UCLA Week 7 - Literary Journalism Piece:
We could have chosen anywhere near here; New Bern "The Birthplace of Pepsi” or Bath “Home town of the infamous Pirate Black Beard” we chose “The Original Washington” or as the locals affectionately refer to it: Lil’ Washington.
Washington is a town of storytellers. Its rich history is bountiful in tales of the Civil War, as evidence some of the historic buildings still wear cannon balls imbedded in their walls. The old county courthouse standing on Market Street dating from about 1786 currently houses a library on its ground floor but the top floor courtroom remains untouched. Famous for a murder trial in the mid 1800’s, a clergyman found his wife in a tryst and shot her lover dead. Found guilty the clergyman shot the jury! Locals say you can still smell the cigar smoke and hear the gunshots ringing out from its walls. One of these days I’ll be brave enough to ask for the keys so I can go and find the ghosts for myself, but for now, I’m happy to reside in a fascinating town of tales.
Washington, North Carolina sits at the junction of the Tar and Pamlico Rivers. When Col. James Bonner founded the town in the 1770s, it was referred to simply as "Forks of the Tar.” The town served as a supply outpost during the Revolutionary War, and in 1776, Col. James Bonner changed the town’s name to Washington in honor of General George Washington whom Bonner had served under during the war.
The town of Washington is steeped in history. Family names of Grimes, Blount, Bonner, Alligood and Woolard are still prominent amongst the community.
My neighbour, Jake Mills said, “A wedding hosted by the Alligoods and Woolards is known as a Wooly-Good Time.”
I putter my neighbourhood admiring the historic homes lining picturesque Main Street. These homes date as far back as the 1850's. They stand testament to the resilience of the town's people after Washington was burned to the ground by Union troops during their evacuation after the fall of Plymouth, NC during the Civil War in 1865.
Located on the corner of East Main Street and Bonner Street sits the most wonderful church cemetery. St. Peter’s Episcopal church circa 1822 and churchyard are shaded by live oaks with fern growing off their branches up-up overhead. It’s spring and the camellias are just ending their bloom. Lining the lens of my camera to catch the perfect angle to photograph a headstone with the inscription:
In Memory of Thankful
Wife of William O’Cain
40 years and 22 days.
I’m pulled away by the sound of footsteps. I look up to see a chap smiling at me.
“Say, hey there, I’ve a few minutes before my appointment. You want a tour of the prominent gravestones?”
His southern drawl as smooth as butter has got my attention.
“Yes please!” I reply.
“A large number of the stones predate the Civil war. Recently we found some really early stones when we dug the foundation for the addition. They’re preserved in the church basement. This here has always been the town’s cemetery. That lot over there – he points to a parking lot- stood a single church structure shared by several denominations. They all buried their followers here." He says as he waves me to follow.
Over the next fifteen or so minutes this gentleman walks me through the churchyard. He points out the grave stones belonging to John Grey Blount 1752-1833 chain bearer for Daniel Boon who helped found Washington, Col. James Bonner the founder of Washington, and to my delight the DeMille family.
“THE Cecil B DeMille was born right here in Washington, but, he’s not buried in the family plot. He’s laid out somewhere in New York. We still claim him.”
My tour guide waves a greeting at another gentleman and says he has one last grave he wants to show me belonging to a soldier of the Revolutionary War.
James Ronner Foreman
Dec 1785 – 1807
22 years, 21 Days
Come view my tomb as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so you must be
Therefore prepare to follow me.
“Ponder that. Good afternoon Ma’am.” He slips away.
I do ponder it and then try a little research. The dates are wrong this soldier was born after the Revolutionary war ended!
Washington and The Pamlico 1976, East Carolina Joyner Library Digital Collections, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Website and Wikipedia.