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What can an old magazine book tell us about the history of Chatham County? A lot, if we pay attention. In 1974 local historian Wade Hadley obtained a copy of a register covering part of 1851 and 1852 for the general store located at the Saint Lawrence Post Office in Chatham. The newspaper is said to have belonged to Henry C. Luther, who was postmaster at Saint-Laurent. The book is part of the collection of the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-CH. The image of Hickory Mountain Township from Ramsey’s 1870 map shows the location.

Hadley wrote a sixteen page article which gives an overview of West Chatham in 1851-1852. St. Lawrence was an important pre-Civil War hub community — located about four miles east of what is now Siler City — between the old and present Highway 64 route. , it was called McCarroll, for Dr. James McCarroll, who operated an ordinary (tavern/inn) there. McCarroll died in 1777 and was buried near his home. His widow, Elizabeth, later married Patrick St. Lawrence – for whom the area was probably famous.

By 1851-1852, settlers had been in the area for about ninety years and some farms were in the hands of second or third generation Chathamites. Hadley notes that the items they purchased at the general store “give an indication of how far they had come from the state of near self-sufficiency characteristic of the early settlers of the Chatham County backcountry.”

Hadley’s document lists all items purchased from the store during the ledger period, along with the unit price, total amount sold, and number of sales. He notes that tallow candles were the main source of household lighting; the firearms were muzzle-loading; looms and spinning wheels were used in many homes. Calico, homespun, indigo, coffee, molasses, rice, sugar and chewing tobacco were staples.

Fashions of the date “took their way into the woods of Chatham as evidenced by the purchase of a ‘Californian hat’ on April 10, 1851 for $2.50 by Mr. Samuel B. Perry.” Artificial flowers, ribbons, lace and neck ribbons were purchased. Luxury goods such as sheets, silk bonnets, silk handkerchiefs and French brandy were purchased by a few families. On rare occasions fresh lemons and coconuts were available.

The list includes several items that we didn’t know about and had to look up: asafetida, coperas, saleratus.

The daily book records the names of 159 customers. Hadley lists thirty-five repeat customers who made purchases ten or more times during the ledger period. Surnames include Alston, Brooks, Caviness, Cotten, Crutchfield, Dorsett, Dowdy, Evans, Hackney, Hall, Headen, Hutton, Johnson, Kirkman, Lineberry, Marsh, Perry, Rogers, Self, Teague, Temples and Webster.

Wade Hadley’s article is now available on the Chatham County Historical Association website:…

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