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Twins from Siam, World Sensation, Died in Surry County

This Day in North Carolina History - 18 hours 29 min ago

On January 17, 1874, Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins, died. The Bunkers were born in Thailand (then Siam) in 1811, and amassed a fortune for themselves on the circus and exhibition circuit before retiring to North Carolina in 1839.  They first lived in Wilkes County, where they married sisters Sarah and Adelaide Yates.  With growing families, the brothers purchased land in Surry County and built large homes a little over a mile apart.  For the rest of their lives they spent three nights at one house and then three nights at the other.  Eng and Sarah Bunker eventually had eleven children, while Chang and Adelaide had ten.

After the devastating losses during the Civil War, the twins returned briefly to the circus. They traveled to Europe where, between shows, they searched in vain for a doctor to separate them. In January of 1874, Chang contracted bronchitis and died in his sleep. Eng awakened and, horrified by the sight of his dead twin, quickly fell into paralysis. A doctor was summoned, but did not arrive until after Eng had died. The two were buried in a common grave at the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery in Surry County.

Asheville’s “Old Kentucky Home,” Now State-Owned

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 01/16/2017 - 05:28

Thomas Wolfe and his mother Julia pose on the front port of the “Old Kentury Home.” Image from N.C. Historic Sites.

On January 16, 1975, the state of North Carolina obtained Thomas Wolfe’s “Old Kentucky Home” from the city of Asheville. The boardinghouse at 48 Spruce Street was the setting for Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. He renamed it “Dixieland” and incorporated his own experiences among the boarders into the novel.

The property dates at least to 1883, when Asheville banker Erwin Sluder built a smaller residence on the site. Between 1885 and 1889, Alice Johnston Reynolds, who had purchased the property from Sluder, made a massive addition to Sluder’s original structure and began operating the building as a boardinghouse in 1890. A subsequent owner, Rev. Thomas M. Myers, named it the “Old Kentucky Home” in honor of his home state.

Julia E. Wolfe, Thomas’s mother, bought the house for $6,500 in August 1906, and used it as a source of income to reinvest in real estate. Her husband, W. O. Wolfe, disliked boardinghouses and, although he went for meals and visits, rarely stayed the night. The Wolfes maintained two residences, with all the children except Tom living with their father. As the youngest child, Tom stayed with his mother at the boardinghouse.

Visit: The building is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, open to the public as one of 27 state historic sites.

The Original Queen’s College in Charlotte

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 01/15/2017 - 05:29

On January 15, 1771, the legislature passed an act to establish Queen’s College in Charlotte.  The act stressed the urgent need for educational opportunities in what was at the time the “backcountry.”

However, the school, which was to be established under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church, was in conflict with royal authority and the Church of England.

Gov. William Tryon believed that the school’s charter would show his appreciation to the Presbyterians who aided him in the ongoing conflict with the Regulators. The British government determined that it would not be appropriate for the crown to approve a Scots-Irish institution that could perpetuate anti-royalist views in the colony, and the charter was revoked.

The trustees continued to apply for a charter and operated the school under the name of Queen’s Museum. During the Revolution, school trustees sympathized with the colonial cause and many future leaders, including William R. Davie and Andrew Jackson, were educated there. When independence was declared, the school became known as Liberty Hall Academy. It relocated to Salisbury in 1784.

The institution that we know today as Queens University of Charlotte was founded by Presbyterians in 1857.

Black Delegates Had Voice at 1868 Convention

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 01/14/2017 - 05:27

On January 14, 1868, a North Carolina constitutional convention, now known as the “Convention of 1868,” opened in Raleigh.

The convention was required by an act of Congress which ordered North Carolina to create a new state constitution. The General Assembly decided to hold a referendum in November 1867 to choose delegates to a constitutional convention to be held in early 1868.

An 1865 drawing of Parker Robbins in the collection of the N.C. Museum of History.

Many former Confederate leaders had not yet taken an Oath of Allegiance to the United States and were not eligible to vote or serve. Chosen for the convention were 107 Republicans and 13 Democrats. The members of the first “Black Caucus” were all Republicans.

The participants of the Black Caucus were not legislators, exactly. But they came together at the State Capitol in January 1868 to take part in a very important process— to expand freedom for all.

The members of this first Black Caucus were: James Walker Hood; Parker Robbins; Henry Cherry; Bryant Lee; Wilson Carey; Clinton Pierson; John H. Williamson; Cuffie Mayo; Henry Eppes; W.T.J Hayes; John Hyman; Abraham Galloway and James H. Harris.

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Birthday of State’s Oldest Newspaper

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 01/13/2017 - 05:28

Edward Jones Hale, the Fayetteville Observer‘s first publisher. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On January 13, 1825, the first issue of the Fayetteville Observer, the state’s oldest newspaper still in print, was published by Edward Jones Hale.  The issue announced the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to the nation’s capital.  The newspaper actually dates back to 1816, when it was launched as a four-page weekly paper called the Carolina Observer under different ownership.

Hale was a strong political force and his influential paper had the largest circulation in the state by 1850. When General William T. Sherman entered Fayetteville in 1865, he ordered that the offices of the Observer, one of the principal Confederate newspapers, be burned. Hale had removed his important files prior to the fire, and when contacted about the destruction later, claimed that Sherman and his men “could not have paid him a higher compliment.”

The Fayetteville Observer became a daily paper in 1896. It was operated by the Hale family until 1919. After a few other ownership changes, the paper was purchased by a New York businessman, who formed the Fayetteville Publishing Company. Charles Robert Wilson became the publisher of the paper in its new and modern quarters in 1924.

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X-Ray Experiments at Davidson College

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 05:27

The first X-ray taken at Davidson College. Image courtesy of the Davidson College Archives.

On January 12, 1896, three students at Davidson College experimented with x-rays.  On January 6, 1896, the Associated Press announced that German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen had discovered a new form of radiation. While experimenting with cathode rays, he discovered that mysterious “x”-rays passed through a variety of objects. He put his hand in front of the rays and saw the silhouette of his bones. At the time, many physics labs had equipment to duplicate the x-ray. Henry Louis Smith, a physics professor and future president at Davidson, was the first professional in North Carolina to work with x-rays.

It was actually a group of Smith’s students who appear to have been the first people in the state to perform x-ray experiments. Three juniors professed to having bribed a janitor to let them into the building housing the physics equipment just six days after Roentgen’s announcement reached America. The students placed objects on photographic paper taking photographs, or what were called roentgenograms, of objects including an eggshell with a button in it, a rubber-covered magnifying glass, a cadaver’s finger, pins, cartridges and paperclips. Years passed before the students’s escapade was made public. The original x-ray images are now housed in the Davidson College Archives.

The experiments are the subject of  a highway marker in Mecklenburg County.

Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Founder of Palmer Institute, Died

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 01/11/2017 - 05:28

On January 11, 1961, noted African-American educator and founder of the Palmer Memorial Institute, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown died. Born in Henderson, Brown moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her family when she was young, and was educated there. In 1901, at age 18, she was persuaded by the American Missionary Association to return to North Carolina to assist in their effort to educate southern blacks.

From left to right, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Charlotte Hawkins Brown and Mary McLeod Bethune, in 1922

Brown established the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, naming it for Alice Freeman Palmer, former president of Wellesley College, who was a friend and benefactor. The school opened in 1902. It first operated out of an old blacksmith shop, but eventually grew to house hundreds of students in more than a dozen buildings. Palmer grew to become known as an elite black preparatory school, hosting students from all over the country and world.

During her tenure at Palmer, Brown actively toured, speaking on behalf of women’s suffrage and racial equality. She devoted her life to the improvement of the African American community’s social standing and was active in the National Council of Negro Women, an organization founded by celebrated educator Mary McLeod Bethune in 1935. Also as president of the North Carolina State Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs, Brown directed African American women’s formal civic experiences for more than twenty years.

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Jazz Drummer Max Roach, N.C. Native

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 01/10/2017 - 05:29

On January 10, 1924, popular jazz drummer Max Roach was born in Pasquotank County. Shortly after moving to New York City with his family in 1928, Roach began to study piano with his aunt. He showed an early aptitude for music and played in jazz bands throughout high school.

Roach began filling in for the drummer in Coleman Hawkins’s band in 1943, and, in 1944, he cut his first record with a group that included Dizzy Gillespie. From there he had a career marked by collaboration with the jazz and bebop greats of his day, including Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and others. Later in his career, Roach wrote music for the civil rights movement, taught percussion at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and composed pieces for the theater.

Among Roach’s many accolades are designation as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, receipt of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant and membership in the N.C. Music Hall of Fame.

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James Hogun Made Brigadier General in Revolutionary War

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 05:27

On January 9, 1779, James Hogun of Halifax County was chosen as a brigadier general for the North Carolina Continental Line.  Hogun, a native of Ireland, settled near Hobgood around 1751. He was appointed the first major of the Halifax militia in 1776. Later that year he was promoted to colonel of the Seventh North Carolina Continental Regiment. He led the Seventh to serve under George Washington at the Battles of Brandywine and Georgetown in 1777.

When the Continental Congress called for the creation of four new North Carolina regiments, Hogun returned home to recruit men. By August 1778, the first new brigade was full, and Hogun marched the men to meet Washington in New York. Within a few months, the Continental Congress chose Hogun as a brigadier general.

In November 1779, General Hogun marched his brigade to South Carolina to defend Charles Town. He was captured when Major General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered on May 12, 1780. As a prisoner of war at Haddrel’s Point on Sullivan’s Island Hogun declined parole and chose to endure the same hardships of the men of his brigade. His health failed and he died there on January 4, 1781.

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“Carbine” Williams, Weapons Designer

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 01/08/2017 - 05:29

“Carbine” Williams outside his Cumberland County workshop, circa 1970. Image from the State Archives.

On January 8, 1975, famed firearms inventor David “Carbine” Williams died.

Born in Cumberland County in 1900, Williams worked for a railroad for a time while operating several illegal distilleries. In 1921, law enforcement officers raided one of those distilleries and, in the ensuing gunfight, a deputy was shot to death. Williams denied firing the fatal shot, but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years.

Image from the State Archives.

As a “trusty” in the blacksmith shop at Caledonia, a Halifax County prison, Williams began drafting innovative gun designs with scraps. His designs drew the attention of Colt Firearms, whose representatives visited him in prison.

Governor Angus McLean commuted Williams’ sentence, and in 1929, he was released. In 1940, working with a team at Winchester, Williams created the .30 caliber M-1 carbine. Williams, a colorful character with his long sideburns, Stetson hat and cigar, became wealthy and patented over 50 inventions.

More than 8 million Allied soldiers carried the M-1 carbine, a light, semiautomatic rifle, in World War II. General Douglas MacArthur described the weapon as “one of the strongest contributing factors to our victory in the Pacific.” J. Edgar Hoover and others had similar praise for “Carbine” Williams, the weapon’s designer.

Visit: Step inside Carbine’s workshop for yourself at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.

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Gertrude McKee, Groundbreaking Lawmaker

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 01/07/2017 - 05:25

On January 7, 1931Gertrude McKee became the first female member of the North Carolina Senate.

Among the most prominent North Carolinians of her day, McKee brought to the legislature a wealth of experience in public affairs.

Born and raised in Dillsboro in Jackson County, she was the daughter of the town’s founder. Her family also long operated the High Hampton Inn, among the leading resorts in the region. McKee’s first involvement in politics came in 1928 when she worked on a campaign for Congress.

After being elected to the state Senate seat from the 32nd District in 1930 and taking her seat in 1931, she jokingly referred to her 49 male colleagues as her children. As chair of the public welfare committee, she took a special interest in child labor laws and old age assistance. Voters returned her to the Senate four times, and there was even talk of her becoming North Carolina’s first female governor.

McKee died in 1948, three weeks after being elected to a fourth Senate term.

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Central Prison Opens in Raleigh

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 01/06/2017 - 05:16

On January 6, 1870, Central Prison opened in Raleigh. The first three prisoners—one man and two women—had been convicted of robbery in Johnston County. Prior to the prison’s opening, North Carolina did not have a central, state-operated prison and instead relied on the counties to manage inmates. Central Prison’s construction was proposed as early as 1846, but did not begin until the adoption of the North Carolina Constitution of 1868 as part of Reconstruction.

A committee appointed by the General Assembly originally chose a tract in Chatham County for the prison, but the legislature opted for a site near downtown Raleigh. Prisoners were housed in temporary structures until the first permanent building was completed in 1884.

Though inmates accounted for most of the labor used to build 1884 structure, some outside help was brought in, perhaps most notably stone carver W.O. Wolfe, the father of novelist Thomas Wolfe.  The prison complex underwent extensive renovations in the 1940s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and today is the intake site for all male felons over the age of 22 with sentences longer than 20 years.

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Gov. Daniel Fowle Settles In

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 01/05/2017 - 05:25

On January 5, 1891, Gov. Daniel G. Fowle, two years into his term, moved in to the state’s new Executive Mansion before construction was completely finished.

Nine years earlier, Gov. Thomas Jarvis appealed to the General Assembly for a suitable Governor’s Mansion on Raleigh’s Burke Square, insisting that it was inappropriate for the governor to live in a hotel.  While he had no expectation that he would live in it, he hoped that his successor might be provided with a comfortable home, suitable to the office. The legislature was persuaded and authorized the construction of a new governor’s residence.

Gov. and Mrs. Hodges host a dinner party
at the Mansion in 1958. Image from
the State Archives.

Work on the building was performed almost entirely with inmate labor and, whenever possible, building materials from within the state were used. The bricks were made from Wake County clay, the sandstone trim came from Anson County and the marble steps came from Cherokee County.

A magnificent example of the Queen Anne Cottage style of Victorian architecture, the mansion is noted for its turrets, porches, multicolored slate roof and elaborate woodwork. The building was once described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “the most beautiful governor’s residence interior in America.”

Fowle enjoyed the new governor’s residence for only three months before his death in April 1891. The Executive Mansion has been occupied by 29 governors’ families.

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Origins of Maco Light Legend Date to 1856

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 01/04/2017 - 05:28

Southern Railway trains. Image from the State Archives.

On January 4, 1856, a train accident on the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad occurred near Wilmington, giving rise to an enduring North Carolina legend. In the neighborhood of Hood’s Creek, about 8 miles outside of Wilmington, the engine of the night train collided with the mail train, upon which Charles Baldwin was the conductor. Baldwin received severe head injuries during the accident and died three days later. He is buried in OakdaleCemetery.

In determining the cause of the accident, investigators discovered that Baldwin was responsible for hanging a light on the front of the mail train and had not done so. The Legend of the Maco Light that subsequently grew from the accident recounts the tale of “Joe” Baldwin, a train conductor who was decapitated in a collision.

A mysterious light seen frequently along the railroad tracks at the small crossroads was reputed to be Joe Baldwin swinging a lantern as he searched for his head. The light could be seen from a distance but disappeared as one approached it. The railroad tracks were removed in 1977, and the light has not been seen since.

Learn more about the Legend of the Maco Light and other North Carolina lore in North Carolina Legends from N.C. Historical Publications.