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Captain John Speir (1693-1764)

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(@ed_ave)
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Joined: 5 years ago
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I was looking up old burying sites the other day in Pitt County, NC, and came across what is believed to be one of the oldest (to my knowledge the second oldest) documented identifiable graves located within the county. However, the location of it is rather an undiscerning tale as the description to find it is rather difficult to follow. Even when William Kittrell surveyed the county cemeteries in 2007, he noted that he had not visited the site personally, but provided the following description based on hunters that saw it over two decades beforehand.

"On the north side of the Tar River, opposite Greenwood Cemetery, near the mouth of Parker's Creek, a short distance from the riverbank."

The north side of the Tar River from Greenville is in a floodplain and regularly floods however, which puts the site at risk.

In the Raleigh's News and Observer, Jan. 8th, 1903, political Senator Blow, a historian from Pitt County, accounts his findings on what he called "no doubt the oldest tombstone in the county," but what interests me is his description of the slab. I have uploaded the newspaper clipping.

The slab's description reminds me of the colonial governor tombs that were moved from their respective plantation burying grounds in the Albemarle region to Edenton's St. Paul Episcopal Church's graveyard. A couple have similar epitaphs, albeit fifty years older than John Speir's tomb. I've uploaded pictures of their slabs; Thomas Pollock and Charles Eden.

This post does not contain a main question, I doubt anyone here has seen it, although that would definitely be of great help. Rather I wanted to bring awareness to the obscure site and thought it create some interest. Looking at Google Maps and following the description of location I've uploaded my thoughts on where it would be, but feel free to correct me if i'm wrong. It is my interest to locate it and have it's coordinates, and draw up the site in my cemetery journal. I am not related to Speir as far as I know.


   
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(@sara)
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Joined: 12 years ago
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This is great! First of all, I'm glad you were able to post these. I know there has to be some connection between this John SPEIR and my own SPEIR/SPIER/SPEAR line.

I'm most fascinated by that inscription so I had to do some research. Apparently, the first line is from a common poem of the era. The original poem went like this:

On Death.

Death at a distance we but slightly fear,
He brings his Terrors as he draws more near:
Through Poverty, Pain, Slav'ry, we drudge on,
The worst of Beings better please than none:
No Price too dear to purchase Life and Breath,
The heaviest Burthen's easier born than Death.

The version on the tombs was no doubt an encouragement to the "wisdom" of seeking to avoid death's sting by putting one's faith in Christ, even though it doesn't explicitly say that. It would've been understood at the time — the last two verses, in particular. The Latin phrase at the top of the tomb in the pictures says "Si Sit Prudentia," or "If there is prudence." I understand that may just have been on the Eden tomb, but it fits with the poem.

Death at a distance we but slightly fear
He brings his terrors as he draws more near
From stately palaces we must be gone
To ligh benighted in the Tomb alone
Wise then's the man who labors to secure
His passage safe, and his reception sure.

Thank you for sharing this. I've definitely never been there, in fact, I've never even looked for it, but now my interest is piqued. 😄


   
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(@ed_ave)
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Joined: 5 years ago
Posts: 11
Topic starter  

When I was typing this up, I may not have worded the sentence about the Governors' ledger stones (which was also a word I was trying to remember to use as oppose to slab). What reminded me of the Governor stones after reading of John Speir's tomb was that it was mentioned it had a square slate stone containing an inscription; I remembered that Eden and Pollock had an elegant engraved stonework on top of their ledger stones, and Eden also having a slate inscription under his engraved stonework, and also of being in that time period; not necessarily what the inscription or epitaph itself was saying.

I suspect their ledger stones along with Speir's are of the same origin. These ledger stones I believe originate from around the time of these people's death, instead of being placed years later. I read in the book Sticks and Stones by Ruth Little (great book for research on N.C. grave markers) that being how long ago the governor stones were placed and their being no stone in Eastern N.C., the stone was imported not from New England, but from England. Although, given Speir's death being forty years later than the governors, I'm unsure if the stone would be from England or New England.

In terms of epitaphs, I am not knowledgable of inscriptions from that time period. However, I believe Eden's "Si Sit Prudentia" is apart of his family coat of arms.

I was hoping this Speir would spark your interest. lol


   
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(@sara)
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Joined: 12 years ago
Posts: 72
 

Hey, @ed_ave...

Do you happen to know whether or not Capt. John Speir had any sons? I know he had a brother, William, who had a son named John, but I'm wondering if Capt. John Speir is the same one who appears in Beaufort County tax lists in the 1750s with two sons, James and Jesse. The age is right, and that part of Beaufort County became Pitt County.

I've looked at his will and unless I'm missing something, it only mentions daughters, but that doesn't mean he didn't have sons.

 


   
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