This Day in North Carolina History

“Aunt Abby” House, Confederacy’s “Angel of Mercy”

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 00:00

On November 23, 1881, “Aunt Abby” House, died.

Born around 1796 and raised near Franklinton, little is known of her life prior to the Civil War. Described as being stooped, grim-looking and often smoking a corn cob pipe, House carried one or two canes at all times, reputedly both to help her walk and to help her make points—and occasionally to whack those who didn’t get her point the first time.

Honoring her promise to nurse, and bring home to bury if necessary, her eight nephews during the Civil War, House traveled rails and walked roads to care for the boys. She saw that her services were needed by more than just her kinfolk, and she began to help other Confederate soldiers in need. She frequently worked in close proximity to battles.

Described by Governor Zebulon Vance as “the ubiquitous, indefatigable and inevitable Mrs. House,” she often paid visits to leaders of the Confederacy, including Jefferson Davis. In 1877, she took an honored place on the platform at Vance’s inauguration.

As House grew more feeble, former Confederate soldiers showed her their appreciation by building her a small cottage in Raleigh. William Woods Holden and Governor Vance, among others, were frequent visitors.

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Concept of Alford Plea Tied to Forsyth County Case

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 00:00

On November 23, 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the North Carolina v. Alford case. The court ruled that a defendant could plead guilty to a crime while still maintaining his innocence. This type of plea is now commonly called an Alford plea, after the defendant in the proceedings.

The litigation began in Forsyth County. Henry Alford was indicted for first-degree murder in 1963. Though he maintained his innocence, Alford ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on the advice of his attorney who told that him that since the prosecutor had a fairly substantial amount of evidence, he would probably be convicted and might get the death penalty.

Alford appealed to a federal court, saying that he was coerced into pleading guilty. That court found his appeal convincing and overturned his plea, but the state ultimately appealed that decision to a circuit court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court upheld Alford’s plea, saying that a court can accept a guilty plea as long as the defendant is adequately represented, “intelligently” chooses to enter into the deal and there is strong evidence of actual guilt.

Today, 47 states, including North Carolina, continue to accept Alford pleas.

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John C. Campbell Folk School Based on Danish Model

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 00:00

On November 23, 1925, Olive Dame Campbell and Marguerite Butler incorporated the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown. They named it after Mrs. Campbell’s late husband.

An educator, social worker and early chronicler of Appalachian life, John C. Campbell became interested in western North Carolina as a youth working for his father’s railroad company. When a charitable organization funded his desire to study social and economic conditions in the mountains, he and his new bride settled in Asheville in 1913. Both believed efforts to improve mountaineers’ lives should be tied to education and the preservation of the region’s traditional folk heritage.

The idea of establishing a folk school intrigued Campbell, but he died in 1919 before seeing it realized. Mrs. Campbell later visited folk schools in Demark and decided to model her husband’s namesake school after them, offering non-competitive adult classes in traditional music and dance, crafts, agriculture and nature studies.

Area residents donated the needed land, labor and building materials, and classes began in December 1927 with Mrs. Campbell serving as the school’s first director. She died in 1954, but the school —now listed on the National Register of Historic Places—remains a destination for artists and tours alike.

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Raleigh Connection to JFK Assassination Still a Mystery

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 00:00

On November 23, 1963, as the clock neared midnight in Raleigh, an attempt was allegedly made at the Dallas County jail on behalf of Lee Harvey Oswald to contact one or two phone numbers in the 919 area code. It was the day after Oswald was arrested for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

What has come to be dubbed the “Raleigh Call” went unrecorded in the Warren Commission investigation. Later in the 1960s, one of the Dallas County switchboard operators on duty that night shared a story about the call with authorities.

The story goes that the operator reported that she had been asked to call two numbers in Raleigh, although without success, and then threw away the memo slip from the fruitless calls. Apparently she later recreated a slip, as a souvenir, that included two phone numbers along with the name “John Hurt.”

Little has come of the story, and mysteries surrounding the call have contributed to assassination conspiracy theories. In July 1980, both the Raleigh Spectator and the News and Observer printed articles attempting to expose details about the call, its related personalities and chain of events. And still the “Raleigh Call” and an Oswald connection to Raleigh remain an unsolved mystery.

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Walter Reed Died

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 00:00

On November 23, 1902Walter Reed, head of U.S. Yellow Fever Commission in Cuba, died.  During his time in Cuba, Reed conclusively demonstrated that mosquitoes transmitted the deadly disease. Reed called Hertford County home for much of his life before medical school.

Reed graduated from medical school at the University of Virginia at seventeen and continued his education at Bellevue Hospital Medical College in Manhattan. He joined the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1875, eventually becoming curator of the Army Medical Museum in Washington and a professor at the army medical school.

By the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Reed was considered a pioneer in the field of bacteriology. His interest in the cause of yellow fever was timely, as epidemics broke out in camps in Cuba and elsewhere. In 1900, Reed led the fourth U. S. Army Yellow Fever Commission.

Reed was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. An army hospital completed in 1909 in Washington, D.C., was named in his honor. The museum of which he was curator is now the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

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Blackbeard’s Death: Off With His Head

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 00:00

On November 22, 1718, the infamous pirate Blackbeard was killed. Reported to have been a privateer during Queen Anne’s War, Blackbeard is said to have turned to piracy afterward. He is one of the most famous figures associated with the “Golden Age of Piracy,” which flourished briefly along the North Carolina coast in the early 1700s.

In 1717, Blackbeard and his fellow pirates captured the French slaveship La Concorde in the eastern Caribbean. With his new ship, which he renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard cruised the Caribbean taking ships along the way. Arriving off the cost of Charleston, S.C. in May 1718, Blackbeard blockaded the port for nearly a week in what was perhaps the most brazen act of his piratical career.

Blackbeard lived in the town of Bath briefly during the summer of 1718, and soon after, attempted to enter what is now Beaufort Inlet with his fleet. The vessels grounded on the ocean floor and were abandoned.

Six months later, at Ocracoke Inlet, Blackbeard encountered ships sent by the governor of Virginia, led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard. In a desperate battle, Blackbeard and several of his crew were killed. Maynard returned to Virginia with the surviving pirates and the grim trophy of Blackbeard’s severed head.

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Elizabeth Steele, Nathanael Greene and Their Legendary Encounter

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 00:00

On November 22, 1790, Elizabeth Maxwell Steele, a legendary patriot during the American Revolution, died at her home in Salisbury.

Twice widowed, Steele was the only woman operating a tavern in Rowan County before the war. She was self-sufficient, wealthy and well-connected, and during the Revolution she used her means to become what she called a “great politician.” Steele wasn’t a politician in the modern sense of the word. Rather, she looked out for her family’s and her community’s interests by seeking and sharing information about the war.

Legend has it that in February 1781, Steele overheard General Nathanael Greene in her tavern complaining of being “fatigued, hungry, and penniless”. The story goes that she gave Greene two satchels of money and that the relieved general took a portrait of King George III off the wall and wrote on the back, “O George, Hide thy face and mourn.” He then hung the picture up backwards.

The portrait survives with those words chalked on the reverse. There is no way to authenticate the story, but it is known that Greene was in the vicinity at the time. Irrespective of the legend, Steele was an exceptional woman who was vital to local discourse during the Revolution.

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Creating the Town of Halifax

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

On November 21, 1757, the town of Halifax was established by the colonial legislature, which was meeting in New Bern. The act called for the establishment of a town on the lands of James Leslie on the Roanoke River. The new town was named Halifax, in honor of George Montagu, the second Earl of Halifax.

The site for the town is just south of the Virginia border and at the intersection of major north-south and east-west roads, with falls and rapids just upriver. The positioning made Halifax the head of river navigation, and quickly enabled it as a trading center and river port for goods moving between the backcountry, the plantations and Virginia.

The original plan called for 120 half-acre lots to be laid out on a grid about a four-acre market area. The buyer of each lot was required to build a house of certain size within three years. Within a year, the town and its area prospered enough that a new county, Halifax, was created with the village as its county seat.

Today the Historic Halifax State Historic Site iencompasses many of the original town lots.

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North Carolina Becomes the Twelfth State

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

On November 21, 1789, the General Assembly, meeting in Fayetteville, ratified the United States Constitution, making North Carolina the twelfth state.

The process was not easy, however, considering that in 1788, the General Assembly actually declined to ratify United States Constitution, suggesting many amendments and calling for a Bill of Rights. On November 16, 1789, a second convention met to take up the matter again. The Constitution, with the addition of the Bill of Rights, was ratified five days into the convention.

In 1778, Fayetteville built a large brick building, called the State House by its builders, to house the General Assembly in the event the town was chosen as the new state capital. However, the Convention of 1788 in Hillsborough chose Raleigh over Fayetteville as the capital. Despite this, the General Assembly did meet in Fayetteville in several times before moving permanently to Raleigh in 1793.

The State House where North Carolina became a state remained standing until 1831, when it was destroyed by a fire that devastated much of Fayetteville.

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The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

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

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

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

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

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Warren Wilson College Established

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

On November 21, 1894, the Asheville Farm School, primary forerunner of Warren Wilson College, was established as a mission school by the Presbyterian Church. The site selected was a 420-acre farm in the Swannanoa Valley about ten miles east of Asheville.

By combining farm work with education, the school aimed to provide new opportunities for young men in the mountains. In 1942, the school merged with the Dorland-Bell School, a Presbyterian institution for young women in Hot Springs. Junior college classes were added and the new school was named for Warren H. Wilson, a leader in Presbyterian rural mission work.

In 1966, Warren Wilson became an accredited, four-year, liberal arts college offering the bachelor of arts degree.  The school is no longer associated with the Presbyterian Church’s national missions, but true to its origins, Warren Wilson requires that every student, in addition to classwork, to contribute three hours of labor each day to the college in return for room and board.

highway marker in Buncombe County honors the college.

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Asheville Monument to German Prisoners of War

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

On November 20, 1932, more than 5,000 people gathered at Riverside Cemetery in Asheville to dedicate a monument to 18 German prisoners of war who were buried there.

The prisoners of war were sailors captured during World War I. They were transferred from their initial holding location on Ellis Island to a detention center in Hot Springs in Madison County. More than 2,300 German POWs eventually would be housed at Hot Springs. While there the prisoners endured a typhoid epidemic that resulted in the deaths of the 18 men buried at Riverside Cemetery. The Madison County camp has become known for the Bavarian village that the homesick internees built there.

The monument was dedicated by the Kiffin Rockwell Post of the American Legion. The German Ambassador to the United States and several other high-ranking German officials attended.

Riverside Cemetery, located along the French Broad River, dates to 1885 and is open to the public. It is maintained by the City and Asheville and encompasses 87 acres.

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Cherokee Warrior Junaluska Died

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

On November 20, 1858, distinguished Cherokee warrior Junaluska died. Little is known of his early life. Although he was not chief, Junaluska spoke for the tribe in 1811 when he refused the Shawnee request for the Cherokee to join in fighting against the influx of settlers.

As further indication of his loyalty to the United States, Junaluska recruited 100 warriors to join the war against the Creek Indians in 1813. It is an account from this conflict that credits Junaluska for saving Andrew Jackson’s life at Horseshoe Bend, Alabama.

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

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

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

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

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

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

https://soundcloud.com/etc-tet/tom-dooley-1955-warped

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

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Raleigh Register, North Carolina’s First Daily Paper

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

On November 19, 1850, the Raleigh Register became North Carolina’s first newspaper to be published daily. The Register traces its roots to 1799 when it was founded by English immigrant Joseph Gales, who had already successfully published several newspapers in England. Gales ran the paper until his retirement in 1833.  Under his leadership it was one of the major publications in the state and was widely regarded as the leading political voice for the Republican Party.

Gales started publishing the paper semiweekly only when the General Assembly was in session, but eventually settled upon weekly publication. He brought his son, Weston, in as a partner, and Weston would eventually go on to be the paper’s publisher.

It became a daily under Seaton Gales, grandson of the founder, who enlarged the paper’s operation and added a telegraph service. His efforts, though, soon proved unsuccessful and by January 1851, the Register had stopped publishing each day. Gales tried to revive paper by retrofitting its offices with the latest technology, but it was sold at public auction by 1856.

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The Emancipator and the Animator: Lincoln at Gettysburg

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

On November 19, 1863, at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln paid tribute to the men who gave the “last full measure of devotion” on that hallowed ground four months earlier.

In the course of the battle between July 1 and 3, over 7,000 men were killed, and it’s estimated that North Carolinians represent one in four of battle’s overall Confederate casualties. The day’s losses were recorded by photographer Timothy Sullivan. The Gettysburg Address was less well documented, the primary record being stereographs by Alexander Gardner. Images from both events have been digitized and made available by the Library of Congress.

In 2013, UNC Asheville professor Chris Oakley, a former Disney animator and screenwriter, worked with several students to create the “Virtual Lincoln Project.” The project’s objective was to recreate the Gettysburg Address in 3-D animation. In the course of that work, Oakley discovered what he believes to be an image of Lincoln in a crowd scene.

A different image of Lincoln, sans top hat, on the dais alongside his Secretary of State William Seward, had long been believed to be the only shot of the President at Gettysburg. Others contend that a top-hatted, bearded man on horseback is Lincoln. Oakley’s discovery drew wide press attention and renewed interest during the Civil War sesquicentennial.

An interactive photograph, mounted by Smithsonian Magazine, allows you to look at the experts’ choices for Abraham Lincoln along with Oakley’s justifications for his own.

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British Forces Leave Wilmington and N.C., 1781

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

On November 18, 1781, British forces under Maj. James Craig evacuated Wilmington. Previously, the town was threatened by the Loyalist campaign that culminated in the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge in 1776, and was afterwards briefly blockaded by a British fleet.

Major Craig captured Wilmington, North Carolina’s major seaport, in January 1781. With less than 300 men available for duty, he could do nothing to expand British control of the area. He received little support from local Loyalists due to the small size of his command.

In April, Craig was briefly joined by the main British force in North Carolina under Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis, who had withdrawn eastward to be resupplied after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

Following Cornwallis’s departure for Virginia, Craig was left to hold Wilmington. In October, Gen. Griffith Rutherford of the North Carolina Militia launched a campaign to recapture the town for the Patriot side. Defeating Loyalist forces in a series of small clashes, the Militia gradually closed in.

Outnumbered, Craig had no choice but to evacuate the town by sea. His departure marked the end of a British presence in the state, although some Loyalist activity continued.

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Jim Crow-Era Fair for African Americans

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

On November 18, 1879, the first North Carolina Colored State Fair opened in Raleigh. Born out of the desire by men of the Colored Industrial Association of North Carolina to showcase the progress made by African Americans after Emancipation, the fair was based on the successful model of the State Fair held by the State Agricultural Society since the 1850s.

Usually held in November, the fair combined agricultural and industrial displays with contests for exhibitors. Parades and speeches featuring politicians and other prominent people took place throughout the days of the fair. One of the founders of the association was Charles N. Hunter, a former slave and politically-prominent black educator in Raleigh. He remained the guiding force of the fair until it ceased.

Held on the original grounds of the Agricultural Society’s fair, the Negro State Fair was similar in format but on a smaller scale. It quickly became a social occasion for African Americans and received a small legislative appropriation. Hunter fought to keep the fair viable, though it was never a large moneymaker, and by 1931 the state’s racial politics had dealt it a fatal blow.

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Name of James Glasgow Expunged from the Map

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Confederate Women’s Home Opened in Fayetteville

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 00:00

On November 18, 1915, the Confederate Women’s Home opened in Fayetteville. Mrs. Hunter G. Smith proposed establishment of a home in North Carolina for Confederate widows and daughters some years earlier during the 1908 convention of the North Carolina Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).

In 1913, the legislature granted $10,000 for building purposes and $5,000 per year for maintenance. The UDC accepted responsibility for the home’s operation. To live in the home a woman had to be sixty-five or older; a wife, daughter, or widow of a Confederate veteran; and in need. She also had to sign her property and pension over to the state.

Originally the home was scheduled to close in 1950, but it twice received ten-year reprieves. By 1981, only seven women lived in the house and it was not practical to keep it open. Today, 65 women are buried in a cemetery on the grounds. Its counterpart institution, the Confederate Soldiers Home, for veterans, operated in Raleigh from 1891 to 1938.

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