The Civil War in North Carolina

Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians

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to an independent company under Captain Selby Harvey, stationed on the sea coast.*

        * Force's American Archives.

        William Gaston, born September 19th, 1778, died January 23d, 1844, was the son of Dr. Alexander Gaston, who was one of the most earnest and steadfast friends of the people, and one of the committee of safety for Craven County. He gave up his life to the cause of liberty; for, as the town of New Berne was attacked by the tories on August 20th, 1781, he escaped with his wife and children. He had only time to push off in a boat, leaving his wife and children on the wharf. One of these miscreants levelled his gun over the shoulder of Mrs. Gaston and fired. Her patriotic husband was shot.

        This tragic event has been graphically descried by a resident of this section of our state, who states that Dr. Gaston and Colonel John Green were dining at Dr. Gaston's house, when an alarm was given that the tories were coming. Gaston and Green arose from the table, hastened to the wharf only a few steps off, and jumped into a canoe; when off Cornel's wharf a platoon of the tories fired upon them, and both fell. The tories then retraced their steps. The canoe was the property of an old negro, John, who, after some delay, procured aid and started in search of his canoe, which was drifting about at the mercy of the winds and waves. On reaching it, he found lying at the bottom of his boat Green, as he supposed dead, and Gaston dying. He carried them back to the wharf, and then to Dr. Hazlin's house. The doctor pronounced Green mortally wounded, and Gaston seriously. Just the converse of this opinion turned out true, for the latter soon died, and the former lived thirty years afterwards. Dr. Gaston was buried in "Cedar Grove," the city cemetery.

        He left a disconsolate widow and two little children, a son, then only three years old, the subject of this sketch, and a daughter, who, in after years, became the wife of Chief Justice Taylor.

        His early education was conducted under the guidance of a pious and patient mother. In the fall of 1791 he was sent to the Catholic college at Georgetown, where he remained for two years, but under the severe discipline and rigors of a variable climate, his health gave away, and by advice of his physician, he returned to the mild climate of his native land and the comforts of home. Under the care of Reverend Thomas P. Irving, he was prepared for Princeton, and where he entered the junior class. At the early age of eighteen, he graduated with the first honors of that renowned institution. He returned home and entered the law office of Judge Francois Xavier Martin. He was admitted to the bar before reaching the age of twenty-one, and soon attained greet eminence in his profession.

        In 1799, he was elected to the state senate, and 1808 to the House of Commons, by which body he was chosen speaker.

        In 1810, he was a candidate for congress, and was defeated by William Blackledge, but was elected to the Thirteenth Congress, from 1815 to 1817, and the Fourteenth Congress, from 1817 to 1819.

        Here he occupied a position as the peer of Calhoun, Clay, Lowndes, Randolph and Webster. His speeches on the loan bill and the previous question present some of the finest specimens of reasoning and eloquence which the country has ever furnished. He retired from congress to pursue his law practice.

        In 1824, he was elected to the House of Commons, and in 1827-'28 and 1831.

        Here he rendered efficient and invaluable services to the state. The perfect organization of our then judicial system, and some of the best statutes of North Carolina, are the result of his sagacity and labor.

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