Laura Pearson of Morganton, N.C. (Burke County) wrote love letters to Capt. Neill W. Ray in Fayetteville, N.C. (Cumberland County) from December 31st, 1875 until March 30th, 1878, shortly before they were married. She often wrote of members of the families of RAY, PEARSON, TATE, ERVIN and VANCE. Laura began her ledger in 1899 after Neill's death in Fayetteville. In this book are numerous entries of many Fayetteville residents (1899-1929). Her original letters and her revealing black ledger are now together again at the Rare Book, Manuscripts & Special Collections Library at Duke University, Durham, N.C.
In order to tell you what we have learned recently about these families, it is necessary to tell you how Novelist Jo Humphreys of Charleston, South Carolina and I, Myrtle Bridges of Angier, N.C., became intrigued with Laura. No, she is not our ancestor. Jo & I don't even know each other, but we came to know Laura through our mutual love of the hidden past. We knew nothing of this out-standing and highly intelligent lady until two recent events took place in our individual lives.
Jo writes: "Myrtle, you won't believe the coincidence I just discovered. I was looking at your summary of the new "Scattered Seed" and I noticed it will include the ledger of Laura Pearson Ray. Well, last year I bought a collection of about 36 love letters written by Laura Pearson to Neil Ray. I didn't know anything about her, had never heard of her, had no connection to her... but was offered the letters and bought them just because they looked so fascinating. And they were. I donated them a couple of months ago to the Duke University Library, Special Collections.
"As for Laura, the letters are very revealing of her personality, which is maybe not what you might guess: she's edgy, tough, witty, both haughty and generous at the same time, jealous, a devoted Presbyterian. It took me at least two days straight to read the 36 letters because the handwriting is a bit hard to get used to. Neill was practicing law in Fayetteville, Laura was in Morganton. All were suffering (still) the ravages of the war... I think the letters were written in the 1880's, over the course of a year in which her invalid mother died. Yes, her father was a banker but also an investor in the new railroad, and there's a lot of interesting stuff about that. I think he is dead by the time of the letters, and her brother is in charge of the business. There is also mention of the lunatic asylum, and the Governor, who is Laura's cousin. Was it Vance? I don't remember [Yes, Gov. Zebulon Vance]. She also describes a trip to New York--the world's fair, and her return alone on the train. Neill, by the way, had lost a leg in the war, and was subject to deep melancholy, which she tries to help him with. The year must have been the one right before her wedding." Regards, Jo H.
Following is the story of how I became aware of Laura Pearson Ray and what I learned from my research: 1999
In May of 1998 while browsing in a musty corner of an antique/junk shop in Dare County, N.C. I noticed a disheveled stack of old books topped with a fragile old ledger. It had been repaired with needle & thread at least once. Neatly written in the inside cover of the book was, "Mrs. L. P. Ray Fayetteville, N.C. 1899". The activities scanning the years (1899 - 1929) of many well known Cumberland County folks such as, Ray, Lilly, McKay, Monroe, Thornton, Broadfoot, Pearson, Hale, McRae, Haigh, Remsburge, and many, more had been recorded by the careful hand of Laura Ray. This book would provide the contents of the final chapter in my recent book, "Scattered Seed - Genealogical Research Data of Southeastern North Carolina".
Although not yet aware of her identity, I soon became acutely aware of the devoted love Laura had for the child, Donald Ray. Her ledger takes the reader through his childhood with purchases like fire-works, pony rides, chocolate to make his candy, baseball gloves, tablets, pencils, sherbet, clothing of all description, oranges and apples, at least one bow and arrow set, picnics, excusions to the beach and fishing trips down the Cape Fear River. Later purchases of shaving supplies gave an excellent clue that Donald was now in his teenage years. Then there were purchases of law books, encyclopedias, and Shakespeare's "Hamlet". This well-loved young man's formal education began with drawing lessons from Mrs. Remsburge. Tuition fee entries to Miss Ellison, Mr. Roberson and Mr. J. L. Simpson are recorded regularly. August 23rd, 1904 was enrollement day for Donald Ray at The Woodbury School, Woodbury, Va. He began his studies at UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. in Sept. 1905 and completed his education at Harvard. His diploma arrived at the Ray home in Fayetteville on June 29, 1912 with an express fee of twenty-five cents due.
Neill W. Ray, Sr. was born near Longstreet Presbyterian Church in Cumberland County, N.C. on August 4th, 1839. As a twenty-one year old cadet at North Carolina Military Institute in Charlotte he had enlisted there on May 28th, 1861. Company D. Regiment 6 was mainly made up of Burke County men. He was appointed 2nd Lieutenant to rank from May 1861 and promoted to 1st Lieut to rank from June 11th, 1862. Then he was promoted to Captain to rank from Jan 21, 1863.
An excerpt of Neill's account of losing his left foot reads: "After we had gotten on the south side of the creek I, in passing from the left to the right along the line, received a shot in the ankle which disabled me entirely. Fearing capture, I, without waiting for the litter-bearers, called on my men to carry me back. Oh! How true and good and faithful those men had, under all circumstances, been to me. Promptly when the call was made, three or four good soldiers of my company lifted me and carried me to the ambulance station and thence to the hospital. When my turn came I was placed on the operating-table, and when I awoke, my left foot was gone. The surgeons said amputation was necessary." Neill W. Ray retired to the Invalid Corps on Dec. 22nd, 1864.
An entry made on February 19th, 1903 records that Laura gave money to the old Negro who helped to move N.W.R. from the battlefield. Neill held the titles of clerk of court, attorney and teacher. He married Miss Laura Pearson, a daughter of Robert Caldwell Pearson. Robert, a man of outstanding business ability, was president of the western branch of the Old State Bank at Morganton in Burke County, N.C. Laura's mother, Jane Sophronia Tate a devout Presbyterian, was a lady of remarkable character. She was a daughter of David Tate, Sr. And his wife Ann Elizabeth McCall. It is said that the Concord Presbytery was organized in the parlor of the Robert C. Pearson home which stood on the north side of East Union Street across from the old Court House in Morganton. Neill & Laura P. Ray were living in Morganton when their beautiful baby boy was born in January 1879. Six months later in July baby Neill. W. Ray, Jr. died of Cholera Infantum, as stated by the attending physician, Collett. Probably, sometime after the death of their baby boy they bought a home at 226 Green Street in Fayetteville, N.C. A second son, Donald Fairfax Ray, was born September 26th, 1888.
Like his father, Donald became a lawyer and was on the staff of the Chief of Artillery in Washington, D.C. Here he was influential in the selection of his hometown of Fayetteville, N. Carolina as the site for an artillery range and training camp.
Neill W. Ray, Sr. has been given much of the credit for Fayetteville's extrication from financial distress in 1881. Laura Pearson Ray may not have been accustomed to dealing with financial matters, but she truly deserves similar recognition as she appears to have carried on her husbands business affairs long after his death. On November 7th, 1899 she recorded her husband's funeral expenses as $106.13. In the upper right-hand corner of her ledger she pasted a newspaper clipping showing how to compute interest and began a book which became a most fascinating monthly account of the next thirty years of her life.
A check written to Rev. Mr. Vardell on August 5, 1907 for the
Annie Ray Scholarship at Red Springs College, Red Springs, N.C. and another
on January 16th, 1918 for the Neill W. Ray Memorial Scholarship at
the Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va. indicate that Mrs. Laura P.
Ray established and continued to contribute money for both memorial
scholarship funds. The chimes of the First Presbyterian Church of Fayetteville,
N.C. were given by Laura in memory of her husband Neill W. and son,
Donald Fairfax Ray.
(Sources: Laura's Ledger / North Carolina Regiments 1861-'65 Vol. I Clark Ref. 973.7456 His. / North Carolina Mortality Census 1850-60-70-80 - Vol. 12 by Sandra Lee Amasy / Story of Fayetteville and the Upper Cape Fear - by Oates Ref.975.6373 / "Hometown Heritage - Fayetteville N.C." by Lucile Miller Johnson / Cumberland County - A Brief History by Roy Parker, Jr.)
Hello Ms. Bridges,
I am very excited by the coincidences in my recent treasure find and those of both yours and Ms. Jo Humphreys' past finds. I found this big box of letters, photos, cards, and some of it just junk, at a thrift/junk store in Ellenboro which is south of Morganton and west of Shelby. When I saw them at the bottom of the very large box I just knew I had to have the whole box.
I think there was some things from another estate sale mixed in but most of these letters must have come from one of Laura's neice, nephew, or the next generation descendant's estate (Tate's) from Morganton. Most of the letters are to Wilhelmina and Sue Virginia. There are a few from and to Jennie and her other children, as well as just a few to the Pearson family members. Irene Tate didn't die until 1974 so they could have migrated from her estate sale to Ellenboro somehow. Frank Tate had one son and several grandchildren. They could have come from his line or it could have come from one of the another Tate sons. As near as I can figure Laura was living with the Tate children in Morganton from about 1923 until she died.
I plan to investigate a home for the Tate papers in Burke County, maybe someone in the genealogical/historical society or if I'm lucky a Tate descendant of that area. I also hope to find a place for the Ray family documents also. Although I am still reading all and planning to transcribe some of these documents. As well as a treasure hunter I am a genealogy enthusiast so this has become a wonderful project. I am still sorting and separating. I really don't want to sell any of these letters, I just want to preserve them for future generations. I was very happy to find your postings. Kathleen Haynes, Dallas, NC... and yet another wonderful find by Terrie Miller of South Carolina 2011
My name is Terrie Miller and I thoroughly enjoyed your page of letters regarding the Tate family. I have quite a collection of letters to Frank Tate that mesh well with yours and they were quite a family. If you ever find a home for these letters please let me know as I would like to include mine. ... I can certainly transcribe the letters and then send them to Duke. Thanks for the information. I researched Frank when I kept finding letters to him and he was quite a man and after reading some of the history I understand his participation in the Confederate Monument. ... My husband collects stamps etc and I began talking with the dealers and realizing the letters they had were being sold for the stamps although there was tons of information in the letters themselves. I started buying the letters at a cut rate price I might add and then researching who was in the letter and contacting the descendents of whomever was in the letter and giving them the letter. It's a lot of fun and people are so amazed to have something written by a Great Grandfather for instance. They also seem to be surprised I don't ask for money I just return the letter to it's rightful owner. I was at a show and bought a box of letters and found a huge amount belonging to Frank Tate. ... I'm so pleased to find some people that know about Frank. Did you know his wife was the principal of the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton and their wedding was announced in the New York Times? I love researching these things.
Thanks for sharing and transcribing, Terrie Miller, South Carolina