When David L. Swain arrived for the first time in Chapel Hill at the start of the University of North Carolina’s 1822 spring term, he was a young man with focus and determination. He knew he wanted to study the law. Older at twenty-one than the typical freshman, he enrolled at the university to pursue that dream.
What he found, he wrote to his father George Swain back in his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, were classmates who were not serious about their studies.
Disenchanted and eager to achieve his goal, David Swain left school and moved to Raleigh to study under Judge John Louis Taylor, a state Supreme Court justice. If he attended lectures and completed the prescribed readings, he explained to his father, Taylor “has no doubt but that he can … prepare me” for a career in the law.
George Swain was initially unhappy with his son’s decision, reminding him of all he could learn from the formal education the university offered. But by mid-July, “after having time to read your letter leisurely, and weigh your arguments,” the elder Swain agreed to David’s plan.
“I don’t however blame you for changing your mind.”
David Swain’s decision proved to be the right one. A year later, in 1823, he passed the bar exam and returned home to Buncombe County to practice law. In 1824, he was elected to the N.C. House of Commons. So exemplary was his service that he was re-elected four times, and in 1832, he became North Carolina’s twenty-sixth and at age thirty-one, its youngest governor, a position he held until late 1835, when he was named to the helm of the university following the death of its first president, Joseph Caldwell.
For the next thirty-three years, Swain led the university, even succeeding in keeping it open during the four long years of the Civil War, when fewer than twenty students were enrolled by its end in April 1865.
But it is the actions of his youngest daughter, Ella, for which Swain often has been remembered. At twenty-two, Ella fell in love with and wed the Union general whose soldiers occupied Chapel Hill that spring. Though the marriage was scandalous to family friends and neighbors, a victorious U.S. Gen. William T. Sherman gave Swain a horse and buggy as a congratulatory gift upon learning that one of his men was to marry the UNC president's daughter.
A few years later, ironically, it was in that very buggy pulled by that very horse that Swain was riding on August 11, 1868, when he was critically injured in an accident. Carried across the university’s campus on a stretcher to his home, he appeared to improve over the next two weeks. Yet on August 27, while visiting with Professor Charles Phillips, he suddenly became weak and asked to be helped back to bed. He died twenty minutes later.
As was the custom, following the August 29 funeral at his home, former Governor and University of North Carolina President David L. Swain was buried in the family’s backyard in Chapel Hill. His remains later were removed to Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh under a marble obelisk erected by Eleanor Swain, his wife of nearly forty years.
(Editor's Note: David L. Swain was my 3rd-great-grandfather.)
By Suzy Barile
Ella Swain is best known as the defiant young Chapel Hill woman who married a Union general at the close of the Civil War, shocking close family and friends. The daughter of University of North Carolina President David L. Swain (1835-68), , Ella was 22 when she met and married Smith D. Atkins whose troops occupied the famed university town in April 1965.
That August, as Ella Swain and General Atkins exchanged wedding vows at the UNC president's house, outraged students rang the college’s bells and hung her new husband and her father in effigy from the bell tower. Local residents are reported to have spit on the wedding invitations and closed their doors and shutters when the wedding party passed by.
Yet a recently discovered scrapbook Ella began shortly after her marriage and kept until the mid-1870s tells far more about Ella than her scandalous action ever could. Inside its 87-pages are handwritten correspondence, poetry, and illustrations from magazines and newspaper clippings, even a piece of the wallpaper from the Swain family’s Franklin Street home.
Every page reveals much about the controversial young wife and mother: her fondness for Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and John Quincy Adams’s “The Wants of Man.” She also included a sketch of Queen Victoria, of a woman helping a child read, and of New York City and its harbor, a place Ella and her husband visited on occasion.
A handwritten note to Mrs. Swain contains several lines of Poe’s poem “Lenore,” beside which Ella wrote her mother’s name, Eleanor, then explained how her father thought of his wife as his Lenore: “It was the thoughts of … you my Mammy … that filled with tears his tender eyes & cursed his quivering lips when he gave them to me, some years ago.”
The pages also underscore the sadness that seemed to cast a shadow over Ella: obituaries for her brother Richard Caswell Swain, family friends Thomas Ruffin Sr. and Judge William H. Battle, and a cousin, Daniel M. Barringer. Recorded in the margin of the first page of the scrapbook is the phrase “Died D.S. Atkins Freeport, Ill.,” a reminder of the June 1868 death of her fourteen-month-old son David.
The discovery of the scrapbook is as intriguing as its contents.
Anna Laughlin of Orange City, Florida, was helping a friend move in 1996 when she stumbled upon the scrapbook lying atop a pile of trash in the dumpster of an assisted living complex. Clearly it was old--the edges of the pages brittle and the spine missing its cover--but she wondered why anyone would throw away what to her seemed a treasure.
An amateur historian, Laughlin took the scrapbook home and wrapped it for safekeeping. Occasionally she would thumb through it, wondering about the people and towns whose names it contained: Ella H. Swain, D.S. Atkins, Anne Swain, Thomas Ruffin, Dr. Deems, and Edward Wadsworth, and Freeport, Ill., Greensborough, N.C., and Chapel Hill.
She believed the names held the clue to the scrapbook’s ownership.
Almost fifteen years after she rescued it, Laughlin was determined it was time to solve the mystery. On the Internet, she typed in the names of the people and places, and when she typed in Ella H. Swain, Laughlin found the answer. I'd written a book, Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle and a Yankee General, published that year (2010) about my great-great-grandmother, Ella Swain Atkins.
“I think I have something that belongs to you,” was a message I received on Facebook one day, soon after the book came out. “Today was the day. As I sit here at my computer … I have discovered thru the miracle of the internet--Ella's great, great granddaugther!”
We swapped books. I sent her a copy of Undaunted Heart and she sent me the scrapbook.
Ella's story only deepened as I carefully scanned the pages. One of its most revealing stories is that of Ella’s older sister, Anne, who suffered from headaches so debilitating that she self-medicated with opium she harvested from the seedpods of poppies grown in the Swain family’s Chapel Hill backyard garden.
Occasionally Anne was institutionalized for the headaches, which were considered a form of mental illness. The affliction was so great that her mother once wrote to a friend that only in the “close of this life” did she see relief for her daughter. Mrs. Swain hoped “her suffering will end in glorious immortality.”
Glued to one of the scrapbook’s pages is a swatch of faded wallpaper, identified in Ella’s handwriting as being “From the wall of Anne’s bedroom Chapel Hill 1868.” Next to the artifact, Ella wrote words she attributed to Anne: “Insanity instead of being regarded as a misfortune is too often treated as a crime.”
How the personal scrapbook of one of Chapel Hill’s most famous residents found its way to a dumpster of an assisted living facility in Orange City, Florida, is a mystery that may never be solved.
The best imaginable scenario is that it was kept after Ella’s death in 1881 by her daughter, Dot Atkins Cobb, then passed on to Dot’s daughter, Eleanor Hope Cobb Newell, who died in 1970 in Orlando. When some of Newell’s furniture was sold, the scrapbook may have been left unknowingly in a drawer. Its new owner, not having Laughlin’s curiosity, tossed it out.
“As sappy as it sounds,’ Laughlin wrote, “I must admit that I am a little weepy at this point knowing that soon--you will be touching your own grandmother’s handwriting.”
(The following was read at the Friday. Jan. 18 Memorial Service at White Level Baptist Church, Louisburg, NC.)
Good evening….I’m Suzy Barile, Pattie’s oldest sibling, though to Jack, Joseph and Jesse, I am simply “Aunt Suzy.” There aren’t many more sweeter words, unless you were Pattie Brooks, and then to her 9 nieces and nephews, and their many friends, she was “Pat-Pat,” and to the children at CrossCreek Charter School, where Jack, Joseph and Jesse go, she is quite simply “Miss Pattie.”
How she loved participating in activities at the school. From working in the library, to collecting boxtops and soda tabs and organizing a Million Dollar Campaign as fundraisers, going on the boys’ field trips, reading in the classrooms, and eating lunch with the children so a teacher could go out for his or her birthday, the school is where she spent much of her time.
That side of Pattie – as an adult with responsibilities – is not how I ever thought of her, for she is simply my baby sister. As the youngest of seven – three girls, including me and Ellie, and four boys – Donnie, Billy, Tommy and Bobby – you can imagine what our household was like when she was brought home from the hospital. Our Mom gave each of us a special song, and Pattie’s began with the words, “Pattie Marie, Pattie Marie, sweetest thing the world can see.”
Because I was 15 years old when she was born, we had little time at home together. I left for college when she was 3 – she promptly moved into my bedroom, leaving the room she shared with our twin brothers, who are just two-and-a-half- years older. I was, however, allowed to sleep in “her” room when I’d come home to visit!
Not until Pattie and I were adults did we really get to know one another and become friends. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some great “remember when” stories to share, so let me tell you a bit about her early years.
Pattie was born at the end of a long, hot summer, shortly before our Dad was to head out for sea duty with his Navy ship. Mom wasn’t looking forward to him being gone, but his captain had laid down the law: If the baby isn’t born when it’s time to go, you’re on that ship. A wise doctor suggested Mom drink a concoction of tomato juice and castor oil, and not too many hours later, our precious, pretty Pattie entered the world. We dressed her in pink and doted on this little girl.
But the twins had something else in mind for her, teaching her how to climb out of the playpen long before Mom was ready, and how to roughhouse and stand up for herself. In fact, whatever the boys did, she did, as well, including playing soccer on a boys team!
Life took a dramatic turn for her and our family when our Mom died when Pattie was 22. Gone was the person she was a Daisy scout leader with, the one with whom she had learned and practiced clowning – together they created balloon animals at Pizza Inn on Saturdays and surprised children at birthday parties. Pattie even played the Easter Bunny at the Cary mall!
Gone, also, was the person with whom she was to celebrate her 23rd birthday. Whenever anyone had asked Mom her age, she always replied, “23.” So she and Pattie had big plans. That year, however – 1991, and just three months after Mom died – Pattie chose not to observe her birthday at all. Suddenly she had to face the world as an adult, and face it, she did.
After earning her cosmetology license, she polished thousands of fingernails and toenails, and pierced many a little girls ears for the first time. Those little girls often accompanied their mothers to a nail appointment, for they knew “Miss Pattie” would polish theirs, as well.
During this new time of her life, she also doted on her nieces and nephews. She took my daughter Jen to her first rock concert; she had sleepovers with nephew Joey and niece Sydney; and when the twins, Annie and Bryson, were born, she and Jeff kept them so often that Annie once told friends she was at boarding school!
Pattie delighted in these children, and life became even more full and fun when brothers and sisters-in-law Chad and Amy and Tommy Angie welcomed Adam, William, Ben and Alex –before and during the years that Jack, Joseph and Jesse were born. I’m sure you can imagine the noise those little boys made when they were together!
Jeff said just this week that Pattie was as much a kid as the kids – and I can assure you that had she been here for last night’s snow, she’d have been on a sled as quick as her boys!
Pattie loved doing for and being with her family, even helping get two brides and attendants ready, and baking two wedding cakes this past Thanksgiving, when our brothers Donnie and Bobby married Misty and Sarah’Lee in a double wedding ceremony. When any one of us needed something, she did her best to lend a hand.
I noted earlier that Pattie and I didn’t really get to know one another until we were adults. We became even closer after Mom died, and after she and Jeff wed (remember how you all got on your honeymoon and realized you’d left all your money at home and we had to wire it to you?!), and of course, after Jack, Joseph and Jesse were born.
When my husband and I moved to Iredell County two years ago, and with all three boys in school, we didn’t see them every week anymore, so had to settle for weekend visits every two months. At our house, Pattie claimed what I dubbed the Carolina room for its obvious decorations, and last year for her birthday, I gave her a large, fluffy Ralph Lauren towel to use on their visits.
John and I delighted in her near-daily calls to share the details of their lives, whether it was for Jesse to serenade us with “Deck the Halls,” or to hear Joseph tell about a school field trip, or for Jack to describe how he’d gotten the Wii properly hooked up, or for Pattie to celebrate their achievements – even each deer that Jeff shot while hunting.
As I know all of you will, I already miss her voice on the other end of the line, the one that said “hey, Sue” when I answered, and then we were off and running.
She will, of course, be ever-present, for I pledge to you Jeff, and to you, Jack, Joseph, and Jesse, that we will be there for you every day, in every way.
And to all of you, thank you from my family for being here tonight to share our love and the life of our sister, daughter, wife, mother, aunt, friend, and most especially, “Miss Pattie” and “Pat-Pat.”
Had my daughter been at UNC-Chapel Hill when Friday was assistant dean of students, or when he was assistant to the President of the Consolidated University, or when he was its secretary, or when he served 30 years as system president, her attention to his death would be understandable.
But she also benefited from Bill Friday's work.
A Southern Woman
The kindest, gentlest Southern woman I ever met died Tuesday. Pansy Womble taught me to how to cut up and fry a chicken, how to shell beans and make sweet iced tea, and how to dig for potatoes for mashing. She could bake a mean Pound Cake and to-die-for pecan and pumpkin pies, and she did it all while raising three children, working fulltime, and giving her best to her church, New Hill (NC) Baptist. Though she’d been ill for some time, the news of her death surprised me, and now the note I started to her this week about my summer gardening experience and how she inspired me will go unfinished, a tribute in its stead.
Pansy and her husband Wallace came into my life during my sophomore year in college when I began dating their youngest son. It was a tumultuous time in their lives: Carolina Power and Light had bought up thousands of acres to build a lake and adjacent park that would anchor its new nuclear power plant, and the Wombles’ land off NC 751 was in the project’s path.
When we met, they were preparing to move their house in the country outside of New Hill to within its unincorporated limits. But first they had to fix-up an old farm house to live in while their home was lifted from its foundation and trucked to the new site. And because Grandma Womble, who lived with them, was moving to her daughter Charlotte’s home in Raleigh, her small efficiency apartment at the rear of the house was to become a new master bedroom suite.
Despite this enormous lifestyle change, the Wombles opened their arms, inviting me, a “Navy brat, a city girl,” into their country world for many an enjoyable weekend. Sunday mornings when I visited were devoted to the 11 o’clock church service, followed by a dinner that Pansy had prepared before she left for Sunday School and featuring dishes I’d never tasted but grew to love -- turnip greens doused with vinegar, fried okra, and slow-cooked pinto beans.
Sunday afternoons were devoted to reading the newspaper and napping. But it was also a time when I learned what makes a country home truly that -- the garden. The afternoon Pansy told me to “dig me some potatoes for supper,” I looked at her like she was speaking a foreign language. She laughed heartily while handing me a spoon and told her son to take me out in the garden where the potato plants were starting to bloom and show me how to carefully turn over the soil to uncover the “new” potatoes she favored. I like to think that on those Saturday and Sunday afternoons, I was a help, that I did snap beans and shell peas and shuck corn before being instructed in how to blanch and freeze, though I truly don’t recall whether I did!
When my husband John and I moved in mid-November 2010 from Cary, a suburb of Raleigh, to three miles outside of the small town of Harmony, the first mission John undertook was to plant a winter garden. I wanted to get curtains hung and he was out putting in greens! The next summer, our garden was so large that we later admitted it was too much food for the two of us. We’d planted three rows of two kinds of green beans and one of butter beans, two rows of different peppers and one of okra, three rows of tomatoes, as well as rows of cucumber, zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant, plus enough basil to supply every restaurant in town! We froze and canned and gave away until no one wanted the bounty we had to share – I even took a basket of peppers to my students because they didn’t believe we really had a garden that size!
Through all the hard work -- heading outside first thing in the morning before the sun’s heat became unbearable, weeding by hand because we didn’t have a tiller, picking and freezing and canning and cooking – what was in the back of my mind was all I’d learned during two summers nearly 40 years ago under the loving guidance of Pansy Womble.
And that’s what was in the note I was composing to the kindest, gentlest Southern woman I ever met.
By Suzy Barile
As a community college English instructor, one of my fervent hopes is to interest students in reading more, for – I assure them – reading will make them become better writers. Often I steer them towards my favorite North Carolina authors: Reynolds Price, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, Alex Hailey, Joseph Mitchell, Suzanne Newton, Anne Tyler, Charles Frazier, O. Henry, Ellyn Bache, Gail Godwin, and Statesville’s own Doris Betts, who died this past weekend.
Though I planned to be a journalist when I entered UNC-Chapel Hill in 1973 at the start of my junior year, no one told me that outstanding and well-known writers frequently taught at universities, and that I should check out who was on the faculty before I signed up for any English classes. Without this valuable advice, I missed taking a class with Betts, who – like me – was a newspaper reporter before she became a teacher.
Instead, I was introduced to her work at a reading she gave of her award-winning The River to Pickle Beach. One insightful reviewer described it as “a probing look at life in a small North Carolina town [which] richly evokes the summer of 1968. A moving, sometimes startling portrait of people grappling with change and their need for love … [that] pulses with the reality of the contemporary South.” A wonderful review, but The River to Pickle Beach was so much more than that for me.
As I followed Betts’ main characters Jack and Bebe Sellars through a summer of managing several beach cottages and all that came with it – visits from long-lost Army buddies, the careful handling of a mentally-retarded woman placed in their care, racial inequality, even murders – I was awakened to a life I’d never experienced. Oh sure, I knew about the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the national turmoil that followed during the summer of 1968. And I had a mentally-handicapped aunt, although I didn’t quite grasp the significance of the challenges she presented to my grandparents, nor the care she required, until years later when it was too late to matter. Yet in all truthfulness, I was naïve.
The summer I met Betts, I was a budding journalist with a desire to remain in the South, but with much to learn. Within the pages of The River to Pickle Beach, she eloquently portrayed feelings of enduring love and compassion, and brought to life a place and time that I needed to know about – and begin to understand. For that insight, for what I took with me as I began my own journey, I will be forever indebted.
Posted on Tuesday, February 21, 2012
"earning it" or "deserving it"
By Jen Brett
there are 2 important things i learned this week: 1. no matter how tiny, always wear a sports bra. 2. taking a week off makes a huge difference. next time i feel under the weather, i'm running anyways.
this post is inspired by my valentines day, it's a little sad but don't worry, everyone is happy in the end.
all thru my youth i played soccer. i wasn't great, but i really enjoyed it. in high school i was on jv until senior year when i made varsity. my mom will argue, but the only reason i (along with 3 other girls) made varsity is b/c seniors weren't allowed to play jv. we hardly played.
the thing about playing soccer with old raleigh money in the 90's soccer craze was there were a lot of girls with a lot of their parents money and they all had name brand gear. adidas was stamped across everything. my gear was mostly from kmart or jc penny, my duffle was the bag my mom got for running (and completing!) the 5k cary road race. i was 12, what did i know about name brands, it all seemed to serve it's purpose. after 2 years of not making the junior high team and dealing with the new money cary mean girls, i knew.
by the time i was in high school, my mom had remarried and i was able to spend a little extra money on my gear. i had adidas cleats, snap pants and duffel, all purchased on sale of course. the one thing i did not have but desperately wanted was the adidas warm up. i had no real need for it, but i wanted it. that's where making varsity comes in. see, all the varsity girls wore the same green and black adidas warm up every game day. we tried to do the same on jv but were told that was a "varsity thing."
senior year rolled around, i had to make varsity. even if i wasn't good enough, school rules prohibit seniors from playing jv. so i had finally "made" the cut, the coach was less than pleased. we all worked just as hard, did the same drills and then happily took our place in the sub order. finally, a week before the first game, the warm ups arrived for us to try on for size. rather than the typical adidas warm up i had been looking forward to, there was a not so great looking all black reebok. turns out the coach decided this year she wanted to "go in another direction" with the warms ups. i couldn't help but feel like the 4 scrubs were part of her decision making, like we hadn't earned the right to wear them. paranoid maybe, but that's how we were made to feel in that situation. the following year, she wasn't the coach anymore and the team was back to the old adidas warm ups, i just missed the cut.
now i know it's not good to put importance on name brands (unless it's technology and then it's gotta be a mac) but not having that warm up stuck with me. it's weird but i kinda felt like i didn't deserve it. like i'd worked just hard enough to not have the coach fight the school board to get me off the team but not hard enough to earn the gold medal of warm ups. for years i never purchased adidas gym clothes. it wasn't like i was a gym rat or anything, i just felt i was probably better suited to the champion rack at target (great stuff by the way).
while at dinner after attending the grammy's (fab life name drop) i told my beau the story, it really upset him. he's never been in that position. he ran cross country in high school, i mean no one gets cut from the track team if you finish, much better system i think. he also grew up with more money and less mean girls than i did. this year for valentines day i dug into the bag from my new fav chocolatier and next to the box of dark chocolates were an adidas jacket and pants. he felt like i deserved to have them, that everyone deserves to have what they want. now, i just have to work on earning the 13.1 mile rep :)