November 1920: Exum Clement

This Month in North Carolina History

Article about Lillian Exum Clement

On November 2, 1920, Lillian Exum Clement of Buncombe County was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives, becoming the first woman in the history of the state to be elected to the legislature. Although only twenty-six years old at the time, it was not the first of Clement’s firsts.

Clement was born near Black Mountain, and raised there and in Biltmore. She attended local schools and the Asheville Business College. After her formal schooling was done, but still eager for education and experience, she began work in the Buncombe County sheriff’s office while studying law in her spare time. Clement was admitted to the bar and began practicing law in 1917, the first woman in the state to open her own practice. One of the local judges gave her the nickname “Brother Exum,” which stuck with her for the rest of her career.

Clement quickly gained a reputation as a competent criminal lawyer and after several years of a successful practice, she decided to run for office. This was a bold decision, considering that at the time of the Democratic primary, the 19th Amendment had yet to be ratified and women would not vote in the election. Running against two men in the primary, Clement won by just 83 votes over her closest competitor. With the Democratic party firmly in control of the state, the general election was a mere formality, and Clement was swept into office by a commanding margin.

Once she reached Raleigh for the 1921 legislative session, Clement was not content with just being there. She was an active participant in the House, introducing at least seventeen bills, many of which were passed. Although one of her first bills — proposing private voting booths for elections — was defeated (some argued that other legislators opposed the bill because it would be impossible to bribe or intimidate voters if you couldn’t see them cast their ballots), Clement was successful in passing bills requiring testing of dairy herds and sanitary dairy barns and decreasing the number of years of abandonment required for a decree of divorce.

After her marriage in 1921, Clement decided not to run for office a second time. She was active in local civic groups and was a director of the state hospital in Morganton. Clement died of pneumonia in 1925.


Sources
Alice R. Cotten, “Stafford, Lilliam Exum Clement.” In Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, vol. 5. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

“Woman Legislator Travels Long Way To Capitol.” Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, N.C.), May 8, 1960. In North Carolina Collection Clipping File through 1975: biography, vol. 28, pp. 753-755.

Image Source:
News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), January 6, 1921.

October 1954: Hurricane Hazel

This Month in North Carolina HistoryPhoto by Roland Giduz of tree fallen on car in Chapel Hill

Fifty years ago this month, North Carolina was hit by Hurricane Hazel, at the time the greatest natural disaster in the state’s history. On the morning of October 15, 1954, Hazel slammed into the coast near the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, a strong category four storm packing winds of 155 miles per hour. Beachfront property along the southeastern coast was decimated, leaving entire sections where not a single structure was left standing. The storm moved due north, continuing to inflict damage. In Wilson, there were gusts of up to one hundred miles per hour and even in Chapel Hill, more than 150 miles from the coast, the storm remained strong, bringing sixty-eight mile per hour winds, uprooting trees, destroying homes, and dumping about four and a half inches of rain on the town.

The damage done by Hazel was catastrophic. Nineteen North Carolinians were killed, fifteen thousand buildings were destroyed, and thirty-nine thousand more were damaged. Thirty North Carolina counties were affected by the storm. Although some recent hurricanes have rivaled Hazel in the amount of damage measured in financial terms, none have topped its strength. In the fifty years since Hazel, no other storm at a strength of category four or higher has reached North Carolina.

Map showing path of Hurricane Hazel


Suggestions for Further Reading
Jay Barnes, North Carolina’s Hurricane History. Third edition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

“Hurricane Hazel Was Biggest Catastrophe Ever to Hit N.C.” Durham Morning Herald (Durham, N.C.), October 24, 1954.

“Town Pulls Through Hurricane, But Damage is Heavy.” Chapel Hill News Leader (Chapel Hill, N.C.), October 18, 1954.

Image Source:
Chapel Hill in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel. Photograph by Roland Giduz, 1954. Roland Giduz Collection, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

September 1987: The Blue Ridge Parkway

This Month in North Carolina History

The dedication of the last section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, including the spectacular Linn Cove Viaduct at Grandfather Mountain, in September 1987, marked the completion of one of America’s most popular scenic roads.Image of car on dirt road

Running 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great SmokyMountains National Park on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, the Parkway was a notable public works project of the Great Depression and the fulfillment of a dream first promoted by Joseph Hyde Pratt, State Geologist of North Carolina.

Pratt advocated construction of a “Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway” and between 1909 and 1912 surveyed the North Carolina portion of a road that would run from Marion, Virginia, to Tallulah Falls, Georgia. The photograph on this page shows a car on the “Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway” in 1911. Pratt was ahead of his time in recognizing the potential economic impact of automobile tourism and foresaw the scenic appeal of the mountains of western North Carolina for vacationing Americans. The one short portion of the “Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway” which was actually constructed was later incorporated into the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Pratt’s surveys are remarkably close to the final location of the great mountain road.


Suggestions for Further Reading
Jolley, Harley E. The Blue Ridge Parkway. Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1969.

Buxton, Barry M. and Stephen M. Beatty, eds. Blue Ridge Parkway: agent of transition: proceedings of the Blue Ridge Parkway Golden Anniversary Conference. Boone, NC.: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1986.

Image Source:
“On the Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway, the Grove Road, Up the Mountain, East of Asheville, N.C.” In Southern Good Roads, January 1912, p. 8.

August 1751: North Carolina’s First Newspaper

This Month in North Carolina History

nc gazette masthead

It took a long time for the news to reach North Carolina.

The first American printing press began operation in Massachusetts in 1638, with the first newspaper in the colonies published in Boston in 1690. North Carolina, which lacked the busy ports and bustling commercial centers of many of the other colonies, was a littler slower to develop. Early eighteenth-century North Carolinians had to wait weeks and in most cases months for their news to arrive in papers from Northern cities or from England. Even when newspapers were established in South Carolina in 1732 and Virginia in 1736, North Carolinians did not rush to establish a press.

It was not until 1749, when the legislature decided that the colony needed a press of its own to print currency and laws, that James Davis, an experienced printer from Virginia, was hired and brought to set up shop in New Bern. Later that year Davis issued his first title, “The journal of the House of Burgesses of the Province of North-Carolina,” the first work to be printed in North Carolina.

Davis served as official printer of the colony for thirty-three years, though his work was not limited to official publications. In August 1751 he published the first issue of The North Carolina Gazette , North Carolina’s first newspaper. Although it looks very different from the papers we’re used to today, the Gazette was a typical eighteenth-century newspaper. It contained a wide range of articles, many reprinted from other papers. Essays, laws, and unsigned or pseudonymous editorials took up the first couple of pages.

Local news, if it was included at all, was often relegated to inside pages, and advertisements and announcements appeared throughout. Although the Gazette offered, according to its masthead, “the freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic,” the freshness of the news was debatable. A typical issue might include stories reprinted from other papers as many as four or five months old.

After the Gazette was established, newspapers began to appear slowly across the state, with other papers founded in the larger eastern cities of Wilmington, Fayetteville, and Halifax. By the end of the eighteenth-century, Hillsborough, Raleigh, and even Salisbury, in what was then considered the far western end of the state, had newspapers.

davis

James Davis originally published the North-Carolina Gazette from 1751 until around 1760. He began a new newspaper, The North-Carolina Magazine; Or Universal Intelligencer in 1764 and published this until around 1768. In May 1768 he started over again, this time returning to his original title. The new North-Carolina Gazette lasted until 1778.


Suggestions for Further Reading:

Robert N. Elliott, Jr., “James Davis.” In Dictionary of North Carolina Biography , vol. 2, edited by William S. Powell. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

Robert N. Elliott, Jr., “James Davis and the Beginning of the Newspaper in North Carolina.” North Carolina Historical Review 42, no. 1 (Winter 1965): 1-20.

Watson, Alan D. “The Role of Printing in Eighteenth-Century North Carolina.” Carolina Comments 48, no. 3 (May 2000): 75-83.

Image Source:

North-Carolina Gazette, August 1, 1777. Masthead.

July 1833: Frankie Silver Hanged

This Month in North Carolina History

frankieOne of the few certainties about Frankie Silver is that she was hanged for the murder of her husband Charlie in Morganton, North Carolina on July 12, 1833. Many of the other facts surrounding their married life, the murder in 1831, the reasons for the crime, and the drama leading up to Frankie’s death are shrouded in 170 years of myth and folklore. The story has been told in ballads, “true-crime” magazine articles, plays, ballets, books, essays, documentaries, and countless newspaper articles. The story continues to hold the imagination of many.

According to the most common version of the story…

Frankie killed Charlie in a fit of jealous rage three days before Christmas 1831. She suspected him of infidelity with another man’s wife and decided to exact her revenge as he lay sleeping on the floor with their baby girl. Quietly removing the child from his arms, she then struck Charlie’s head with an axe. The first blow, however, did not immediately kill him and he thrashed around the house mortally wounded. Frankie hid under the covers of their bed, eventually coming out when she heard his body hit the floor. She then took another swing with the axe, this time completely severing his head. Frankie attempted to conceal the evidence of the murder by chopping the body into pieces and burning them in the cabin’s fireplace. Following this all-night affair, Frankie went to a relative’s house the next morning to announce that Charlie had gone hunting and had not returned.

A search of the frozen river and surrounding countryside did not locate Charlie. A distressed Silver family brought in a slave “conjure man” from Tennessee to divine the location of Charlie. Using a glass ball dangled from a piece of string, the conjure man determined that the missing man was still in his cabin. A thorough investigation of the home and surrounding area revealed bits and pieces of charred bone, a heel iron from Charlie’s shoe, and a pool of dried blood under the puncheon floor. Frankie was immediately arrested.

Frankie was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die by hanging. After a failed appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court, she broke out of jail with the help of her family. The sheriff and his posse eventually caught up to Frankie, who was disguised as a man and walking behind her uncle’s wagon. She was returned to prison and her execution was set for July 12, 1833.

When the day arrived, she was led to the scaffold. The sheriff asked if she had anything she wanted to say. Before she could answer, her father yelled, “Die with it in ye, Frankie!” However, she told the sheriff that she did have something to say, but she wanted to sing it instead. After she finished her lonely ballad, the noose was placed around her neck, and she became the first woman to be hanged in North Carolina.

How much of the Frankie Silver legend is true? No one is quite sure. According to recent research, only a few of the commonly accepted bits of the story can be told with certainty. Charles Silver was murdered sometime before Christmas in 1831. After a search of the home, evidence indicated that Frankie had committed the crime with the possible help of her mother and brother. All three were arrested, but only Frankie was indicted for the murder. On March 30, 1832, Frankie was found guilty. The case was immediately appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court, but the appeal failed. Frankie was to be executed during the county court’s 1832 fall term.

The fall term came and went without the judge showing up, so Frankie was spared until the spring of 1833. At that session of court, the judge sentenced her to die on June 28, 1833. On May 18, however, she escaped from the jail in Morganton, only to be caught in Rutherford County and returned to prison a few days later. As the date grew near, the governor postponed the execution for two weeks, but petitions to save her life failed and on July 12, 1833, she was hanged in Morganton.

Frankie’s tale–fact or legend–continues to inspire storytellers. From Sharyn McCrumb’s novel The Ballad of Frankie Silver (1998) and a Swiss dance company’s ballet by the same name (1996), to William Gregg and Perry Dean Young’s play Frankie (2001) , the legend lives on.

fsconf

fsconfession


Suggestions for further reading/viewing:
Daniel W. Patterson. A Tree Accurst: Bobby McMillon and Stories of Frankie Silver. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Perry Deane Young. The Untold Story of Frankie Silver: Was She Unjustly Hanged?. Asheboro, N.C.: Down Home Press, 1998.

Clifton K. Avery, ed. Official Court Record of the Trial, Conviction and Execution of Francis Silvers. Morganton, N.C.: The News-Herald, 1969.

The Ballad of Frankie Silver: Reflections on a Murder: With an Epilogue, The Making of a Ballad Singer [videocassette]. Directed by Tom Davenport; Produced by Dan Patterson, Beverly Patterson. Delaplane, Va.: Davenport Films, 1990.

Additional online resource:
Haines, Don. “Tragic Ends: Frankie and Charlie Silver,” Blue Ridge Country. July 1, 2001.

Image Sources:
Lenoir Topic (Lenoir, N.C.), March 24, 1886. Please click on the image for a larger view.

Star and North Carolina Gazette (Raleigh, N.C.), August 2, 1833.

June 1929: Strike at Loray Mill

This Month in North Carolina History

loraygunsThe authorities couldn’t tell for certain who shot Gastonia, N.C. police chief Orville Aderholt on June 7, 1929, so they arrested nearly everyone at the scene. Seventy-one people were detained, all of them organizers for or members of the National Textile Workers Union, whose camp Aderholt was visiting when he was killed. The trial received national attention. Members of the media, like many locals, were divided as to whether the strike at the Loray Mill, which had begun earlier that spring, represented an honest effort by workers to improve their conditions or a dangerous plot by Northern Communists to infiltrate the South.

The textile industry in North Carolina was booming in the first decades of the 20th-century. New mills opened all over the Piedmont while old ones expanded. Investors from other parts of the country poured money into the region, taking advantage of one of the South’s most important resources: cheap and abundant labor. The authors of a pamphlet issued by the Seaboard Air Line Railway around 1924 made a compelling case for bringing textile businesses south. “Labor is the South’s greatest inducement to the textile industry,” they wrote. “It would be difficult to find in any industry in the north or west more intelligent people than those comprising the operatives of our southern mills.” Workers in the region, they claimed, faced longer hours, less pay, raised much of their own food, were protected by fewer labor laws, and even needed less clothing than their counterparts in Northern states.

By the late 1920s, mill owners faced increased competition and a declining economy. They tried to cut down on costs by applying the new principles of scientific management, reducing the labor force by ensuring that each worker was as efficient as possible. This practice of requiring more work in the same time period period without raising (and often reducing) pay was known by mill workers as “the stretch-out.”

Union organizers saw the textile industry as the perfect place to gain a foothold in a region that had previously resisted organized labor. The National Textile Workers Union (NTWU), formed in Massachusetts in 1928, planned to start its work in the South with one mill in North Carolina, in hopes that a single strike would inspire sympathetic walkouts at other mills throughout the state. Fred Beal, an NTWU organizer, arrived in the North Carolina in early 1929 and began to look for a mill where labor conditions were poor enough, and workers were eager enough, to form a union. By the spring of that year, he had found it.

The Loray Mill in Gastonia was one of the largest in the state. The size of the mill, and the fact that it was owned by a textile company in Rhode Island, led Beal and others to believe that workers at Loray might respond to a call for unionization. Many workers did join the union, and the company responded by firing five union members in late May 1929. In response to the firings, the union members voted to strike. On April 1, close to 1,800 workers refused to return to the mill until their demands were met. The mill owners refused to negotiate, and by the end of the month, many of the strikers could not hold out any longer and returned to work. But that didn’t mean that the troubles were over.

loraylargeA few hundred workers remained on the picket line even after being evicted from their mill-owned homes and forced to live in a tent village put up by the union. There were frequent scuffles between strikers and local men who were sworn in as deputies solely for the purpose of subduing them. The hostilities reached their apex on June 7, 1929, when deputies broke up a picket line composed largely of women and children. The deputies and other police officers then went to the tent village, shots were fired, and the Gastonia police chief, Orville F. Aderholt, was killed.

Sixteen union members were tried for the murder of Aderholt and were released when a mistrial was declared in September 1929. The troubles in Gastonia continued. At a large rally of union workers on September 14, 1929, Ella May Wiggins, a popular speaker known for her ballads in support of working women, was killed. Wiggins’s death helped bring attention and sympathy to the plight of the mill workers, but it was not enough to secure a victory for the unions. Although workers received some relief from federal and state legislation in the 1930s, employers were successful in keeping unions out of the state, a legacy that has continued to the present. As of 2003, only 3.1 percent of North Carolina’s workers were members of unions, the lowest representation in the United States.


Suggestions for Further Reading
John A. Salmond, Gastonia 1929: The Story of the Loray Mill Strike. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Joe A. Mobley, ed. The Way We Lived in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Mary E. Frederickson, “Ella May Wiggins.” In Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, vol. 6. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

The South: Your Textile Opportunity. Savannah, Ga.: Seaboard Airline Railway, [1924].

Image Source:
Charlotte Observer, June 9, 1929. Used with permission of The Charlotte Observer. Copyright owned by The Charlotte Observer.

May 1969: Howard Lee

This Month in North Carolina History

 

Howard Lee

“The placid, academic retreat of Chapel Hill, N.C., has always been something of an anomaly in the South.”
Newsweek, May 19, 1969.

Whenever Chapel Hill, North Carolina elected a new mayor, few people outside of the small college town paid much attention. But when the 1969 mayoral race came to a close, newspapers and magazines from around the state, nation, and world reported the news. Time and Newsweek ran profiles of the new mayor and his photograph appeared prominently in a West German newspaper. Why all the fuss? When the votes were counted and the election was certified, on May 6, 1969, Howard Lee became the first African American mayor elected in a predominantly white southern town since Reconstruction.

Lee had lived in Chapel Hill only five years when he decided to run for mayor. He moved to North Carolina from his native Georgia in 1964 to attend the University of North Carolina. Lee earned a master’s degree in Social Work in 1966 and was hired to direct a research program at Duke.

When Lee and his wife began to look for a home, they found that, despite the town’s progressive reputation, race was still very much an issue in Chapel Hill. The Lees encountered white residents who were reluctant to have an African American family move into their neighborhood, and realtors who hesitated to show them homes in white subdivisions. When, after six months of searching, they were finally able to purchase a home in the Colony Woods neighborhood, they received harassing phone calls and a cross was burned on their front lawn. The experience inspired Lee to enter local politics.

The 1969 race for mayor set records. The 4,734 votes cast were the most in town history, and included a record turnout from the Chapel Hill’s African American community, which made up nearly ten percent of the population. The race was close: Lee’s margin of victory – about 400 votes – was the smallest on record for a municipal election. He defeated Roland Giduz, a former newspaper editor and long-time member of the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen.

Lee served three terms as mayor of Chapel Hill. He received 64 percent of the vote in the 1971 election, and 89 percent in 1973. Lee ran for Congress in 1972 and for lieutenant governor in 1976, and though he lost both races in the Democratic primaries, his career in politics was far from over. He was appointed as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Community Development in 1977 and served in the state senate from 1990-1994 and 1996-2002. Lee is currently the chair of the State Board of Education, the first African American to hold that position.


Sources:

Howard Lee campaign materials. In North Carolina Collection Biographical Clippings, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Childs, Jack, “Negro Wins in Chapel Hill.” News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), May 7, 1969.

Bridgette A. Lacy, “On His Honor.” News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), February 20, 1995.

Shinkle, Kevin. “Lee Mulls Run Against Sen. Helms.” The Chapel Hill Newspaper, September 25, 1989.

 

Image source:

Howard Lee campaign brochure, 1969. North Carolina Collection Biographical Clippings. North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

April 1896: Reed Gold Mine

This Month in North Carolina History

goldminingAfter nearly a century of production, the Reed Gold Mine in Cabarrus County had been pretty much exhausted. By the end of the 19th century, most prospectors had left for more promising sites in Colorado and Alaska. Jake Shinn was one of a few hopeful miners remaining in North Carolina. On April 9, 1896, Shinn had dug only about three feet deep when he hit something hard. He pulled a big rock out of the ground, shouted, “Boys, I’ve got it!” and rushed to wash off the dirt. The other miners, accustomed to false alarms, paid little attention to Shinn until he returned from the creek carrying a 22-pound gold nugget. At the time of its discovery, it was said to be worth about $4,800; at today’s gold prices, that single rock would sell for more than $100,000.

The first documented discovery of gold in North Carolina occurred nearly a half century before the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California touched off the nation’s most famous gold rush. John Reed (born Johannes Reith) arrived in America as a Hessian soldier in the service of the British Army during the Revolutionary War. After he left the army he settled on a farm in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, about 20 miles from Charlotte. In 1799, Reed’s son Conrad found a shiny yellow rock in the creek on the family property. The rock was used as a doorstop for several years until Reed took it to a jeweler in Fayetteville who informed him that he had been holding open his door with a 17-pound gold nugget. The jeweler offered to purchase it at whatever price Reed named, which he did, leaving the farmer to return home three dollars and fifty cents richer.

Reed soon realized that he had let his soon-to-be famous doorstop go for significantly less than it was worth, but he knew that there were other yellow rocks in his creek. Reed formed a partnership with a few others and began a mining company. The Reed Gold Mine was significant not only for being the first American gold mine, but also for the size of the nuggets that it produced. The largest one, found by a slave named Peter in 1803, was said to weigh 28 pounds. Gold fever struck the state. By 1830 there were 56 gold mines and gold mining was second only to agriculture in the number of North Carolinians it employed. A map of North Carolina circa 1849 prominently featured an inset map of the “Gold Region,” and long before California earned the nickname, North Carolina was known as the “Golden State.” Jake Shinn’s discovery in 1896 renewed interest in the lagging mining industry, but his was the last big strike. Gold mining in the state dwindled through the 20th century until the last operation closed in 1964.

The Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site is now operated by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History and is open to the public. The North Carolina Collection Gallery, in Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has a small exhibit on the state’s gold mining history, including a display of rare Bechtler gold coins, which were minted in North Carolina in the mid-1800s.


Sources
Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site, Stanfield, N.C. http://www.nchistoricsites.org/reed/reed.htm

Richard F. Knapp and Brent D. Glass, Gold Mining in North Carolina: A Bicentennial History . Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1999.

Richard F. Knapp, “Golden Promise in the Piedmont: The Story of John Reed’s Mine.” North Carolina Historical Review 52 (January 1975), pages 1-19.

Image Source:
“People seeking for Gold in North Carolina.” In Samuel Griswold Goodrich, The First Book of History for Children and Youth. Boston: Carter, Hendee, and Co., 1833, p. 75.

March 1825: Lafayette Visits Fayetteville

This Month in North Carolina History

Detail of John MacRae, “This Plate of the Town of Fayetteville North Carolina so called in honor of that distinguished Patriot and Philanthropist Genl. La Fayette is respectfully dedicated to him by the Publisher.” Fayetteville, N.C.: [1825].

Early 19th-century North Carolina was not a place that international celebrities were likely to visit. Lacking large and cosmopolitan cities and with a primarily agricultural economy, North Carolina was well on its way to earning the nickname, “the Rip Van Winkle state.” So it was no small thing when North Carolinians learned, in November 1824, about the impending visit of an aging Frenchman with the impressive name of Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.

Lafayette’s story would have been known to most Americans in 1824. Lafayette was a young officer in the French Royal Army when he first learned of the American Revolution in 1775. He was so inspired by the rebellion of the colonists against what he saw as the tyrannical oppression of the British that he left France to join the Continental Army. Lafayette began as a volunteer on George Washington’s staff and soon developed a close friendship with the American General. With Washington’s help and counsel, Lafayette rose to the rank of Major-General, leading Continental forces in the successful battle at Yorktown in 1781.

For the remainder of his life, Lafayette continued to fight and argue for the principles of freedom and liberty that were behind the American Revolution. When Lafayette accepted President James Monroe’s invitation to return to the United States for the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the American Revolution, he was the oldest living Revolutionary War Major-General.

After spending time in New England and Washington, D.C., Lafayette began his long tour through the states, bringing him south through Virginia and eventually to North Carolina. He stopped in Halifax, where the North Carolina delegation that endorsed a declaration of independence from England met in 1776, and then went to Raleigh, where he was received by Governor Hutchins Gordon Burton and attended several dinners and balls in his honor. But by far the largest reception for Lafayette awaited him in Fayetteville.

At the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, the citizens of Campbellton, in Cumberland County, decided to show their appreciation to General Lafayette by changing the name of their town to Fayetteville. It was the first of many American towns to do so. There are now towns or cities named Fayetteville in eight states, ten Lafayettes, and still others named LaGrange in honor of Lafayette’s home in France (including LaGrange, North Carolina, in Lenoir County). The weather was horrible when Lafayette and his entourage neared Fayetteville in early March 1825, but the rain did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds. Lafayette’s secretary remembered the scene:

“On the 4th of March, we reached the pleasant little town of Fayetteville, situated on the western shore of Cape Fear river. The weather was excessively bad; the rain fell in torrents, yet the road for several miles before we reached the place was crowded with men and boys on horseback, and militia on foot; the streets of the town were filled with a throng of ladies, in full dress, hastening across the little streams of water, to approach the General’s carriage, and so much occupied with the pleasure of seeing him that they appeared almost insensible of the deluge which threatened almost to swallow them up. This enthusiasm may be more readily imagined, when it is recollected that it was expressed by the inhabitants of a town founded, about forty years ago, to perpetuate the remembrance of the services rendered by him whom they honored on that day.”

Although he stayed in Fayetteville for only about 24 hours, Lafayette was honored by several banquets and receptions, reviewed countless militia and state troops, and had time to inspect the brand new Lafayette Hotel, hurried to completion in time for his visit. As he prepared to depart for South Carolina, Lafayette offered a toast to the town: “Fayetteville. – May it receive all the encouragements and attain all the prosperity which are anticipated by the fond and grateful wishes of its affectionate and respectful namesake.”


Sources
Stanley J. Idzerda, “Marquis de Lafayette.” In American National Biography, edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. Volume 13. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Marian Klamkin, The Return of Lafayette, 1824-1825. New York: Scribner’s, 1975.

Auguste Levasseur, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825; or, Journal of Travels, in the United States. New York: White, Gallaher & White, 1829, vol. 2, p. 44. Levasseur was Lafayette’s secretary during his American trip.

Marshall DeLancey Haywood, “The Visit of General Lafayette to North Carolina in 1825.” The American Historical Register, May 1897.

Image Source:
John MacRae, “This Plate of the Town of Fayetteville North Carolina so called in honor of that distinguished Patriot and Philanthropist Genl. La Fayette is respectfully dedicated to him by the Publisher.” Fayetteville, N.C.: [1825]. Detail. North Carolina Collection.

February 1820: Bunkum

This Month in North Carolina History

Asheville and the Land of the Sky tourist brochure

On February 25, 1820, during the contentious debate over the Missouri Compromise, Representative Felix Walker from North Carolina rose to speak before Congress. Walker’s speech was rambling, had little relevance to the immediate debate, and several members tried to cut him off. Walker refused to yield the floor, informing his colleagues that his speech was not intended for Congress, but for his constituents at home in Buncombe County. His statement was reprinted in a Washington paper the next day and the phrase “speaking for Buncombe” began to be used by other Congressmen and by journalists describing frivolous, self-serving speeches.

The word “buncombe,” often misspelled as “bunkum,” soon came to refer to any sort of spurious or questionable statement. The word must have been widely used, for when it first appeared in a dictionary in 1848, bunkum was said to be a “very useful and expressive word, which is now as well understood as any in our language.” By the 20th-century, the abbreviated version “bunk,” meaning nonsense or silliness, began to appear in speech and in print. In 1916 Henry Ford was quoted as saying “History is more or less bunk.”

Asheville, North Carolina, in the “land of the sky,” is the seat of Buncombe County. The image shown here is from a tourist brochure published by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce in 1922 .


Suggestions for Further Reading

Archibald Henderson, “Man Who Gave Us ‘Bunkum’ Deserves More of Historians.” Durham Herald-Sun, April 13, 1941. In North Carolina Collection clipping file through 1975 : biography, pp. 729-730

John Russell Bartlett, A Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States. New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1848.