Search billions of records on

Historic Woodville

Preserving Woodville's Heritage

Excerpts from Moore Rawls' diary 1851-1855

Moore Rawls was overseer for Lewis Thompson's plantation, in Woodville (now called Lewiston-Woodville) North Carolina. These excepts were compiled by Mary Margaret Parker, his great-great grandaughter, and presented as a school assignment in 1956. Punctuation, spelling, and grammar are exactly as she typed it. Parenthetical notes provided by Molly Urquhart, gg grandaughter of Lewis Thompson. We are searching for the complete diary. Mary Margaret's mother, Mrs. Joseph Parker, who owned this diary, donated many historical items to various depositories, but so far no one has located the diary.

Antebellum Diary Describes Life in the Roanoke Lowlands

One hundred and five years ago my great-great grandfather, Moore Rawls, was an overseer on a large plantation on the Roanoke River. It was owned by Mr. Lewis Thompson of Woodville. It is easy to imagine the size of this plantation when Moore Rawls records the slaves or "hands" as he called them, working in the Johnson Field, the Island, Gordons Ridge, Williams Ridge, Freemans, The Division, Hill Field, Boilis, Bobs, Floyds, Garden Ridge, Deer Pond and Hickory Neck.

My ancestor's diary covers the period from 1851 through 1855. Reading it is like listening to a voice faint and faraway down the corridor of time. It simply chronicled everyday happenings on the river plantation where there was always work to be done.

I have selected some excerpts which tersely describe the daily activities. The spelling, some old English, and punctuation I am copying just as it was written in the faded, yellowed, and partly torn diary which is in my mother's possession.

On September 24, 1852 the diary records, "Anthony do took some fodder and cut tops until 12 oclock it rained, Titus and Willis work on cotton scaffol, 5 carts hauling ditch bank, women raking litter, 4 hands mauling, Silvy down yet."

"September 28, 1852. Mark went to Freemans Mill again, Luke hauling litter 5 carts Do Anthony Do Willis and Jno. putting down Bobs Bridge Co, 17 hands picking out cotton. Little Silvy down yet I hope to bury Mr. John Mitchell's child today."

The "hands" gathered bark and tanned leather, grew flax and spun woolens and linen as the following excerpts show:

"December 3, 1852. "Rained hard today until 12 oclock took up leather and beet flax seed in the morning. Then housed corn Gin Do Sick ones DO__"

January 11, 1853. "6 men mauling, carts hauling wood, 6 women spining and the rest cleaning out stables. I started Big Hampton to Windsor."

January 13, 1853. "Big Snow. Anthony and Noah and Luke making horse collars the rest cutting and burning brush in Johnson, gin at work today."

October 31, 1853. "7 men working on the Screw, the rest Littering Lots and putting up fence until 12 oclock, then picking out cotton Except L. Hampton, Titus and Mark work on fence all day. River rising last night and falling today. Abram making shoes."

January 13, 1854. "I kild 59 hogs. Carts hauling straw. Put 3 hands to geting house-poles. Anthony and Noah and Women work on hog guts, the river riseing fast today."

March 1, 1854. "finish beating out oats had 120 1/2 bus. then commen a house. Start to plow cotton land, carts hauling cobs out of the hog lot, the water riseing fast today. I lost 5 hogs and one sheep by the freshet (flood)."

The flooding of the Roanoke River was the cause of much anxiety. On March the second Moore Rawls wrote, "Nothing don to day but to try and save stock etc. Water very high indeed." Later he wrote, "the river got on a stand today after riseing 96 hours."

In parts of the diary he recorded "hands" building dams, dikes, abutments, causeways, bridges and digging and cleaning out drainage ditches.

The same Roanoke River that drowned stock and crops was also a friend. Many supplies came by boat to their landing (Thompson's Landing- still there!) and the baled cotton was by boat on its way to market. One account reads, "The Boat came today with baging and rope. Also Mr. Thompsons goods. I wrote Mr. Mitchell work to send after baging and rope this evening at 2 oclock."

Several notations of making canoes and boats are given. My ancestor wrote this personal experience on November 16, 1854. "I.B. Lee and Sam Cox curse and said many hard things of me today about my taking my canoes out of the mill pond. & should anything happen to me I want my friends to look out, man does not know when he is safe."

On August 20, 1852, he wrote, "Ploughs Do Hoe hands Do L. Hampton down yet Mary sick today. I sent Daniel up to Dr. C. Smallwood for quinine." (see Dr. Charles Smallwood's Recollections)

Numerous working days were lost and much suffering was caused by the ever present malaria fever.

August 27, 1852. "All hands working cotton. Emma sick Sarah sick, Tilda sick, Old Luke Do Fanny sick.. Sick myself."

Nothing was recorded for the next two days except, "all hands sick Do____"

Doctor Charles Smallwood of Woodville attended the women during childbirth and treated the sick. During November of 1853 Doctor Smallwood was at the plantation on five consecutive days treating sick slaves.

Doctor Hardy was with the sick a few times. He was with Old Silvy at the time of his death.

There is only one account of a slave running away.

January 11. 1852. "Picking out cotton. Mr. Thompson brought John home. he staid out three months and 3 days out". On the margin of the page was the one word "Runaway"

Mr. Lewis Thompson spent much time away from his home. During the years recorded in this diary, he was a member of the Legislature. His Alma Mater, the University of North Carolina, erected a plaque in honor of his outstanding service to the state. He was also a well-known business man and is said to have been the first millionaire in our state.

Moore Rawls was a member of the St. Frances Methodist Episcopal Church South (the same church we - Historic Woodville - are restoring and moving back to its original site ), He mentioned two ministers during that time: "Bro Grant" and "Bro Bunch"

"On October 2, 1852 we all went out to the celebration of St. Frances to hear Bro. Grant on temperance etc." A few days later he wrote, "I went to Hamilton Division today and made a motion to pay Bro. Grant five dollars for lecturing on Temperance at St. Frances on the 2nd of October which motion did not get a second at all."

He was also a member of the Masonic Lodge for on November 13, 1854 he recorded: "I went to Windsor to the Lodge this night home at sun-rise."

Often Moore Rawls mentioned his wife, Mary Arabella (Smith), and their daughters Mary Moore and Betty.

"September 27, 1853 Mary Moore went back to H.H. Hardy to school today."

Mary Moore stayed with Mr. Hardy, a merchant, while attending school in Woodville. She spent the weekends at home with her parents. At that time her mother was suffering with a cancer.

There were many friends who visited them. Moore Rawls listed Mrs. Martha Smith, W.B. Smith, Mrs. N.B. Hardy, Mrs. Joe Hardy, Mrs. Vaughan, Miss C.L. Hardy, Mrs. Sarah Page, Mr. Mitchell, Mrs. Cobb, Miss Westbrook, Miss Manda Bunch and Mrs. Raby.

"September 6, 1854. My wife departed this life 15 minutes after 10 oclock in the A.M." A few days later Betty was sent to live with her aunt, Mrs. F.P. Raby, and Mary Moore returned to school.

Work went on and Moore Rawls was kept busy. On Sundays he attended services at St. Frances with his daughters. Betty, who was not in school, often visited her father, yet he was very lonely.

"November 1, 1854. I well recollect that 16 years ago just at this time I was married. Happy hours then to what I see now. My day of pleasure past and gone forever, I feare."

Return to Historic Woodville Main Page