"TRUTH IN PREFERENCE TO FICTION"
DAVID JORDAN AND HENRIETTA (SUTTON) WHICHARD
My mother's mother was, indeed, a matriarch -- in her view and everyone else's.
She was loved by all her grandchildren, but, at once, we held her in awe -- an ambivalent relationship of affection and fear.
She was "Grandmother" to us, but "Miss Hennie" to most others, having been christened Henrietta Williams Sutton.
My earliest recollections involve her, for when I reached the age of memory -- my parents and I, and my sister when she came along -- lived in Grandmother's home.
However, as close as I was to her, I never asked her about her childhood, how she and my grandfather came to know one another and how their courtship and marriage came about.
And, alas, there's now no one to ask, for as unbelievable as it seems, I'm the oldest survivor among our immediate Whichard descendents.
It's a possibility, and likely probable, that Grandmother attended school under "Miss Lett," the lady who would become her mother-in-law.
Both the Whichards and the Suttons attended the Baptist Church and this may have figured in things.
And in those days Greenville was hardly a metropolis -- those who lived near the riverfront surely must have known those who lived on the other side of the small town.
I presume such a description is appropriate for the neighborhood of her parent's home.
That is, Hugh and Betty (Perkins) Sutton lived on 7th Street, a small by way, which even in my days in Greenville was still called "Sutton's Lane."
This indicates to me that the Suttons had been the first to build a home on this small street which, when it opened, was likely on the southern border of the village.
My grandfather was likely already in the early throes of pernicious anemia when I was born.
In those days this hematologic-digestive-neurologic disease was a uniformly fatal malady.
He died in 1922 when I was but two years old which incidentally was just several years before Drs. Best and Banting in Canada discovered that injection of crude beef liver extract could control this disorder.
In any event, David Jordan Whichard still lurks on the edge of my memory.
I've been told that he spent the bulk of his terminal days in a rocking chair on his front porch, and that I frequently played at his feet.
All through my childhood my mother and her siblings frequently spoke fondly of "Papa" -- and Grandmother spoke so often of "Mr. Whichard" -- that I can't sort out memory from hearsay.
I think I vaguely remember him and this is how I prefer it, though I may be remembering a snapshot of the two of us on the front steps of his home, which we still have.
From several sources I have surmised that my grandfather and his two brothers all became telegraphers in their youth.
It needs be remembered that this was just after The Civil War and that Samuel F. B. Morse had not too long before invented telegraphy, this being the only timely means whereby events of the world became known in such small towns as Greenville.
Since delving into the family history I've come to feel that these skills in the communication technology of that day had something to do with the movement of the two older Whichard boys into the newspaper business.
In 1877, the year in which their father died, Julian R. and David Jordan Whichard went to work for a Mr. Parker when he started The Express, a weekly and the first newspaper in Greenville.
As I understand it, "Uncle Jule" served mainly as a printer while my grandfather spent most of his time as a writer; at 16 years of age he was listed as the youngest news editor in the state.
I know not what specifically happened to The Express, but it was liquidated in 1881 and the Whichard brothers purchased Mr. Parker's equipment.
They stored these things in their mother's abandoned one-room schoolhouse, and in the following year it became the home of their own journal, The Eastern Reflector.
This was the second of the shifting utilization of "Miss Lett's" old building and the first of several locations of the newspaper and its successors, having then been at Third and Pitt Streets.
In later years the David Fleming Whichard home place was purchased by Judge Frank Wooten and, as best known, is still in his family.
Frank Wooten, Jr. -- of my generation -- told me that the outbuilding for the school had finally been moved to abut the main structure and became their kitchen.
He also told me that during the renovation, as the original walls had been temporarily laid bare, he remembered seeing the names of pupils of a bygone era carved into the wood.
Thus, came to be a durable connection between the Whichard family, the community and local journalism; and vis-à-vis, each fostered the other into whatever prominence they show today.
It is not known how the young brothers capitalized their purchase of Mr. Parker's emporium, but perhaps it was backed by their father's legacy and their mother's largesse.
In 1889 Julian Whichard moved his family from Greenville and several years later purchased The North Carolina Herald in Salisbury, the oldest town in Piedmont Carolina -- this being a connection which survived only a few years.
On his brother's departure David Jordan Whichard became editor, publisher and sole owner of The Eastern Reflector.
In 1894 he began publishing another paper, The Daily Reflector, apparently meant to primarily serve the town of Greenville, while The Eastern Reflector became a semi-weekly with the intention that it primarily serve the needs of Pitt County outlying its principal town.
Both remained extant until 1912 when The Eastern Reflector was discontinued.
The Daily Reflector was so-labeled, but it actually came out only Mondays through Saturdays. In the 1980's it switched to a Monday-through-Friday format with a Sunday edition, and then in the last few years actually became a true daily.
From its earliest days the paper carried on its masthead the motto: "Truth in Preference to Fiction."
For the most part it seems to have adhered to this policy and philosophy over the years, though it did fudge for most of its years on the specific periodicity of its publication.
'Twas not long before The Reflector outgrew its "short pants" and in 1894 my grandfather moved it into a small wooden building in the vicinity of "Five Points" which had been the home of the Higgs sisters' millinery shop.
From the description of its location it must have been near or contiguous with the site of The Pitt Theater, as it existed in my youth.
In those days of mostly frame structures, town fires were notable community events and milestones of local history.
One of the noted conflagrations in Greenville was in 1899 when about 15 business houses in the vicinity of "Five Points" were leveled by fire.
Fire fighting was then in the hands of volunteers -- first a 40-man contingent of black firemen, later augmented by 24 white volunteers.
The outfit mainly fought blazes by hand with bucket brigades, fire axes and ladders. They did have a pump truck though unfortunately it was out of commission at the time of the big blaze.
The second home of The Reflector was among the buildings destroyed.
In an oral history, which was recorded in the last decade, my uncle, "Big Dave" Whichard described the night of excitement.
He told of his father rousing from bed him and his two sisters -- my mother and "Aunt Hennie" -- to repair to the newspaper office to help salvage what they could.
My grandfather either owned or obtained a horse and wagon. They went the several blocks to the building, threw bound copies of the newspaper and business ledgers out into the street and hence piled them in the cart.
Thus, they felt they had saved the most irreplaceable and valuable elements of The Reflector's life's blood.
We're not told where and how The Daily Reflector was re-organized after this disaster, but in 1901 its offices were re-established in a brick building on the corner of Third and Evans Streets, across these streets from The County Courthouse, The U. S. Post Office and The Proctor Hotel.
This intersection became a main gathering place in town.
The Reflector retained this home for the next 55 years, and was the place where I spent most of my out-of-school hours in my formative years.
It beat all other imaginable places for an inquisitive youngster to while away the hours, learn something of work and keep an ear to the ground as to what was afoot in his world, both near and far.
Little of importance and many trivialities were recounted there -- always rendered in varied and lurid detail.
"The Reconstruction" for the nation after its debilitating internecine struggle was likewise a re-ordering for the Whichard family and their hometown.
History has it that these were boisterous and ruthless times, but I like to think that David Jordan Whichard -- a man of peace and morality though meek and perhaps naïve in nature -- was a tower for rectitude in his community.
An abstract of one of his editorials comes down to us in The Chronicles of Pitt County, suggesting there were men in Greenville ".. whose lecherous and beastly lives are definitely pointed to by boys just merging from the knee-pants stage as a justification of their departure from the path of right."
But vice was to continue and will probably ever plague a society in which liberty is a bastion.
In our day the Congress has dealt in cavalier fashion with sexual activity between the President and a junior member of his staff the age of his daughter with consummation having occurred in an anteroom to The Oval Office.
Editorialists in The Daily Reflector and many more substantial newssheets have objected to such imbroglios with little more effect than a century ago, but what would our cultural behavior be without robust debate over the morals of society?
One wonders what "Grand-daddy" would have had to say about Bill Clinton.
Anyway, such was the tenor of the times when David Jordan Whichard and Henrietta Williams Sutton were married in 1888.
To find continuity we need be disconnected for the moment, set aside the Whichards and return to "The Tidewater hearth" and earlier days.
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