Ruth Peeling Barbour Papers

[This blog post was written by Elizabeth Crowder, contract archivist working with Private Collections in the Special Collections Section.]

Under the supervision of Fran Tracy-Walls, private manuscripts archivist at the State Archives of North Carolina, I have arranged and described the newest addition to the Ruth Peeling Barbour Papers. This work was made possible through generous funding from Dail Barbour, Ruth Barbour’s stepdaughter. The late George Stevenson Jr. processed the original accession of the Barbour Papers. His finding aid for the collection may be accessed here: http://ead.archives.ncdcr.gov/P_C_1859_Ruth_Peeling_Barbour_P_.html.

Small head shot of Ruth Peeling ca. 1947–1948

Ruth Peeling, ca. 1947–1948. PC.1859, Ruth Peeling Barbour Papers.

Ruth Peeling Barbour was born in York, Pennsylvania, in 1924. As a student at Syracuse University, she majored in history and edited The Daily Orange student newspaper. After graduation in 1946, Barbour moved to Beaufort, North Carolina, to edit the Beaufort News. The paper subsequently merged with Morehead City, North Carolina’s Twin City Daily Times, reestablishing itself as the Carteret County News-Times. In 1952, Barbour left the News-Times to attend graduate school. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from Florida State University the following year. Barbour then resumed editing the News-Times. In 1970, she married J. O. Barbour Jr., and in 1976 she stepped down from her position as editor. Barbour continued writing editorials, columns, and feature articles for the News-Times until 2000. She was also active in numerous professional, historical, and civic organizations, including the Carteret County Business and Professional Women’s Club, the North Carolina Society of County and Local Historians, and the Carteret County Salvation Army. Barbour died in Morehead City in 2014.

Ruth Peeling Barbour and Lockwood Phillips Sr. at a book signing for Cruise of the Snap Dragon, ca. July–August 1976

Ruth Peeling Barbour and Lockwood Phillips Sr., owner of the Carteret County News-Times, at a book signing for Cruise of the Snap Dragon, ca. July–August 1976. PC.1859, Ruth Peeling Barbour Papers.

Barbour did not limit herself to journalism. In addition to working for the News-Times, she published several plays and historical monographs, a novel, and a memoir. (A bibliography follows this post.) The Carteret Community Theatre, with which Barbour was long associated, produced her historical plays. Settings for her dramas included the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. North Carolina historical figures featured in the plays include pirate Edward Teach (Blackbeard), privateer Otway Burns, and Confederate spy Emeline Pigott. Barbour also featured Otway Burns in a 1976 novel entitled Cruise of the Snap Dragon. Her unpublished sequel to the novel was alternately titled “Third Cruse of the Snap Dragon” and “Captain from Carolina.” Barbour also undertook histories of the Beaufort Historical Association; of newspapers in Carteret County; of Open Grounds Farm; and of John Stewart McCormack, who advised her about naval matters for Cruise of the Snap Dragon. In 2005, she published Turning Back the Tide, an account of her journalism career in North Carolina.

Barbour’s original gift of private manuscripts to the State Archives includes letters and clippings concerning the Cape Lookout National Seashore and the potential unionization of the North Carolina Ports Authority; manuscripts and research materials for Cruise of the Snap Dragon and its sequel; and scripts of Barbour’s plays. The recent addition to the Ruth Peeling Barbour Papers contains notes, clippings, and drafts related to Barbour’s writing for the News-Times and for independent projects, as well as a large amount of research material concerning Carteret County history.

The new accession to the Barbour Papers demonstrates her meticulousness as a writer. Drafts of Barbour’s works reveal much about her composition process. Whether writing children’s stories in the 1940s and 1950s or news articles in the 1990s and 2000s, she relied upon extensive revisions to achieve her final product. Her drafts of “Captain from Carolina” and Turning Back the Tide are heavily corrected, and they feature pages and chapters rearranged to reflect experimentation with structure and final content. In some instances, Barbour edited her prose by cutting pages in pieces and pasting text together in the order she desired.

Barbour and her sister, Margaret Hall, took a similar approach while working on Hall’s unpublished memoir of her life in rural New Brunswick, Canada. Drafts of Hall’s manuscripts bear corrections from both sisters. Barbour and Hall were faithful correspondents—many of Hall’s letters are included in the Barbour Papers—who discussed composition and publication prospects alongside family matters. Their interests and lifestyles were different, and Hall claimed that writing was Barbour’s specialty, not hers. Yet both women had a similar eye for detail and the makings of a good story.

Barbour was as thorough a researcher as she was an editor. Her interest in Carteret County’s history was comprehensive. In addition to the many notes she accumulated while researching local newspapers and Open Grounds Farm, Barbour preserved clippings, pictures, and other documents chronicling her adopted home’s past. Materials available to researchers include:

  • interviews with local residents
  • articles about shipwrecks, Fort Macon, the Morehead City train depot, and the “vanished” community of Diamond City
  • information about dog racing in Carteret County and World War II’s impact on the North Carolina coast
  • notes from early newspapers and land and court records
Unidentified Beaufort, NC, residents in the aftermath of a flood, ca. 1933

Unidentified Beaufort, NC, residents in the aftermath of a flood, ca. 1933. PC.1859, Ruth Peeling Barbour Papers.

Ruth Peeling Barbour wrote about history, but she also lived it and made it. At the helm of a local newspaper at a time when women did not commonly hold such positions, she was a pioneer. Yet Barbour’s novel is out of print, and her histories were published in limited numbers. The private manuscripts she donated to the State Archives would be an excellent resource for students and scholars of North Carolina history and literature. It is to be hoped that these papers will make Barbour and her lifetime of writing and research more widely known.

 

Ruth Peeling Barbour Bibliography

Plays:

“Bonnie Blue Sweetheart” (1959)

“Blackbeard, Raider of the Carolina Seas” (1964)

“Otway Burns, Firebrand of 1812” (1969)

“It Happened Here” (1976)

“The Best of All” (1976)

“Prelude to Victory” (ca. 1981)

“On These Shores” (1985)

 

Novels:

Cruise of the Snap Dragon (1976)

“Third Cruise of the Snap Dragon”/“Captain from Carolina” (unpublished, ca. post-1975)

 

Nonfiction:

The Inimitable J. S. M. (1981)

History of the Beaufort Historical Association, January 25, 1960–January 1, 1990 (1990)

A History of Newspapers in Carteret County, NC, 1852–1992 (1998)

Open Grounds: Then and Now (2001)

Turning Back the Tide (2005)

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