by Richard Gwynallen

John Murdoch
1791 – 1857
Relationship to Fawn: 6th great uncle

In 1900, The Landmark, a Statesville, North Carolina newspaper carried a series by Captain H. A. Chambers, reflecting on a small Iredell, North Carolina community during the period of 1845 – 1853 he knew as a child. In the series, Captain Chambers refers to one of our ancestors, John Murdoch, the son of William Mordah and Agness Wasson who was one of the residents of the neighborhod Chambers is describing. In his brief recollections we learn something of John Murdoch’s work and children.

The Landmark - 27 March 1900 - 1

I just ran ran across this series and thought I would reprint selections here.  They offer a more personal, intimate look at a community of people by one who was part of their lives.

Landmark newspaper 1900

In the 27 March 1900 article, Chambers describes the community he is reflecting upon:

“The neighborhood under consideration is located a few miles east of Statesville.  It consists of the territory which furnished pupils fifty years ago to the schools taught in the little schoolhouse located about four miles east of Statesville close to the public road which leads from Statesville to Salisbury, hereinafter called the “Salisbury Road”.  It is bounded on the north by Fourth Creek, on the east by the “Georgia” Road, on the south by Third Creek, and on the west by an imaginary north and south line, practically parallel to the “Georgia” Road and about two and a half miles east of Statesville.”

The neighborhood Chambers is describing changed dramatically after the Civil War.  “Few who lived in this neighborhood fifty years ago now remain within its borders.  . . . Death, the great Civil War, and the emigration which followed it, have made many changes.  Still, it may be of interest, to the few survivors within its borders, and those who, like myself, who have wandered far away, but who still have kindly remembrances of the old neighborhood, to recall the people and the incidents which occurred among them half a century ago.”

In the 3 April 1900 article, Chambers takes a look at “those on the north side of the Salisbury Road, beginning in the northwest corner of the neighborhood and going eastwards and then, in succession, the eastern, middle and western parts of the territory south of that road.”

Here is where we find John Murdoch.

“Next, to the east and joining the farm of Mr. Steele, was the home of his brother-in-law John Murdoch.  He, like his son-in-law, Summers, was an active, enterprising, industrious man.  .  . .  I think he was also a manufacturer of carriages and buggies and probably also wagons.  He at one time had a stationary threshing machine at his place to which neighbors would sometimes haul their grain to be threshed, before Goodman, Adam Eagle and others began to go around with their moveable machines. I sometimes went with my grandfather to Mr. Murdoch’s when he hauled his grain there to be threshed.  I do not recall Mrs. Murdoch, but I do remember the son William Murdoch, who died a few years ago in Statesville.  From the time I first remember, he wore spectacles, which always made him appear much older than he was.

“There were two daughters in the family, Miss Jane and Miss Ellen—the former a brunette, the latter a blond.  The former married Thomas Leslie, who, for a time after his marriage, lived on the road between Mr. Murdoch’s and the Summers place.  Miss Ellen, I think, married Cowan Graham, a merchant of Rowan County.”

The little schoolhouse John’s children attended “. . . was on the edge of the old field, one quarter of a mile north of the Salisbury Road, four miles east of Statesville and on the west side of the neighborhood road leading from the Salisbury Road to John Steele’s and John Murdoch’s.”  (13 April 1900 article)

Community Life

That was all the reference to John Murdoch made in the series, but I found other comments interesting from the insights they gave to life in the community our ancestor would have been part.  I reprint them here for any who would be interested.

For instance, it appears that “Andrew [Freeland] was a shoe maker there during the time under consideration and made most of the shoes of the neighborhood and made them well.  He was a truly honest man.  Moreover, although of a very modest and retiring disposition, he was a man of considerable intelligence and read a great deal for that day.” (6 April 1900 article).

In the 13 April 1900 article he writes further about the school: ” . . . the old school house was abandoned and a new one for the same district was erected on the south side of the Salisbury Road about a half mile from it and about a mile south of the old location.  . . .

“After the school house had been moved to this location, some called it the  ‘Hickory Grove’ school house because there were a number of hickory trees in the woods immediately around it.  It was situated on the west side of the neighborhood  road which ran north and south . . . Water for the use of the school was obtained from a spring in the head of a hollow, a little north of the school house . . . .

“The play ground was cleared up out of the woods and was located at the south end of the school house on the west side of the road. . . . “

I reprint two of the articles below because they address life in the neighborhood of the time more than individual families.

April 17, 1900

The school was the only public building within the neighborhood.  All the churches lay outside the neighborhood boundaries, so each Sunday people walked, road horseback, or in carriages.

“A few of the people had buggies and carriages in which to go to church but most of them went on horseback.  The women were generally fine horse women.  Some of them took quite a pride in this accomplishment and delighted to ride spirited animals.  The took almost as much pride in the trappings on their horses, the saddle, saddle blanket, bridle, martingale, and riding habit as they did in their personal appearance.  Among the fine riders, I can recall Dorcas and Chrissy Kimball and my aunt Adaline Chambers.

“At the close of the service, the hurried unhitching and mounting with a view to getting ahead of the crowd and the dust on dry days generally caused a good deal of excitement and interest.  The excitement incident to so many horses and the spurs, whips and switches of the riders generally caused the animals to show their spirit to their best advantage.

“This was the time, too, when the young men sought the privilege of escorting their female friends and sweethearts and protecting them to their homes.  I can now vividly recall such scenes as these at Bethesda Church, especially on sacramental occasions when there was always a big crowd of people in attendance.  This church and St. Paul’s were so near to the people of this neighborhood that on pleasant days many of them preferred to walk to the church and thus gave their horses a day’s much needed rest.

On these occasions, the foot walkers usually lined the sides of the road and chatted with the passers by in the vehicles and on horse back.  The crowd was always greatest just at the church and the roads immediately leading from it but thinned out as, from time to time, persons and couples and families diverged into the neighborhood roads leading to their respective homes.”

April 24, 1900

“In addition to the meetings at church, school and at the debates, the means of social, friendly and business intercourse among the people of the neighborhood, were furnished by the “singings” and the cooperative labor arrangements known as “choppings”, “log rollings”, quiltings and corn shucking.

“Whenever anyone wanted to clear a piece of timber land and get it ready for cultivation more quickly than he could do so with his own forces, he arranged for a “chopping” and required a number of his neighbors to come with their axes and help him cut the timber from the land.

“When the men arrived in the morning of the appointed day, the “right handed” men and the “left handed” men were so arranged that when a large tree was encountered four men could chop on it at the same time, two on each side.  Interest was often added to the work by contexts between the men in cutting up the trunks of the trees.  When the tree fell, the bodies were cut up into proper lengths for rails when fit for that purpose.  The limbs were trimmed and, with the balance of the tree, cut into suitable lengths for fire wood.  The ringing sound of the axes, the falling and crashing of the trees and the voices and shots of the men always made a scene of animation and excitement.

“Once when I was a small boy, my grandfather tried to clear a piece of land along the longer branch that ran southward through the hollow east of his house and had a “chopping” for the purpose.  I was too small to take part in this work but I remember how, when I was not required to be helping the women at home, I enjoyed the exciting work going on—the greater chips flying as axes forced them out, the flailing and crashing of the trees and the warning shouts of the men to the others to get out of danger when some especially large tree was almost to fall.

“During the day, the body of a large tree fell across and over a deep hole in the branch.  One of the men had to cut this tree in two immediately over this hole.  Just as he gave the last stroke, which severed the tree, the “cut” suddenly and unexpectedly turned and threw him, and his axe into the water amid the shouts and laughter of the other men where he was not only thoroughly wet but somewhat strangled before he could get out.

“When, from those public “choppings”, the individual work of the men of the family, or the falling of a dead tree in the fields, logs unfit for rails, fire wood, or any other useful purpose, had accumulated beyond the ability of the family force to manage, the neighbors, on request, again met to help pile these useless logs hat they might be burned.  These occasions were called “log rollings” though in fact many of these logs were carried to the desired place instead of being rolled.

“In lifting and carrying the heavy logs, friendly contests of strength were often had between the men at the opposite ends of the hand spikes on which the log was carried.  It was considered something of a triumph for the man on one end of the hand spike to cause his neighbor at the other end to give way or complain of the burden.  Indeed, at all these meetings of the men to help their neighbors with their work—at the “choppings”, “log rollings” and the corn shucking—various devices, such as the context above mentioned, were adopted to temper the hard work with amusement and pleasure.

“Occasionally, it would be arranged to have a quilting during the day, or singing at night, at the same place and time of a “chopping”, “log rolling” or corn shucking so that the women folk could join with the men, not only in aiding the family work, but in the social pleasure of the occasion.

“As the country was cleared up, and the farmers got as much cleared land as they cared to cultivate, these public “choppings” and “log rollings” fell into disuse.  The men of the family were usually able themselves to make such additions to the cleared land as were needed from time to time.  But the corn shuckings were kept up.  Indeed, the more cleared land cultivated, the more corn there was to be shucked.

“These corn shuckings, however, were hardly considered work.  They were really regarded more as fun and recreation. They usually occurred one night and were generally so arranged so that no two in the neighborhood conflicted.  At them, there was always a shucking race or contest to add interest and fun to the occasion.

“Upon assembling, the corn pile was divided as nearly equally as possible.  Captains were chosen who “threw up” or cast lots, for choice of “ends” of the piles, and then alternately selected the persons present as their partisans and helpers in the shucking contest.  These contests wee nearly always exciting and as the pile diminished in size the interest and desire to win increased.  The captains and their respective adherents shouted and encouraged each other to such with increasing energy.

“If the pile and the shuckers had been equally divided, the contests were close and it was sometimes difficult to determine which side was the winner.  Now and then in a very exciting race, there would be a little cheating by hiding some of the unshucked corn or by shoving a little under the dividing rail to the other side or by not shucking the corn very clean.  But, as a rule, the contests were fairly and openly conducted.

“The successful side when they had fairly won, always raised an exultant yell and sometimes the men would take the captain on their shoulders and carry him with shouts of triumph around the defeated party.  It is a wonder that ill feelings and fights did not occur on these occasions but I do not recall anything of the kind.  My recollection is that these affairs were always conducted in the best of humor.”

April 27, 1900

“It may be that the singings are still kept up and, like at corn shuckings, may be so familiar as not to be of much interest to the present readers.  They certainly constitute one of the most important and pleasant customs of the neighborhood and were among its best entertainment a half century ago.  As they helped to make up the history of the neighborhood, a short statement will be made about them.

“The young people and some of the old ones too, would meet at a neighbor’s house usually on a winter night, and practice singing.  They brought with them their song books, of which nearly every family had one—and sometimes several members of thee family each had copies.  Although they might be of different kinds, there were usually songs enough common to all the books to enable them to be used.

“In these books, each note with its name was known by its shape or color (blue or white) and not merely by its place on the staff.  They were sometimes called “shaped” notes to distinguish them from “round” notes which afterwards came into use.

“When the company had assembled, the leader divided them up and arranged them across the room according to the qualities of their respective voices.  Those who sing bass, tenor, treble and second treble or alto (I am not up on musical terms), respectively, were required to get together in sections in different parts of the room.  The leader then took his stand in the center in front of the fireplace and conducted the singers through the mazes of the tunes.

“Sometimes he had what he called a tuning fork, which was struck on some hard substance and then held to his ear to get the “pitch” or sound for the tune about to be sung.  The first man I remember seeing use one of these tuning forks was Mr. Kestler at one of the many singings that used to be held at Mr. Harkey’s house.

“When everyone was ready and the singers waiting in expectation, the command was given “take the sound”.  The leader would then with his arm or inclination of his body indicate in succession to each section of singers around the room when to take up the sound.  Then would come the command “all together, sing”.  And then would break forth a volume of sound which, in tunes that permitted it, seemed almost to lift the roof from the house. The leader, in the meantime, stood and beat the time with his arms for the guidance of the singers.

“Whenever the leader understood his business and had the gift of controlling the crowd and inducing the singers to their best, these were exceedingly pleasant as well as useful occasions.

. . .

“Among the incidents that used to excite interest in the old neighborhood was the passage of drovers and their droves along the Salisbury Road on their way to eastern and southern markets.  There were sometimes droves of horses and cattle but most of them were great droves of hogs from Tennessee.

“The coming of the hogs would be told a mile or two ahead by the peculiar calls and yells of the drovers, the cracking of the whips and the squealing of the hogs.  The people within hearing would generally go to the side of the road to see the droves pass by and examine, criticize and discuss the animals.  Usually with a drove of hogs would be one or two men on horseback and a number of men on foot, armed with whips having long lashes and short sticks or handles whose business it was to keep the hogs in line and not wander too far from the road.

“The passing of these droves was a source of profit to the people immediately along the road for a good deal of food was required for the men and a great deal for the animals.  A sort of local market was thus made for the surplus products of the little farms along the way.  The coming of the railroad, however, has long since done away with the droves and the local profit.

. . .

May 1, 1900

“Another of the old customs which prevailed in the neighborhood was “wagoning”.  At certain seasons of the year, when the men and boys could be spared from the work at home, many of the residents took their teams and wagons and hauled their surplus goods to distant markets and brought back merchandise for the Statesville merchants.  Indeed, this latter was the principal object of the trips.  A little extra money could thus be realized to supplement the small profits of the farm.  The incidents of these trips, as reported by the wagoners and their assistants, gave subjects for discussion among the people in the neighborhood for months afterwards.

. . .

“When one man did not have enough horses to make up a team for himself, he would unite with another neighbor and the two would take a joint interest in the enterprise.  It was on these wagoning trips that such men as Thomas Kimball, heretofore mentioned, were in demand in managing the teams and hauling heavy loads. McHenry’s Hill, on the “Georgia” Road, just south of the Third Creek Bridge, was looked upon by the wagoners of this old neighborhood as a most serious obstacle on their way to southern markets.  It was the longest and highest hill on the way to climb with a heavy load.  To get up it with a heavy load called for all the skill of the driver and strength of the horses.  Often when wagons were started on the trip, extra men would go that far bringing extra horses.

. . .

“In this day, before the railroad and the numerous stores in town and country, the neighborhood was often visited by tin peddlers and chicken buyers with their wagons and foot peddlers carrying their packs of linen table cloths, towels and such things.  It was always an event in the family when the tin peddler with his glib tongue, big box wagon and shining contents came around.  The women of the family then laid in their coffee pots, tin cups and pans and japanned ware and such things needed in the family and gave in return beeswax, feathers, eggs and other such produce of the farm as the peddler could be induced to take and gave him as little money as possible.

“The coming of the chicken buyer and foot peddler, though not so showy and important as the tin peddler, was, nevertheless, an interesting occasion which broke the monotony of the simple country life. These customs have been almost entirely discontinued under the changed conditions of modern life.

. . .

“The people of this neighborhood were so intimate with each other that the personal peculiarities of every individual were well known.  Some of the families were known for their abundant and somewhat lavish hospitality during the choppings, log rollings or other occasions heretofore mentioned.  Others, again, were regarded as the contrary.  Some of the good women of the neighborhood were celebrated for their excellence in certain types of domestic work.  Ruth Chambers, Jr., was noted for her industry, her excellent corn-pone she could make and the beautiful “counterpins” (counterpanes) she could weave.  Mrs. Harkey was noted for her fine pumpkin and potato custards and other toothsome products of her “Dutch Oven”.  This oven was the first of its kind I ever saw, and probably the first one of the kind ever built in the neighborhood. The Dutch residents were probably more inclined to liberality in their table supplied than the more economical Scotch-Irish.  However, all were hospitable and delighted to share their good things with their neighbors or passing strangers.”

May 4, 1900

“In the scarcity of entertaining books, periodicals and newspapers, now so cheap and abundant, the families in the old neighborhood amused themselves by asking and answering conundrums, telling anecdotes and repeating ghost stories as above.

“I used often to hear my grandfather and the old men of the neighborhood talk about the “shooting matches” for the display of skill in marksmanship, for prizes that had once been customary among the people.  While they were not then so frequent and important as in former times to be considered as one of the customs of the time I am writing about.  I can remember that my grandfather, who had been no poor shot himself, used still to go on occasion to one of these affairs; and I have a vague recollection of one of them being either in his own place or at the north end of the field, not far from the site of the neighborhood schoolhouse.  I recall no other in the immediate vicinity.

. . .

“While the old fashioned “shooting matches” had not been entirely abandoned, yet they were becoming so infrequent and so few were held in the neighborhood after I can remember that I never became familiar with their use and practice.  But I think the usual prize for the winner was the first choice of a quarter-beef, veal or mutton, the price of which had been ‘made up’ or contributed to by the contestants.  Indeed, as few families of that day could themselves use or preserve an entire beef, it is probably that the shooting match was used as a means of disposing of it.”

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