Alexander Falconer, a well-educated attorney who took an active interest in the development of private education in Franklin and Warren counties, lived in high style on his farm, located approximately nine miles north of Louisburg on the east side of the main post road that ran between Warrenton and Louisburg. This area of Franklin County was known as the Glebe. According to Jane Ruffin House in her book Communion of Saints: The History of the Episcopal Church in Louisburg, North Carolina (1995), in the mid-eighteenth century, the Anglican Church had established a chapel for St. John’s Parish in this vicinity and set aside glebe lands for the support of its minister.
Falconer’s obituary in the Raleigh Register (March 27, 1818), states that he was a native of St. Andrews, Scotland, and received a “liberal and classical” education at the University of St. Andrews. He appears to have moved to Franklin County after 1790. Mike Hill, in his “Historical Research Report: The Person Place of Louisburg, North Carolina” (1980), says that Falconer was admitted to the bar here in December 1792. According to genealogist David B. Gammon, Falconer married Mary Harriot Edwards of Franklin County in February 1797. They had at least five children: Martha Whitmel, John Edwards, Robert Turnbull, Mary P., and Alexander Famellon.
Beginning around 1799, Falconer acquired a great deal of property in Franklin County, including land south of the Tar River and his “McLemore tract.” County tax lists reveal that in 1805 he owned 537 acres of land, one lot, and twelve slaves. His acreage increased to 1,037 acres the following year. In 1809, he owned 16 slaves.
Articles that appeared in newspapers in Raleigh reveal that Falconer supported local academies. He served as a trustee of the Franklin Male Academy and, in 1810 and 1811, examined students during commencement exercises at Warrenton Academy. His sons likely attended Franklin Male Academy. In any case, Falconer’s will, written in 1817, states that he had spent $800 more on his son Robert’s education than on that of his other children. Falconer’s daughter Mary studied at the Louisburg Female Academy in 1817.
An intriguing article written in 1902 by Matthew Davis, the elderly president of Louisburg Female College and former principal of the Louisburg Male Academy, makes interesting statements concerning the character of Falconer. It is based largely on interviews he conducted with Mrs. S. T. Wilder and Mrs. W. H. Allen, both daughters of Tolliver Terrell, Falconer’s neighbor and executor. These ladies claimed that Falconer came to North Carolina from Virginia. In his early life, they said, he had been married to a wealthy young widow named Freear, whose maiden name had been Wynne. (Falconer in 1798 and 1799 served as the guardian of Evelina Belmont Wynne, and in 1817, Evelina Belmont Freear executed a bill of sale to her “sister,” Martha Whitmill Falconer.)
Davis wrote that Falconer “was an Epicurean in faith and practice, and lived in the world just for the pleasure that he could get out if it ….” With wealth he had acquired by inheritance and marriage, he was generous in spirit. Falconer built a racetrack on his land and planted cedar trees around it, to prevent the horses from straying. According to Davis, “at his home the turf men for miles around would meet on stated occasions, and spend the day in their favorite sport of horse racing, and the night in other and perhaps, less innocent amusements. It is said that Falconer’s pernicious influence was felt in that community for many years after his death.”
In his later years, Davis claimed, Falconer’s financial circumstances forced him to apply himself more diligently to the law. He opened a law office on his property. One of his students, Matthew Dickinson, in 1808 resigned his position as principal of the Franklin Male Academy to study with Falconer. Dickinson lived with Falconer for nearly nine months before his untimely death in 1809, and was buried on his mentor’s property.
Falconer’s wife Mary died in January 1817, and his death occurred on March 17, 1818. Regardless of his financial circumstances at the time, the inventory of Falconer’s estate sale, carefully preserved for nearly 200 years in the office of the Franklin County Clerk of Court, reveals that his home reflected a standard of living far greater than that of most people of that time. He owned an extensive library of law books, classics, reference works, and other non-fiction titles. At the sale, which took place in December 1818 and January 1819, Robert H. Wynne bought a clock for $91. Other furnishings included numerous Windsor chairs, a “curtain bed stead” purchased by Tolliver Terrell, “elegant window curtains” bought by Smith Patterson, walnut tables, and a sideboard that cost Thomas Pugh $35. The proceeds of the sale of household furnishings amounted to nearly $1,000, which was to go to Falconer’s orphan daughters along with a few pieces of silver, a prayer book, a counterpane, and a small hair trunk.
Published in The Franklin Times on September 24, 2015.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College and can be reached at email@example.com. He wishes to thank Joe Elmore for bringing to his attention the article by Matthew Davis.