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Newsletter #100 Fall 2014

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Naomi Wise Story  wpe1.jpg (36848 bytes)

(Naomi Wise wasn't an Allred, but she had ties to the Allred family since she was killed by the nephew of Stephen Lewis.  Lewis raped Lydia Allred on October 30, 1786.  Naomi's story is as tragic as it is interesting.  Locals still talk of her murder...........and they say at night she can sometimes be heard crying along the banks of the river where she died.) 
                                
The following narrative is taken from the book "Dead and Gone" by Manly Wade WELLMAN (on file in the Randolph Room, Randolph County, NC Library).  The book narrates 10 classic crimes of North Carolina and is for sale via UNC Press for $20.00.

 The death of Poor 'Omi occurred in Randolph County, N.C.  Read on........         

 Poor 'Omi

        "WHO PITIES THE ORPHAN?" wondered Braxton Craven, who was a Methodist minister, a college president, an author, and a philosopher and, to complete the catalogue, an orphan.

        "May the Lord pity him," hoped the Reverend Mr. Craven, "for man will not."

        He spoke, despite the masculine pronoun, of a girl who had neither mother, father, nor luck.  She was Naomi Wise -- "poor 'Omi," they called her in Randolph County five generations ago and during generations more recent have so sung of her.  She did win pity, but it was too late.

        In the spring of 1808 she died, in a manner that has impelled some to think that Theodore Dreiser drew upon her plaintive history for his novel An American Tragedy.  Dreiser himself said that his inspiration was a true story of upstate New York.    However, the motive and method of Naomi Wise's slaying almost exactly resemble those set forth in Dreiser's novel, and, as shall be suggested in a later essay of this collection, possibly inspired imitation in something other than a written narrative.

    So romantic was the tale of Naomi Wise's fate that it was called fiction within recent years.  However, study of the  Randolph County court records, sketchy but plain, show that Naomi lived and, alas, untimely and violently died.  There was a song about her, too, that has not wholly faded away.

    Randolph County, lying close to North Carolina's heart, includes picturesque rocky heights and tree-bordered rushing streams, like illustrations in old-fashioned German novels.  It was settled in the 1740's, partly by immigrants drifting down from Pennsylvania through Virginia and partly by westward-venturing pioneers from the coastal settlements.  "There were developed, " said the Asheboro Evergreen in 1851, "on the one hand, men who distinguished themselves for vice, rapine and the most villainous of crimes; on the other hand, men who displayed the noblest virtues and highest patriotism.  "Randolphians were, and are, vigorous individualists.  The classic hero of the county is Herman Husband, born and bred to the gentle Quaker faith, who nevertheless fought British Tories so bloodily well that King George's officers dispatched a special expedition to burn his house and lay waste his plantation.  Similarly forgetful of Quaker tenets was Friend Jacob Cox.  Riding home one day from market, he was accosted by three highwaymen, who told him to stand and deliver.  From under his coat he whipped a most un-Quakerly pistol, and the robbers fled from before its levelled muzzle. For this exploit he was read out of meeting by the Society of Friends and was not readmitted until he had grown old and, it may have been felt, full of good will even toward highway men. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Randolph farmers of all godly denominations were celebrated for the quantity and quality of the brandy they distilled from their peaches.  Randolph County brandy was a ready seller at the market in Fayetteville.

    One of the Pennsylvanians to settle in Randolph County during colonial times was David Lewis.  He had arrived, hint several commentators, a short, hurried jump ahead of the officers of that province's law.  He built a cabin on Sandy Creek and fathered a number of sons--"tall, broad, muscular and very powerful men," says the account.  They were handsome, too, quick of temper, and ready with gun, knife, or fist to a degree remarkable even among the roughest of the brandy-distillers and fur-trappers of the Deep River settlements.  "They sought occasions of quarrel,  "adds the same historian, "as a Yankee does gold dust in California." It is not to be wondered at that very few Lewises died boresomely in bed.  Craven says that they scorned the law, but on occasion they would appeal to it.  At the March term of court, in 1780 according to Randolph County's ancient minute book, the following judgment was recorded in
favor of one of the family:  "That George Everby be recorded as a public liar, for speaking and propagating falsehood against Richard Lewis.  "But Richard Lewis, whatever George Everby may have said against him, true or false, was able to take care of his own end of whatever violence came up.

    Richard was a younger son of David, this lively family's founder.  His brother Stephen, several years older than he, was so unthriftily hot-tempered as to shoot his horse, a very fine animal, when it fidgeted.  Not long afterward his wife displeased him, and he flogged her with something called in those days a "hobble-rod." She fled from her home and spent several months so well hidden at a neighbor's house that her husband could not find her.  Richard sought out Stephen, offering to persuade the runaway wife to return on promise of no more hobble-rod floggings.  This promise Stephen gave, and Richard produced the lost lady. She told her husband that it was Richard who had hidden her, and this struck Stephen as officious.  He loaded his gun, announcing that he intended to shoot Richard on sight.  Thus determined, he approached Richard's home.  Richard, seeing him in the yard and instantly certain of his purpose, seized his own gun and ran upstairs.  Stephen came in at the front door, mounted the steps in turn, and was knocked back to their foot by a charge of shot.

    Wounded but not cowed, he crept home.  There he swore that as soon as he recovered he would go gunning for Richard again.  Informed of this, the younger brother did not wait. He returned Stephen's fraternal call the same night.  Peering through a space between the logs of the cabin wall, he saw Stephen sitting up in bed while someone bandaged his wounds. He aimed through the crack, and to better purpose than when threatened in his own home.  His bullet struck Stephen in the heart.  He was exonerated on a plea of self-defense and moved across the line into Guilford County, where he built a house on Polecat Creek, near Center Church. 

    He had a son, Jonathan, who as he grew to manhood secured a job as clerk in the store of Benjamin Elliott in Asheboro. Jonathan boarded with his employer, but each Saturday night rode fifteen miles home, along the road that ran approximately where U.S. Highway 220  runs today.  Each Sunday night he returned to Asheboro by the same route.  His way took him past the home of William Adams in upper Randolph County. Like all of the Lewis men, Jonathan was tall and strong, and he was handsome as well.  Braxton Craven called him "a large, well built, dignified looking man.  He was young, daring and impetuous.... His smile like sunbeams bursting through a cloud, illumined every countenance upon which it fell.  "Such a figure, afoot or mounted on a good horse, would naturally attract a susceptible girl.  As Jonathan Lewis passed the Adams farm weekend after weekend, he was glowingly watched by an orphan named Naomi Wise.

    Naomi, with no parents or other relatives, had been bound out as a child to Mr. and Mrs. Adams, who, however, were fond of her and treated her with affection.  She was nineteen years old in 1808.  "Her size was medium," observed Braxton Craven, who
heard about her from old neighbors, "her figure beautifully formed, her face handsome and expressive, her eyes keen yet mild, her words soft and winning.  "Other descriptions agree with this estimate, and it would appear that Naomi was industrious and cheerful as well as singularly pretty.  She worked hard in the Adams kitchen, and on occasion wielded a hoe in the Adams fields.  Mrs. Adams, a motherly soul, treated her as
one of the family, dressing her well and lending her a horse to ride to church. When Jonathan Lewis, riding to or from Asheboro, paused to ask her for a drink from the spring and then dismounted to carry her bucket to the house, she fell in love with him. 

    As for Jonathan, he was considerably smitten on his own part.  Again to quote Craven: "Her young and guiltless heart beat with new and higher life; that she was loved by a man so powerful as Lewis was sufficient recompense for a cheerless childhood." In the ordinary course of events, these two young people with Old Testament names would have married and lived happily ever after.  Expecting to do just that, Naomi began to collect articles toward furnishing a home of her own-pots and pans, dishes, a chair, and a bed.  Ever she watched for Jonathan's passing and welcomed him as he reined in and swung down from his saddle.  In the dusk under the trees by the Adams' spring they spoke softly and held each other in close embrace, strong-built Jonathan and
trim-built Naomi. But Jonathan had a calculating mother, who knew that her son prospered in Benjamin Elliott's employment.  She knew, too, that the Elliotts were
high in reputation and bank balance, and that Benjamin Elliott had an unmarried sister named Hettie.  

    "That mothers are ambitious everybody knows," comments Braxton Craven sapiently, "and that they are the worst of matchmakers is equally well known." This is, however, philosophic epigram after the fact.  Hettie Elliott would have been reckoned a good catch anywhere, though it is remembered that she was by no means as beautiful as Naomi Wise. It was at his mother's insistence that Jonathan Lewis showed attention to Miss Elliott.  She seemed not ill-pleased, and Elliott, the storekeeper, considered Lewis intelligent, industrious, and a respectable possibility as a brother-in-law.  The courtship went forward on the almost routine pattern of those days -- Lewis gallant and insistent, Miss Elliott encouraging but coy. 

    Meanwhile, Lewis took to riding past the Adams farm without checking rein. If he did not come there, the news of his attentions to Hettie Elliott did.  Mrs. Adams lectured Naomi on the faithlessness of men in general, and of Jonathan Lewis in particular.  Naomi wept, like many another jilted girl, and word of her weeping and its reason came back as far as Asheboro and the home of the Elliotts.   Hettie Elliott, who thus far had played the coquette, taxed her suitor with the report that he was engaged to the pretty orphan girl who worked at the Adams farm.  "With coolness and steadiness which innocence is wont to wear," relates Craven, "Lewis affirmed to Miss Elliott that said rumor was a base, malicious slander, circulated by the enemies of the Lewis family to ruin his character, and offered that time, a very fair arbiter, should decide claim to her, Miss Elliott's hand."

    If this indirect quotation is any earnest of Lewis' actual style of speech, it would seem that he was throwing his young life away clerking in Elliott's store.  Such fiery periods sound like indications of a natural talent for Congress, even the Congress of 1808.
However worded, the disavowal of Naomi Wise impressed Miss Elliott favorably.  Yet Lewis appeared uneasy during the days that followed, neglecting his business and seeming sick. After that, he began again to stop at the Adams place on his journeys
between Asheboro and Polecat Creek, and Naomi continued to make him welcome, despite Mrs. Adam's' advice. On a spring afternoon -- the exact day cannot be established--Naomi went out the kitchen door, pail in hand, as though to fetch water.  She did not return for supper, or ever again.
  
    Some miles southward along the road to Asheboro, an ancient ford spanned murmurous Deep River.  Indians used it in centuries past, and later white traders headed across it for Fayetteville.  Today a bridge crosses just north of Randleman where the old ford used to be.  Above the ford, in 1808, John Hinshaw operated a grist mill, and directly beside the water stood the farm house of a widow named Mrs. Ann Davis.

    Darkness had settled down that evening, and Mrs. Davis sat with her two young sons beside the fire.  Suddenly, in the night outside, rose a loud, frantic scream,  that
abruptly throttled down into a gasping gurgle. Up sprang Mrs. Davis, shrilling orders at her sons.  They caught burning brands from the fireplace and ran out but could see nothing beyond the glare of their torches.  As they made their way to the very brink of the river they heard loud splashing, then the sound of departing hoofs on the south side of the ford.  The Davis boys peered and called to no avail.  Finally they returned to the friendly lights of the house, unable to learn what had happened.

    Meanwhile, at the Adams home, Naomi had been missed at supper and at bedtime.  Mrs. Adams worried over her and slept badly that night.  She rose before dawn, saying that she had been troubled by nightmares.  She and her husband went out at the first gray light, and by the spring saw the empty pail Naomi had carried.  Naomi's tracks led to a stump, and on the opposite side of that stump showed the marks of shod hoofs.
A horse, then, had come there, to stand while Naomi mounted behind the rider.  William Adams sent to summon half a dozen other farmers, and the party followed the horse's trail away across fields.  For several miles they traced the hoof marks to the Deep River ford.   The Davises were out, too, and hailed Adams with the story of that terrible scream in the night.  Mrs. Davis' words, and something of her manner of speech, have been preserved in the account.

    "Ah!" she said, "murder's been done, such unearthly screams can't come of nothing; they made the hair rise on my head, and the very blood curdle in my heart.  O!  if I had been young as I once was, I would a run down there and killed the rascal afore he could a got away!  What is the world a coming to?"

    For all these stout protestations, neither Mrs. Davis nor her sons had yet explored for more evidence of what had befallen.  With the coming of reinforcements, however, they made bold to search along the river.  Very quickly it developed that Mrs. Davis' theory was correct.  Murder had been done, of a certainty, and blood curdled in other hearts than hers. A body lay half afloat among tangled weeds that grew on a muddy little bar near the shore.  Several men waded in and dragged the body to firm ground.  It was Naomi Wise, soaked, rumpled and dead. Plainly her end had been a violent one.  Her voluminous skirt had been pulled up around her face, as though to stifle those piteous screams.  The white skin of Naomi's throat showed torn and bruised by powerful
choking fingers.  The coroner was fetched from Asheboro and empanelled a jury from among those gathered by the ford.  "Drowned by violence," was the verdict they brought in.  The coroner, making an examination added to this another fact -- Naomi Wise had been expecting a child.  This intelligence caused faces to scowl, jaws to set.  North Carolinians of that era took, concerning the seduction of trusting maidens, a view so dim as to be practically myopic.

    No more than sixteen years previously, something like a pattern toward such betrayals was set by young George L'Estrange of Wilmington.  When his sister Matilda was seduced by James O'Neale, L'Estrange had waylaid that elegant spark and had discharged at him a huge horse pistol  loaded with buckshot.  Nine of these shot took effect in O'Neale's body, and he did not survive the day.  O'Neale's subsequent death pleased doctors, ministers, and even officers of the law.  The sequel and the emotions it roused can best be described by Mason L. Weems, world-famous for his dissemination of the myth about Washington and the cherry tree:

    "Many of the relatives of Mr. O'Neale, with all the libertines of the country, made great efforts to get young George L'Estrange condemned; but, to their immortal honor, the ladies of Wilmington and its vicinity, made still greater efforts for his safety and comfort.  They spoke of him as their CHAMPION and AVENGER of their sex. "His prison chamber was scoured and furnished as if for the reception of the great Washington.  It was perfumed with odours and garnished with fairest flowers; and every day his board was spread with dainties, and every night his bed with down.  "In a little time the strength of the two parties was fairly tried in court; and the trembling YOUTH at the bar, with all his fair friends in the crowded galleries, heard the sentence of MANSLAUGHTER!

    "Instantly the ladies dispatched a courier with a petition to Governor Martin for a pardon, which his excellency signed with great pleasure. The ladies then repaired to the prison and brought him forth in great triumph, and the next day escorted him to his father's house. . . ."(*)

( * God's Revenge Against Adultery, Awfully Exampled In the Following Cases of
  American Crime.  Philadelphia, 1818.  Capitals and italics are Weems's own.)

    In a word, he who killed a betrayer of trusting woman hood could fairly count on, not only immunity, but a flattering social success.  The men beside Deep River expressed an  immediate and earnest desire to track down Naomi's destroyer and to drink his blood.  Who was he?  Half a dozen voices offered the same name.  Sheriff Isaac Lane deputized Robert Murdock to go looking for Jonathan Lewis.  Murdock did not find him that day at Elliott's store in Asheboro, nor yet at his home on Polecat Creek in Guilford County.  However, Jonathan's matchmaking mother supplied Murdock with news, not guessing that it might damage her son.  Jonathan had come home late the preceeding night, with wet clothes.  He said that his horse had stumbled with him while crossing the river.  Changing into dry things, he had ridden off again, presumably for Asheboro. Back went Murdock, too, and learned more at the home of Colonel Joshua Craven.  Mrs. Elizabeth Craven, the colonel's lady, said that Lewis had ridden up to her door in the early morning -- at about the time, perhaps, that men were wading ashore with what they had fished from the water weeds at Deep River ford.  Lewis' manner and expression had astonished the lady.

    "What's the matter, Lewis, what have you been doing?" she had asked him.  "Have you killed 'Omi Wise?"  It was a chance shot, but it had seemed to go home.  Lewis had lifted his hand to his face.  "Why, what makes you ask me that question?" he stammered.    "No particular reason," was Mrs. Cravens' answer, "only you look so
pale and wild; you don't look at all like yourself this morning." Lewis had then ridden away.

    The deputy made more inquiries.  The trail led him out of Asheboro, to the farm of a man named Hancock.  An auction sale had been held there, and Murdock arrived late at night.  The sale had been something of a gala event, with refreshments and a dance, and Lewis had attended.  Here, too, his manner had puzzled acquaintances as it had puzzled Mrs. Craven.   During the day," says the narrative, "it was remarked by many that Jonathan Lewis had a cast of countenance by no means usual.  Instead of that bold, daring impudence that was usual to him, he seemed reserved, downcast and restless.  By indulging freely in drink, which was always to be had on such occasions, he became more like himself toward evening, and ventured to mingle with the ladies."

    He showed special interest in Stephen Huzza's daughter Martha and, the Hancocks told Murdock, had left to escort Martha to her near-by home. Doggedly Murdock followed him to Huzza's.  The older people had gone to bed, and Jonathan sat in the  parlor with Martha upon his lap.  Murdock, accompanied by several friends, entered the house.  Encumbered by the young woman on his knee, Jonathan Lewis surrendered quietly.  Murdock led him away -- Martha Huzza must have stared blankly -- and early the next morning brought him to the Deep River ford, where Naomi Wise lay on a bier at the water side, surrounded by mourners.  Brought through the throng, Lewis stood looking down at Naomi's dead face silently.  He put out his hand and smoothed her hair.  This was taken by the onlookers as a sign of callous boldness; for, says Braxton
Craven:  "So greatly was the crowd incensed at this hard-hearted audacity, that the authority of the officer was scarcely sufficient to prevent the villain's being killed on the spot."

    Naomi was buried beside the ford, and those who attended the funeral wept unashamedly.  Jonathan Lewis was locked up in the jail at Asheboro. Craven calls it "the strong jail, that then towered in Asheboro as a terror to evil doers." Less enthusiastically, the minute book of the Randolph County court for 1808 says that the building was of "shackley frame."

    Stubbornly the prisoner protested his innocence, with few to listen and fewer to believe.  The evidence against him was circumstantial but awkward.  It seems to have included several  interesting exhibits: "The footprints from the stump to the river exactly fitted his horse; hairs upon the skirt upon which [Naomi] rode, were found to fit in color; a small piece torn from Lewis' accouterment, fitted both rent and texture; his absence from Asheboro, and many other circumstances all conspired to the same point."

    He was the only prisoner confined on a murder charge at that time, and outside his barred window gathered throngs of citizens.  Some of these spoke insistently of taking him out of jail and hanging him in the public square, sparing the state the troublesome formality and expense of a trial and giving a wholesome example of what might be expected by those who violently eliminate unwanted sweethearts.  So threatening did
this sort of conversation become that the county officials appointed Benjamin Elliott, Lewis's erstwhile employer, captain of a guard of twelve men.  These took turns at standing armed watch over the jail for full thirty days.  Their names are still preserved in the minute book.  
        
    The situation must have convinced Lewis that he had little to hope for if brought to trial.  At the end of the thirty days he managed to escape from jail, perhaps with the aid of relatives.  This time there was no tracing of his tracks as he fled.
   
    Meanwhile, a song had begun to be heard in Randolph County.  It began in the familiar come-all-ye fashion that characterizes many Old World folk rhymes:

      Come all you good people, I'd have you draw near,
      A sorrowful story you quickly shall hear;

        A story I'll tell you about 'Omi Wise,
        How she was deluded by Lewis' lies
.

      In the second stanza, the narration shifted to first person, as though Naomi herself sang from her unmarked grave by Deep River:

        He promised to marry and use me quite well,
        But conduct contrary I sadly must tell,
        He promised to meet me at Adams' Springs,
        He promised me marriage and many fine things.


      These lines are stilted, not to say repetitious.  They do not read with the savory vigor of a couple of other songs later to be quoted in this work.  Yet the spirit and purport of the verses, and those that followed, were heard with no relish by Jonathan Lewis's kinsmen.  Worst of all was the last of them:

        The wretch then did choke her, as we understand,
        And threw her in the river, below the mill dam.
        Be it murder or treason, Oh! what a great crime
        To murder poor 'Omi and leave her behind.


      The Lewises began to depart, family by family, from a county that sang so reproachfully of their family name.  Years passed, and report drifted back that they had settled in Kentucky, just south of the Ohio River.  By 1814, six years after Naomi's tragic death and Jonathan Lewis's escape and flight, Jonathan himself was said to be living in the new Lewis settlement, married and the father of a son.
    
     Memory of the tragedy had been kept specially green by the song.  When news came of Lewis's whereabouts, the whole community urged his capture.  "Justice cried, 'Cut the sinner down,' " wrote Craven.  "Indignation cried, 'Shame to the lingering
servants of law.' "
   
    The lingering servants of law in Randolph County were such as hearkened dutifully to the popular wish of voters and taxpayers.  The county trustees met and voted to go after Lewis.  Isaac Lane chose Colonel Craven and sturdy young George Swearengain as his partners on the adventure.
    
    This trio reached the neighborhood of the Lewis settlement, and learned of Jonathan Lewis's presence there.  Then they paused to take council.  All three were known to him, and their appearance would put him and his relatives on guard.  Finally they engaged two hunters, for $75, to capture their man for them.
    
    This pair of amateur catchpolls followed Lewis to a house where a dance was in progress. the dialogue between them and the host, as repeated by Craven, is backwoodsy enough to furnish a novel by Mayne Reid:
    
    "Hallo, to the man of the house and all of his friends."
    
    "Hallo back to you, and maybe you'd light and look at your saddle."
    
    "Apt as not, if we're allowed to see our saddles on the peg, our hosses eatin' fodder, and ourselves merry over hog and hominy."
    
    "Ef you are what you look like, and not Yankee speculators, or bamboozled officers, nor Natchez sharpers, you are welcome to sich as we have."
    
    "And s'pose we are not what we look like, what then?"
    
    "Why, the sooner you move your washing the better; we're plain, honest folks here and deal with scatterlopers arter their deserts."
    
    "Well, well, we'll light and take some of your pone and a little of your blink-eye, and maybe as how we'll get better acquainted."
     
    After this pert exchange, the two hunters were admitted to the house and took part in the merry-making.  They saw Jonathan Lewis, dressed in fringed buckskin, with a hunting knife at his belt.  There was another picturesque conversation, Lewis speaking first:
     
    "I reckon you are strangers in these parts."
     
    "I reckon we are, being we know nobody and nobody knows us; and we are perlite enough not to trouble strangers with foolish questions, and so I guess we shall still be strangers."
     
    "But maybe we all came from the same land, and so might scrape an
acquaintance easier than you think."
     
    "As to that, it's no difference, without telling or asking names, we give the right hand to every honest hunter."
    
     "Then you're hunters I s'pose, and as we have a great deer hunt tomorrow, perhaps you'll join."
     
    "That we will, ef it's agreeable."
    
     The pair attended the hunt as invited and stayed close to Lewis.  As he drew away from the others, they leaped upon him, overpowered him and tied his hands securely.  They then marched him to where Sheriff Lane and his companions lay hidden.
     
    Paying the two hunters who had scored so well at repartee and man-catching, Lane's party started quickly for North Carolina with its prisoner.  They made several forced marches to get beyond any threat of pursuit by members of the violent Lewis family.  Then one night, as they paused to make camp, Lewis slipped his bonds and ran.
     
    He was swift of foot and quickly distanced Lane and Craven. Swearengain young and athletic, achieved a burst of speed, overtook Lewis and tackled him like a footballer.
    
    As the two struggled on the ground, the others came panting up and helped make Lewis fast as before.
     
    Back in the Randolph County jail, Lewis was unable to escape again from its shackley confines.  He pleaded for a trial in a county less prejudiced against him than Randolph.  The court granted him a change of venue to Guilford where, early in1815, the trial began.
     
    Witnesses included Mrs. Mary Adams, Naomi's motherly guardian; Benjamin Elliott, who had employed Jonathan Lewis and later had guarded him in his cell; Hettie Elliott Ramseur, now married to someone else and extremely glad of it; Elizabeth Craven, who had seen Lewis flinch when asked if he had killed Naomi Wise; Ann Davis, who had heard the scream in the night; Robert Murdock, who had arrested Lewis in Huzza's parlor.
      
    Their testimony was not enough.  Somehow -- it would be interesting to know exactly how -- Lewis managed to convince judge and jury of his innocence.  Whatever his methods, they did not depend on a long purse, for the minute book of Randolph County's court for the February term of 1815 carries the following notation, curiously phrased but understandable:
      
    "Ordered of the Court that the County Trustees pay the cost and charges of attorneys.  The prosecution of Jonathan Lewis for felony when trial is removed to the County of Guilford to the said Jonathan Lewis there requested and said discharged from jail under the ensolvent [sic] Debtors Act."
      
    Thus free in Guilford County, he headed swiftly westward for Kentucky, sensibly avoiding any farewell visit to Randolph.
      
    He did not live long.  Sickness overcame him in about 1820, and the story trickled back to Asheboro that he had died confessing his guilt.
      
    Apparently his admission was a long and circumstantial one.  Poor Naomi had begged him tearfully to marry her.
    
    When he neglected her, she hinted prosecution for breach of promise. Jonathan's suit for the hand of Hettie Elliott had been much endangered by Naomi's complaints, audible all the way to Asheboro.

    Therefore Jonathan had met his former sweetheart a last time by Adams' spring, saying that he had come to take her to a preacher and marry her.
      
    Brushing aside her suggestion that they be married at the Adams home, he induced her to mount behind his saddle and rode with her to the ford, where he told her that he was determined to kill her.  Frantically she begged for her life, then screamed in terror.  Muffling her cries in her skirt, Jonathan strangled her to death and threw her body into the river.
   
     Then he rode across to the other side as torches appeared at the door of the Davis home.
      
    "He declared," Braxton Cravens' narrative ends, "that while in prison Naomi was ever before him; his sleep was broken by her cries for mercy, and in the dim twilight her shadowy form was ever before him, holding up her imploring hands.  Thus ended the career of Jonathan Lewis, for no sooner was his confession completed than his soul seemed to hasten away."
      
    Braxton Craven wrote his story perhaps as early as 1840, drawing upon the first-hand accounts of those who had known both Naomi and her false lover.  In later years he discouraged proposals to publish this effort, referring to it as a "schoolboy composition, crude and unpolished." Finally he relented, and in 1874 it appeared under the pen name of Charlie Vernon, in the columns of the Greensboro Patriot.
   
    Later it was brought out as a paper-backed pamphlet and was republished as recently as 1944.
     
    Naomi had other memorials.  In 1879, when J. E. Walker,  John H. Ferree, J. 0. Pickard, and Amos Gregson established  a cotton mill at the old ford of Deep River, they named it Naomi Factory.  Around the site grew up the thriving town of Randleman.  The name of the murdered girl was further preserved in Naomi Falls and the Naomi Methodist Church.
   
    Nor has the name of Naomi been uncommon among Randolph County girls.  The river still croons sadly, as though chanting the old, pathetic song.

(Naomi is buried at Providence Friends Church, Randolph County, NC)

 

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