Mary Huske Pearce of Fayetteville, NC was a student at the Burwell School in 1851 and perhaps earlier, but did not return for the spring session of 1852. Two of her surviving letters, preserved in the W.N. Tillinghast Papers in the Perkins Library at Duke University, picture a warm-hearted, highly intelligent girl, bent on improving herself as Mrs. Burwell (Margaret Anna Robertson) urged all Burwell girls to do.
Her letter of September 27, 1851, written from the Burwell School to her cousin William N. Tillinghast, states that they cannot get "novels or tales" to read at the Burwell School, so she has turned to reading history, "Maria Antoinette, for example." "I believe you have an idea that I do not take exercise enough, so I will try to clear myself on that point by telling you---that on each of these cool mornings, while some of the girls were huddling around the fire, I have been running up and down the hill several times, which kept me warm the whole day. And when it is too warm for that, I always take exercise in the evening by walking about.
We now have to write composition every week, and I know you would feel sorry for me, if you knew how difficult it is for me, especially as we have to write something imaginative, and I am nearly exhausted of subject, substance, and everything else.
Cousin Ben Huske (Benjamin Robinson Huske) has thirteen scholars. Armstead [sic] Burwell (Armistead Burwell) goes to him, and is always very careful about preparing his lessons, getting to school on time, &c. He says, "Mr. Huske (Benjamin Robinson Huske) makes us walk a chalk line"; and I believe he is generaley considered as being pretty strict.
I expect you will be glad to hear we have changed our French teacher. Miss Molly Burwell (Mary Susan Burwell ) now fills Miss Kollock's (Sarah Jane Kollock ) place, and is much more gentle. I never know how well I loved Miss Sarah (Sarah Jane Kollock ), until now that I am seperated [sic] from her. She is in Oxford, NC, and I am really anxious to see "La petite" as we call her."
Mary adds that she has received a little pen-knife (in Sarah C. Ray 's bundle) which she presumes is a gift from W.N.T (William N. Tillinghast): "All the Fayetteville girls are well and in good spirits, Lucy Gilchrist (Lucy Gilchrist ) sends her love to you, and Sarah her respect. Your affectionate cousin, Mary H. Pearce."
"...I had the pleasure of seeing Miss Bell and Rob Norwood (Robina Norwood ), Miss Bell Young [Yonge], and Cousin Ben Huske (Benjamin Robinson Huske) last night. They were invited to hear the girls play, and seemed to be in fine spirits. Miss Bell N___ looked very pretty, as usual, and Rob (Robina Norwood ) was as lively as ever. I am much pleased with Miss Bell Young's [Yonge's] appearance and think she must be a very fine young lady. Mag Norwood (Margaret Yonge Norwood ) has been sick this week, but Rob (Robina Norwood ) said she was a good deal better, & would be able to come to school next week. I think Rob (Robina Norwood ) will be an uncommonly smart young lady if she continues her present course for she devotes a regular part of every day to reading, another to practising on the piano, a third to sewing, and then, she says, has a plenty of time to take exercise and enjoy herself, in any way she pleases. I think this is a sure way of improving herself.
We took a walk of about two miles the other evening to see the railroad, which I know you will be glad to hear, is progressing. They have a considerable way raised to the same height, though a great deal more work is necessary to make it sufficiently even. It runs through Mr. Norwood's wheat field, where the young wheat is just peeping above the ground, and we left it at the foot of a tremendous hill, which it seems almost impossible to cut down, though I hope industry and perserverance will be able to effect it. The road is now a solid as our Plank-Road, so planks would not be necessary had we the Hillsboro (Hillsborough, NC) clay, which you see is of some perceptible use, after all. The Hillsboro (Hillsborough, NC) people seem to take a good deal of interest in the work; a good many were walking upon it, while we were there----more young men indeed, than I thought the town afforded, and I believe, they expect it to be finished in three years. Cousin Ben (Benjamin Robinson Huske) made a promise last night of giving the boys holyday, when the railroad whould be finished, and seemed to consider it a very safe one, but Armstead Burwell (Armistead Burwell), I believe, thought himself certain of it in a very short time.
We had a picnic on the mountains, some time ago, though I think it was since I wrote to you. We were assembled in the school-room as usual, not even suspecting we were to have holydays, when Mr. B (Robert Burwell) entered and told us we could go to the mountain, if we wished. I can tell you we quickly concluded, (as one of the girls remarked) that "unexpected pleasures were better than unknown quantities," and joyfully assented. We spent a delightful day---took our dinner, sitting on the grass around the Mountain Spring---quite romantic. Was it not? We went to Panther's Den, which I suppose you have often visited. You remember the dripping rock near it. I think it is beautiful---more so than I can express---indeed the whole scenery is lovely."
William N. Tillinghast wrote from Fayetteville, NC to his brother John A. Tillinghast at (Oaks, NC) on February 2, 1852, "I suppose Sister told you that Miss S___ Ray (Sarah C. Ray ) had gone to Cheraw [to her "Uncle Coit's"] and that Mary P[earce] had remained in Lousiburg. We are all very sorry to lose our belles; but it is so much better for Mary to be away from home (how miserable a situation)---"
Mary Pearce's "miserable situation" appears to have been that her brother(?) Tom Pearce had become mentally deranged. The Tillinghast Papers mention also a Mr. Samual Pearce and "Cousin Nan" Pearce who may or may not have been Mary's parents (letter of Sept. 6, 1850 from Thomas H. Tillinghast to John H. Tillinghast, Bethmount [Oaks], Orange County.). The Tillinghast Papers indicate that Mary Pearce finished school at the Louisburg Female Seminary with flying colors .