Textile Strikes in North Carolina

Newspaper headline "Latest Strike News"

In the 1920s, North Carolina was ranked as the largest textile producer in the country, employing thousands, especially in the Piedmont. But as the Great Depression ushered in the 1930s, nearly one-quarter of all North Carolinians were out of work.

Textile workers who held onto their jobs faced long hours, low wages, and dangerous working conditions.  Consequently, they joined unions and went on strike for livable wages and safe working conditions. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, mill employees across the state struck until their demands were met. For example, in 1921, at Cannon Mill locations in Charlotte, Concord, and Kannapolis, an estimated 9,00011,000 people went on an 8-week strike. 

Newspaper headline "Battle Front Scenes in Great Textile Strike", a photo of President Roosevelt's Textile Mediation Board, and a photo of National Guardsmen using tear gas on strikers

Using Chronicling America, we can research these strikes and find out more about the history of organized labor in North Carolina.

Readers can see the same reasons  behind the strikes. Many mention wage reductions, especially impactful during the years of the Great Depression. Sometimes these wage cuts were documented to be as high as 25%

Over a dozen strikes occurred in the state between 1931 and 1933, many related to how much employees were being paid. In December 1931, a small strike at the Klumac Cotton mill in Salisbury was called. In July 1932, 6,000 struck in High Point for three weeks, and in August, roughly 500 at mills in Rowan County walked out, all in response to wage reductions.

Newspaper headline "Hosiery Mill Strike Ended"

One of the other common reasons for strikes was because of “stretch-out.” Officially called “scientific management,” it was a time management system that was designed to save companies money by making workers more efficient, leading them to do more in less time.

However, mill workers saw it as a way to cut jobs and have fewer people do more work without an accompanying rise in pay. Mill workers called it “stretch-out” as they felt they were stretched to their limits. In August 1932, over 1,000 workers in Rockingham and Spindale walked out, demanding an end to “stretch-out,” and restoration of their wages to pre-cut pay levels.

Newspaper headline "Strike Now Seen As Endurance Contest"

Textile workers struck for other reasons as well. Hosiery mill workers in High Point demanded the same pay for a 40 hour week that they previously received for a 55 hour week. One Spindale strike petitioned for the removal of a specific superintendent. Mill strikes persisted well into the 1930s, with hundreds or thousands of workers often stopping work for weeks on end.

Most strikes were nonviolent, although there were exceptions. The most infamous strike occurred in Gastonia in June 1929 where violence broke out and strike organizers were killed. In February 1932, a strike of 500 cotton mill workers in Bladenboro ended after three officers were shot, although “[n]o one was wounded seriously.One fearful 1937 editorial wrote that striking inevitably meant violence and death – “Bloodshed follows a Southern textile strike almost as inevitably as night follows day.”

Newspaper headline "County Board Appeals To Governor In Strike"

State and national governments often intervened in settling or ending strikes. In 1921, National Guard troops were ordered to Concord to “take complete charge of the textile strike situation,” which only broke after a visit by Governor Cameron Morrison. In 1929, it cost the state over $27,000 and $12,000 to again put National Guardsmen on duty during textile strikes in Marion and Gastonia, respectively.

Newspaper headline "Girl Pickets Taunt Troops" and a photo of women and National Guardsmen looking at each other

Morrison was not the only governor to involve himself – in 1932, Governor O. Max Gardner persuaded 5,000 strikers in High Point to submit to arbitration. The following year, the State Department of Labor stepped in to settle strikes in Concord and in Forest City.

A strike’s success was not always guaranteed – neither was positive reception. In 1934, mill workers in Mecklenburg County were “hot” for a strike, but those in Rutherford County, Gaston County, Marion, and High Point all responded negatively. One editorial in The Independent (Elizabeth City) asked why people across the state were striking, and if the cause was “hunger, communism or a general state of dissatisfaction…” 

Newspaper headline "Local Cotton Mill Workers Not Expected to Take Part in Nation Wide Textile Strike"

In 1933, President Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which set minimum wages for textile workers in the South – about $12 a week. In September 1934, a massive national strike was held, but many textile workers felt that because of a lack of union support, membership was not important, and union numbers in North Carolina never recovered.

How Telephones Changed North Carolina

Advertisement "Come and see the telephone"

The oft-told story is that the telephone officially came to North Carolina on March 10, 1879. That is typically seen as the day when Major Bowling W. Starke, the manager of the Western Union Telegraph Co. office in Raleigh, strung a wire that carried his voice from his office to his home four city blocks away.

Chronicling America, the archive of historic newspapers created by the Library of Congress, suggests otherwise. You might have heard 1879 was the year of the telephone, but our research says something different.

It was actually a year earlier, on April 14, 1878, when Starke made the first telephone call from Raleigh to Wilmington. Maj. Bowling W. Starke connected to Wilmington, and Governor Vance conversed with former Confederate Attorney General George Davis. Several men formed a choir to sing several hymns, “which were re-duplicated by singers in Wilmington.” The “melodies were perfectly audible,” and the first long-distance telephone call in North Carolina was a success.

People immediately saw the potential for the telephone as a tool to connect people in new and exciting ways.

Quote from the Western Sentinel - the telephone is "the greatest achievement of modern science"

The Western Sentinel (Winston-Salem) declared the telephone to be “the greatest achievement of modern science” and later said that it had “scarcely ceased to be a cause for amusement…” The Farmer and Mechanic (Raleigh) later facetiously predicted that telephones would eliminate the need for church services and houses of worship

A frantic rush followed to connect cities and citizens via telephone. The “telephone craze” was on. A month after Vance’s telephone call, the towns of Winston and Salem were “completely cobwebbed with telephones”.

The Farmer and Mechanic imagined that Raleigh “must look like a big cob-web” with all the telephone wires stretched across the city. The excitement was so palpable that one newspaper advertisement simply advertised that people could come look at the telephone at a local drug store.

In 1879, Starke threaded the city of Raleigh with additional telephone wires, and communication was soon established between Raleigh and Durham. A few days later, several houses in Chapel Hill, including the home of Julian S. Carr, had telephones.

By the end of 1879, The Raleigh News reported 96 telephone wires in Raleigh, including the Supreme Court room, with more to come. In May 1880, telephone wires between Charlotte and Greenville, SC were established. It was prophesied that soon the telephone would “be so common that everyone can sit on his doorstep and talk with everybody else.”

Some articles highlighted citizens’ efforts to establish a telephone exchange in town. Telephone exchanges, offices that connected callers via switchboards, were big news for any town. A telephone exchange meant more people in town had phones and that they could talk to people further outside of their community. New telephone exchanges were always newsworthy.

In preparation for their telephone exchange, the Asheville Citizen included instructions on how to call someone, and how you should answer the phone (“What will you have?”). Once it was established, the Asheville telephone exchange answered more than 15,000 calls in June 1890 alone – “the biggest month’s work” up to that point. 

Throughout the state, people were excited at the possibilities the telephone presented. Part of that excitement involved just making civic life more convenient. Doctors could be quickly called in case of emergency, as could fire departments.

Cotton factories in Catawba, Lincoln, and Gaston counties built a telephone system to process orders faster. The Farmer and Mechanic editorialized that once Raleigh residents could call cities like Richmond or Augusta, “the saving in postage, in time, and in mistakes, will be wonderful.” The telephone represented a major change for North Carolinians.

Behind the Scenes of the First Educational Film Made in North Carolina

Image provided courtesy of ECU Libraries

Over the years, many classic films have been produced and shot in North Carolina. But the story of the first educational film ever made here begins in 1921. Using the state newspapers available on the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website, we can track its history.

Newspaper article announcing the filming of the history of Roanoke Island

In May 1921, the State Board of Education announced they would outline the history of Roanoke Island, from the British colonists’ ships landing in the 16th century to the 1920s. Captain Albert O. Clement, a photographer from Goldsboro, was initially slated to direct a “picturization” and W.C. Crosby, the director of the Division of School Extension in the state Department of Education, would assist.

Newspaper article announcing re-creations of colonial settings on Roanoke Island

A movie being filmed in North Carolina was a big deal, and even bigger for the people living on location in Dare County. Filming was scheduled for that September, and it would not be a historical recreation “in pageant form, but with an eye to reality.”

The movie was to be directed by Elizabeth Grimball, a veteran theatre play producer, and Dr. Frederick H. Koch, professor of dramatic literature and playwriting at UNC-Chapel Hill. Mabel Evans Jones, the Dare County school superintendent, was to help with production and distribution.

$3,000 in state money was appropriated for the project. One editorial in the Elizabeth City Independent argued that $3,000 wouldn’t be enough to do the project justice, and that the producers would have to rely on “donated properties, donated costumes, and such amateur theatrical talent…” Normally, a project of this size at the time would have required more than $50,000.

Newspaper editorial discussing the cost of the Roanoke film project

Indeed, as pre-production began, nearby counties volunteered their manpower to make the movie a reality. Money and other supplemental resources were brought in by the State Fishing Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard. The people of Roanoke Island built ships and sets. A number of citizens from across the state, including several newspapermen from Greensboro and Raleigh, volunteered to act in the movie.

File photo of several men dressed in colonial outfit as part of the movie production

Production for “The Lost Colony” began on September 20th, and there was an excitement in the air surrounding the filming. 150 cast members came from nearby towns – 100 were from the town of Manteo alone.

Producers from the Atlas Educational Film Co. in Chicago were present on set, as well as historian Frederick A. Olds.

News coverage of the filming was very favorable, with reporters remarking on the elaborate scenes, the depth of the story, and the striking colors of the costumes (the film was, of course, in black-and-white).

Newspaper article about the film production on Roanoke IslandFilming was finished by the 27th. Although there was some grumbling that the film wouldn’t be entirely historically accurate, reporters were gleeful when Crosby promised the finished product would be viewable by around November of that year. Indeed, it premiered on November 7, 1921 in the Supreme Courtroom in Raleigh.

Evidently, Crosby had also promised the people of Manteo that they would be the first people to see it. When Raleigh papers reported that the film would be shown all over the state before Manteo, the town was incensed. They were also hurt that the leading actors were from outside the community and didn’t reflect the time and energy put in by the people of Manteo.

Newspaper article about Manteo residents' indignation to the movie not being shown there first

Newspaper article announcing "The Lost Colony Film" would be shown in Elizabeth City

It was quickly rectified – the first public showing would be in Manteo after all, on the night of November 19. The film would be shown in Elizabeth City after that. One writer reckoned that “everybody in Elizabeth City will try to see the great historical film…” 

And they did. On November 22 alone, an estimated 3,200 people paid admission to see the first movie ever filmed there. This was the “greatest day’s business” ever recorded by the Alkrama Theatre in Elizabeth City. The 1920 census recorded 8,925 living in Elizabeth City at the time, which would mean nearly 36% of all residents turned out to see the movie.

Hundreds entered the theater without paying, crowding out the doors. Hundreds more were turned away, and the lobby and street outside were so full of people that the police threatened to close the venue. This made theater manager John Burgess “so hot in the collar” that he and the police chief nearly came to blows.

Newspaper article about the crowds of thousands to see "The Lost Colony Film"

Reviews were mixed. The Independent said it was “lacking in many dramatic details, but as far as it went it was good.” Another editorial remarked on the irony of watching English colonists exact violence against the native Americans living here, arguing that the contemporary colonizing of the Philippines and Haiti prove that “we haven’t progressed much in the more than three centuries since.”

Directed by Elizabeth Grimball and written by Mabel Evans Jones, “The Lost Colony Film” was to be the first in a series entitled “North Carolina Pictorial History,” but none ever followed. The film is available as part of the North Carolina Collection in Wilson Library, and it is available to view on a kiosk in the North Carolina Collection Gallery.

How ‘The Lost Colony’ Outdoor Drama Got its Start

Every summer, people from around the country visit Manteo, North Carolina, to see an outdoor drama called “The Lost Colony,” a dramatization of the famous failed colony on Roanoke Island. By exploring historic North Carolina newspapers, we can see how that play began and how it became a yearly production.

On July 4, 1937, Paul Green, a professor of drama and philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill, showcased the history of Manteo as the location of the failed Roanoke Colony by staging the first showing of “The Lost Colony” at the specially-built Waterside Theatre. In 1936, Green was approached by W. O. Saunders, editor and publisher of The Daily Independent from Elizabeth City, N.C. Saunders was inspired by the Passion Play of Oberammergau, Germany, to create an outdoor drama for North Carolina, and he wanted Green to be the show’s playwright. Because 1937 marked the 350th anniversary of the birth of the first English child in North America, the lost Roanoke colony into which she was born provided a fitting subject for the production.

Like the play at Oberammergau, The Lost Colony took the effort of the entire community, as well as a few federal agencies, to make Manteo ready to stage the outdoor drama. The sponsors of the play partnered with the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Theatre, the North Carolina Historical Association, the Roanoke Island Historical Association, and the Carolina Playmakers to stage the show. Those organizations provided actors, stage management, and building labor to complete the Waterside Theatre and amphitheater seating for the audience.

Setting for the Lost Colony, as published in a newspaper from 1937.

The Lost Colony opened to a crowd of 2000 on its first night, despite the difficult drive required to get to Roanoke Island. An early review had only positive things to say about the production value; the acting by Federal Theatre actors, Carolina Playmakers, and local residents; and singing by the Westminster Choir of Princeton, New Jersey.

An early review of the play, published in The Daily Independent from Elizabeth City, N.C.

A later review by the Roanoke Rapids Herald gave less favorable reviews for the accommodations provided for the audience. They noted that the town was not prepared with restaurants to feed the thousands of people who were coming to the town for the play, that the outdoor seating was uncomfortable to use for the two-hour runtime, and that parking conditions trapped attendees long after the play had finished. Despite those complaints, that review still noted the excellence of the show itself and the impressions it had made on the reviewer.

The play continued to bring large crowds to Manteo throughout the summer, the largest of which formed when President Roosevelt visited Roanoke Island to celebrate the birth of Virginia Dare. The crowd so overwhelmed the town that the hotels in Manteo and Nags Head were completely filled, so residents opened their private homes as guest lodgings.

Roosevelt attending The Lost Colony during a visit in 1937.
(L-R) President Franklin D. Roosevelt riding in open car with Governor Clyde Hoey and Congressman Lindsay C. Warren at the entrance to rebuilt Fort Raleigh, Manteo, NC, on or just before August 18, 1937, when he came to see the Lost Colony. From the State Archives of North Carolina, Call Number: ConDev57-314.

Roosevelt’s visit brought national attention to “The Lost Colony.” By October 1937, locals were calling for the play to become a yearly production and pushing for the area to become a state park instead of “turning the site over to National Park Services.” Still, in 1941, nearby Fort Raleigh Historic Site and the Waterside Theater were transferred to the National Park Service.

Today, The Lost Colony still runs every summer at the Waterside Theater—with the notable exceptions of four years during World War II and Summer 2020, when it did not run due to COVID-19.

Additional Resources:



Green, Paul, and Laurence G. Avery. 2001. The lost colony: a symphonic drama of American history. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Looking Back on Carrie A. Nation’s Fight For Prohibition in North Carolina

The nationwide prohibition of alcohol began 100 years ago. But the alcohol temperance movement had been fermenting in North Carolina for quite some time before that.

There were efforts to limit the use of alcohol in North Carolina as far back as the early 1700s, but the temperance movement didn’t begin in earnest until the 1800s. Tar Heels organized a temperance convention in 1837.

Newspaper notice about the 1837 North Carolina Temperance Convention

Such groups as the Order of the Sons of Temperance in North Carolina had their own newspapers, namely the Spirit of the Age. Individual temperance activists also gained national notoriety.

Portrait of Carrie Nation, temperance activist

Carrie A. Nation (also spelled “Carry”) grew frustrated with the lack of prohibition enforcement in her native Kansas and became famous for taking matters into her own hands. She visited local saloons and used hatchets and rocks to break windows and alcohol bottles. Despite several stints in jail, she continued her attacks on bars, saloons, and taverns.

Newspaper article highlighting Carrie Nation's visit to Asheville in 1902Nation reportedly covered her legal fees through speaking tours and selling merchandise, including miniature hatchets. Indeed, this is what happened when she visited Asheville in late 1902.

Although she was there to gather funds for a “home for drunkards’ wives in Kansas City,” she sold hatchets to her audience while she railed against the government “as an agent of the liquor traffic.” Because of these stunts, she was a fixture of state and national newspapers. As a member in good standing of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she was popular among women, as well. On other occasions, she sold her books instead of hatchets.

Newspaper article about Carrie Nation visiting Charlotte

During the summer of 1907, Nation toured North Carolina, warning crowds of the dangers of alcohol, cigarettes, and more. She drew attention to societal ills and didn’t pull punches. Newspaper article about Carrie Nation's chastisement of SalisburyWhen she visited Salisbury on June 29, she decried drinkers and smokers alike, calling Salisbury “a hell hole” with “plenty of poverty, degradation and suffering…”

She also didn’t shy away from connecting alcohol consumption and moral decay to national politics. At one point, she said that the United States was in a “state of anarchy,” President Theodore Roosevelt was a “beer guzzling Dutchman,” and argued that there was no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. However, she did speak kindly of North Carolina Governor Robert Glenn because of his positive attitude towards temperance. 

Newspaper article about Carrie Nation's popularity in SalisburyDespite her harsh words, she drew crowds everywhere she went – from Charlotte to Hickory to Durham to Oxford. Indeed, she was always fodder for newspaper writers, one of whom said she “does not seem to be the noisy, belligerent individual she has been pictured…”Newspaper article describing Carrie Nation as having "had no wild spell while here"

Another said she was a “fanatic” yet “has an attractive face…”

Nation traveled to over half a dozen North Carolina cities during July and August 1907, speaking to delighted crowds of up to 4,000 people.

Her words likely had some effect on the state’s residents, because less than a year later, North Carolina voted to pass a state prohibition bill, the first in the country.

Newspaper headline "Prohibition Wins North Carolina Votes Dry by a Very Large Majority"

Prohibition won by over 44,000 votes, and went into effect on January 1, 1909. As for Carrie A. Nation, she moved to Arkansas and founded a home that she called “Hatchet Hall” before passing away in June 1911. 

Excerpt from newspaper article about Pearl McCallNation left a legacy. In the 1930s, to protest the repeal of prohibition, women in Kansas pledged to keep the state alcohol-free using hatchets if necessary. Pearl McCall, a former assistant United States district attorney, urged women to take up hatchets themselves and march on Washington, destroying gambling halls in the process. She said, “what this town needs is a Carry Nation.”

James City, North Carolina

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

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

The location of James City is marked on this map as “Yankees”. Photo from North Carolina Maps (https://web.lib.unc.edu/nc-maps/).

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

“A James City Doorway.” Photo from the Digital North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives (https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/archivalhome/collection/dig_nccpa)

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

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

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













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

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

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


View full newspaper pages on Chronicling America:








Other resources:

Karin Lorene Zipf, NCPedia: https://www.ncpedia.org/james-city

Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project: https://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/james-city/

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.


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.




Captain Coy, Hickory’s Traveling Do-Gooder

Services for the poor in the early 20th century were often rooted in church organizations in most parts of North Carolina. The basic social safety nets that exist now were yet to be in those early decades, and welfare programs in many parts of the country were grassroots efforts led by a few well-intentioned humanitarians.

Captain David G. Coy and his wife were career charity workers. Their story draws from an array of local news stories in historic newspapers in and around North Carolina documenting their efforts. After years in service of the Salvation Army in multiple locations, Captain Coy came to work with the Volunteers of America – a group doing similar work to the Salvation Army – in Hickory. The Coys established a Volunteers’ Home in Hickory in 1916. The Volunteers’ Home had ten rooms that the Coys used to provide shelter for the less fortunate. Coy was able to raise the rent of the house from local churches, and fund the remainder of the expenses through community fundraising.

The Hickory Daily Record documented and celebrated the Coys’ efforts in its pages, and played an active role in promoting the charity work. Coy received a donation of a carload of coal from Mr. Otis Mouser, the vice-president of the Stonega Coke and Coal Company (Big Stone Gap, Virginia).  Captain Coy convinced the city of Hickory to cover the freight cost to bring the coal to town. The Hickory Ice and Coal Company offered space for storage, and coal came to needy families in wagons owned by Mr. Eubert Lyerly.

Captain Coy had been active with the Salvation Army in Johnson City, Tennessee, as early as 1910. The Coys took leave of Johnson City for Silver City, New Mexico in the spring of 1911. “The Captain goes there for his health,” explained The Comet. They again left Tennessee for Cincinnati in 1912, but returned to Johnson City in September of that year, again taking charge of the Salvation Army’s efforts.

In Hickory, the Volunteers raised over $300 in 1916 for their Empty Stocking Fund, providing for a Christmas tree in the town, as well as 58 Christmas baskets distributed to families, each containing foodstuffs for a Christmas feast. The Hickory Daily Record supported this effort with a donation certificate run in its pages through the holiday season. Announcements came out every few days on the Daily Record’s front page, calling for more donations and praising local residents who had given a few dollars.

Captain Coy managed to gather resources to host a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. George Bradley, who had given up their children and suffered from tuberculosis. The couple received shelter in the form of a tent set up outside the Volunteers’ Home. The Hickory Daily Record ran personalized stories such as this (“Tent Is Needed For Young Married Couple,” Hickory Daily Record, January 27, 1917) to promote and draw support for the Coys’ efforts.

In 1917, just months after his Christmas season success, there was a public call for Captain Coy to abandon his efforts in Hickory. City residents discovered that Coy and a friend had spent a few days in Atlanta, and gone through around $200 of the charity funds raised from the public. The Coys later went on to work with the Volunteers of America in Jackson, Tennessee.

A charity coupon for Captain Coy’s Volunteers of America; from the Hickory Daily Record, November 25, 1916.

New Bern, Newbern, New Berne, Newberne

Newbern progress. volume (Newbern, N.C.), 31 Jan. 1863. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
Newbern progress. (Newbern, N.C.), 31 Jan. 1863. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Just how does one spell this city’s name? This was once a question of considerable debate.

Founded in 1710 by Christoph von Graffenried of Bern, Switzerland, New Bern was so named by the Swiss baron for the city of his birth. Graffenried, seeking to enrich himself through mining, led a group of German Palatine and Swiss colonists to the Province of North Carolina. Like its namesake, New Bern sits on a peninsula. The town was settled where the Trent and Neuse rivers converge. The settlement was laid over the Tuscaroran village of Chattoka.

In 1723, the General Assembly enacted that the place be “Incorporated into a Township, by the Name of New Bern.”

Over time the town came to be known by various spellings. Some of the variants included New Bern, Newbern, New Berne, and Newberne. Printed in newspapers, referenced in official documents, and used in every day correspondence, the true spelling of this colonial port town’s name became ever more obscure.

From Petersburg to New Bern
From Petersburg to New Berne, Published in the State Records of North Carolina, volume 15, North Carolina Maps, North Carolina Collection

During the Civil War John L. Swain, a Confederate army captain, used the spelling Newbern as he wrote of his movements in the area.

In 1891 Henry Gannett, a renowned geographer and father of government map making, sparked an orthographical debate when he wrote the city clerk with an inquiry as to the true spelling of the “Eastern metropolis on the Neuse.” Gannett was writing on behalf of the United States Board on Geographic Names, which he had pushed to establish a year earlier. The clerk, William Oliver, responded that Newbern was the proper spelling, and sent Gannett “a bound copy of the Acts of the General Assembly published in 1793” as proof. Consequently, Gannett settled on Newbern as the official spelling. The State Chronicle published the full exchange between Gannett and Oliver in its July 23, 1891 issue.

Six years later, in 1897, the General Assembly established “that the coroporation [sic] heretofore existing as the city of Newbern shall hereafter be known and designated as the city of New Bern, and all laws in conflict with the above are hereby repealed.”

The spelling of the city’s name was still a matter of interest in 1902 when Graham Daves, a New Bern businessman and an avid amateur historian, penned a letter to the editor of the Semi Weekly Messenger on the “Proper Way of Spelling the Name.

Perhaps the persistent debate as to the name of the city has it roots in Christoph von Graffenried’s own 18th century account of the settlement in the Colonial Records of North Carolina or in its translation? In Graffenried’s Narrative by Christoph von Graffenried concerning his voyage to North Carolina and the founding of New Bern in the Colonial Records, the name of the city is spelled at least three different ways.

Now uniformly known as New Bern, the study of the normalization of the city’s name is a fascinating slice of the state’s and nation’s history.