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Maiden Voyage of Otway Burns’s Prometheus, 1818

This Day in North Carolina History - 10 hours 34 min ago

On May 6, 1818, 11 years after Robert Fulton’s invention of the steamship, Otway Burns launched a similar vessel in North Carolina.

Burns, known for his privateering during the War of 1812, built the Prometheus at his waterfront lot, number six, at the mouth of the White Oak River in Swansboro. He attracted the attention of North Carolina newspapers as he strove to launch the Prometheus before the Henrietta, built that year in Fayetteville.

The steamship Prometheus entered service on the Cape Fear River by the summer of 1818, shortly before the Henrietta. The vessel operated a route between what’s now Southport and Wilmington, which took about four hours and cost passengers $1 each way.

Perhaps two of the most famous of the passengers on the Prometheus were President James Monroe and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who rode the steamship to inspect Fort Johnston in April 1819.

Visit: The N.C. Maritime Museums in Beaufort, Hatteras and Southport interpret maritime transportation in North Carolina history, and the N.C. Transportation Museum interprets transportation more broadly.

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.


Clarence Steppe, Nurseryman, Founder of Wayside Nurseries

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 05/05/2016 - 06:30

Balentine’s Cafeteria at Cameron Village in Raleigh in the 1960s. Image from the State Archives.

On May 5, 1913, Clarence Steppe, noted landscape nurseryman, was born at Dana in Henderson County.

Known throughout his life as “Kit,” Steppe graduated from high school in McDowell County and attended Lenoir-Rhyne College before earning a diploma from the American Landscape School and working for the National Park Service through the 1930s.

Steppe earned degrees in nuclear engineering and political science from the University of Tennessee and served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and with the Navy during World War II.  Between 1946 and 1951 he worked with the North Carolina Division of State Parks.

In 1951, Steppe founded Wayside Nurseries on U.S. 64 east of Raleigh, and in time he received 15 national awards for landscape engineering. He held a patent for the Pink Sachet, a flowering dogwood tree.

The North Carolina Farm Bureau headquarters, Balentine’s Cafeteria in Cameron Village and Quail Corners Shopping Center were among his commissions in Raleigh. He also landscaped portions of the Research Triangle Park, the campus of St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, Charlottetown Mall in Charlotte and the grounds of Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem.

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.


Acclaimed Dramatist Paul Green

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/04/2016 - 06:30

Green (left) working. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

On May 4, 1981, Paul Green died.

Among North Carolina’s most revered writers, Green, born in Harnett County, began study at the University of North Carolina in 1916.  After service in World War I he returned to Chapel Hill and taught there until 1944 when he resigned to devote all of his time to writing.

Plays were Green’s favorite art form but he also wrote short stories, novels and poetry. In 1927, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the play In Abraham’s Bosom.

His signature achievement was development of the outdoor drama (or “symphonic drama,” as he termed it).  Green’s best-known production, The Lost Colony, opened on Roanoke Island in 1937 and runs every summer.  Over time Green wrote 16 such plays, with productions staged in Florida, Virginia, Kentucky and Texas.

Green’s many honors include a designation by the General Assembly in 1979 as the state’s Dramatist Laureate. Outside the arts, Green demonstrated sympathy and compassion for African Americans and the underprivileged from an early age.  He was a lifelong champion of human rights and a dedicated opponent of war, lynching, capital punishment, chain gangs and prejudice.

His last home was “Windy Oaks,” south of Chapel Hill.

Visit: The Lost Colony is still performed each summer in Manteo. Our friends at Visit North Carolina have also put together an excellent guide to exploring outdoor dramas across the state.

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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.


Albemarle Settler John Harvey, of Harvey’s Point

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 05/03/2016 - 06:30

On May 3, 1775, John Harvey, Speaker of the Assembly, moderator of the Provincial Congress and a politically powerful Revolutionary era leader, died in Perquimans County.

While he had long been of delicate health, he actually died of injuries received from a fall from his horse. He was buried at his home on the shores of the Albemarle Sound in a large tomb that has since washed into the sound. It was last seen, covered in barnacles, in 1908.

Born about 1724 to a privileged family, Harvey entered the political arena by the time he was 21. He served as a justice, member of the Assembly, speaker of the Assembly and as a member of the revolutionary Committee of Correspondence, the body appointed to communicate with other colonies concerning Crown policies deemed detrimental to America, before the advent of the Revolutionary War.

Harvey first adopted the cause of resistance to the tyrannies of the British Crown after the the British government imposed new taxes on the American colonies under the Townshend Acts. Historian R. D. W. Connor called Harvey:

Father of the American Revolution in North Carolina

Like their father, two of Harvey’s, Thomas and Miles, went on to serve in the Assembly.

A 1998 story in the New York Times includes some fascinating details on Harvey Point, the family’s Perquimans County property.

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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.


Discovery of Calcium Carbide Process in Eden, 1892

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 05/02/2016 - 06:30

An early ad for an acetylene generator. Image from the Online Archive of California.

On May 2, 1892, in what’s now Eden, Canadian chemist Thomas L. Willson accidentally produced calcium carbide and acetylene with an electric-arc furnace. By August of that year, Willson had applied for a patent for the new process.

By 1897, acetylene was competing with electricity as a means for providing light, especially in rural areas and those places where gasoline was unavailable. Portable acetylene generators provided light to mines, bicycles, automobiles and railroads. Willson developed the acetylene gas buoy as a maritime navigational aid that was used worldwide. Oxygen was also combined with acetylene to allow for faster welding and cutting of metals.

Thomas L. Wilson. Image from the Library and Archives of Canada.

In August 1894, Willson and business partner James Turner Morehead sold the patents for using calcium and acetylene for lighting to the Electrogas Company but kept the manufacturing rights.

That same month, Morehead, using borrowed money, completed the first commercial calcium carbide plant by expanding the Eden operation. The plant burned in 1896, though Morehead later built a larger plant in Virginia. A factory in West Virginia also made ferro-alloys using methods developed at Eden.

Morehead eventually sold the rights to the Union Carbide Company, which was formed in 1898. That company eventually became Union Carbide Corporation.

It was acquired by Dow Chemical in 2001.

Read more about North Carolina inventions on NCpedia.

This Day in North Carolina History is a production of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online at www.ncdcr.gov.


Gas Chamber in Use at Central Prison After 1935

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 05/01/2016 - 06:30

Allen Foster, the first man executed by lethal gas in North Carolina. Image from the State Archives.

On May 1, 1935, the state Senate approved a bill making lethal gas the method of execution in North Carolina. It replaced electrocution, which was used until that time.

Dr. Charles Peterson, a Spruce Pine physician who served as a member of the General Assembly during the first half of the 20th century, was the primary advocate for the change. The Raleigh News & Observer described bringing about the change as his “pet project.”

Doctors and dentists testified before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Penal Institutions that lethal gas was a more humane method of execution than electrocution, and a bill Peterson authorized was quickly sent to and approved by both houses of the General Assembly.

A lethal gas chamber was constructed at Raleigh’s Central Prison by December 1935, with many across the state seeing the change as a positive technological innovation.

Allen Foster, who had been convicted of rape in Hoke County, was the first to be executed by lethal gas. His January 1936 execution demonstrated that the change in method was not necessarily a positive one. Because prison officials kept the temperature in the gas chamber near freezing, the gas failed to work effectively and Foster didn’t die for 11 minutes and convulsed violently in the process.

Death row inmates could choose between lethal gas and lethal injection until 1998, when the General Assembly made lethal injection the only method of execution in the state.

This Day in North Carolina History is a production of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online at www.ncdcr.gov.


The Siege and Burning of Washington, April 1864

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 04/30/2016 - 06:30

The shelling of Washington. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

On April 30, 1864, Federal troops partially burned the town of Washington in Beaufort County.

Washington was first occupied by the Federals in March 1862 following the fall of New Bern. Although many of the inhabitants fled before troops arrived, those who remained were generally strong supporters of the Union.

In March 1863, Confederate Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill laid siege to the town in an unsuccessful effort to recover it for the Confederates.

As a result of Brig. Gen. Robert F. Hoke’s capture of Plymouth on April 20, the garrison received orders to evacuate the town on April 26. Hoke’s forces laid siege to Washington on April 27. Beginning that night and continuing for the next three days, Federal troops looted and vandalized the town.

As the last of the troops prepared to board ships on the afternoon of April 30, fires broke out across the town. At least half of the settlement was destroyed, leaving many of the inhabitants destitute and homeless.

The conduct of the departing Federal garrison was harshly condemned by both the Confederates and by Brigadier General Innis Palmer, Federal commander of the District of North Carolina.

Other related resources:

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.


The Fall of Saigon and Ambassador Graham Martin

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 04/29/2016 - 06:30

Americans evacuating South Vietnam on April 29, 1975. Image from Hugh van Es/UPI.

On April 29, 1975, the last Americans, including Ambassador Graham Martin, were evacuated from Saigon just hours before the city fell to the communists. A few days earlier, President Gerald Ford declared that the Vietnam War was “finished as far as America is concerned.”

Although military involvement in Vietnam had come to an end, the U.S. still had to evacuate all of the Americans who remained. It was the biggest helicopter rescue of its kind in history—an 18-hour operation that carried more than 1,000 Americans and well over 5,000 Vietnamese to safety.

Martin speaks to the press aboard the USS Blue Ridge shortly after evacuating Saigon. Image from Dirck Halstead/Getty Images.

Born in Mars Hill in 1912, Martin served as a U. S. Army Intelligence Officer during World War II. He began his diplomatic career in 1947 in Paris and served as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations and as the American Ambassador to Thailand and to Italy before he was appointed Ambassador to South Vietnam in 1973.

The helicopter that carried Martin to safety is on display at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum in San Diego. Martin died in 1990 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

An urgent telegram from Martin to the White House and a cable from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Martin, both concerning the evacuation, are available online from the National Archives.

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.


Carnival Worker Preserved, Abandoned in Laurinburg

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 04/28/2016 - 06:30

Concippio’s grave marker

On April 28, 1911, Forenzio Concippio, also known as Concetto Farmica, died in Laurinburg.

Concippio, a musician, was murdered by a fellow carnival worker after an argument when he was hit in the head with a tent stake. The carnival and the attack took place in McColl, just over the border in South Carolina, but the injured man was taken to the hospital in nearby Laurinburg.

Doctors operated on Concippio in attempt to save him, but he died about 12 hours later. The body was removed to McDougald Funeral Home in the small Scotland County town.

The story becomes somewhat murky after that. Some say that a decision was made not to try the case due to the expense and the fact that both men were foreigners. Others say that the assailant was actually acquitted.

Regardless, Concippio’s body was left at the funeral home where it had been embalmed.

A couple of weeks after his death, a man reputed to be his father came to the funeral home and paid an installment to have his son buried and promised to send the rest.

He was not heard from again, so Concippio’s body remained in the funeral home for 61 years until it was finally buried in 1972 in Hillside Cemetery in Laurinburg.

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.


The First of the Roanoke Colonies

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 04/27/2016 - 06:30

A map of the Roanoke region made by John White. Image from the British Museum.

On April 27, 1584, Captains Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas sailed from the west coast of England in two ships “well furnished with men and victuals” to begin a four-month exploration of the New World.

The expedition was the first English exploration of Roanoke Island and was commissioned by Sir Walter Raleigh. The report which Barlowe produced on the expedition was written for Raleigh’s benefit.

After sailing through the Caribbean via the Canary Islands, the group arrived in present-day North Carolina in July 1584. First landing somewhere between Ocracoke Island and the Oregon Inlet, the party made their way to Roanoke Island in smaller boats.

The expedition developed friendly relationships with Native Americans through trade, gift exchanges and a mutual hospitality. The goodwill fostered between the groups led the Algonquian Indians Manteo and Wanchese to return to England with the group when they departed toward the end of the year.

The wealth of information provided by Amadas and Barlowe and the fascination with Manteo and Wanchese in England helped encourage Raleigh in his plans to colonize North America.

Barlowe’s report of the expedition describes the region and people in vivid, admiring detail. John White, a member of the mission who would be the governor of the ill-fated “Lost Colony,” added pictures of the Native Americans as well. A phrase describing North Carolina’s soil captures the spirit of the document well:

the most plentifull, sweete, fruitfull and wholesome of all the worlde.

The text was ultimately published in The Principall Navigations, Voiages, and Discoveries of the English Nation, by Richard Hakluyt, who used Barlowe’s admiring words to help encourage colonization.

Visit: Roanoke Island Festival Park and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, both in Manteo, interpret this rich part of our state’s history.

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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.


The Marines of Montford Point

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 04/26/2016 - 06:30

A trio of Marines training at Montford Point. Image from National Archives.

On April 26, 1942, the United States Marine Corps opened Montford Point at Camp Lejeune, specifically for the training of African American recruits.

Before President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order that ended segregation in the armed forces, blacks who served did so in segregated units, like the one at Montford Point. In the era of strict segregation, interaction between white and black Marines during training was practically nonexistent.

The larger base, Camp Lejeune, had been established one year earlier as part of mobilization for World War II.  Shortly after that time, the Corps constructed barracks and support facilities including a chapel, mess hall, steam plant and recreational area on the 1,600-acre peninsula that became Montford Point.

More than 19,000 black Marines served in World War II, all in units trained at Montford Point. Among the units organized there were the 51st and 52nd Defense Battalions, which were dispatched to the Pacific but saw no combat action, and 11 ammunition and 51 depot companies that did see action.

The 51st Battalion Band, led by musician Bobby Troup, lent to the sense of esprit de corps.

The facility became obsolete after Navy Secretary Francis Matthews ordered the end of racial division in the Navy and Marines in June 1949.

Other related resources:

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.


Meadowlark Lemon, Basketball’s Court Jester

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 04/25/2016 - 06:30

Meadowlark Lemon delights entranced youngsters at Nickerson Recreation Center. in Los Angeles, circa 1972. Image from the Los Angeles Public Library.

On April 25, 1932, Meadow Lemon III was born in Lexington County, South Carolina. He moved to Wilmington at age 6.

A fan of basketball from an early age, Lemon used to tell the story that his first basketball ensemble was a hoop made from an onion sack and a coat hanger with a Carnation milk can as a ball. After seeing the famed Harlem Globetrotters in a movie theater newsreel, he ran home to tell his father that he planned to join the team. In 1954, he did just that.

Lemon changed his name to Meadowlark in the late 1950s, but he was also widely known as the “Clown Prince of Basketball.” Though a slick player with phenomenal ball-handling skills and a long-distance hook shot that rarely missed the hoop, it was his cheeky comedy on the court that propelled him into the spotlight.

The best-known Globetrotter, Lemon became a television star, portraying himself in television shows like Gilligan’s Island and in cartoons including Scooby Doo.

Lemon retired from the Globetrotters in 1979, became an ordained minister in 1986 and established Meadowlark Lemon Ministries in 1994.

Inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 200, Lemon died in 2015.

Visit: Meadowlark Lemon’s Globetrotters uniform is among the hundreds of sports-related artifacts on view at the N.C. Museum of History’s North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame exhibit.

Other related resources:

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.


Wartime Need for Salt Inescapable

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 04/24/2016 - 06:30

A sketch showing what a Revolutionary era salt works might have looked like. This one is from Massachusetts, circa 1776. Image from The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

On April 24, 1776, North Carolina’s Provincial Congress ordered that a salt works be established in the colony for use during the Revolutionary War.

Before the war, North Carolina and other southern colonies had relied largely on salt imported from Great Britain to preserve their meats, flavor their foods and feed their livestock. It was a vital commodity.

At the war’s outbreak in 1775, Great Britain severed all trade with the fledgling American government, causing fear of a salt shortage. To ensure availability, the Provincial Congress initially set price caps on salt, rationed the existing supply and offered bounties to encourage its manufacture.

Not until April 1776, when the colonial government authorized four men to spend up to 2,000 pounds of public funds to establish a salt works, did work begin.

Robert Williams and Richard Blackledge both began construction near Beaufort that spring. Williams’s operation at Gallant’s Point, which used solar evaporation, soon failed. But Blackledge’s plant on Core Creek succeeded, using a furnace to boil saltwater in iron pans until the water evaporated and only the salt remained.

Although Blackledge died in 1777, his salt works continued to operate throughout the Revolutionary War.

Other related resources:

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.


Winston-Salem’s Reynolds Building, 1929

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 04/23/2016 - 06:30

The Reynolds Building stands out in downtown Winston-Salem, circa 1940. Image from Digital Forsyth.

On April 23, 1929, the newly-completed 22-story office building for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem was officially opened for business. The public enjoyed access to the retail and commercial shops on the lower levels off the elevator lobby, including a barber shop, restaurant, pharmacy, telegraph office and a railway ticket office.

When the skyscraper opened, the Reynolds Company occupied half of the building, and insurance firms, brokerage firms, attorneys, architects and developers leased the other half of the space.

Looking down at the Reynolds Building from the Wachovia Building, circa 1960s. Image from Digital Forsyth.

Reynolds president Bowman Gray, Sr., commissioned New York City architects R. H. Shreve and William F. Lamb to design the dramatic corporate headquarters in the popular Art Deco style. The $2 million limestone faced tower became the tallest building in the South, surpassing the 1923 Jefferson Standard Building in Greensboro.

Shreve and Lamb, with new partner Arthur Harmon, went on to design Manhattan’s Empire State Building, completed in 1931. The two buildings share a sleek, streamlined exterior with a distinctive stepped ziggurat roofline.

Historic rehabilitation of the building for apartments and a hotel is underway.

Other related resources:

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.


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