10/25/11 — Journey through history

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Journey through history

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 25, 2011 1:46 PM

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Emily Weil thumbs through her new book, "People & Plantations: Wayne County, North Carolina 1701-1860." The book documents the early history of Wayne County and will be available this week. The proceeds from the sale will benefit the Wayne County Museum.

It started when a professor "made history come alive" for a young woman born with a certain curiosity and drive.

But long before Emily Weil attended Meredith College, she had questions about the town she began calling home when her father relocated her family to Wayne County.

"I always wanted to know about the place where I lived," she said. "I wanted to know all I could about the people who were here before -- why this old house was there; why downtown looks the way it does. I'm just a very curious person."

But if, back then, you had told Mrs. Weil that her seventh book would soon be available for purchase, even she might have doubted that her penchant for finding answers would have resulted in her name appearing on the cover of what she calls the first "definitive history" of early Wayne County.

Local residents will soon be able to add "People & Plantations: Wayne County, NC 1701-1860," to their personal libraries.

And the book, Mrs. Weil said, tells stories that have, until now, been unseen by the masses.

It begins in 1701, when English adventurer John Lawson documented what he saw in eastern North Carolina.

"He came directly through Goldsboro," Mrs. Weil said. "So he left good records of the Indians that were here, the names of the Indian villages, descriptions of the Indians ... total details of this part of the country."

From there, she depicts the "Indian Wars."

"A lot of people don't realize that there was a period of three or four years that there was really a terrible war right here in Wayne County," she said.

And then, with the help of research compiled by late historian Charles Ellis, Dr. Doug Rader, Caroline Cobb Parker and John Baxton Flowers III, Mrs. Weil unwraps the plantations that thrived in a region that became reliant on agriculture.

"Charles Ellis bugged me. He had collected, over a period of ... 10 years, a listing of approximately 69 plantations that were formerly here," she said. "He said, 'If you don't help me do this book, I'll never live to see it done.' So I started working on it."

But after a year of conducting research, her curiosity got the best of her.

"I began to have questions. What really was the first plantation? What started a plantation? How did this economy become a part of Wayne County?" Mrs. Weil said. "I had to do the research just to understand the subject I was going to write about. Then, one thing just kind of led to another."

The finished product, which took several years to complete, will be available for purchase later this week at the Wayne County Museum, Weil Enterprises and the Goldsboro branch of the Wayne County Public Library.

And Mrs. Weil hopes that her fellow citizens have the same curiosity that has guided her since she was a young girl.

Perhaps then, they, too, will gain a deeper understanding of -- and appreciation for -- the county they call home.

"I'm a goal-oriented person. If I'm not writing a book, I'm going to be trying to beat everyone in tennis or play the piano better than anybody else. I'm just a person who likes to have a go," Mrs. Weil said. "And this book, it really is a definitive history of Wayne County up to the Civil War. I hope people will really find it as interesting as I do."