John D. Bridgers M.D.
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Chapter 8 - The Bridgers ancestors and my parents meet

And so, another flash-back to colonial days -- and a risk to historic precision in the interest of synopsis.

The same Puritan dissidence which brought colonists to North America fomented civil war in England -- hostilities between the Stuart monarchy of James I and the Puritans of Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell.

Those backing the throne were called "Cavaliers" and those supporting the Lord Protector were known as "Roundheads."

In those years when the Protectorate prevailed Tidewater Virginia became a haven for fleeing Cavaliers.

One such from Gloucester, England was Capt. Joseph Bridger who patented 300 acres of land along the lower James in the Isle of Wight County in 1664.

His grandson, William settled land along the Meherrin River in what would become Bathe (Bath) County , N.C.

In several years he bought more land.

He signed the first deed "William Bridger" and the second "William Bridgers," and the spelling of the surname continued so in the succeeding generation of our branch of the family.

Through the years the descendents of William Bridgers spread to southern counties in North Carolina.

Though interim records are sparse, it is felt that his grandson, Samuel Bridgers, received a royal land grand adjacent Ashpole Swamp (another map ) in Robeson County, then called by its citizens "The State of Robeson."

He was sheriff of Robeson County, in those days the chief executive and tax collector of the county, much as the shires of England from where the title was derived.

His son Samson Bridgers is listed in the first U.S. census in 1780.

This was my great, great grandfather.

My father, Samuel Leon Bridgers, was born in 1893, and was raised on a farm which was a remnant of the original land grant.


According to my father, James D. Bridgers was the son of Samson Bridgers and his grandfather -- its moot whether his middle name was Douglas or Drake.

He had several sons who served in the armed forces of the Confederacy, the youngest of whom was John, who at 15 years of age joined many of his young neighbors in manning Fort Fisher, the bastion guarding the blockaded port of Wilmington.

Fort Fisher allegedly was the largest earth-work redoubt ever constructed and was subjected to the heaviest and most grueling bombardment ever launched until then.

The story of the fort and its siege is well-told in the Blockade Runner Museum near Carolina Beach.

The fort fell to Federal forces and its surviving defenders were shipped into imprisonment in Elmyra, N.Y.

There my grandfather spent the rest of the Civil War, and after Lee's surrender was allowed to return home.

Again according to Sam Bridgers' recollections, before the hostilities James D. Bridgers owned some 3000 acres of land and 90 slaves.

When his son returned from the war he ceded him several hundred of his acres and there John Bridgers built his home.

Some of the slaves left but others stayed, took the name Bridgers and henceforth worked the farms as share-croppers.

My father once told me that many of them looked like a Bridgers as did he.

This land and its family home passed to my uncle, John Elbert Bridgers.

Elbert once showed me the adze marks in the siding to the house which his father had shaped himself.

The property stayed in the family until my uncle died in the 1970's.

Before his death he was summoned to Raleigh to be issued a certificate recognizing him as on the living North Carolinians still occupying lands in continual family possession since a royal grant in colonial times.


My father was on of fourteen children born to John Bridgers and the first two of his three wives.

His mother, Nancy Leggett, died in childbirth with my father's next younger brother when my father was several years old.

He was essentially raised by his father's second wife, Martha Collier, and it was she whom he called "Mother."

Twelve of the children were boys and they worked on the farm until they left home, all in some way working in the railroad industry.

When the railroads expanded through the country the mainline of the Atlantic Coast Railroad ran adjacent to the Bridgers' land.

A siding was built along this section of the tracks.

Such sidings, being shaped like an "L" were called "L-rods."

Thus it was that the small village which my father gave as his home address, that had grown up around this siding, and which was called Elrod, N.C.

John Bridgers, because he was a Justice of the Peace, was called "The Squire" by his neighbors.

He was responsible for minor legal functions including settling the frequent difficulties in the strictly segregated tripartite population of whites, blacks, and Croatan Indians.

The Croatans, found in Robeson by white settlers, were first thought to be the remnant of "The Lost Colony" of Roanoke Island, but there never was firm evidence for this unlikely premise.

They were an indefinite group from several tribes admixed with other blood, perhaps English, French and Portuguese.

My father, who always had a singular way of putting things, told me: "These Indians took a good education."

There is some indication that this was an insightful perception.

In the last half century many of the Indians have attended Pembroke College, an institution mainly for the Croatans and now a constituent campus of the University of North Carolina.


The names seen on mail boxes on a ride through this section of Robeson County today reveals that the Indians now own large parcels of the land thereabout.

Earlier in this century they adapted the name "Lumbee," after the Lumber River which runs through the area, and are now pursuing official recognition of their tribe as Native Americans with indifferent success.

Back to my father's boyhood, he said the "The Squire" married more blacks and Indians than any preacher in those parts.

John Bridgers also wore the mantle of Superintendent for his local school district.

Is as a simpler time -- his "system" was encompassed in a one-room school building and afforded six grades of study.

My fathers basic education was what he was able to get there.

He found this and inadequate foundation for study at E.C.T.T.S. and later for his work at Elon College.

After dropping out there he completed "business school" in Atlanta.

Among the skills he acquired there was a hallmark of such training and a talent I always coveted -- impeccably beautiful Spencerian penmanship.

My father also said that his father was a very progressing farmer for his day and generation.

Though he had a limited education he was an avid reader of periodicals, and particularly agricultural journals.

He began rotating crops before it was a common practice.

Cotton was king.

Though tobacco had been growing in America when the English arrived it would not become the money crop for the South until future developments.


John Bridgers -- purveyor of law and order, patron of education, innovative agronomist -- unfortunately had an Achilles heel.

He was a spree drinker.

When once he hit bottom he borrowed money from his wife, Martha Collier, to save his farm.

She helped him, but insisted that she have title to his lands.

She was not interested in owning the land, but wished its passage to her children and step-children.

Twelve of his fourteen children were boys who "worked" their way off the farm but actually left working for the leading industry of the day -- railroads.

My fathers first job was with the Railway Express, initially sorting items in the mail car of a train between stations, but soon in the Express Agency in Greenville.

So he became assistant to Mr. Henry Sheppard -- Brother Henry," in-law to the Whichards.

In the second decade of the twentieth century the Railway Express had a flourishing trade in North Carolina.

Just before World War I, moving before the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution closed open saloons and attempted to control the rampant use of alcohol across the country, the State of North Carolina enacted its own prohibition.

This closed down the legal sale of alcohol within the state.

Most certainly it served well the entrepreneurship of the moonshiner.

It did not prohibit the ordering of spirits from without the state.

A major avenue of shipping in these orders was the Railway Express.

According to my father this was the biggest block of the agency's business at that time, and accounted for a major share of its revenue.

So did Sam Bridgers enter a busy work place, but there was time for frequent visits to the agency by the Sheppards niece-in-law, named for his late wife, Essie Sheppard.

Her visits took on increasing frequency until they became daily a event for her to see the new assistant agent, Sam Bridgers.

It led to their keeping company elsewhere.

Essie's photographs of that era reveal a beautiful young brunette.

She led an active life.

In addition to writing for her father's newspaper her soprano voice was in demand for weddings and other affairs wanting local music.

She was soloist in the choir of the Memorial Baptist Church, an avocation she shared with her father.

David Jordan Whichard was said to have had "a fine tenor voice."

This was the state of affairs in our family when the storm of war rolled over them and most of the world.

The war in Europe had been raging since 1914.

Now, three years later, German submarines were preying on passenger ships, freedom of the seas had been compromised and American lives threatened and lost.

President Woodrow Wilson declared war and American Expeditionary Forces were being marshaled to fight in Europe.

Sam Bridgers enlisted in the army and became a company clerk in an artillery unit.

David Julian Whichard became and ambulance driver who would traverse the battered roads of France.

Essie Whichard served the war effort by writing Sam Bridgers every day that he was away.

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