George Washington recognizes ‘State of some importance’

On this day in 1790: George Washington appoints James Iredell of Edenton to the U.S. Supreme Court. Among Iredell’s attributes, says Washington, is that “he is of a State of some importance in the Union that has given no character to a federal office.”

The English-born Iredell, who proves to be one of the court’s sharpest minds, serves until his death in 1799.

North Carolina’s only other Supreme Court justice  will be Alfred Moore of New Hanover County, appointed by John Adams in 1800.


‘George Washington didn’t sleep here’ (here’s why)

“[George] Washington’s complaints only increased in the southern states [during his first-term tour of all 13 states]. Instead of comfort, he experienced martyrdom, at least in the small towns along the road.

“In April 1791 he crossed into North Carolina from Virginia hoping to find an inn where both he and the horses could recover from an unpleasant day of traveling in the rain. He had no luck. The single tavern open for business was so repellent that Washington could not bring himself to suffer a single night’s stay. The inn, he explained in his diary, ‘having no stables in which the horses could be comfortable, & no Rooms or beds which appeared tolerable, & every thing else having a dirty appearance, I was compelled to keep on to Halifax.’

Tarboro, North Carolina, offered ‘a very indifferent house without stabling.’ There followed a series of ‘indifferent’ inns, a description that in Washington’s rating system apparently meant barely tolerable….”

— From “George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation” by T.H. Breen (2016)

“Indifferent” may have been Washington’s pejorative of choice for North Carolina inns, but he was more memorably dismissive of Charlotte — and Greenville — as “trifling.”


George Washington wasn’t last to knock Charlotte

When I moved to Charlotte in 1974, I soon learned that George Washington had memorably dismissed it as “a trifling place.” But that was only the beginning — as the prototypical overreaching Southern boom town, Charlotte has lent itself to decades of  insults.

Because the Democratic National Convention will test as never before the thickness of our civic skin, I’ve preemptively assembled some notable putdowns from the past (first of a series):

“Charlotte is not Jerusalem. Charlotte is not Mecca. Charlotte is just a big city sitting on the South Carolina line.”

— Rep. Melvin “Pap” Creecy, D-Northampton (1983)

“The ugliest collection of third-rate buildings in America.”

— PBS architecture critic Robert A.M. Stern (1986)

“I hope this doesn’t mean we’re going to become Charlotte one day.”

– Harry Carter, city manager of Cornelia, Ga. (population 36,000), sharing with The New York Times his worst fears about growth. (2001)

“What are we going to do in Charlotte? Go to the Bass Pro Shop or something?”

— Virginia Tech guard Jacob Gibson, mulling a possible bid to the inaugural Continental Tire Bowl. [The Hokies ended up in the San Francisco Bowl — 1,750 miles from the nearest Bass Pro Shop.] (2002)

We come from labor, steel mills, blue-collar workers. They are like little daffodils. They wear their hair in a bow and say, ‘I just hate that for you.’ ”

– Teddy Xidas, president of US Airways’ flight attendants union, contrasting members in Pittsburgh with those in Charlotte. (2004)


The state of the state in the State of the Union

When President Obama singled out Kathy Proctor, the furniture worker turned Forsyth Tech biotechnology student, it marked the fifth time North Carolina has been mentioned [search here] in a State of the Union address.

In the very first such address, in 1790, George Washington waited only one sentence before listing “the recent accession of the important state of North Carolina to the Constitution of the United States (of which official information has been received)” among those “circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity.”

But more than two centuries would pass before North Carolina received another presidential nod. (A long time between drinks, some might say.) Bill Clinton put in a plug for Jim Hunt’s educational advances in 1997 and again in 1999. Then Obama in 2010 cited the jobs created by Celgard, a Charlotte battery manufacturer.

Still, despite this recent rush of attention, no State of the Unionist but Washington has ever gone so far as to call North Carolina  “important.”

George Washington, packing heat from Charlotte?

“The rifle became so popular in the South that a factory for making the hunting rifle was established at Charlotte, N. C., about 1740. The founders came from Leman’s Rifle Factory at Lancaster, Pa….

” ‘General Washington’s favorite weapon was the rifle,’ says George W. Park Custer, in a…   memorandum printed… for private distribution…. ‘His was presented to him in 1787 [and] was made in Charlotte, N. C. It is four feet in length of the barrel, and the entire piece is handsomely mounted with silver. The lock is beautiful work. I have known the General to kill a deer at 150 yards with this rifle.’

“This same Charlotte rifle-making firm in 1777 presented General Washington with the finest and undoubtedly the first pair of rifle pistols ever made in America. They had twelve inch barrels carrying four ounce balls and would shoot with the accuracy of a rifle at fifty or sixty feet. They saved the General’s life at Germantown [in October 1777] but that story, though a most interesting one, does not belong here.”

— From the Washington Post, June 16, 1901 (as quoted in “Hornets’ Nest” by LeGette Blythe and Charles Raven Brockmann [1961])

A colorful and intriguing account indeed, but I’ve been unable to turn up any supporting evidence on Washington’s weaponry (or on George W. Park Custer).

This caution flag is from an online bio of Henry E. Leman (1812- ), a gunsmith in Lancaster County, Pa.:

“Claims have been made on a number of occasions that gunsmiths named Leman worked in Lancaster County in the eighteenth century…. The records of the Lancaster County Court House do not support the hypothesis of Leman production before the time of Henry E. Leman.”

Thoughts, anyone?

UPDATE: Internet findings suggest “Charlotte, N.C.” was actually  Charlottesville, Va. Alas.… And “George W. Park Custer” was almost certainly George W. Parke Custis, Washington’s step-grandson and adopted son.