Smyrna, NC Historic Homes

Picture that appeared in the Carteret county News-Times, date unknown about the then,
139 year old Hancock House, located in Smyrna.

“One of Oldest Homes Still Stands in East Carteret”
Carteret County News-Times, date unknown

Editors note: This historical sketch was compiled by William Moore Davis of Smyrna and read before the Carteret County Historical Society at the April meeting held in Smyrna.

Years ago Carteret County had many historic homes, but with progress at the door, many of these homes have been torn down. Yet there is still one old home, unreached by modern roads, that has been left intact. This is the 139 year old home of Hilda Royal Gillikin of Smyrna.

Though there have been some repairs in the last few years that Mrs. Gillikin has lived there, one can still gaze upon this old house as one of the few remaining in Carteret County.

Long before the Revolutionary War, King George of England granted to Cromwell Hancockover 140 acres of land some place in the New World. But before he could start to locate his land, the Revolutionary war broke out. Cromwell fought at the Battle of Boston Harbor, but no honors were attributed to him. Instead, his cousin, John Hancock, the first and best signer of the Declaration of Independence, went down in history.

After the war, Cromwell started south to look for his large tract of land. He found his property to be a peninsula jutting out into Jarrett’s Bay, in the eastern part of Carteret County. At his death, Hancock divided his estate among his children, Sally, James, Cromwall, William, Abby. A son, Benjamin, had been lost at sea in a storm.

In the early part of 1818, William at the age of 27, married Hannah Shackleford. Between the years of 1820 and 1822, he had a fine house built by his six slaves, on the peninsula jutting out into Jarretts Bay. Great logs cut from Pool’s Swamp were used to form the framework of hte six room house, which was held together with wooden pegs.

William Hancock had the high walls plastered and a great fireplace built, in which to cook and for the heating of the house. The fireplace, with it’s 135 year old chimney and its hand-carved mantel, which was built by the grandfather of George Wallace of Morehead City, can still be seen today, partially covered with ivy.

William and Hannah Hancock had seven children. The first two died in 1823 as infants. The other five were John, Samuel, William, Mariam and Sabra. The youngest daughter, Sabra, was married to Whittington Davis on Valentine’s Day in 1857.

To this union was born ten children, Lottie, William, Charles, George, Hannah, Norman, Samuel, and twins, Nannie and Louis. One other child, Milton, died in infancy.

Miss Lottie, the oldest daughter, never married. She became one of the early school teachers of the county. She first joined the faculty at Hatteras. With the opening of Graham Academy at Marshallberg she became a member of the faculty, teaching in this institution until its close.

While teaching at the Academy, Miss Lottie bough a parlor organ, one of the first instruments of this sort east of Beaufort. The Hancock House became the center for all young people in the Smyrna area to enjoy the organ and the community singing.

The Star Methodist Church and the Graham Academy were chief interests of Miss Lottie during her active days. She died in 1942 at the grand old age of 84.

The twin, Nannie, was married to Walter Moore Royal of Marshallberg in 1895. To them were born two daughters, Lucy and Hilda. The daughter, Mrs. Hilda Royal Gillikin, now occupies the old Hancock home.

But few changes have been made to the old house. The former kitchen, built separate from the main body of the two story house with quarters for the house slaves above, was torn down in 1918 and a new kitchen added to the main part of the house.

William Hancock was a prosperous man, adding more land to his original grant until his holdings reached the Smyrna community. Today, most of the land has been grown over and has been divided among the large generation.

Among the remainders of this early settler is a chair made by William Hancock in 1798when he was a young man. It is ornately carved with a grape design on the back.

Everything has changed somewhat, but many things remain the same as they were when the house was first built 139 years ago.

Portions of Jarretts Bay can still be seen through the original small window panes; the large double fireplaces and chimney still carries its load of smoke each year. All in return is surrounded by the quietness of an estate of almost 150 years.

Photo credit: Carteret County News-Times
David Murrill, Nettie Murrill
The Mailboat, Karen Amspacher and Joel Hancock, editors

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