COURT DAYS OF LONG AGO.
Court day in Rockingham has been a great day in the calendar for more than a century. Even now, after the absorption of the county court by the circuit court, court day is still perpetuated and religiously observed. All who have a horse to sell, a horse to buy, a man to see, - anything to be seen: those with business of all sorts, and chiefly those with none of any sort, - those and these all come to town on court day. Court day may be termed an institution: a social and economic institution. It doubtless has an educational as well as a general social value. To be on court square, or near it, on court day makes one dream of the agora at old Athens and the forum at Rome.
In the following paragraphs, taken from Mrs. Maria Graham Carr’s charming reminiscences, one gets a vivid idea of the court square and the court days of 1820, and thereabouts.
About eighty feet in front of her [Mrs. Effinger’s] corner house was located the Court House, nearly in the middle of the square. I think I remember a log or frame court house, that stood in the same place. I certainly remember a stone building with a large door on the east end, as well as a large bull’s-eye, or round window, near the roof, and other windows on the second floor to light the jury rooms. A stone jail with grated windows stood a few paces southeast of the court house. Mr. Fletcher, an old man, was the jailer then. Behind the court house, about 20 feet from it, was a small one-story building called the clerk’s office. Between it and the court house was a roof of shingles, supported by wooden pillars. Under this beef was sold; it was called the market-house. A whipping post was near the east end of it. The whole was enclosed by a strong wooden fence, made of
Three horizontal rails set into posts securely planted in the ground, all painted Spanish brown. I do not think the color was ever noted for its beauty, but for its durability.
The lawyers of that day were Robert Gray, David Steele, and Thomas Clark, and some younger ones I do not remember. Court day once a month was looked upon as a great event; every one that could leave home was on hand. It was a day of great interest; farmers coming in with their produce, such as butter, eggs, and other articles which they exchanged for groceries and dry goods. The streets around the court house were thronged with all sorts of men; others on horse-back, riding up and down trying to sell their horses. Men in home-made clothes, old rusty hats that had seen several generations, coarse shoes and no stockings, some without coats or vests, with only shirts and pants. I have seen a rich man come in from his country home, riding a fine horse. The man was dressed in home-spun linen shirt and pants, coarse shoes, no stockings, and an old slouch hat or straw hat. He had a large yellow silk bandana handkerchief, with a pocket-book filled with bank-notes rolled in it. He placed the handkerchief under his arm, with the two ends tied over his shoulder. He made money by buying deeds and other papers, or loaning money on notes – this was called shaving paper; and many men got rich by this business.
This was also a day to settle all grudges. When a man got too much whiskey he was very quarrelsome, and wanted to fight. Others would follow suit, and go in pell-mell. It was a dreadful sight to see them beat one another – I used to run off and hide.
It was also a great day for ginger-bread and molasses beer. The cake sellers had [tables] in front of the court house, spread with white cloths, with cakes piled high upon them, and kegs of beer nearby. I have seen the jurymen let their hats down from the window above, get them filled with ginger-bread, and a jug of beer sent up by a rope. About four or five o’clock the crowd began to start for home.