Salisbury prisoners worked hard to sleep, escape

“In an empty lot owned by the Historic Salisbury Foundation, archaeologists led by Timothy Roberts, project director for Cultural Resource Analysts, found bits of rubble, mortar and brick….

“Artifacts, mostly dating to after the war, [included] medicine bottles from a local drugstore known as Kluttz’s and… a piece of bone with a copper pin in it. Roberts believes it was part of the case of the type of folding knife prisoners used to dig their sleeping holes and escape tunnels.”

— From “Cotton Mill, Prison, Main Street” by Daniel Weiss in Archaeology (July/August 2019)


New in the collection: ‘Elvis, An American Musical’ pinback

Pinback with photo of young Elvis and with words Elvis: An American Musical, Ovens Auditorium, January 26 through 29, 1989
” ‘ELVIS IS ALIVE!’ In a way, the tabloids scream the truth. This, the 11th summer since the King’s death at 42, has been one of the busiest of his entire afterlife….. Now, to cash in on all the postmortem Presleymania, comes ‘Elvis: An American Musical.’

“A $3 million, 50-song, multimedia homage to the King, the road show stars…  three Elvii, each portraying Presley at various stages of girth and career….”

— From “Elvis Is So Dead It Takes Three Impersonators to Bring Him Back to Life…” by Steve Dougherty and Doug Lindeman in People magazine (Sept. 12, 1988)

Despite multiple schedule and name changes, the tour did in fact make it to Charlotte, but not so – as had been hoped — Broadway.

James City, North Carolina

James City, North Carolina is an unincorporated town near New Bern in Craven County. It has a tumultuous but little-known history that can be seen through historic newspapers on Chronicling America.

The history of James City began in 1862, when New Bern was occupied by Union troops in the Civil War. Union officials established a settlement across the Trent River for former slaves who had nowhere else to go. This settlement was named James City after Reverend Horace James, an Army chaplain who was the town’s leader in its earliest years. He later became an agent for the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands. The Union confiscated the land that James City was built on from its former owners.

The location of James City is marked on this map as “Yankees”. Photo from North Carolina Maps (

The city thrived for a few years, and became a haven for Black men and women in the years after the Civil War. Homes, farms, businesses, and churches were built and a local government was established. However, the residents of James City soon started facing setbacks. In the late 1860s, bad weather resulted in poor harvests. At the same time, the Freedmen’s Bureau began scaling back its financial support of the town. Lastly, in 1867, the federal government returned the land that James City was built on to the family of its former owner. Land that the town residents owned themselves was now owned by James Bryan.

“A James City Doorway.” Photo from the Digital North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives (

These setbacks were disastrous for many of the town’s residents. The population shrunk from 3,000 residents to only 1,100 by the 1880s as people left due to the worsening economic conditions. Those who didn’t leave were forced to either pay rent to Bryan or work as sharecroppers.

The situation escalated in the 1890s, when Bryan began raising rents with the purpose of evicting residents who were unable to pay. Many residents objected, arguing that the land had been given to them originally, and they shouldn’t have to pay rent. Some residents argued that they should be compensated for the improvements they had made to the land, such as the farms and homes they had built. The residents even raised $2,000 to buy the land from Bryan. Each of these efforts to save the town failed. In 1891, the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that the land definitively belonged to Bryan.

After this ruling, tensions in James City were running high. The town’s residents were furious and continued to refuse to pay rent. Newspapers reported on the potential for violence over this matter. The Craven County sheriff attempted to evict the residents but was unsuccessful. According to an article in the State Chronicle, the town residents peacefully resisted him by locking their doors, gathering on the streets, and refusing to answer the sheriff’s questions.













In April 1893, the First Regiment of the State Guard was ordered to James City to restore order and enforce the law—in short, to force the residents to pay the rent that Bryan demanded. This action was ordered by Governor Elias Carr.

Once the Carr and the state military got involved, the townspeople agreed to Bryan’s terms: rent ranging from 50 cents to $1 for three years. This agreement was reached without violence or significant bloodshed (one officer was killed when he fell off his horse). The residents that were unable to pay were forced to move. In the end, only 700 James City residents were able to remain in their homes.

Newspaper coverage of this event was extensive. Much of the news was informed by racist stereotypes and assumptions about the legality of the Black residents’ claims. Bryan’s demands were characterized as reasonable by the newspapers of the day. In contrast, the Black residents were portrayed as violent lawbreakers, or else as gullible and ignorant. This story is an interesting illustration of the racial dynamics of the Reconstruction era.


View full newspaper pages on Chronicling America:


Other resources:

Karin Lorene Zipf, NCPedia:

Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project:

New in the collection: Mother Vineyard wine label

Label reading Mother Vineyard North Carolina Scuppernong Wine and show a batch of grapes.

“Mother Vineyard is a community on the north end of Roanoke Island in Dare County where an ancient and famous scuppernong grapevine grows. Known at times as the ‘Sir Walter Raleigh Vine’ and the ‘Mother Vine,’ it…  is reputed to be the oldest grapevine in the United States, as well as the original vine from which all subsequent scuppernong grapes descended.

“In 1909 horticulturalist F. C. Reimer refuted these claims, showing that the oldest vines in the state grew in Tyrrell County. As for the scuppernong vines of Roanoke Island, he found five old vines growing ‘in two straight rows.’ North Carolina grape authority Clarence Gohdes called this statement ‘sure evidence that they are survivors of a modern vineyard’ and placed their origins back to the 1850s.”

— From the Mother Vineyard entry by John Hairr (2006) in the Encyclopedia of North Carolina

The History and Construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a popular tourist destination in western North Carolina and Virginia. This scenic road links Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it is the most visited attraction in the National Park System most years. Its history can be traced through North Carolina newspapers on Chronicling America.

Construction on the Blue Ridge Parkway began in 1935 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to end the Great Depression.

In 1936, the project was officially named the Blue Ridge Parkway and placed under the authority of the National Parks Service.













Construction was funded by the federal government. Robert L. Doughton, chairman of the House ways and means committee, fought for this funding—the road passed through his district, and was only 3 miles away from his home.








Work on the Blue Ridge Parkway continued until 1943 when the US entered World War II. At that time, 170 miles of the road had been completed, and work had started on another 330 miles.













Some sections of the road remained open while others were under construction, but even those sections were not as developed as they are today.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was not officially completed until 1987. The last section to be completed was the Lynn Cove Viaduct, which was a bridge that was carefully constructed to protect the habitat around Grandfather Mountain. Now, the Parkway spans a total of 469 miles as the result of 52 years of construction.











View full newspaper pages on Chronicling America:

New in the collection: James Taylor concert for Clinton

Poster for James Taylor concert showing a red, white and blue butterfly

“In the waning days of the presidential campaign, surrogates for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have fanned out all over. One is troubadour James Taylor, who, with his wife, Kim, has made over 60 appearances for Clinton….”
— From “James Taylor still on campaign trail” by Mark Shanahan in the Boston Globe (Nov. 3, 2016)

For an “intimate performance” at a Clinton supporter’s home this was a typical tab:

Fighter: $2,700 (includes ticket to the show).

Champion: $10,000 (includes photo with James Taylor).

Host: $27,000 (must contribute or raise that much, includes reception and photo with Taylor).

This poster, 12 by 17 inches, was issued for two California performances.

New in the collection: Socialist Party pinback

Pinback reading "North Carolina Socialists Support McReynolds Hollis" and featuring photographs of the candidates.

“The Socialist Party of North Carolina (SPNC), formed in 1996, is the modern affiliate of the national Socialist Party, which was organized in July 1901 by the merger of the Social Democratic Party, under Eugene V. Debs, with the reformer wing of the Socialist Labor Party, under Morris Hillquit.

“The SPNC has small, organized groups in Raleigh and Jacksonville. In the 2000 presidential election, for the first time since 1936, a Socialist Party member was an official write-in candidate in North Carolina. In the early 2000s the SPNC was involved in a variety of causes, including a boycott of Mt. Olive Pickles and People of Faith against the Death Penalty.”
— From “Socialist Party of North Carolina” by Wiley J. Williams (2006) in the Encyclopedia of North Carolina

David McReynolds received 1,226 votes in North Carolina. His running mate was Mary Cal Hollis.