marked the reintroduction of America’s largest big game animal to the state. The experiment was short-lived. Despite the birth of two calves and the addition of bred heifers and a bull, only two members of the herd remained a decade later. The reestablishment of bison into the wild in North Carolina was a failure.

Two centuries earlier, North Carolina was home to a robust number of bison. In 1709, English naturalist and explorer John Lawson described North Carolina as having “Plenty of Buffalos” in his A New Voyage to Carolina. A few decades later, Irish-born explorer John Brickell included an illustration of a “Buffello” in his Natural History of North Carolina. Brickell describes Native Americans’ many uses for the buffalo, including for food, bedding, clothing and housewares. Writing in 1748, German explorer and botanist Pehr Kalm noted, “The wild Oxen have their abode principally in the woods of Carolina, which are far up in the country. The inhabitants frequently hunt them, and salt their flesh like common beef, which is eaten by servants and the lower classes of people.”

Bison disappeared from North Carolina almost a century before they were wiped out in the American West. Joseph Rice, an early settler of the Swannanoa Valley around Bull Creek, is known for shooting that area’s last buffalo in 1799. A plaque at milepost 373 of the Blue Ridge Parkway marks the location.

Bull Creek Valley, Milepost 373 of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Bull Creek Valley, Milepost 373 of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The second edition of the North Carolina Gazetteer includes more than 40 entries for places that bear witness to the once ubiquitous presence of buffalo in North Carolina. They include Buffalo (a community in Cherokee County), Buffalo Creek (a waterway in Ashe County, one of many in the state named after buffalo), Big Lick (a place so named in Stanly County for the salt that attracted deer and buffalo in droves), Buffalo Cove (a place in which many buffalo were killed), and Buffalo Ford (a buffalo crossing along the Deep River in Randolph County).

An Accurate Map of North and South Carolina With Their Indian Frontiers...
An Accurate Map of North and South Carolina With Their Indian Frontiers…

In May, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act, which designates the bison as the country’s national mammal. The next time you picture a wild buffalo, think of it here in North Carolina, grazing in the state’s woods and grasslands and drinking from its streams.

The Remedy of 100 Uses

Nineteenth century newspapers advertised a host of treatments for illnesses, including one called catarrh. The term is one rarely used today, but in the 19th century catarrh referred to an excess of phlegm or mucous. Although nasal or sinus congestion is frequently caused by fever or allergies, it also accompanies pneumonia or other afflictions of the immune system that were often deadly during that time period.

Among the products promoted for treatment of catarrh was one from North Carolina—Vicks VapoRub.

vicks_thedailytimes_19220211
A new way to treat catarrh. The Daily Times, February 11, 1922

The Vicks brand was created by pharmacist Lunsford Richardson in Greensboro in the early 1890s.

There are several stories offered for why Richardson chose the name Vicks. Some suggest that Richardson considered putting his own name on the product, but then rejected the idea because his name didn’t fit on the label. Others say that Richardson chose Vicks to honor his brother-in-law, Dr. Joshua Vick. Vick was a respected and highly in-demand physician in Selma, N.C. He turned to Richardson, who had a love for chemistry, for help with dispensing medicine. Another account suggests that Richardson borrowed the name from a seed catalog with a listing for Vick Seed Co.

In the 1890s, twenty-one home remedies were patented and sold under the Vicks name. Each of these claimed natural ingredients, including nutmeg, thyme, camphor, and eucalyptus oils, imported from around the world. Many newspapers routinely published ads for Vicks tonics and ointments similar to the one shown below from The Watauga Democrat.

vicks_wataugademocrat_19220209
The Watauga Democrat, February 9, 1922

The best-selling Vicks product was a salve that Richardson created for croup, a product that he marketed as Vicks Croup and Pneumonia Salve. The ointment included menthol.

vicks_goldleaf_19071024
The Henderson Gold Leaf, December 24, 1907

The operation became Vicks Chemical Company in 1911. At that time, Lunsford Richardson’s son Henry Smith Richardson suggested renaming the product Vicks VapoRub. The company advertised the product as “the remedy of over 100 uses.”

With the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, the popularity of VapoRub skyrocketed in the U.S. Sales climbed from $900,000 to $2.9 million from 1918 to 1919. Advertisements provided detailed instructions for using Vicks to fight the flu.

vicks_spanishflu_highpointreview_19181107
The High Point Review, November 7, 1918

Richardson’s company is today a part of Proctor and Gamble, but the Vicks brand remains. VapoRub, in its familiar blue jar, continues to be sold around the world, with users claiming the salve is a cure-all for countless maladies, including sunburn, toenail fungus, cough, warts, chapped lips, dandruff and mosquito bites. The records of Richardson-Vicks Inc. and the papers of Henry Smith Richardson are available in Wilson Library’s Southern Historical Collection.

The Gold Leaf: “Clean news and some lengthy essays”

Masthead of Gold Leaf

From time to time, North Carolina Miscellany features short histories of North Carolina newspapers included on Chronicling America, a website produced by the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). By August 2016, the North Carolina Collection and its partner, the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, will have provided 200,000 pages of historic N.C. newspapers for inclusion on Chronicling America. The Henderson Gold Leaf is among the available titles. This history was written by Ansley Wegner, Research Historian and Administrator of the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program in Raleigh.

The Gold Leaf, a Democratic weekly newspaper in Henderson, North Carolina, was owned and edited by Thaddeus R. Manning (1856-1915) from 1882 until March of 1911. The paper was four pages with eight columns each. The Gold Leaf‘s masthead included the quote, “Carolina, Carolina, Heaven’s Blessings Attend Her.” Only scattered issues of the early years of the Gold Leaf have survived. The paper ran agricultural and household advice, editorials, local and social news, and many public notices and advertisements. Syndicated articles were reprinted from such newspapers as the Baltimore Sun and the Raleigh Post and Wilmington Messenger in North Carolina. Such articles contained state and national news, as well as farming and medical advice. The content of the Gold Leaf changed little throughout the 29 years of Manning’s tenure. Other papers published in Henderson at this time include the Henderson News and the Hustler.

By the 1900s, the share of local (vs. syndicated) material began to increase, and Manning occasionally wrote local historical pieces for the paper. Historian Samuel Thomas Peace described the Gold Leaf as carrying “clean news and some lengthy essays.” Its pages remained filled with a large amount of agricultural content, including advertisements for fertilizer and farm equipment.

On Thursday, March 30, 1911, the front page of the paper proclaimed, “Thad Manning has sold the Gold Leaf! Ah well! Time has a way of getting in its work, and he has held on for many years.” The article went on to say that Manning “loved his paper and sought to make it vital with his personality” and that “one could see the man in the very pages of the paper.” Upon hearing of Manning’s retirement, the editor of the Durham Daily Sun wrote, “[Manning] has elevated and brightened journalism. He has served his town, county, and State with superb devotion and zeal.”

The Gold Leaf was sold to a company called Gold Leaf Publishing. Within a few weeks, it no longer ran the catchy quote, and the name of the paper was changed to the Henderson Gold Leaf. The new editor and manager was Preston Taylor Way (1869-1920). Way had previously published and edited the Waxhaw Enterprise in Waxhaw and another newspaper in Jonesboro, North Carolina. The Gold Leaf remained largely the same under Way, although there was a stronger political edge to the editorial page.

The Henderson Gold Leaf became a semiweekly publication in 1913, and, during World War I, a daily edition was added. In 1914, the daily paper was renamed the Henderson Daily Dispatch, and the Henderson Gold Leaf returned to a weekly publication. A fire at the Henderson office in 1946 destroyed much of the newspapers’ archival material. The Henderson Daily Dispatch is still published today.

The Baird Family of Western North Carolina

Asheville_Gazette_News_Tue__Feb_20__1912_portion

In 1912, the Asheville Gazette-News reprinted a letter (A portion of which is above. Click on the image to sell the full letter), originally from 1858, from Bedent Baird of Watauga County to Zebulon Baird Vance, who at the time was a very young Congressman. Bedent Baird describes what he knows about his family lineage and wonders if his Watauga County Baird clan was in any way related to the Buncombe County one represented by Vance. The paper itself adds a little bit about the family’s history for context. Unfortunately, the matter could not have been settled with this information, because the family tree described in the article is wrong.

To make a somewhat complicated story (filled with many Zebulons and Bedents) short: the two Baird clans in Western North Carolina are indeed related. Their common ancestor was John Baird, born in 1665 in Scotland. He came over in 1683 and settled in New Jersey. He and his wife, Mary Bedent, had five sons: Andrew, John Jr., David, William, and Zebulon.

The Watauga County Bairds are descended from Andrew. Andrew’s son Ezekiel was the first of that line to end up in North Carolina. They have been quite prominent in the community, particularly for being some of the earliest settlers in Valle Crucis. Bedent Baird, author of the 1858 letter, was also a magistrate and politician, representing the part of Watauga that used to be Ashe County.

The Buncombe County Bairds are descended from John Junior. John Junior’s grandsons Bedent and Zebulon were some of the earliest settlers in Buncombe County, about 1793. The brothers had the first grist mill in the county and they played significant roles in the early days of what is now the City of Asheville. They bought a large amount of land, with Bedent settling on Beaver Dam and Zebulon near the French Broad. Zeb rose to some political prominence, serving as Senator for multiple terms. They also forged a friendship with David Lowry Swain, who helped manage Zeb’s affairs after he died in 1824. Swain also helped his deceased friend Zebulon’s grandson, Zebulon Baird Vance, attend UNC-Chapel Hill.

There are couple things that the article and letter in the Asheville Gazette-News get wrong, therefore muddying the process of answering the question about a common ancestor. The most confusing is in the listing of John Baird’s children. In doing so, they completely skip a generation. Bedent, Samuel, Obadiah, Borzilla, Jonathan, Ezekiel, etc. were the children of John Baird’s son Andrew, and therefore grandchildren of the patriarch. Bedent himself completely forgets to mention his own grandfather, Andrew, the actual son of John and Mary Baird, which is a bit of a glaring omission. The letter also claims that his uncle was the “first Bedent.” As is probably clear, the two Baird families in North Carolina did not seem to know much about each other, and therefore Bedent Baird didn’t know about his own cousin Bedent, son of William, over Asheville-way.

It is unclear if this relationship between the clans was resolved, at least not in the public’s imagination. The article is certainly curious for how much it got wrong. And for featuring a letter over 50 years old that quite possibly never made it into the hands of Zeb Vance. Most importantly, though, it shows the affection and curiosity the readership and citizens had for Vance and for the Bairds. Indeed, the significant roles that both families played in the history of Western North Carolina make them a fascinating study, and not just due to the predilection for naming children Bedent and Zebulon.

For further reading:

Arthur, J. P. (2002). A history of Watauga County, North Carolina : with sketches of prominent families. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub. Co.

Arthur, J. P. (1973). Western North Carolina; a history, 1730-1913. Reprint Co.

Biddix, C. D. (1981). The Heritage of old Buncombe County. Asheville, N.C.: Hunter Pub. Co.

Blackmun, O. (1977). Western North Carolina, its mountains and its people to 1880. Boone, N.C.: Appalachian Consortium Press.

Dowd, C. (1897). Life of Zebulon B. Vance. Charlotte, N.C.: Observer Print. and Pub. House.

Edwards and Broughton Company (Raleigh, N.C.). (1890). Western North Carolina : historical and biographical. Charlotte, N.C.: A.D. Smith & Co.

Gaffney, S. R. (1984). The heritage of Watauga County, North Carolina. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Heritage of Watauga County Book Committee in cooperation with the History Division of Hunter Pub. Co.

McKinney, G. B. (2004). Zeb Vance : North Carolina’s Civil War governor and Gilded Age political leader. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Sondley, F. (1977). A history of Buncombe County, North Carolina. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Co.

Image:

Episode and Interlude. (February 20, 1912). Asheville Gazette-News. p. 4.

 

The Business of Matrimony

Finding that special someone has always been difficult. So difficult, in fact, that individuals frequently resort to creative means to help them secure a future husband or wife.

In the 19th century, many brave souls placed independent advertisements in local newspapers at the potential detriment of their social standing. Often these suitors would be over the respectable marriage age, widows, or individuals looking for a wealthy partner who possessed a peculiar set of characteristics. Young people often sought to meet members of the opposite sex without parental interference.

findinglove1
The Charlotte Journal June 23, 1842

In his article “The cost of marriage and the matrimonial agency in late Victorian Britain,” Harry Cocks writes that these postings became so popular that matchmaking turned into a profitable industry. Following a trend in Victorian England, matrimonial agencies appeared in the United States. They were typically concentrated in urban centers, with fewer located in rural areas where probable matches were highly visible.  Cocks states, the matrimonial agency was frequently seen as the “antidote to middle-class formality,” because the actors were independent instead of being instruments of their families or future husbands. However, traditionalists believed the practice was a disgrace to the institution of marriage.

Individuals frequently felt some shame at their unmarried status, and they feared further disgrace if others learned that they had turned to a matrimonial agency. Consequently, the businesses marketed themselves as being discrete in collecting correspondence from hopeful men and women and relaying them to prospective matches. They allowed women a certain degree of relative respectability and safety, something that was increasingly difficult in the modern city.

Although many of these agencies had their own publications with hundreds of ads, they also posted personal ads in local newspapers on behalf of their clients such as the one mentioned in an 1880 issue of the Charlotte Democrat.

matrimonial brokers
“The Matrimonial Brokers” September 10, 1880

There were frequently unsatisfied customers and tales of jilted respondents. The statistics reported in matrimonial advertisements were unverified, self-reported, and frequently overblown. The success of these businesses relied on people believing the false claim that “a man who advertises extensively must be wealthy, and whatever appears in print must be true.”

North Carolina newspaper editors and publishers discovered that horror stories about matrimonial agencies made good copy. The papers were filled with horror stories from those clients who they claimed had been duped. This article from an 1857 issue of the Western Democrat provides some commonly held ideas about the “transactions” conducted within matrimonial agencies, stating, “the grossest deception is…frequently practiced, and the principle of the whole business is undoubtedly, essentially corrupt.”Others compared matrimonial agencies to bogus loan offices financed by  “the fees of the foolish.”

Many papers called for the abolition of such services, and published articles like this one from The Henderson Gold Leaf claiming that these agencies prayed on the weak, naive and desperate.

frauds in cupid's name
“Matrimonial Agencies That Swindle Trusting Innocents”  November 23, 1897

This 1906 article from the Semi-Weekly Messenger tells a familiar horror story of a fraudulent matrimonial agency. The agency’s beautiful widow with  a $100,000 sugar plantation (roughly $2 million today) was searching for a husband. According to the article countless eager bachelors paid the $5.00 fee to secure an introduction with the woman who didn’t exist.

richwidow
“Wanted to Marry a Rich Widow” January 04, 1907

Although dishonesty was prevalent, there were surely some success stories, right?

consolations of marriage