The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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James Reid Cole - A Voice from the Past

By James Reid Cole © 1986

Issue: July, 1986

The following is an excerpt from "Miscellany" published in 1898 in Dallas, Texas and "Seven Decades Of My Life" published in 1913 in Dallas, Texas by James Reid Cole. It was submitted by a great great niece and her husband, Dave and Peggy Nicholson of Greensboro, North Carolina. The Nicholsons would enjoy hearing from any descendants of this man and/or his family. They may be contacted at 5707 D Bramblegate Rd., Greensboro, NC 27409.

The First Decade

On the 17th of November, 1839, I made my first appearance on the stage of action. I suppose the sun was shining, and the breezes were blowing, and the cocks were crowing, and there was much running to and fro. I suppose so, I don't know, I don't remember, though I know I was there. The first person I knew was the gentlest, sweetest woman in the world my mother   Elizabeth Murphy Cole, and the first man that my gray eyes beheld was a soldier, planter and preacher my father Major William Carter Cole. [His father was Robert Cole and his father was James Cole and his father was John Cole.] My father was from Halifax County, Virginia, but his grandfather was from Double Bridges, in Lunenburg, Virginia. There I was "rocked in the cradle of the deep" at Snow Creek, in Stokes County, North Carolina, near the Virginia line. I was the ninth son and his twelfth child, his work was finished when he was about 50 years old, and he died before I could know him. He was known as a good man, an industrious planter, a brave soldier of the War of 1812, a devoted minister of the gospel, a just magistrate. His first wife, Susan Clement of Virginia, gave him six sons and two daughters. His second wife, Elizabeth Murphy, [daughter of Jesse Murphy] was the mother of three sons and two daughters, the oldest son dying in childhood.

Let me group together these 11 grown sons and daughters, and introduce them to you by name, and you may see what kind of a father was theirs by the names he gave them. In order of their ages: Robert Bangs, Nancy Jane, Letitia Elizabeth, Barzilla Lipscomb, William Walter, John Westley, Thomas Franklyn, Isaac Newton, Christopher Columbus, Susan Ruth and James Reid.

After my father's death my mother, with her three little children, lived with her father, Jesse Murphy in Patrick County, Virginia. After my grandparents died we moved to my mother's plantation just across the valley and some woodland where we spent two happy years before my mother died.

Our home was situated on the high rolling land of field and wood, and running creeks and branches, and bridges and "foot logs", where the cows, and the hogs, and the sheep roamed at will through the woods where the house stood between two lofty lombardy poplars, and a tree covered at times with white and red blossoms. In the distance Bull Mountain leaned against the sky and the Pilot Mountain stood like Saul, head and shoulders above the surrounding mountains.

About two miles from me lived J.E.B. Stuart, A.W. Terrell, John H. Traylor and Alfred M. Scales. We never met as children, but I met J.E.B. Stuart on the battlefield years later when he was a Major General of the Calvary, he was killed at Yellow Tavern fighting for his country. Colonel Terrell was in the Legislature of Texas, Traylor a senator in Texas and Scales on the battlefield in Virginia, he later became the governor of North Carolina.

Stokesburg and Greensboro

When I was eleven years old I went to live with my brother William and his family in Stokesburg, Stokes County, North Carolina for two years. William was about 25 years old, a physician, a planter, a merchant and a tobacco manufacturer. A few years before this William had graduated in medicine, settled in Stokesburg, and fallen in love with a fine young lady, rich and accomplished, and, failing to receive the consent of her parents, took her up behind him on his horse, galloped away in the night, swam the turbulent waters of Town Fork Creek and were married by a fine old magistrate, William A. Lash.

I attended schools in the neighborhood and Sunday School at the churches. I learned rapidly and became a good rider on horses, which made me feel right at home later when I became a cavalry man in the 2nd N.C. Calvary and had to drill a regiment of horsemen. While attending school about two miles from my home one day the boys resolved to "turn the teacher out" or make him give us a holiday and treat us. This was the custom in the olden times and the school had a great deal of fun on those occasions. If the teacher refused our demands we were to take him to a branch or pond nearby and duck him. One of the larger boys was to make the demand and the rest of us were to stand at his back. But, alas, a great long switch stood in the corner handy to the teacher and he was a stern and strong man. The big boy couldn't face the ordeal, and he became very studious. Time flew on, the school was about to be dismissed, and our holiday and candy were about to fade away. Though I was only 13 years of age and trembled at what might happen, I couldn't stand the failure of our plan, so I rose and marched up in front of the teacher and said, "We want a holiday tomorrow and a treat of candy." I looked around for help. One brave boy stepped up to my side, he was about my age. His name was Aurelius Blackburn. All the other boys were studying hard. The teacher reached around for his big switch and slamming it against the floor, commanded, "Take your seat, sir!" I looked around for help, but it didn't come. I had met my "Waterloo" and marched back to my seat a conquered soldier. The boy, who stood by me, fell at Gettysburg, a brave captain leading in the desperate battle.

My sister, Susan Ruth, 16 years of age, a senior at Greensboro Female College, was married in our home to James E. Matthews by that good old magistrate William Lash. (She is visiting our home here in Texas and is 76 years old at this writing.) Her children and grandchildren are scattered from the Rocky Mountains to New York and from Kansas to the cane breaks of Texas.

The principal families around Stokesburg were prominent and excellent people the Lashs, the Daltons, the Matthews, the Coles, the Blackburns, and the Poindexters. A few miles away the richest family in the state, the Hairstons, owned five great plantations on the Dan River. In those slavery days the aristocracy lived in the country, and there were not many towns in the state with more than a thousand inhabitants. I was now in my 14th year and was strong and active and self reliant. Often times I was sent up in the mountains to Danbury, the County seat, on horseback alone to attend to business for my brother and went to Germantown to attend an entertainment given by an eminent teacher and preacher, Reverend Everheart.

In the summer of 1853, my 14th year, I went to live with my uncle, Dr. John L. Cole, my guardian, and his family in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Here I attended high school and at 17 years of age entered Trinity College in Randolph County (later moved to Durham, North Carolina and renamed Duke University). I had joined the Guilford Grays, a military organization and a few weeks before I was to graduate, the governor called us to active duty with that unit at the start of the War Between the States.