Tales of Knotts Island

Table of Contents




































Be aware that the information in these tales is dated and, as expected, may not be as socially, politically, or racially sensitive as current writings.

by Henry Beasley Ansell

from 1907 to 1912


I have given the little stratagems of Dick in Burke's time. When I entered Briggs's school I found Dick then and there its leader. Briggs at the outset no doubt, had heard of the compromise between Burke and Dick.

Dick had "skinned the cat" many times in Briggs' school before I entered it, so Briggs had stopped all other punishments and relied solely on the whip.

Dick, Sally White and her sister Marena got the whip almost every day. Sally and Marena were tempered somewhat like Dick; it seemed that they could not sit still, nor keep from whispering in school; therefore, the whip. Sally and Marena, like Dick, would assist the small ones in their lessons, even though in doing so they could be heard throughout the house.

Half the quarter had passed before I got to the picture of the Bear in my primer, at which place, there were easy words of two syllables and some hard ones of one syllable. Dick had previously told me when I got to that lesson to be sure and come to him and he would tell me how to speak it. For the first lesson of a certain evening this lesson was assigned me. I considered myself now ninety degrees above my former plane and capable to sit with Dick, and to Dick I went.

To shift seats without permission was against the rules. Dick was really glad of my advancement and with great zeal was teaching me how to master this lesson. His whispers grew to an audible talk, so that the whole school, as well as Briggs, could hear him. Briggs: "Richard, what is all that talk about?" Richard: "I am teaching Henry his lesson." "Come up here both of you." Dick went readily--what cared he? Hadn't he scores of times been ordered up and flogged too? He loved the excitement. Henry didn't go till ordered the second time; he was badly frightened for up to this time he had not received a lick in school. He went up, crying, crying, crying. Dick assumed the blame, informed Briggs that he had invited Henry to him, and explained the reason of the talking. With a seasoned reed Dick received three sharp cuts in each hand, and we were sent back to our respective seats; and I was carefully warned not to listen to Dick's advice. Briggs ordered me up to hear my lesson; not knowing it all, I was sent to get it at once. Dick took in my failure and was soon at my side, and as before, the whole school could hear him instructing me in this lesson. We were ordered up again. Dick received six cuts on each hand. "Give me your hand, Henry." Oh, Lord, Mr. Briggs:" Three light cuts on each hand, yes very light cuts, I am sure, yet, I can feel the pain now.

The ice being broken a dressing or two weekly was received thereafter.

The tinkling of Briggs' brass bell called us to books, and if pupils failed to be in place within, five minutes, likely there would be war.

Girls and boys were not allowed to play together. Briggs could often be found behind trees or fencelocks watching to see if this rule was violated. He was very particular in this respect as to the daughters and grand-daughters of Dennis Simmons in whose family he lived. The girls hated this rule for they often needed the help of the boys in making their playhouses, which, being built of poles, brush and straw, resembled an old fashion potato house.

One day the girls wanted the writer to get some straw to make seats in their house, and promised in the meantime to keep a strict watch for Briggs. He got the straw and help to make the seats, which were overspread with aprons and shawls. We all took seats and were having a good time.

A grand-daughter of Dennis Simmons named "Rose Butler Ann Lewellyn," was watchman, and at this moment gave the alarm, "Briggs is upon us."

There was no way for this helper to escape. The large girls, being equal to such emergencies bad him get under this seat of straw and shawls--quick while two girls lightly sat on this high seat. Briggs peeping in at this moment saw no boys and, much to my relief, went away.

Dick Waters and Sally and Marena White got more licks thrown upon them than any others in school; indeed it was said that never a day passed that these three did not get a brush from Briggs. Sally when quite a small girl had a rising on her arm. It became chronic and supperated and it was said that a piece of bone came out of the arm. Let that be as it may, the writer knows that she suffered from this arm for a long time and perhaps, if living, may suffer from the effects even now. As Sally got frequent floggings, she would invariably holler out: "Mr. Briggs, you have whipped me on my sore arm." Every one in school knew of Sally's sore arm and whether Brigg's switch did whip around that sore arm I am not able to say. I can't think Briggs intended such cruelty toward Sally. Sally by crying in this way may have thought that Briggs would mitigate the punishment.

Every other Friday was preaching day at the Methodist Church, three quarters of a mile away from the school. On these days Briggs would march his pupils in double-file to church; would seat the boys and girls in their respective places; place himself in the altar side to them, so that he could observe their behavior. After service he would march them back, giving them ten minutes in which to eat their lunch.

On a certain Friday preaching-morning Briggs had got a blow at Dick, but Sally and Marena had escaped. In the afternoon these girls still escaped the switch. When school closed that afternoon the boys congratulated these girls on their good luck, and concluded that Briggs that day probably had got religion. Dick said that for such an omission a monument should be erected to the memory of such an event and that he would fix it up by Monday morning. Monday morning arrived and Dick was at the school house early.

He took the axe and cut out of that long brace stretched partly across the house a deep chip as big as a pint bowl. He had since last Friday prepared an inscription which he proceeded to tack up over that cut place in the brace. This inscription was in large legible letters. It ran thus: "This deep cut chip is in remembrance that 'Old Goggles' after taking himself and pupils to church last Friday as usual, came back so spiritually minded that he forgot to whip Sally and Marena. We are dead sure he got religion. So, now, upon this, come boys, come girls let's have a rally; Hands around: Sing:

We are all jolly fellows together,
We are all jolly fellows together,
We are all jolly fellows together,
Hi-O: hi-O: hi-O.

When Briggs came in sight of the school, all were hands around singing the above to the tune, "Keep fingers and thumbs a moving. As follows:

1st line medium high,
2nd line still higher,
3d. line very high.
1st Hi-O, rising inflection
2nd Hi-O high inflection 3rd Hi-O, falling inflection prolonged and dying out like near rumbling thunder and the last gurgglings of the bullfrog.

*(When the writer first heard this tune, it was called: "Two fingers and a thumb keep moving." This was a singing play tune and by adding another finger to every round; every finger and thumb would be moving at the finish, so the first name given above covers the ground.)

When Briggs came up, all flew to books and quiet reigned. He surveyed the more than usual quiet, apparently with satisfaction. He gave a short lecture on rules to cover the conduct of the school during the present new week. After this he heard the lessons of the classes, then seated himself to hard work in making and mending quill pens and setting copies.

It was not long before Briggs' every ready ears heard some giggling near that brace, which was close to where said Sally and Marena sat. Briggs took a chinkapin switch (he never whipped girls in the hand), went that way and inquired of these girls and others who was the guilty party. Of course, the answer to this pressing question none knew. All eyes were now fastened on Briggs, for at this moment, his head and body bent forward about forty five degrees from the vertical, he gazed searchingly at something in his front. Briggs: "Who did that dastardly piece of work?" All pretended they did not know what he meant. "Who cut that brace and posted that infamous writing there, I say?" At once all the pupils were gazing at the cut and script declared they had not seen it before. Dick to the front. "Mr. Briggs, I am quite sure no one here did that; and I am satisfied that some of those Williams boys who wanted to whip you here last Saturday evening at your singing school did that, and not your scholars." This was a stinging sentence, for Briggs was a singing master, and had instructed his class here the previous Saturday evening, when two or three of the sons of old man Billy Williams threatened to drag him out and beat him, so that Briggs had to keep his class in singing motion till the sun had gone down behind the piney woods, and the Williams boys had left.

Briggs: "No, that piece of work was not there Saturday evening and to get the right party I'll punish you all." We all stood in line as directed except some of the older boys he dared not whip. Dick caught the fun lively. Thereupon Dick said: "Mr. Briggs, where is the justice in whipping these small chaps who can neither read nor write; surely they could not have done it." Briggs: "No more of your slack jaw, Richard, or I'll double your dose; these small one told lies to screen you, who, I am sure, are the real offender." Dick: "Justice demands proof before punishment." This judicial hand-out brought Dick another slash or two, but it shielded the others, even Sally and Marena.

Almost all the boys on the Island had nicknames, and seldom were they called by their proper names. A particular girl, the oldest one in school, seldom or never called the small boys by their proper names. Dick and I had become worried at the name she applied to us. The older boys told us what to call her and we did so. She informed Briggs the morning of our conduct and we were called up.

Dick verified the accusation and imputed all the blame to himself. Dick caught it sharply, for Briggs never let a chance slip when Dick was before him on a charge. It now looked as though I was going free, since Dick had assumed all the blame. I was sorry for Dick and was tired of seeing him whipped, not only for his own faults alone but for mine and others. This was the first time in my life that I wished to be flogged, and I said: "Mr. Briggs, I was just as much in this affair as Dick, or even more so." The girl said: "Yes he was. n Briggs: "Well, really, the truth for once:" I got it, and not very lightly.

Many in this day might take Dick as a dare-devil. Where was it? It was true his young blood flowed swiftly through his veins; his keen voice could be heard farther in play than any other's; his rubber-like muscles rendered him an athlete of the first order; he could jump higher and farther than the other boys; and he was an instructor and leader in all games in vogue at that day.

Dick was never seen angry with play-mates on the play-ground; the whole school respected him; the children, big and little would rather suffer themselves, than to do or say anything to Dick's injury; his only faults, if any, were the mischievous tricks he played on these crusty, cruel, unjust, Down-East teachers, who slashed only the small of their flock. This he considered not only unjust but unmanly. He intended at all hazards to thwart them. He proved a success.

If he ever told a falsehood it was to screen others,not himself. His sweetness of temper was unbounded; his mental qualities, far above the ordinary, consisted of good, sound sense; his education evolved practical usefulness. In short, Dick was a bold, fearless, truthful, sympathetic, and friendly lad, always ready to contribute help, aid and benefit to others when in his power, and in doing so, many times hazarded his own good. It can only be said by the most scrupulous that he may have been rather rough in his scheems to keep even with these teachers, but his good traits out-weigh these a hundred fold.


Dick's visit to Norfolk in 1854; Had been to California with his step-father and his mother; Mother had married again; The blending of the Watters and Jones families; Dick's or Dr. Richard H. L. Watters Genealogy; Dicks marriage; Family; Death.

The time, the above school narrative is based, was, during the first half of the '40's of the last century. After this I lost sight of Dick or his whereabouts for about ten years.

However, in 1854, Richard came to Norfolk from New York, to visit his relatives and friends in Virginia and Carolina. He soon found out that I, at that time lived in Norfolk.

He sent me a message by a young clerk Tom Hunt to meet him at lO O'clock A. M. the next day at Gronor's tailor shop on Main Street. I gladly went and found Dick already there. After the greeting, we sat down for a joy chat as of yore.

We canvassed our early school days; its joys and mirths, yet, often tinged with unhappy moments.

But the recounts of our activities in the aforesaid school days, so excited our facial muscles in spasmodic laughter, especially so, and increased apace, when Richard recalled the Keen cuts of the seasoned reeds applied to our palms by teacher Briggs, we could scarcely contain ourselves. In the meantime Dick had become fatherless, at what time, I do not know. However Dick's mother had married again to a Captain T. B. Lee of New York. This Captain Lee was a seafaring man and had taken after this marriage his wife and her son Richard around Cape Horn to California and back again prior to this visit to Norfolk as above set out.

Dick was still jolly, and had grown to be a bright and handsome man.

To the best of my recollection of this our last talk together, he said, he thought of going back to California to traffic on that coast, as business was plentiful and lucrative there then for the gold fever was at its height. After this, I was sure he had gone back to California, and I had lost sight of him for over fifty years.

A few years back a Mrs. Mulligan wrote to the Clerk of our Court an inquiry about the Jones family of Knotts Island but did not give her post office address. After this, I inquired of Mrs. Mary E. Spruill, Colonel John B. Jones's grand-daughter, among other matters about this Mrs. Mulligan and she informed me that this Mulligan was our Richard's grand daughter and she informed me a good deal about Dick's life and death in New York and gave the post office address of some of Dick's family.

Since I have had quite a friendly correspondence with Dick's daughter, a Mrs. Elizabeth Lee Halsted, Brooklyn.

So instead of our hero going back to California, he went back to New York to his mother and step-father and here he studied dentistry and became a successful practitioner in that profession. He married a Miss Corneliar Toombs of Brooklyn N. Y. and from this union they were parents of four children, two of which are now living; one the Mrs. Halsted aforesaid of Brooklyn, N. Y. the other a son, a singing master of New York City, who is at present holding forth in his profession in Atlanta, Georgia. This Elizabeth Lee Watters who is Dick's daughter, she married a Halsted, which union resulted in two children, daughters, both married, the older to a Hill, the younger to a Mulligan named before, each a child I believe. Their mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Lee Halsted, has been a widow for some years, and has had the care of her mother, who was Richard Watters widow, who was an invalid of at least two years back and about the first part of January, 1913, as Mrs. Halsted has just informed me, she died.

Our friend Richard following his profession in Brooklyn,N. Y.; his health failing somewhat, he was advised to take a more active out-door life, and he did so. He went to Jackson, Miss., here he superintended the building some large bridges in that state and made a success of it. He then returned to New York City, and followed his profession there as long as he was able to do anything; In 1896 he was attacked with pneumonia from the effects of which he died.

The correspondence between the writer and Richard's daughter, Mrs. Halsted, are very friendly, interchangable mutual and she wished me to note the genealogy of her father Richard H. Lee Watters and how of the linkings of the Watters and the Jones families came along. I'll try and give an epitome the blendings of these two families.

The Genealogy of Richard H. L. Watters with the Jones Family

Richard Watters great grandfather on the mother's side was Taylor Jones, a Revolutionary patriot; he held many positions in that struggle for independence. He was before this or at its commencement captain of Knotts Island militia; was in 1776, a Justice of the Peace--a war Justice; in 1775 was appointed a major--a Field Officer of 1st Regiment of Militia. He was also Field Officer of the minute men as well as of the militia--interchangable. December the 20th, 1777, was elected by General Assembly at Newbern, Marshall of the Court of Admiralty of the Port of Currituck; he held is position till he died about middle of summer of 1780. His will was dated 11th Nov., 1777, Probated 11th, Aug., 1780. Will can be found in Clerk's office of Currituck County. His sons Malachi, Cornelius, Jonathan, David & Taylor; daughter Charlotte, wife Sarah.

He gave his homestead to his son Malachi. This Malachi Jones died in 1822. His will can be found also in the same office that records his father's will in will book No. 8 page 121. Recorded Feby. Term 1822.

This Malachi Jones had two lots of children. One set Colonel John B. Jones is all I find; the other set, Albert G. Jones, Jerome B. Jones and Catharine Jones; there may have been some others who may have died young, but the last three named I have seen. Jerome B. Jones was a famous medical doctor, at one time, located in a nice white house at Great Bridge, Va.; Albert Jones was a sea captain running large mail steamers to South America and I believe around to California. He was captured on the high seas by a Confederate privateer in the war between the States in the last '60's, but he and his ship and cargo were allowed to go their way to New York. It was said at the time this leniency shown to Capt. Jones was because he was born in the South. This Catharine Jones was mother of our Richard the school hero. It came along this way: Colonel John B. Jones married the first wife, a Catharine Watters of Princess Anne Co., Va. She lived but a short time; then for a second wife, he married the cousin of his first wife, Elizabeth Watters; this wife Elizabeth was the mother of all the colonel's children, viz: Sally, Mary, Lydia, Elizabeth, Ann, Georgia, Jenny and Edmund W Jones and William Jones. The last was educated for a doctor but died young; his brother Edmund took charge of his medical books and practiced medicine till his death. Now this Elizabeth Watters, the colonel's wife who bore his children had a brother John Watters, he in turn married Colonel Jones half sister Catharine Jones, and from this union our hero Dick Watters of our school narrative appears; so now we see the blendings of the Watters and the Jones families.

Now I have given the children's names (that is, the Colonel's children) and for the benefit of either of these families that may not know I will go a little further: Sally married Davitson Morris, both dead; three children, Mary " James Bonney, both dead; only three out of seven children live. Elizabeth married ___(?)____Woodhouse, both dead, result one girl child, she is a widow having married a Spruill who died; result two children both dead. Ann married Calvin B. Cason, both dead; result a girl and boy John C. Cason lives on the parents old homestead on Morse's Point: he is about sixty years of age, has never married. His sister married an Heistand, he died recently but his widow still lives. Lydia, married a Whitehurst, no children, husband dead many years back, the widow still lives and is now, 1912, about 87 years old. Jenny, Married a Wilkins I believe. She died long since childless. Georgia never married and died, 1912, at the age of 75 years. Edmund W. Jones, married and lived on Morse's Point. I don't know of any children; he is dead. Dr. William Jones, I don't think ever married. He died young. The name of Jones, in this large family of Colonel John B. Jones' is it appears gone forever. It has been a very notable family from Revolutionary times down to recent date, and it is a great pity that the name of that family should die finally out, yet I think the David Jones' set on the Island now sprang from the old ancester Taylor Jones, for Taylor Jones had a David in his family of boys.

As Dick our hero, and Briggs the teacher, are prominent actors in this Knotts Island School narrative, I will add the following chapter, showing Briggs' lash career in this tale.


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