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William S. Powell of the North Carolina Collection in the University of North Carolina Library has a new book in mind. There are all sorts of books about North Carolina, but there is no single work to which a person may apply for detailed topographical information about any county of the state, both past and present.
Where were Bute County, Duckingstool Branch, the exinct Town of Silverboro, Dobbs Court House, The Bennett House, the Colonial Postal Route, so-and-such Plank Road, the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad, the actual site of Gen. William Dorsey Pender’s birth, General Military Hospital No. 2 (Confederate), Peacock’s Bridge, Lamon’s Ferry, Ramsour’s Mills, the Green Path, Clingman’s Dome, Moccasin River, Dew’s Ford, Tower Hill, Bald Mountain, Turkey Creek, Eagle Rock, etc.?
Needham B. Cobb’s “Poetical Geography of North Carolina” (Cambridge, 1887) is entertaining. Blackwell P. Robinson’s “North Carolina Guide” (Chapel Hill, 1955) is valuable. All sorts of old and modern maps are helpful. One might go on and on with a list of sources, but not every historian or genealogist has the time, facilities or know-how for running down an important but elusive geographic item.
Mr. Powell’s proposed book should solve a great many of these problems, if he can complete it and find a publisher. County by county he has compiled alphabetically arranged lists of topographical data. Then he has endeavored to find the nearest thing to a local expert in each county who would both check the filing cards for errors and make all possible additions of new material. We must expect a few inadvertent mistakes and omissions, but these should be completely overshadowed by the scope and value of the completed work.
Before talking with Mr. Powell, I had no idea than anyone seriously shared my concern over our vanishing North Carolina geography, references to which have appeared several times in this column. It is a melancholy fact that most of the Colonial and Antebellum homeplaces of our ancestors have vanished along with exact knowledge of their very locations, and the same thing is true of the country graveyards where the people themselves lie buried. Plowed fields or tangled woods have obliterated the sites forever. The face of our land is changing rapidly before the march of progress, and the names and places associated with these vanished generations are also disappearing. Where an old name still survives, perhaps no one knows anything about its origin.
The geography of our counties is actually an interesting subject, since it bears the imprint both of their history and of their families. Unless a serious effort is made now to preserve local geography, another generation will see much of the information lost beyond recovery. The descendants of the pioneer families have usually sold out or at least moved to town. The tenants on the land have likely drifted from other areas within the past two to 10 years. They do not know and do not care what came before them, and they seldom perpetuate any tradition when they go.
Modern highways have made many old roads obsolete, causing new settlements to appear and old settlements to become deserted. We speed over causeways and bridges, scarcely noting the branches and creeks that were all known by name to our forefathers. The old water mills are gone and their earthen and timbered dams have largely crumbled away. Other distinguishing characteristics of the past have suffered a similar fate.
Life today is so submerged under a multiplicity of current details that few people find the time to consider the old landmarks and the traditional heritage that should be theirs. They have little regard for the things that were meaningful in the lives of their parents of their grandparents, and we are led to wonder what may be cherished in the future by their own children and grandchildren.
WILSON COUNTY GEOGRAPHY
Wilson County was formed in 1855 from parts of Edgecombe, Nash, Johnston and Wayne counties, and is also bounded by Greene and Pitt counties. Its elevation is 138 feet above sea level, and its area is 373 square miles. It was first settled about 1740 by people of English and Welsh stock.
The county seat is Wilson and other principal towns are Elm City and Stantonsburg. Its townships are Black Creek, Crossroads, Gardner, Old Fields, Saratoga, Springhill, Stantonsburg, Taylor, Toisnot and Wilson. Its political designations are Second Congressional, Sixth Senatorial, Second Judicial and Neuse River Soil Conservation Districts.
Wilson County was named for Brigadier Gen. Louis Dicken Wilson (1789-1847), for may years a state senator from Edgecombe County. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1835 and died in Mexico in 1847 while serving with the United States Army.
1860 — 9,720
1870 — 12,258
1880 — 16,064
1900 — 23,596
1910 — 28,269
1920 — 36,813
1930 — 44,914
1940 — 50,219
1950 — 54,506
1960 — 57,716
The present rate is 154.7 persons per square mile. This represents a sixfold increase in the first hundred years.
Some events or points of interest:
Skirmish at Peacock’s Bridge — 1781
Confederate Hospital — 1862-65
Site of birthplace of Gen. W.D. Pender (1834-1863)
Joyner’s Depot — 1840 (a vanished town)
Home of Gen. Joshua Barnes (1813-90)
Atlantic Christian College — 1902
Site of Toisnot Baptist Church — 1756
There will now follow a sort of historical geography of Wilson County. It is as accurate as the compiler could make it at time of writing. However, you should consider it your patriotic duty both to inform him of any omission and to correct him in any error. This list will determine a considerable part of what future generations will know about these things.
Hugh Johnston was a Wilson County historian who wrote these historical capsules that previously appeared in The Wilson Daily Times. They are reprinted from a volume of his “Looking Backward” series of books available at the Wilson County Public Library.