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A Novelist’s ties to Hyde County

by | Dec 7, 2015 | Confederate affiliation, Hyde

Taken from stories written by William Stryon: “I’ve always been surprised by my direct link to the Old South — the South of slavery and the Civil War. Many southerners of my vintage, and even some of those who are considerably older, can claim an ancestral connection to that period only through a great-grandparent. “I have letters written during the war by my great-aunt,” they will say, or “my great-grandfather was with Longstreet at Seven Pines.” If they remember their grandparents they usually remember elderly ladies and gentlemen whose own childhood memories are of the days of Reconstruction or afterwards. But it was from my own grandmother, who was in her late eighties when I was a boy of twelve or so, that I heard of her life as a little girl just before the war and of the sometimes remarkable events that took place in her life thereafter. The Clark plantation, where she was born Marianna at mid-century, was a small-fiefdom of several thousand acres on the lower reaches of the Pungo River in eastern North Carolina. Even now Hyde County is a remote region, low-lying, with the desolate marsh-and-pine-woods beauty of land bordering on the sea. In those days, before highways and cars, before telephones, the remoteness must have been a globe of near-perfect silence, with only the diurnal sounds of plantation business obtruding: cartwheels squeaking, a blacksmith’s hammer, the fuss and grumble of livestock — at night an immense quiet. Whenever, in my fantasy of the place, I hear human voices, the voices are almost always that of black people, calling from the cabins or the fields, through an August haze. This was a mercantile enterprise after all, and the black people made up its vital force and were its essential personnel. My grandmother’s father, Caleb Clark, was a major entrepreneur; he owned upwards of thirty-three slaves, a large number for the upper South. And it was they who labored to produce the plantation’s crops — cotton and cotton meal, shingles and turpentine, much of which was transported by boat up through the inland waterway to Norfolk for shipment north and to Europe.”

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