A man whose age and memories went back almost a century was living at Kerr, NC on August 21, 1955, when a Raleigh newspaper interviewed him for a story that year.
He was David Carey Fennell, or “Mr.Carey” to everybody in the southern end of Sampson County. He was so lively at 96 that a visitor almost felt like asking for some sort of proof of age.
Mr. Carey was a native of the section in which he had lived for so long, having been born March 13, 1859 on the family home place eight miles from where he was living in 1955 at Kerr Station. He was the youngest son of John Milton Fennell and Mary Cromartie Fennell.
He was the grandson of a man who served in the American Army during the Revolutionary War, Nicholas Fennell, Jr. (1762-1828). Mr. Carey never knew his grandfather, as he was the youngest son of a youngest son.
But he remembers during his youth that old timers talked of the Revolution. He recalled hearing of the story about Tory Hole in Elizabethtown, a battle in which American patriot troops killed many Loyalists and took control of the area. His grandfather fought there.
The Loyalists, Mr. Carey remembered being told, thought they were safe because they were on one side of the Cape Fear River and the American troops were on the other side. There was no bridge at the time. But the river was low then and the Americans could ford it, which they did. The taller men, Mr. Carey said, carried the guns of the shorter soldiers, holding their firearms above their heads and keeping them dry.
His grandfather, Nicholas, entered the American army as a private at 18 and held the rank of captain when he came out at the age of 25.
One of Mr. Carey’s earliest memories was of the day that his oldest brother, John, was brought home for burial in 1862. John had died at Scott’s Hill, north of Wilmington, while serving in the Confederate Army. Mr. Carey remembered his mother holding his hand as she walked up to the grave.
He remembered, too, the day that Fort Fisher fell. The windows in their home rattled from the booming of the cannons all that day while his mother walked up and down the front porch, praying. “She had close kin there”, he explained.
The coming of Sherman’s army also stuck vaguely in his memory. Yankee troops found all the horses and mules that his father had hidden in the swamps and took them, along with anything else they could find.
Before the Civil War, he recalled having been told, the family would occasionally send to Wilmington for such provisions that they did not raise on the plantation. Four slaves rowed a big boat down the Black River onto the Cape Fear, and then on to Wilmington. Once there, the boat was loaded with molasses, sugar, coffee and tea, etc. and then rowed back up river to the plantation.
Mr. Carey got his education from a series of teachers who lived in the Fennell home. One of these was Ghost Eliot, who later won fame as a local scholar in Wayne, Duplin, and Sampson Counties. Much of his education too, came from the reading he did. His parents had built a fine home library and the boy read every book in it. He loved to read and it was only later in life that poor eyesight kept him from it.
By the time he was 16, he was doing a man’s work, but added, “So was everyone around us”. Most people during the days of Reconstruction, he recalled, were so poor they could hardly afford to breathe.
He did farm work as a boy and also remembered working in the lumber business. They cut pine timber with axes, rolled the logs to the Black River, tied them into rafts with hickory vines and floated the rafts to Wilmington. The trip usually took about three days, and the raft’s crew lived on board, eating and sleeping on the raft. Upon reaching Wilmington, the rafts were usually tied up near the foot of Market Street. Mr. Carey remembered seeing dozens of these rafts tied there at one time.
When it came time for his own children to go to high school, Mr. Carey moved them to Wilmington where the schools were much better than those in the Kerr section. He remained at Kerr, where he worked for the Post Office Dept., while his family was living in Wilmington. There was a railroad depot at Kerr, and Mr. Carey was able to visit his family often. He’d catch the train to Wilmington late in the afternoon and return on the early train the very next morning.
Mr. Carey’s own mother, Mary Cromartie, had to go away for her education. She and her sister, Harriet, went to Lebanon College in Mount Joy, PA and stayed three years without ever coming home. Harriet Cromartie later became the grandmother of Dr. Frank Porter Graham, the highly regarded President of the University of North Carolina.
Mr.Carey was a lifelong Presbyterian, having served as a ruling elder for more than fifty years at Harmony Presbyterian Church at Kerr. He remained active in church works as long as he lived and attended regularly.
He recalled as a boy going to South River Chapel near Garland to hear Rev. Joseph R. Wilson preach. Wilson, whose son, Woodrow, later went on to become the US President, was minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington from 1874-1885. He was regarded as one of the area’s most powerful preachers and people would flock to hear him speak. Mr. Carey didn’t remember what the sermon was about, but he did recall that Rev. Wilson took a handkerchief out of his pocket and spread it gently on the floor, kneeling by the pulpit to pray. “That’s something that a boy would remember”, he said with a chuckle.
In 1884 Mr. Carey was married to Miss Minnie Newkirk, also of the Kerr community. She died in 1940. They had the following children: Mrs. D.C. Shaw of Kerr; Miss Margaret Fennell of Kerr; Mrs. S.S. Subrick of Harrisonburg, VA; Mrs. E.L. Shuford of Asheville; and Mrs. J.E. Wine of Harrisonburg, VA.
In 1955 Mr. Carey was living in the small house that he had bought 40 years earlier at Kerr Station, but he also owned a share of the Fennell plantation near Clear Run, which originally came into the family by a grant from the King of England nearly 200 years before.
In March of 1955, officials of the Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company paid him a visit. He had outlived their mortality tables, they told him, and paid him the proceeds of a life insurance policy he had purchased many years before.
One of his brothers, Horace, lived to be 92; another, Frederick, lived to be 94; and his sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Fennell Thompson, lived to be 95. Her husband, Capt. William Thompson, CSA, lived to be 99.
Mr. David Carey Fennell died August 10, 1959 at the age of 100 and his buried with members of his family at Harmony Presbyterian Church at Kerr.
* From the Sampson County Heritage Book, 1984