I was born and reared on a little farm in Washington County, N. C., near the present site of Creswell. My father was poor. Four years of service and suffering in the Confederate army so wrecked his health that he was able to do but little after it was all over.

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There were no schools of any consequences near, and had there been, they were barred to me, for my father was not able to pay tuition, and there were no public schools in that section.

When I was nearly fifteen years old a gentleman living near by employed me to grub new ground. This work had to be done at night after my day’s work at home. By piling the brush and firing them two hours’ work could be done before the light was entirely gone. It took about eight nights to do a “task” which was a piece of ground sixty feet square. After having finished three tasks, the gentleman paid me. With the money so earned a bottle of ink, six pen points, half quire of paper, a pen staff and a “blue-back speller” were purchased. The speller was necessary that the script letters might be learned. Having made a small rough table 143 in which a drawer was placed to hold writing material, the task of learning to write was begun. To me this was much more difficult than grubbing. Even after I had learned to make the script letters I did not know how to spell. As a substitute for this lack more than half the speller was copied. By the time this was done some of the simpler words had been learned and so I began to write. About the same time I undertook to work “sums” in Greenlief’s Arithmetic. This was painfully slow. Ben. Spruill, now Capt. Spruill, of Creswell, N. C., taught me to reduce a fraction to a common denominator. This was done with the sharp point of a cotton burr, the figures being made in the sand between the rows of cotton.

On August 12, 1880, I arrived at Yadkin College, now Yadkin College Institute, engaged board, matriculated and began to cast about for some work. Mr. James Benson, long since dead, was a large merchant of the place and employed me to make drawers to place under the shelves in the store. I made the first one the best I could and tried to make every drawer better than the preceding one. This work was done on Saturdays, and when it was finished he employed me to stay in the store on Saturdays and paid me really more than I was worth. Soon his health failed and I was out of a job. On March 24, 1881, I began work at house carpentry and tried to keep up my studies by sitting up late at night preparing the lessons for the next day. At 144 commencement I had my speech prepared and stood my examinations, passing on all but one study. During the vacation of 1881 taught school and saved a few dollars to begin the next term.

When school opened this was soon gone and something had to be done. A small unused room was secured, a pair of scissors, two razors, a comb and brush and a barber shop was opened. The boys were kind and long suffering, so the business prospered. Thus another term was finished,—and no debt. Again during the vacation of 1882 I taught. At the close of this vacation I was elected town constable. This was by no means to my liking, but something had to be done, or quit. This business frequently broke into my school work and made it hard to keep abreast of the class. However, in this way I managed to pay expenses for the term and saved a few dollars besides. During the vacation of 1883 I taught school near Denver, N. C., and in the meantime served as pastor of Fairfeld Church. Both together made it possible for me to have more money than I ever had at one time before.

On returning to college at the close of vacation I was elected a tutor. In this way I earned ten dollars a month and kept up my own studies. This work was more in keeping with my general taste than anything I had hitherto tried. It was a fine opportunity to review what I had done and was perfectly agreeable to me. The amount thus earned was ample for all my real needs, and so the difficulties 145 began to give way. Hope that had been groping amid the shadows began to mount up, and resolution grew strong. Thus, sustained by a kind Providence and encouraged by friends, my college course was finished.

I feel that this would be incomplete were I to omit to speak of Rev. John Parris, D.D., who gave me so much encouragement and help. When I was yet a boy, never having been to school a day, he, somehow, learned that I was anxious to read. Knowing I had no books he would borrow them from Capt. T. J. Norman, becoming personally responsible for their safe return, and bring them to me. When bringing them he would say, “Now, young sir, if you damage this book I may not bring you another.” He not only brought the books, but would question me on the contents when he returned. He was a man who seemed stern and repulsive to the young, but when better known was as gentle and sweet spirited, loving and tender and patient as a mother.

Mebane, N. C.



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There is nothing remarkable about my experience in working my way through college. I do not deem it worth the telling, except that it may help to encourage the boy who thinks that it is more than he dares undertake to obtain an education without means to back him.

I was born in Ontario, Canada. I was fortunate in being able to get an excellent common school training and three years of high school work before having to get out and dig for myself. Since the age of fifteen, when my father died, I have been at all times self-supporting, and, before coming to North Dakota at the age of twenty, I had taken such employment as was obtainable. In the summer of 1898 I had saved enough money to make the trip to North Dakota, looking for opportunities. Teaching seemed to be the most feasible stepping-stone, so that fall, after having spent three months as a farm laborer in this State, and having saved what I had earned, which, together with a little I had left of what I had brought from Ontario, made about $90, I entered the preparatory department 147 then in existence at the University of North Dakota.

It was a month after the opening of the school year when I entered school that year with the idea of taking a winter course for teachers in order that I might take the state examinations for a teacher’s certificate in the spring. Instead of taking the course intended, however, I fitted in as nearly as I could to the regular course of study for the last year of the preparatory department and used what spare time I could obtain to study the common branches upon which I would have to take examination for a teacher’s certificate. By close application to business I was able to carry along the regular course of study and also to secure the coveted teacher’s certificate in the spring.

I left the University that spring at the end of the winter term, March 22, or thereabouts, and taught school from then until about the last week in October. I left the University on Friday and commenced the term of school on the following Monday and had no vacation during the summer; and, in addition to that, I succeeded in obtaining the permission of the school board that had employed me to teach six days a week during the last five weeks in order that I might get back to the University a week earlier than otherwise. My salary was $40 per month. I had barely scraped through from November 1 until March 22 on that ninety dollars, and had to make a loan of twenty dollars from a friend to tide me over until I got a month’s salary. At the 148 end of the term of school I had paid back the $20 and saved about $110.

During the spring term of the University, while I was teaching, I continued my studies as if I had been at the University, endeavoring to do the same work that my class-mates at school were doing and reporting from time to time to the professors. I burned midnight oil many nights, but North Dakota spring weather is healthful and invigorating, and I gained flesh on it and was able to take the examination with my classmates in June to get better than a pass mark in all subjects. Then I commenced on the subjects. I expected to begin on in the fall, as I knew I would be about a month late entering college.

The story of my life for the next twelve months is much a repetition of the previous year, except that I did not have the extra work of preparing for teacher’s examination. I had to borrow about $36 to tide me over until I got my first month’s salary, but I paid this back during the summer and returned to school late in the fall as usual with about $120. The following spring, in fact, before the winter term had ended, I was “broke,” as each year seemed a little more costly than the previous. President Webster Merrifield, then and for many years previous at the head of our University, was the good angel who came to my rescue. Every boy was his friend and he was the friend of every boy in the institution. Always looking for an opportunity to 149 help those he thought worthy, he divined my need and offered to help me with a loan that would tide me over the spring term. At first I declined the tender of aid, but later thought better of it and accepted a loan of $60 and gave my note, payable one year after the expected date of my graduation. That summer I took a position as timekeeper for an extra gang doing surfacing work on the line of the Great Northern Railway in Minnesota and returned to school at the opening of the school year that fall with about $75 ahead.