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President James K. Polk and Manifest Destiny

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 11/07/2017 - 00:00

On November 2, 1795James Knox Polk, the 11th president of the United States, was born on a farm just south of what is today Charlotte. Polk moved to Tennessee in 1806 but returned to his home state to attend the University of North Carolina.

Polk’s first election was to the Tennessee state legislature in 1823. He then became a member of the U.S. Congress from Tennessee, and in 1837, he was elected governor of the Volunteer State. He narrowly won election to the presidency over Henry Clay in 1844 at the age of 49, making him the youngest president to that date.

Polk entered the presidency with a clear plan of action rooted in westward expansion. Seen by contemporaries as conscientious and attentive to the needs of the country, in his presidential campaign he promised not to run for a second term.  True to his word, he did not.

While Polk’s original North Carolina home is long gone, a cabin accurate to the period is open to the public at the President James K. Polk State Historic Site in Pineville. The site will celebrate Polk’s birthday on Saturday.

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.

Velma Barfield, Serial Killer

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 11/07/2017 - 00:00

On November 2, 1984, Velma Barfield, from Cumberland County, became the first woman in the nation executed by lethal injection. She was convicted of first-degree murder for the arsenic poisoning of her boyfriend, Stuart Taylor, in 1978.

After her arrest and the subsequent investigation, authorities discovered a pattern of mysterious deaths around Barfield. She eventually confessed to three other murders, including that of her mother. In her confession, Barfield claimed that she poisoned the others to hide the fact that she had stolen money from each to support her addiction to tranquilizers and painkillers. She argued that she only intended to make them sick to give her time to restore the funds she had taken.

Interestingly, her two husbands also died under unusual circumstances. Though it was believed she had a hand in those deaths as well, she denied accusations to that effect. For six years, Barfield’s attorneys filed appeals to overturn her conviction, but all failed. They argued that Barfield, due to her excessive drug use, did not realize what she was doing would result in the death of her victims. Their goal was to get her off death row and have her sentence reduced to life in prison.

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.

“Copperhead Cuddlers” in Durham, 1947

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 11/07/2017 - 00:00

On November 1, 1947, Durham police raided the Zion Tabernacle Church on Peabody Street and confiscated a copperhead snake being handled in a church service.

While no arrests were made that night, during the next several days, individuals, including Reverend Colonel Hartman Bunn, were reminded of a city ordinance banning the handling of poisonous reptiles. No arrests were made pending examination of the snake to determine if was venomous or not. An expert at what’s now the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences verified that the snake was a copperhead.

Bunn and other members of the church continued to handle snakes at ceremonies on subsequent nights, vowing to take their fight to the Supreme Court. After he was arrested, Bunn pleaded not guilty in recorder’s court before a standing-room-only crowd and asked for a continuance.

On November 19, Bunn and his snake tender, Benjamin Ralph Massey, were found guilty and fined. Both appealed to Superior Court. As he left the courthouse, this phase of the “copperhead cuddlers” case finished, Bunn made an impassioned speech on the steps in which he compared the police who confiscated his snakes to Hitler’s SS Elite Guard.

Click on over the State Archives’s Flickr site to see more photos of members of the church handling snakes.

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.

Cape Lookout Light Lit

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 11/07/2017 - 00:00

On November 1, 1859, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse was lit for the first time. Begun in 1857, the lighthouse took two years to construct, replacing a previous light built around 1812. The present tower, rising 208 feet, became the model for all subsequent lighthouse construction along the Outer Banks, especially the Cape Hatteras, Bodie Island and Currituck lighthouses.

Built to alert sailors of the dangerous shoals on the southern tip of Core Banks, an area known since the late sixteenth century as “horrible headland,” the light could be seen from up to 19 miles out at sea. Until the completion of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1870, the Cape Lookout light was the tallest such structure south of New Jersey.

In 1873, the Light House Board assigned the familiar diamond pattern to Cape Lookout, and the small community around the lighthouse took the name “Diamond City” around 1885 as a result. Though the community prospered for a brief time, largely due to the success of the whaling industry, it was abandoned after a strong hurricane in August 1899 nearly destroyed it.

Today, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse is one of the main attractions on the Cape Lookout National Seashore, administered by the National Park Service.

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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.

Cherokee Indian Tsali Was Captured

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 11/07/2017 - 00:00

On November 1, 1838, the Cherokee Indian known as Tsali was captured.  Tsali, also known as Charley, was among those who refused to leave North Carolina after a group of Cherokee leaders signed a treat ceding their tribal lands to the United States.  Tsali, his family, and a few friends had gone into hiding in the spring.  From here the story diverges into what is in the oral histories and what is in the written records.  Cherokee oral tradition tells of Tsali’s group being captured and harassed by the federal troops.  By this account, Tsali decided to try to fake an injury and ambush the soldiers to escape. In the ensuing skirmish, one soldier was killed and two others wounded, one mortally.  The Cherokee escaped and hid until learning that if the men responsible were to give themselves up, all of the other Indians in hiding could remain in North Carolina.  The legend maintains that Tsali agreed to be executed so that the others could stay. Among the Cherokee Tsali has become a legendary hero, depicted in the outdoor drama Unto These Hills.

At the time the legend flourished, few of the government records related to the Tsali event had been available for research.  What those documents reveal is different from oral tradition.  On November 1, 1838, U. S. soldiers and Thomas found and captured Tsali’s group. While being marched to the command base, some of the Cherokee attacked the soldiers and escaped.  Oconaluftee Citizen Indians, who were exempt from the removal, and a few other fugitive Cherokees offered help with the understanding that anyone who helped to find Tsali’s band would be allowed to stay in North Carolina.

A former neighbor of Tsali’s known as Euchella (Utsala) led about sixty men in search of Tsali.  On November 24, Colonel William S. Foster, who was ordered to find Tsali, wrote to his commander, General Winfield Scott that the mission was a success—that, of the twelve Indians that had been in the original group, all but Tsali had been recaptured and the three men most culpable in the attack “were punished yesterday by the Cherokees themselves in the presence of the 4th Regt. of  Infantry.”  Foster had made clear in other communications that he did not believe that Tsali was one of the murderers.  His conviction is explicit in his dismissal of the search party and leaving the area.  However, the next day Euchella and another Indian caught Tsali and executed him.  Foster issued a proclamation in support of Euchella and his men and sent Scott a petition signed by residents in favor of the Indians’ wishes to stay.

Euchella and his men were given permission to remain in North Carolina with the Oconaluftee Citizen Indians.  Eventually these groups would be recognized as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  Tsali’s story began to take shape with its embellished twist in 1849 and he has since become a folk legend.  The significant difference in the two stories, of course, is that documents indicate that Tsali never surrendered.  Thus he never made the noble sacrifice for which he is idolized.  Regardless, the events were tragic and the outcome heartbreaking, and the saga is now immortalized in Cherokee lore.

WWII Pilots Recuperated at Lake Lure

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 11/07/2017 - 00:00

On November 1, 1945, the Lake Lure Rest and Rehabilitation Center in Rutherford County closed.

The facility was created by the Army Air Force two years earlier to reduce the effects of wartime fatigue, especially flying fatigue. Combat pilots and other servicemen in high demand positions were able to spend between 10 and 20 days at the mountain retreat to unwind and prepare for additional missions or continued service. The Air Force leased the Lake Lure Inn, where officers were housed, and the Rocky Broad Inn, which served as quarters for enlisted men.

 

While stationed at the center, the aviators were examined by staff physicians and psychiatrists to determine their suitability for additional combat flights. During their stay, the men were offered a full slate of recreational opportunities from outdoor activities to reading and crafts. Religious services were held to nurture the servicemen’s spiritual well-being.

The Rutherford County Red Cross and the local library were very supportive of the center and the men it served. During its two-year existence, more than 5,000 servicemen were assigned there. Following the closure of the Lake Lure Rest and Rehabilitation Center, the property reverted to the previous owners.

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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.