AUTHOR: Daniel Whiting (edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter)
On January 24, 1810, George Lauder was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. While reliable records have not been discovered to confirm who Lauder’s parents were, it is believed he was born to John L. and Isabella Lyall Lauder of Dalkeith, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland. Little is known of the first twenty-five years of Lauder’s life, although he was probably an experienced marble mason by the time he arrived in America. One could also speculate that as a young man Lauder may have been apprenticed to another marble or stone mason, as that was often customary in the early to mid-nineteenth century. The next known chapter of George Lauder’s life began in the 1830s at Raleigh, North Carolina.
On Tuesday, June 21, 1831, around 7:00 in the morning, the fire alarm was sounded at Union Square at Raleigh. The North Carolina State House was engulfed in flames. With limited fire-fighting capabilities, many communities relied heavily on horse-drawn fire engines and volunteer firefighters wielding buckets of water. The firefighters and civilians who rushed to the aid of the State Capitol on that day in 1831 found that the building was too far gone to save. As a result, they focused their attention on rescuing the documents, records, and artifacts from the library wing and on preventing the fire from spreading to surrounding property. Most of the records were saved, and the fire was eventually extinguished; however, a priceless statue of George Washington, carved by Italian sculptor Antonio Canova, was damaged beyond repair, as was the building itself.
Following the fire, the North Carolina General Assembly met and ordered that a new Capitol Building be built. In 1833, the prominent New York architectural firm of Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis was chosen to design the new Capitol, and Scottish-born architect David Patton was hired to oversee the construction directly, including the hiring of personnel. The following year, Patton took control of the project completely, including the implementation of many of the aspects of the building’s prominent Greek Revival style architecture. Along with changes in architectural design, Patton was also responsible for hiring laborers and stone masons, many of whom were fellow Scotsmen who he was already acquainted with and trusted. One of the masons Patton hired was George Lauder.
There remains some mystery surrounding the exact date of Lauder’s arrival to America and when he was hired to work at the North Carolina State Capitol. In 1900, twelve years following Lauder’s death, H. McMillan of Red Springs, North Carolina, recounted a story told to him by Lauder, which was published in the Fayetteville Weekly Observer. McMillan recalled that Lauder told him that, prior to his immigration to America, Lauder had had breakfast with the famous writer Sir Walter Scott at Scott’s home at Abbotsford in Scotland. McMillan claimed that Lauder told Scott that he would be traveling to America soon, and therefore could not leave Scotland without meeting the author of Waverley (1814). Sir Walter Scott died in 1832, and by 1830 he was in such poor health that he would not have had guests, so if this visit occurred, it would have happened prior to 1830. It is unknown when exactly Lauder’s immigration to America occurred, although presumably it was sometime between 1830 and 1834. Lauder’s 1888 obituary states that, in 1835, Lauder came from Raleigh to Fayetteville to work on the U.S. Arsenal for a short period of time, then returned to Raleigh to continue to work on the Capitol, so he was presumably both stateside and gainfully employed by 1835.
Construction on the State Capitol continued from 1833 to 1840, during which time Lauder worked at the marble yard of William Stronach at Raleigh for approximately three years. There, Lauder honed his unique and distinctive masonry techniques and gained the valuable experience he needed to cultivate his most iconic and lasting works of masonry: gravestones and memorials. Lauder catered the intricacy and flamboyancy of his designs to the financial capabilities of his clients. For instance, the gravestone of Hannah P. Cook, who died in 1853 and was buried in the Cross Creek Cemetery of Fayetteville, now known as Cross Creek Cemetery #1, shows the beautiful simplicity that Lauder had mastered. The gravestone Lauder made is a conservatively sized stone with the engraving: “HANNAH P. COOK DIED JULY 19TH, 1853. AGED 55 YEARS.” It also bears, in the bottom right corner, the mark “LAUDER,” which Lauder often engraved on his gravestones and memorials. While Cook’s gravestone is simple, the gravestone that Lauder made for Samuel H. Pemberton is a more artistic example of Lauder’s capabilities. Pemberton’s grave marker is engraved with a picture that depicts two palm trees hanging over a well and a pump house. Below the scene is the inscription: “SAMUEL H. PEMBERTON, DIED JULY 1ST, 1856, AGED 22 YEARS. Reader, stop, reflect. The wages of sin is [sic] death; The gift of God eternal life.” Lauder also engraved his mark on Pemberton’s gravestone, which is a prime example of two of the common traits of Lauder’s work: Lauder often created pieces that featured picturesque scenes and/or Bible verses. Lauder also made memorials and above-ground tombs dedicated to entire families.
After the completion of his time with Stronach, Lauder returned to Fayetteville. By 1846, Lauder had gone into business for himself and had opened his doors to the public as evidenced by an advertisement in the Fayetteville Weekly Observer entitled “Monumental Marble Factory.” The short article announced the opening of his marble factory and alluded to his experience in the marble business, qualifying him to satisfy all patrons in need of monuments or gravestones. Most likely, Lauder had his marble imported by boat on a regular basis by way of the Cape Fear River, and at least on one occasion, Lauder lost some freight during this method of shipment. On December 24, 1867, The Fayetteville News, published a short article entitled “Wreck of the Sappho,” which provided an account of the incident: The Sappho was on its way from New York to Wilmington and wrecked off of Cape Hatteras on December 15th. The article listed four Fayetteville residents who had freight aboard, one of which being George Lauder. That incident provided some insight about the risks and stresses involved with being a nineteenth-century, North Carolinian businessman.
It is not believed that Lauder ever married; however, he had many friends, and one lifelong friend included a fellow Scot named John Smith. In fact, Lauder lived with John Smith and his family for quite a few years. John Smith was a stone cutter, and he was married to a woman named Ellen, who had grown up in Richmond, Virginia. The 1850 Census record confirmed that George Lauder, John Smith, Ellen Smith, and five of the Smith children—James, Marion, David, Ellen, and Elizabeth—all lived together in Fayetteville. Seven years later, in April 1857, Ellen experienced complications during childbirth, and both she and the baby died within a week afterward. They were buried at Cross Creek Cemetery, and Lauder constructed Ellen’s gravestone—an intricate piece of craftsmanship, consisting of a base, four columns, and a top. Further tragedy struck the Smith family two years later when John died on September 17, 1859 of unknown causes. Smith had named Lauder the executor of his estate and the legal guardian of his children. The Census records from both 1860 and 1870 documented that the Smith children continued to live with Lauder, who raised them. In 1860, even the eldest child of John and Ellen—James, a twenty-one-year-old stone cutter—lived in the family home with Lauder and his younger siblings: David (16), Elizabeth (12), Ellen (10), Mary (8), and George (5). In 1870, Lauder lived in the home with four of the Smith children: Elizabeth, Ellen, Mary, and George.
As a long-time resident of Fayetteville, Lauder was engaged in his community. By 1854, Lauder was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Cross Creek Lodge #4 of Fayetteville. He had, evidently, risen to a position of leadership within the lodge by 1854, because, as their secretary pro tempore, he wrote an article in the Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer, calling for a meeting of the Cross Creek Lodge #4 to discuss the laying of the corner stone of the Fayetteville Female High School. Not only did Lauder and his group of Odd Fellows help plan the procession for the laying of the corner stone, but Lauder himself inscribed the white marble block that was presented during the ceremony.
Also, on June 12, 1884, an article in the Fayetteville Weekly Observer described one of the many monuments for which Lauder was well known, the memorial for Rev. James Campbell. In 1858, Lauder was offered $500 by the Presbyterian Church to build a monument in honor of Rev. James Campbell, a Scottish Presbyterian preacher who had lived in the Fayetteville area in the 1700s, and Lauder agreed, creating the monument that was eventually displayed at the Bluff Presbyterian Church of Fayetteville. The monument’s dedication ceremony included a sermon on the importance of history and a historical address by James Banks about the early Scottish immigrants of the upper Cape Fear River Valley.
Lauder was best known for his skills as a craftsman and the services he offered through his marble factory; however, he was also involved in other local businesses and governmental affairs. When the [second] Bank of North Carolina was established in 1859, a branch came to Fayetteville. On Nov. 1. 1859, the new bank opened its doors for operation with George Lauder listed as a co-director, along with George McNeill, S.J. Hinsdale, and E.L. Pemberton. Little documentation was found, however, to provide details about Lauder’s time as a bank director or to describe the length of time that he held the position.
The Civil War took a heavy toll on the landscape, the lives, and the social and economic structures of North Carolina, and Fayetteville was right in the thick of it. When the war broke out in 1861, many local militias were thrown together, rallying any able-bodied men, and these units had to be clothed and equipped. From socks and uniforms to rations and weapons, these supplies were costly, prompting many communities to start donation drives, and Fayetteville was no different. In April 1861, a volunteer company fund drive subscription program was organized in Fayetteville and some of the subscribers were listed the following week in the Fayetteville Weekly Observer. George Lauder was named as having purchased a subscription for $10.
During the Reconstruction years, Lauder was appointed Fayetteville’s postmaster. In 1867, an article was published in The Fayetteville News by Lauder, announcing some new mail routes and listing himself as the postmaster. That appointment, according to author Ruth Little, was a result of a friendship Lauder had made with then U.S. President Andrew Johnson, a Raleigh native, while Lauder was working on the State Capitol. During Lauder’s time as postmaster, he put his full-time marble work to the side, only taking on special projects. One such project was completed in 1868 and became what he was most known for in North Carolina today. In 1868, a group of ladies from Fayetteville got together and raised money to hire Lauder to construct a monument for the Confederate dead who had been laid to rest at Cross Creek Cemetery. That monument, the first Confederate monument in North Carolina, was made of white marble and featured a pointed column with a metal cross on top.
In 1875, Lauder was removed from his position as postmaster, and an announcement was made in the North Carolina Gazette on June 17, 1875. The article’s writer reveals his displeasure with President Grant and his administration, stating that removing Lauder was, “in accordance with the Grant policy of always pruning out from the different departments the good and meritorious officers.” By then, the Smith children were adults, which gave Lauder the freedom to visit his homeland once more. As a result, in 1875, Lauder put up his house for auction in preparation for a trip to Scotland. When he left for Scotland and how long he stayed there remains a mystery, but he returned to Fayetteville in 1878 and, according to what was published in the newspaper, he looked well and invigorated. Afterward, he focused again on his marble business.
In 1883, Lauder was still taking orders for gravestones and monuments, even though he was seventy-three years old. He put an advertisement in the North Carolina Gazette, thanking fellow citizens for their patronage over the years and reminding them that he was still open for business. He continued working for another two years until his retirement in 1885.
Three years later, George Lauder died on Thursday, May 31, 1888. His obituary was published in the Fayetteville Weekly Observer a week later, on June 7. It had been written by a long-time friend of his, who gushed about Lauder’s personality, his demeanor, and his character. The friend also stated that Lauder’s greatest accomplishment was the result of his most selfless act—raising John and Ellen Smith’s children after their parents’ deaths. Despite all the accolades that Lauder received, without actions they would have been merely words, but George Lauder showed his character in the way he lived his life. He set goals for himself and he achieved them through hard work and dedication.
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