Butter won’t churn? It’s a witch!

During the days leading up to Halloween, North Carolina Miscellany is posting articles from North Carolina newspapers about one of our favorite Halloween characters, the witch.

Witches tended to be the scapegoat for just about any problem in a person’s life. One common complaint attributed to a witch’s curse was being unable to churn your milk into butter. You could churn and churn, but the milk would never thicken. To fix this predicament, you first had to expel the witch from the churn by taking an old horseshoe and heating it to glowing hot in the fire. It was best if that horseshoe “had been worn on the left hind foot of a baldfaced horse.” You would then take the glowing hot horseshoe, drop it into your churn, and sure enough the butter would come forth.


Swamped with campaign mailings? We’ll take ’em

Lest you need reminding, Election Day is 26 days away. Candidates and their supporters are knocking on your door, calling you at supper time, and filling your mailbox with campaign literature. We have no way to protect your doors or keep your phone from ringing. But we’re glad to help with the mailbox clutter. As with past elections, we’re collecting campaign literature. Instead of dumping those mailings in the recycle bin (we hope you’re recycling!), send them to us.

Campaign ephemera from 1970s
1970s-era campaign ephemera from our collection.

Our collection of campaign ephemera includes more than 5000 items and dates back to the 1800s. We want to ensure that researchers in 2068 or, heck, 2118 are able to learn a little about today’s campaigns. We’re keen to document campaigns throughout North Carolina for General Assembly, U.S. House, and constitutional amendments. That’s hard to do from our spot here in the Triangle. Please help us. Hold on to those mailers, flyers and voter guides. Then when you can stomach the clutter no longer, send the material our way. The address is:

John Blythe
Assistant Curator
P.O. Box 8890
Wilson Library, CB#3930
Chapel Hill, NC 27515-8890

One final note. We like knowing about the yard signs, particularly ones that strike you as unique. Unfortunately, they take up significant space and it’s hard for us to store them. Before you send us the actual sign, would you mind taking a photo of it and emailing the file to us as an attachment? The address is blythej@email.unc.edu Please remember to tell us where and when you spotted it.

Ackland Art Museum turns sixty

Ackland Art Center gallery
A gallery in the William Hayes Ackland Art Center during its opening weekend, 19-20 September 1958. (Scene cropped from a negative in the UNC Photo Lab collection.)

Birthed as the William Hayes Ackland Art Center, the Ackland Art Museum turns sixty today.  The art center held a special preview for UNC faculty on Friday evening, September 19, 1958.  The official dedication ceremony took place the next morning, featuring a talk titled, “The Role of the College Museum in America” by S. Lane Faison, head of the art department and director of the art museum at Williams College in Massachusetts.  The opening exhibition was a composition of paintings, prints, etchings, drawings, and sculptures from the collections of several college and university art museums across the country.

The university slated Joseph Curtis Sloane, then at Bryn Mawr College, to become chairman of the Art Department and director of the new art center.

Sitterson, Aycock, and Sloane
Welcoming visitors to the Ackland Art Center are, left to right, J. Carlye Sitterson, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; William Aycock, Chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill; and Joseph C. Sloane, incoming chair of the Art Department and director of the Ackland Art Center. (Scene cropped from a negative in the UNC Photo Lab collection.)

William D. Carmichael Jr., Vice President and Financial Officer of The University of North Carolina, accepted the building on behalf of the consolidated university.

William D. Carmichael Jr.
William D. Carmichael Jr. accepting the Ackland Art Center building on behalf of the university. (Scene cropped from a negative in the UNC Photo Lab collection.)

Photographic black-and-white negatives and prints in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Photographic Laboratory Collection document both events, plus a number of artworks loaned for the debut exhibition.

Care to learn more about the Ackland’s origins?  The Daily Tar Heel covered the story, including the background of the William Hayes Ackland bequest and the works of art in the opening exhibition on September 18th in advance of the dedication ceremony, and reported on the formal opening on September 21st.




“Scratch” the Surface & Find the Not-Too-Distant Past!

As renovations on the brick walkways in the “The Pit” and surrounding areas (Lenoir Hall, Davis Library, Graham Student Union, and Student Stores) continue through the summer, ground is regularly being uncovered that has literally “not seen the light of day” for numerous decades.  During my 10 years as the Photographic Materials Processing Archivist for Wilson Library Special Collections,  I have had the privilege of being able to work with thousands of images (drawings, sketches, photographs, etc…) depicting the University campus as it has grown and changed over the years.  Often, as I walk around campus, I find myself thinking of how areas looked before other building were added to the landscape of campus.  I do this so that when I see historical images, I can sort of  “deconstruct” to what campus looked like at the time an image was made,  and more quickly orient myself to what I am looking at.

On the morning of June 20, on my way in to the office,  I walked from the bus stop on South Road at the Student Stores up the brick stairs between the Student Store and the Frank Porter Graham Student Union Buildings….

View of the brick stairs today at Frank Porter Graham Student Union.  Image by Patrick Cullom  

As I reached the top of the steps, I noticed some stone work that had recently been uncovered directly in front of the Graham Student Union Building…

View of construction outside of Frank Porter Graham Student Union Building Image by Patrick Cullom 2018
View of construction outside of Frank Porter Graham Student Union Building Image by Patrick Cullom 2018

This stonework looked familiar to me…where had I seen it before? Then it hit me; this must be what is left of the staircase that existed before the 1999-2004 renovations to the Frank Porter Graham Student Union Building.  I honestly could not recall (from my own memories of campus) what this area looked like before the renovations and additions began in 1999.

(Good thing we just happen to have SOME images of the campus from days past in the Wilson Special Collections Library)

View of the “original” brick stairs (on left) at Frank Porter Graham Student Union, soon after construction, circa 1970 (Image taken from the bell tower looking north across South Road) Image from: UNC at Chapel Hill Image Collection Collection #P0004, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives Folder 0306: Graham Student Union (Frank Porter Graham), 1970-1979


View of the “original” brick stairs (on left) at the Frank Porter Graham Student Union, circa 1990s                                            (Parking lot expanded and Davis Library visible in background)    Image from UNC Facilities Services Engineering Information Services Website https://planroom.unc.edu/FacilityInfo.aspx?facilityID=065

View of demolition of “original” brick stairs at Frank Porter Graham Student Union Building, circa 1999-2000 Image from News Services of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records #40139, University Archives Digital Folder DF-40139/0169


When I walked by the next day, the stonework was gone and the whole section had been dug out. It was a brief look into the past, now covered up again, as the campus continues to grow to fit the needs of its students. Now we are back to the image that started this post.

View of the brick stairs as they appear today at Frank Porter Graham Student Union.  Image by Patrick Cullom 2018

AIDS Memorial Quilt panel visits UNC; an NCC photographic collection provides context

AIDS quilt panel display
AIDS Memorial Quilt panel display in the UNC Student Union

Thanks to the efforts of Carolina undergraduate Elizabeth Trefney, UNC is privileged to be hosting an exhibit featuring a panel from the historic AIDS Memorial Quilt. The panel will be on display in the Carolina Student Union Building through January 31. The exhibit serves as a powerful reminder of the devastating global impact of HIV/AIDS, a point also emphasized by a collection of photographs in the North Carolina Collection’s Photographic Archives.

Trefney’s interest in coordinating the Student Union exhibit is both universal and personal: She wanted to remind the UNC community of those whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS, and in particular to honor her late uncle, Jeremy Trefney (1957-1988), who passed away due to complications from HIV and is memorialized on a panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The quilt panel’s presence also celebrates the role of UNC’s School of Medicine and other medical research facilities in making groundbreaking advances in HIV/AIDS treatment.

The Jerome Friar Collection

Coincidentally, the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives in the Wilson Special Collections Library holds a collection of photographs that contains images of the quilt on the National Mall in Washington, DC on the Mall, starting with its origins in 1987 and depicting its subsequent periodic display through the late 1990s.

National Mall AIDS Quilt display, 1987
Demonstrations: AIDS: “AIDS quilt on mall,” 11 October 1987 (The first time the AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed on the National Mall.) Photograph by Jerome Friar Image from P0090/0586 – Black-and-White Kodak TMY 5053 35mm Roll Film

The photos were made by Jerome Friar, a North Carolina native and photographer who worked in DC in the 1980s and 90s. Friar worked for a stock photography group called Impact Visuals, which provided timely and relevant images to social justice organizations for use in their publications. (Our younger readers may be surprised to learn that such a service was necessary in pre-Internet days.)

AIDS Memorial Quilt display, National Mall
Demonstrations: AIDS: “AIDS quilt on mall,” 11 October 1989. Photograph by Jerome Friar. Image from P0090/0589: Color 35mm Mounted Slide

The Jerome Friar Collection contains approximately 240 (on 13 different rolls of film) images of the quilt on the National Mall. The images taken on October 11, 1987, 1989, 1992, and circa 1995-1997 show how the quilt’s display evolved as the numbers of HIV/AIDS victims grew, as the disease became more widely diagnosed/recognized, and as some of the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS began to recede.

AIDS Quilt display on National Mall
Demonstrations: AIDS: “AIDS quilt on mall,” 11 October 1992. Photo by Jerome Friar. Image from P0090/0605 – Black-and-White Kodak 5063 TX 35mm Roll Film
Hands linked in front of AIDS Quilt display
Demonstrations: AIDS: “AIDS quilt on mall,” 11 October 1992. Photo by Jerome Friar. Image from P0090/0607 – Black-and-White Kodak 5063 TX 35mm Roll Film

Friar was most likely assigned to cover the quilt when it was first displayed on the National Mall in 1987 because it was one of the first large public events organized by AIDS activists. In addition to the images of the quilt, Friar’s photographs also depict numerous HIV/AIDS-related demonstrations organized by groups such as ACT-UP, intended to raise awareness of the disease among politicians in Washington in the 1980s and 90s.

Activists holding signs and shouting
Friar’s photographs of HIV/AIDS-related activism span the 1980s and 90s. Photograph by Jerome Friar. Image from P0090/0587 – Black-and-White Kodak 5053 TMY 35mm Roll Film
hands flipping through envelopes of photographs
Friar’s photographs are available for research in the Wilson Special Collections Library.

A rare opportunity

If you’re on or near the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, don’t miss the chance to see the quilt panel while it’s in the Student Union, through January 31.

Photographs from the Jerome Friar Collection are available for research in the Wilson Special Collections Library at any time. Come visit us!

“. . . to arouse the dozing conscience of our nation.”

This photograph by Herald-Sun staff photographer Jim Thornton appeared on the front page of the 17 February 1960 issue of The Durham Morning Herald. Pictured here is a scan made from the original negative, shown without cropping.
This photograph by Herald-Sun staff photographer Jim Thornton appeared on the front page of the 17 February 1960 issue of The Durham Morning Herald. Pictured here is a scan made from the original negative, shown without cropping.

A few days ago on January 9th, The Herald-Sun published a story online titled, “When Martin Luther King Jr. came to Durham.”  The article included a photograph of King and others walking on Durham’s West Main Street on February 16, 1960.  They were on their way to the F. W. Woolworth & Company lunch counter, which the store had kept closed after the February 8th sit-in by North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University) students protesting against segregated seating.  That protest came on the heels of the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in at Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1st.

The North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives is the home of The Herald-Sun negatives.  There are two sets of negatives in the collection that document King’s 1960 trip to Durham: twelve negatives by Jim Thornton of King’s walk to Woolworth’s, and twenty negatives attributed to Harold Moore (based upon a caption in The Durham Sun) that depict two views of sidewalk picketers and twenty-one negatives of King visit to White Rock Baptist Church.

Photographer Jim Thorton's selected negative, which was not published, of Martin Luther King and others as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others walked to Woolworth's.
Photographer Jim Thorton’s selected negative, which was not published, of Martin Luther King and others as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others walked to Woolworth’s.

The above negative by Thornton has a punch-hole beneath the image area, which typically designates the photographer’s or editor’s choice images.  Neither The Durham Morning Herald nor The Durham Sun published that view.  Instead, the latter published a cropped view of the following negative . . . removing the young bystander of history on the far left.

The full frame of Jim Thornton's published photograph of Rev. Douglas Moore, pastor of Asbury Temple Methodist Church; Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; Ralph Abernathy; and Lacy Streeter, North Carolina College student and president of the NCC chapter of the NAACP.
The full frame of Jim Thornton’s published photograph of Rev. Douglas Moore, pastor of Asbury Temple Methodist Church; Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; Ralph Abernathy; and Lacy Streeter, North Carolina College student and president of the NCC chapter of the NAACP.

During the evening, King spoke at a filled-to-capacity White Rock Baptist Church.  King’s speech has been dubbed informally his “Fill Up the Jails” sermon.  As The Durham Sun reported:

‘Let us not fear going to jail if the officials threaten to arrest us for standing up for our rights.’  Negroes must be willing ‘to fill up the jails of the South’ to gain their point. . . . Maybe it will take this willingness to stay in jail to arouse the dozing conscience of our nation.’

Martin Luther King, Jr. during his speech at White Rock Baptist Church on 16 February 1960.
Martin Luther King, Jr. during his speech at White Rock Baptist Church on 16 February 1960.

Happy Mary Lindsay Thornton Week!

A woman of patience and vision.

That may be the best general description of Mary Lindsay Thornton, who 100 years ago this fall began a long and extraordinarily productive career with the library at the University of North Carolina.

More specifically, it’s also accurate to call her the mother of special collections at UNC and the all-time champion collector and bibliographer of North Caroliniana. Literally thousands of researchers have benefited from Thornton’s hard work, determination, and foresight.

Early life

Mary Lindsay Thornton portrait

Mary Louise Thornton was born June 12, 1891, in Virginia. Her family moved to Salisbury, NC, where they lived for a few years before moving to Atlanta, where she grew up. Thornton was still a girl when she decided she disliked her given name “Mary Louise.” She swapped the “Louise” for “Lindsay” — the name of her beloved paternal grandmother — and went by Mary Lindsay Thornton for the rest of her life.

Thornton, soft-spoken but hard-working, graduated from the Atlanta Girls High School and the Carnegie Library School, later to become the Emory University Library School. In 1913, with a certificate in librarianship in hand, she took a position at the University of Georgia where she would remain for four years.

The first special collections librarian at UNC
In 1917, UNC’s University Librarian Louis Round Wilson was looking for someone to bring order to a small but growing collection of North Caroliniana. Wilson had been supervising the collection of around 1000 books, 500 pamphlets, and a number of state documents and manuscripts, occupying 50 or so shelves in the library.

Impressed by Thornton’s training and strong interest in cataloging, Wilson and other library officials concluded that she was the perfect candidate to develop the North Carolina Collection into the type of repository that North Carolina citizens wished for. Thornton accepted the position, becoming the Librarian for the North Carolina Collection at UNC, later designated Curator.

The next two decades would see the establishment of the Rare Book Collection and the Southern Historical Collection, whose professional librarians and archivists would join Thornton in developing strong and nationally recognized special collections at Chapel Hill.

A dedication to collecting and bibliography

In 1918, the year following her appointment, Thornton worked closely with Wilson to purchase an unrivaled collection of printed North Caroliniana amassed by Stephen B. Weeks.

Weeks, the first professional historian of the Tar Heel State, had spent thirty-four years gathering a remarkable collection totaling more than 10,000 books, pamphlets, newspapers, and maps. The Weeks Collection provided the depth and breadth that made the North Carolina Collection a resource for in-depth scholarly research on North Carolina. And Thornton’s careful, detail-oriented cataloging provided an entryway into the collection.

A meticulous bibliographer

At the same time that she was cataloging the Weeks Collection, she began a robust collection development program to acquire both older North Caroliniana and the new materials being published by the state’s authors, businesses, organizations, and institutions. With increased support from John Sprunt Hill, who admired and appreciated her good work, Thornton built the North Carolina Collection to 59,000 items by 1937 and 161,000 by 1954 through a combination of donations and purchases.

In 1934 Thornton began contributing an annual bibliography of newly published North Caroliniana to the North Carolina Historical Review Quarterly. She continued to publish bibliographies over her career, including her widely praised Official Publications of the Colony and State of North Carolina, 1749-1939: A Bibliography, a careful and detailed record of all known North Carolina governmental publications to that date.

The culmination of her bibliographic work was the publication of A Bibliography of North Carolina, 1589-1956, which the university press published in 1958, her final year as curator. The volume compiled 15,519 citations to historically significant books, pamphlets, and periodicals she had cataloged into the North Carolina Collection in her years with the UNC Library. Immensely valuable to anyone interested in the history and literature of North Carolina — scholar and non-scholar alike — the book facilitated and stimulated research for decades to come, and served as a most appropriate capstone to Thornton’s career as the unequaled promoter, collector, cataloger, and bibliographer of North Caroliniana.

Thornton’s legacy

hand holding a Mary Louise Thornton button

Today, more than one hundred librarians, archivists, library assistants, and student employees provide services and resources to the researchers who use the Wilson Special Collections Library. This fall, they pause to remember, admire, and appreciate the remarkable career of Mary Lindsay Thornton — a pioneering career that inaugurated the first century of professional special collections librarianship at UNC-Chapel Hill.

If you find yourself in Wilson Library this week, November 6-10, we invite you to stop by any reading-room desk and take a North Carolina trivia quiz in honor of Ms. Thornton. Turn in your answers for a Mary Louise Thornton button, and join us in celebrating this important library pioneer.

Artifact of the Month: Audubon’s Great Carolina Wren

This sheet showing the “Great Carolina Wren”, from John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, published in 1826-1832, is in the North Carolina Collection in Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It came to the University with a bequest from Josephine and Mangum Weeks in 1981, one of 76 prints from Audubon’s astonishing publication. This print is the first of several that the North Carolina Collection will feature on its website.

The Birds of America is one of the pinnacles of book making. In the first place, it was printed on “elephant folio” paper, entire sheets of paper in the standard size for paper at that time, about 39 1/2 X 26 1/2 inches. Between 1757 and 1784, James Whatman I and his son James II had developed a process at their mill near Maidstone, England, for making heavy smooth paper of this size. By 1826 this paper, usually folded into smaller sizes, had become a staple for printing fine details of new type-faces, maps, technical drawings, and hand-colored pictures in books. Audubon eventually engaged two London printers, Robert Havell and his son Robert Jr., to use the full size of these sheets to reproduce his illustrations of American birds. It was the most elaborate and intricate such production ever attempted. Even as the project proceeded, lithography was supplanting engraving as the technique of choice for illustrated books. Audubon had caught a wave of etching and engraving at its crest.

Eventually fewer than 200 copies of the 435 elephant folio pages were printed and each was hand-colored in the Havells’ shop. During the more than six years it took to finish this task, the sheets were issued in sets of five (67 sets in all to make the total). Subscribers included scientific societies, universities, and wealthy people in America and Europe, including the kings of France and England. Most subscribers had the sheets bound in London into four volumes of 100 sheets each (with 135 for the final volume), which were then shipped separately in tin boxes at intervals of a year or more.

Audubon insisted on using the full size of the paper in part because he intended to illustrate each bird, even the largest, in life size. Having committed himself to such large sheets, he often made use of the space available to depict his subjects grouped and also engaged in characteristic behavior. Even so, most small birds were printed from plates that were much smaller than the elephant folio sheets. In each set of five sheets, only the first used a copper plate the size of the paper; the second used a plate half that size, printed in the middle of the paper; and the remaining three used quarter-sized plates, so that half the width and height of each sheet around the centered image was left blank. UNC’s sheet with the Great Carolina Wren is an example of one of these small prints, suitable for small birds.

Like all other sheets in the Weeks’ collection, the Great Carolina Wren is no longer bound. At some time in its first 100 years this sheet had several inches of the blank paper around the image trimmed away in order to frame the image in a more balanced way. Although the trimming improved its presentation, it certainly reduced the value of this print. None of the other sheets in the Weeks’ collection, with one exception, has been trimmed so much. Despite its reduced monetary value, this example of Audubon’s Great Carolina Wren is in superb condition.

The two birds and the flower are compelling in several ways. For me, most important is the birds’ behavior. It is obviously early springtime, with the red buckeye in bloom and the male wren mounted on high to belt out his song. His full throat, fanned wings, and tense tail catch the bird’s stance so perfectly that his song almost bursts from the page. Audubon’s account of this species, in the first of his five-volume Ornithological Biography, published in 1831 soon after the elephant folio sheets, describes the song as “Come-to-me, come-to-me.” There can be no doubt that Audubon imagined the male addressing this fervor to his mate. We see her, coy as are many female birds, slipping through the branches below the male, apparently intent on her own pursuits.

The “dwarf buckeye, Aesculus pavia”, as Audubon notes in his text, favors “swampy ground” along the southeastern coastal plain. Audubon no doubt found it with the wrens in Louisiana at Bayou Sara along the Mississippi well above New Orleans. It was here, during 1821 or 1822 near Oakley Plantation (now the Audubon Memorial Park outside St. Francisville), that Audubon must have painted these wrens. His teen-aged assistant, James Mason, probably did the buckeye, although the overall composition was surely Audubon’s. At any rate, decades later Mason claimed that Audubon had promised to acknowledge his contribution in painting many of the plants in the backgrounds of the birds, although Audubon never mentioned Mason on the sheets for The Birds of America.

This dwarf buckeye is now usually called the red buckeye, to distinguish it from other dwarf buckeyes, although its scientific name remains the same. As for the bird, Audubon was the first to classify this species correctly with other wrens, by including it in the genus Troglodytes. Soon afterwards it was allocated within the wrens to the genus, Thryothorus. Alexander Wilson, Audubon’s predecessor in American ornithology, had recognized the bird’s similarity to other wrens but was confused by Linnaeus’s classification and, in his American Ornithology published in 1810-1814, placed it with creepers, in the genus Certhia. Surprisingly, the species had not been mentioned before by any American naturalist, with one exception and only in a cursory way. Wilson’s friend, William Bartram, had included it in his list of birds encountered between Pennsylvania and Florida in his classic Travels through North & South Carolina, etc., published in 1791. Confused about what kind of bird it was, he calls it “Motacilla Caroliniana (regulus magnus) the great wren of Carolina.”

Bartram included an asterisk beside this wren to indicate that it arrived in Pennsylvania during spring and returned southward after nesting. Wilson, however, could not confirm, “based on my own observations,” that it then nested in Pennsylvania. Audubon added from his experience that the species extended northward “nearly to Pittsburgh” and that a few were seen near the Atlantic coast as far north as New York. He himself found a nest “in a swamp” in New Jersey a few miles from Philadelphia. Nowadays, in contrast, the Carolina Wren nests as far north as Connecticut and occasionally Massachusetts. Like a number of other species in these days of global warming, the Carolina Wren has been spreading northward.

When teaching Avian Biology to undergraduates at UNC before my retirement, I used to make a lame joke, “How did the Carolina Wren get its name? It isn’t any more characteristic of North Carolina than anywhere else in the southeast, and it isn’t even sky blue!” The answer, as we have seen, is that Bartram associated it with his travels in the Carolinas, no doubt both North and South. Because it is such a drab, retiring bird, even the most adventuresome naturalists had overlooked it throughout the colonial period. Wilson was the first to notice its quixotic behavior, “disappearing into holes and crevices … then reappearing”, but Audubon’s image is the first, and perhaps still the greatest, likeness of its boisterous song and frenetic skulking. Despite its ubiquitous presence around homes throughout North Carolina, the Carolina Wren still escapes notice too often. Audubon to this day ranks as one of its keenest observers.

R. Haven Wiley is an emeritus professor in the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A Tale of Two Maps

One of the first things a North Carolinian student learns is that there are 100 counties in our state. What the young student may not learn, however, is that it took over 200 years for those counties and their borders to be finalized. During that time, many counties saw the rise and fall of “dividers” within their borders who sought to add to that final accounting.

Such was the case in 1868 when, at the end of what proved to be a transformative year for North Carolina (and indeed the nation), Halifax County saw the rise of a short-lived and, for today’s researcher, mysterious division effort. The scattered, sparse evidence for this brief sentiment is best illuminated by two unique hand-drawn maps. These two maps of Halifax were drawn at nearly the exact same time: one that shows the entire county, with newly-created townships (as of 1868), while the other shows a new county called Roanoke that was to be created from the lower southeastern part of Halifax.

This post will discuss the maps, their creators, and analyze why they were drawn. Since documentary evidence for each of the maps is lacking, political and cultural circumstances swirling at the end of 1868, particularly in Halifax, will illuminate why they were created and their meaning. Information about those associated with both sides of the question of division in Halifax shows that they were likely on opposite ends of the political spectrum, with those who sought to split the county being conservative Democrats.

The map of Roanoke County

Roanoke Map
Map of proposed county of Roanoke by M.L. Venable, 1868 (click to enlarge)

The map in question is simply rendered, entitled “Roanoke County” and signed “By ML Venable Dec 1868.” What is represented is clearly the lower southeastern part of Halifax, split from the area shown as “13 Bridges” near Enfield to the county line at Conoconnara Swamp. However, as any student of state history knows, there is no Roanoke County in North Carolina. Who drew this map, and why? And how did it end up in the North Carolina Collection?

The mapmaker, Morton Lewis Venable, hailed from a family in Oxford, Granville County, where he, like his father and brothers, worked as an educator and school administrator. Newspapers confirm that he was associated with the Oxford Male Academy and Tar River Male Academy early in his career. Work at the Vine Hill Military Academy in Scotland Neck brought Venable to Halifax County, where he was advertised as principal of the institution as early as January 1861.

Back of the Roanoke County map (click to enlarge)

With the aid of a bit of sleuthing and digging into Southern Historical Collection records, markings on the back of the map reveal more to us about its origins and ownership while providing clues as to how it came to Wilson Special Collections Library. Documentation does not exist to explain the connection between Venable and the commission of the map. However, signatures on the back reveal a clue: it was once in the hands of Dr. Eugene F. Speed and Sallie Speed. These were the children of prominent citizen John H. Speed, and the Speed family lived in Halifax and Edgecombe counties.

But rather than coming to Wilson Library via the Speeds, the map was obtained via a donation of the papers of the Smith family, specifically Peter Evans Smith. The Smiths were also prominent in Scotland Neck and the region. Peter Smith’s father, William Ruffin Smith, Jr., was heavily involved in Scotland Neck politics, serving as town commissioner for a time, and, most importantly for this question, served for many years on the Board of Trustees for Vine Hill Academy. He was also the school’s treasurer. Indeed, Vine Hill Academy appears to be the magnet that brought Venable into contact with the Speeds and Smiths.

What we can say with this information is that prominent white men around Scotland Neck in 1868 were connected to the drawing of this map of Roanoke County, and therefore involved in the question surrounding Halifax’s possible division.

The map of Halifax County

Map of Halifax County and townships by A.L. Pierce, 1868 (click to enlarge)

Yet another map of the area was drawn at the close of 1868, and on it, Halifax County is intact, not split. Frustratingly, only a portion of the map has survived. The inscription is revealing, though:

“A map of Halifax County made in pursuance of an Order of the Board of Commissioners of said County. Dec. 24th 1868. A.L. Pierce. This Map divides the County into eight townships supposed to be the most convenient practicable. Namely — Arcadea, Buchavia, Calidonia, Formosa, Dalmatia, [Etria], Palmyra, and Rapides, the boundaries of which are filed with this Map in the Office of the Clerk of Commissioners, and a copy of boundaries and Map also forwarded to the Secretary of State at Raleigh N.C.”

Information about the mapmaker, Albert L. Pierce, is somewhat hard to come by, but records indicate he was named Postmaster in Weldon in October 1859. Newspaper notices prove that he was elected in January 1868 as a town commissioner. In May 1868, he was elected county surveyor, although an ad for his surveying work appeared in the Weldon paper in 1856, indicating that he had been doing such work for a while.

Some pieces of information give clues to his political leanings, which could indicate which side of the division debate he stood on. One is a newspaper clipping from September 1868 where an A.L. Pierce is named President of the Grant and Colfax “Central Club” of Halifax. The notice declares that one intention of the club is to, “deprecate all the sayings, doings and actions of the copperhead Democratic party, and will try and get others to do the same at all hazards.” Another listed in this club was Charles Webb, very likely the same publisher of the antebellum paper The Roanoke Republican. Records prove another connection: Charles Webb was one also of the new County Commissioners elected in 1868.

This available information shows that the elected representatives of Halifax County were certainly not in favor of splitting the county.

What was happening in 1868?

To best understand the maps, the events of the year must be used for context. Numerous transformative political events taking place at this time included:

  1. The restoration of the former Confederate States to the Union, contingent upon passing new state constitutions ratifying the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship and equal protection to former slaves.
  2. The election of William Woods Holden, Republican, as Governor of North Carolina.
  3. The election of Ulysses S. Grant, Republican, as President of the United States.

The Constitutional Convention of 1868

The convention, held January – March 1868, was overwhelmingly Republican and included fifteen black delegates. The polarization of politics in North Carolina, Democrat versus Republican, was driven to a height. To say that the party divide was intractable would be an understatement: the rallying cry for the national Republican Party that year was, “Emancipation! Enfranchisement! Reconstruction!”; North Carolina Democrats were fundamentally opposed to all three.

Of special relevance to our question here about county politics: this new document also created a totally new system of townships and a Board of Commissioners for each county, with five elected seats. The new Commissioners were tasked with dividing the counties into townships and reporting back to the General Assembly by January 1869; this provides one explanation for why we have maps like these from that time. The new constitution approved in April not only enfranchised blacks, but also restored voting rights to former Confederates. The new boards gave men who had previously been excluded due to race, party affiliation, and/or wealth the opportunity to become involved in politics.

By all accounts, the enfranchisement of African Americans, which was now demanded by Congress, was a very serious threat to white conservatives. In Many Excellent People, Paul D. Escott explains that the Democratic offensive during Reconstruction was aimed at the local government: “Control of county affairs has been the foundation of North Carolina’s aristocratic social order…Reconstruction had threatened the whole system.” Considering the impact and interpretation of the new constitution provides us excellent context for the two maps of Halifax County.

Halifax County in 1868

What were the racial demographics in Halifax in 1868, and what could the changes forced by the new constitution mean for prominent white citizens of Scotland Neck? The numbers at play are important to understanding what likely drove the conversation over dividing the county. Antebellum Halifax had some of the highest numbers of slaves, but also the highest number of free blacks of all counties in the state. In 1860, black property holders in Halifax outnumbered other counties in the Roanoke Valley by sixfold. The 1870 census calculated 6,418 whites and 13,990 blacks. Black citizens also outnumbered whites in the new townships:

  • Arcadia/Halifax: 604 white and 2294 black
  • Buckaria: 668 white and 1114 black
  • Caledonia: 503 white and 1615 black
  • Dalmatia: 1009 white and 1787 black
  • Ertruria: 1099 white and 1839 black
  • Formosa: 903 white and 2054 black
  • Palmyra: 832 white and 1513 black
  • Rapides/Weldon: 800 white and 1774 black

Halifax County Board of Commissioners

Halifax County records that could illuminate the conversations and decision-making of this time, for example Board of Commissioner minutes, no longer exist.

One person on the Board is already known to us: Charles Webb, documented to be a Republican. Another way to assume the constitution of the board is to look at the Roanoke News out of Weldon, a conservative paper, who in March 1868 put forward five (Democratic) names for the new board, and none of those ended up being elected.

Walter Clark

In Walter McKenzie Clark’s diaries, published in The Papers of Walter Clark, he wrote: “Nov. 18 – Went to Palmyra Meeting for formation of a new county.” An enigmatic statement, but essentially the only definitive clue that a meeting about this issue of dividing Halifax even took place. Therefore, we know that Clark was involved in this discussion, and perhaps then directly involved with the production of Venable’s map of Roanoke. Clark was also an alumnus of Vine Hill. Outside of Clark’s diary entry, only a lone, brief mention in a newspaper confirms the meeting:

The Charlotte Democrat, November 17, 1868

Walter Clark was a prominent figure in Halifax and the state. Clark had opened a law office in Scotland Neck in 1867 and was a licensed lawyer. He would go on to become a Justice. We know from correspondence between him and prominent conservatives such as Thomas J. Jarvis and David Schenck around the time of 1868 that he was solicited to work against the “radicals” in the state Congress, specifically some of Halifax’s Republican representatives. One was John H. Renfrow, described by William Allen in his interpretation of the history of Halifax as a carpetbagger. This is another clue as to the political divisions at work when the topic of division came up: the people who were likely at this meeting shared the same political and social views as Clark.

The only people who we can say with certainty were at this meeting, in any case, were Walter Clark and (probably) M.L. Venable. But then, just as mysteriously as the subject came up, no mention of splitting Halifax came up again. Whether the proposal made it to the General Assembly, as the newspaper clipping above claims, is unclear.

Other county division initiatives in 1868

Reports in newspapers reveal that there were conversations about dividing other counties that year. March 1868 saw a petition from 1200 citizens asking that a new county be formed out of Rowan, Iredell and Cabarrus. In November, The Western Vindicator reported that “a movement is on foot looking to the formation of a new county from portion of Rutherford and Cleveland.” One that did come to fruition was the formation of Dare out of Currituck, Hyde, and Tyrrell. This was first reported in December 1868.

In his article “County Division: A Forgotten Issue in Antebellum North Carolina Politics,” Thomas E. Jeffrey says, “County division was one of the most important, and certainly one of the most enduring, of…local issues.” From the actions and debates occurring in 1868, we see this issue remained a reality throughout Reconstruction.

As with many of the other moves towards division, Roanoke County was quickly lost to history. Thankfully, though, we have one document pointing to its brief existence in the minds of some Halifax residents.