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Short-Hand in North Carolina


In the current number of The State Normal Magazine, published at Greensboro, is an interesting history of short-hand writing in North Carolina from advance sheets of the forthcoming report of Mr. C. H. Mebane, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. It is learned from it that, so far as is known, the first short-hand writer in the State–certainly the first who ever acquired sufficient proficiency in the art to be known as a reporter–was Rev. N. B. Cobb. He, then a practicing lawyer at Greenville, took up, in 1858-'59, twenty years after the invention of what is called in this sketch, phonography, and six years after its publication in America. The State produced no other reporter of ability for twenty years. He enter the ministry in 1859, but did court and newspaper work in Raleigh. This paragraph is of interest:

While Dr. Cobb was pastor of the Baptist church at Shelby in 1870-'71 Mr. Wm. A. Hearne, who was just starting The Daily Dispatch at Charlotte, desired to get for his first issue a report of a speech Governor Vance was to make at Statesville court, which was to be used as a campaign document in the Northwest. Governor Vance was then a citizen of Charlotte, laboring under political disabilities which had not been removed. He was the idol of the people of North Carolina, and as his first political speech after the surrender would be widely read, this would add eclat to the newspaper that first published it. Mr. Hearne wrote to Dr. Cobb, urging him to go to Statesville and report his speech, Dr. Cobb being the only stenographer living in the State who could make a stenographic report of it. This letter reached Dr. Cobb on Saturday, and he asked the deacons of his church what he must do. (To reach Statesville in time, he would have to leave Shelby on Sunday afternoon by private conveyance.) The deacons advised Dr. Cobb to go, and one of them, Dr. Williams, proposed to send him as far as Lincolnton in his own buggy. The trip was made and the speech reported, governor Vance Spoke at 2 p.m. and the copy was written up and in the postoffice by 5 a. m. next day. Dr. Cobb had up to this time been teaching phonography, and had not had enough practice to acquire speed. Besides this, while he was living in Elizabeth City, he had adopted the Munson system instead of the Pitman, and in rapid writing he got the two systems mixed, so that he had to resort to Governor Vance's room to get the report filled in where the notes were illegible.

This would be accounted rather too slow for a newspaper of to-day–which would have had the speech the next morning or not at all–but it was first-rate work for thirty years ago and Major Hearne and his Dispatch made quite a hit by it.

We read further in this history that when Judge Merrimon, then Democratic candidate for Governor, went to Shelby in 1872, Mr. Cobb reported him for the first paper ever printed there. Judge Merrimon made long speeches and it took the small paper six weeks to complete the publication. We regret that it is not stated whether it finished before the election. Either one of our Shelby contemporaries of to-day would have handled it in one issue.

Mr. E. J. Forney, of Catawba, we are told, was the next stenographer of note. Then followed Wm. Easdale, an Irishman, who landed in Wilmington and did railroad work; C. W. Chesnutt, colored, of Fayetteville; Miss Gertrude Jenkins, of Salem; Miss Rachel C. Brown, of Wilmington, and Miss Fodie M. Buie.

There are now an infinite number of short-hand writers, male and female, in North Carolina, but few, in any, reporters. It is to be questioned if there are more than half a dozen, if so many, who could take a speech or sermon accurately, for, as this history says, "there is a vast difference between a mere short-hand writer and a competent reporter."