On February 11, 1853, two armed men set off for what they correctly predicted would be a violent confrontation with their neighbors. One of the men was L.W.R. (Rochelle) Blair, a thirty-two year old planter. The other was his thirty-five year old slave Hiram.
Blair was tall, the son of the “Waxhaw Giant,” a six-foot-seven, 350-pound bear in breeches whose splendid body had finally succumbed to alcoholism, a morphine addiction, and a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Hiram was a big man too, five-foot-ten and heavy-set with scars on his hand from both a burn and a knife. Both carried double-barreled shotguns tightly loaded with buckshot. Both were determined to end the series of “affrays” and “outrages” being committed by some of the slaves from a neighboring farm owned by Jane D. Young.
On July 4, 1876, the United States uneasily turned one hundred. At the end of the day, there were those who complained that it had been a gaudy, “overgrown and spread-eagle Fourth of July.” The cumulative effect of the Panic of 1873 and the emerging scandals of Grant’s administration had sharpened the knives of the journalists and soured the public mood. How could the country justify public expenditures on patriotic frippery when millions of Americans were jobless, homeless, or starving? Amid the revelations of presidential corruption and corporate predation, the centennial seemed just another “gigantic fraud,” a final embarrassment for Grant’s presidency. “Various administrations have closed in gloom and weakness,” claimed the great historian Allan Nevins, but “no other has closed in such paralysis and discredit as … did Grant's.”
On the evening of February 3, 1860, Ralph Goodrich, an aspiring teacher in Owego, New York, received a letter from Alexander Leslie McCandless, superintendent of the Pine Grove Academy in Camden, South Carolina. “McCandless wants me to come immediately,” Goodrich wrote in his diary, “I shall start as soon as I can.” Goodrich traveled first by train to New York City, where he bought a ticket for Wilmington, North Carolina. His route would not be direct, however. His first hop was a short one by train to Philadelphia, where he caught a ferry across the Delaware to an omnibus that took him to another train to Baltimore. There he picked up another ferry that took him across the Susquehanna into Washington, D.C., where he caught a steamer into Richmond and then traveled overland to Petersburg and finally to Wilmington.