Against ‘bombastic, high-falutin aristocratic fools’

“Outside of East Tennessee the most extensive antiwar organizing took place in western and central North Carolina, whose residents had largely supported the Confederacy in 1861. Here the secret Heroes of America, numbering perhaps 10,000 men, established an ‘underground railroad’ to enable Unionists to escape to Federal lines.

“The Heroes originated in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt, Piedmont counties whose Quaker and Moravian residents had long harbored pacifist and antislavery sentiments. Unionists in this region managed to elect ‘peace men’ to the state legislature and a member of the Heroes as the local sheriff. By 1864 the organization had spread into the North Carolina mountains, had garnered considerable support among Raleigh artisans and was even organizing in plantation areas (where there is some evidence of black involvement in its activities).

“Confederate governor Zebulon Vance dismissed the Heroes of America as ‘altogether a low and insignificant concern.’ But by 1864 the organization was engaged in espionage, promoting desertion and helping escaped Federal prisoners reach Tennessee and Kentucky….

“Most of all, the Heroes of America helped galvanize the class resentments rising to the surface of Southern life. Alexander H. Jones, a Hendersonville newspaper editor, pointedly expressed their views: ‘This great national strife originated with men and measures that were … opposed to a democratic form of government.… The fact is, these bombastic, high-falutin aristocratic fools have been in the habit of driving negroes and poor helpless white people until they think … that they themselves are superior; [and] hate, deride and suspicion the poor.’ ”

— From “The South’s inner Civil War” by Eric Foner, American Heritage, March 1989

‘The misfortune of having a war within its bowels’

“In the South, intestine [internal] war continually raged inside the conventional war of strategy and maneuver being fought by the British and Continental armies. Intestine warfare was more than pitched; it fondly embraced cruelty, nighttime murders and hangings without trial….

“Or, as North Carolina Governor Abner Nash more vividly described the land that suffered it, ‘a Country exposed to the misfortune of having a War within its Bowels.’ ”

— From “With Little Less Than Savage Fury” by Thomas B. Allen in American Heritage magazine (Fall 2010)

Creek chieftain reunites with captive he freed

“Curious crowds gathered in the hamlets and towns along the route [of Creek chieftain Alexander McGillivray, traveling from Georgia to New York in 1790 to negotiate a treaty with President Washington]. No incidents marred the journey, although many of the Carolina settlers had suffered from the forays of McGillivray’s warriors.

“Indeed, at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, a woman broke from the spectators and approached the chief. Recognizing her as a captive he had freed, McGillivray embraced her tearfully to the applause of the crowd. ‘The meeting was truly affecting,’ recorded [his escort, Colonel Marinus] Willett.”

— From “The chief of state and the chief” by Gary L. Roberts, American Heritage, October 1975

Why William Styron had to write ‘Nat Turner’

“Born in 1850 on an eastern North Carolina plantation, my father’s mother was the proprietress of two slave girls who were her age, 12 or thereabouts, at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. Many years later, when she was an old lady in her 80s and I was 11 or 12, she told me at great length of her love for these children and of the horror and loss she felt when that same year, 1862, Union forces…  under General Burnside swept down on the plantation, stripped the place bare and left everyone to starve, including the little slave girls, who later disappeared.

“It was a story I heard more than once, since I avidly prompted her to repeat it and she, indulging her own fondness for its melodrama, told it again with relish, describing her hatred for the Yankees (which remained undiminished in 1937), the real pain of her starvation (she said they were reduced to eating ‘roots and rats’), and her anguish when she was separated forever from those little black girls, who were called, incidentally, Drusilla and Lucinda, just as in so many antebellum plantation novels.

“All of the deliciously described particulars of my grandmother’s chronicle held me spellbound, but I think that nothing so awed me as the fact that this frail and garrulous woman whom I beheld, and who was my own flesh and blood, had been the legal owner of two other human beings. It may have determined, more than anything else, some as-yet-to-be-born resolve to write about slavery.”

— From “Nat Turner Revisited” by William Styron in American Heritage, October 1992

First in flight no match for latest in millinery

“In talking with some of the people who live on the outer banks — bankers, they are called — I soon discovered that wrecks like that of the [Carroll A. Deering in 1921] have a way of serving as points of personal reference. One venerable gentleman who lives on Hatteras recalled that when the barkentine [a sailing ship with at least three masts] J. W. Dresser came ashore on July 23, 1895, it was his 12th birthday; a lady told me that she well recollected the wreck of the schooner Catherine M. Monahan off Ocracoke on August 24, 1910, because she had the worst toothache in her life; another lady remembered that some of the nicest hats she ever owned were acquired at a salvage auction on Nags Head beach after the steamer Elizabeth was blown ashore on March 19, 1919.

“ ‘There was everything aboard the Elizabeth,’ she said. ‘She was on her way from Baltimore to the Canal Zone and she carried everything from three automobiles to a case of silk shirts. The men had a lighter [a barge] and a schooner boat and they unloaded her cargo in that. Soon as they’d get a load of stuff ashore, it would be auctioned off…. I bought a case of white hats, a dozen, the nicest hats you ever saw. There was much more on the Elizabeth than the men could get off. A big tide came in and she floated herself on the fifth day and that was the end of the auction….’

“Few events in the more recent history of the outer banks, I gathered, exceeded the Elizabeth auction in importance. The achievement of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, only a few miles from where the Elizabeth grounded herself, was obviously nowhere in the same class. And I gathered, also, that there was a certain amount of nostalgia for the days when ‘going wrecking’ — plundering wrecked ships — was the leading cottage industry of the outer banks.”

— From “How Cape Hatteras earned its evil notoriety….” by Hamilton Basso in American Heritage, February 1956

Basso, a journalist and novelist (“The View from Pompey’s Head,” 1954), lived for a time in a cabin in Pisgah Forest, where he sometimes hosted Thomas Wolfe.

A sign, a door, a connection to past tragedy

“When newspapers reported in 1991 that a fire in a Hamlet, North Carolina, chicken-processing plant had killed 25 workers who were trapped by locked doors, labor historians  recalled the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City, in which 146 garment workers were killed. It was a tragedy that helped bring about modern worker-safety laws.

“We have very little [at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History]  that tells the Triangle story and didn’t want to leave the curators of the future with as little about Hamlet. And so a trip to Hamlet, along with extensive negotiations with state and federal officials, secured a factory sign, one of the infamous locked doors, and other artifacts.”

— From “What Do We Keep?” by curators Steven Lubar and Peter Liebhold in American Heritage, spring 1999

Salisbury was big on ‘communal living rooms’

“In 18th-century America, a time when large families living in small spaces made home life cramped, taverns served as communal living rooms….

“Records show that in 1755, of the seven or eight houses in the town of Salisbury, North Carolina, four were taverns or inns. One Rowan County clergyman summed up the situation succinctly when he lamented that the tavern seemed to be faring far better than the church in the competition for men’s souls.”

— From “America’s most impressive historic survivors just may be our taverns…” by Stephen Beaumont and Janet Fortran in American Heritage, June/July 2003

Kings Mountain had chilling effect on Tories

“The Revolution’s epochal battle between patriots and Tories came on October 7, 1780, at Kings Mountain on the North Carolina-South Carolina border, when some 900 rebels annihilated a force of about 1,200 loyalists, all Americans but for the British officer who led them.

“The rebels took 698 prisoners and, for murky reasons of vengeance, held a campfire court martial that sentenced 36 of the captives to death. After nine were hanged — three at a time, from the limb of a great oak tree — officers stopped the lynching. On the march to prison, a survivor later wrote, an unknown number of captives, ‘worn out with fatigue, and not being able to keep up,’ were ‘cut down and trodden to death in the mire.’

“To Tories everywhere, Kings Mountain sounded a call to reality. All the combatants except Col. Patrick Ferguson had been American, and those who chose to fight for King George III had chosen the wrong side.”

— From “With Little Less Than Savage Fury” by Thomas B. Allen in American Heritage magazine (Fall 2010)

First tornado account predates Weather Channel!

“The first known mention of a tornado in pre-colonial America was in the diary of a member of the 1586 Roanoke landing party. On June 23, he recounts, as the fleet of Sir Francis Drake stood at anchor off the North Carolina coast, there arose a tempest characterized by awesome spouts — the manifestation of a tornado over water — of such violence as to cause all the ships to break loose from their anchors.”

— From “The winds of ruin” by C. W. Gusewelle in American Heritage, June/July 1978