Going back in time: A visit of Jamestown in 1849.
By Mary Browning

In the late afternoon of a cold and snowy day in March 1849 two weary travelers arrived in the village of Jamestown in search of shelter. One was Benson J. Lossing and the other was his horse, Charley, both chilled to the bone and very tired. They had spent the day retracing the routes taken by British and Revolutionary armies leading to their 1781 encounter at Guilford Court House. .

Lossing, a native of New York State, was a successful maker of woodcut engravings on his home ground, and was active in publishing. In 1849, he was beginning an exciting new project, touring Revolutionary battlefield sites, making sketches, interviewing residents, taking notes, all in preparation for what would become The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, eventually published in 1859. 

This day in 1849 had begun in Greensboro, where he had spent much of the night watching residents fighting a fire—without aid of fire engines, he noted—that consumed four buildings before a broad exterior chimney stopped it. All that excitement meant a late start the next day, but by 10 o’clock Lossing had reached Martinsville, first on his itinerary. There he found that his contact, Mr. “Hotchkiss,” was away from home, but the gentleman’s daughter answered many of his questions. Was the “Hotchkiss” home he visited that of Mr. Hoskins? Anyway, Lossing sketched the battlefield and noted that his vantage point was the extreme western boundary of the field. 

It had started snowing during the morning. At noon, with the snow still falling, Lossing left for the Quaker meetinghouse at New Garden. A wedding was in progress there. The groom was from Randolph Co., Lossing said. This might help to date the visit, because there were only a handful of marriages at New Garden in the 1840s, and only one that could be found with a groom from Randolph. He was Frederick Henley and his bride was Sarah Jane Macy. The date: March 1, 1849. 

Lossing also visited New Garden Boarding School nearby, whose superintendent at the time, Thomas Hunt, introduced him to his father, 91-year-old Nathan Hunt. That worthy shared some recollections of the time of the Revolution, when some of the dead and dying from local skirmishes and the Guilford Court House battle were brought to New Garden for care. 

The afternoon wore on, the weather didn’t improve, and Lossing mounted Charley and headed them both toward Jamestown, over a countryside that he described as “very broken.” 

When he reached Jamestown, he found it to be “an old village situated upon the high southwestern bank of the Deep River.” If this doesn’t sound like the Jamestown you know, think of the height of the dam in High Point City Lake Park, and remember also that just downstream from the dam there is about a 30’ drop from the bridge on Main St. to the river below. 

Since Lossing reported that most of the original Quaker inhabitants of Jamestown had come from Nantucket, we might infer that the lodging he found was in the George C. Mendenhall home on the West Fork riverbank, where the lady of the house at that time was Delphina Gardner Mendenhall, a descendant of Nantucket Quakers. Lossing also reported that the Jamestown inhabitants “do not own slaves, or employ slave labor, except when a servant is working to purchase his freedom,” which is an interesting take on the actual situation. However, it does represent the views of the owner, whose first wife had inherited these slaves from her father. Mendenhall was obligated to care for them, but his goal was to train them for trades before setting them free, and he and Delphina did, in fact, take a number of them to lead free lives in the Midwest. 

This lack of slave labor accounted for the “aspect of thrift” found in the local land and houses, Lossing thought, and gave the area a different appearance from that in the usual rural districts in the Carolinas.

When he left the next morning, three inches of snow had accumulated on the ground. Nevertheless he was off for “the Yadkin” by way of Lexington and other points west. 

Lossing’s field-book isn’t great history, but it’s fun to tag along with him in 1849 as he makes this trek through familiar territory, to see it as he saw it then. Even when he misunderstands what he sees and hears, he adds to our understanding of how it was.

News & Record, Sunday, November 13, 2005

Reprinted with permission of the News & Record  and of the author