The Civil War in North Carolina

Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians

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        "I am sorry for your people," said Lord Shelburne, "that they have gained their independence." "Why so?" asked Mr. Laurens. "We English people gained it, by centuries of wrangling, years of battle and blood, and confirmed it by at least fifty acts of parliament," answered his lordship. "All this taught the nation its inestimable value, and it is so ingrained in their creed as to become the foundation of our liberty and no judge or party will ever dare to trample upon it. Your people will pick it up, and attempt to use it; but having cost them nothing, they will not know how to appreciate it. At the first internal feud you will have it trampled under foot by the lawless power of the majority; the people will permit it to be done, and away goes your boasted liberty."

        An application was then made to Judge Brooks, of the United States District Court, on August 25th, 1870, for a writ. This he caused to be issued against Kirk, "requiring him to bring before the court the prisoners detained in military custody."

        Governor Graham, Judge Merrimon, and R. H. Battle, jr., appeared for the petitioners, whilst the Attorney-General Olds, and Messrs. J. M. McCorkle and William H. Bailey, appeared for the defendant. On the return made to the writ, by Kirk, and after argument, the prisoners were released. No case had ever occurred that more excited the county. The course of Judge Brooks was commended, not only by public meetings in the state, but in Baltimore and elsewhere.

        On his return to his home in Elizabeth city, a perfect ovation by men of all parties awaited him. They expressed their "appreciation of his fidelity in enforcing the law." No conquering hero, returning from the field of victory, could have received such applause. It was the triumph of the law and of justice over misrule and oppression. (See sketch of Judge Brooks in Pasquotank County.) The sufferings and contumely thus endured by Judge Kerr excited the sincere sympathy of the country, and he was elected by the legislature, in 1874, to the bench of the superior courts, which distinguished post he held till his death.

        Judge Kerr had, in 1862, been appointed to a seat on the bench by the governor, (Clark,) but Judge Gilliam was elected by the legislature.

        Judge Kerr, in the palmy day of politics, gained much reputation as a skilful and eloquent debater; of a kind and social temperament, he was one who in the tilt and tournament of the political arena, so bore himself that "the opposer would beware of him." But the mellowing effect of age lessened this trait, and as a member of the Baptist church, he earned "gentle peace" and good will of all. He was an earnest advocate of education, one of the trustees of the university, and the president of the North Carolina Historical Society.

        He died on September 5th, 1879, at his home in Reidsville, after a lingering illness of several months.

        Connected with the memories of the past, it may not be improper to record the mysterious murder of John W. Stephens, of this county, which occurred May 21, 1870. Stephens was a native of Guilford County, born October, 1834; one of the disreputable waifs of circumstance whom the troubled waves of civil war brought to the surface. He was of low origin, of dissolute habits and disreputable character. He had been arraigned for petit larceny and other offenses. His mother was found murdered in his house in broad daylight, with her throat cut from ear to ear, and no one ever knew, nor did the coroner's jury decide, by whom or how the murder was done. Yet, this man was, in 1868, elected senator over the Honorable Bedford Brown; and appointed by the governor, he served as a justice of the peace, and was granted a license to practice law by Judge A. W. Tourgee.

        On Saturday, May 21st, 1870, a meeting of the conservative party of Caswell County was held in the court house at Yanceyville to
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