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Death of Governor, UNC President David Lowry Swain

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 08/29/2016 - 06:30

Image from the State Archives.

On August 29, 1868, David Lowry Swain, president of the University of North Carolina and former governor, died at age 67. His death was the result of a buggy accident on August 11. Initially buried at his Chapel Hill home, he was later reinterred in Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery.

A native of Buncombe County, Swain became recognized as an advocate for western interests, internal improvements and progressive government. The General Assembly elected him to his first term as governor in 1832.

Swain called for the constitutional convention which met in Raleigh in July 1835, and to him, more than anyone else, belongs the credit for the accomplishments of that meeting, including crucial reforms in the methods of representation and the election of governors by popular vote.

In 1835, Swain was elected UNC president and won the respect of both students and faculty for his administrative ability, personality and integrity. Though the state experienced severe hardships during the Civil War, Swain managed to keep the university open.

As Sherman’s army approached Raleigh in the spring of 1865, Swain played a role in surrendering the state capital and in securing assurances that the university would not be harmed.

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The Real-Life “Norma Rae”

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 08/28/2016 - 06:30

Sally Field portraying a character based on Crystal Lee Sutton in the 1979 film Norma Rae. Image from 20th Century Fox.

On August 28, 1974, workers at the J. P. Stevens plant in Roanoke Rapids voted to unionize. The vote to affiliate with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union was the culmination of efforts by Crystal Lee Sutton, who worked for $2.65 per hour folding towels in the plant.

The vote was an important one in North Carolina, which was the least unionized state in the nation at the time. The story of Crystal Sutton is depicted in the 1979 film, Norma Rae.

“Management and others treated me as if I had leprosy,” she later recalled. The turning point, in real life as in the film, was when Sutton wrote “UNION” on a scrap of cardboard and stood atop her work station.

One by one coworkers cut off their machines and the plant became quiet. Sutton was fired by J. P. Stevens but later, under court order, was rehired with reinstated back wages. She soon left, however, to become a full-time organizer.

Sally Field won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Sutton. The real Crystal Sutton, who deposited her papers at Alamance Community College in Burlington, died in 2009.

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.


Battle of Elizabethtown Culminated at the Tory Hole

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 08/27/2016 - 06:30

On August 27, 1781, the Revolutionary War Battle of Elizabethtown was fought.

Two weeks earlier, Loyalist forces under Colonel John Slingsby captured several Whig—that is Patriot—supporters in what’s now Fayetteville. Slingsby brought his prisoners to Elizabethtown, in Bladen County.

The day before the battle, a local resident named Sallie Salter entered the Tory camp to sell eggs. Unbeknownst to them, she was a Patriot spy. She reported to Colonels Thomas Robeson, Jr., and Thomas Brown, commanders of a band of Bladen County militiamen that had withdrawn to Duplin County. Her information led to a decision to attack Slingsby.

This was a considerable gamble, as the Patriot command numbered between 60 and 70 men, while Slingsby’s forces totaled between 300 and 400.

After a night march, the militiamen launched a surprise attack on Slingsby’s camp. The resulting confusion was amplified by the successful efforts of the Whigs to make the Tories think that there were far more Patriots present than there actually were.

With Slingsby dead, the Tories retreated to a ravine, afterwards called “Tory Hole.” There they were fired upon until they surrendered. The Patriot victory permanently weakened Tory power in the Cape Fear region.

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David Schenck and the Battlefield at Guilford Courthouse

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 08/26/2016 - 06:30

An early postcard featuring the Guilford Courthouse battlefield. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On August 26, 1902, David Schenck, the “father” of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, died.

Born in 1835 in Lincolnton, Schenck and his family moved to Greensboro for his job as a lawyer for the company that became Southern Railway. Immersing himself in local history almost immediately after moving to the area, he showed a special interest in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

Schenck traversed the ground with locals, inquiring as to the specific pieces of property associated with the 1781 engagement. He knew that, if the battlefield was not protected, it would be lost to encroaching development.

In 1886, Schneck recorded in his diary that he decided to buy the land to, in his words, “redeem the battlefield from oblivion.” That same day he purchased 30 acres of the battlefield to achieve that end.

The following year Schenck organized the Guilford Battle Ground Company. Although he died in 1902, the organization carried on and, through its actions, the battleground was donated to the U.S. Department of Interior, which organized it as the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in 1917.

The battlefield was the first from the Revolutionary War to be protected by the federal government. The Guilford Battleground Company, as Schenck’s organization is known today, continues to purchase property associated with the site and donate it to the National Park Service.

Visit: Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, north of downtown Greensboro, continues to be open to the public to this day.

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.


Old Claremont and Education in Hickory

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 06:30

An 1898 sketch of Claremont College. Image from the State Library.

On August 25, 1880, North Carolina granted a charter to Claremont Female College in Hickory. The school, founded by the Evangelical and Reformed Church, started in an old church building. It was modeled after Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Classes began in September with 21 students. Work was completed on a series of college buildings three years later. Following the resignation of Claremont’s first president, the school suffered financially until the trustees leased the college to William H. Sanborn, president of nearby Davenport College. He resigned after four years.

From 1892 to 1907, the college operated with moderate success, attracting students chiefly from North Carolina, but also from across the South. The trustees, tired of leasing the college to individual presidents, offered the college to the North Carolina Classis of the Reformed Church. Under the Classis, the school was renamed Claremont College.

Claremont operated until 1917, when money troubles caused the school to close indefinitely. Representatives from Horner Military School in Charlotte considered buying the property, but the deal fell through.

Claremont’s board of trustees dissolved the charter in 1937.  Higher learning continues at the site, as the location for Catawba Valley High School, now operating as Hickory Career and Arts Magnet.

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.


Dolley on the Spot: White House Items Saved

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 08/24/2016 - 06:30

Dolley Madison saving paintings, documents and other important White House artifacts. Image from the Montpelier Foundation.

On August 24, 1814, Dolley Madison rescued several important state documents and a now-famous oil portrait of George Washington from the White House as Washington, D.C., was being burned by invading British forces.

As Washington came under siege from the British as part of the War of 1812, President James Madison asked his wife to stay behind in the White House and gather important documents so that the building could be abandoned quickly if needed.

As the invading force drew near, the First Lady decided to abandon the Pennsylvania Avenue mansion.

Though popular legend tends to tell the story in such a way that portrays Madison herself ripping the portrait out a frame and hand-carrying it and other important documents out of the White House, contemporary historians revisiting the subject argue that household slaves most likely did the heavy lifting under her orders.

Born Dolley Payne in 1768 in Guilford County, the future First Lady met her would-be husband through mutual acquaintance Aaron Burr in Philadelphia 1794. The couple married less than a year later.

While James Madison served as Secretary of State for the widowed Thomas Jefferson, Dolley became the unofficial “first lady,” hosting events for politicians and international guests. The 1809 inauguration of her husband, therefore, made for an easy transition to the role of the president’s wife.

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.


Allegheny, Ashe, Avery: Top Christmas Tree Producers

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 08/23/2016 - 06:30

A Fraser fir farm in Watauga County. Image from the Watauga County Christmas Tree Association.

On August 23, 2005, the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) was adopted as the official state Christmas tree of North Carolina.

The idea came from eighth graders at Spruce Pine’s Harris Middle School who petitioned legislators to bestow the special recognition upon the popular conifer after learning of the economic impact the tree had in the state. The bill was introduced by state Representative Philip D. Frye, also of Spruce Pine.

A diagram of a Christmas tree from a 1979 state guide to growing the crop. Image from the State Library.

Known as the Cadillac of Christmas trees, 50 million Fraser firs are grown in North Carolina. The tree was named for Scottish botanist John Fraser who explored the Southern Appalachian mountain region during late 1700s. The evergreen grows in a cone shape and can reach 80 feet.

Fraser firs represent more than 90 percent of Christmas trees grown in North Carolina. The Tar Heel State’s Christmas tree industry is the second largest in the United States, behind Oregon’s, and produces 20 percent of all Christmas trees sold in the nation.

Trees are raised in more than a dozen western counties, with Alleghany, Ashe and Avery being the top producers.

North Carolina Fraser firs are known throughout the country and North America. They have been displayed in the White House on 12 occasions, more than any other species of tree.

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Eugenics Lawsuit Dismissed, 1974

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 08/22/2016 - 06:30

On August 22, 1974, a federal district court judge threw out the suit of Nial Ruth Cox in action now known as Cox v. Stanton. Cox sought to sue to the state for damages after she was forcibly sterilized under the state’s eugenics program at a Plymouth hospital in February 1965.

Cox’s suit was thrown out in part because she waited too long after the procedure was conducted to file her case.

Cox was represented by a number of attorneys, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then co-founder of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU’s general counsel. Cox’s attorneys appealed her case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which largely upheld the lower court’s decision.

Between 1933 and 1977, state action led to the sterilization by choice or coercion of more than 7,600 people through a program authorized by the General Assembly in 1929. Though North Carolina’s was only one of many such programs across the country, it was one of the most active.

A movement to compensate those who had been victims of the program began to gain strength in the early 2000s, and in 2013, the General Assembly authorized funds to give each individual victim up to $50,000 in compensation.

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.


Cherokee Code Talkers and Allied Success in WWI

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 08/21/2016 - 06:30

Cherokee and Choctaw code talkers from World War I at Fort Benning, Ga. Image from the U.S. Army.

On August 21, 1918, British forces began attacking German positions along a 10-mile stretch of the Western Front in northwest France. The assault was part of the World War I action now known as the Somme Offensive.

Attached to the British troops fighting in the region were the 119th and 120th U.S. Infantry Regiments, which both contained a number of Cherokee soldiers from western North Carolina.

In last September and early October as the offensive continued and preparations were underway to break through the German defensive positions known as the Hindenburg Line, the commanders in the area discovered that German troops were intercepting their telephone communications. The Germans then used those messages to discover the position of Allied forces and attack them.

That’s where the Cherokee came in. The signal officers at the time guessed that the Germans wouldn’t be able to understand the Cherokee language, and instructed Cherokee troops to deliver messages by telephone in their native tongue. The tactic proved to be a success.

The Cherokee “code talkers” were the first known use of Native Americans in the American military to transmit messages under fire, and they continued to serve in this unique capacity for rest of World War I. Their success was part of the inspiration for the better-known use of Navajo code talkers during World War II.

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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.


Stage Set for War in Hillsborough, 1775

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 08/20/2016 - 06:30

A note of currency issued under the authority of the Third Provincial Congress. Image from Carolana.

On August 20, 1775, the Third Provincial Congress, formed to replace the Colonial Assembly dissolved by Royal Governor Alexander Martin the previous April, convened in Hillsborough.

Samuel Johnston of Edenton was selected to preside, and the body declared itself the province’s temporary government and created the Provincial Council to conduct business when the Provincial Congress was not in session and to oversee the Committee of Safety.

For the purpose of organizing a militia and arranging representation in the Provincial Council, the congress determined that the six existing judicial districts would become military districts. The districts contained between four and eight counties and were named for the most prominent towns they contained:  Edenton, Halifax, Hillsborough, New Bern, Wilmington and Salisbury.

Each military district was authorized to establish a regiment of minutemen that was to serve within the boundaries of North Carolina. Furthermore, each of the 35 counties was asked to raise a company of militia.

The Third Provincial Congress ordered the enlistment of the first two units of Provincial Troops to join the Continental Army later that year.

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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 Story Behind Hammocks Beach Earthworks

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 08/19/2016 - 06:30

On August 19, 1862, a Union force commanded by Colonel Thomas G. Stevenson of the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry burned the Confederate fort at Huggins’ Island near Swansboro. Both the barracks and ammunition magazine collapsed into ashes.

In the fall of 1861, North Carolina found its vital defenses at Hatteras Inlet compromised, making the sounds vulnerable to Union naval invasion. Confederate Brigadier General Walter Gwynn, in charge of coastal defenses from New Bern to the South Carolina line, strongly recommended construction of a series of small forts to protect critical inlets.

Among those was a six-gun battery at Bogue Inlet on Huggins’ Island, later called Russell’s Island.

Construction of the fort was completed in December 1861 and a company of artillery was then stationed at the fort to man the cannons. The company did not remain long at the fort as they were ordered to join General Lawrence O’B. Branch’s brigade at New Bern in March.

They took the cannons with them when they marched out of Swansboro.

After the fire, only the earthen embankment remained as evidence of the fort’s existence. Those earthworks, however, have somehow dodged development and erosion, and are now a part of Hammocks Beach State Park.

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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.


No Quickie Divorce in 1940s

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 08/18/2016 - 06:00

Divorce law’s complexity gained notoriety in 1940s North Carolina.

On August 18, 1945, Caldwell County residents Otis Williams and Lillie Hendrix legally married in the state of North Carolina, ending a five-year battle against bigamy charges.

The saga began in 1940, when Otis, a married storekeeper, and his handyman’s wife, Lillie, traveled to Nevada to secure divorces from their respective spouses. After spending the legally required time as “residents” of the state, divorces were granted, and Williams and Hendrix married before returning to North Carolina.

The action infuriated the first Mrs. Williams, who in retaliation brought charges of bigamy against the newlyweds. A Caldwell County court convicted the pair and delivered multiyear prison sentences for each. Subsequent appeals to the Supreme Court resulted in the overturning of that conviction, but a dogged state prosecutor continued the crusade.

By this time, the spurned Mrs. Williams had died, but her desire to see the couple jailed lived on as county courts upheld the convictions. State courts, however, ultimately decided to take pity on the pair, offering them a reprieve so long as they legally wed in state.

The case made national news, throwing a spotlight on the labyrinth-like nature of divorce law at that time.

Read more about divorce law in North Carolina on NCpedia.

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.


Twelve O’Clock High and Frank Armstrong

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 08/17/2016 - 08:46

Image from the U.S. Air Force.

On August 17, 1942, Frank Armstrong led the first daylight bomber attack by the United States. He flew over Axis territory in occupied France and earned the Silver Star, a military honor for valor, for his actions.

A native of Hamilton in Martin County and a graduate of Wake Forest, Frank Armstrong enlisted in the military in 1928 as a flying cadet. He received and conducted bombardment training and witnessed the Nazi blitz bombing of London.

Armstrong’s involvement in the war did not end with the 1942 campaigns. In 1943, he led the first U.S. raids over Germany in a B-17 “Flying Fortress,” and, in 1945, he flew some of the last bombing raids over Japan targeting oil depots in a B-29.

His official military biography states that he “led the first and last heavy bombing raids of World War II.”

In 1948, Beirne Lay, Jr., who had served alongside Armstrong in the bombardment team in Europe, collaborated with Sy Bartlett to publish Twelve O’Clock High! The authors made clear in the foreword that Colonel Frank Savage, the novel’s central character, was based on Armstrong.

The 1949 film version of the book was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

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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.


Eno River’s Patron Saint, Margaret Nygard

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 08/16/2016 - 06:30

Nygard sits on the banks of the Eno River. Image from North Carolina State Parks and Recreation.

On August 16, 1966, a group led by local activist Margaret Nygard and her husband, Holger, voiced opposition at a Durham City Council meeting to a plan to dam the Eno River. The city had been perusing the plan for more than year in attempt to bolster the local drinking water supply.

Nygard, a Durham teacher and social worker, and a group of concerned local citizens used the energy generated by that meeting to form the Association for the Preservation of the Eno River Valley, now known as the Eno River Association. The association, in turn, worked with The Nature Conservancy to build a partnership with the area’s local governments and the state to formulate a plan to save the natural and cultural resources of the Eno area.

The idea for a state park was proposed and an initial donation of 90 acres from a local farm family was made in 1972. A state conservation board endorsed the park that same year, and the following year, Governor Jim Holshouser officially announced the park’s creation.

Thanks to the stewardship of the state and the Eno River Association, Eno River State Park has continued to grow since its inception. Today it encompasses more than 4,000 acres along 35 miles of the river’s course through Orange and Durham Counties.

Visit: Like all other state parks, Eno River State Park is open to the public every day of the year except for Christmas Day.

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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.


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