Archived Story

Write Again … A bit of Tar Heel history

Published 4:32pm Monday, November 18, 2013

Now, let me tell you right up front that today’s scribblings are about my family. More accurately, about one member of my family.

So, if you choose to take leave of reading at this point, well, I understand.

I mean, who really wants to read about Bartow’s ancestors?

The historical aspect of this piece, however, may justify my writing about a family member: Walter Bartow Houston, my grandfather.

He was born in 1862, and died in 1919, of Brights disease.  He was called “Dr. Bart,” and he practiced dentistry in Monroe. I never knew him, of course. My father, the youngest of six siblings, two who died in childhood,

was only 12 years old when his “Poppa” passed away.  (Our girls call me “Poppa,” and it has special meaning to me.)

Dr. Bart’s brother, a college president, David Franklin Houston, served two terms in President Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet, first as Secretary of Agriculture, then as Secretary of Treasury.

What prompted this piece, however, is a framed certificate that only recently came into my possession. My oldest aunt, Annie Houston Neal, who was my father’s oldest sister, passed it to her daughter, Mary Yorke Neal Wyatt, who had written on the back that some day it should go to

Bartow Jr. That’s me.

The certificate: At the top is “State of North Carolina,” with the state seal underneath.

Underneath that is “ To W. B. Houston, Greeting: …”

And then — in part — “We, Reposing special Trust and Confidence in your Patriotism, Valor and Military Skill, do hereby appoint and commission you First Lieutenant, in Company D, 4th Regiment, North Carolina State

Guard, and do hereby vest you with all the authority belonging to said office, to rank from March 6th, 1889.”

He was then 27 years old.

There’s a lot more of such language on the certificate, a large stamp affixed, with signature of the Secretary of State, and “In Witness Whereof, His Excellency, Daniel G. Fowle, our Governor and Commander-in Chief, hath signed . . .”

It was dated June 25, 1889.

You noted who the governor was, didn’t you?  An interesting local concatenation. (Historical marker is on West Main Street downtown.)

In truth, I really don’t know much about my grandfather.  He loved to fish, and he played the violin. We now own it.  He was a large man, particularly for the period in which he lived. That he was born during the War Between the States is remarkable. Such a long time ago.

Anyway, I thought — or hoped — some of you might find this small slice of Tar Heel history interesting.

Thanks for letting me share this with you.

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