Smallpox upends life in Williamston

“The report of a case of smallpox [in Williamston in 1862] has been confirmed. William Hoell…  is said to have gone to New York and returned by sea. It is supposed he contracted the disease while in New York. The village has been thrown into great excitement. Several families have left…. Business is at a standstill. The school has come to a close two months sooner than planned….

“The sick man, Hoell, has been carried about one and one-half miles from town to a school house… where he is to be attended to by a nurse, and no one else but the physicians is to visit him.”

— From the diary of Elder C. B. Hassell, published in “Martin County History, Vol. I” by Francis M. Manning and W. H. Booker, 1977

h/t Northeastern North Carolina Stories 

New in the collection: Hamilton municipal license plate

Municipal license plate for Hamilton, N.C.

A town probably named after Alexander Hamilton — renamed after Hamilton, actually — ought to attract some attention these days, don’t you think?

Unfortunately, interest in such noteworthy history as the Fort Branch Civil War site and a restored Rosenwald School has yet to show up in Hamilton’s population, which has dwindled to about half its 1890 peak of 781.


A 1925 lynching for which 10 men went to prison

“in 1925 a mob of white men broke into the Martin County jail and removed a young Jewish man named Joseph Needleman, who had been accused of raping a local woman named Effie Griffin.

“They had carried him to the cemetery at the Skewarkey Primitive Baptist Church, where they castrated him and left him for dead.

“Needleman barely survived his wounds. He stumbled into town to find help and somebody rushed him to a hospital in Washington, N.C., for emergency surgery. A grand jury later found him innocent of rape, but another jury convicted 18 of his assailants and sent 10 to prison….”

— From “In Skewarkey Cemetery” by David Cecelski at (Aug. 31) 

Though much less publicized, the Needleman lynching unavoidably echoes the Leo Frank case in Atlanta a decade earlier.


‘A visitor was shocked to see men butting heads’

“During [the 1870s] in Windsor, North Carolina, raucous turkey shoots and bearbaitings remained popular…. On Saturday, men gathered in saloons and ‘presently a dispute would arise [and] everyone would rush to the scene of the battle,’ according to a fascinated onlooker. Within a few moments the street would be filled with fighters, ‘a half acre of them, swearing and tearing at each other’s clothes, and all about the most trifling incident…. To miss a part in a free-for-all fight was considered a sore disappointment.’

“So intense was the desire of spectators to see the fighting in Williamston, North Carolina, ‘that they would often climb up on each other’s shoulders’…. When a battle would start one man would jump in, and ‘then another and another would go on until the battle would wax fierce and general.’

“In Martin County should anyone try to halt the fight or interfere, another spectator would ‘spring upon the interloper’ and stop him, ‘often leading to another brawl.’

“An English visitor to North Carolina was shocked to see men butting heads — a popular method of fighting in some locales — ‘as practiced in battle between bulls, rams and goats.’ ”

— From “Jolly Fellows: Male Milieus in Nineteenth-Century America” by Richard Stott (2009)

Early North Carolina’s lust for “rough and tumble” and gouging is well established, but contemporary accounts always capture my attention.