BACK TO OUR LINE of WHICHARDS
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Much of what follows is drawn, in large part directly from a booklet I presented to the family and a few friends in 1996 entitled "Crick" which covered much of this same ground, but from a bit different perspective.
I have never thought of the Whichard family as living in other than the white, two-story, gabled house with the tarred tin roof on the corner of Evans and Ninth Streets. It has been replaced in the last few years with a small office building.
It was two blocks south on Evans from "Sutton's Lane" where lived Hugh and Betty (Perkins) Sutton -- Hennie Whichard's parents -- and this probably figured in its location.
I'm assuming this is where David Jordan and Henrietta Sutton Whichard lived as newly-weds and at a time when The Daily Reflector had matured into a 6-times weekly afternoon newspaper.
I never knew whether my grandfather purchased the house or had it built.
The property included land on Ninth Street behind the corner house which extended for an entire block, and which later became a compound for our extended family.
When the house was new -- or, at least, new to the family -- it must have been on the southern edge of Greenville.
I'm unable to really describe the town as it was in that day, and must instead talk of it as I first remember it, which is now nigh seventy years ago.
This was when the town centered on "Downtown" and was vastly different from the sprawling small metropolis of today, which now has a population thrice what it was in my childhood.
In my time it was a "tobacco town" of some 12,000 folk whereas today it is a "university town" and the prime medical center for eastern North Carolina.
In that earlier day eastern North Carolina was not a place of cities, but of many small, freestanding agrarian towns.
Greenville's nearest neighbors of comparable size were Tarboro to the north, Washington to the east, Kinston to the southwest and New Bern more-or-less to the south.
Tarboro was upstream along the river, pretty much at the upper limit of navigable water, and Washington was downstream at the point where the Tar became the Pamlico.
Evans Street was the main north-to-south thoroughfare, and Fifth Street the road to Washington.
Dickinson Avenue, early-on the main road from the west, entered the corner of Evans and Fifth at an angle, and the resulting "Five Points" intersection became more-or-less the hub of the town.
The main business district was on Evans between "Five Points" and Third Street with a few business houses on the intersecting streets adjacent to Evans.
Evans and Third had at one time marked the town commons and a sequence of courthouses -- swapped by fires -- had been on that corner since the town had been laid out.
To the west out Dickinson Avenue agglutinated "Tobacco Town," the area embracing the auction warehouses and tobacco re-drying plants which were the backbone of the community's economy.
Anytime one traveled from the periphery toward the center they were said to be going "downtown."
Here then was the piece of earth -- scant in size but important to those who lived there -- where our branch of the Whichard clan put down its roots and from whence its fledglings took wing.
My mother was one of four siblings born to David Jordan and Henrietta Sutton Whichard.
Our aunt, "Little Hennie," was born in 1890, named for her mother, and given the foregoing sobriquet to distinguish the two, or usage, which came down to our generation and extended beyond the family circle.
From early childhood she suffered from severe and frequently recurrent bronchial asthma, with some symptoms evident daily, occasionally interspersed with dire bouts of status asthirations.
Symptoms were brought on by over-exertion, respiratory infections and the ingestion of eggs to which she was violently allergic.
In the years I remember, she was most relieved by inhaling the acrid fumes of a burning powder, which she usually needed at least twice daily.
My mother told me that in the earlier years the medical advice was for the family to move to the southwestern states; a suggestion to which her parents were agreeable, but to which "Little Hennie" herself demurred, not wishing to leave her hometown friends and surroundings.
As the first "of the grandchildren" in the Whichard household -- and she a maiden with no children of her own -- she and I were ever favorites of one another.
However, as my sister and cousins came along she made room in her large heart for all.
Thus, she made peace with her sizeable misfortunes, carried on as best she could, and led a full and productive life, which was obviously rewarding for her and her family.
My mother came along three years after "Little Hennie."
She was named for her maternal aunt, Estelle Sutton Shepard, and always called herself "Essie."
Extrapolating from things said in their later lives it's presumed that "Little Hennie" and "Essie" were quite close as youngsters.
However, they were also quite different.
Essie was always quite comely while Hennie was somewhat physically plain.
Hennie was usually outspoken and tended toward aggressiveness whereas Essie was quiet and sensitive to the point of self-depreciation.
Hennie's energies went into illness and work whereas Essie's went into music and study.
Hennie was ready for school and Essie a toddler when their brother, David Julian Whichard -- some years later to be known as "Big Dave" -- came along.
SCHOOL DAYS AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY
It would be remissive to discuss the early school careers of the Whichard youngsters without reviewing the status of education in eastern North Carolina in those days.
To understand this is to understand the ethnic philosophies on education, which had come to bear on the American colonies and the states which sprung there from.
Our family was part of a community of those who would be called "WASPS" today; that is, "white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants."
To the English, education had long been something for the elite and aristocracy, and not necessarily for the masses.
In contradistinction, people of Germanic origin, for instance, viewed education as a responsibility that a community had for all its children.
German emigrants established their settlements by first dedicating common property for a school and then laying out their town around it. It was from further application of this principal that the term "land-grant schools" arose.
Starting a school was an early priority for such settlement whereas Anglo-Saxon towns depended more on the haphazard thrust of market forces.
At the turn of the century, Greenville still depended on private academies.
William A Ragsdale, to later be my grandmother's brother-in-law, came to Pitt County to establish such a school, and on the Whichard side of the family -- the Jordans to be exact -- my grandfather's mother and grandfather had spent their working years in such pursuit.
It was at this juncture that several giants strode across the stage of North Carolina -- one from Greenville.
After Appomattox, Capt. Thomas Jordan Jarvis of the Army of the Confederacy was paroled to return to this home in Currituck County on the northeast coast of North Carolina.
He studied law at The University of North Carolina, and it was as a fledging attorney that he came to Greenville, which he thereafter considered his hometown.
He rose in local politics, and after several sessions in the General Assembly, in 1879 was elected Governor of the state.
His ambition was to be remembered as "The Educational Governor" and though this sobriquet obtained currency it did not acquire any historical permanency.
In truth, Gov. Jarvis' interest was primarily in higher education and The University than in education as a whole.
In his post-executive years he returned to Greenville and across the state was known as "The Grand Old Man of the Democrat Party" -- there's little doubt that he was the dominant political figure to come form Greenville in these first centuries of the Republic.
In his sunset years Gov. Jarvis gained national prominence first as Minister to Brazil and then for a brief tenure as a replacement U. S. Senator.
However, it was locally that he left his greatest legacy.
One reward for Jarvis' service in Raleigh as a seat on the Board of Trustees of The State Normal and Industrial School at Greensboro.
This was solely for white women and was the only institution then in the state for the preparation of teachers.
This position would later influence his outlook -- both pro and con -- on other such schools, and particularly as this came to affect his hometown.
He chose not to further pursue positions abroad form Greenville, even one proffered as Dean of the new law school at Trinity College in Durham, which was grooming itself to become Duke University in a few years.
Rather, he chose to stay in Greenville and follow his statewide law practice --- which most ex-governors seem to acquire.
He was in great demand as a consultant for many important projects across the commonwealth, and as a public speaker on many civic and festive occasions.
But lying ahead was an unforeseen opportunity to re-assert himself as a champion of education and to re-insert himself into the fringes of the body politic.
That which loomed in the future would set in motion changes which would pave the way for others and promote opportunities still expanding today, long beyond the death of Thomas Jarvis.
Charles B. Aycock, who was a junior staff member in Gov. Jarvis' administration, became a legislator and then just before the turn of the century became governor himself. It is he who is best remembered as "The Educational Governor," though in truth, many chief executives have made meaningful contributions to education, not the least of whom was James Hunt who has served longer in this regard than any other in history.
What Aycock and the General Assembly of his day did were really quite modest, but their efforts had profound and lasting reverberations.
While far from his central intentions, his stirring of the hustings would change the nature of Greenville forever.
He championed the cause of public education to the law-makers and in response the legislature made available the princely sum of $4,000.00 to allow him to stump the state and raise public support for his ideas.
He was said to have been a "silver-voiced orator" of great persuasive ability.
He apparently kept his vocal capacity well-oiled with whisky, which not only kept him going, but also helped him carry along the populace in his plans.
Individual bills were passed to enable various communities to start school systems, and in 1903 a bill passed the Assembly: "An Act to Establish a Grade School in the Town of Greenville."
Between 1902 and 1910 an average of one school a day was completed across the state.
This brought a companion action to supply qualified teachers and a part of such legislation was to establish a facility in the eastern part of the state to be called "The Eastern Carolina Teachers Training School."
This would have great impact on our town and on our family, but all of this happened after the older children of David Jordan and Henrietta (Sutton) Whichard had started school.
Most of the private academies were either for boys or girls.
However, when their brother David Julian reached school-age, Hennie and Essie Whichard were attending a private school near their home which accepted students of both genders.
David was started at this same school by his mother.
This happened in 1901 when Walter Linden Whichard, to become the "baby" of the family was either well on his way or already born.
"Big Dave" told me later in life that he remembered this as the most unbearably humiliating experience of his childhood.
He had always been rather small for his age, so the teachers decided it would be safer if he took his morning recess with his sisters so they could watch over him.
Co-educational though it was, the boys and girls had separate recess periods when they were out on the play ground with rather marginal supervision.
The next day he refused to go to school.
His mother -- either expecting or having recently had her fourth baby -- took David by the hand, marched him down to The Reflector office and told her husband that if he wasn't going to school he could stay with his father during the day.
There were no legal school attendance requirements at that time.
So started the newspaper career of David Julian Whichard at the age of six.
He would work at that business, and in that office, everyday in which he was in town for the next 90 years.
Public schools did open several years later and David attended them. He was in the first graduating class of what would come to be known as the high school.
So when Walter Linden, the fourth child, came along the Whichard home was apparently his personal domain, unshared with other children during school hours or those for that early period in life who seemed much older.
This likely accounted for the rather special status he allegedly enjoyed.
In the eyes of his sister, Hennie, then approaching her teens, Walter Linden could do no wrong, although this was far from a universal appraisal of his demeanor.
He, and the grandchildren who later came along, were the children Hennie never had of her own.
Toward those who were special to her she was overly forgiving, particularly her younger brother, "Crick," and her oldest nephew, me.
I can empathize with why Walter Linden -- that is "Crick" -- always felt he could get away with anything.
This lower Evans Street neighborhood was seemingly well-blessed with children, and interesting ones, at that.
Next door was the Wilson family with five boys -- three of whom attended the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, another of whom became an Army surgeon after finishing medical school, and the fifth of whom became a foreign service officer in the State Department.
The fifth, Walter, died under mysterious circumstances in China in the 1930's, and ultimately his body was found in a river.
His demise was officially ruled a suicide.
My uncle "Big Dave," then major-domo of The Daily Reflector made certain that the mystery of Walter Wilson filled the headlines for several weeks before his body was discovered.
Several years later, when we were embroiled in World War II, "Big Dave" told me that many suspected that the death of his boy-hood friend, Walter Wilson, had been somehow connected with the trouble that had since arisen with Japan.
The other four Wilson brothers became career Army officers, two rising to the rank of general.
Just after "The Battle of Midway" -- when I was a young Navy ensign stationed in Pearl Harbor awaiting another aircraft carrier assignment after the loss of The Yorktown -- I was invited to spend an afternoon with Lieut. Gen. Darwood Wilson and his staff at Schofield Barracks where he was commanding officer.
Present that afternoon was the general's air force aide, Lieut. Col. "Salty" Campbell, who was also the general's nephew-in-law being the husband of Marian Wilson.
She was the daughter of Dr. Bascomb Wilson, the Army surgeon -- he had lost his first wife, Marian's mother, when Marian was but an infant -- and she had been raised by her step-grandmother, "Miss Lizzie" Wilson who lived next door to my grandmother, north along Evans Street.
Though two years older than I, Marian was very close to my sister and me when we were children.
One thing that first struck me about my wife, Edie, was that she resembled Marian and was equally as pretty.
Across Evans Street and a block to the south lived the Schultz family, orthodox Jews, and another neighborhood group of whom the Whichards often spoke.
The daughter, Nannie Elmore after marriage, was apparently a close friend of Essie and Hennie when they were all girls, and they remained so throughout life.
Alfred Schultz was my mother's classmate throughout their school years and became our family dentist.
Next door to the Schultz home lived the Duprees -- later the Hymans.
The Duprees were descended from a French Huguenot immigrant ancestor who had established a plantation in the western reaches of Pitt County in the early days of colonialism from whence the head of the household in my grandparent's generation moved to Greenville.
The several Whichard and Dupree youngsters were all close friends as they were growing up.
Mr. Dupree died before my day and his widow married an affable fellow by the name of Rodolph Hyman who took the Dupree children on as his own.
One day he took with him fishing in the Tar River, his step-son, Tom; Tom's good friend Dave Whichard; and Dave's younger brother, Walter Linden.
Young Walter Whichard was a fidgety kid, constantly on the move up, down and across the boat, eventually leading Mr. Hyman to say: "Walter Linden, can't you be still -- you're just like a cricket."
I heard the story of this fishing trip retold many times.
I don't know how many fish, if any, they caught but my youngest uncle had hooked a new name: "Crick."
When I came along I seldom heard him called by other than this nickname save by his mother, who always called him "Walter Linden," and frequently me as well -- there once were family snap-shots which showed that "Crick" and I looked much alike as young boys.
Years later the younger Tom Dupree and his family were most hospitable to me when I was an Naval Aviation Cadet in Miami before World War II.
He once told me:
"Your grandfather, when he had pen in hand, feared no man.
He would print whatever he thought would benefit the public in his newspaper.
But he was a small and almost frail fellow, and physically he was a coward."
This didn't set well with me at the time, but later my grandmother convinced me that Tom Dupree was probably right.
She said that one night as she was preparing supper she had a phone-call from my grandfather.
He was incarcerated in the town jail, and he wished her to come down and bail him out.
It seems he had been rather constantly receiving threats from people he had criticized in print.
When he had become Postmaster he was allowed to carry a gun for protection so he had armed himself with a small pistol --perhaps only .22 caliber and little more than a derringer.
As he was coming home in the twilight a man whom he had assailed editorially stepped from behind a tree and told my grandfather that he was going to "get him" for something he had published about him.
Grand-daddy blazed away. However, his bullet hit the fellow on a large metal belt buckle and did him no harm.
Grandmother paid a fine rather than a bail and that apparently closed out the incident.
Having read some of his rebukes in The Eastern Reflector and The Daily Reflector it is easy to see why his subjects took umbrage at his moralizing and criticism.
As a final aside to this old lower Evans Street neighborhood, a newer part of town when my mother was raised there, now all but replaced by commercial development, and later when I was growing up a part of which would become the Whichard compound.
Tom Dupree's sister, Mary Lucy, was probably my mother's closest childhood friend.
She was among the first graduates from The Eastern Carolina Teachers Training School in the first decade of the century now ending.
She married John F. Lynch, a native of Alamance County who relocated near Dunn to run a company store for the Erwin Cotton Mills of Durham.
Mary Lucy Dupree was a teacher in the village schools of Erwin.
They raised three boys: John F. (Jack) Jr., Tom and Billy.
The younger two practiced dentistry in Miami for many years.
Jack and I practiced pediatrics together in High Point, North Carolina for over 20 years, and though we see and hear from one another rarely now, I still consider him a good friend and cherished colleague.
All these, indeed, are shaggy dogs tales at their best -- or worst, depending on how one looks at it.
It simply shows how dense and wide a web can be spun from a small central attachment.
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