This Day in North Carolina History

Bingham Fortune Tied to Flaglers and Kenans

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 27, 1917, Duplin County native Mary Lily Kenan Flagler Bingham died under suspicious circumstances in Louisville, Kentucky.   

The daughter of Confederate officer and successful businessman William Rand Kenan, Mary had previously been married to millionaire Henry M. Flagler and became one of the wealthiest women in the United States at his death in 1913.

In 1916, Flagler married Judge Robert Worth Bingham, who was deeply in debt. Bingham signed a prenuptial agreement that gave up any claim to her fortune, but once they were married Flagler paid his debts and gave him a generous allowance. 

Flagler’s death was suspicious primarily because Bingham had hired his dermatologist to give Flagler injections of morphine in the months leading up to it. The injections were supposed to be treatments for heart problems Flagler was experiencing. Additionally, relatives were surprised by a codicil added to Flagler’s will a month before her death. Written on the doctor’s stationery and witnessed by Bingham alone, the codicil left $5 million Bingham. 

Within weeks of Flagler’s burial, family members had her body exhumed from Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, and an autopsy was performed. Enormous amounts of morphine and heavy metal poisons were found in her body. 

The Kenan family attempted to stop Bingham’s inheritance, but when the Kentucky courts ruled for Bingham, they did not pursue an appeal.

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Homegrown Jihadists Arrested in Raleigh, 2009

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 27, 2009, seven men were arrested in Raleigh and accused of plotting to wage “violent jihad” outside the United States.

The alleged ringleader was Daniel Patrick Boyd, who recruited men, including two of his sons, to commit terrorist activities abroad. In the 1980s and 90s Boyd had traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan where he “received military-style training in terrorist training camps for the purpose of engaging in violent jihad.”

The men arrested were attempting to make their way to the Middle East to join a terrorist organization. They failed, and in doing so were arrested by the federal government. The men were all American citizens who had radicalized at some point in their lives. Several of the members had been talking about waging some form of Jihad for years, and many people who knew them were not surprised by the arrests.

In 2011, Boyd plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, and one count of conspiracy to commit murder, maiming and kidnapping overseas. He later testified in court against some of his co-conspirators.

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The “Prince of Politicians,” Thomas L. Clingman

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 27, 1812, Thomas Clingman was born in Huntsville, in what is now Yadkin County. Clingman served as a U.S. Senator and Confederate general and boosted economic development in western North Carolina. The highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountain range is named Clingman’s Dome in his honor.

Clingman served in the state House of Representatives, state Senate and U.S. House of Representatives before being appointed to fill a vacated U. S. Senate seat in 1858. He was the last Southerner to leave the Senate in 1861.

During the Civil War, Clingman quickly rose to the position of brigadier general. Despite his unremarkable military career, he was prevented from returning to political office due to the provisions of his amnesty.

Clingman worked to promote the popularity of western North Carolina, publicizing the region through writing and lectures. For more than 10 years, Clingman engaged in a fierce debate with Elisha Mitchell about which peak was the tallest in North Carolina. In 1858, geographer Arnold Guyot, having determined that what became Mount Mitchell was 39 feet taller, named a neighboring summit Clingman’s Dome for its proponent.

Read more in A History of Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains: Exploration, Development, and Preservation from N.C. Historical Publications.

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Civil War Skirmish at Potecasi Creek

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 26, 1863, a skirmish took place between local Confederate forces and a Union expedition led by Major General John G. Foster at Potecasi Creek in Hertford County. Foster’s troops, nearly 1,200 men, were ordered to destroy the Confederate rail junction at Weldon.

In the weeks prior to the battle, Union raiders had destroyed railroad bridges at Rocky Mount, Tarboro and Greenville. In response, local Confederate officials established a series of minor entrenchments alongside the Hill’s Bridge over the Potecasi Creek, approximately three miles between Winton and Murfreesboro. As Foster’s advance guard approached the bridge, they were caught in an ambush led by Maj. Samuel J. Wheeler.

Wheeler’s force of about 150 or 200 men opened fire from wooded areas along the main road before retreating to the entrenchments on the northern side of the creek. Severely outnumbered, Wheeler’s men retreated from their positions. Along the way, 17 men were captured and at least one man was killed in action. Union losses were never reported. The remains of the Confederate entrenchments are located in a wooded area just south of  U.S. Highway 158 on the Murfreesboro side of the Potecasi Creek Bridge.

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Hang Glider Adapted for Water Use, 1962

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 26, 1962, Thomas Purcell Jr. demonstrated FlightSail at Lake Waccamaw.

The Columbus County flight was the first water-based use of the glider that had been adapted by Purcell from technology created by aviation pioneer Francis Rogallo. The aircraft was a single seat open cockpit parasol-winged glider with skids to facilitate water takeoffs and landings.

Purcell, who studied at North Carolina State University, got a job at Bensen Aircraft Corporation, a gyrocopter manufacturer near the Raleigh-Durham Airport after graduating. He later opened his own company, Flight Dynamics, which designed and sold plans for a variety of aircraft.

Purcell thought up his designs after reading magazine articles about glider technology invented by Rogallo, often called the “father of hand gliding.”

NASA, which had previously been interested in Rogallo’s work, began to take an interest in Purcell as well. Purcell visited NASA in 1961 to demonstrate the FlightSail glider, which the nation’s space agency thought could be used as a substitute for traditional parachutes for the Gemini program.

Though NASA ultimately decided to use regular parachutes for Gemini, the Flightsail system and others like it are still remembered as massive improvements in glider technology, and Purcell marketed his technology for recreation throughout the 1970s.

model of the FlightSail Purcell flew at Lake Waccamaw is in the holdings of the North Carolina Museum of History.

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Home for Durham Bulls Dedicated, 1926

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 26, 1926, the Durham Bulls’ El Toro Park was dedicated. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first Commissioner of Baseball, stole the show that day by riding onto the field on the team mascot, a real bull.  Governor Angus McLean was also on hand for the festivities. The park was the home field for the Bulls, a local class-D farm team for the Cincinnati Reds.

In 1933, the City of Durham purchased the park with the help of a donation from local banker and attorney John Sprunt Hill and renamed the facility Durham Athletic Park. The stadium burned in June 1939, but a new concrete and steel grandstand that seated 1,000 spectators was constructed within weeks.

During the off season, the rest of the stadium was rebuilt, again funded by Hill. The reconstructed Durham Athletic Park opened in April 1940. It was that stadium that was featured in the 1988 blockbuster film, Bull Durham.

In 1995, the baseball team moved down the road to Durham Bulls Athletic Park, leaving their old stadium for municipal uses such as festivals and other sporting events.

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Robert C. Anderson, Presbyterian Leader at Montreat

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 26, 1864, Dr. Robert C. Anderson was born near Martinsville, Virginia.

After attending Hampden-Sydney College and Union Theological Seminary, both in Virginia, Anderson was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1890. From that year until 1911, he pastored four different churches, including one in North Carolina.

In 1911, Anderson became president of the Mountain Retreat Association (MRA) of Montreat. John Collins, a Congregationalist minister from Connecticut, had started the association nearly 15 years earlier with the goal of a building a Christian retreat where people could gather for physical and spiritual renewal.

It was Anderson who truly brought Collins’s vision to fruition and created much of what’s now the Montreat Conference Center.

During his nearly 40-year tenure at the helm of the group, MRA founded a small girls’ school and saw it grow into a four-year college, and completed construction on much of the current campus, including Anderson Auditorium.

Anderson also turned around the association’s financial fortunes, initiating a successful capital campaign and promoting the facility in a more focused way to both attract more visitors and give the center a larger role in the Presbyterian Church’s mission work.

In addition to welcoming visitors for more than a century, the center played an appropriate role as a testing ground for new doctrinal ideas and fostered racial justice.

Anderson died in 1955 and was buried in Charlotte.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Guy Owen and the Flim-Flam Man

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 25, 1981, N.C. State University professor and writer Guy Owen died at the age of 56.

Born in Clarkton in Bladen County, Owen grew up on a tobacco farm. Years of clerking at his father’s general store provided the author with much eventual grist for his creative mill.

Owen enrolled at UNC in 1942, and after taking a three-year break from his studies for service in World War II, he earned bachelors and doctoral degrees in English. Brief teaching stints followed at Davidson, Elon and Stetson in Florida, before he joined the faculty at N.C. State in 1962.

Owen found his greatest acclaim as the author of The Ballad of the Flim-Flam Man, the tale of an aging confidence man. A bestseller, the book was adapted into a film in 1967 starring George C. Scott.  Mordecai Jones, the protagonist, appeared in two other books by Owen.

Today Owen is also remembered for his courses at N.C. State. He edited several anthologies of state and regional fiction, lectured and conducted workshops across the state and helped shape the state’s eventual literary renaissance.

A recipient of the North Carolina Award in 1971, Owen was one of the inductees into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1996, its inaugural year.

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Horatio Gates’s Brief Revolutionary Command

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 25, 1780, Major General Horatio Gates assumed direct command of the American forces in the Southern Military Department at their campsite on the Deep River in Randolph County.

Born in 1727 or 1728 in England, Gates served in the British army before settling in the colonies. In 1775, he volunteered for the Continental Army and served as a staff officer before receiving field command.

In September and October 1777, Gates commanded an army that defeated a British invasion from Canada at Saratoga, New York. The victory led to a military alliance with France and propelled Gates to the forefront of American military heroes. His ascendance was accompanied by controversy, due to his ambitions and his reputation as an overly cautious commander.   

Influenced by faulty intelligence indicating an opportunity for a quick victory, Gates embarked on a campaign in South Carolina along a route lacking in food to support his army. On August 16, his exhausted and underfed army was routed by the British at Camden, South Carolina.

Nathaniel Greene was soon selected to replace Gates. He never received another field command. He retired from the army in 1784 and died in New York City in 1806.

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North Carolina Became a Royal Colony

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 25, 1729, North Carolina became a royal colony when the Lords Proprietors sold the colony to King George II. South Carolina had become a royal colony 10 years earlier, setting the stage for North Carolina to follow suit.

The English crown, long dissatisfied with proprietary and corporate colonies, had begun the process of converting those colonies to royal control in the 1680s. North Carolina’s sale was the culmination of legal proceedings initiated in 1706 by Queen Anne. Having never made a profit from the colony, most of the proprietors sold their shares back to the crown. Only Sir George Carteret, Earl of Granville, refused to sell his shares, creating the Granville District across the entire top portion of the colony.

The sale of North Carolina was the beginning of a prosperous time for the colony. During the next 40 years the colony grew rapidly. The governance of the colony remained largely unchanged. The powers and duties of the governor, Council, Assembly, courts and local officials remained the same as before.  The king simply replaced the proprietors as the head of administration, improving the colony’s stability and efficiency of administration drastically and allowing for strong growth.

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Sit-in Victory in Greensboro, 1960

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 25, 1960, Greensboro lunch counters opened to sitting customers of all races for the first time. The event was the culmination of a brief and intense desegregation campaign by black activists that sparked similar actions throughout the country.

In February of that year, four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College began a sit-in at the lunch counter of downtown Woolworth’s, demanding equal service with white customers. The original demonstrators, Ezell Blair Jr., Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain and David Richmond, were joined on succeeding days by more and more protestors, and the campaign they began spread to other stores.

After six days, stores closed and the protesters declared a moratorium to negotiate with civic leaders. Similar protests spread throughout the South, while supporting demonstrations were launched in the North.

Negotiations failed and the demonstrations resumed in April. Stores that refused to seat black customers at their lunch counters were picketed. By the end of June, store managers gave up as the boycott hurt their businesses.

After new negotiations, it was agreed that blacks could eat at Greensboro lunch counters. The successful outcome of the campaign marked an important state and national milestone in the on-going civil rights struggle.

Visit: The International Civil Rights Center & Museum is now located on the site of Woolworth’s lunch counter where the sit-in movement began. It is open to the public Monday through Saturday.

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Antacid Inventor Had Chapel Hill Ties

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 24, 1859, Isaac Emerson, the “Bromo-Seltzer King,” was born in Orange County.

Emerson enrolled at UNC, working with a local druggist while pursuing a degree in chemistry, which he received in 1879. He married and moved to Baltimore where he established several drugstores and began experimenting with the headache remedy that he eventually patented as Bromo-Seltzer.

To produce and market his product, Emerson created the Emerson Drug Company in 1891. His remedy became wildly successful due in large part to his marketing genius. He advertised the product across the county and the world.

In 1911, he oversaw the construction of the Emerson Bromo-Seltzer Tower, a 15-story skyscraper in Baltimore. The tower originally had a 51-foot tall, rotating and glowing blue Bromo-Seltzer bottle at its top. The bottle was eventually removed but the tower remains a well-known landmark, now housing artists’ studios and a fire department.

Emerson was deeply involved in Maryland’s naval reserves and personally financed a naval squadron during the Spanish-American War.  He donated the money to build UNC’s first sports stadium in 1914, which remained in use until 1971.

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Politician and Prize-Winning Poet John Charles McNeill

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 24, 1874, poet John Charles McNeill was born in Wagram. He spent a blissful childhood in Scotland County before attending Wake Forest College. After studying law his junior year, McNeill graduated as valedictorian of his class in 1897, and received a master’s degree in English two years later.

At 26, he moved to Lumberton, where he established himself as an attorney, although he preferred journalism and poetry to the drudgery of law. It was in Lumberton that he began submitting material, including poems, to a weekly newspaper.

Elected to the state senate in 1903, McNeill continued to pen poems, a number of which were published in Century Magazine and the Charlotte Observer. He joined the staff at the Observer in 1904. Already an established poet, he became a roving journalist, covering interesting stories from all over the state. In October 1905, McNeill won first place in the competition for the inaugural Patterson Cup, the first literary contest held in North Carolina. The achievement brought McNeill the unofficial title of “North Carolina’s Poet Laureate.”

McNeill died at age 33. His boyhood home has been restored and is open to the public at Temperance Hall in Wagram.

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Truman Adviser Kenneth Royall of Goldsboro

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 01:00

On July 24, 1894, Kenneth Royall, the last United States Secretary of War and the first Secretary of the Army, was born in Goldsboro.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1917, Royall joined the Army. He served in France from August 1918 until he was wounded in February 1919. At that time, Royall returned to Goldsboro and began practicing law.

In June 1942, he retired from his legal practice, by then headquartered in both Goldsboro and Raleigh, in order to accept a commission as colonel in the U. S. Army, managing the War Department’s legal services.

Royall was soon promoted to brigadier general and, in 1945, he was appointed undersecretary of war and received the Distinguished Service Medal. President Harry S. Truman selected him to be Secretary of War in July 1947.

Two months later, with the formation of the Defense Department, that position was eliminated, and Royall was designated Secretary of the Army. He held that position until he resigned in April 1949. Later that year Royall became a partner in a New York City law firm where he worked until 1968. 

Royall retired to Raleigh and died in 1971. He is buried in Goldsboro.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

From Slavery to Capitol Hill, John Hyman of Warren County

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 01:00

On July 23, 1840, John Hyman, the first African American to represent North Carolina in the United States Congress, was born into slavery in Warren County.

Though eventually sold away from his family and sent to Alabama, Hyman made his way back home at the close of the Civil War. With an aptitude for public speaking and politicking, he became a delegate to the second state Freedman’s Convention in 1866, to the first Republican state convention in 1867 and to the state Constitutional Convention in 1868. In that same year, he started the first of the several terms he would serve in the state senate.

Hyman was defeated in his first run for Congress in 1872. Two years later he was elected, but he failed to obtain his party’s nomination in 1876. During his single term in Washington, Hyman supported legislation to secure and protect civil rights, especially suffrage privileges.

After leaving public life, Hyman returned to Warrenton where he farmed and operated a grocery store. He was constantly in debt and was forced to sell all his real estate in 1878. Around 1880, Hyman left North Carolina for Washington, D.C., where he worked as an assistant mail clerk until his death in 1891 at the age of 51.

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Kay Kyser: “C’mon Chillun! L’es Dance!”

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 01:00

On July 23, 1985James “Kay” Kyser, popular radio personality and bandleader, died in Chapel Hill. Born in Rocky Mount in 1905, Kyser attended the University of North Carolina where he was an exuberant head cheerleader and the class president. Also known as the “Ol’ Professor of Swing,” Kyser became one of the most wild and grandiose bandleaders of the swing era.

In the 1930s, Kyser toured with his band, Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, through much of the Midwest. By the next decade, they garnered national attention and had 11 number-one hits. Although he never learned to play an instrument, Kyser was a top-notch entertainer and went on to star in over a dozen movies, co-starring with actors such as Lucille Ball and John Barrymore.

In 1941, Kyser was the first person to perform live at camp shows for U.S. military personnel, predating other famous performers such as Bob Hope. He retired suddenly in 1950, withdrawing to Chapel Hill where he remained until his death. In 1999, he was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.

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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 subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Universalists and Inman Chapel Near Canton

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 01:00

On July 23, 1868, western North Carolina’s first Universalist congregation was organized in Haywood County after traveling preacher Benjamin F. Strain converted a handful of citizens.

Universalists, also known as Hell Redemptionists, were a denomination whose beliefs were based on a benevolent God and salvation as opposed to damnation.   

Strain granted a Universalist license to Jonathan Plott, who in turn designated native James Anderson Inman, to serve as the congregation’s permanent pastor. With assistance from the North Carolina Universalists Conference, which was organized in 1896, a chapel was built in 1902 and named for Inman who donated much of the construction funds.

Following Inman’s death in 1913, the chapel reverted to management by the Universalist’s Women’s National Missionary Association (WNMA). Though it had almost dispersed by 1921 when Hannah Jewett Powell became regional denominational representative, the congregation flourished under Powell’s leadership.

Following Powell’s retirement in 1942, the congregation of Universalists declined and the WNMA closed the chapel and community center in 1957. 

In 1961, the Universalists merged with the Unitarians to become the Unitarian Universalist Church. A congregation was established in Asheville in 1969. The Inman Chapel has undergone restoration and is used by the Inman family for homecoming gatherings.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Planter and Politician Elias Carr

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 01:00

On July 22, 1900, Elias Carr, planter and former governor, died at “Bracebridge Hall,” his home in Old Sparta for most of his life.

Born in 1839 to early settlers and planters in Edgecombe and Nash Counties, Carr was orphaned with the death of his mother in 1840 and his father in 1843. He was raised by an aunt and uncle in Warren County where he received his early schooling before finishing his education at UNC and the University of Virginia.

Carr was an enlightened farmer, and his use of scientific methods in his varied agricultural endeavors made him very wealthy. In 1887, he became the first president of the North Carolina Farmer’s Association and as such he became well known throughout the state.

After gaining significant political experience with the Farmer’s Alliance, Carr was nominated for governor by the Democratic Party in 1892 and won the office. His single term in the state’s top job was marked by progressive policies and efficient management, and he advocated for many of the same things he championed before entering the political sphere, including better roads and more funding for rural schools.

After his term, Carr retired to “Bracebridge Hall,” where he died a few years later.

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Prolific Poet Carl Sandburg

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 01:00

On July 22, 1967, American poet, journalist, biographer and folk musician Carl Sandburg died at Connemara, his antebellum home in Flat Rock, where he wrote a third of his works and spent the last 22 years of his life.

Born in January 1878 to Swedish immigrants in Galesburg, Illinois, Sandburg left school after the eighth grade. He worked numerous odd jobs and hoboed his way across the West before serving in the Spanish-American War. Afterward, he attended Lombard College in his hometown but never graduated. In 1908, Sandburg married Lillian Steichen. They had four daughters.

As a family man, Sandburg settled into journalism, writing for the ChicagoDaily News while still pursuing his poetry. By 1945, when the family moved to Flat Rock, Sandburg had published several volumes of poetry, written five children’s books and received two Pulitzer Prizes: one for Corn Huskers and another for Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. He won a third Pulitzer Prize in 1951 for his Complete Poems.

Connemara’s 264 acres offered plenty of space for Mrs. Sandburg’s prize-winning goats and plenty of solitude for the poet. There, in an upstairs garret, Sandburg wrote, and in a downstairs bedroom, he died at age 89.

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Vermont Royster, Wall Street Journal Sage

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 01:00

On July 22, 1996, Vermont Connecticut Royster, a journalist affiliated with the Wall Street Journal for 60 years, died.

Born in 1914 in Raleigh, Royster was not the only one in his family to have unusual first and middle names. His great-grandfather started the tradition of naming people after places and relatives had such names as Arkansas Delaware and Iowa Michigan.

A graduate of UNC, where he began his writing career as a reporter for the Daily Tar Heel, Royster moved to New York in 1936 and found part-time work as a writer for the Journal for $15 a week.  He quickly worked his way up the paper’s ranks, leaving only for a brief stint in the Navy during World War II. As editor from 1958 until 1971, Royster set the Journal’s political policy, aligning it closely with business interests and the resurgent conservative movement.

In 1971, upon retirement from full-time employment at the Journal, Royster returned to UNC as Kenan Professor in the School of Journalism. His autobiography, My Own, My Country’s Time, was published in 1983. His column, “Thinking Things Over,” remained a staple of the Journal until his last year, 1996.

Among his many achievements, Royster received two Pulitzer Prizes, journalism’s highest honor, in 1953 and 1984. In 1986, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.

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