Traveling back from the beach this weekend, I forced my wife and dog to endure something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, which is to find, and then visit, the homesite and resting place for one of my favorite deceased North Carolinians, Judge Samuel Spencer. I’m going to post some seemingly inane photographs, because the site is harder to find than it should be, especially if you’re expecting it to just be off the highway. If you ever find yourself driving westbound on I-74 outside of Lilesville, in Anson County, you may notice this sign:
I’ll explain more below.
When you pull off I-74, and go about 2.5 miles, you’ll see this. A guide book I use said this was in a “logging tract”, and that I would be following a logging trail, but this is certainly no longer the case. Judge Spencer’s former haunt is now a seemingly high-class gated community (with very few homes currently developed) known as “Spencer Pointe”:
Call me crazy, but when historic sites – even ones maintained by private nonprofits, like this one – are sequestered behind gates marked “Private Property – No Trespassing”, nobody really benefits. In fact, this whole post was very nearly a diatribe about the pernicious actions of a developer in shutting off North Carolina’s citizens from their own history. Luckily, the “out” gate was wide open, so I proceeded in. Once you go about three-quarters of a mile into the neighborhood (which may or may not be fully closed up when you get there), you’ll see this sign:
…which stands right in front of this clearing. In the distance, you’ll note a rock well, the only original item standing from the homesite:
The well, upon closer inspection, has this informative plaque:
A correspondent of Gov. William Tryon and Edmund Fanning (as well as a nominal anti-Regulator) during the War of the Regulation, Spencer went on to become a Patriot, supporting his newly-independent State during the American Revolution. Spencer was one of the first statewide judges in post-independence North Carolina, and I only recently realized he was the author of the opinion in Bayard v. Singleton, 1 N.C. (Mart.) 5 (Superior Court, 1787), which was one of the earliest instances of judicial review. sixteen years before Marbury v. Madison.
In that case, dealing with land confiscated form Tories, the Superior Court, sitting in its appellate capacity, held that a 1785 act of the General Assembly was unconstitutional because it prevented a party whose land had been confiscated from challenging the confiscation before a jury (the confiscation procedure itself, however, was not struck down).
Most interesting to me was Spencer’s status as a prominent Antifederalist, helping to lead the charge in North Carolina’s first ratification convention (along with another favorite subject of mine from this era, Willie Jones) against the Constitution in its pre-Bill of Rights state. Eventually I may try to assemble Spencer’s extant correspondence, documents, and legal papers, and attempt to construct a more creditable biography. As it stands, Spencer was on my Wikipedia to-do list, but currently lacks even a stub biography on that site. His entry in William Powell’s Dictionary of North Carolina Biography is the most extensive biography available without purchasing Albert Coates’ Three North Carolinians who have stood up to be counted for the Bill of Rights (1973).
One sort of sad note, however – my guidebook (which you can find here) said there would be a bronze marker somewhere off another fork of the “logging road” that would commemorate the vague location of Mount Pleasant, the first county seat of Anson County, and its courthouse. After a little while of searching (at least the amount I could get away with before my wife got too angry), all I could find was this flat-topped rock, which is on the left side of this picture. It appears to have brackets screwed into its face that would have held a bronze plaque, but there was no plaque present:
Any Anson County historians who know if something happened to that 1928 marker? Or, am I just blind, and the marker still stands, likely in an easily-accessible location?
Regardless, I recommend stopping off, if only for the fact that you may see the descendant of the Judge’s wild turkey assassin. The story is likely fictionalized, or greatly exaggerated, and given its first appearance in a newspaper many decades after the Judge’s death, you’ll know how much salt with which to take it. Like the legitimacy of the “Meck Dec” and the origin of the term “Tar Heel”, it’s a likely-unsolvable North Carolina mystery that has become a cherished piece of folklore.
All images Copyright © 2014 Clark D. Tew.