Aunt Abby House

By Ansley Wegner

Aunt Abby House
Aunt Abby House – The State, October 1, 1972.

Abby House was born around 1796. Little is known of her life prior to the Civil War. Even House had to guess at her age, saying she was about 65 years old when the war broke out. Until her later years, Abby House, known to all as "Aunt Abby," lived near Franklinton. It is said that during the war of 1812, she learned that her sweetheart, then in Norfolk, was ill and she set out on foot to attend him. She walked the 180 miles only to find that he'd died and been buried the day prior, she is said to have simply turned around and walked home.

Described as being stooped, grim-looking, and often smoking a corn cob pipe, House carried one or two canes at all times, both for helping her walk and for making her points—and occasionally for whacking those who didn't get her point the first time. To say that Aunt Abby supported the Confederacy would be an understatement. Honoring her promise to nurse, and bring home to bury if necessary, her eight nephews, Aunt Abby traveled rails and roads to care for the boys. It was not long before she saw that her services were needed by more than just her kinfolk, and she began to help out as needed. She traveled by rail, her gruff exterior and fiery tongue won her free rail passage initially, and then as time passed, she was simply considered an expected and welcome passenger. Where trains did not travel, she walked. She was frequently within very close proximity to battles, her presence accounted for in various soldiers letters home.

Governor Zebulon Vance wrote a letter to General Robert E. Lee introducing Abby House, who hand-delivered it, requesting a furlough for a sick nephew. Vance's introduction called the bearer "The ubiquitous, indefatigable and inevitable Mrs. House." As is suggested by this anecdote, House paid visits to various leaders of the Confederacy, including Jefferson Davis. She slipped into Davis's office in Richmond, unnoticed, to criticize him for the condition of the Confederacy's hospitals. Despite her harsh demeanor, Aunt Abby was respected by men in gray and in blue. She is reported to have gained access through enemy lines to secure wounded men. There is a story that she went to retrieve a Franklin County man in 1862 during the Seven Days Battles near Richmond and, not only was she successful, but she persuaded two Yankee stretcher bearers to transport him.

Tradition tells us that House was present at the 1876 Democratic Convention in Raleigh to show her support for Zebulon Vance. In 1877, Aunt Abby House took an honored place on the platform at Vance's inauguration. When Vance proclaimed "I will, so help me God," Aunt Abby was heard saying "That you will honey, that you will." As House grew more feeble, former Confederate soldiers had the opportunity to show her their appreciation by building her a small cottage in Raleigh. William Woods Holden and Governor Vance, among others, were frequent visitors. When she died in 1881, Colonel Fred Olds placed a wooden marker on her grave that read "Aunt Abby House, Angel of Mercy to the Confederate Soldiers."

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Aunt Abby House