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Execution by the Tuscarora: John Lawson

On September 20, 1711, explorer and surveyor John Lawson was killed by the Tuscarora.

Lawson and Baron Christoph von Graffenried planned to travel up the Neuse River from New Bern in an attempt to explore the area and discover the river’s source. The Tuscarora, angry about incursions into their lands, the kidnapping of their women and children, and disrespectful treatment by traders, stopped the expedition and imprisoned the leaders.

Graffenried’s account of the incident stated that Lawson got into an angry exchange with a leader which resulted in the seizure and burning of their hats and wigs, and a sentence of death being pronounced over them.

The next morning, Graffenried reportedly chastised Lawson for antagonizing their captors and spoke with an Indian interpreter.

After several days, one of the Indians made a plea on Graffenried’s behalf. He was released but kept in a hut, during which time Lawson was executed. It is believed that the Tuscarora thought Graffenried was the governor and that they would incur the wrath of the English if they killed him.

Graffenried later heard of several ways in which Lawson was supposedly executed but the actual method of death was uncertain.

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Food Town (Now Food Lion) Founder Ralph Ketner

On September 20, 1920, grocer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Ralph Ketner was born in Cabarrus County. Hale and hearty at 95, Ketner is known as the longtime television face for the Food Lion grocery store chain.

After college in Indiana and service in World War II, Ketner and two partners opened their first store in Salisbury in 1957. Their primary competitors were Winn-Dixie, Colonial and A&P. Investors who joined them to raise capital of $62,000 in time became millionaires.

What was then Food Town expanded gradually until 1967 when Ketner took his account books and retreated into a Charlotte motel. Three days later he emerged, with a slogan “Lowest Food Prices in North Carolina” and a formula, selling 10 categories at cost or below and ensuring all products cheaper than competitors.

The strategy worked, propelling the chain to expand into Virginia and Tennessee, where the existence of stores with the same name necessitated the change in 1983 to Food Lion.

A Belgian company, Delhaize, acquired majority ownership of Food Lion in 1976. Tom Smith succeeded Ketner as president and commercial spokesman in 1981. The company now has 1,100 stores and 48,000 employees in 11 southeastern states.

Ketner funded the business school at Catawba College that bears his name.

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Lucy Morgan, Founder of the Penland School

On September 20, 1889, Lucy Calista Morgan was born in Franklin in western North Carolina. After graduating from what is now Central Michigan University in 1915, she taught school and worked for the Children’s Bureau in Illinois. Morgan returned to North Carolina in 1920 to teach at the Appalachian School in Penland. During winter break in 1923, she accompanied a former student to Berea College in Kentucky, where she learned to weave.

Inspired by the Berea community cottage weaving industry, Morgan returned to Penland with a loom and a Craft Revival mission to “…bring about a revival of hand-weaving…[and] provide our neighbor mothers with a means of adding to their generally meager incomes without having to leave their homes….” She had to convince the Episcopal Bishop responsible for the Appalachian School to support a weaving program, convince the women of the region to participate, and find a market for their creations. By 1928 the Penland Weavers and Potters was a destination welcoming visitors. Lucy Morgan established the Penland School of Handicrafts in 1929.

Known as “Miss Lucy,” Morgan promoted North Carolina crafts to the National Park Service, at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, at the 1934 International Exhibition of Folk Art in Switzerland, and to visitors from throughout the world. She published a memoir Gift From the Hills in 1958, documenting the social value of crafts in strengthening community. Morgan retired to Jackson County in 1962 and continued to visit Penland until her death in 1981.

Her legacy continues as North Carolina communities identify authentic cultural traditions as a resource for arts-based economic development. The Penland School of Crafts has grown to be the premier art craft school in the country.

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Martin Luther King’s 1958 Surgery Led by North Carolinian

On September 20, 1958, Beaufort County native Dr. John Cordice operated on Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Harlem, N.Y., hospital. He is now widely credited with saving Dr. King’s life.

Born in the small community of Aurora, east of Greenville, Cordice was raised in Durham. After college and medical school at New York University and a work as a doctor alongside the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, Cordice became a heart surgeon at Harlem Hospital.

On the day in question, King was stabbed by a woman outside a New York department store while autographing copies of a book he was promoting. He was brought to Harlem Hospital, where then New York Gov. W. Averell Harriman requested that African American doctors work on him. Cordice, who wasn’t even on duty that day, happened to stop by Brooklyn medical office where he received a call to come at once and operate an important person who had been injured.

After rushing to the hospital, Cordice and other surgeons used a hammer and chisel to crack King’s sternum and remove the blade with which he had been stabbed, thereby saving King’s life.

At the time, credit for feat was given to Dr. Aubré de Lambert Maynard, the hospital’s chief of surgery, but historians have since concluded that it was Cordice and Dr. Emil Naclerio, an Italian-American , who truly ensured King’s survival.

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Cherokee Defeat by South Carolina Militia, 1776

On September 19, 1776, troops from South Carolina defeated a band of Cherokee Indians in what is now Swain County. The battle took place in a mountain cove known as the “Black Hole,” and was coordinated with a larger effort, now known as the Rutherford Expedition, to punish the Indians for raids on white settlers in the area.

The conflict had its roots earlier that month, when Colonel Andrew Williamson led 2,000 South Carolina militiamen north into Cherokee territory in early September. As they came to the cove, his men marched into an ambush in a gorge. The ensuing battle lasted for nearly two hours. The militiamen were surrounded by Cherokee and forced into a circular formation, leading to the engagement being known in time as the “Ring Fight.”

Williamson eventually led a bayonet charge, driving the Cherokees from the field. Relatively few casualties were incurred. The Cherokee left four dead on the field; 11 militiamen were killed and 24 wounded.

A week later, Williamson’s force united with Rutherford’s men at Hiwassee.

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Elizabeth II, a Legacy of America’s Four Hundredth

On September 19, 1985, the Elizabeth II made its maiden voyage from Manteo to Ocracoke, Beaufort, New Bern and back again.

Constructed as part of America’s 400th anniversary, the 69-foot, square-rigged sailing ship is meant to be representative of the vessels used to bring the first English colonists to Roanoke Island in the late 1500s. It was named for the original Elizabeth, one of the seven ships that was part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s second expedition in 1585. That ship was captained by Thomas Cavendish and most likely carried people and supplies to aid England in building a military garrison near what is now Manteo.

Built almost entirely by hand during 1983, the ship was in the water by early 1984 and was christened by British Princess Anne that summer. A private corporation raised $650,000 to finance the ship’s construction, while the General Assembly allocated $1.4 million for the development of other attractions on Roanoke Island.

Though the ship sometimes sails along the North Carolina coast, it is moored at Roanoke Island Festival Park—one of 27 state historic sites—for most of the year.

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The Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918

On September 19, 1918, the contagion known as the “Spanish Flu” appeared in the port city of Wilmington. Within a week the hard-struck city reported some 400 cases of the illness. It was a sign of the devastation yet to be wrought by the pandemic.

At the height of the flu outbreak during the winter of 1918-1919 at least 20% of North Carolinians were infected by the disease. The so-called “Spanish Lady” killed nearly 14,000 citizens of the state.

A confluence of events created a viral strain of the contagion, and that mutated virus found more victims than normal due, in part, to the ongoing world war. Large numbers of people were traveling around the county and the world like never before, and the virus was able to travel by hosts and spread.

The flu outbreak forced a reorganization of the still-budding North Carolina health care system. Home Relief groups formed and only an outpouring of public charity helped to check the spread of the disease. At least 17 doctors succumbed to the virus while tending to the infected.

Many North Carolina communities suffered during the pandemic but Wilmington remained of the hardest hit by the “Spanish Lady.”

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“Cherry Bounce King,” Amos Owens

On September 18, 1906, Amos Owens, a notorious moonshiner from Rutherford County, died.

Known as the “Cherry Bounce King,” Owens was renowned for the delightful mixture of whiskey, honey and cherries that he made at his “castle” on Cherry Mountain.

Described as a fearless yet energetic Irishman, Owens achieved success quickly. People from all over the South visited him to taste his celebrated beverage.

Owens was also an infamous fixture in the local courthouse. Vehemently opposed to taxes on alcohol, he believed that he owed nothing to the government after fulfilling his civic duty as a Confederate soldier. Often arrested for his activities, Owens was occasionally acquitted for minor crimes, but didn’t always manage to escape the long reach of the law. He frequently had to pay fines or spend time in jail.

At one point he was locked up for an entire year.

Despite the risks that came with it, Owens continued to distill Cherry Bounce and every summer he hosted lively gatherings at Cherry Mountain to celebrate the cherry harvest.

A colorful local figure who embodied the vitality and grit of Appalachia in the aftermath of the Civil War, Owens didn’t stop making moonshine until he was sent to prison in his 70s.

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Occonneechee Speedway, NASCAR in Orange County

On September 18, 1947, Bill France Sr. and four other racing entrepreneurs incorporated the Hillsboro Speedway in Orange County with the aim of bringing auto racing to central North Carolina.

Racing, however, long had been a pastime in the area. The land on which the speedway was built was located on property previously owned by tobacco magnate Julian Shakespeare Carr, who constructed a horse racing track. The site of the track later became the site of the Occoneechee Speedway.

It was in the late 1940s that Bill France Sr., an auto-racing organizer from Daytona Beach, saw the racetrack from the air as he was flying over Orange County. He gathered investors and secured the land. Less than a month later, France and a group of racing promoters formed the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing, that is, NASCAR.

The original plan was to build a one-mile oval racetrack with 5,000 seats but, when finished, the Occoneechee Speedway had wooden grandstands that held 10,000 and sloped hillsides that could fit 25,000 more. The track opened in June 1948 with a 10-mile NASCAR race watched by about 20,000 fans. It closed in 1968, and the site is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

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L. O’B. Branch Rose through Confederate Ranks

On September 17, 1862, Gen. Lawrence O’Bryan Branch was shot and killed by a sharpshooter at the Battle of Sharpsburg.

Born in 1820 in Halifax County, Branch was placed in the care of his uncle, U.S. senator and former North Carolina governor John Branch, following the death of both of his parents.

After college at UNC and Princeton, Branch moved to Nashville, Tenn., to work as a newspaper editor and to study law. He opened a law practice in Florida and served as an aide to Governor Robert R. Reid during the Seminole War.

Branch married on a trip to North Carolina and eventually opened a law practice in Raleigh. He held a number of prominent positions in the decade prior to the Civil War including a term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

When North Carolina seceded in 1861, Branch enlisted as a private in the Confederate army, but was soon appointed the state’s Quartermaster General by Governor John W. Ellis. Branch obtained a commission as colonel of the 33rd North Carolina Infantry and was appointed a brigadier general in January 1862.

Branch went on to command his brigade at the Battle of New Bern and led the command at the engagements of Hanover Court House, the Seven Days’ Battles, Second Manassas and Sharpsburg.

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Samarcand, 1918-2011: Evolution of a Correctional Institute

On September 17, 1918, Samarcand, the State Home and Industrial School for Girls, was established in as a correctional institute for young women in Moore County.

The concept of the school originated through the work of Presbyterian minister A. A. McGeachy, who believed the state needed a protective care center for delinquent juvenile girls, many of whom were homeless or prostitutes.

Intended as the female counterpart to the Stonewall Jackson Training School in Concord, Samarcand offered a school curriculum that focused on Biblical studies, music, science and math, though the girls received training in weaving, canning and laundry preparation, too. The girls also worked on the chicken and cattle farm adjacent to the facility.

Discipline at Samarcand could be harsh. Corporal punishment and solitary confinement were often administered, and a 1940 account of the disciplinary ward described mattresses on the floor with no beds and a single washbasin and toilet for nearly 30 girls.  In 1974, the school was transferred to what’s now the Department of Health and Human Services, remaining a rehabilitation center for delinquent children.

The state closed the facility in 2011, and it is now the site of a training academy for corrections and law enforcement officers.

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Signers in Philadelphia Endorse Federal Constitution

On September 17, 1787, a majority of delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia approved the U.S. Constitution, with North Carolina representatives William Blount, Richard Dobbs Spaight and Hugh Williamson signing on behalf of the state. Despite advocacy for its adoption by Federalists Spaight and Williamson, the North Carolina Convention declined to ratify the Constitution until the Bill of Rights was proposed in 1789.

Interestingly, Williamson and Blount were not among the delegates originally selected. When the legislature met the previous January, it selected then Governor Richard CaswellWilliam R. DavieWillie JonesAlexander Martin and Spaight as delegates. Jones, staunchly anti-Federalist, did not accept the appointment, and Caswell was ill and unable to travel. Williamson and Blount were appointed in their stead. Davie and Martin left the convention early, leaving Williamson, Spaight and Blount remaining as signatories.

Richard Dobbs Spaight, from New Bern, later served as governor, and. Hugh Williamson—sometimes referred to as North Carolina’s Ben Franklin—was a physician, scientist scholar and resident of Chowan County. William Blount, a Bertie County native, was later governor of the territory that is now Tennessee, and U.S. Senator from that state as well.

A plaque in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Raleigh commemorates the three signers.

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From Cotton Field to University: Fayetteville’s Methodist

On September 16, 1960, the first class of 88 students was admitted to Methodist College.

About five years earlier, citizens of Fayetteville offered the Methodist Church a 600-acre tract and $2 million to establish a school in their town. Fayetteville attorney and future governor Terry Sanford was elected the first chairman of the board of trustees and L. Stacy Weaver was chosen as the first president.

When it first opened, the campus included a grouping of contemporary buildings; the architectural plan, created by Stevens and Wilkinson of Atlanta, earned a national citation for creativity and unity of design.

The school’s first major expansion came in 1978, when it began offering two-year associate’s degrees in addition to four-year bachelor’s degrees.

In 1993, trustees recommended that the college borrow funds to build additional residence halls over the next five years to accommodate 300 new resident students. The trustees further recommended that the college undertake a major capital campaign of at least $10 million for increasing the endowment and constructing a library addition, and two new academic buildings.

In 2001, the school had a record enrollment, and inaugurated the first graduate program, which trains physician assistants.

In 2006, trustees voted to change the name of the school from Methodist College to Methodist University.

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Hurricane Floyd Devastating to Eastern North Carolina

On September 16, 1999, Hurricane Floyd made landfall at Cape Fear as a very strong category 2 storm.  At its peak in the Atlantic, Floyd was among the largest category 4 storms on record.  Even as it came ashore it was almost twice the size of a normal hurricane. The 12 to 20 inches of rain that fell as a result of Floyd, which arrived only ten days after another hurricane, caused every river in eastern North Carolina to flood.

Among the towns most devastated by Floyd were Rocky Mount, Tarboro, Kinston and Princeville. The fate of the little town of Princeville, founded by freed slaves, tugged especially hard at the heartstrings of many North Carolinians—most of whom had never been there—as the whole town was underwater for days. A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official stated that, although he had worked through more than 100 disasters since 1992, he had never seen flooding as bad as in Princeville.

FEMA declared 66 North Carolina counties as disaster areas after Floyd.

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Rockfish Storekeeper Destined to be a Founder of California

On September 16, 1802, Thomas Larkin, the first and only U.S. consul to the territory that became the state of California, was born.

Though not a native North Carolinian, Larkin made his way to the small Duplin County community of Rockfish, where he operated a store, served as justice of the county court and as postmaster at age 19. After about 10 years in the Tar Heel state, he became dissatisfied with life in the South and boarded a ship for Monterey, the capital of Alta California, as it was known under Mexican rule. There he ran a dry goods store and operated flour and saw mills, trading with other Mexican communities and as far away as Hawaii.

In 1843, Larkin was appointed U.S. consul to California. He went on to play an important role in the Mexican War during the presidency of James K. Polk. and covertly worked to encourage secession from Mexico at the request of Secretary of State James Buchanan.

Following the war Larkin moved to San Francisco and represented that city in the 1849 California Constitutional Convention. Benefiting from the economic boom that followed the 1849 gold rush, Larkin continued to engage in land speculation.

He died of typhoid fever in 1858.

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Greensboro Hosted Base Vital to World War II Allied Effort

On September 15, 1946, the massive Greensboro Overseas Replacement Depot closed its doors.

The O.R.D., as it was known, originally operated as a training base, buy by May 1944, the Air Force had reached its projected capacity and the facility became the primary point in the eastern U.S. where soldiers were prepared and processed for overseas duty. In February 1945, the O.R.D. took on added duties as a redistribution station, working to place about 31,000 troops in the Far East, as the focus of fighting shifted. In September 1945, the station began processing personnel for separation from duty. Thus, during its period of service, the Greensboro depot provided a wide range of services to the military. More 330,000 troops were processed in or out of service or redistributed to another location through the center.

The base was truly massive. At 652 acres in size, it was the largest base in America located within the boundaries of a city, and as many as 40,000 soldiers were stationed at the Greensboro facility at any given time.

Spread over nearly 1,000 buildings, the base included 500 barracks, 14 mess halls, 55 recreation rooms, four movie theaters, ten post exchanges, five chapels, three libraries, thee gyms and a hospital. The base even had its own newspaper and radio station to keep the troops entertained.

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Ivanhoe in Warren: Ring Tournaments at Shocco Springs

On September 15, 1857, the resort town of Shocco Springs in Warren County held the first known medieval jousting tournament in North Carolina. It did not involve riders knocking each other off their horses. Instead participants used lances to spear a three-inch ring off a post.

Such “ring tournaments” became fashionable among the well-to-do in North Carolina in the late 1850s and, after a hiatus during the Civil War, they experienced a revival that lasted until the 1870s.

The 1857 contest attracted contestants from as far away as Florida and Texas. Pageantry, costumes and assumed titles (like “the Knight of the Black Cross”) combined with themes of chivalry, honor and the virtue of womanhood at the festivals. Many times they culminated in the crowning of a “Queen of Love and Beauty.”

A newspaper account described the scene: “The Knights were splendidly accoutered, and as they flew past the stand with lances in rest their success was announced by loud cheers mingled with bursts of martial music, which irresistibly carried our thoughts back to the thrilling pages of Ivanhoe…”

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Namesake for Campbell’s Camel, Baseball’s Gaylord Perry

On September 15, 1938, Major League Baseball pitcher Gaylord Perry was born in Williamston.

Perry grew up helping his tenant farmer family, but his father, who was an athlete and sports fan, gave him time to play sports. Though he played every sport at his high school, Perry was most competitive at baseball.

A right-handed pitcher, Perry drew attention from scouts early and attended Campbell College for two years before turning pro. He signed with the San Francisco Giants and played in their farm system until his League debut in 1962.

Quickly developing a reputation for using the “spitball,” Perry often appeared to doctor the ball by smearing it with various substances (like petroleum jelly). This might have accounted for the sometimes miraculous spin he could produce.

Regardless of the cause, Perry was a pitching phenomenon. He earned the Cy Young Award, baseball’s top honor for pitchers, in both the National and American Leagues, and struck out out 3,534 batters during his more than 20-year career.

Over the course of his career, Perry played for eight major league teams and won 314 games.

Perry became a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1973, and was honored with membership in Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. Campbell University named its mascot “Gaylord the Camel” in honor of Perry.

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An Independent Man: John Penn’s Short Life

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 09/14/2017 - 01:00

On September 14, 1788John Penn died in Granville County at age 47. With nothing more than a very basic education, Penn rose through legal and political circles to become one of three North Carolinians who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Born in 1741 in Virginia, Penn received instruction in rural schoolhouses. After his father’s death, a neighbor offered young Penn use of his library. Through self-instruction, Penn acquired knowledge of the law sufficient for admittance to the bar in 1762.

In 1774, Penn and his family settled in what is now Vance County, a center of the colony’s growing independence movement. Penn served in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1775 and soon earned the respect of constituents and colleagues.

In the summer of 1776, he joined North Carolinians William Hooper and Joseph Hewes in signing the Declaration of Independence.

Later in his career, Penn served on North Carolina’s Board of War, established by Governor Abner Nash, and on an advisory council to Governor Thomas Burke. He retired to his home near Stovall, where he was buried. In 1894, Penn’s remains were transferred to what would become Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro.

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The General Textile Strike of 1934: Violence in Burlington

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 09/14/2017 - 01:00

On September 14, 1934, workers arriving for the morning shift at the E. M. Holt Plaid Mill in Burlington were confronted by aggressive strikers who were determined to completely shut down the mill’s operations.

The National Guard soon arrived on scene and, using tear gas and bayonets, dispersed the crowd. Five strikers, including a woman, were injured.

That night, a bomb made of stolen dynamite exploded outside the Holt Mill. The blast caused roughly $100 in damages, mostly in broken windowpanes. A second, unexploded bomb was found by authorities the following day under a loom at the Stevens Manufacturing Company.

Authorities labeled the attack as a communist plot and rounded up and arrested 10 men. Though the violent tactics of the National Guard earlier that morning had galvanized the strikers, support dissolved in the wake of the attempted bombings and the mill reopened four days later.

Although the case against the alleged perpetrators was weak, four of the arrested accepted plea deals and testified against the other six. Author Paul Green led the League for Southern Labor in public support of the men, who were seen by many as scapegoats All six defendants were found guilty after a week-long trial.

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