JOHN R. BAGGETT. Not infrequently men and women achieve success (so called) by ignoring family duties and plain moralities, leaving all such considerations heartlessly behind and going so far into the world that the burdens of parents, or other kindred, shall not interfere with the free development of their ambitions. We all know of such cases, but we do not know of the instances, not a few, in which the lives of those who are outwardly successful are shot through and through with the pangs of conscience and ceaseless regrets that they commenced to mount on the bent and weakly shoulders of those whom they should have protected with self-sacrificing love.
The life of John R. Baggett, who was born in Sampson County, October 1, 1871, prominent lawyer and mayor of Lillington, illustrates the realization of worldly comfort and progress at a comparatively late period, but unaccompanied by a retrospect of pain and regret. His strong Welsh blood doubtless has much to do with the faithfulness with which he maintained the ties and duties of kinship, at the cost of its own early advancement.
The parents of John R. Baggett were Silas E. and Winnifred (Wilson) Baggett, both deceased. The mother was the daughter of Jesse Wilson, one of the most substantial citizens of Sampson County. The father was the son of Joyner Baggett, also representing an old and respected family in that county. Its progenitors were of Welsh nativity who landed at Jamestown in the early history of America. Their descendants afterward crossed the Alleghenies, settled in the upper Ohio Valley, and, prior to the Revolution, returned to Virginia, and thence migrated to Sampson County, North Carolina. John Baggett, great-great-grandfather of John R., of this notice, was the founder of the North Carolina branch.
Mr. Baggett's father was a school teacher for many years before the Civil war, and his service as a Confederate soldier made him practically an invalid; the mother, also, suffered from illness almost continuously. As John R. was the oldest in the family of children, he shouldered the responsibilities of their support when a mere boy. When very young he had received some instruction from his father, but until he was twenty-one years of age had no other systematic schooling and gave his entire time and all his energies to the development of the home farm in Mingo Township and the establishment of a comfortable household for his parents and his brothers and sisters. His burdens were eased by the hearty and unselfish cooperation of every member of the household, each contributing as much as possible to its maintenance. At length the prime end was reached -a substantial, well improved farm and a comfortable, sheltering home for all.
It was only after this duty had been courageously, faithfully and lovingly fulfilled that the young man turned to the task of self-improvement. He had practically forgotten all that he had ever learned, and in September, 1892, after he had just passed his majority, he bravely entered the primary department of the Glencoe School, Sampson County, his fellow pupils ranging from seven years of age upward. That was a step which took pluck and was in direct line with his determined character. He pursued his studies with such avidity, and absorbed the knowledge offered to him with such voracity, that on April 12th of the following year (1893) he received a first-grade certificate for teaching. The West School in Sampson County, to which he was assigned, was at a very low stage of efficiency and order, and the new teacher soon found that he had a man's work before him. He entered into it with such vim and confidence that he soon had completely stamped out rowdyism and obtained the warm support of the parents, who had previously been lukewarm and almost discouraged. Knowledge of this achievement in country school reform spread abroad, and Mr. Baggett's services were brought into demand wherever similar conditions existed, with the same good results which he had brought about in the West School. In the meantime he continued his own studies, took preparatory work at Salemburg Academy and in 1896 entered the University of North Carolina. At that institution he pursued the four year course, receiving his degree with the class of 1900. He then became principal of the Salemburg School, to which he added a boarding department, and at the end of the year had an attendance of 170. In 1901 he joined J. A. Campbell as co-principal of Buie's Creek Academy in Harnett County, and in that institution much of his most beneficent and useful work as an educator was accomplished. He brought to it one hundred students from the Salemburg School, and for ten years cooperated with Mr. Campbell in the development of what became a famous institution preparatory for college. Both teachers and proprietors were in hearty accord with the modern and advanced idea that such an academy should not stop at the borderline of scholastic education, but endeavor to lay the foundation of a solid and serious character and the groundwork of a laudable ambition. In this vital part of the work Mr. Baggett's influence and exertions were invaluable. All his boyhood and youthful experiences tended to give him a deep sympathy for the poor youth struggling to prepare himself worthily for the conflicts of independent life; and he not only made it an especial duty and pleasure to assist such cases with their studies, but often extended them credit and other substantial assistance. For such humane and warm-hearted treatment or the deserving he receives a rich reward in the whole-hearted esteem and friendship of many men scattered throughout the country who stand high in the business and professional fields. At the time he completed his work at Buie's Creek Academy there were thirty-two of its former pupils in the University of North Carolina and 128 at Wake Forest College. He had taught more than 5,000 boys and girls, and one of his most valued possessions is a record comprising all their names and a notation of their careers after leaving his school.
Mr. Baggett studied in the law department of the University of North Carolina, and received his certificate to practice in 1908. He did not commence active practice, however, until 1910, when he opened an office at Lillington. In that year he was elected to the State Senate, representing the district which comprised Harnett, Johnson and Sampson counties. Previous to that time the district had been republican, but he carried it for the democrats by a safe majority. As a state legislator he centered his activities and abilities on measures tending toward better educational opportunities for the masses, for improved social and industrial conditions, and for reform along the broad ideas of modern investigators in the management of state hospitals, asylums and penal institutions. He also championed the bill for the establishment of the Caswell Training School for the feeble minded, and has continuously served as a member of its Board of Trustees. Mr. Baggett also earnestly supported the measure for the establishment of farmlife schools in North Carolina, and under its provisions was established the Lillington institution of that character now in operation. He pushed through the bill by which Lillington was authorized to issue bonds to build its present excellent system of electric lighting, sewers and water supply, and has served as the public spirited mayor of the city since 1911. Besides his lucrative law practice of a private nature, he is managing various interests of the Atlantic & Western .Railroad, of which he is the counsel and a director. That line now runs from Lillington to Sanford, and an extension is projected to the Atlantic Coast. He also was instrumental in the building of the Lillington Oil Mill, of which he is an official. So that, although by force of circumstances, he may be said to have matured slowly, he has certainly “made up for lost time," and his final progress and present standing make records of which any man, might be proud whose earlier years were smoothly paved.
Mr. Baggett was married to Miss Aline Keeter, who was born and reared in Halifax County, North Carolina, and the six children born to them have been Venable, Miriam, John Robert, Jr., Winnifred, Margaret Wilson and Joseph Woodrow Baggett. Mr. Baggett has long been a leading member of the Baptist Church, and the handsome brick structure dedicated to the local organization was erected largely through his labors as chairman of the building committee. Outside of his home and his church duties he gives much of his attention to Masonic matters and the work of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics.
History of North Carolina: North Carolina Biography, vol V, p. 300. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1919.