Contributed by Robert Hill - firstname.lastname@example.org|
Note from contributor: This story is about a courageous young 17 year old Vermont school teacher who came to the Thompson Plantation in Onslow County in 1853 by train, horse and buggy. She stayed, taught school a few years, met Imlay Dunn Miller's son, Dr. Anderson Roscoe Miller, married, moved to Kinston, went into business, raised kids. This is a story by the educator Joseph Kinsey from LaGrange who became Supt. of Lenoir County Schools, started a school in LaGrange, then Kinston, then Wilson, then back to Lenoir County.
By Jospeh Kinsey, Lieut., Company E, N.C. Regiment of C.S.A.
Some time between 1846 and 1856 before I was in the teens, there came to this state from Vermont two young men, Oscar and Junius Armstrong. They taught in Lenoir County, one in the Bucklesberry section and the other in an adjacent one. Oscar did not stay but one term and on his return to his home, he moved to Iowa and invested in land at $3.00 an acre. Junius taught in Jones County near my home and while there, he was asked to recommend a lady teacher to the Thompson brothers, Jonathan and Franklin, in Onslow County. He referred them to the principal of Barrie School in Vermont.
This principle wrote he had only one, Miss Delia M. Henry, a 17 year old girl, who was qualified though rather young. They wrote her and while her parents objected, she persisted in her efforts to be allowed to go and succeeded. Her father consented saying, "I will give you two weeks to go and get back."
She accepted and the day was appointed for this 17 year old girl to go alone from thickly populated Vermont to a sparsely settled section of North Carolina. Imagine her surprise on her arrival at the Magnolia Station, that no one met her.
Undismayed she stepped over to the hotel and inqured for a conveyance to Haw Branch. The proprietor informed her that Haw Branch was twenty-five miles away in Onslow County and as it was late in the afternoon, she would have to remain there unto morning, then she could take an early start and make the journey.
Next morning after breakfast was over, she was notified that the conveyance was ready. At the door she found a two seated conveyance in which she started for Haw Branch. What a contrast between this country and Vermont. In Vermont, people lived within a stone's throw of each other, while in North Carolina, she found few houses, tall pines and sandy roads instead of rocky highways.
After a few miles she began to realize that she was on a lonely road with a negro driver and often no houses in view. The silence was relieved after a trip of eight miles when she asked, "What is this place?" "Kenansville" he repled. "Not far now?" "Seventeen miles, mam." Imagine how this 17 year old girl longed to be back in the Green mountains before her father's two weeks had elapsed.
The journey after leaving Kenansville was continued on lonely roads, through densely wooded swamps with their moss covered trees and cypress knees for eight or ten miles more and then Hallsville on the North East River was reached.
She found this to consist of one store, a turpentine distillery and a few homes. This was less pretentious than Kenansville, which had a Court House, a jail, a school and a few dozen dwellings. The importance of this village grew out of its barter business. The people for miles brought turpentine to exchange for groceries, tobacco, snuff, whiskey and wearing apparel. The whiskey was sold for 10 cents a quart.
This 17 year old girl was glad to see this much of a town as it relieved the monotony of the forests. After Hallsville was behind, eight or nine miles and noon had passed, the driver broke the silence by saying, "Here is the place." What a thrill of joy filled her heart to realize that she was no longer to be alone. How welcome the words, "Here is the place", she jumped out and hastened in and met the strange faces of the mother and father whose sons and daughters she was to teach.
The school work soon began and that homesickness that comes on a girl with 8 to 10 states between her and home and a weekly mail instead of a daily one often vanished in a great measure except nights and Sundays. What a change had come over her life. I can call to mind many conditions that have changed much.
Here she was about midway between Wilmington and New Bern and 30 to 40 miles from Kinston and the buggy and horse the only convenience to travel. The mail came on a buggy once a week. A less brave or determined girl would have gone back home but she had true metal and taught the Thompson children of two brothers, who married sisters. The school was midway between them a mile a part. Her success as a teacher spread abroad; the neighborhood homes took boarders and she did a great work.
This seventeen year old girl, not through school, began life as a teacher in eastern North Carolina and became a factor for good. She did not wait for something to come to her, but she went to her work full of faith in God and self reliant. In the Psalms, it is said thus: The steps of good men are ordered by the Lord. She came under that head and she did what came before her so well that Miss Henry was in demand as a teacher.
It was the custom at that time in this part of North Carolina for young dentists after graduation to go through the country to do dental work, instead of requiring people to travel long distances to their offices in the towns. About this time Dr. Anderson R. Miller, a farmer's son in this county, was making these visits to the Thompson home to serve the people. Enough said. In course of time Miss Henry went home and came back to North Carolina as Mrs. A.R. Miller.
The Doctor located in Kinston and built the Miller home on the corner of McIlvane and Caswell Streets, that is standing now. The Civil War began. Her people were on one side and his on the other. At this time she was on a visit to her home and had a sick child. She left the child with her parents, hastened to her adopted state and home.
In due time she got permission to go to her old home to bring back her child who was now restored to health. It was interesting to hear her relate how easily she got north and how hard it was to get back. On her arrival at New Bern, she accepted the only way from New Bern to Kinston - as a prisoner of war on a gun boat with which the northern soldiers were shelling both banks of the Neuse. I know many men who would have gone on that boat only by being forced. This brave woman risked it with her daughter in her arms. That daughter, Mrs. H.O. Hyatt has been under fire.
Mrs. Miller begged the Northerners to shoot up the river to save the town women and children.
When Kinston fell into the hands of the Northern Army the second time, Mrs. Miller faced an ordeal different from riding twenty-five miles from Magnolia to Haw Branch School. She had a family of children, a husband, a house and a business. She had realized the truth of this little stanza:
When land is gone and money spent
She opened a store in one room of her dwelling and her husband plied his profession. This little store on a back street soon grew into a large one joined to her dwelling and then into a still larger one in the other end of her house. Finally when the capacity of this was not equal to the demand of her business, she built the first brick store in Kinston on Queen Street, with the name A.H. Miller-1879 on the front.
Her pluck and business talent served her a good purpose and many ladies in Kinston learned a lesson from her, that where there's a will, there's a way.
Not only did she do well for herself, she identified herself with the welfare of Kinston and was interested in all church work and schools. There is a monument to her stamped indelibly with love in the heart of all who knew her. Additional information to above contribution:
North Carolina State Archives