Now that my other city is in the clear, I can go back to stories about the current one.
Living in the South, the past is never too far past. Sometimes, it's looking right back at ya.
The photo above is what I call Deer Lane. It's our view off to the right of Court Street, as we start the climb up the hill, to our house at the top (also on the right).
The only traffic that use this little clearing in the trees now are the four-legged kind - usually a doe and her two fawns, although we have often seen a black cat stalking and playing in the open field.
One hundred and forty three years ago, this was an official road here in Rocky Mount. As we stand today, in the middle of the paved Court Street, the phantom road would have stretched straight ahead of us, approximately one block, and then turned left and run up Court Street Hill (parallel to the current paved Court Street), running through what is now a row of green-lawned, garden-filled backyards belonging to my neighbors and myself.
Now why would a small town need 2 parallel roads, , running up the same hill? No houses or stores stood on the phantom road; it was merely a cleared dirt road, approximately the width of a car-and-a-half (or a buggy-and-a-half), complete with occasional wooden split-rail fence on either side.
Even on our property deeds, the phantom road is still drawn in, both physically and legally. The Town of Rocky Mount has a legal right-of-way dating to the late 1700s, allowing them to put a proper street through our backyards if they so desire.
The answer lies in where both Court Street and its phantom road turnoff start from. When looking at the clearing, if you look to the left you see up the hill, to the large historic houses that were the homes of the upper class. If you look to the right, you see a second hill, that leads up to the outskirts of town, home in the 1800's to the servant and slave class of the black community
(actually from the 1800's on - the grade school there now was the black high school until 1972).
This phantom road was constructed and used entirely by the black servants and slaves belonging to the wealthier white upper class families living at the top of Court Street hill.
They were expected to use the back road, rather than walking in plain sight up the main road.
This back road would take them to the specific parts of the homes they would be working in - for example what is now our property had a separate large outdoor kitchen as well as a barn and stable.
At one point in time there was an orchard growing just above our house on the hill ridge, and the phantom road leads on past the former orchard, past some old brick law offices, then directly to the largest most prestigous house on the ridge of the hill itself, a 1700's brick home, built by a cousin of Robert E. Lee.
Did I say "white upper class"? It mostly was. Except when it wasn't.
For those of you who do not live in the South, and do not consume Civil War history with every breathe you take: General Jubal Early was one of the great Confederate commanders, a pivotal force at Bull Run, Marye's Heights, and Gettysburg. He was from Rocky Mount, and had a successful law practice here before The War. General Early did not take to defeat well, and in 1865 fled the U.S., refusing to swear the Union Loyalty Oath. He lived in Mexico awhile, then moved to Toronto and eventually returned home to Rocky Mount to open a law office which still stands about 2 blocks from our house (one of those old quaint brick law offices at the hill ridge). His law office is now the hometown office for our U.S. Congressman, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
Before the war, Jubal lived openly with a black woman that bore him three sons. When he left the country after the war, Julia gave up on him and married another Rocky Mount man. Jubal's son's are listed in the 1880 census with the Early name, although Julia and her other three children bear her married name.
For the rest of his life, while living abroad, as well as after his return to Rocky Mount, General Early never married. He supported his and Julia's children until his death, making provision for them in his will.
If you ever read General Early's memoir, written while he was in Toronto, he explains that he is a fervant believer in white supremacy, and the difference between the races, stating that one is inferior to the other.
The puzzle then becomes how to reconcile that view with the man who openly maintained and provided for his black (and only) family, at a time prior to the Civil War, and who returned home to find the mother of his children married to another man. As well as how to reconcile a town that was not merely tolerant, but accepting of Julia, treating her as the lady of the Early house, but then turned and sent its best and brightest sons off to fight in a war that defended ownership of other people (or if you prefer, states rights, since those rights at the time defended ownership of other people).
A puzzle with a man who never, ever, married, and a woman that waited not only four years of war, but an additional three years, until finally giving up and marrying someone else.
That phantom road we pass every day - the one with the doe and the fawns- stretched right up along the backs of all those beautiful houses, right up past the old orchard, and right past Jubal's brick law office.
Every day when we pass it, I always wonder if Julia walked up that road everyday to take Jubal his lunch, and I marvel at how people manage to accept all the constraints society places on them, and still, somehow, move past them and go on to what's really important.
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