|"The Old Town Clock"
Hillsborough, North Carolina
Excerpted from the book, Old Time Stories of the Old North State
Lutie Andrews McCorkle, published in 1903
|Chapter XXV. The Old Town Clock
You say that I look old and shabby? Well, that is not to be wondered at, for I have been keeping time for this good old town of Hillsborough for nearly one hundred and fifty years. My face, you think, looks scarred and ugly? Yes, it can hardly be called a beauty, for it has stood the scorching heats of summer and the storms of winter for almost a century and a half.
How did I come here, you wonder? Why that is quite a story. they say that I was given to the town by King George III in the year 1766. So, you see that I am a travelled clock. I came all the way from Birmingham in England, where I was made, to this little town in the heart of North Carolina. A long journey it was, but I have had a good rest.
Have I always looked down on the town from the courthouse cupola? Oh, no! When I first came, they put me in the church tower. But, as I had been given to the town, and not to the church, I was not allowed to stay there very long. Just across the street from where this courthouse now stands the old Markethouse was built about the year 1767. I was then taken from the church tower and placed over the Markethouse, where I kept time for the people of Hillsborough during the stormy days of the Revolution.
And did I work all that time? Well, most of it. Once, for a little while, my tongue was silent, and my hands stood still.
When was that? Why, about the close of the Revolutionary War, when the fight was waging hotly in North Carolina between the Whigs and the Tories. The story goes that my leaden weights were taken off and melted and moulded into bullets for use in the good Whig muskets. And when that infamous David Fanning raided the town in 1781, he and his Tories threw my bell into the Eno River. But as soon as peace came, the people fished my bell out of the river, gave me new weights, and set me going again.
You would like to know when I was moved to the courthouse cupola? How many things you do want to know! That was in the year 1820 and I have been keeping time for this steady-going little town ever since; and very good time, too, they say, with just a little coaxing.
You think that I must have seen many wonderful things from my high perch? Why, so I have; a great many more than my tongue can tell. My tongue seems to wag right steadily, you say, and ought to be able to tell many a tale of this old town! That it could, but I hardly know which you would like best.
Tell you any story I can think of? Now, if you will keep still and listen, I will try to tell you some of the things I have seen.
No other town played such a part in the Revolution as this village, nestling in its valley on the banks of the Eno River and shut in by the Oconeechee hills. It was surrounded by what was, for that day, a thickly settled country, and stood midway between the eastern and western settlements of the colony. For that reason, it was made the seat of a county, and a court was held here. This drew to the town, from a distance, a number of men of ability, who came with the hope of bettering their fortunes.
Among them was Edmund Fanning, a lawyer from Long Island, who did more than any other man to bring on the trouble with the Regulators. He was a great favorite with Governor Tryon, was made clerk of the court, and grew rich on unjust fees wrung from the people. Money was scarce, and fifteen dollars at that day was a sum equal in value to forty or fifty dollars now. The people were willing to pay such fees and taxes as were just and legal; but they said, "We are not willing to have our living torn from us by those monsters whose study is to plunder us." So they sent a petition to Governor Tryon, asking him to correct these evils. As you have learned, these men had organized themselves into a band called the Regulators, being determined to resist unjust taxation, by force, if necessary.
Once Governor Tryon sent his officers to talk with them and settle their troubles. While the Regulators, in good faith, were preparing to meet Tryon's officers, Fanning, with a party of thirty horsemen, went to their houses and arrested Herman Husbands and William Hunter, the leaders of the Regulators, and threw them into jail. The people were so roused by this treatment that a large body of them marched toward Hillsborough, determined to release Husbands and Hunter. They had for their leader Ninian Bell Hamilton, a brave Scotchman, who was then seventy-three years old. When Fanning heard of their approach, he was frightened, and released his prisoners, just when the Regulators reached the banks of the Eno opposite the town. Taking a bottle of rum in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other, he walked down to the river and begged Hamilton not to lead his men into the town.
"Send me over a horse," said Fanning, "that I may come and talk matters over with you."
"Ye're nane too gude to wade, and wade ye shall, if ye come over!" shouted the old Scotchman. Fanning did wade across, but Hamilton's men were too angry to talk with him, nor would they touch a drop of his liquor.
I saw these same Regulators, grown desperate, come into town one day and drive the judge from the bench and the lawyers from the courthouse. Then, they dragged Fanning by his heels from the courthouse, beat him with rods, and shut him up in jail all night. The next morning, learning that the judge had fled the town during the night, they broke up Fanning's costly furniture and tore down his house and, then, returning to the courthouse, they held a mock court, compelling Fanning to act as judge. All this was very wrong, but they had so often seen injustice made a farce in the courthouse, that they were goaded on to such lawless deeds.
On a hill near where the Presbyterian Church now stands is a spot where, in the following year, Tryon, with great parade and show, hanged six of the Regulators who were captured at the Battle of Alamance.
I wish that I had time to tell you of the gay scenes I have witnessed when the gallant beaux and fair belles of the colony were gathered for feast and dance at Governor Tryon's. Then, as now, the young men and maidens managed to find time for merry-making. There were gay times the summer following the Battle of Alamance, when the new governor, Josiah Martin, brought his family and spent three months in Hillsborough. Then all the gentlemen from the country round about came to welcome the governor. There were dinner parties and tea parties, horseback rides and drives. The town was filled with famous beauties and their brave gallants. So often were young couples of that time seen walking under the overhanging trees along the river's bank opposite the town, that to this day, the old path there is called Lovers' Walk.
I must tell you how Lord Cornwallis came, after he had chased General Greene for a time out of the colony, and made his headquarters here. Hillsborough was then the capital of North Carolina. Cornwallis marched into the town with banners flying and bugles blowing. He hoped by offers of money and lands to induce many of the men of this section to fight under his banner, but failed in this. Pickens and Lee, with a few American troops, made frequent attacks upon his men, so he tarried only six days. During his short stay here, however, he had one of the streets paved with cobble-stones, and the people of the town would now almost as soon part with me as with this pavement.
Tell you another story? Really, I cannot today. I can only tell you that after the Revolution the state capital was moved east, and we had peace and quiet for many, many years in good old Hillsborough town.