During the birthing of our nation, even well into the 20th century, it was no easy task to travel. Needless to say, restless Americans as always found a way.
It was especially difficult for a traveler down on his luck to find comfortable lodgings. There were only a couple of choices, the woods, and a stack of dry leaves, or the occasional “Ordinary.”
Travelers with fuller purses did not often spend the night out doors, or even at an “Ordinary” If they had any pretensions of respectability they were loath to stop at the wretched taverns of which Sampson and Duplin had quite a few. These travelers instead, felt free to call at any planter’s residence. Almost never did the planter willingly turn a fellow traveler away. In fact, most took great pleasure in offering the finest of everything he owned.
There are many historical references to the hospitality of Colonel John Sampson at his residence at Sampson Hall. His was a noteworthy home-place that offered food and lodging. Old records tell us that respectable travelers felt free to ask the Colonel for a night’s lodging, or more. I suspect Sampson enjoyed these periodic visits and the opportunity to hear the news from places other than his small corner of the world.
In typical North Carolina though, Ordinaries continued to thrive. Mind you these were no Holiday Inns. Even as late as 1801 conditions were pitiful. An “Ordinary” was a one -room house, log, maybe frame, furnished with only a bed, (of sorts) table, benches, a chest and sometimes an ill-mannered family.
The traveler may have yearned for steak: if he was lucky he got bacon and eggs. He could count on the family dog gazing wistfully into his face, cats clawing at his elbows and the children of the proprietor screaming for their share.
If he spent the night he was certainly not allowed to sleep in the only bed, but might be allowed a pallet on the floor in front of the fire. If the weather was warm, he was pointed to the nearest tree, where he would find himself bedding under the Carolina stars, fighting the Carolina mosquitoes. His horse was probably more comfortable than he was.
Actually the horse deserved any comforts he lucked into. For travel by land, Old Bessie was indispensable. Give a circuit preacher a good, fast horse and he could minister to churches or folks 20-30 miles apart. Actually 35 miles was considered a pretty good haul for one day. Not bad, especially considering the endless
swamps and rivers our traveler and his horse had to maneuver.
And then on the home front, buggies and the occasional carriage was slowly coming into popularity.
Thomas Arrants Davis of S. Clinton township was remembered in history for his unique horse and buggy, decorated lap robe and smartly braided buggy whip. He is said to have been a real “sport” and certainly a favorite of the ladies who seldom refused a chance to ride in the Davis buggy.
Another most hospitable family in the area, was the Kenan family, who migrated from northern Ireland, finally to settle in a home they built in the Duplin area on Turkey Swamp about three miles northeast of Turkey. They were a favorite stopping place for reputable travelers.
History tells us that after Thomas Kenan’s death in 1766, his son James became the most prominent leader of this family. James was elected Sheriff of Duplin County at the age of 22. He also led a group of volunteer soldiers against the enforcement of the Stamp Act in 1765. James was also a member of the Provincial Congress, 1774-76, and Colonial Assembly of ’73-74. He was a Colonel in the NC Militia during the American Revolution, elevated to Brigadier General. He was a member of the Senate and on the Board of Trustees of the University of NC (first chartered university in the United States). His later contribution was serving as chairman of the Ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America. The town of Kenansville was named for General James Kenan.
James, and his wife, Sarah Love, with her wide inquisitive eyes and equally inquisitive mind, (whom he married in 1770,) were generous with their hospitality, and equally anxious to discuss all current events. In the Kenan home lively minds exchanged lively ideas, company was aplenty, and laughter and lamps glowed well into the night.
After the death of General James Kenan in 1810, this tradition of service and hospitality was carried on by his son, Thomas Kenan II, who built the present “Liberty Hall” in Kenansville in the early 1800s. He, and his wife Mary Rand also took an active part in the civic and social life of their state. Thomas would go on to serve in the State House of Commons and the State Senate. Their home, Liberty Hall stands today, as stately as it did in the 1800s. Its motto: “He who enters these open gates, never comes too early, never leaves too late.”
Then slowly, but surely the world began opening up. Stagecoaches stumbled through, until toward the end of the 18th century the railroads (grumbling monsters) found their way into the backyards of rural North Carolina, and life for the Tar Heel state would never be quite the same.
Progress threw out its promises like golden coins and folks held out their hands and caught them left and right. The past slowly receded into the worn pages of history. Life, it was said was good.
And then there was I-40.
(Editor’s note: Oscar Bizzell was a member of the Sampson County Historical Society and a local historian. Guest columnist Micki Cottle shared this past writing with The Independent.)