January 19, 2011.
TALES OF KNOTTS ISLAND by Henry Beasley Ansell
THE INTEMPERANCE OF THIS COUNTRY A HUNDRED YEARS AGO: A DOZEN GROGGERIES IN ONE CHURCH TERRITORY; CHANGES LATER ON. WHAT WOULD WASHINGTON, ADAMS, JEFFERSON LIKELY THINK IF BROUGHT FORTH IN THIS COUNTRY NOW: THE OLD TIMES AND THE NEW COMPAREDI have endeavored, truthfully though crudely, as gained by tradition, to tell the people of this Island and the people of its adjacent territory, what was going on, on this Island vicinity, a hundred and fifty years ago; of the grog shops and the past times of those who visited them, consisting of people from North, South, East and West, who were trading and trafficking through Currituck Inlet. So you can see that these drinking rendezvous and brawling resorts, the people of this Island furnished only their quota. This whole country a hundred years back was in the thraldom of intemperance, and Currituck County had its share; for the writer had pointed out to him, by the old and knowing ones, a place in this county where less than seventy years ago within a distance of one mile were three grogshops dealing out the fiery liquor. There is little doubt but that in many places in our county, where there was one church there were a dozen groggeries.
So Knotts Island really did not excel on this line in those days, and need be aggrieved but little. Furthermore, in the year 1828, the inlet filled up with sand, traffic stopped, foreigners stopped coming to the Island and the few groggeries waned.
I have told you about witchcraft, haunts, ghosts, wizards, conjurers and dream subjects on and about the Island; and I will say right here that Knott's Island was only in line with the rest of this county, and this county was no worse than the remainder of the state, and this State was no more steeped in witchcraft and incantations than others states for did not Massachusetts a few centuries back, upon the verdict of jury and sentence of court, murder their supposed witches; and did not Princess Anne county, Virginia, drown a witch, and was not this place of submersion ever after this called "Witchduck"? Witchcraft germs in this country were as thick one hundred and more years ago as yellow fever germs were in Norfolk in 1855.I have told you how a great change took place after Tom Jones and Anderson had somewhat mauled the Devil in submission; how the old and new road quarrel began and how it ended (if it ever has ended); how some church quarrels came along and how they ended, after which, peace and quiet reigned once more. Great changes in this country since that day have taken place. If Washington, Adams & Jefferson were to arise in Boston and get on a fast train for Washington, passing through the busy mar between these points, with every factory and workshop on the way in full blast with their clangings, puffings, snortings, squeakings, with steamers and engines blowing their blasts, and with the confusion of tongues among the tens of thousands of people hurrying and rushing in pressing masses, and when arrive at the Capital to find motor cars shooting about like meteors, moved by a power not perceptible to them; would they know where they were, or could they ever find their old homes? No, they would as likely believe they had been transported to Venus or Mars as to the Earth. They would not know the Capital nor even the White House which each had once occupied.
Let one, who a hundred or more years ago was familiar with this Island and its locality, all at once now return; he would look for the Inlet and the many vessels that frequented its waters. but would find a blank; he would go to a place whre a groggery once held forth, no groggery there, not even a champion; even the haunted bear-tree stump and the wash-oaks by the spring of water, all gone; the old free church, gone; even the peep-holes through which was first seen the dawn of day and which served the witches as means of entrance are found no more. The public road, would very probably be the most familiar thing in sight. He would listen in vain for the past familiar thwack of the loom, the whir of the spinning wheel, the grating of the cards; his eyes would discover no lye-stand, nor logwood, once so common; the people whom he would meet on the highway are bedecked in fine fabrics and linens cut in a fashion strange and new; It would require a long time with an experient teacher for the old soul to understand.
One hundred years ago or the beginning of 1800, the people of the United States then were as a whole crude, awkward and unpolished, Knott's Island had its share of these elements as these local tales will tell. Great changes for the betterment of society have since been wrought, by which the Island, as other places, has been greatly benefited.
This Island is not compelled as of yore to go, through mud and mire to market; its people can now jump on boat or car and can be landed expeditiously in the new Norfolk where the streets are ablaze with the electric glow instead of gummy oils. The old tallow candles which the Island and others once had to make and use, are no more; tropical fruits and useful things from distant lands are swiftly put by steam to our very doors; you once dispatched your letter to New York in a weekly mail bag and expected an answer in a month; now you can read the events of the world in a few hours after they happen; you can in a few minutes send communications around the world through a wire; and now even the wire is to be dispensed with. Education almost everywhere is improved; the dark places of slumbering ages are lighted up; charity is greatly enlarged; the standards of humanity and morals are more elevated, not only in Christendom, but throughout the world.
So we can see the progress of the world for the last half century or more has tended strongly toward the better; despite this, there are many good old people who, wedded to ancient ideas, think the world is growing worse day by day.
One reason for this is quite plain. In past days there were few newspapers and they were mostly weeklies; the subscription prices were high and few people subscribed; if a heinous crime were committed a hundred miles away the news of it, if published at all, was stale by the time the slow mail brought it to the subscriber's post office, and not one in fifty ever heard of it. How is it now?
Thousands of different newspapers are published daily and there are few so poor they cannot get a sheet or two. If one dose not take a paper he need but step to his country store at night and get the gist of the days new gratis. The majority of these papers are sensational; they contain all manner of crime and misdemeanor, thefts from a sixpence up to a train or bank robbery, murders, assaults, etc. Those who live outside this busy life think by reading such news daily, that we are going to the bad.
HERE GOES THE EDITORIAL:
"The man who is the cause of all our country's misery is this day reduced to the rank of his fellow-citizens, and has no longer the power to multiply the woes of the United Sates. This day his name ceases to give currency to injustice or to legalize corruption. It strikes us with astonishment that one man could thus poison the principles of republicanism. This day should form a jubilee." This was clipted from the historical writings of Albert Payson Terbune--New York World.
So we can readily see that there were more wrangling and abuse then than now.
So, everything in old-times was not sunshine and content; but there was not so many seeking notoriety then as now (called cranks) or Washington would have been assissinated as many Presidents are now.
The old people may be much mistaken in worshipping the past. For instance the good food prepared and eaten in old times. The old Dutch oven corn pone--so sweet, was there ever any bread so nice, especially so, when good sweet country butter was spread upon it? Then that big pot of pork and greens cooked over a six by four fireplace; no, nothing like this bread and greens comes from these modern cooking-stoves. Then that greasy stewpie cooked over the fire, with pie bread covering the inside of the pot, filled with ducks, geese, chicken or pig, with pie-bread balls intermixed; then the hoe cake and biscuit made of wheat ground at the country wind-mill, how delicious! They have not had a taste of these biscuits since the war of '61. The writer for the last forty or more years has in dreams been eating out of some of these old time dishes; but very recently he had his desires gratified as to these brown wheat biscuits; he ate one at one meal, a mere bite at another, and wishes no more. He could scarcely believe his own taste. It may be so with all the old things the aged love so much to talk about and honor. Taste in all things has been educated up to the present and it spurns the past.
But doubtless in past days many good things prevailed in society. In this country, in the prime val days of its history and even up to the war between the States, there were bonds of sympathy between all classes of its people, which led to confidence and familiarity. Equality of intercourse, real or seeming, was the result; besides, wealth had not accumulated in the hands of a class or in a society generally. The peoples' habits, therefore, were simple, and prevaded all classes, and their tastes called for little beyond a comfortable living. All classes were frank and confiding with one another; the educated and rich gave a helping hand to the ignorant and poor; the ignorant looked up to the wise for social protection and direction, which they seldom failed to get, especially so if they remained humble and grateful to their directors. All, in a measure, were impressed with the same simplicity and equality of rights in this country where rights appeared mutual and inter-dependent up and prior to the war of 1861. This war produced radical changes, both socially and politically of which I will endeavor to give a summary in the next chapter.