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The people and places of the Tar Heel state day by day.
Updated: 12 hours 17 min ago

The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey

13 hours 56 min ago

Nell Cropsey. Image from the Museum of the Albermarle.

On November 21, 1901, Nell Cropsey, disappeared from the front porch of her family home near the Elizabeth City waterfront.  The Cropsey family had moved to Elizabeth City from New Jersey in 1898.

The case grabbed national media attention, making newspaper headlines up and down the east coast.  The night Nell disappeared she had broken up with her boyfriend of three years, Jim Wilcox. After spending the evening together in the parlor with her sister Ollie and her boyfriend, the couple stepped onto the front porch and into legend. Wilcox maintained that he left Nell there on the porch after she broke up with him. Nell never returned to the house and was found in the Pasquotank River 37 days later.

Wilcox was arrested and tried. The case, built on circumstantial evidence, was a sensation in its own right. Protesters and mobs interrupted the first trial until the judge declared a mistrial and ordered a new trial in a nearby county. Wilcox was eventually convicted but in 1920 received a pardon from Governor Thomas Bickett. Fourteen years later Wilcox took his own life.

Nell Cropsey’s death remains a mystery, at least for some.

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.


Death of Junaluska, Revered Cherokee Warrior

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 05:30

A purported photograph of Chief Junaluska from the State Archives

On November 20, 1858, distinguished Cherokee warrior Junaluska died.

Little is known of his early life. Although he was not chief, Junaluska spoke for the tribe in 1811 when he refused the Shawnee request for the Cherokee to join in fighting against the influx of settlers. As further indication of his loyalty to the United States, Junaluska recruited 100 warriors to join the war against the Creek Indians in 1814. An account of the conflict credits Junaluska for saving Andrew Jackson’s life at Horseshoe Bend, Alabama.

Junaluska returned to his farm in North Carolina and lived a quiet life until Andrew Jackson, then President of the United States, called for the removal of Cherokee to Oklahoma in 1838. Junaluska survived the Trail of Tears, but later walked home to North Carolina.

The General Assembly granted Junaluska citizenship in 1847, and gave him 337 acres of land and $100 in recognition of his military service. The land was at Cheoah, near what is now the town of Robbinsville, and was, ironically, part of his property prior to the Cherokee removal.

Visit: This Saturday, the N.C. Museum of History will host its 19th Annual American Indian Heritage Celebration, highlighting the history and culture of North Carolina’s eight state-recognized tribes.

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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.


Kingston Trio Hits the Top of the Charts with “Tom Dooley” in 1958

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 05:30

On November 19, 1958, the Kingston Trio’s version of the folk song “Tom Dooley” hit number one on the music charts. The song is based on the true story of Tom Dula, hanged in Statesville in 1868 for the murder of Laura Foster.

The case drew wide attention, including a series of reports that appeared in the New York Herald. After being hanged, Dula was buried in a family cemetery in Wilkes County. Many in the community to this day defend him, arguing that he took the fall for a woman named Ann Melton. North Carolina guitarist Doc Watson’s grandmother claimed to have heard Melton’s deathbed confession that she, not Tom Dula, killed Laura Foster.

While Watson sang the traditional folk ballad “Tom Dula,” the best-known version of that song was a bestseller for the Kingston Trio, renamed “Tom Dooley.” Members of the group actually visited Dula’s grave on a concert swing through the state.

Other related resources:

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.


Name of James Glasgow Expunged from the Map

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 08:19

A circa 1796 map of North Carolina that includes Glasgow County.
Image from the State Archives.

On November 18, 1799, Glasgow County, in eastern North Carolina, was renamed Greene County.

In 1791, Dobbs County was split. Half became Lenoir County, named for Revolutionary War General William Lenoir, and half became Glasgow County, for North Carolina’s first Secretary of State James Glasgow.

Nathanael Greene

Among other duties, Glasgow oversaw the military grant program that awarded land to soldiers who served in the Continental Line during the American Revolution. Warrants for land were easily forged, which led to Glasgow’s downfall.

In 1797, future President Andrew Jackson wrote a letter to the governor exposing the ongoing land frauds. Charges became official, and Glasgow was brought to trial. The jury handed down five indictments; Glasgow pled not guilty.

After ten days in court, Glasgow was found guilty of three charges: issuing a fraudulent warrant; issuing a duplicate warrant with two separate grants on it; and issuing a grant without proper evidence of the assignment. The residents of Glasgow County did not want to be identified with a criminal and the county was renamed Greene, for Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene.

While Glasgow’s name disappeared from the map, his misconduct left a lasting mark in North Carolina’s history. The court that tried Glasgow ultimately became the North Carolina Supreme Court.

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.


Respected Pastel Artist Drew Upon Civil War Experience

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 05:30

One of Champney’s sketches. Image from the Outer Banks History Center.

On November 17, 1862, 19-year-old James Wells Champney drafted a collection of small images titled “First impressions of North Carolina, sketched in cars on the [way] to newbern.”

The son of a painter-illustrator, Champney apprenticed in Boston to become a master wood engraver, but the outbreak of war interrupted his artistic training. He volunteered for the 45th Massachusetts and deployed to North Carolina in November 1862 as part of reinforcements for the Union occupational forces then at New Bern.

Another of Champney’s sketches from New Bern. Image from the Outer Banks History Center.

Like many artists-turned-soldiers, Champney used his artistic abilities to document his wartime experiences, depicting military installations, soldiers, African Americans, civilians and other scenes in and around New Bern. When he left the service after falling ill with malaria in July 1863, Champney had filled two sketchbooks, which are now held by the Outer Banks History Center.

After the war, Champney moved to Europe to study under renowned artist Pierre Édouard Frère. He returned to the United States an expert in pastels and established a studio in New York City where he worked for the remainder of his life. He died unexpectedly at the age of 59 after falling down an elevator shaft.

Visit: Champney’s sketches are featured in “Face to Face: Civil War Sketches and Stories,” an exhibit at Tryon Palace in New Bern that tells the story of the Union occupation of the area, and the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo, which holds the Champney sketches in its collection.

Other related resources:

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.


Federal Writers Project Director Edwin Björkman

Sun, 11/16/2014 - 05:30

On November 16, 1951, renowned writer, journalist and literary critic Edwin A. Björkman died in Asheville.

Born and raised in Sweden, Björkman worked as a clerk, journalist and actor before coming to the United States in 1891. Upon arrival, he briefly stopped in Chicago and then joined a Scandinavian colony in Minnesota, writing for newspapers to support himself. He later wrote for several papers in New York, served in the short-lived League of Nations’ news bureau and taught Scandinavian drama at Yale before moving to Waynesville in 1925.

In North Carolina, Björkman worked as the literary editor of the Asheville Times, and, during the Depression, directed the North Carolina Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration. While working with that project he led the effort that produced North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State.

Throughout his career, Björkman was a prolific writer, producing no less than 10 original novels and translating countless plays and other works into English from European languages. He married four times before dying at age 85, and he is buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit the N.C. Department of 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 Facebook and Twitter.


Charlotte Heist Foiled, 1933

Sat, 11/15/2014 - 05:30

A man prepares to rob a bank in Massachusetts, circa 1934. Image from the Boston Public Library.

On November 15, 1933, noted criminal Roger “The Terrible” Touhy orchestrated a mail truck robbery in the heart of the Charlotte.

Robert Touhy’s FBI mugshot

At the time of the robbery, Touhy was battling mobster Al Capone for control of illicit alcohol sales in Chicago. While awaiting trial for kidnapping, Touhy sent four men in his gang south to “raise” money for his defense. Although Charlotte had no connection to organized crime at the time, it was a burgeoning hub of the financial industry.

The theft took place in broad daylight. Members of Touhy’s gang ambushed the truck by driving out in front of it from an alleyway as it made its way down Third Street. The gang members got out of their car and moved toward the mail truck. At least one of the group brandished a machine gun as the others disarmed the driver. Two of Touhy’s gang easily clipped the lock on the truck with wire cutters, threw out the mail clerk they found inside and, within two minutes, stole about $100,000 in cash and bank notes.

Charlotte detective Frank Littlejohn conducted an extraordinary investigation and, within two weeks of the heist, three suspects were in jail and the fourth was dead in an apparent mob knockoff.

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.


Mystery of the Dare Stones

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 05:30

Scientists put the Dare Stone under the microscope.
Image courtesy of Brenau University.

On November 14, 1937, a team of Emory University professors revealed the transcription of a message carved on a rock discovered by Louis Hammond in Chowan County earlier that year.

The message on what came to be known as the “Dare Stone” appeared to be Eleanor White Dare’s recounting of the fate of the Lost Colony from almost 350 years earlier. The Dare Stone’s authenticity is still debated, but the most recent study of the stone done by David LaVere at UNC-Wilmington leaned toward confirming its veracity.

The front of the original Dare Stone. Image courtesy of Brenau University.

Not long after Hammond turned the stone over to scholars, he disappeared. Later efforts to find him or information about him proved fruitless. Since a number of events related to the Lost Colony, including the debut of a new outdoor drama by Paul Green, were underway to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the English attempt to establish a permanent colony in the New World at that time, some believed the stone to be a promotional stunt.

Complicating the authenticity questions were a number of other “Dare Stone” discoveries in scattered locations. These came to light after the public offer of a reward for such stones. All but the original are universally deemed to be forgeries.

Other related resources:

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.


Eastern North Carolina Artist Francis Speight

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 05:30

Image from East Carolina University.

On November 13, 1989, award-winning artist Francis Speight died at age 93 in his Greenville home.

Speight grew up on a Bertie County plantation before enrolling in college at Wake Forest. While there he took art lessons at Meredith College. After briefly serving in the Army during World War I, Speight studied and taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he would remain for more than 40 years.

Speight focused on painting rural and suburban landscapes and, though some of his work was inspired by his adopted Pennsylvania, he continued to use the landscapes of his native eastern North Carolina as a muse as well.

Belmont Hills by Francis Speight. Image from the Weatherspoon Art Museum.

In 1961, Speight moved back to North Carolina where he taught as an artist-in-residence at East Carolina until his retirement in 1976.

Speight’s work remains on display in public and private art collections across the country. He was the first North Carolina artist to be honored with an exhibition of his works in the newly opened N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh. His many accolades include the North Carolina Award and memberships in the National Academy of Design and the American Institute of Arts and Letters.

Other related resources:

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.


P. T. Barnum Preaches in Rocky Mount, 1836

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 05:30

An 1897 post for the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Image from the Library of Congress.

On November 12, 1836, Phineas Taylor “P. T.” Barnum arrived in Rocky Mount after leaving Aaron Turner’s Traveling Circus, for which he managed the sideshow acts and took tickets.  Barnum convinced some of the Turner acts to join his own traveling circus.

Their first stop was in what is now Rocky Mount. Arriving on a Saturday evening, Barnum spent the night at the Stage Coach Inn. In his autobiography, Barnum wrote that, the next morning, he accompanied the landlord to the Baptist church. Before entering the church, Barnum noticed a grove with a stand and benches. Wishing to speak to the congregation, Barnum was permitted by the preacher to speak for a half an hour after the service.

Approximately 300 people stayed to listen to Barnum preach. It was reported that the crowd was pleased the performance by Barnum, who was not yet known as the Greatest Showman on Earth.

Other related resources:

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.


Jesse Helms and “Viewpoint”

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 05:30

Helms delivering “Viewpoint.” Image from WRAL.

On November 11, 1976, WRAL-TV broadcast the last segment of Viewpoint, a nightly series of political editorials, which ran on the station for nearly 16 years.

One of the first televised outlets for punditry in North Carolina, Viewpoint was a springboard for the growing conservative movement. For Jesse Helms, it became a podium to spread his own politically conservative views on topics such as integration and national defense, as the world around him was changing drastically.

The first page of a “Viewpoint” transcript from 1968. Image from the North Carolina Collection
at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Viewpoint’s nearly 3,000 episodes aired on Raleigh’s CBS affiliate every weekday after the evening news broadcast and again the next morning. The program was also syndicated to the Tobacco Network, which then included more than 60 radio stations statewide.

Viewpoint helped usher in political change across the state. In 1970, Helms announced on Viewpoint that he would be changing his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican, boosting the political shift in North Carolina’s electorate.

The final broadcast of Viewpoint aired four years after Helms left television to campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in 1972.

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.


James Murray and the Argyll Colony

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 05:30

These Scottish dancers at Flora McDonald College in Robeson County are
one example of the lasting impact of Argyll Colony on the culture of the
lower Cape Fear region. Image from the State Archives.

On November 10, 1739, Wilmington merchant James Murray wrote his friend Henry McCulloh about the promising prospect for settlement by Scots in the upper Cape Fear region. Murray himself had been in America for only four years and wished to see his fellow Scots populate the backcountry.

James Murray. Image from Archive.org.

The lands that Murray promoted became the Argyll Colony. That name is best known today for a knitted sock pattern but originates from a county in western Scotland. In 1740, five leaders of the colony petitioned the Assembly for an exemption from taxes in order that their numbers might flourish.

The new immigrants became the vanguard for a wave of settlers and, by the 1770s, Highland Scots comprised about a third of the population of the Cape Fear region. The lower Cape Fear area became known as the “Valley of the Scots.”

Murray was an ally of colonial governor Gabriel Johnston, also a Scot. He kept his home at “Point Repose” north of Wilmington and grew rice and indigo on his land. Among North Carolina’s leading Loyalists, Murray went into exile in Nova Scotia after the Revolutionary War and died there in 1781.

Learn more about the impact of Scottish settlers in North Carolina on NCpedia.

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.


Floyd McKissick and Soul City

Sun, 11/09/2014 - 05:30

A 1970 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development advertisement for Soul City.

On November 9, 1973, civil rights activist Floyd McKissick broke ground on Soul City in rural Warren County.

The Soul City project sought to improve the economic prospects of underprivileged African Americans by providing them with affordable housing and creating an alternative to urban slums. Warren County was chosen for the project because it was one of the poorest areas in the state.

McKissick, the driving force behind the project, was the first African American man to go to law school at the University of North Carolina and thought that economic power was the first step to political freedom. The project received several million dollars in support from the state and federal government, as well as from private donors.

A child at the 1973 groundbreaking. Image from the State Archives and copyright the Raleigh News & Observer.

The first facility constructed at Soul City was an impressive water system and factory named SoulTech I.  However the project was largely derailed by a 1975 exposé in the News & Observer that charged McKissick with corruption. Even though the accusations were found to be false, the controversy that surrounded the article led the project to be audited and caused it lose support from the business community.

The project fell into a slump and effectively ended when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development withdrew its support in 1979.

Other related resources:

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.


Photographer Ignatius Brock of Asheville

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 05:30

A Christmas greeting card that depicts Brock. Image for the Pack Memorial Library.

On November 8, 1950, internationally-renowned photographer and painter Ignatius Brock died at age 83.

Born in Jones County in 1866, Brock got his start in photography as an apprentice at the Gerock Studio in New Bern. He moved to New York to study art at the Cooper Union Institute, before returning to North Carolina and opening his first studio in Asheville.

Through at first he mostly painted landscapes and used photographs simply as sketch notes for future paintings, Brock turned to photography as his primary art form because of his considerable skill with a camera. His focus in photography was on portraits and landscapes, and his fame quickly began to grow as he won several international photography competitions and had his work featured in many of the prominent magazines of the time. Brock was also interested in the technical aspects of photography, and invented a blue light bulb for use in dark room processing.

Throughout his career, Brock continued to maintain studios in Asheville for both painting and photography, and his thousands of works in both media provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of western North Carolina during the first half of the 20th century.

Check out Photographers in North Carolina: The First Century, 1842-1941 from North Carolina Historical Publications for more on Brock and other photographers of the period.

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.


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