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 

‘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. 


Gaylord Perry finds key to success in his mouth



On this day in 1964: The San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets play what is at the time the longest game in major league history — 7 hours, 23 minutes — and Williamston native Gaylord Perry loads up his first illegal pitch. Clinging to a spot on the Giants’ roster, reliever Perry hesitates only briefly before unveiling his new pitch.

“I was 25 years old, and I had spent most of my first six seasons in the minors,” he will recall later. “I thought of my wife, Blanche, our very young children, and Mama and Daddy back on the farm, all counting on me. And me taking home only $9,500 a year.” Perry and the spitter combine for 10 scoreless innings, and the Giants quickly install him in their starting rotation. Next stop: Hall of Fame.

Pictured: Promotional card and hat pin distributed at Chevron gas stations in the San Francisco area, circa 1991.