Kemp Plummer Battle (1831-1919), a distinguished lawyer and historian who served as president of the University of North Carolina from 1876 until 1891, spent his first eight years in the Louisburg vicinity.
Long after Battle's death, his youngest son, William James, published his father's recollections, Memories of An Old-time Tar Heel (University of North Carolina Press, 1945). The book contains interesting descriptions of Louisburg and its residents in the 1830s.
Battle's father, William Horn Battle (1802-1879), was born in Edgecombe County, the son of Joel Battle, the founder of one of the first cotton mills established in North Carolina.
After earning a degree at the University of North Carolina, William Horn Battle studied law for three years in Williamsboro, under the direction of Leonard Henderson, a justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.
He was admitted to the bar in 1824 and in 1825 married Lucy Martin Plummer of Warrenton.
Battle, in December 1826, purchased 575 acres of land a short distance from Louisburg, near the road to Halifax and bordering Sycamore Creek. He and his family lived on this farm, which they called Oakendale, and Battle established a law practice in Louisburg.
Battle became active in local politics and in state government. He ran unsuccessfully in 1831 and 1832 for a seat in the North Carolina House of Commons.
The following year, however, he was appointed to a commission charged with the responsibility of compiling a revisal of state laws. Elected to the House of Commons, he represented Franklin County in the sessions of 1833-34 and 1834-35.
Apparently finding it inconvenient to live several miles from his law office, the busy attorney in 1833 sold his farm and bought 120 acres of land adjoining the Tar River, the boundary of Louisburg, and property owned by William P. Williams.
Kemp Battle had no recollection of his life at Oakendale, but vividly recalled the Louisburg of his childhood.
"The town had many bad boys in it," Battle wrote. "When drinking whiskey and brandy and rum, gambling, and cockfighting were common among men, the moral tone of boys was naturally low and we were not allowed to play with them."
Battle described a cock fight he witnessed near the river, while in the care of his nurse.
"We suddenly . . . found ourselves in the company of about 20 men in a ring around two other men, one of whom held a gray and the other a red cock facing each other. The cocks were turned loose and the red fell dead the first flutter.
"I saw one of the men pull out his pocketbook and hand a bill to the backer of the gray."
Although cock fighting occurred often in antebellum North Carolina, Kemp's mother would have been horrified if she had learned that he witnessed the event.
Mrs. Battle once gave her son permission to attend a general muster of Franklin County's militia. "With dinner in my pocket I walked proudly by the soldiers as, armed with rifles, shotguns, and some with walking sticks, they marched to an old field about a mile from Louisburg and went through the more simple military evolutions.
The marching was accompanied by a drum and ear-piercing fife and the tune was 'Yankee Doodle' or 'Three Little Pigs and a Bobtailed Sow.'
The Battles left Louisburg in 1839, when William Horn Battle became the reporter of the North Carolina Supreme Court. He later served as a professor of law at the University of North Carolina and as a state Supreme Court justice. He lived to see his son Kemp lead the university following the Reconstruction era.
Published in The Franklin Times on February 26, 2015.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.