August 1887: The Goophered Grapevine

This Month in North Carolina History

“The Goophered Grapevine” is the first story in The Conjure Woman, published in 1900. North Carolina Collection.

In August of 1887 “The Goophered Grapevine,” a short story by Charles Waddell Chesnutt appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. It was the first story by an African American ever printed in that respected magazine and marked the emergence of Chesnutt on the American literary scene. Chesnutt’s father, Andrew Jackson Chesnutt, had been born a mixed-race, free person of color in Fayetteville, North Carolina, but had moved his family to Cleveland, Ohio, where Charles Chesnutt was born.

After the Civil War, the elder Chesnutt returned to Fayetteville with his family to open a grocery store. Charles Chesnutt spent seventeen years of his life in North Carolina gaining what formal instruction he could and beginning an ambitious program of self-education. He married Susan Perry of Fayetteville and began a family. After several years as a teacher and school principal, Chesnutt left the state with his wife and children and ultimately returned to Cleveland where he established a successful career as a stenographer and attorney. Chesnutt was determined to provide for his family through his stenographic business, but he was also drawn to literature and writing.

While in North Carolina he had collected ideas for characters and tales from the African American community around him and in the 1880s began submitting stories to the popular press. Although his first efforts were derivative of popular fiction of the day, Chesnutt returned to his roots for “The Goophered Grapevine.” In the short story, set in eastern North Carolina, a northern, white visitor describes a conversation with Uncle Julius McAdoo, an old freedman, who tells a strange tale of a cursed grapevine in his African American dialect.

“The Goophered Grapevine” resembles the plantation fiction of such popular authors as Thomas Nelson Page, but while Page wrote sentimentally of the love of ex-slaves for their white masters and the good life of the old plantation, Chesnutt wrote of African Americans who viewed the antebellum world in which they had lived with less affection and more honesty. Uncle Julius is a shrewd man with a hidden agenda. His former master was both gullible and comically dishonest, and surrounding the world of slave and master is “conjure,” a mixture of superstition and magic. “The Goophered Grapevine” is Chesnutt’s most anthologized work and appears as one of several similar stories in his first book, The Conjure Woman.

Chesnutt continued to write short stories but devoted himself particularly to novels in which he dealt more seriously with the interaction of race and southern society. Although his work was critically well received, he never achieved financial independence as an author, and in the latter part of his life Chesnutt devoted himself to writing speeches and essays on racism in the United States. His literary reputation declined in his lifetime, but modern critics place Charles Chesnutt in the first rank of African American and southern writers.


William L. Andrews. The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.

Charles W. Chesnutt. The Conjure Woman. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1900. Available online from Documenting the American South.

Jesse S. Crisler; Robert C. Leitz, III; and Joseph R. McElrath, Jr., An Exemplary Citizen: Letters of Charles W. Chesnutt, 1906-1932. Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002.

Julian Mason. “Chesnutt, Charles Waddell.” In American National Biography, vol. 4. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

July 1937: The Lost Colony

This Month in North Carolina History

Program from the first “Lost Colony” production, 1937.

On the 4th of July, 1937, a new form of American drama was born on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, as a part of the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first English settlers in North America. The Roanoke Island Historical Association, led by W. O. Saunders, editor of the Elizabeth City Independent, and D. B Fearing, a state Senator from Dare County, approached Pulitizer Prize-winning North Carolina author Paul Green about writing a play on the Roanoke settlement of 1587.

Saunders, on a recent trip to Germany, had seen the outdoor religious plays at Oberammergau in Bavaria and wanted something similar for North Carolina. Green, as a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had been encouraged by his mentor, Professor Frederick Koch, to draw literary inspiration from local history and folklore.

In fact, some years earlier, Green had written a one-act play based on the Roanoke Island experience. Although he considered the play a failure, Green had been inspired by a visit to the island at the time and readily took on the job of writing the new play. Green envisioned a production that would combine drama, music, dance, and pageantry all in a sweeping outdoor setting. He called his creation The Lost Colony: A Symphonic Drama of American History.

Conceived in the depth of the Depression, when supporting funds were hard to find, The Lost Colony was made possible ultimately as a cooperative effort by local people and several state and federal agencies.

Workers from the Roanoke Island camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps build the open-air Waterside Theatre where the play was performed and later several of them joined the cast. The Rockefeller Foundation gave an organ to provide musical accompaniment. The Playmakers of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provided lighting and other technical assistance and also supplied the director, Samuel Selden. Actors came from the Federal Theatre Project and from among the islanders themselves. The project had the support of North Carolina’s U. S. Senator, Josiah William Bailey and Congressman Lindsay Warren. The U. S. Postal Service issued a stamp to publicize the event and the Treasury minted a commemorative half-dollar which the Roanoke Island Historical Society was allowed to sell for $1.50 to raise money.

Program from the 1952 "Lost Colony" featuring Andy Griffith as Sir Walter Raleigh.
Program from the 1952 “Lost Colony” featuring Andy Griffith as Sir Walter Raleigh.

The drama and the setting were ready. The question remained, would anybody come? Getting to Roanoke Island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks in 1937 was a challenge. From the North it involved a ferry ride, several miles on a “floating road” over a swamp, and the rest of the way on packed sand roads.

The “easier” route from the west consisted of miles of graded dirt roads and two ferry trips. Nevertheless, approximately 2,500 people attended the first performance of The Lost Colony, and by the end of the summer attendance stood at about 50,000, including President Franklin Roosevelt.

Originally, the play was scheduled to run only for the Summer of 1937. It had been so popular, however, and such a boon to the local economy that it returned in 1938 and by the end of the next year it was being seen by 100,000 people a season. Except for four years during World War II, The Lost Colony has played every summer, becoming an institution on the North Carolina coast and in the American theater. It is one of the mainstays of the island’s economy and has been a training ground for young actors and theater technicians around the country.

Alumni of The Lost Colony include Andy Griffith, Chris Elliot, Eileen Fulton, Carl Kasell, William Ivey Long, and Joe Layton. The Lost Colony also set the pattern for dozens of similar productions, usually referred to as outdoor dramas, staged from Florida to Alaska.


“The Lost Colony” [editorial], The Carolina Play-Book, vol. XII:2 (June, 1939).

Anthony F. Merrill, “Miracle at Manteo,” The Carolina Play-Book, vol. XII:2 (June, 1939).

Green, Paul, The Lost Colony: A Symphonic Drama of American History ; edited with an introduction and a note on the text by Laurence G. Avery, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Federal Theatre Scrapbook, vol. 1, 1935-1937, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. FC812 G79L

“The Lost Colony,” official website,

Image Sources

“The Lost Colony” souvenir program, 1937, cover. North Carolina Collection call number Cp970.1 R62L 1937

“The Lost Colony” souvenir program, 1952, cover. North Carolina Collection call number Cp970.1 R62L 1952

May 1908: Statewide Prohibition

This Month in North Carolina History

"The Sun Will Rise Tomorrow on a State Redeemed from the Whiskey Evil--Saloons and Dispensaries will be Hunting for a City of Refuge," from the News and Observer, May 26, 1908.
“The Sun Will Rise Tomorrow on a State Redeemed from the Whiskey Evil–Saloons and Dispensaries will be Hunting for a City of Refuge,” from the News and Observer, May 26, 1908.

On May 26, 1908, by a referendum vote of 62% to 38%, North Carolina became the first southern state to enact statewide prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

The temperance movement of the antebellum period expressed the concern of many North Carolinians about the social consequences of what was perceived as the wide-spread abuse of wine, beer, and liquor, but the prohibition law of 1908 was the product of a more focused and organized movement which grew in the years following the Civil War. Increasingly after 1865, opposition to the traffic in liquor became a crusade against the saloon, which was depicted as a source of evil and corruption. New or revived organizations such as the Friends of Temperance, the Independent Order of Good Templars, and, most importantly, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, pressed the state legislature for more control over the sale and consumption of alcohol.

The North Carolina General Assembly responded to the pressure in several ways. The sale of alcohol was forbidden near churches or schools. Townships were permitted to call special elections to decide whether or not to allow the licensing of liquor sales in the township, and special legislation prohibited alcohol in specific towns and counties. In 1881 the prohibition forces felt strong enough to seek a state-wide ban on alcohol through a referendum. They had not counted, however, on the strength of the opposition and the proposition failed by a vote of slightly better than three to one.

Over the next twenty years the dry forces improved their organization and allied themselves closely with the Methodist and Baptist Churches which supported prohibition strongly. They were materially aided by the disfranchisement of African Americans in North Carolina after the “White Supremacy” campaigns of the Democratic Party in 1898. With African Americans barred from voting, Democrats no longer feared splitting the white vote over a volatile issue like prohibition. In 1902 the creation of the Anti-Saloon League brought together many of the strands of the prohibition movement into a strong, politically oriented organization.


In 1908 the General Assembly called for a referendum on prohibition which, after an active campaign, the dry forces won.The manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in North Carolina thus ended eleven years before the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution brought prohibition to the entire country.

Daniel Jay Whitener, Prohibition in North Carolina, 1715-1945. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1945.

Clarence Hamilton Poe, The Case for Prohibition in North Carolina. Raleigh, NC: Mutual Publishing Co., [19–?].

Image Source:
The Sun Will Rise Tomorrow on a State Redeemed from the Whiskey Evil–Saloons and Dispensaries will be Hunting for a City of Refuge.” News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 26 May 1908. North Carolina Collection.

April 1899: North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company

This Month in North Carolina History

NCMLlg On the first of April 1899 the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company opened for business in Durham, North Carolina. The first month’s collections, after the payment of commissions, amounted only to $1.12, but from such beginnings North Carolina Mutual grew to be the largest African American managed financial institution in the United States.

Durham at the beginning of the twentieth century was fertile ground for the growth of such an enterprise. Forced out of politics by the successful “White Supremacy” political campaign of 1898, Durham’s African American leaders turned their talents to the business world instead. The African American community of Durham was relatively prosperous and enjoyed better relations with its white counterpart than prevailed in many other communities in the state. The idea of an insurance company, moreover, fit in naturally with a tradition among African Americans of self-help, mutual aid societies or fraternities. John Merrick, born into slavery in 1859, had become by the late 1890s a business success in Durham. Owner of half a dozen barber shops and a real estate business, Merrick was also a member of the Grand United Order of True Reformers, a mutual benefit society organized in Richmond in 1881 which had expanded into insurance and banking. In 1898 Merrick brought together six of Durham’s leading black business and professional men and organized North Carolina Mutual. Guided by the “triumvirate” of John Merrick, Dr. Aaron M. Moore, and Charles Clinton Spaulding, “The Company with a Soul and a Service” survived the hardship of its first years to achieve success and help make Durham’s reputation as a center of African American economic life.

Walter B. Weare. Black Business in the New South: A Social History of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, c. 1973.

Image Source:
Employees of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company 1906: Susan V. Gille Norfleet, C.C. Spaulding, Sr., John Merrick. From the North Carolina County Photographic Collection #P0001, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

March 1840: Wilmington & Weldon Railroad

This Month in North Carolina History

Image from Wilmington Advertiser of Wilmington and Weldon Railroad train

On the seventh of March, 1840, the last spike was driven to complete the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. As well as being the pride and joy of Wilmington, North Carolina, at 161½ miles the Wilmington & Weldon was the longest railroad in the world.

Chartered originally in January 1834 as the Wilmington & Raleigh, the line was organized in the Fall of 1835 and construction began in October 1836. The idea of the railroad grew out of the concern of Wilmington’s leaders that, while the port city had excellent communication by sea, overland connections were poor at best. In 1834 only two stage lines served the city going north, one through New Bern and the other through Fayetteville. Although still in its early years, the railroad seemed a promising alternative. The initial plan was to build the line to Raleigh, but people in the capital were slow to support the railroad while folks in Edgecombe County showed much more enthusiasm. The company decided, therefore, to turn the line north through Edgecombe to Weldon on the Roanoke River near the North Carolina/Virginia border. This would allow the Wilmington & Weldon access to the produce of the Roanoke Valley and bring it near to Virginia railroads which had reached the Roanoke River from the north.

In Wilmington the official celebration of the completion of the railroad was marked by the firing of cannon and ringing of church bells. A large group comprising the officers and employees of the Wilmington & Weldon and invited guests from Virginia and South Carolina as well as all sections of North Carolina paraded down Front Street, accompanied by a military band, to a banquet at the railroad depot. The Wilmington & Weldon operated successfully for the rest of the nineteenth century, ultimately forming part of a major north-south railroad network. In 1900 it became part of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad system which merged into the Seaboard Coast Line in 1967 and finally into CSX Transportation.

James Sprunt. Chronicles of the Cape Fear River. Raleigh, NC: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, 1914.

John Gilbert and Grady Jefferys. Crossties Through Carolina: The Story of North Carolina’s Early Day Railroads. Raleigh, NC: Helios Press, 1969.

Image Source:
Wilmington Advertiser, February 1, 1839

January 1849: Dorothea Dix Hospital

This Month in North Carolina History

Image of Dorothea Dix
In the 1830s and 1840s the United States was swept by what one historian has described as a ferment of humanitarian reform. Temperance, penal reform, women’s rights, and the antislavery movement, among others, sought to focus public attention on social problems and agitated for improvement. Important among these reform movements was the promotion of a new way of thinking about and treating mental illness. Traditionally, the mentally ill who could not be kept with their families became the responsibility of local government, and were often kept in common jails or poorhouses where they received no special care or medical treatment. Reformers sought to create places of refuge for the insane where they could be cared for and treated. By the late 1840s, all but two of the original thirteen states had created hospitals for the mentally ill, or had made provision to care for them in existing state hospitals. Only North Carolina and Delaware had done nothing.

Interest in the treatment of mental illness had been expressed in North Carolina in 1825 and 1838 but with no results. Several governors suggested care of the mentally ill to the General Assembly as a legislative priority, but no bill was passed. Then in the autumn of 1848 the champion of the cause of treatment of the mentally ill made North Carolina the focus of her efforts. Dorothea Lynde Dix was a New Englander born in 1802. Shocked by what she saw of the treatment of mentally ill women in Boston in 1841 she became a determined campaigner for reform and was instrumental in improving care for the mentally ill in state after state.

In North Carolina Dix followed her established pattern of gathering information about local conditions which she then incorporated into a “memorial” for the General Assembly. Warned that the Assembly, almost equally divided between Democrats and Whigs, would shy from any legislation which involved spending substantial amounts of money, Dix nevertheless won the support of several important Democrats led by Representative John W. Ellis who presented her memorial to the Assembly and maneuvered it through a select committee to the floor of the House of Commons. There, however, in spite of appeals to state pride and humanitarian feeling, the bill failed. Dix had been staying in the Mansion House Hotel in Raleigh during the legislative debate. There she went to the aid of a fellow guest, Mrs. James Dobbins, and nursed her through her final illness. Mrs. Dobbins’s husband was a leading Democrat in the House of Commons, and her dying request of him was to support Dix’s bill. James Dobbins returned to the House and made an impassioned speech calling for the reconsideration of the bill. The legislation passed the reconsideration vote and on the 29th day of January, 1849, passed its third and final reading and became law.

For the next seven years construction of the new hospital advanced slowly on a hill overlooking Raleigh, and it was not until 1856 that the facility was ready to admit its first patients. Dorothea Dix refused to allow the hospital to be named after herself, although she did permit the site on which it was built to be called Dix Hill in honor of her father. One hundred years after the first patient was admitted, the General Assembly voted to change the name of Dix Hill Asylum to Dorothea Dix Hospital.


Margaret Callendar McCulloch, “Founding the North Carolina Asylum for the Insane,” North Carolina Historical Review, vol.13:3 (July, 1936).

Dorothea Lynde Dix, Memorial soliciting a state hospital for the protection and cure of the insane: submitted to the General Assembly of North Carolina, November, 1848. Raleigh, N.C.: Seaton Gales, printer for the State, 1848.

Dorothy Clarke Wilson, Stranger and traveler: the story of Dorothea Dix, American reformer. Boston: Little Brown, 1975.

Richard A. Faust, The story of Dorothea Dix Hospital. Raleigh, N.C., 1977.

Image Source:

“Lunatic Asylum. Rear View.” Inset illustration in “Bird’s eye view of the city of Raleigh, North Carolina 1872. Drawn and published by C. Drie.” Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

October 1864: Rose O’Neal Greenhow

This Month in North Carolina History

Image from Harper's Monthly titled "Mrs. Greenhow and the Two Other Passengers Demanded to be Set Ashore."

At dawn on the first of October 1864 the body of Rose O’Neal Greenhow washed ashore in the surf near Fort Fisher in North Carolina. Perhaps the most famous spy of the Confederate States of America had died as dramatically as she lived.

Rose was born in 1813 or 1814 into a planter family in Maryland. Her father, John O’Neal, was murdered by one of his slaves in 1817. His widow, Eliza O’Neal, was left with four daughters and a cash-poor farm to manage. In part to help family finances, Rose was sent, in her mid-teens, to Washington, D. C. along with her sister Ellen to live with their aunt, Maria Ann Hill. Mrs. Hill and her husband managed a highly regarded boarding house across from the U. S. Capitol. The house was often referred to as the “Old Brick Capitol” since it originally had been built as the temporary meeting place of Congress after the Capitol had been burned in the War of 1812. Pretty, lively, and intelligent, Rose was popular with the members of Congress who boarded with her aunt, and she had several suitors. In 1835 she married Robert Greenhow, a wealthy bachelor who had trained as a physician but ultimately became an official in the United States Department of State. In addition to bearing a large family, Rose became an important figure in Washington society. She was charming, witty, politically astute, and a fervent champion of the southern states in the increasingly bitter sectional struggles of the 1840s and 1850s. The death of Robert Greenhow in 1854 left Rose financially stretched, but she continued her association with important national political figures, particularly President James Buchanan. Rose considered the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 to be a national disaster and whole-heartedly supported secession and the newly formed Confederacy.

Sometime in 1861 Rose Greenhow was recruited as a spy for the Confederacy. She quickly formed a network of agents from among her Washington circle of Confederate sympathizers and began enthusiastically and efficiently gathering information about the Union Army camped around the capital, which she transmitted to General P. G. T. Beauregard who commanded Confederate forces in nearby Virginia. Rose charmed information from important beaureaucrats, army officers, and politicians including, it was rumored, a Republican senator who sent her passionate love letters. She gave Beauregard the date on which the Union Army would began its advance on his position in 1861 and was credited by him with an important contribution to the subsequent victory at the battle of Manassas. Rose refused, however, to become the stereotypical spy who blends in with her background to escape detection. She continued vigorously to defend the southern cause and lambast Republicans. After Manassas she began to come under suspicion. She was arrested in August of 1861 and held for the next year and nine months without being charged or brought to trial. Rose was hardly a model prisoner, reviling her guards, complaining about her treatment and generally making herself a thorn in the side of the Lincoln government. At the end of May 1863 she was exiled to the Confederacy.

Rose Greenhow was given a heroine’s welcome in Richmond and thanked personally by President Jefferson Davis for her aid to the Confederacy. Davis also took the unprecedented step of asking Rose to promote Southern interests in England and France as his personal, if unofficial, representative. In August 1863 Rose and her youngest daughter, also named Rose, sailed on a blockade runner from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Bermuda where she booked passage to England. Rose was warmly greeted by many in the English aristocracy who sympathized with her and her cause. Over the next year she spoke with a number of leaders of British politics and society including Thomas Carlyle and Lord Palmerston. She was granted an audience by Napoleon III of France and visited with southerners who had taken up residence abroad. A British publishing house brought out her memoir, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolitionist Rule at Washington, which was a success.

In August 1864 Rose returned to America, convinced that she could do nothing to persuade the British or French governments to recognize the Confederacy. On the last night of September her ship, the blockade runner Condor approached the mouth of the Cape Fear River on the run to Wilmington. It was spotted by a U. S. naval vessel early on the morning of October 1st and ran aground trying to escape. Rose was carrying dispatches for President Davis and her book profits in gold coins in a leather bag around her neck. She demanded that the captain set her ashore immediately, although he tried to convince her that the ship was safe under the guns of Fort Fisher until she floated off the shoal. In the end Rose had her way and with several other people was launched in a boat for the shore which was only a few hunded yards away. Within minutes the small boat capsized. Rose sank out of sight immediately while the others clung to the overturned boat and ultimately survived. Her body was buried in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Blackman, Ann. Wild Rose: Rose O’Neale Greenhow, Civil War Spy. New York: Random House, 2005.

Ross, Ishbel. Rebel Rose: Life of Rose O’Neal Greenhow, Confederate Spy. New York: Harper, 1954

Greenhow, Rose O’Neal. My Imprisonment and the first year of Abolition Rule at Washington. London: R. Bentley, 1863.

Image Source:
“Mrs. Greenhow and the Two Other Passengers Demanded to be Set Ashore.”
Half-tone plate engraved by C.E. Hart from a drawing by Stanley M. Arthurs.
In Harper’s Monthly Magazine, March 1912, p. 575.

September 1802: Spaight-Stanly Duel

This Month in North Carolina History

Portraits of Spaight and Stanly

In the early nineteenth century, North Carolina men from all walks of life often resorted to violence to settle quarrels and arguments. For those near the lower end of the social scale this usually meant fists and bad language. For those who considered themselves gentlemen, it often meant a duel. Preceded by a formal exchange of challenge and response, a duel with swords or pistols continued until the offended party declared that honor had been satisfied or until one of the combatants was wounded or killed. In September, 1802, North Carolinians were shocked by a fatal duel involving two of the state’s leading citizens.

Richard Dobbs Spaight, by the age of 44, had had a distinguished career in North Carolina politics. Spaight had fought for the patriot cause in the Revolution under General Caswell, served several terms in the North Carolina House of Commons, represented North Carolina in both the Continental Congress and the United States Congress, and been elected the first native-born governor of the state. Spaight’s opponent in the duel, John Stanly, was 28 in 1802, but had already followed a Princeton education with service in the North Carolina General Assembly. In 1802 he was the United States Congressional Representative from the district once served by Spaight. Both men lived in New Bern and were members of the Jeffersonian Republican Party.
Trouble began when friends advised Spaight that Stanly had raised questions about Spaight’s allegiance to the Republican Party. An angered Spaight demanded that Stanly “…give me that satisfaction which one gentleman has a right to demand of another.” Several more letters were exchanged between the two men which appeared to settle the matter, and Stanly gave Spaight permission to clear the air by publishing their correspondence. In forwarding their letters to the New Bern Gazette, however, Spaight added several remarks which Stanly found offensive. This led to an increasingly heated exchange in the newspaper and finished with Stanly distributing a handbill in which he accused Spaight of wishing to “strut the bravo” with remarks which showed a “malicious, low and unmanly spirit.” In reply, Spaight published a flyer accusing Stanly of being “a liar and scoundrel.” Stanly challenged Spaight and the two men and their seconds met at 5:30 on the afternoon of September 5th behind the Masonic Hall in New Bern. Standing opposite each other, armed with pistols, the two men exchanged fire three times with no damage except a tear in Stanly’s coat. On the fourth exchange Spaight was hit in the side. He died the next day.

There was general shock and outrage in the state over the loss of so distinguished a leader as Richard Dobbs Spaight. Stanly defended himself eloquently in a letter to Governor Benjamin Williams who issued a pardon absolving him from legal guilt. The General Assembly, however, passed on November 5, 1802, a bill entitled “An Act to Prevent the Vile Practice of Dueling Within This State.” The new law provided that anyone who participated in a duel would be heavily fined and barred from any office of trust or profit in state service. If an individual were the survivor of a duel to the death, he and any who assisted him would hang “without benefit of clergy.”

The act of 1802 put North Carolina on record as opposing dueling, but it did not stop the practice completely. For one thing, the act only applied to duels within the state. North Carolinians could cross the border into either South Carolina or Virginia where the practice was tolerated. The prohibition against dueling itself was often ignored by those who respected the old custom more than the new law. Gradually, however, dueling became less common until it disappeared in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Wellman, Manly Wade, “The Vile Practice of Dueling: John Stanly and Richard Dobbs Spaight. New Bern, 1802,”  The New East, 4:5 (October, 1976): 9-11, 45-46.

Johnson, Guion Griffis. Antebellum North Carolina: a social history. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1937.

August 16, 1918: Rescue at Sea

This Month in North Carolina History


The Atlantic waters off the Outer Banks of North Carolina are infamous for shipwrecks. More than six hundred vessels have been lost in this “Graveyard of the Atlantic” to a combination of strong currents, dangerous shoals, and sudden storms. In wartime, particularly during the twentiety century, human malice exceeded even natural catastrophe as a destroyer of ships and sailors.

In both World War I and World War II German submarines found the vicinity of the banks a rich hunting ground and almost 100 ships were lost. Through the first half of the nineteenth century aid to ships and seamen wrecked on the Outer Banks came from local people acting as the need arose. In 1789 the Federal government assumed responsibility for the construction of a string of lighthouses along the North Carolina coast from Cape Hatteras to Cape Fear.

In addition to the lighthouses, seven lifesaving stations were constructed along the coast from Currituck Beach in the north to Little Kinnakeet in the south. At each location a station keeper and at least six surfmen remained ready around the clock to go to the aid of ships in distress. The lifesaving crews operated from the beach piloting heavy lifeboats through the surf and out to stricken vessels to save passengers and crew.

Of the many daring rescues attempted by the Lifesaving Service one of the most famous involved the sinking of the British tanker Mirlo on August 16, 1918, off of the shores of Bodie Island. The Mirlo was working its way up the North Carolina coast bound for Norfolk with a load of gasoline from New Orleans. She safely passed Cape Hatteras and was near Wimble Shoals off Bodie Island when she struck a mine layed by the German submarine U-117.

The resulting explosion was seen by Captain John Allen Midgett and the crew of the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station. Midgett and his men launched their power lifeboat through the surf into a rising wind and made for the Mirlo. Two boats had been launched successfully from the ship, but a third had capsized and remained floating upside down near the Mirlo with a number of desperate sailors clinging to the keel as burning gasoline from the sinking ship spread steadily nearer.

Captain Midgett found a narrow lane in the flaming sea and guided his boat along it until it reached the overturned craft. The sailors were taken safely aboard, and the Chicamacomico lifeboat moved out of the burning gasoline, located the other two boats and brought all three to safety on the beach. For their courageous action and superb seamanship, Captain Midgett and his crew were awarded Gold Lifesaving Medals of Honor from the United States and Victory Medals from the government of Great Britain. Later the men of the Chicamacomico Station received Grand Crosses of the American Cross of honor from the United States Coast Guard.

The Lifesaving Stations were abandoned by the Coast Guard after World War II in favor of more modern and sophisticated tools and methods of aiding ships in distress. The Chicamacomico Station, however, has been carefully restored and stands as a monument to the brave surfmen of the Lifesaving Service.


Mobley, Joe A. Ship Ashore! The U.S. Lifesavers of Coastal North Carolina. Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1994.

Stick, David. Graveyard of the Atlantic: shipwrecks or the North Carolina coast. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1952.

March 1863: The Salisbury Bread Riot

This Month in North Carolina History

Account of Salisbury bread riot from Carolina WatchmanOn the 18th of March, 1863, the streets of Salisbury, North Carolina, were invaded by a group of about 50 determined local women, identified only as wives and mothers of Confederate soldiers. The women believed that local merchants had been profiteering by raising the prices of necessary foods and demanded that the merchants sell these goods at government prices. When the merchants refused the women broke down one shop door with hatchets and threatened other storekeepers. What a local newspaper described as the “Female Raid” netted the women twenty three barrels of flour as well as quantities of molasses, salt, and even twenty dollars in cash.

The Salisbury “Bread Riot,” and the more widely known food riot in Richmond, Virginia, also in 1863, are dramatic evidence of the stresses on local life brought on by the Civil War. Volunteers for the Confederate army from Salisbury and surrounding Rowan County at the beginning of the war were by and large young, unmarried men. In 1862 demand for fresh troops brought about the increasing enlistment of older men with wives and families. In a county such as Rowan, with a large number of small farms, the absence of a husband and father was a serious economic loss. The failure of the county’s attempt to provide for soldiers’ families also contributed to the hardship. The fact that the women involved in the incident were never prosecuted is evidence of the understanding and sympathy of their neighbors. The Carolina Watchman, which reported the incident, extended its most scathing criticism not to the women, but to the county commissioners who failed to provide adequate aid for soldiers’ families and who should “go, all blushing with shame for the scene enacted in our streets on Wednesday last.”Image of Confederate Monument in Salisbury

Graham, Christopher A. “Women’s Revolt in Rowan County,” Columbiad: a quarterly review of the War Between the States, vol. 3:1 (Spring 1999); pp. 131-147.

Brawley, James S. Rowan County: a brief history. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1974.