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.”

Kuralt’s Road Ends in His Beloved Chapel Hill

. . . was the first-page headline of The Herald-Sun, Durham’s newspaper, on July 9, 1997.  At noon the previous day—twenty years ago today—family and friends buried and memorialized Charles Kuralt on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives is home to The Herald-Sun photographic negatives, so today we honor that anniversary by featuring the two photographs, cropped as they were then, that accompanied the newspaper’s story.

The Herald-Sun caption for this photograph by Joe Weiss: "Wallace Kuralt, (center) brother of Charles Kuralt, talks with CBS journalist Harry Smith after the graveside service for Charles Kuralt Tuesday at the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery on the campus of the University of North Carolina."
The Herald-Sun caption for this photograph by Joe Weiss: “Wallace Kuralt, (center) brother of Charles Kuralt, talks with CBS journalist Harry Smith after the graveside service for Charles Kuralt Tuesday at the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery on the campus of the University of North Carolina.”

Kuralt’s connections to Carolina were long and deep.  Born in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1934, his family moved to Charlotte in 1945.  He attended UNC between 1951 and 1955, and he worked on the student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, as a reporter and columnist.  In April 1954 he won the student election for the position of editor.  After his time at UNC he wrote for two years for The Charlotte Observer before joining the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1957 as a news writer for radio.  He became a CBS News correspondent two years later at the age of 25. Kuralt spent nearly his entire career at CBS, retiring May 1, 1994 at the age of 59.  He was best known for “On the Road,” the long-running series of Americana short stories that he started in 1967 as segments aired during The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.  Others may recall him as the fifteen-year anchor of CBS Sunday Morning, which first aired in 1979.  Throughout his celebrated career and wanderings across the country, Kuralt maintained lasting love for his home state.

Charles Kuralt died on July 4, 1997.  To mark that anniversary, sister blog A View to Hugh published an account of his passing and memorial service that features photographs by Kuralt’s friend Hugh Morton and documents from the Charles Kuralt Collection and the William C. Friday Papers in the Southern Historical Collection.  Morton and Friday were two of the speakers at the memorial service attended by 1,600 people in UNC’s Memorial Hall.  UNC’s social media Spotlight webpage republished a short excerpt of that blog post along with the University News Services’ July 8, 1997 story, “Life and legacy of Charles Kuralt honored during service at UNC-CH’s Memorial Hall.”

As captioned in The Herald-Sun: "CBS Anchor Dan Rather bows his head during the memorial ceremony for his fellow newsman Charles Kuralt." Photograph by Bill Willcox.
As captioned in The Herald-Sun: “CBS Anchor Dan Rather bows his head during the memorial ceremony for his fellow newsman Charles Kuralt.” Photograph by Bill Willcox.

July 1813: Otway Burns and the Snap Dragon

This Month in North Carolina History


In July 1813 Otway Burns of New Bern, North Carolina, applied to the United States government for a Letter of Marque and Reprisal, thus launching the career of North Carolina’s most successful privateer.

Burns was a shipmaster in the coastal trade sailing between New York and New Bern with occasional trips as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as the Caribbean. Returning from such a voyage in 1813 he learned that war had broken out between the United States and Great Britain. Burns formed a joint stock company with several businessmen in New Bern to arm and outfit a ship to prey on British commerce. Finding a suitably fast and maneuverable ship in New York, he purchased it and renamed it the Snap Dragon.

With the receipt of his Letter of Marque, Otway Burns became a privateer. Since the 13th century, European and, later, American countries had commissioned private citizens to attack their enemies in time of war. The United States Constitution specifically empowers Congress to issue such letters.

A Letter of Marque (also called a Letter of Marque and Reprisal) allowed a private ship owner to use his vessel to capture enemy shipping. The Letter set down the rules under which this could be done. A captured ship had to be taken to an American port where a United States District Court would decide whether it was in fact an enemy vessel and whether the Letter of Marque was valid. If the court decided in favor of the privateer, the ship and its cargo were condemned and sold at public auction with the proceeds being divided between the owner and crew of the privateering vessel.

Supporters of the privateer system argued that it allowed a country with a small navy dramatically to increase its naval power in wartime. Opponents of the system argued that it was little more than legitimized piracy, and in fact several well known pirates had obtained dubious Letters of Marque as a cover for their criminal activity.

American privateers as a whole did substantial damage to British shipping in the War of 1812, capturing, by one estimate, more than 1300 British ships. Burns and the Snap Dragon contributed their share to that total. There is no complete record of the career of the Snap Dragon, but one authority estimates that she engaged 67 British vessels, capturing 42 of them. Another authority states that on one voyage Burns captured ten ships, with 250 prisoners and cargo valued at more than a million dollars.

Although Burns’ primary target was the British merchant fleet, he was involved several times in scrapes with enemy war ships. Burns made three voyages but was prevented by rheumatism from sailing a fourth time in May 1814. On this trip, under Captain W. R. Graham, the career of the Snap Dragon ended when she was captured by the British sloop-of-war Martin.

After the war, Burns turned to mercantile interests and ship building. He began a political career in 1821 and served in a number of General Assemblies, until 1835. In that year he was one of the few votes from eastern North Carolina in favor of calling a constitutional convention to consider increasing the political representation from the western part of the state and the popular election of the governor. The vote ended his political life but earned him much gratitude in the west. Burnsville, the seat of Yancey County in the North Carolina mountains, was named for him.


Battle, Kemp P. “Otway Burns, Privateer and Legislator,” North Carolina University Magazine, Old Series 32:1 (October 1901).

Robinson, Jack. Remembering a local legend: Captain Otway Burns and his ship Snap Dragon. Wilmington, NC: Lulu, c.2006.

Image Source:

Burns, Walter Francis. Captain Otway Burns, Patriot, Privateer, and Legislator. New York, 1905.

July 1937: Krispy Kreme Opens in Winston-Salem

This Month in North Carolina History

Krispy Kreme hat

On July 13, 1937, the first Krispy Kreme store opened for business in Winston-Salem, NC. The company’s success and quick rise to popularity were due both to the personal history of Vernon Rudolph, its owner, and the larger cultural history of doughnuts in America (and more specifically, the American South).

There were very few doughnuts shops in the South prior to the 1930s, and doughnut recipes that found their way into Southern kitchens were often thought of as “Yankee treats,” coming from places like Pennsylvania. However, several Southern food traditions and preferences helped pave the way for successful doughnut ventures. Bready foods such as biscuits and deep-fried snacks like hushpuppies had long been extremely popular in the region, as were other doughnut-like products, including French beignets in New Orleans.

Vernon Rudolph opened his first doughnut shop in 1933 in the town of Paducah, Kentucky, with a recipe his uncle had purchased from a chef in New Orleans. Within a few years, he had moved his business to several other Southern cities, and was focused on selling his doughnuts wholesale to local grocery stores. He still had not found the perfect location to establish his business. It wasn’t until the summer of 1937 that Rudolph set off for Winston-Salem, NC, with little more than twenty dollars in his pocket, two friends, and the intention of opening a new doughnut shop.

Why Winston-Salem? Many sources report that Rudolph was inspired by the pack of cigarettes he was smoking. He figured that a city that already supported one large industry – tobacco – would be able to support another. He also saw Winston-Salem’s early acceptance of industrialization and technology as promising, because his methods of doughnut production were mechanized. In addition he believed that a city with a large population had the potential to translate into a sizeable customer base.

The first Krispy Kreme store was located in Old Salem, across the street from the Salem Academy. After they made their rent payment, Rudolph and his partners had no money left to buy supplies and ingredients. Rudolph didn’t let this stop him, and managed to convince a local grocer to advance him the ingredients he needed in order to make the first batch of donuts, with the promise that he would soon pay the grocer back. In mid-July of 1937, the first batch of Krispy Kreme doughnuts was made.

The Krispy Kreme business model continued as it had before in Rudolph’s earlier stores, selling wholesale to local groceries. He used the Pontiac car that brought him to Winston-Salem to make his deliveries. In order to make delivering large quantities of doughnuts possible, Rudolph had to take out the back seat of the car – perhaps he could have taken inspiration from the same delivery methods that North Carolina bootleggers used during Prohibition?

However, Rudolph’s location in a busy downtown district was pumping the smell of his deep-fried donuts into an area frequented by pedestrians. They began stopping by to ask if they could purchase doughnuts for themselves rather than waiting to buy them at a store. Rudolph eventually succumbed to their demands and cut a hole in the wall so that he could sell doughnuts directly to the public fresh from the production line. The hole in the wall, which turned a wholesale operation into a retail business, had unintended consequences for how customers interacted with the business by showing them an open view directly into the production center. In addition to purveying their glazed calorie-bombs to the general public, Krispy Kreme was now selling the experience of sneaking a peek into the behind-the-scenes activities of the shop.

Rudolph used the new window into the production space to get customers’ attention. It was successful because it highlighted how clean and modern it was and introduced an element of tourism. Opening this window showed customers the machines Rudolph was using to produce doughnuts, which were definitely not old-fashioned. In fact, even the shape of a Krispy Kreme is mechanically derived: the doughnuts are formed from dough extruded by air pressure to form a perfect doughnut shape. There’s no traditional doughnut hole here! The Ring King Jr. used by Krispy Kreme stores to make doughnuts in the 1950s could make 75 dozen doughnuts in an hour.

Eventually, Krispy Kreme stores began installing their “Hot Now!” signs which lit up when fresh doughnuts were being produced in order to catch customers’ attention. At the beginning, Krispy Kreme’s business was largely focused on the wholesale market, so most doughnuts were being produced very early in the morning. As the company’s retail trade grew, it began producing doughnuts at times that were more customer friendly, with the “Hot Now!” used to draw in customers when they most wanted a doughnut.

Rudolph died in 1973 at the age of 58, but the company’s success continued to be closely tied to the spectacle of mechanical production. Even administrators of the company today refer to Krispy Kreme shops as “factory stores.” The stores were renovated again in the 1980s, creating more of a “stage” for doughnut production than a kitchen. More recently, Krispy Kreme introduced a line of coffees and espresso drinks to compete with other popular doughnut and coffee chains, which continues to encourage customers to stay and watch the doughnut production line.

Krispy Kreme has become something a cult obsession over the years, and its distinctive logo can often be found on T-shirts, thermoses, or the little paper chef’s hats you can take when you visit a store location. In 2004, NC State students developed a charity race, the Krispy Kreme Challenge, in which participants run two miles from the Bell Tower on State’s campus to the Krispy Kreme store on Peace Street, eat a dozen donuts, and run the two miles back, all within one hour.

Currently there are dozens flavors of Krispy Kreme doughnuts (not to mention their mini doughnuts and doughnut holes), but the Original Glazed has always been the most popular. The recipe that Vernon Rudolph’s uncle purchased from the French baker in New Orleans remains a secret, locked up in a safe in Winston-Salem. And while the recipe may not be available for your perusal, the corporate archives of Krispy Kreme are located at the Smithsonian Institution, as are some of the company’s doughnut-making machines from the 1950s, like the famous Ring King Jr.

Donut Queen button


Kazanjian, Kirk and Joyner, Amy. Making Dough: The 12 Secret Ingredients of Krispy Kreme’s Sweet Success. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004.

“Our Story,” Krispy Kreme website, accessed July 2014

Mullins, Paul R. Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut. Gainesville, FL: The University of Florida Press, 2008.

de la Pena, Carolyn. “Mechanized Southern Comfort: Touring the Technological South at Krispy Kreme,” in Dixie Emporium: Tourism, Foodways and Consumer Culture in the American South, ed. by Anthony J. Stanonis. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2008.

Image Sources:

[Krispy Kreme paper hat], North Carolina Collection Gallery, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Krispy Kreme, Donut Queen,” Lew Powell Memorabilia Collection, North Carolina Collection Gallery, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

July 1916: Western North Carolina Floods

This Month in North Carolina History


In July 1916, two tropical cyclones wreaked havoc in many regions of the southeastern United States, especially in the western North Carolina river basins of the Catawba and French Broad Rivers. The first storm hit the Gulf Coast of Alabama on July 5 and 6, coming ashore as a hurricane. A few days later, the weakened storm dropped heavy rainfall over the foothills and mountains of North Carolina. On July 14, a category 2 hurricane made landfall along South Carolina’s coast, passing over the Charleston area.

On July 15 and 16, this system reached the North Carolina mountains as a tropical storm. In some places along the cyclone’s path record levels of rainfall were recorded. In particular, an observer in Altapass, North Carolina, recorded 22.22 inches of rain from 2 p.m. on July 15 to the same time on July 16.

While the storm of early July only minimally affected western North Carolina, it did cause the soil to become saturated and the rivers and streams to rise. When the tropical storm of mid-July passed over the mountains, about eighty to ninety percent of the rainfall became run-off. With such an enormous amount of water never entering the ground and immediately flowing to the already full mountain waterways, the streams and rivers rose rapidly. The results were devastating.

The French Broad River, which flows past Asheville and westward into the Tennessee River, crested at an estimated twenty-one feet, some seventeen feet above flood stage. In addition, the average width of the French Broad near Asheville was 381 feet in 1916; during the flood, it was approximately 1300 feet across. Along the Catawba River, which rises in the mountains and flows southeasterly into South Carolina near Charlotte, the flooding was very similar. In some locations along its path in North Carolina, the Catawba rose almost twenty-three feet beyond previous high-water marks.

All along the rivers’ courses the destruction and loss of life was wide spread. At least eighty individuals were killed, and bridges, houses, factories, railroad lines, and other man-made structures were destroyed. A contemporary report by the federal government stated that property damage was approximately $22,000,000. Adjusted for inflation, this total would be approximately $430,000,000 in 2007.

A textual description of the destruction is difficult, so included below are several images from the flood. These images come from The Floods of July 1916: How the Southern Railway Organization Met an Emergency.





Southern Railway Company. The Floods of July 1916: How the Southern Railway Organization Met an Emergency. Washington: Southern Railway Company, 1917.

The North Carolina Flood: July 14, 15, 16, 1916. Charlotte, N.C.: W.M. Bell, [1916?] (News Print. House)

Hurricanes.” State Climate Office of North Carolina. Accessed 30 June 2008.

Image Sources:

[Asheville Flood, 1916], in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill. [top image]

Southern Railway Company. The Floods of July 1916: How the Southern Railway Organization Met an Emergency. Washington: Southern Railway Company, 1917. [bottom images]

July 1885: John Richard (Romulus) Brinkley

This Month in North Carolina History

Dr. Brinkley’s Doctor Book. North Carolina Collection, VCpB B858b.

Two torn and fading paperbacks in the vault of the North Carolina Collection describing his medical practice are relics of the life and times of John R. Brinkley who left his birthplace in the hills of North Carolina and, as the famous or infamous “Goat Gland Doctor,” rose from poverty to great wealth and was well on his way back to poverty again when he died in 1942.

Brinkley was born 8 July 1885, the illegitimate son of John Richard Brinkley and Sarah Candace (Sally) Burnett in Beta, Jackson County, North Carolina. His mother gave him the middle name Romulus, but he later changed it to Richard. Brinkley’s father, a so-called “mountain doctor,” had no formal training but had “read” medicine in the office of another physician before setting up on his own.

Brinkley did well in the local schools, demonstrating a quick mind and a prodigious memory. He left school at 16 and became a telegrapher, first for the railroad and then for Western Union. Although his job paid relatively well, Brinkley wanted to become a physician and in 1907 enrolled in Bennett Medical College in Chicago, which he attended for three years. Ultimately he graduated from the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City in 1915.

Forced to drop out of medical school several times to support his family, Brinkley obtained student medical licenses and often operated on the wild side of medicine. In an episode in Greenville, South Carolina, Brinkley and his partner injected patients with colored water, claiming that it was a miraculous cure for venereal disease. Finally, with his degree from the Eclectic Medical University in hand, Dr. Brinkley set up practice in Milford, Kansas.

It was in Milford that Brinkley hit the mother lode. According to Brinkley, a local farmer, suffering from failing virility asked the doctor to implant in him a portion of the “sex gland” of a male goat. Brinkley obliged and the farmer claimed that his life was transformed. Brinkley publicized the operation and testimonials to its beneficial results widely, and soon patients were lining up for the goat gland transplant.

Brinkley realized the potential of radio to advertise his practice, and in 1923 he began operating station KFKB in Milford, broadcasting all over the midwest. Brinkley did regular programs of medical advice and, through arrangements with pharmacies in the region, began prescribing medicine over the radio.

By the end of the 1920s Brinkley had become famous and wealthy. He had also made enemies. The American Medical Association was investigating him for malpractice. The Kansas City Star had published a series of articles accusing him of fraud, and the newly formed Federal Radio Commission was looking into his broadcasting practices. As a result of all this Brinkley lost his license to practice medicine in Kansas in 1929 and the FRC closed down his radio station in 1930.

During his involuntary retirement from medicine Brinkley turned to politics, and between 1930 and 1934 he ran three times for the governorship of Kansas. In his best showing he polled 30.6 percent of the total vote.

In 1934 Brinkley returned to medicine. He obtained a medical license in Texas and set up a practice and ultimately a hospital in Del Rio on the Rio Grande. Again he was a phenomenal success, making more than twelve million dollars between 1934 and 1938 on his goat gland surgery alone. He also opened a radio station just over the river in Mexico which broadcast all the way to Canada. The doctor enjoyed his wealth, whether relaxing in his mansion in Del Rio or traveling extensively with his family, often in his luxuriously appointed private airplane or on his ocean-going yacht, the Dr. Brinkley III.

Brinkley’s success, however, attracted the attention of his old enemies the American Medical Association and the Federal Communications Commission (successor to the FRC) and brought him a new opponent in the form of the Internal Revenue Service. In 1938 Brinkley lost a splashy libel suit against the AMA which left him branded as a quack. The FCC closed down his Mexican radio station, and Brinkley found himself being investigated by the IRS for non-payment of taxes and by the Post Office for mail fraud. In failing health, Brinkley declared bankruptcy in 1941 and died of cancer in May 1942.

The accompanying illustration, taken from a pamphlet advertising the doctor’s procedures and services, shows the Brinkley hospital in Del Rio. The building is actually the Roswell Hotel. The pamphlet says that the “Brinkley operation is so mild that our patients are guests in the hotel, mixing and mingling with traveling public…”


R. Alton Lee. The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002.

Francis W. Schruben. “The Wizard of Milford: Dr. J. R. Brinkley and Brinkleyism.” Kansas History, 14:4 (Winter 1991-1992).

Clement Wood. The Life of a Man: A Biography of John R. Brinkley. Kansas City: Goshorn Publishing, 1934.

John Richard Brinkley. Dr. Brinkley’s Doctor Book. Del Rio, Texas, ca. 1933.

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, http://www.thelostcolony.org.

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

July 1963: The North Carolina Fund

This Month in North Carolina History

lbjOn July 18, 1963, the state of North Carolina began an “all-out assault on poverty” with the incorporation of the North Carolina Fund. The North Carolina Fund was an innovative program designed, administered, and operated by local communities. It was the first project of its kind in the country.

In the early 1960s, many North Carolinians were in trouble. Historians James L. Leloudis and Robert Korstad describe the economic conditions in the state when Governor Terry Sanford took office in 1961:

North Carolina’s factory workers earned some of the lowest industrial wages in the nation; thirty-seven percent of the state’s residents had incomes below the federal poverty line; half of all students dropped out of school before obtaining a high school diploma; and one-fourth of adults twenty-five years of age and older had less than a sixth-grade education and were, for all practical purposes, illiterate.

By 1960 the state’s rate of growth had been falling for decades, in part because of heavy emigration due to the declining number of agricultural jobs. Governor Sanford promised to experiment with new programs and ideas in order to enable North Carolinians to compete in a rapidly changing society.

The North Carolina Fund was established as an independent, non-profit corporation. Incorporated on July 18, 1963, by Governor Sanford, Charles H. Babcock, C.A. McKnight and John H. Wheeler, the Fund was financed by a seven million dollar grant from the Ford Foundation and by additional funding from Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.

Having secured funding and organized a Board of Directors and Executive Committee composed of many of the state’s most prominent citizens, the agency established program offices in eleven urban and rural counties across the state. This decentralized structure was designed to permit each office to coordinate locally administered public and social services and to assist the poor by developing an approach unique to each community’s needs.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson successfully pushed the U.S. Congress to pass the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act — a piece of legislation shaped both by Governor Sanford and Executive Director George Esser and the experience of the nascent North Carolina Fund — and the direction of the state’s antipoverty initiative took a new turn. On May 7, 1964, President Johnson, accompanied by Governor Sanford, visited the home of tenant farmer William D. Marlow near Rocky Mount, to promote the President’s “War on Poverty.”

This new national program, the cornerstone of which was the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), would administer millions of dollars in federal funding for the creation of local anti-poverty projects across the country and offered the possibility for expanding existing anti-poverty efforts. As the OEO called for the creation of community action programs developed with the help of the people the programs would serve, the North Carolina Fund instructed its own local programs to submit proposals to the federal agency with an increased emphasis in grassroots community development. Within a year of the Fund’s incorporation a number of these applications were approved and many local offices soon became not only federally-funded Community Action Agencies but partners in the national War on Poverty.

The North Carolina Fund developed a variety of programs across the state, including: the North Carolina Volunteers, a service corps initiative that trained college students to work in rural communities; a program to train community action technicians (CAT) to work in North Carolina and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA); a summer internship and curriculum development program; academic research on poverty and economic development in North Carolina; daycare, home, and lifestyle management programs such as sewing and cooking classes, tutoring for school children, and adult literacy programs; community action and civic engagement programs; manpower and economic development initiatives such as Head Start and Neighborhood Youth Corps programs; and low-income housing development.

Over the next five years the Fund’s staff and volunteers touched the lives of countless North Carolinians and its programs and services affected communities across the state. However, many lawmakers began to question the uses of Fund resources and services, especially when some North Carolina Fund programs became involved with local black freedom movements. By 1968, according to historians Leloudis and Korstad,

“[T]he Fund’s future was in peril. “The agency “had expended its initial foundation grants, which had been awarded for a five-year period, and the national War on Poverty was under siege. When the Fund’s philanthropic backers offered to extend their support, its leaders declined. In part, they held to a vision of the Fund as a temporary and experimental agency. The founders had no desire to see their work routinized; to allow such a development, they insisted, would be to sacrifice innovation to the very forms of inertia that had for so long crippled the nation’s response to its most needy citizens.”

At the end of 1968 the North Carolina Fund disbanded, spinning off many of its successful state-wide programs into independent non-profit organizations.

Suggestions for further reading:
James L. Leloudis and Robert R. Korstad, “Citizen Soldiers; The North Carolina Volunteers and the South’s War on Poverty,” in Elna C. Green, ed., The New Deal and Beyond: Social Welfare in the South since 1930 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003), pp. 138-162.

LeMay, Erika N. “Battlefield in the Backyard: A Local Study of the War on Poverty.” M.A. Thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1997

Alt, Patricia Maloney. “The Evolution of Community Action: Training Goals and Strategies of the North Carolina Fund.” M.A. Thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1971.

Archival Resources:
North Carolina Fund Clippings: People, General Articles, and History of the Fund, 1963-1969. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

North Carolina Fund Records (#4710). Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Billy Ebert Barnes Collection (# 34), containing a number of photographs of North Carolina Fund people and activities. North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) (Series O. Foundation History). Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

George H. Esser Papers (#4887). Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

July 1833: Frankie Silver Hanged

This Month in North Carolina History

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

According to the most common version of the story…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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