"Did you ever see Col. John Laughter, the school teacher and surveyor, Uncle Russ?"
"Oh, yes, I know Col. Laughter well, and have in mind at this moment a good picture of the old gentleman as he appeared in the latter years of his rather eventful life.
"He was a proud man, very ambitious and aspired to the best society for himself and family, and strove to maintain under the adverse circumstances of later years the same manner of living and social relations to which he had been accustomed in the more prosperous years of his life. His fondness for fine clothing made so as to set off his soldierly figure to the best advantage resulted in part perhaps from his military life and training. He was not only fond of fine clothing, but refused to purchase anything that was offered to him below what he regarded as a respectable price. A good story used to be told illustrative of this peculiarity. He went to a store to purchase a vest pattern. The clerk spread several before him, one of which pleased the would-be purchaser. He asked the price, and being told that it was only two dollars, replied, in disgust, 'I came to buy a vest pattern, and you insult me by offering me this cheap stuff. Show me a vest pattern suitable for a gentleman to wear.' The clerk quietly removed the offending goods and exhibited several other pieces. After awhile he brought out the same pattern that had been so contemptuously rejected and said, 'Colonel, here is a piece of goods for which we have no demand on account of price, see what you think of it.' The Colonel examined it for a moment with evident pleasure and inquired the price. On being told that it was seven dollars and fifty cents, he promptly said: 'I will take it, for I do not like to wear common goods.'
"Col. Laughter's father, John Laughter, came from England to this country and settled in Bute county sometime previous to the Revolutionary War. He purchased a tract of land on Hawtree, about four miles from Warrenton, where he raised his family and where he died and was buried. John Laughter was a man of affairs. He stood well in the county and left to his descendants the heritage of a good name. He was a soldier in the Revolutionary war, and fought under Gen. Summer at Guilford Court House and Eutaw Springs, It is more than probable that the stories which he told of his stirring soldier life had much to do with the military trend of his son's mind.
"Col. John Laughter was a soldier in the War of 1812. He went out as Captain of a company of dragoons, but was soon promoted, and served until the close of the war as Colonel of the Second North Carolina Dragoons. His regiment was stationed during the entire war in Norfolk, Virginia. He had a high ideal of military life, and was a strict disciplinarian, but he was kind to his men and was a very popular officer. As long as any of his men in this section lived they would frequently visit him to talk over their army life, and he often visited them, and was always a welcome guest in their homes.
"After the war Colonel Laughter returned to Warren County and lived the life of a farmer for some years. He was also a surveyor and was in great demand in surveying land in this and adjoining counties. After some years he met with reverses, lost his plantation, and gave up farming. Subsequently he devoted himself to school teaching and surveying. He had received the best educational advantages available in his youth. He was probably a student in the old academy in the first years of its existence, where he was instructed in the branches usually taught in such schools at that time. Either then or under a private tutor he studied surveying, which was considered an exceedingly respectable and profitable profession. The late James A. Egerton and other surveyors of the two past generations in this county were taught surveying by Colonel Laughter.
"Perhaps as a teacher he most profoundly impressed himself upon the community in which he lived. In his schools he taught in addition to the usual branches surveying and military tactics. As a result there were several good surveyors in Warren County, and the whole of the Hawtree section was fired with military enthusiasm. This was perhaps the reason that the young men of the community hurried into the army at the first call for men at the beginning of the Civil War.
"Colonel Laughter was for many years after the war of 1812, General of Militia in this county, but he insisted on being addressed as Colonel instead of General because he had won the former title in actual warfare in the face of the enemy.
"When the Nat Turner insurrection [Note 1] spread terror through all this section of North Carolina and Virginia, Colonel Laughter lead his command to the scene of conflict and was present at the capture and execution of Turner. His daughter, now living at an advanced age says she was about twelve years old when her father went to aid in quelling the Nat Turner insurrection, and when he returned he brought with him stories of the blood curdling cruelties perpetrated upon the defenseless people by Turner and his band. One of them was of the murder of a school teacher and his pupils. When the soldiers came upon this bloody scene, and saw the teacher and the children lying dead in their blood they began at once to search for any that might have escaped. After awhile they found on the outside of the house between the funnel of the chimney and the wall a little girl who on the first alarm climbed to this safe retreat, and lay snugly hidden crazed with fear, while the cruel negroes were murdering her teacher and schoolmates.
"It is a remarkable coincident suggested to me by Judge Montgomery that on the same plank road where Nat Turner devised his scheme for killing the whites and liberating the slaves General Grant afterwards matured his plans for the overthrow of the Confederacy and the liberation of the slaves. Here is a suggestion to some one that may be in search of material for a thrilling story.
"A former pupil and admirer of Colonel Laughter recently told me of his famous duel with a Mr. Andrews. Andrews felt that Colonel Laughter had so deeply offended him that nothing but the blood of the old war horse of Hawtree could atone for the offense. He therefore, challenged the Colonel to mortal combat. The challenge was promptly accepted, and the weapons and conditions of the duel were agreed upon. They met at a picturesque place on the banks of historic Hawtree. News of the duel had gotten abroad, and a large concourse of people assembled to witness the fight. The Colonel and his second were first on the ground. After a time Andrews and his second were seen approaching. When he saw the Colonel waiting to receive him in the attitude of a god of war, his heart failed him and he cried, 'Don't shoot Colonel, I'll withdraw the challenge.' The people shouted with laughter. The Colonel kindly refrained from shooting, and the affair passed off without bloodshed.
"For more than fifty years the martial form of Colonel Laughter has been wrapped in death's dreamless sleep. Most of his pupils have passed away, and only two of his children remain, but now and then I meet with one who when I ask: 'Did you ever see Colonel Laughter?' replies with brightening face: 'Certainly I knew Colonel Laughter. Why he was my old teacher, and if you had met him you would have taken him for the President, or some great general. He was one of the most distinguished looking men I ever saw.'
"There are other interesting incidents in the life of Colonel Laughter which I have not now time to relate, but hope to give you on some future occasion."
[Note 1: Nat Turner, a black slave and preacher, led the most famous slave revolt in United States history. In 1831, Turner and about 60 or 70 other slaves killed about 60 whites in Virginia. The victims included the family of Joseph Travis, Turner's owner.
More whites died during the rebellion led by Turner than in any other in the nation's history. The militia captured and hanged about 20 of the slaves, including Turner. In addition, angry whites killed about 100 innocent slaves. The rebellion caused the Southern States to pass strict laws for the control of slaves, especially those who were preachers.]