Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Oral Histories from Walker E. Rowe, Sr.

Carolina Industrial School, Shelter Neck, NC; Children, parents and staff pose in front of the school; Photograph taken 25 April 1912; Courtesy of North Carolina State Archives

Carolina Industrial School

There was a boarder school. Carolina industrial school they called it. It was on a farm out in the country and it was self supporting. They had a big farm and there was a man in charge of it. Every boy and every girl that went there had a job. They paid 60 dollars for 6 months school and that got you your laundry, your 3 meals a day, your books, pencils and everything. That’s where the ten dollars per month went. They started school at 8:00 sharp and they had to exercise in the yard rain or shine, sleet or snow and pledge allegiance to the flag. They don’t do that anymore. And then at 1:00 o’clock school closed when we went to the dormitory and ate. Then everybody went to do their work. The girls they’d pick beans and peas and vegetables. My job was to cut wood . See, my daddy was a sawmill man. Granddaddy gave them a piece of timberland to cut this wood out of. They said you cut it up in the right lengths and bring it up and put it in the yard and these other boys will split it and stack it. I would get on one end of a crosscut saw [with another boy]. We had enough wood to last and more.

And the girls, you would see them with these crocus bags tied on. They would pick peas, hang them up, and they would never shell them. They would beat that bag and the peas would fall out. The butter beans and everything. They would beat them and then they would give the other stuff to the cattle. They would put a tub down and shake it and the shaff would blow away. And then they would take them to the house. They had their own hogs, their own chickens, their own cows. Some of the boys had to milk the cows and some had to feed the horses and animals. Everybody had a job. Some had to gather the eggs and feed the chickens.

They shut the school down then they moved it here to Swansboro. When school closed up they hired me to take my daddy’s truck and stay there. I stayed there one month getting rid of everything and loading up the furniture and stuff and hauling it down here and I moved the library down here they had the best library and it is still up there. Everybody says that Swansboro town hall high school has got the best library in the country. Say these books come from Boston. I hauled it up there with my daddy’s truck and trailer that I hauled lumber on in the summer time. I finished the building. In 1927 I wired the building. There we’re no electricity in Swansboro. There weren’t a bathroom in Swansboro. I put in a bathroom and people said, “That boy’s crazy. Where you gonna get water.” I put down a well and I went to Newbern and bought a generator and I took the old water pump. Brought it down here and old man Tim Wooderhaul made me a wooden pulley. Put on that shaft and put a keyway in there. I put an idler over there and a generator that I bought and I bought a switchboard and all and I built that light plant and they said that thing ain’t gonna work. And it worked, the dormitories, the school house, it ran two picture machines. That homemade lightplant. I was 19 years old when I built that electric generator and I wired that building. That’s when I met Thelma (his wife). August 3, 1930 we got married. I met her December 1927. I married Thelma when she was 18. These boys around here and I operated the machines. It was silent movies you know. We had an orchestra pit and an orchestra down there. We had a pool house. 10 cents for a ticket. Now its $10. And the little boys I knew didn’t have nothing. They would come by there and I would reach down and pull ‘em up through the window. “Now when the picture gets dark you slip down them stairs and sit down.” Roy Stanley are the only ones that are living that I used to pull through there. The rest are dead.

Walker's Job After Marriage

I started not to marry here cause I come down here on the weekend from Hopewell, Virginia to see her [Thelma, his girlfriend]. And I been wanting to marry her. But I didn’t have a job and I couldn’t ask a gal to marry me unless I could take care of here. And I went to work in Charleston, WV for Dupont. I had to work 7 days a week I was a rigger in construction. Riggers put up all the heavy machinery and heavy work . We put up all the steel work. When I finished job they transferred me down to Hopewell. I learned it at the sawmill. My old man had a saw mill. I would splice ropes and weave cable. I figured it out.

I saw an ad in West Virginia said Dupont needs a rigger, so I went down to the gate got in my car and drove down there. Bought me a brand new pair of kakis coveralls. “Come here I want to see you." He come up there and looked me over. I said “You hiring riggers. He said how old are you boy. I was 20 and I said I am 21 years old and I’ll be 22 next birthday.” He said, “Come on in. And I am the only rigger they transferred. When that job was over I was the only one they sent to Hopewell (in Virginia). And the 1st weekend I had off I come and got Thelma. Riding down the road and I asked her to marry me and she said “I would have married you long ago if you asked me”. She didn’t give me any inkling. Made me madder than fire. Now that was something. So I didn’t even turn around. Went right on down to North Carolina and got married and went back got my bag and I went to work.

That’s the only thing I can say about my daddy he taught his youngins how to work and how to do it. Everybody thought he was hard on us. He was the hardest working man you ever seen. Never been a man work any harder than him. When he hollered at you to get out of the bed your feet better hit the floor right then.

We were living in Hopewell. They didn’t have any apartments. We were building this plant in Hopewell and I took her to a boarding house and she wouldn’t stay there. So we moved across the street with the preacher and his wife. She wouldn’t stay there. She said, “I am going home”. And I said if you going home I’m going with you and I quit my job. Working for Dupont during the Depression. And I couldn’t get a job anywhere else. I came home and got a job on the old Lehigh [dredge boat]. I had been working on dredges a long time and then I went to Charleston and worked on the Clinton. We moved down there and Buddy [their son] was a baby. And then when I left there I went on the Scrogg up in Ocean City, Maryland. We build the canals from the inland waterway out by the end of the boardwalk and built the inlet to Ocean City, Maryland.

I went to the work on the old Lehigh. One day old Captains Nelson the whistle blew for the dumpy when it had signals you know. He says the lever had cut this brand new cable and you got a man out there who can splice this cable. And he came out there and said, “Anyone can splice a cable.” And I said, “Yeh, I can do it.” “See this brand new 1 inch cable. I want a one inch splice put in it.” The marlin spike and the vice and the hammers and all were right down in that hole. Go down there and fix it and that’s all about the end of it. So I went down there and I spliced it and Nelson came back to see what it looked like. I didn’t work on the dump another day. I was the deck foreman. Didn’t get a raise but I got a promotion I got out of that mud. I was tickled to death. See the old man he taught me how to splice a cable and it’s easy to do if you know how you. Just take a burning touch. If it’s a steel core cut the center out of it. If it’s a rope core you open it up with a marlinspike, cut it out and stick your marlinspike in there, roll it round and around and it pushes the core out and pushes the first strand right back into the middle. So you got a center core whether its rope or steel. And I put him a 20 foot splice in that thing and he was tickled to death the old captain. When that job was up. AG&T hired me for mate to go down to Charleston on the old Clint. I never worked as a laborer long in all my life. I always got a promotion. Now if you don’t got that college degree they don’t even talk to you.

T-Model Ford

I was nothing but a kid but I had the fanciest convertible, they didn’t call them "convertibles". They called them “roadsters”. I went to Holland Motor Company and I told him I says Mr. Holland I want to buy a one seated roadster, the cheapest one you can get. I don’t want no extras on it whatsoever. I don’t even want no bumpers. I want to get just as cheap as I can and he says “OK”.

[To earn the money he worked at his father's lumber mill.] I had to load the truck and trailer and drive 25 miles and unload it every board by myself and get another one. For a dollar. I had to load it and unload it for a dollar and I had to buy my dinner out of that. [25 cents] So I had a $1,75 per days and I got $400 and I went and bought that Ford for $400. And I went to Mr. Holland and I said I want my Ford and he said I cannot sell you no car you got to get your daddy to come out herre. And I pulled out my money and I said I want this ford and he give it to me right quick.

I went to the junkyard and someone had bought them a Nash automobile and had broke it right half in two. I talked to the junk card man I said. "Why don't you sell me the bumpers off that old nash out there?" He looked at me. He said, "You want those things? I'll give them to you. Go get them." And I was tickled to death. It was different. Ford just had a flat thing up there, two bars you know. These here were nice pretty rounded ones had chromium caps on the end. On the back of it he had a spare tire on the back. I got that rack off of and there were two bumpers on the back one come out back here and turned around and went back that way. And I took that old Ford and I made them fit. I drilled hokes and half pieces and all and I put them on there, put that spare tire on there. And I ordered me some side shields from Sears and Roebuck. You just clamped them up there posts you know on the side of the windshield 1927 model ford. The first straight hood Ford T-model that they made. Right after that they made the A model. I had a fancy convertible. I had a spare tire on the back with a cover that said "Thelma" and I had a shooting star.

The Swansboro Hurricane of 1934

I built the Jean in Burgaw in 1934. Left there and went to Wrightsville beach and built the first yacht basin down there. The first boat I ever built I had no tools. I had a hatchet and a plane and a hand saw. If I wanted to bore a hole to I had to borrow a brace and bit. And he [the owner] wanted me to bring it right back. The Jean was 45 feet long and 8 feet wide. It was nine feet high. What happened I got caught in the September storm offshore with a blind man, his wife, and his daughter, and a secretary. There were 3 of us on the boat. Offshore catching trout to beat the dickens. I was back there in the back baiting the hooks and taking the fish off for the women. Neiman Council, the deckhand, says, “I don’t like the looks of that cloud.” Said we better get going. And we headed for home. I said pull in your line, were leaving here now. When I got to the inlet [at Swansboro] I couldn’t even find the inlet the seas was so rough. So we had to go to Moorhead City to come in where the jetty was. And we got down there and the tide was so high I couldn’t see the jetties. And I was out there and there was a coast guard truck running round with a horn hollering and I couldn’t understand him for nothing. Because I was half a mile offshore. How could you hear anybody?

Directly they had a coast guard boat there it headed out and then I saw where the inlet was. The first sea hit him it broke the glass out of the pilot house, cut up the pilot. They turned around and went back. And they had to take him to the hospital. I laid out there and I counted the seas and there would be a tremendous big one and then third one was the smallest one and they was running in sequence like that. I let the big one pass me, let the 2nd one pass me, and I took right out after that little one. Went in. Didn’t even spray come on the deck. Those girls were crazy said, “Woo! This was just like a roller coaster ride.” Up and down this thing you know zoom down 90 miles an hour couldn’t hardly make it over the top of the next one and you would get up on the top and it was fall. The seas was big and sharp it was terrible out there. One of the girls said, “I’m getting seasick.” Neiman Counsel said, “I know what I do when I get sea sick I pull my shirt off. “ Lord if she didn’t strip right down to her waist. Running around there and that old Neiman he about to go crazy. But I stood up there holding onto the steering wheel and there water was sloshing in my shoes. And I promised the lord if he would let me get home safe with that boat I would never use it again and I didn’t. I sold it . Told Thelma to sell it the first offer she got 600 hundred dollars and she did sell it. That was the end of my party fishing. I tied up right down there and got me a job on the dredge and went to Charleston.

Sambo Robinson

Sambo Robinson a colored fellow worked for my daddy for a while and he quit. Worked in the saw mill because he wanted some money to go to new york. He’d been talking to some of these colored folks who had been up there. He made a little bit of money but he couldn’t get enough so he stole a plow from Mr. Harolds hardware store in Burgaw and sold it, an oliver plow, for $11. Took the money went right down to the depot and bought him a ticket to Baltimore. That’s what it cost to go to Baltimore then: $11. Well to make a long story short when he got to Baltimore and got off the train the detective was waiting for him. The detective gets up on the platform and he hollers ‘heh Sambo Robinson’. And Sambo said, "Who ‘dat in this big city knows me?"

Thelma Cannady Rowe

I was born in Swansboro on July 10th, 1912. I never worked. I married at 18. We were married in 1920. When we got married my husband had a job in Virginia. And then after we got married, Walker, my husband’s family lived on a farm. So we never really felt the Depression. We were living with Walker’s mother and Walker was building a boat. And somebody was coming in all the time needing food.

Walker built a boat and finished it and brought it on the waterway to Swansboro. His father was a saw mill man and he kept right on working. So they didn’t have a hard time. The farm took care of all the food. We had a cousin who lived there and helped with the farm. The house was full of all kinds of people—people who didn’t have anywhere to go, didn’t have anything to eat.

The way we felt it it [the Depression] was my husband couldn’t get a job. It [the farm] was in Burgaw. We were back and forth here [At Aunt Daisy’s in Swanboro and the farm. Aunt Daisy raised Thelma after her mother was killed in a kitchen fire.]. We first went to Virginia when we were first married. We stayed up there not long, about 6 months. He was working for DuPont. We came back home and the Depression was so bad and my husband could not find a job. He would walk for days and days looking for something. He had no money. He would walk by a farm and pull up two or three turnips and wash them off and pull them up and that’s what he did. He was away from home and had no money. He daily went out and looked for a job. He would do anything he would get a dollar for, I don’t care how hard the work was. The next job he got out in the country. A man, his wife, and six children were living in the country in one room. The man said, "Walker I don’t have but $100." Could you build a six room house for $100?" And Walker built it. He started it at Thanksgiving and he had it finished by Christmas. So the man gave him $100, a 25 pound turkey, and lots of collards.

He went to Wilmington and sat there day after day until they gave him a job. When he got a job I moved down there. We stayed there until that job was finished and then he went. His father was a saw mill man. And we went up to Burgaw and he started building a boat. And we stayed there until he finished the boat and we brought it back around here to Swansboro and finished it up. He rans charters for it one summer. And a man in Morehead bouht that boat for a headboat. When we came back [moved to Swanboro from Georgretown] 10 years ago they were still using that boat—it was about 60 years old.

Finally after he had finished the boat and sold it he got a job on a dredge boat in Ocean City, Maryland. I have a picture of it. And the baby [Jean] was a year old. So we went up there and stayed until that job was finished. And he started building boats here. And a man from Georgetown, South Carolina came up to Morehead City and Walker built a boat for him. And when he finished it he said, "Walker how would you like to go to Georgetown [South Carolina] and work for International Paper Company and build a marineway there and take care of all their barges and tugboats?" So he liked the idea and he went there and lived until 1975 and then we come back here and he retired.

[At the time they were married] We didn’t have any water, we didn’t even have electricity in Swansboro. So Walker brought back this big tank and put on the side of the house to catch rain water. Walker built Uncle Guy a fish house right down there on the water and we could catch all the fish that we wanted. Uncle Guy and Aunt Daisy blamed President Hoover for the Depression. He was a Republican but everybody in Swansboro was a Democrat. They thought they were going to get rich when Roosevelt came into office. He promised everything, all these programs. I wonder what he would think about the giveaway programs today.

The Depression was some of the best years of our married life because we were closer together we didn’t have distractions and other things. We had plenty to eat. I really didn’t feel it [the Depression] like so many did because my uncle had that government job [he worked on a dredge for the corp of engineers.]. You won’t believe the people they fed. I had an uncle in town who had no job and no way to make any money so she [Aunt Daisy] set up an account for them at the bakery store and told him to go there and get so many groceries per week. There were other people in the family who needed help and Guy helped them. It was just like after the Civil War. Everything was taken from the South. Even the factories. They freed the nxxxxrs but they didn’t stay there to take care of them. The people that lived there had to take care of them. It was just like the Depression. This town was small and there was somebody to take care of them, neighbors, and friends. We didn’t feel the Depression like other people did. So it wasn’t a big deal for us. Most of the men who lived here were fishermen. There was always something in the water to eat. The big boats would come here and get the fish. I think they got 10,000 pounds at a time. A lot of it went up North. My husband’s father had lots of money. He was a wealthy man. And he had all his money in the bank in Warsaw. And the bank went broke and he lost everything. I think it was the beginning of the Depression. They tried to take him to court and he pretended to be sick they never could get him into court. He was a saw mill man. He had a big hotel in Wilmington.

Slaves and the Walker Family

Even after I was married there were two of them [former slaves] living there [Walker is talking about his maternal grandfather's house.]. There were women still living and working in the old house. When the war was over they said, “No we aren’t going anywhere. We been treated too good here.” In fact they saved the cattle and the horses from the Yankees.

John Rowe, my granddaddy, didn’t believe in slavery. Didn’t own a slave. During the Civil War he and his two brothers went off and joined the army. Volunteered, wasn’t drafted. Old daddy told him if two of you get killed I want the other to surrender because I am getting too old to have any more kids. So my grandaddy’s two brother’s got killed and he surrendered and they took him to New York. But before he surrendered he was in this famous battle in Petersburg, Virginia and he was a reconnaissance sergeant and he had a little crew and his job was to crawl out in the woods and locate the enemy.

Well he realized he had gone too far and was right in the middle of it. So they laid right quiet till dark and then they took their little shovels and dug a little ditch. Perfectly square. They were in there and granddaddy said, “Now boys we don’t have much powder. I don’t want everybody shooting. I want half to load. The sharpshooters take the shot and don’t miss.” While they was shooting this gun they would be loading another. And they held them off for three or four days until the army come there and saved them. Well they didn’t have any food. Old Foster, an old nxxxxr man, he come straggling in there one afternoon and granddaddy spoke to them. “I come to bring you some food and water. I knew you was down here and in trouble.” Well granddaddy said, “Well listen we’re fighting to keep you a slave and here you are coming here to help up against the Yankees.” And he said, “These damned Yankees raped my sweetheart. And I am mad with them.” And when granddaddy got out of the pen granddaddy brought him home, built him a home, and took care of him the rest of his life. He lived to be 115 years old. Everybody called him "Uncle Foster". He tended Aunt Minnie’s garden. That was his job. He had to walk from his house 2 ½ miles and eat breakfast, work in the garden, eat dinner, work in the garden until supper, eat supper, and walk home. And he did that until he got old and feeble. And granddaddy still feeding him but wouldn’t let him work anymore. Poor fellow froze to death one night. He went out in his night clothes and leant up on the chimney where it was warm. He couldn’t get back in and he froze to death.

Finley Walker, my granddaddy, my mother’s father. The Walker’s believed in slavery, they had them. Finley was in charge of Fort Castleton during the war. Livingston Lee was the first baby that was born [to his wife]. When she got up out of the bed she took him by stagecoach down to Wilmington and Fort Castleton to see her husband and show him the newborn baby. And the minute he got there the Yankees started shelling the fort and he had to put her in a rowboat with a bunch of nxxxxr slaves and they rowed her back up to Wilmington so she could catch the stagecoach and he didn’t see her until after the war. That was a long time. They would get mail once a week or something like that.

When the war was over the scallywags, carpetbaggers was coming though. She had to take all the livestock back in the swamp and this old colored man stayed down there with them and not one slave left. Every one of them slaves stayed there until they died after the war was over. Didn’t one of them leave. Two of them I remember well. I was 11 years old before they died.

My daddy bought a Buick automobile. He couldn’t wait to show his in-laws his new car. And he got there right at dusk and it was cotton-picking time. And here come the nxxxrs with the cotton singing and walking up with the cotton bags. And they never seen a car. Some went to praying. Some run in the woods. And two of them ran in the kitchen and said, “Miss, the devil is a coming.” Imagine if you had never seen or heard a car. The horses ran away.

[During the Civil War] The Yankees would come by and [the slaves] would have to cook meals for them and everything else. The colored woman would come run saying, “The Yankees are coming.” Her hair all messed up and stuff all other her mouth and everything you know. She was a young woman. So she would scratch like she was itching and all trying to make them think the food wasn’t fit to eat but they would gobble it down. They were about starved to death.

She said the first thing they would do when they would come is search the house looking for guns. She had one. Every time they would come they would run and hide it in the toilet, put it down under the seat. When they would leave they would go and bring it back to the house. They would have never looked in there [or] thought to look in there. And all of her good silver she put it in the well and let it stay there until after the war was over. They would steal. They would take your horses, your chickens, your cattle,everything. They would take them down in the woods and keep them and they would come by and couldn’t find them. They would take your wagon your horse your mule and anything for transportation see. They put all that valuable silver in the well and when the war was over they bailed it out and got all their silver back.

If you didn’t have nothing but a cart they would take, that horse, and hook him to it. The hid the cattle and everything he couldn’t even have any chickens around the house.

First Airplane in Pender County

My daddy had the first airplane in Pender County. And he kept it out to the old savannah out in Burgaw. I was born and reared in Burgaw. He had this airplane around 1910 or 11. I don’t know where he bought it but he bought it. And he got him a pilot. And on Sundays that brought it out flew it around. But I don’t know if my daddy got in it or not. But he would laugh at the man flying around. And my daddy built an old wooden hangar out there and put the airplane it in. And what happened? The savannah caught afire and burn up his plane. The title of that old airplane my mother kept it in the top dresser drawer and I read it many a time. It was put in her old trunk when she moved to Georgetown to stay with us. And then that trunk got shipped to Georgetown to Mary Ward’s and she put it under the house and the bottom rotted out. And that’s where everything in the trunk was destroyed by the termites. So I don’t know what become of the deed. The charred part of that plane set out on that meadow for years and years. Everytime I would go to my grandmother’s there it would be sitting there on the side of the road. The old motor and the frame all the rest of the cloth burnt off. The old man never messed with it, let it sit right there. Now Betty and Marry Anna they are living. They knew all about it. And Hugo [walker’s brother] is living. He knew all about it. Old Foster, the slave, too.

Rowe Geneology

Walker and Nathaniel, here is some info on your grandfathers from Agnes Rowe written in 1944. We can say that your grandfathers fought in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. In Richmond you can look up John William Rowe's war history. His two brother's were killed in the war and he surrendered. My father and I went to Moors Creek Battleground in North Carolina and looked up where James Rowe participated in that Revolutionary war battle. It is near Wilmington, North Carolina if you want to visit. Our ancestors came from England we can be fairly sure except no one has been able to make the connection from North Carolina back to England but Rowe is definitely an English name.

James Rowe

Christopher Rowe’s father (my grandfather) was James Rowe, who volunteered at the age of sixteen to fight in the War of the Revolution, and because of his being tall and well-developed was pleasantly referred to by his comrades as the “over-grown gosling”. Don’t know what battles he may have been engaged other than Moore’s Creek in our home County of Pender, N. Carolina. I remember that he played fife in the army.

James Rowe’s second wife, father’s [Christopher Howard Rowe] mother, was Annie Howard, of Onslow County, North Carolina, and a member of the Primitive Baptist Church. Born to them were three children: Polly, James, and Christopher, my father. They lived in Onslow County, N. Carolina, at or near Richlands, on the large plantation of “Kit” Dudley, a wealthy slaveholder, whose son, Edward was once Governor of N. Carolina. I am not sure, but think that grandfather, James Rowe, was probably an overseer of the slaves.

Christopher Howard Rowe

He was of the Universalist faith, and I think he would have affiliated with that church, if thee had been one near him. He made no pretensions to being pious, in the commonly accepted meaning of the term, but believed in “Golden Rule” religion.

He was a man of talent, but back in his time opportunities for literary development were few. I think I heard him say that he learned the multiplication tables by having them written on a piece of cardboard, with a string out through it, to hang over his plow-handle, ready to refer to when puzzled.

He had a few excellent books, and made them a study. He almost wore out a dictionary, and I believe he knew the meaning and application of more words that anyone I ever knew, not to be a scholar. He was poetically turned, though not a poet, and was humorously inclined. He could always draw a crowd. He was sympathetic, very fond of children, and we loved him dearly.

James Alexander Rowe

John W. Rowe was widely known as a civil engineer and surveyor, having for many years been busily employed in surveying plantations large and small for the settlement of many estates and the correcting of land titles about which he was long considered a leading authority.

Suffice is to state that on the outbreak of our Civil War in 1861, John Rowe promptly enlisted for services when North Carolina decided to cast its lot with the Secession Movement. He enlisted June 10. 1861 returning home June 26, 1865, after being engaged in the intervening years in numerous battles including the famous battle of Gettysburg as a member of Company K, Third N.C. infantry. He was likewise present when Stonewall Jackson met his tragic death. After one of the battles in which his regiment was engaged, John Rowe, together with some of his comrades was captured and sent to a military prison in New York State where they were detained for no less than eighteen months.

Though still quite a young man at the close of the war, John Rowe after returning home soon established himself in his community as a civil engineer and surveyor, being assisted in his studies of preparation by his only brother.

In the course of years, by steady plodding and persistent effort, the property he had inherited from his father gradually expanded and grew until he found himself in possession of a plantation containing between 3,000 and 4,000 acres of farm and timber land.

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