A Personal History of Clinton and Sampson County

By James Ingram Reynolds
(1906-1996),written in 1991
edited by Joel W. Rose

james reynolds


There was a plank road between Jamestown, or near Jamestown, NC to Fayetteville, and also one between Clinton and Warsaw for which a toll was charged to use it. The toll booth stood on the southeast corner of Lisbon St. and Railroad St. After plank roads were abandoned, that section to Warsaw was later used for the railroad bed.

My maternal grandfather, Jessie Harris of Jamestown, was one of the stagecoach drivers who later drove mainly between Fayetteville and Clinton. Stagecoaches made an average of 5 miles per hour and the standard fare for travel was 12 cents per mile. There were “swing stations” along the way where horses were changed. They were located about every 10-16 miles, depending on road conditions and the load. There were also places along the route where meals and overnight accommodations were available.

The home place of my maternal great grandfather, Owen Owens, was one of those overnight stops. It was located at Owensville, just north of Roseboro. I was told that’s how my grandparents met, married and died there. The old house still stands. My great grandparents, my grandparents, and my sister are buried in an old family graveyard there.

To afford some idea of the investment in operating a stagecoach, consider the following: a stagecoach would cost $1,000, six horses $200 each, and harnesses $150 each, for a total of $3,100.

Travel by stagecoach was difficult. Even the most comfortable vehicles were stifling in summer and freezing in winter. If the windows were left open, dust from the road stirred up by the horses and carriage would cover everything inside. Passengers often rode from dawn to late evening. Roads were bad, and if horses or carriage wheels became stuck in mud, passengers had to get out and walk or even put a shoulder to the wheel. Coaches were also delayed by breakdowns and broken axles were common. Fording streams was also routine, and if the water level was high, riders could expect to get wet inside their carriage. Also, vehicles frequently overturned.

One of the main obstacles to coach travel was the lack of good roads. I remember well the catwalks built along the roads on which people would unload or walk across the streams and other high water places. The driver remained on the seat of the coach and often the horses would have to swim their way across the water to the other side. There were times that the water levels were so high that the men would either carry the ladies on their backs or in their arms.

My grandfather who drove the stagecoach sometimes carried the ladies over the water in his arms, there sometimes being no male passengers aboard to assist. He had to hitch his team of horses and then go back to retrieve the other women who were left behind waiting on the bank. On one occasion a lady gave him a pair of gold-plated pencils for his efforts, a gift for his two daughters, one of whom was my beloved mother. That pencil still exists and is now owned by Alma, widowed wife of my brother, Joe Reynolds.


Until the arrival of the railroad into Clinton in 1887, a stagecoach offered the most common form of travel through Sampson County. Two of the primary stage routes in eastern NC intersected near Clinton, the old Wilmington to Raleigh Rd. and the old New Bern to Fayetteville Rd.


Steamboats traveling the Black River in Sampson transported people, naval stores, produce, and other commodities to and from Wilmington.

In those early days, there were catwalks built along the road near small streams and at places where the road was covered with water after heavy rains. I remember the catwalks very well. Mr. John Fowler, an attorney and cousin of mine, told me about my paternal grandfather, whom I never knew, he having died when the smallpox epidemic came through here in 1902. My grandfather could not swim, and lots of times he would come to town on foot. John said he could always tell which side of the river my grandfather was on by looking for a large rock was on. It was my grandfather’s custom to pick up a large rock in his arms and cross the river, as the weight of the rock kept his feet firmly planted and prevented him from being washed downstream. He would cross the creek, lay the rock down, and then use it again upon his return.

The first train to arrive in Clinton was on April 1, 1886. Mr. Ferdie Johnson told me that the railroad gave him the bell that was the first one used on the first locomotive that came to Clinton. Ferdie had that bell mounted on a pole in his yard on Main St. for years but I don’t know what became of it.

In 1880, the railroad beds were started by the Northeastern Cape Fear Railroad Company to run from Clinton to Point Cashwell on the Black River in Pender County, but construction was stopped about 3 miles from Clinton. That railroad bed to this day has been used as a road or highway and is known as the Tram Road.

Early travel, other than by horse, was by water; hence, practically all of the early settlements were near rivers or other bodies of water. The town of Lisburn, later Lisbon, for which Lisbon Street is named, had one of the county’s first post offices but the town is no longer there. However, I remember well where some of the store buildings were standing and where one of them operated. I remember well because I drove a vehicle what was then called a jitney. I carried passengers, sometimes called drummers, now called salesmen, to these different locations. I’d take them to stores where they could sell their merchandise to merchants. Mr. Alfred Johnson, grandfather of Mr. Ferdie Johnson, operated a store at Lisbon from 1825 to 1853, at which time he and some others moved to Clinton.

Where the rivers were wide and deep they used barge-type flats with roller-type pulleys and paddles were fastened to cables stranded in the water. These flats were towed from one side of the river to the other by oxen or horses. I well remember one being at Fayetteville and another at Elizabethtown. And one still remains at Kelly, NC crossing the Cape Fear in lower Bladen County.

The hull of the last large boat to ply Black River can still be seen on the river bottom at Clear Run. The boat was destroyed by a storm in 1914. Mr. John D. Kerr, an attorney from Clinton and father of Mr. Langdon Chevis Kerr and others, operated a steamboat as a young man. He was in partnership with a Captain Robinson. On one of their trips, the boiler blew up injuring Mr. Kerr. The incident left him with a limp for the rest of his life. I remember Mr. John D. very well. He was a man of short stature and had a moustache and long, white beard. His residence formerly stood on the lot at 203 Chesnutt St. Years ago, Mr. John’s house was bought by Clyde Rich and moved to the southwest corner of Kerr and Herring Streets and turned into apartments. Mr. Rich built a new house on Chesnutt St. in its place.

John D. Kerr

As a young man, John D. Kerr operated a steamboat on Black River. He later became a lawyer and practiced in Clinton. John and his wife, Sudie Hubbard Kerr, resided on Chesnutt St.