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Coal Mine Explosion Rocks Chatham County

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

On May 27, 1925, the Carolina Coal Company experienced a massive explosion at Coal Glen in Chatham County. That morning, an eyewitness recounted that the first boom of the explosion split the air and smoke began to fill the sky and women began to scream. People knew immediately what had occurred and rescue efforts began very quickly. By nightfall, 5,000 people waited silently at the mouth of the mine for word of survivors.

Almost as quickly the explosion became headline news across the country. While some of the miners were from communities in other states, just about everyone in the small village of Farmville knew someone who died. Fifty-three victims died in the worst mining disaster in North Carolina history. It took five days to remove the bodies from the mine.

The Carolina Coal Company was established in 1921 near the Chatham County village of Farmville. It was about two miles east of another operation known as Cumnock Mine. In a News and Observer article written shortly after the explosion, the event was erroneously called the Cumnock Mine Disaster. The 1955 disaster is still often referred to by that name, but it is more accurately called the Coal Glen explosion.

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Brief Return to Native State for Edward Stanly

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

On May 27, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Edward Stanly appointed military governor of North Carolina.

Born in New Bern, Stanly served in the state legislature and practiced law in Beaufort County before being elected to Congress in 1837. After losing his third bid for re-election he returned to the state legislature, briefly served as state attorney general.

He moved to California after losing the Whig nomination for governor in 1848.

Stanly fiercely opposed the secessionist movement in California and believed that North Carolina was tricked into joining the Confederacy, so he volunteered to return to the Tar Heel State to work for peace.

Stanly found few friends back home in New Bern. Those on the Confederate side viewed him as a traitor, while many Unionists were angry that he wouldn’t authorize schools for African Americans. Outraged at Lincoln for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation which he believed would make peace between North and South impossible, Stanly resigned from his post less than nine months after taking it.

He returned to California where he died in 1872.

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W. D. Pender, One of Lee’s Lieutenants

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

On May 27, 1863, William Dorsey Pender was promoted to major general in command of Gen. A.P. Hill’s division at only 29 years old.

Born in in 1834 in what is now Wilson County, Pender graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. From 1856 to 1860, he saw active service on the frontier in New Mexico, California, Oregon and Washington state.. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Pender resigned his commission, choosing to fight for his native state.

Pender was first elected colonel of the 3rd North Carolina Volunteers and then transferred as commander of the 6th North Carolina Troops. In combat at Seven Pines, Pender performed so valiantly that he received a promotion to brigadier general. While commanding the brigade, Pender was wounded at Malvern Hill, Second Manassas and Fredericksburg. He took over command of A.P. Hill’s division at Chancellorsville after Hill was wounded.

Two months after Chancellorsville, Pender led the division in Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. While leading his division in an assault on Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg, he was struck by a piece of artillery shell. He later suffered a botched amputation of his leg. The procedure ruptured an artery, and he bled to death.

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“Foxy Brown,” “Jackie Brown” Star Pam Grier

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

On May 26, 1949, actress Pam Grier was born in Winston-Salem.

Grier’s father was an Air Force mechanic, keeping the family constantly on the move, so it was in Colorado that her acting career got its start. Spotted by an agent at the Colorado state preliminary to the Miss Universe pageant, Grier accepted the agent’s offer to come to Hollywood to try to make it in the film industry.

After making her debut on the silver screen in the 1971 film Big Doll House, Grier quickly became a staple of the so-called “Blaxploitation” genre of films—films geared toward urban black audiences whose plots and characters relied heavily on black stereotypes. She played the starring role in Foxy Brown, perhaps the best-known movie of the genre.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Grier acted in several blockbuster, more mainstream movies and began working in television as well. In her later career, she is perhaps best known for playing the title character in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 movie Jackie Brown, and she continues to work in movies and television to this day.

Grier was the first black woman to appear on the cover of Ms. magazine in August 1975, and Ebony included her on its list of the “100 Most Fascinating Women of the 20th Century.”

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North Carolina Voters Approve Prohibition

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

On May 26, 1908, North Carolina voters approved a prohibition on the sale of alcoholic beverages statewide. North Carolina was the first state in the nation to approve such a measure, and did so by the wide margin of 62 to 38 percent.

Restrictions and regulations related to the sale and use of alcohol existed in North Carolina since the early 1700s, but the temperance movement, with calls for statewide prohibition, were not full in swing until the mid-1800s. During the Civil War, the legislature prohibited the use of various crops to make alcoholic beverages because the crops were needed for food. Throughout the late 1800s, the General Assembly gave local communities the option to ban alcohol and also began passing special legislation prohibiting saloon licenses in particular areas of varying sizes.

The Prohibition enacted by voters in 1908 went into effect in January 1909. The federal government’s Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution became effective in 1920 making it illegal to manufacture, sell or transport intoxicating liquors in the United States. Nationwide Prohibition was ended with the passage of 21st Amendment in 1933. North Carolina was one of only two states that refused to ratify the repeal.

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The Watauga Club and the Origins of N.C. State University

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

On May 26, 1884, the Watauga Club was founded.

Comprised of a number of influential young leaders under the age of 30, including William Joseph Peele, Josephus Daniels and Walter Hines Page, the progressive organization championed several causes that its members hoped would set the state on a positive course into the future.

Improved roads, more effective farming and agricultural techniques and better schools were all touted by the club as it attempted to bring the state into a more modern era. But perhaps the most important and successful of the group’s goals was the establishment of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts. That institution was founded three years later, in 1887, and went on to become North Carolina State University.

The Watauga Club remains in existence today and includes about two dozen members, most of whom are influential leaders in the Raleigh area. North Carolina State University commemorates the club each year with its Watauga Medal. Two or three outstanding people are chosen to receive the honor, which “recognize[s] individuals who have rendered significant and distinguished service to North Carolina State University.”

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Torpedo Blast Felled Union Soldiers, 1864

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

On May 26, 1864, a deadly torpedo explosion occurred at Batchelor’s Creek, about eight miles west of New Bern. For the Union forces stationed there, the losses were devastating. Initial reports claimed that 40 soldiers were killed in an accident while unloading the last four of 13 torpedoes from a train car. The torpedoes were intended to complete the blockade of the Neuse River.

When the last of the four weapons was offloaded, a log struck the cap of one and it exploded, setting off a chain reaction. Newspaper accounts said it sounded like a thousand pieces of artillery firing and could be heard 20 miles away. Members of the 132nd New York Volunteers were waiting for mail to be unloaded at the time and took the brunt of the explosion.

Body parts were scattered for a quarter of a mile and two buildings were destroyed. Twenty-eight soldiers and about 20 former slaves, who were working civilian jobs, were killed. While they waited for coffins to be sent from New Bern, hardtack boxes were used to collect body parts.  Many of the dead are buried at New Bern National Cemetery.

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A Female Lawyer in the 1600s

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

 

On May 25, 1673, Ann Durant became the first woman to act in the capacity of an attorney in North Carolina. Durant represented Andrew Ball in his successful effort to recover wages due him for work aboard a ship at a proceeding held at the home of council member Francis Godfrey. On at least 20 other occasions she appeared before colonial courts on behalf of herself, her husband or others. She frequently appeared to collect debts owed to her store.

Durant’s court appearances were not the first display of her self-reliance. After marrying George Durant in Virginia in January 1659, the couple moved to their “southern plantation,” settling on the peninsula today known as Durant’s Neck. George Durant served in various capacities in the colony, as speaker of the assembly and as attorney general.

In her husband’s frequent absence, Ann Durant ran their plantation, often providing accommodations for officials attending meetings of the Assembly and Council held at their house. Prisoners were also sometimes held at the Durant home, and it was on their tract that the first public structures in North Carolina, stocks and pillories, were built. She also raised nine children.

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Daniel Barringer’s Mining Efforts Cratered

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

On May 25, 1860, influential geologist Daniel Moreau Barringer Jr. was born in Raleigh.

In 1902, Barringer became intrigued by a crater in Northern Arizona, known today as Barringer Crater, that was surrounded by scattered deposits of meteoritic iron. He immediately recognized the crater as the result of a meteorite impact.

The meteorite that formed the crater was 150 feet wide, weighed 300,000 tons and was travelling at a speed of 26,000 mph when it struck the earth’s surface 50,000 years ago. The impact left a crater measuring three quarters of a mile wide and 750 feet deep.

Barringer incorrectly assumed the meteorite could be found beneath the crater’s floor and began a mining operation to harvest the 10 million tons of iron he assumed was there. In 1929, after 26 years of mining without result, scientists determined the meteorite in question hit with such force that it vaporized on impact, meaning no substantial iron deposits were present beneath the crater’s surface.

Barringer’s investors abandoned the project, which at its end had a total cost of $600,000 with $120,000 coming out of Barringer’s own pocket. The news may have been too much for Barringer, who died three months later of a massive heart attack.

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Entombed at Sea in a Cask

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 01:00

On May 25, 1857, Nancy Adams Martin died at sea. Her body was placed in a cask of alcohol to preserve her remains until the ship reached port.

Affectionately known as “Nance” by her family, Martin was the daughter of Wilmington businessman Silas H. Martin. A captain and shipper by trade, Silas planned a trip around the world, and his eldest son John and daughter Nance accompanied him on the voyage. It would be an ill-fated journey for the Martins.

Nance took ill about three months into the trip and quickly succumbed to the sickness. The only means of preserving her body for later burial was to store it in a cask of rum. The thought of her body sloshing around in a cask was too much for her father and brother, so it was decided that a chair would be placed in the cask, nailed in place and Nance seated and tied into the chair to keep her from swishing around.

The voyage continued and tragedy struck again. John was swept overboard and lost at sea.

Upon returning to Wilmington, Silas had Nance buried. Rather than disturb the remains they buried her in the cask in the port city’s Oakdale Cemetery.

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Dramatist Lula Vollmer, Acclaimed for “Sun-up”

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 01:00

On May 24, 1923, Moore County native Lula Vollmer’s play “Sun-up” premiered on Broadway. Her first and most successful drama, “Sun-Up” depicted people of the southern mountain region. She donated her royalties of more than $40,000 to help educate them.

Born in 1898 and educated at what later became Asheville College, Vollmer went to New York after graduation in 1918 to try to sell the play. Although she worked for the Theatre Guild as a box-office clerk, the Guild joined other producers in rejecting “Sun-Up” until it was produced at the Provincetown Theater.

Subsequently it was performed in Chicago, London, Amsterdam, Paris and Budapest.

In 1925, “Sun-Up” was published in book form. Between 1923 and 1946, Vollmer wrote many other plays, among them “The Shame Woman,” “The Dunce Boy,” “Trigger” and “Sentinels,” although none had the commercial success of her first.

Except for Paul Green, Vollmer had more plays produced in New York than any other North Carolina dramatist. Grant Wood, famous for his painting American Gothic, was scene designer for one of her early works.

Vollmer also wrote a variety of radio serials and in later years wrote short stories for the Saturday Evening PostCollier’s Magazine and other magazines.

She died in 1955.

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Flight of the Last Royal Governor

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 01:00

On May 24, 1775, Josiah Martin, the last royal governor of North Carolina, fled Tryon Palace under cover of darkness.

In 1774, delegates to North Carolina’s First Provincial Congress recommended that counties form committees of safety, a move to supplant royal authority. Fearing that the cannons on the palace grounds might be used in an insurrection, Martin had them removed in May 1775.

Abandoning the palace, Martin went from New Bern to Fort Johnston, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, where several English warships lay at anchor. He described the fort as “a wretched little place.”

Receiving reports that the Wilmington Committee of Safety planned to attack the fort and seize him, Martin took refuge on the HMS Cruizer that was resting offshore. It was a wise move, since five days later, the militia, in Martin’s words, “wantonly in the dead hour of night set on fire and reduced to ashes the houses and buildings within the Fort.”

The Cruizer would remain Martin’s headquarters through the summer and fall. From aboard the ship, on August 8, he issued his “Fiery Proclamation,” denouncing the safety committees.

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Last Royal Governor Ruled from Offshore

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 01:00

On May 24, 1775, Josiah Martin, the last royal governor of North Carolina, fled Tryon Palace under cover of darkness. In 1774, delegates to North Carolina’s First Provincial Congress recommended that counties form committees of safety, a move to supplant royal authority. Fearing that the cannons on the palace grounds might be used in an insurrection, Martin had them removed in May 1775.

Abandoning the palace, Martin went from New Bern to Fort Johnston, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, where several English warships lay at anchor. He described the fort as “a wretched little place.”

Receiving reports that the Wilmington Committee of Safety planned to attack the fort and seize him, Martin took refuge on the HMS Cruizer that was resting offshore. It was a wise move, since five days later, the militia, in Martin’s words, “wantonly in the dead hour of night set on fire and reduced to ashes the houses and buildings within the Fort.”

The Cruizer would remain Martin’s headquarters through the summer and fall. From aboard the ship, on August 8, he issued his “Fiery Proclamation,” denouncing the safety committees.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

The Short, Active Life of St. Philips Church at Brunswick Town

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 01:00

On May 24, 1768, St. Philips Anglican Church at Brunswick Town on the Cape Fear River was dedicated.

Efforts to construct the church began in 1754, but it sat unfinished until 1759 when Gov. Arthur Dobbs proposed to make it “His Majesty’s Chapel in North Carolina.” Construction of St. Philips was funded initially through two lotteries and the sale of goods from the capture Spanish privateer, La Fortuna. Rev. John McDowell became the full-time minister for St. Philips Parish and received a small house and 300 acres of land nearby.

Construction was delayed many times and for many reasons, but Dobbs continued to push the project. In 1763, the 73-year-old governor married 15-year-old Justina Davis in the still unfinished church, and when he died in 1765 he was buried inside the structure.

Gov. William Tryon also took an interest in the church’s completion, seeing the project through to its finish in 1768. The parish was never very large and the church was not destined for a long life. Much of it was destroyed when the British sacked the town in 1776; only the four walls remain.

Check out Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site’s website for more information.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Architect David Paton Hired, Dismissed at State Capitol

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 01:00

On May 23, 1840, David Paton, supervising architect of the State Capitol, was dismissed just as the structure was nearing completion. While the exterior was designed by New York architects Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis, Paton, from Scotland, took over the project in September 1834 and played a critical role in refining and shaping the final design of the building and its impressive interior.

Paton’s interior changes made the building more functional while also making its appearance more ornate. His work was appreciated by the commissioners tasked with overseeing the building’s construction and by Raleigh citizens for most of his nearly six years of work on the Capitol. Paton claimed that his services as architect were performed under his private contract with Town and Davis, over and above his work for the state as 

construction superintendent. The commissioners increased his salary from $3 to $5 per day, but eventually tensions drove the commissioners to let Paton go.

During his tenure, Paton kept meticulous records and extensive correspondence related to the construction of the Capitol.  Those records are in the State Archives.

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Kenan Progenitor James Kenan

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 01:00

On May 23, 1810, Revolutionary era military and political leader James Kenan died.

Born on his family’s plantation near what’s now the town of Turkey, Kenan was elected sheriff of Duplin County when he was 22. He displayed strong leadership early, assembling a group of volunteers to go to Wilmington in vocal opposition of the British Stamp Act.

After serving in the colonial assembly and provincial congress, Kenan joined the Duplin militia at the outset of the Revolutionary War. He helped lead a group of volunteers against Scottish loyalists at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in 1776, and rose through the ranks to become brigadier general for the Wilmington District shortly after the war ended.

Kenan served more than 10 terms in the state legislature after independence and was prominent in the state’s political scene, acting as a member of the State Constitutional Conventions of 1788 and 1789, becoming a member of UNC’s original board of trustees and sitting on the council of state under Richard Caswell.

Active in the Freemasons, Kenan was the first Master of the original Masonic lodge in Duplin County.

Kenan died 1810. His descendants remained active in North Carolina’s civic, political and social life for generations.

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Moms Mabley, Boundary-Breaking Comedian from Brevard

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 01:00

On May 23, 1975, the comedian known to the world as “Moms” Mabley died in a White Plains, New York hospital.

Born in Loretta Mary Aiken in Brevard around 1897, Mabley was the granddaughter of a former slave. She left home as a teenager and joined a minstrel show based in Pittsburgh, beginning a 60-year career that included work in everything from African American vaudeville to Broadway to television and the movies. Mabley also released of more than 20 comedy albums during her lifetime.

Throughout her career, Mabley performed in many of the nation’s top venues, including Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, and broke gender and racial barriers by becoming the first female comedian to perform at New York’s Apollo Theater in 1940. Her television performances included appearances on the Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, Flip Wilson, Mike Douglas and Smothers Brothers shows.

Mabley is best remembered for her brilliant stand-up comic persona, a grumpy lady dressed in bright and crumpled housedresses, who delivered sly double-entendres tackling topics such as race and sex with expert timing and ad-libbing.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Vietnam Monument at State Capitol Dedicated 1987

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 01:00

On May 23, 1987, the North Carolina Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated on the grounds of the State Capitol in Raleigh. Entitled “After the Firefight,” the memorial honors the more than 206,000 men and women of the state who served in the Vietnam War.

Designed by Abbe Godwin of Colfax in Guilford County, the monument depicts two soldiers carrying a wounded comrade to a nearby landing zone to await medical help. The clothing and equipment of the soldiers portrayed were sculpted from items loaned to the artist by Vietnam veterans.

During the four years she worked on the project, Godwin immersed herself in the conflict, collecting artifacts, reading histories and literature from the period extensively and talking to Vietnam veterans.

The monument was the first on the Capitol grounds to be authorized since the World War II-era and is the first to be sculpted by a woman. It is also the first on Union Square to depict an African American.

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Jennette’s Pier: A Nags Head Institution

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 05/26/2017 - 01:00

On May 22, 1939, work began on Jennette’s Ocean Pier in Nags Head, the first fishing pier on the Outer Banks.

The 750-foot wooden structure was built by Elizabeth City’s Warren Jennette, Sr., who purchased the former site of Camp Weaver, a WPA transient camp that housed workers who built sand dunes in the area. Some buildings were converted into overnight accommodations for fishermen.

The pier opened for business that summer with a snack bar, bait stand, guest rooms and restrooms for the public. Located across from Sam and Omie’s restaurant and near Whalebone filling station, the pier helped establish the business district in South Nags Head.

Jennette’s Pier suffered damage from sea worms, nor’easters, hurricanes and even a wayward shipwreck, and was rebuilt a number of times. But it was Hurricane Isabel in 2003 that caused its final demise. A new 1,000-foot state-of-the-art green pier with educational exhibits, wind turbines and concrete pilings was built to replace the old pier.

The new pier was dedicated in May 2011, with Governor Beverly Perdue taking part in the opening celebration. Now a facility of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Jennette’s Pier hosted nearly 200,000 anglers and sightseers last year.

Visit: Jennette’s Pier, now a unit of the North Carolina Aquariums system, is open to the public daily year-round.

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North Carolinians Readied for Spanish-American War, 1898

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 05/26/2017 - 01:00

On May 22, 1898, the 1st North Carolina Regiment was dispatched to Camp Cuba Libre in Jacksonville, Florida, for service in the Spanish-American War.

The regiment was raised earlier that month, and the troops trained at Camp Bryan Grimes in Raleigh. The camp was established near the State Fairgrounds after the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce donated land for it along Hillsborough Street, then on the western outskirts of the city. The camp consisted of nearly 300 tents, laid out in rows. Eventually, as the camp took in more volunteers, Camp Dan Russell was established on the fairgrounds to accommodate the 2nd Regiment.

After arriving in Florida, the troops stayed there throughout the war, which ended in August 1898, and were subjected to poor conditions, mass desertions and a lack of supplies. The only service abroad the unit would see was four months of a guard duty in Cuba between December 1898 and March 1899.

North Carolina’s other two regiments during the war were plagued by outbreaks of disease and dismal conditions. They were stationed in the several locations around the southern U.S. but did not go to Cuba.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.