Published Wednesday August 25, 1897 in The Observer, Fayetteville, NC
E. J. Hale Editor and Proprietor - E. J. Hale, Jr., Business Manager
Mr. Deming [Gurden S.] Writes of the Past
Shared by Christine Meinert Spencer Posted September 12, 2008 by Myrtle Bridges
The first great event of my life happened in the year 1822, when I was ushered into this troublesome world. Of
course I went through many trials before I became aware of this world's ups and downs, and I have no few of them
- the downs much in the majority. However, it is not my purpose to trouble your readers in regard to myself.
The second great event that strikes me most forcibly, was Gen LaFayette's visit to our town in 1825. I can't
say that I saw him; I might possibly have done so. Yet, I very well recollect that it was rather a "soft day,"
drizzling rainy one, when he arrived. In those days we had a light artillery, heavy artillery, and horse company.
I recollect seeing the horse company going to the Old Arsenal, to form for the escort. It was the usual place of
meeting for the companies.
As a matter of course, there was a grand dinner and ball on the occasion, and Gen. LaFayette, after reviewing
the tables, asked who cooked the dinner. He was told "French Mary." He exclaimed, none but a French cook could
get up such a dinner. And who was "French Mary?" How few are now living to tell! She was of Moorish descent;
was captured and carried to France; from France to some of the West Indies-Hayti or St. Domingo - from there to
Charleston, SC, and finally reached Fayetteville, where she spent the remainder of her life. She was widely
known as a great cook, and sought after to cook for weddings, etc. She lived with my father, at one time. I
became a great pet of hers, and many "goodies" did she have for me. She was a small woman, quite dark in color,
with straight hair, and always wore a head-handkerchief, in turban style. She had three children; Mathew Leary,
Sr.'s wife (Julia) mother of Matthew, Jr., John S. Leary and Sheridan, (who was killed in the "John Brown" raid
at Harper's Ferry). I believe there were three daughters of the Leary family, "French Mary" was the mother of
three children-Leary's wife (Julia, John Ochiltree, and Louis Levy, who is yet living, some few miles out of town.
If she had other children, I don't recollect it. Her language was a mixture of French and English.
The next grand event was the establishing of a Military School by Col. Ransom and Samuel Welch, both Connecticut
men, and graduates of West Point. The Academy was a two story building, and basement underneath. It stood on the
lot where Mrs. Jesse Kyle now lives, next to the Episcopal Church; was burned in the fire of 1831, when half the
town was destroyed. At that time the school was in a flourishing condition, something over a hundred scholars, I
believe, myself being one of them, but rather of the small order; in fact, generally brought up the tail end of
the line at roll-call. I know of but one now living (Robert Belden, of Harnett,) who was a member of the school
at the time it was destroyed by the Kyle fire of May 29, 1831.
Mr. James Kyle** then did business on the northwest corner of market square where the dispensary is now kept. He
had just completed a building on the corner, where Cook's Drug Store is. My father's store was where the firemen's
headquarters are now. Now, for the fire which occurred on Sunday May 29, 1831. There was a kitchen of one story,
wood, just behind the stores, which was hemmed in by other wooden buildings. The weather had been very dry and warm;
the cook, to hurry up his dinner, stepped to the shaving pile and got some blocks and shavings, which he put on the
fire, the shavings being light, were drawn up the chimney and lodged on the roof; everything being very dry, in a
few minutes the roof was afire, and being hemmed in, was not discovered until it had caught other buildings and soon
spread so rapidly it could not be subdued until it burned a greater portion of the town, it burned up Hay Street,
both sides, as far as the old wagon yard or where Goddard's hotel now stands, below the market house on Person street
to the McIntyre building recently town down by Clarence Sedberry, down Cool Spring Alley, to the house no occupied by
Mrs. A. T. Smith, thence up Bow street sweeping out everything down to the house now occupied by Frank Beasley, the
Hooper house. The mill known as the Hooper Mill, was not destroyed until the Sherman raid. It had been converted into
a factory for making yarns and cloth, but I see I am getting along too fast, and must take a step back.
The fire extended up Green street to the house where Mr. Emmett Kyle was burned out some years ago, both sides of
the street, up Bow street and Maiden Lane to the house next to the C. F. & Y. V. R. R.* property, down Dick street
to the house of Chas. Haigh, Esq., thence down Gillespie street to the State Bank which was burned during Sherman's
raid. The entire centre of the town was burned out between the points given. The entire business portion, excepting
the portions above the C. F. & Y. V. R. R. At that time there were several substantial merchants doing business from
the foot of the hill down to the brick building next to the Walton house.
As a matter of course, many people were homeless. My father owned the place where I was born, in Campbellton,
whither we went until we could do better. There was a great scattering of the people. In those days many of
our people had places in the country, where they usually went through the summer. Many had to live in tents,
until they could do better, every available place was occupied, goods of all kinds, were scattered everywhere.
Sugar came altogether in hogsheads in those days, and could not be moved. For several days after the fire, you
might see parties with large lumps on their heads for home use, and much was carried off by the plunderers, until
a guard could be formed to protect property. I have heard my father say, as he was one of the "committee"
to watch for goods carried off, that they found, concealed by people who were considered respectable, bolts of
broadcloth, whole pieces of silk, and in fact, goods of all descriptions, many perhaps, taking the goods rather
than see them burn. It was not uncommon at that time for merchants to have large quantities of salt on hand, the
fire could not burn salt, but burned the warehouses, and left the salt in huge piles, you might see the people from
the country looking for the salt piles, helping themselves to all they wanted. Some of the "salt piles" were
to be seen for a year or two. At that time all the goods for the upper country, and even into Tennessee and Virginia,
came up the river, and it was not uncommon to see wagons from those states, bringing their products and carrying back,
goods shipped here for the back country, and bordering counties of Virginia and Tennessee. In the spring and fall the
streets were filled with wagons for all quarters; we had no railroads, all goods came through Wilmington and up the
river by pole boats and the steamer Henrietta, which made her first trip in 1824; she was built by Jas. Sewell.
[to be continued]
*The Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad Company (CF & YVRR) opened in Fayetteville in 1879 as a reorganization
of the former Western Railroad, which connected Fayetteville with the Egypt coal mines to the northwest. The depot
opened in Fayetteville in 1890, the same year the railroad was connected with Wilmington. The result was a northwest
to southeast railroad connecting Mt. Airy, Greensboro, and Wilmington, with connections into South Carolina. The
depot was one of the many buildings owned by the CF & YVRR. Others included repair shops, foundries and freight
houses. The depot is Romanesque Revival in style, incorporating large brick arches and arcades to accommodate
passengers and freight handling. The brick in the building was manufactured by E. A. Poe, a prominent local
manufacturer. Other notable features include an onion-shaped lightning rod and steep hip roof.
**The 1850 Census of Cumberland County, Fayetteville shows James Kyle 55, merchant, b. Ireland; Jane Kyle 50, b. Va.;
Margaret Kyle 19, b. NC; Ann Kyle 15, b. NC. The 1870 Census shows James Kyle, Sr, 77, merchant, b. Ireland in the household
of Jessie K. Kyle 35, retail merchant, b. NY, Ann K. Kyle 37, b. NC; James Jr. 10, b. NC; Jane B, 8, b. Virginia; Ann S. 1, b. NC
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