James Mason Rawlings, Traitor or Not?

   


    Some of us have skeletons in our family closets. Some people are proud of famous ancestors. Our family has both skeletons and ancestors with claims to fame, but mainly our Rawlins predecessors were simply people living out their lives in the best way they knew how. They were swayed by political concerns, just as we are, and made decisions based on limited information, just as we do.

    Our first Rawlins ancestor in America, James Mason Rawlings, is a good example. Born about 1737, he emigrated from England prior to the Revolution. Records from the early 1770s show him in Pitt County, North Carolina, married to Priscilla Blount and with a number of children. His brothers, Roderick and Charles, had also come to America. Both of them supported the cause of independence from England. But James kept his loyalty to the mother country.

    He was a staunch supporter of the Church of England, which after the Revolutionary War was called the Episcopal Church. Some records refer to him as “Reverend,” and we know he preached at meetings.

    More than any other colony, North Carolina had a heavy concentration of Tories— political conservatives who remained loyal to England. The Crown had given land grants in North Carolina to many Scottish merchants. They and other merchants depended upon England for their trade. They feared losing their livelihood if the revolution should be successful. . .a not unreasonable fear since later, the property of many loyalists was confiscated. . . and thus they supported the king.

    Other Loyalists, like James Mason Rawlings, were clerics who supported the Church of England. Not only did the church require them to swear loyalty to their God, but also to their king. James and many others worried that if Catholic France entered the war on the American side, the new nation would soon be under the rule of the Pope.

     In 1777, Rawlings was accused of plotting to kill revolutionary leaders. A wanted notice in a North Carolina newspaper described him as “a noted villain.” Was he really? I’ll try to answer that question in the next posts.

Community Newspaper

A famous wrong headline

When I was growing up, a weekly high point for our family was finding the Granite Falls Press in our mailbox. We also received the Everett Daily Herald. In pre-television days, the larger daily paper kept us up to date with events in the wider world beyond our valley. But the local Granite Falls paper chronicled life as it happened to us.

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A few weeks ago, I wondered if any of those long-ago newspapers were still in existence. The logical place to look would be the Granite Falls Historical Museum, a jewel of an institution built by volunteers. Due to limited staffing, it’s presently open only on Sundays but it’s well worth setting aside an afternoon for a visit. We walked in and asked volunteer and former schoolmate, Ted Lefebre, if by chance the museum had a collection of local newspapers. To my delight, he led us to a wooden crate full of well-preserved papers. He’d just readied them for shipment to SmallTownPapers.Inc., a company that specializes in digitizing community newspapers. They’d already scanned part of the collection, which is now available online at the museum for researchers. These were to be processed next.  As we leafed through them, memories of seldom-remembered friends and neighbors flooded back.

When the weekly paper arrived at my childhood home in the community of Robe, we turned first to the “Robe Valley News.” Correspondents in several different neighborhoods kept readers advised of the comings and goings of people the correspondent was best acquainted with. That meant that we seldom read news about some people; too much about others. Still, we enjoyed skimming the neighborhood columns for glimpses into the lives of those we knew.

Today at http://www.smalltownpapers.com, site visitors can search for keywords or names and in seconds find all the mentions of events or people in the collection. When I typed in our surname, Rawlins, I was delighted to find bits and pieces of our family history spanning several decades, starting with my father’s 1939 For Sale ad in a version of the local paper then called The Snohomish County Forum. He offered 1000 27-inch straight split shakes and a nearly new one-and-one-half volt battery radio. That was before Daddy was a logger. He’d come from the North Dakota farm only three years earlier. Now he was splitting shakes for sale, making a living any way he could.

The war years in the early 1940s changed people’s lives. Browsing through those papers brought it alive. Like towns across the country, Granite Falls had to find ways to fill in for essential personnel, such as teachers and business people who were called off to war. Everyone participated in the “war effort.” The community held scrap drives to recycle metal, paper, and even cloth for defense purposes. Shortages of gasoline and rubber tires affected even the school sports programs. Teams were limited to intramural contests because districts cut out extra bus trips. A two-mile walk to school was considered “the best possible form of exercise” as busses were reserved for farther-flung students. Granite Falls couldn’t find a principal for the elementary school in 1942, so a woman teacher was assigned to do that work until at long last, a qualified principal was found. Being an informed, intelligent citizen was touted as a duty and a privilege.

Over the years, family events mentioned in the paper included birthday celebrations, visiting relatives, and the Easter in 1948 when the correspondent wrote that the Delbert Rawlins car recently rolled over with the family in it. “No one was hurt,” she wrote, “but the car was.” Later on, the paper mentioned my brothers’ overseas stints with the army between the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and then the births of my parents’ first grandchildren.

Announcements in the paper brought back memories of occasional Friday nights at the movies with the whole family. Granite Falls had no movie theater but for a small charge, we could sit in the bleachers at the high-school gymnasium to take in the weekly movies. We’d probably call them “B” movies today. The plots were sometimes corny, the sound scratchy, and of course, the pictures were in black and white. A cartoon and a newsreel accompanied the main feature.

Sometimes the newspaper’s language seemed flowery, the ideas propounded naive. But reading those old papers does not leave the reader depressed and discouraged as some of today’s newspapers can. We need more of the optimistic, we-can-do-it-together spirit expressed back then in today’s world.

And I appreciate past writers’ commitments to reporting the news without slant. This doesn’t mean opinion wasn’t injected into some of the stories, but it wasn’t cleverly disguised. If someone wanted to sway our thinking, they were forthright about it.

You can see for yourself by going to the Granite Falls museum Web site at http://www.gfhistory.org/. Click on the line at the top of the page about searching old newspapers. That takes you to an article by webmaster Mary Deaton that explains how to do a search. Click on the link she gives to go directly to the archives.

Fred Cruger, director of things technological at the museum, explains, “In the future, we may make that link part of a ‘members only’ page (which would result in users having to pay our annual dues of $10 per year to have online access).” Meanwhile, it’s free and will continue to be free to those who physically come to the museum to do research.