Near Newton Grove, NC, over 150 years ago, one of the largest battles of the Civil War took place. Acres of farmland were overtaken in gunfire and the home of the Harper family became a hospital for injured soldiers.
The Harpers were not your stereotypical Southern plantation family. They cared for the wounded on both sides of the war with equal charity. Many of the wounded that died were even buried in their personal family graveyard.
Why would a Southern slave-owning family show such compassion? The answer may be in the long history of their family line.
Generations of Harpers, before and after this particular family unit, were in the forefront of important historical events. There were Harpers in the Revolutionary War, Harpers on both sides of the Civil War, Harpers in industry and trade, Harpers in education, and Harpers in religion. One such famous Harper was a preacher set to do a revival in America when he went down with the R.M.S. Titanic. He went into the water preaching the gospel of Christ and did not give up till he finally froze to death. So I have to think there is something in the Harper line, some great Christian heritage, that taught them to be industrious, strong, and kind people.
The Harpers of the Harper house did own slaves, though, so they must have been bad people, right? Wrong. One of the biggest misunderstandings about slavery is that those who owned slaves were immediately bad because they were buying and controlling other people as property. It is equally assumed that all slave holders mistreated their slaves. What we are missing is the fact that slavery was a way of life back then. Slaves were necessary to do manual labor that machines had not yet been created for. They were paid in room and board and, in places like the Harpers house, education. Where it would have been a cause for beating to read elsewhere, Harper slaves were taught to read. Instead of the shanties on other plantations, Harper slaves lived in their own modest cabins.
Most importantly, Harper slaves felt loved and valued by their masters. In letters to the Harper family after the war, slaves praised the Harpers for their kind treatment and shared fond memories of their time there. Though our modern minds cannot fathom any humanity in owning slaves, there are many things about the past that we cannot comprehend without living it.
Today, tourists can visit the Harper House free of charge year-round. There are also many activities to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Bentonville every year on the anniversary of the battle. The most exciting part of these activities is the reenactments of life and cannon fire during that time. It is an opportunity to relive history that you don’t want to miss.
For more information about the historical site and how you can go visit it, check out their website at: