Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 25: Train of Thought

So, my daughter called me yesterday from Amtrak, to say she was crossing Ninth Street, heading east. A moment later, I heard the train, passing a few blocks north of our house, heading in to Durham Station. I hear the trains all the time, living in Morehead Hill, working at Erwin Square, biking in between. I heard them a lot in Cary, too, living near tracks, but they mean more here. Durham, after all, is a child of the railroad. Many cities resulted in railhoad stations, but here it was the railroad station that resulted in the city.

Back when there was no Durham, just Durham's Station, General William Tecumsah Sherman got off the train here, following a short ride from Raleigh. He was headed to meet General Joseph Eggleston Johnston, who had recently moved his command from Greensboro to Hillsborough to be closer to his worthy apponent. They each got on horseback - Sherman at Durham's Station, Johnston in Hillsborough, and met near a farm belonging to James and Nancy Bennitt, the so-called Bennett Place where they ultimately negotiated the surrender of Johnston's Confederate army. Meanwhile, a mix of Northern and Southern troops mingled in the neutral zone around the train station, looting J.R. Green's tobacco warehouse nearby. Green thought he was ruined, until the post-war orders started coming in. He was quick to think about branding (things really weren't so different then), borrowed his identity from a mustard jar, and the rest is history. The Bull City was born.

Investors in the state-sponsored NC Railroad contributed labor to its construction and earned shares of ownership in exchange. Of course, it wasn't generally their own labor. Paul Cameron of Stagville Plantation, for instance, put his slaves to work on the line. Here, the law was on his side. During the war, however, his slaves were conscripted for the construction of fortifications at Wilmington, and he ultimately lost them all, as Jean Anderson documents in her history of Durham County. What combination of liberation, casualty, and disease may have been involved is not stated in her book, which simply concludes the account by noting it was a loss Mr. Cameron calculated at $443,000.

It strikes me that if you want to see who benefits most from any given social order, simply check to see who has most of the benefits. One can only hope that they also pay most of the costs. The war, however, was an unsettled time, when winners and losers changed places. Washington Duke, though a veteran of the Confederate Navy who ended the Civil War as a POW, became a Republican thereafter. Maybe this was a poor choice, given the impending end of Reconstruction and the ultimate busting of his tobacco trust at Republican hands, but he did all right.

We were at a Durham Bull's game again tonight (another loss - hard to believe they're #1 in the division, based on what I've seen thus far). This time we drove the half mile or so from home, and as we walked across the American Tobacco complex to our car, after the fireworks, past the milling urban crowd, Tyler's Tap Room, Zen Sushi, Cuban Revolution, and so forth, it struck me: You're not even allowed to smoke here now. This cultural carpetbagger felt a little thrill of victory at that.

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