This Day in North Carolina History

Howard Cosell, North Carolinian: Like Him or Lump Him

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 01:00

On March 25, 1918, television sportscaster Howard Cosell was born Howard William Cohen in Winston-Salem. Before Cosell turned three, his family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he later changed his surname from Cohen to Cossell to reflect his Polish roots. Cosell studied law at New York University, passed the state bar in 1941 and served in the U.S. Army in World War II.

After the war, Cosell practiced law in Manhattan and hosted a Saturday-morning ABC radio show featuring Little Leaguers interviewing major leaguers. He became a full-time ABC sportscaster in 1956, first gaining fame as a boxing announcer.  He went on to co-anchor Monday Night Football, for which he is now best known.  

With his staccato style of speech and trademark “tell-it-like-it-is” approach, Cosell transformed sports broadcasting, winning fans and detractors alike. He wrote four best-selling books, made several movie cameos, and was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 1993.

Diagnosed with cancer in 1991, Cosell died of a heart embolism in 1995, at 77. The next year, he was posthumously awarded an Emmy for lifetime achievement in sports.

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Richard Dobbs Spaight Born in New Bern

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 01:00

On March 25, 1758, Richard Dobbs Spaight, the first native-born governor, was born in New Bern. Orphaned at a young age, Spaight received his preparatory education in Ireland and is thought to have graduated from the University of Glasgow. Returning to North Carolina during the early stages of the Revolution, Spaight served as a military aide to Governor Richard Caswell, though his energies and ambitions were directed more toward politics than they were to warfare.

As a prominent Federalist leader, Spaight was one of five delegates from North Carolina to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Following an active role in the Convention, he signed the Constitution and argued forcefully for its ratification. In 1792 Spaight was elected governor. Twice reelected, he served the maximum three consecutive terms.

Spaight was the first governor to convene the General Assembly in Raleigh. Much of his role as Chief Executive was played against the backdrop of war between England and France. Other issues during Spaight’s administration included the negotiation of lingering border disputes with South Carolina, and the threat of Cherokee uprisings in the mountain region. In 1795 he presided over the official opening of the University of North Carolina.

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Verrazzanno Anchors Off the Carolina Coast

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 01:00

On March 25, 1524, an expedition under Giovanni da Verrazzano anchored off the Outer Banks.

The voyage marked the first European exploration of the North Carolina coast. Verrazzano sought a northward sea route to Asia’s lucrative markets on behalf of Francis I of France.

Usually identified as a native of Florence, Verrazzano was a navigator before being commissioned by King Francis to look for a new route to Asia in 1523. He reached the North American coast with one of his four original vessels sometime in March 1524, and probably first explored the Bogue Banks area. After a brief excursion southward he returned and explored the Outer Banks, anchoring twice and encountering some of the native peoples when going on land. The geography convinced him that the Outer Banks were an isthmus beyond which lay the Pacific.

After leaving what’s now North Carolina, Verrazzano explored the coasts of New York, Rhode Island and Maine. He returned to France convinced that these more northward shores were part of one continent distinct from Asia.

Although he was the first European to explore much of the North American coast, his findings were not immediately followed up on by other explorers. On a later voyage to the Caribbean, he was killed and eaten by Carib Indians.

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Rosenwald Schools and George Davis of Johnson C. Smith University

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 01:00

On March 24, 1862, African American educational leader George E. Davis was born in Wilmington. Davis was the primary organizer and fundraiser for the Rosenwald schools movement in North Carolina.

After graduating from the forerunner of Johnson C. Smith University, Davis became that school’s first black professor.  He earned his doctorate over time while teaching science and sociology and was named dean of the faculty in 1905. He stepped down in 1921 to take on the task of implementing the Rosenwald program in North Carolina.

Sears, Roebuck, and Company president Julius Rosenwald established a fund to finance public school buildings for African Americans in the rural South in 1917. Educational facilities for blacks in the South at the time were sorely substandard, usually much worse than counterpart white schools.

Between 1917 and 1932, more than 5,300 Rosenwald Schools were constructed in 15 states. Of that number, 813 were built in North Carolina, more than in any other state.

Davis crisscrossed the state to raise funds in mostly impoverished communities. In 1932, he reported having raised more than $660,000 in matching funds since 1917. In exchange for money from the Rosenwald Fund, local communities were expected to raise a matching amount and white-dominated school boards were expected to commit to maintenance.

Davis retired in 1935 at the age of 73, and he died in 1959.

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Tar Heel Turned Alabaman Briefly Vice President

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 01:00

On March 24, 1853, William R. D. King was elected vice president of the United States.

Born in Sampson County, King distinguished himself early on as an excellent student, graduating from UNC in 1804 at age 18. He moved to Fayetteville to study law and established his own practice in nearby Clinton a year later. He entered politics in 1808 as a member of the North Carolina House of Commons at age 22, and was elected to United States Congress in 1810. There he allied himself with prominent politicians of the time including Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun.

In 1818, King left North Carolina for Alabama, where an abundance of inexpensive, yet fertile, land offered significant profits. In 1819, King helped draft Alabama’s state constitution and was elected to the United States Senate, where he served for 20 years.

Shortly after being elected in 1853, King traveled to Cuba to ease his tuberculosis. His health forced him to become the first and only vice president to be sworn into office while on foreign soil. Soon after his return to America, King succumbed to his illness before ever reaching the District of Columbia.

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Beginnings of Spencer Shops

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 01:00

On March 23, 1896, Southern Railway Company broke ground on a new repair facility in Spencer. The Rowan County community was chosen as the location of the new shop complex because it was halfway between Atlanta and Washington, D.C.  The shops were named in honor of Southern’s first president, Samuel Spencer.

Initially, Spencer Shops included a 15-stall roundhouse, a machine shop and a blacksmith shop. More buildings were constructed over the next 20 years, the most impressive being the Back Shop, which covered the length of two football fields. In 1924, the original Roundhouse was replaced with a 37-stall facility. At its peak, 3,000 people worked at Spencer Shops.

One of the first U.S. rail systems to experiment with diesel-electric locomotives, Southern retired its last steam engine in 1953. This began the decline of Spencer Shops, with employment there dropping steadily through the 1950s and 1960s. The shops were eventually closed in the late 1960s.

Historic Spencer Shops is now the site of the N.C. Transportation Museum, one of 27 state historic sites. It interprets all forms of transportation history in North Carolina from dugout canoes to airliners.

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The Siege of Fort Macon, 1862

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 01:00

On March 23, 1862, U.S. forces under Brig. Gen. John G. Parke began the siege of Confederate-held Fort Macon. At the time the fort was commanded by Col. Moses J. White of Mississippi, and was defended by 54 pieces of artillery and a garrison of five companies.

In January 1862, a Federal force under Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside arrived off the North Carolina coast. After taking Roanoke Island in February and New Bern in March, Burnside’s next objective was Fort Macon. After White refused to surrender on Parke’s arrival, Parke laid siege to the fort with the support of the Union’s blockading squadron.

In mid-April Burnside arrived with reinforcements to take direct command of the siege. On April 25 the fort was bombarded from both land and sea. Although cannon blasts from Union ships did little damage because of the fort’s strong seaward defenses, the land bombardment did major damage. White surrendered the next day.

The fall of Fort Macon gave the Federals access to the sea via Beaufort and Morehead City, strengthening their control over much of eastern North Carolina.

The fort was constructed by the federal government from 1826 to 1834 to guard Beaufort Harbor, and was seized by North Carolina militia only two days shots were fired on Fort Sumter.

Visit: Fort Macon is now one 39 state parks. The park will commemorate its battle anniversary in April.

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Husband and Wife Side-By-Side in the Confederate Army

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 01:00

On March 20, 1862, Malinda Blalock disguised herself as a young man and enlisted in the Confederate army. Malinda and her husband Keith were Unionists from Watauga County.  Keith was pressured by recruiters to join the Confederate army, which he did with the intention of deserting into federal lines at the first opportunity.

Stories differ as to whether Keith was aware of Malinda’s intentions, but the more romantic version is that Keith looked over at the private walking next to him and did a double-take when he recognized his wife, who had cut her waist-length hair and donned baggy men’s clothing to become “Sam” Blalock. Sam Blalock, purportedly Keith’s brother, was described as “a good looking boy aged 16.”

Keith and Malinda served in Company F of the 26th Regiment, and shared a tent in Kinston during training.  Malinda performed all of the duties of a soldier and did not raise suspicions. When Keith realized that they would not easily be able to desert, he obtained a medical discharge by creating a severe rash, rubbing poison oak or sumac all over his body.  At that point “Sam” revealed his secret and was discharged. Keith was soon pursued as a deserter.

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Turkey’s Talons Tied to Jurist’s Demise

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 01:00

On March 20, 1793, Samuel Spencer died.

Spencer was a member of North Carolina’s colonial assembly, the state’s de facto executive during the Revolutionary War, a trustee of the University of North Carolina, a colonel in the militia and a superior court judge. He voted against the new federal constitution because it did not yet have a Bill of Rights.

The judge also played a major role in the landmark legal case of Bayard v. Singleton, the first instance in which a court declared an act of the post-revolutionary North Carolina General Assembly unconstitutional.

Spencer had a most unusual death, by turkey. At age 60, Spencer was napping outside on his porch, wearing a red cap. Spencer’s bobbing head was then taken for a challenge by a turkey, which attacked the judge with such violence he was thrown from his chair.

The judge died a few days later from either from injuries sustained in the fall, or from an infection from the scratches.

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Automatic Pilot Advances Credited to George Holloman

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 01:00

On March 19, 1946, George Holloman, a pioneer in the field of aeronautical engineering and unmanned flight, died in a plane crash.

The Northampton County native developed a keen interest in radio early on. After graduating high school, Holloman went to work with the Marconi Company, later the Radio Corporation of America, developing radio designs.

Holloman soon returned to North Carolina and enrolled at what is now N.C. State University, earning a degree in electrical engineering. At State, he joined the ROTC program, and after graduation he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army and transferred to the Army Air Corps.

Holloman eventually became assistant director of the Instrument and Navigation Laboratories at Wright Field in Ohio, overseeing the development of unmanned flight and automatic pilot and landing systems in that role. In 1937, he engineered and oversaw the first automatic landing of an airplane, flying in the machine as a passenger.

Four years later, with war clouds looming off in the distance, the Air Corps developed a new laboratory at Wright Field, called the Special Weapons Unit. Holloman was given command of the unit. At Special Weapons, he continued to oversee the development of automatic piloting systems, advanced bombsights and unmanned flying vehicles until his death.

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Last Stand in the Carolinas at Bentonville

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 01:00

On March 19, 1865, at Bentonville, a Confederate army led by Gen. Joseph Johnston attacked the left wing of Union Gen. William Sherman’s army. General Robert E. Lee directed the Confederates to make a stand in North Carolina to prevent Sherman from joining General Ulysses S. Grant in front of Lee’s army at Petersburg, Virginia.

Union Gen. Henry Slocum, initially not realizing that he faced an entire army, pushed forward, but was driven back throughout the afternoon. Confederates led by Gen. D. H. Hill were able to flank Slocum’s troops, pouring devastating fire on them. Johnston continued his assaults throughout the evening but pulled back after realizing that the right wing of Sherman’s army, which was marching from Fayetteville toward Goldsboro, would arrive soon.

Sherman’s army of 60,000 men was divided into two wings: half were in the left wing marching through Averasboro and Bentonville and half were in the right wing marching on a parallel route to the southeast. Sherman’s objective was Goldsboro, where 40,000 additional troops and supplies would reinforce his army.

After initial success on March 19, the Confederates were unable to subdue the Union army, and early on March 22 they withdrew. The Union Army did not pursue them. The action was the largest during the Civil War in North Carolina.

Visit: Johnston County’s Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Sites will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle with re-enactments this weekend.

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Marines Begin Flight Operations at Cherry Point, 1942

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 01:00

On March 18, 1942, flight operations began at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Craven County with the landing of a Grumman J2F “Duck” amphibian.

The base was established just a few years earlier, after the Marine Corps conducted a search up and down the U.S. East Coast for a suitable site for an air station. After Congressman Graham Barden helped secure $40 million for construction in 1941, the base grew quickly, becoming a self-contained city of 20,000 within a few months.

As the U.S. involvement in World War II ratcheted up, so did the size and scope of Cherry Point. It was the home of the 3rd and 9th Marine Aircraft Wings during the war and has been the home of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing since 1946.

Troops from Cherry Point have taken part in every major military engagement since 1941 and the base is the largest Marine airfield in the world today.

 

Women in Salisbury Riot for Bread

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 01:00

On March 18, 1863, a group of about fifty women, all wives and mothers of Confederate soldiers, participated in what would become known as the Salisbury Bread Riot.  The women blamed speculators for driving up the prices of necessary items during the Union blockade.  Struggling to provide for their families, they banded together against the businesses that they suspected of speculating and demanded government prices for goods.

Michael Brown, the owner of a local store, recalled that when he refused to deal with them, the women attempted to break down his storeroom door with hatchets.  Finally he decided to give them ten barrels of flour if they would leave.  By the end of the day the women had obtained “twenty three barrels of flour, two sacks of salt, about half a barrel of molasses and twenty dollars in money.”

The group later wrote to Governor Zebulon Vance to explain their unpleasant, but justified, actions.  The Carolina Watchman, a local newspaper, commented on the event but did not place blame on the women.  The editors instead blamed the ineffectiveness of the government to provide enough food for the families at home.  This event ultimately led to better rationing of government resources to aid Civil War soldiers’ families.

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Authorities Seize North Carolina’s Copy of the Bill of Rights, 2003

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 01:00

On March 18, 2003, a sting operation resulted in the recovery of North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights from a group of antiques dealers.

The return of the document ended an odyssey that began in 1865 when it was taken from the State Capitol in Raleigh by Union soldiers occupying the building. During the 140 years that it was missing, it came up for sale several times, but the state refused to pay for its own property. In 2003, an offer to sell a copy of the Bill of Rights came to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. When their experts recognized it as North Carolina’s copy, they notified the state.

A sting operation was organized by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A meeting was set up to close on the purchase of the document. A check for $4 million was brought to the meeting but the document was not. Once the seller was satisfied with the closing documents, he had the manuscript brought into the room. Once verified, authorities entered and seized the document.

After five years of litigation the Bill of Rights was declared the rightful property of North Carolina. It now resides in a vault at the State Archives.

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Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Completed, 1840

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

On March 21, 1840, work was completed on the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad. A week later, the Raleigh depot received 20 bales of cotton from Petersburg, Virginia, the line’s first commercial shipment on record. In June 1840, a “Grand Celebration” was held in Raleigh to commemorate two milestones, the new railroad and the new State Capitol.

Experiments in the 1830s with horse-drawn rail cars preceded the state’s first self-propelled railroad, the Raleigh and Gaston line. Gaston in Halifax County was its northern terminus and Raleigh its southern end point. Slaves were leased to lay the rails on heavy wooden planks. Setbacks with financing and materials delayed the railroad’s completion.

Throughout North Carolina in the1840’s, the sound of the locomotive horn was heard, signifying a new era of unprecedented prosperity. The benefits of the Raleigh and Gaston line were apparent immediately.  The train allowed for quick transportation of goods and provided new jobs. The Confederacy used the Raleigh and Gaston heavily during the Civil War.

In 1900, the railroad was incorporated into the larger Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. The Seaboard building stands today on Salisbury Street in Raleigh as a reminder of the beginnings of rail transportation in the state.

Check out the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer for more awesome pieces of history from our transportation past.

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.

Bishop John England Dedicates Fayetteville’s St. Patrick Church, 1829

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

On March 17, 1829, Roman Catholic Bishop John England consecrated Saint Patrick Church in Fayetteville. The consecration was the first for a Catholic church in North Carolina. The following week England traveled to Beaufort County, where he dedicated St. John’s in Washington, the first Catholic church built in North Carolina.

Bishop England directed the Catholic Church in the Carolinas for much of the antebellum period. He arrived from Ireland in 1820 at the age 33 to take charge of the Diocese of Charleston. Owing in no small measure to his energy and steadfastness, the church took hold in North Carolina. On his arrival, small enclaves of Catholics in larger towns met in private homes and church buildings of other faiths and were served on occasion by itinerant priests.

Catholic churches were later built in Raleigh, New Bern, Wilmington, Charlotte and Edenton, all before the Civil War. The state remained part of the Diocese of Charleston until 1868 when a new vicariate was created and James Gibbons was installed as the first vicar apostolic.

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Glory Days at Winston-Salem State University, 1967

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

On March 17, 1967, the Winston-Salem State University Rams bested the Southwest Missouri State University Bears 77-74 at the NCAA Division II national men’s basketball championship game in Evansville, Indiana.

In so doing, WSSU became the first historically black college in the nation to win a national championship.

The championship was the highlight of a 30-1 season for the Rams, and represented a comeback from the Rams’ third-place finish in the CIAA tournament behind North Carolina A&T and Howard.

WSSU player Vernon Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who would later go on to a stellar pro career with the Baltimore Bullets and New York Knicks, largely led the team to victory and earned honors as NCAA Division Player of the Year and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors as result.

Hall of Fame winning coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines, who coached the men’s basketball at WSSU for nearly 50 years, also earned top honors as NCAA Division II College Coach of the Year.

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John Sprunt Hill of Durham, Credited with Rural Credit Unions

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

On March 17, 1865, John Sprunt Hill, an early leader in the credit union movement, was born on a farm near Faison.

After finishing high school at age 12 and working for several years, Hill entered the University of North Carolina in 1885. Upon graduation he returned to Duplin County to teach before heading off to New York City, first to study law and then to establish a law practice in.

A marriage to the daughter of a Durham industrialist brought Hill back to North Carolina where he established Durham Bank and Trust Company and served as its president until 1932. He later founded Home Savings Bank, forerunner of Central Carolina Bank, and served as its head until late in life.

In 1913, Hill traveled to Europe to study rural credit systems and returned to the United States eager to implement similar enterprises at home. He addressed farmers’ organizations and Congressional committees on the subject. In 1915, soon after passage of enabling legislation by the legislature, the state’s first credit union opened in the Lowes Grove community of southern Durham County.

A lifelong philanthropist, Hill contributed generous sums for the expansion of the UNC campus and established an endowment fund for the North Carolina Collection of the UNC Library.

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Richard Henderson and the Transylvania Company

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

On March 17, 1775Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Company purchased much of the land that is now Kentucky and Tennessee from the Cherokee through a treaty signed at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River.

Born in 1735 in Granville County, Henderson became a lawyer and was appointed associate justice of the Salisbury District Superior Court. As early as 1764, Daniel Boone acted as an agent for Henderson’s land company. Henderson retired from the bench in 1773 and organized what became the Transylvania Company in order to develop lands on the Trans-Appalachian frontier. He established the colony of Transylvania with the settlement of Boonesborough on the Kentucky River, though Virginia, North Carolina and the Continental Congress all refused to recognize Transylvania’s attempts to become the fourteenth colony.

Without federal recognition, the Transylvania Company eventually lost control of the land. Henderson continued to engage in land speculation and later led a group of settlers into the Cumberland Valley in Tennessee. There he founded French Lick, known today as Nashville.

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Carolina City, Union Encampment, Confederate Target

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:00

On March 22, 1862, Union Gen. John G. Parke occupied and set up his headquarters at Carolina City, a small village of about 100 inhabitants just west of Morehead City.

With the previous successes at Roanoke Island and New Bern, Union commanders set their sights on Fort Macon at Beaufort Inlet. Morehead City, just across the sound, was a strategic target, since it was the terminus of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad. Beaufort was also captured and occupied. Union forces used the Carolina City location as a launching point to ferry weapons and supplies across the sound to Bogue Banks.

Parke and the Union troops selected Hoop Pole Creek, about five miles west of Fort Macon and directly across the sound from Carolina City, as their landing site on the banks. On April 11, the first skirmish took place between the Union landing force and the detachments from the fort. Union troops set up artillery positions on the banks leading up to the fort and began bombarding the fort on April 25.

In the end, Fort Macon’s commander, Col. Moses J. White, posted the white flag. Today, the campus of Carteret Community College and the Crystal Coast Civic Center mark the approximate location of Carolina City.

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