” ‘Manteo to Murphy’ is a phrase often used in reference to the entire east-west width of North Carolina, particularly when describing a phenomenon that touches all regions of the state.
“The phrase was famously applied to the 1876 gubernatorial campaign between Zebulon B. Vance and Supreme Court Justice Thomas Settle Jr., in which Vance’s victory set off ‘rejoicing by Democrats “from Manteo to Murphy.” ‘ This followed from the fact that Vance and Settle had toured the state in a series of debates that resulted in the largest Democratic majority (over 13,000) in any election between 1868 and 1900.
“The phrase is actually a symbolic and not literal rendering of the extreme east-west width of North Carolina, since neither Manteo (Dare County) nor Murphy (Cherokee County) is situated precisely at the state’s borders.”
–– From “Manteo to Murphy” by Wiley J. Williams in NCpedia
A Nexis search of newspapers dating back to 1987 turns up 179 references to “Manteo to Murphy” — but almost twice as many (335) to “Murphy to Manteo.”
What happened? How did this historic expression come to be so often reversed? Did our habit of reading text left to right carry over to the state map? Or is it, as my wife suggests, that “Man-te-o” delivers a “stronger, more musical” ending than “Mur-phy”?
“North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance grew so exasperated with the indiscipline of Confederate cavalry wandering through the state that he cried out in 1863:
” ‘If God Almighty had yet in store another plague worse than all others which he intended to have let loose on the Egyptians in case the Pharoah still hardened his heart, I am sure it must have been a regiment or so of half-armed, half-disciplined Confederate cavalry.’ ”
— From “Fateful Lightning: A New History of the the Civil War and Reconstruction” by Allen C. Guelzo (2012)
“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