Infants fatally ‘over-fed, over-clothed’ in 1844?

“So overeager were mothers toward their sick children that in 1844 the Raleigh Star complained that the results were counterproductive. Maternal fussiness was a reason why, the editor asserted, one-fifth of North Carolina infants died before reaching a year of age. They are ‘over-fed, over-clothed, take too little exercise in the air.’

“Swaddling was not common, so far as we know, but obviously the mothers of whom the writer spoke were killing their young with kindness and restricting their movements in some way.”

– From “Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South” by Bertram Wyatt-Brown (2007)


N.C. justice, 1827: ‘Allowed to keep his Ears’

“In Davidson County, North Carolina, a drunken young mountaineer named William Tippett had bitten off a large piece of old Arthur Newsome’s chin, almost plucked out his left eye and grasped Newsome’s right eye with his other hand…..

“The old man was left with just one, badly injured, eye when the right one popped out some days later.

“The little community was in an uproar when the judge sentenced Tippett to lose his ears as punishment for the mayhem. A long, half-literate petition from Tippett’s kinsmen for remission of the penalty quickly circulated. Newsome, they argued, was an old rogue whom nobody liked. Tippett, on the the hand, was a man in the prime of life.

“The governor [Hutchins Gordon Burton], recognizing that the will of the people should be heard, showed becoming mercy, writing on the back of the memorial, ‘Allowed to keep his Ears, 1827.’ ”

– From “Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South” by Bertram Wyatt-Brown (2007)

Given North Carolinians’ widely-known affinity for gouging — the NFL of its time? — the only surprise in this account is that Tippett even had to go to court.


Court set high bar for women seeking divorce

“A North Carolina case in 1822 provided a typical example [of Southern] women’s powerlessness before the bench….The husband had not only contracted venereal disease from a prostitute, but also had transmitted the illness to his wife.

“The high court refused to grant the wife a divorce. Only when a ‘husband abandons his family, or turns his wife out of doors, or by cruel and barbarous treatment endangers her life’ was the state authorized to intervene, ruled the justices. In this instance, they could find no evidence that the husband had done anything hurtful, and therefore his misdeeds — appropriately deplored — were not covered by ‘positive law.’ Besides, upon learning of the his wife’s illness he had commendably ‘expressed his sorrow in tones of unfeigned remorse.’

“Enjoining friends of the alienated couple to bend all efforts toward their reconciliation, the court censured ‘her relations’ … for fomenting a separation ‘which might have been avoided’ but for their ‘whispers’ and ‘intrusion.’ ”

– From “Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South” by Bertram Wyatt-Brown (2007)


Broken campaign oath almost resulted in duel

“Oaths among gentlemen also figured in political activities. In 1823, for example, Willie P. Mangum, a North Carolina planter [and future U.S. senator], came to an agreement with Daniel L. Barringer, a militia general and rival for [Congress]. The pair swore before Sheriff H. B. Adams not to campaign for votes — canvassing being considered beneath dignity in low-country North Carolina.

“But later, before the election, each accused the other of violations. Adams certified that, though both had ‘pledged their honours…. in a most sacred manner,’ Barringer had violated his oath. Furious and embarrassed, Barringer challenged Mangum to a duel, but friends intervened successfully to prevent it.”

– From “Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South” by Bertram Wyatt-Brown (2007)


Charlotteans quick to defend ‘respected young ladies’

“Townsmen did not take lightly affronts to their virgins. In Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1845, for instance, three young men had made up enormous posters directing obscenities against ‘some of the respected young ladies of the community,’ the local editor said, and had nailed the signs to the courthouse door.

“Early the next morning the villagers were highly agitated. The town’s young men found the culprit out, gained confessions and rode all three on a rail, each covered in the customary feathery garb. The newspaper piously denounced the rough work, but excused it on the grounds that all townsfolk had agreed about the imperative for ‘summary punishment.'”

— From “Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South” by Bertram Wyatt-Brown (2007)


Peddler found no relief in antebellum justice

“A Yankee peddler [was] usually regarded with deep suspicion. (He might be an abolitionist spy “tampering” with the slaves.)….

“In 1839 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, one Charles Fife from Connecticut was suspected of trading with blacks. The offense could not be proved in court, so some young men of the village gave him a pole ride through town, follow by the tar-and-feather ritual. When the peddler, claiming innocence, refused to leave town, the rowdies repeated the ceremony the next Sunday.

“Fife then sued his enemies before Judge John L. Bailey, a young planter, but in the midst of the proceedings the ruffians leaped on the plaintiff and his lawyer and beat them up before the bench. Judge Bailey acquitted the defendants and fined Fife  $100 — without evidence or prior indictment — for trading with Negroes. Fife, at last, left town.”

— From “Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South” by Bertram Wyatt-Brown (2007)