Committee of Secrecy

Insurgents, secret subpoenas and hearings? When you hear these topics, you probably think of current events, right? Well, that may be the case, but North Carolina’s Fourth Provincial Congress, called and led by patriot leaders from April to May 1776, dealt with these issues as well. The congress created a “Committee of Secrecy, Intelligence, and Observation” and gave it the power to compel the attendance of suspected loyalist insurgents and witnesses at hearings. In an effort to quell dissent, the committee could also remove insurgents from their homes and force them to reside in remote locations where they could not “influence” their friends and neighbors. The Committee of Secrecy could even withhold information from the Provincial Congress if they felt it would “tend to defeat the purpose of [the committee’s] appointment.”


Program from UNC - Notre Dame game, 1949

While we all know about Sherman’s march through the Carolinas, we were not as familiar with North Carolina’s November 12, 1949 invasion of New York City. On that day, slightly over 37,000 zealous Tar Heels descended on New York for the football game between UNC and Notre Dame in the unlikely setting of Yankee Stadium. It appears that the Tar Heel incursion into the Big Apple caused quite a stir. According to the New York Times account, the pre-game festivities of “the Southern forces [have] turned the midtown into a neon-lighted campus.” The spirited UNC fans also “staged a rally that was enthusiastic even by Times Square standards.”

Entering the game undefeated and as the nation’s top-ranked team, Notre Dame proved to be too powerful for the underdog Tar Heels. While the Daily Tar Heel reported that North Carolina “played with utter contempt for the greatness that is Notre Dame,” the Heels ultimately lost to the Irish by a score of 42-6. The DTH went on to report that the exuberant North Carolina fans’ “traditional end-of-game singing of ‘Hark the Sound’ came out with such gusto that several thousand of the rabid New York fans stopped dead in their usually hurried tracks” to listen.

Of Radio and Rain

As an undergraduate I took a “Weather and Climate” class, which I have to admit was one of my favorites. I don’t remember everything we discussed, but I definitely do remember that precipitation has nothing to do with radio waves in the air. This fact was called to doubt, however, as I was reviewing the Biblical Recorder (which was and is published in Raleigh) for another subject. In its “Current Topics” section for 2 June 1926 I found a piece titled “Is the Radio to Blame?” In the late spring of 1926, sections of the United States were experiencing a severe drought–the worst in forty years, and the Recorder reports that Thomas Edison blamed radio waves for the lack of rain. He believed that “moisture [was] being absorbed from the air by the radio, thus preventing the formation of rain clouds.” The Recorder went on to say that coming from Edison this theory was worthy of consideration and “it would be better to abolish [the radio] than have the earth parched as it has been for the past two months.”

Books in Burnsville

Does any other state have as many literary festivals as North Carolina? We knew about the big North Carolina Literary Festival held every other year in the Triangle, and the annual Novello Festival in Charlotte, but we just learned about another one. The Carolina Mountains Literary Festival will be held September 15-16 in Burnsville. They have an impressive number of authors scheduled to attend, including Sharyn McCrumb, Joan Medlicott, and John Ehle.

Davidson, Davidson, Hertford, Hertford…???

Recently, I attempted to give a short geography lesson to a new resident of North Carolina. As we were discussing the locations of various counties and cities, I was reminded of how many towns and cities were not in the county one would suspect. To name a few….

  • Davidson (town) is not in Davidson County…it is in Mecklenburg County.
  • Henderson (town) is not in Henderson County…it is in Vance County.
  • Hertford (town) is not in Hertford County…it is in Perquimans County.
  • Lenoir (town) is not in Lenoir County…it is in Caldwell County.
  • Rockingham (town) is not in Rockingham County…it is in Richmond County.
  • Yanceyville (town) is not in Yancey County…it is in Caswell County.
  • Neither Asheboro nor Asheville is in Ashe County. They are (respectively) in Randolph and Buncombe Counties.

I am not sure of the reason or reasons behind this, though I have had at least one idea emailed to me. If you’ve got a theory, float it our way.

George City, Capital of North Carolina?

Tower Hill

During much of North Carolina’s colonial period, the capital of the colony depended on where the governor lived—and that was wherever he wanted to reside. In the 1750s, however, colonial governor Arthur Dobbs attempted to establish a permanent capital on land that he owned in Johnston County (now northeastern Lenoir County). In 1758 the legislature approved an act to purchase the 850-acre “Tower Hill” plantation from Dobbs for the new seat of government. (Conflict of interest? Maybe. Though Dobbs did offer to sell the land for the same amount he paid for it—plus interest.) The new capital was to be called “George City” in honor of King George II. North Carolina’s attempt at flattery was ignored, and the British government did not approve the legislation authorizing the town.

June 1870: The “Kirk-Holden” War

This Month in North Carolina History

Broadside published by the Randolph County Executive Committee of the Republican Party on June 1, 1870. Find it in the North Carolina Collection.

On June 6, 1870, Governor William Woods Holden, a Republican from Wake County, issued a five-hundred-dollar reward for the arrest or information leading to the capture of individuals involved in the deaths of John W. “Chicken” Stephens, Wyatt Outlaw, and several other North Carolinians.

The proclamation, which also detailed various other acts of violence against African Americans and white Republicans, attributed the crimes to the Ku Klux Klan and was one of the many events leading to the “Kirk-Holden War.”

Following its formation in the aftermath of the Civil War, the Klan quickly spread across the South. In North Carolina, the Klan was not a monolithic organization; rather, it was a loose conglomeration of secret societies, which used terror and vigilante tactics in an attempt to reverse Republican electoral success and maintain white supremacy. While Klan activity occurred throughout North Carolina, it was particularly active in the Piedmont counties of Alamance and Caswell. Governor Holden attempted to use local authorities to control the violence, but in many cases county and community leaders were members of the Klan or sympathetic to its activities.

As events began to spiral out of control, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the “Shoffner Act,” introduced by Alamance County Republican senator T. M. Shoffner. The law enabled the governor to declare a county “to be in a state of insurrection, and to call into active service the militia of the state to such an extent as may become necessary to suppress such insurrection” if the local officials were incapable–or unwilling–to do so. Holden declared martial law in Alamance County on March 7, 1870, and in Caswell County on July 8.

Holden selected former Union colonel and cavalry leader George W. Kirk, who was born and raised in Greene County, Tennessee, to lead the state militia troops. Kirk’s infamy and reputation as a Union “bushwhacker,” whose Federal units terrorized Southern mountain communities, resonated deeply throughout the state. The newly constituted force of state militia, predominately consisting of men from eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, arrived in Alamance and Caswell Counties in July and arrested over 100 individuals, mostly without incident.

The prisoners were jailed in Caswell County, while awaiting trial before a special military court. Holden and Kirk ignored writs of habeas corpus that were issued by a state judge, and the defendants and their supporters turned to the federal judiciary for assistance. Support for the governor’s controversial measures faltered, and President Ulysses S. Grant warned Holden that the national government would no longer support his actions. The suspected Klan leaders and members were released in late August, and, in November, Alamance and Caswell Counties were declared to no longer be in a state of insurrection.

The events of the “Kirk-Holden War,” as it came to be called by those opposed to Governor Holden’s actions, and the subsequent electoral collapse of the state Republican Party in 1870 were substantial factors in the December 1870 impeachment and March 1871 conviction of Holden.

Suggestions For Further Reading:

William C. Harris. William Woods Holden: Firebrand of North Carolina Politics. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

Carole Watterson Troxler and William Murray Vincent. Shuttle & Plow: A History of Alamance County, North Carolina. Alamance County Historical Association, Inc., 1999.

William S. Powell. When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County, North Carolina, 1777-1977. Durham: Moore Publishing Company, 1977.

State of North Carolina. Trial of William W. Holden: Governor of North Carolina, Before the Senate of North Carolina, On Impeachment by the House of Representatives for High Crimes and Misdemeanors. Raleigh: “Sentinel” Printing Office, 1871.

William Woods Holden. Memoirs of W. W. Holden. Durham: The Seeman Printery, 1911. Also available on Documenting the American South.