“Judge” John T. Spivey of Sampson County

When Sherman’s Army came through Sampson County in March 1865, many places in the county had other names, and others, like Autryville, Roseboro, and Garland, were yet to be born. Spivey’s Corner didn’t yet exist and the area to the west was called Hawley’s Store, which was a post office until 1907. In 1901, Shady Grove became a post office and stood one mile east of present-day Spivey’s Corner. In 1906 it was discontinued and mail service shifted to Dunn.

Spivey’s Corner is now world-famous, so in 1983 when we were researching and writing the Sampson County Heritage book, I made an effort to find out as much as possible about John Thomas Spivey, the namesake of Spivey’s Corner.

We knew there were some Spiveys in the northeast part of the state and they were living in Gates County, so we contacted the Gates County Historical Society for help. We even had some correspondence with Secretary of State Thad Eure who comes from that county.

In searching the 1860 Gates County census, we found an eight-year-old boy named J.T. Spivey, living in the Mintonville district. This was about the right age of the man that we were seeking. In 1860, the parents of this family were Jesse and Leah Spivey. This same Jesse Spivey appeared in the 1850 census and he was married to a woman named Sindarilla. He was 30 and she was 26. We believe that she was JT Spivey’s mother. We tried to follow this family into later North Carolina census records, but they disappeared.

The Gates County Historical Society told us this Spivey family to Suffolk, VA, where Jesse Spivey bought a stock of goods and was running a country store. But he got robbed one day and was shot and killed during the robbery, and after that, the family seems to have disappeared.

About 1910, a J.T. Spivey came to Sampson County as a timber buyer for Tilghman Lumber Company, out of Norfolk. He was a “take charge” sort of fellow, firm but fair. He always wore a black suit with a white shirt, a string tie, and a black hat. Some folks said he was once elected a judge, and even if he wasn’t, he should have been because he always acted so dignified. Some said he looked a lot like Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. For whatever reason, they simply called him “Judge” Spivey.

In his early days in Sampson County as a timber buyer, Judge Spivey traveled around on a horse and buggy. In places where he was to appraise the timber, he would unhook his mare from the buggy and tie her to a nice shade tree. Then he would get some hay from the rear of the buggy and a bucket of water for the horse to drink. Later, when he returned he would rehook the mare to the buggy and carefully collect the bits of hay the horse had not eaten and return it to the buggy. Some people thought he was being nice to the animal while others thought he was cheap and didn’t want to waste any hay.

In the early days of the 19th century in this county, there were very few places to rent a room for the night. Judge Spivey might end the day 12-15 miles from his usual boarding place, too far too travel in the dark. Back then, country folks would invite you to spend the night with them. It was considered an honor to have Judge Spivey spend the night, and folks talked about it for several days after he left. He was a good conversationalist, and he kept up with the current events of the day.

In his later years in Sampson County, Judge Spivey lived with a Jackson family in the Midway area. He bought a car and every Saturday night he would dress up and “go off” for the evening. He might have been courting but we don’t really know for sure. Anyway, late one Saturday night he returned home and headed for the shelter to park his car. For some reason, he didn’t apply the brake in time and the car burst through the back end of the shelter. Nothing was said about it, but on Monday morning Mr. Jackson and his sons rebuilt the back of the shelter.

When the Tilghman Lumber Company left the county in the 1920s, Mr. Spivey leased some land from a Mr. West at the junction of present-day Hwy 421 and Hwy 13, and he built and operated a small country store there. People started calling the place “Spivey’s Corner”.

When old age later incapacitated Mr. Spivey years later, he was admitted to the county home in Clinton. He died there on March 15, 1926, and was buried in an unmarked grave at Rowan Baptist Church nearby.

His death certificate states that he was a white male, single, and born in Gates County. It also stated that his father was born in Gatesville, NC.
I went with my father to survey some land in that area in the 1930s and remember that the area was called Spivey’s Corner. I also remember when mapmakers dropped the name of Spivey’s Corner and started calling the place “West”. It was said that the shorter name fits better with maps. But my Daddy never changed and always called the place Spivey’s Corner.

In the late 1960s, two of the local fellows were looking around for something to promote their village and came up with the idea for the National Hollerin’ Contest. These men were Ermon Godwin, a banker, and John Thomas, a radioman, both of Dunn. They went back to using the name Spivey’s Corner and have done an excellent job of putting the place on the map.

* From the June 1990 issue of the Huckleberry Historian