TOM'S DEN / TOM'S LAIR / ROBBER'S DEN

TOM'S DEN / TOM'S LAIR / ROBBER'S DEN

street:
Chapel Hill
NC

 

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Last updated

  • Tue, 01/26/2021 - 5:23pm by SteveR

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street:
Chapel Hill
NC
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The following is from: Kemp P. Battle. History of the University of North Carolina. Volume I: From its Beginning to the Death of President Swain, 1789-1868. Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, Raleigh, N. C. 1907
 
"One of [Samuel Morgan’s] slaves, Tom, having been bought by a trader who designed to carry him to the Southwest for sale, ran away and for several years had two hiding places, one a cave on Morgan's Creek and the other in a very thick copse of wood near his old master's residence, under the lee of overhanging rocks. Rough boards leaning against the rocks made a dismal shelter from the rain. Under them was a shoemaker's bench and a pile of leaves for his couch. He lived partly by robbery, partly by food brought by his mother, whose cabin was near, but on the opposite side of the hill. There seemed to be little desire to molest him until he began to break into the stores of the village in search for meat. Then a posse was summoned for his capture. Marching through the forest at regular intervals--a process known as "beating the woods"--the men aroused him from his lair, and, on his refusal to stop when commanded, he was shot in the legs, captured and then sent south for sale. I have never seen the cave on Morgan's Creek but visited the den in the woods the day after his capture. I remember the shoemaker's bench and the fragments of leather, the scattered bones, relics of his solitary meals, and my young mind was shocked inexpressibly at the resemblance of poor Tom's habitation to the lair of a wild beast."
 
Also, from Battle's History of the University of North Carolina. Volume II: From 1868 to 1912:
 
"About a mile toward the northeast from Piney Prospect, on what was evidently an inlet in the ancient sea, is a copse of woods on a hillside. Near its center is a cluster of massive rocks, closed on three sides and partially covered overhead by the beetling cliff. In this dismal retreat a runaway slave, named Tom Morgan, lay hidden for many months, emerging at night to subsist by robbery. Such terror was caused by his depredations that a force of men, armed with shotguns, scoured the forest, succeeded in finding the hiding place and capturing the robber. This is the "Robber's Den" or "Black Tom's Lair." With boyish curiosity I visited it the day after his capture and gazed with awe and pity on his bed of leaves, his shoemaker's bench, the charred firelogs and the bones of pigs and fowls, relics of his lawless life. He ran away because he had been sold to a speculator and was un-willing to be carried to a distant Southern plantation."
 
Editor's notes:
 
When would this "event" have occured? Battle was born in 1831, so if he were a boy (or was he older and merely had a "boyish curiosity") that would likely make it pre-1849 (when he turned 18). So, in the 1840s? Or 1850s? Obviously, it would have occured prior to emancipation at the end of the Civil War locally in early 1865. And of course, tracing Tom Morgan in Alabama/Mississippi/wherever he was sent would be difficult.
 
(Thanks to Mark Chilton, David Southern, and Ernie Dollar for their insight on this subject.)

 

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