The latest issue of Smithsonian has a pretty interesting article on Blackbeard’s last hurrah in colonial North Carolina, with a look at some of the new evidence that’s come to light in the past few years.
Tag Archives: North Carolina
A few items worthy of note as we ring in 2014.
- This list of New Year resolutions for Kentuckians includes a few history-related things to do, including some sites that every citizen of the Bluegrass State should visit. I’ll add one more assignment for Kentuckians in 2014: If you haven’t already, read either Thomas Clark’s classic history of the state or the more recent volume by Lowell Harrison and James Klotter.
- Speaking of knowing your local history, all you folks in Winston-Salem should get acquainted with your town’s Rev War namesake.
- We’re getting a new statue of Sam Houston here in Tennessee, where he made a name for himself before heading off to Texas. There’s also a new Civil War Trails marker going up in Maynardville, just down the road from my neck of the woods.
- Zachary Keck argues that Americans’ fondness for revolutions is misplaced, and stems partly from our own revolutionary beginnings. But he also claims that the American Revolution wasn’t all that revolutionary, because it didn’t upset the status quo. Keck notes that most revolutions don’t create stable, free societies; real progress is due more to evolution than revolution. But should we consider the democratization of the nineteenth century to be an effect of the American Revolution or an example of gradual evolution? Gordon Wood took the long view of the Revolution as a process that turned America away from the hierarchical, colonial past and toward the democratic, egalitarian nineteenth century. Taken as a discrete event which ended in the 1780s, though, the Revolution seems more limited in scope. I guess it all depends on your perspective.
- By far the year’s most popular post here at Past in the Present was a 2012 item about an off-color anecdote told by Abraham Lincoln which made its way into Spielberg’s film.
- I’d like to pick a best American history book of 2013, but most of the books I read this year had already been in circulation for a while. People have been writing history books for a lot longer than I’ve been reading them, so I spend most of my reading time trying to catch up with backlisted titles. As for the best American history book I read in 2013, I’d probably go with Rachel Klein’s Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808.
- High point of 2013 for me? Under any other circumstances, visiting the Freedom Trail, Lexington and Concord would be impossible to top, but…
Thanks to a grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina is going to try and delineate the precise location of the Battle of Cane Creek.
Patrick Ferguson’s Tories shot it out with Charles McDowell’s North Carolina Whigs at Cane Creek on Sept. 12, 1780, less than a month before Ferguson lost his life at King’s Mountain.
While Continentals, Redcoats, and militiamen were battling it out in the American Revolution, a related struggle played out on the frontiers of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia as settlers and Indians wrestled for control of the West. This frontier war for land and independence doesn’t get as much scholarly attention as the conventional war to the eastward, which is why I was glad to see the release of Richard D. Blackmon’s Dark and Bloody Ground: The American Revolution Along the Southern Frontier a couple of months ago.
Blackmon demonstrates that colonial officials tasked with maintaining the Indians’ loyalty had long struggled with unscrupulous traders and land-hungry frontiersmen, and found their role even more difficult when those frontiersmen became rebellious colonists. In the South, this responsibility fell on the shoulders of John Stuart, Superintendent for the Southern Department. Both Stuart and his Whig opponents tried to secure the support (or at least the neutrality) of the southern tribes, which required supplying the Indians with the arms and powder on which they depended for hunting and persuading the tribes to expel agents working for the opposing side.
All-out war finally erupted on the frontier in the summer of 1776, after Stuart and his deputies failed to convince the Cherokees that a general assault on the settlements would only inflame white Whigs and Tories alike into reprisals. The response from the Carolinas and Virginia was precisely what Stuart had feared. Frontier militias rebounded from the attacks and marched into the Indian towns, burning crops and dwellings while engaging in battles with war parties. These invasions of Cherokee country forced the tribe to trade land for peace, although a faction of warriors led by Dragging Canoe refused to lay down their arms and instead moved south to continue resistance against the settlements.
The Creeks, meanwhile, were divided over whether to join Britain’s war against the colonists, reluctant to take up arms without the support of British troops and supplies. Pro-British Creeks did attack the Georgia frontier in 1778, although the Whigs kept part of the tribe neutral by supplying them with goods. When British armies finally invaded the South, the Whigs faced the two-front war which they had long dreaded, but British military activity in that region was never as well-coordinated as advocates of a frontier strategy desired.
Ultimately, those Native Americans who cast their lot with England lost their military gamble, as British troops evacuated the southern posts they had been trying to maintain since the late 1770′s, leaving the Cherokees, Creeks, and other tribes at the mercy of an independent United States. Although the war brought devastation and bloodshed to the frontiersmen (the Cumberland settlements in present-day Middle Tennessee and the Kentucky settlements proved especially vulnerable), it reduced residents of the devastated Indian communities to an especially precarious existence, and the final peace between the U.S. and England in 1783 proved to be a mere intermission in the contest for the West.
My only complaint about this book is a curious omission. Blackmon’s description of the struggle between frontiersmen and Cherokees in 1776 is quite detailed, but it doesn’t really cover the summer attacks on the settlements in what is now northeastern Tennessee. He does deal with the wrangling among Tennessee settlers, British officials, and Native Americans that preceded these attacks, as well as John Sevier’s later battles against the Chickamaugas, but readers interested in the early history of the Volunteer State may be disappointed that the siege of Ft. Caswell doesn’t get the same coverage as the Ring Fight, the defense of Boonesborough, and the Battle of the Bluffs.
That criticism aside, this book is a great addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the American Revolution or the early frontier, utilizing both official documentation and eyewitness accounts of the major engagements. Blackmon’s analyses of Andrew Williamson’s exploits and the negotiations at Ft. Patrick Henry are the best I’ve read. Even if your knowledge of the war’s backwoods battles is extensive, it’s heplful to have a solid overview of the entire frontier war for the South in one volume, placed deftly in the context of the larger war as a whole.
Some folks in Cleveland, TN have commissioned a portrait of the town’s namesake, Revolutionary War hero Benjamin Cleveland of North Carolina. Don Troiani will be doing the painting. The 300-lb. Cleveland commanded the Wilkes County militia at King’s Mountain and persecuted backcountry Tories with a zeal bordering on fanaticism. As far as I know, there aren’t any contemporary likenesses of him, so this will be the first attempt at an accurate depiction.
My favorite anecdote about Benjamin Cleveland involves the capture of two horse thieves. Cleveland hanged one and then offered the other a choice—he could either join his partner at the end of a rope or take a case knife, cut off his own ears, and never show his face in that neck of the woods again. The guy took the knife, sharpened it on a brick, gritted his teeth, and set to work. To quote the Joker in The Dark Knight, “Even to a guy like me, that’s cold.”
Speaking of the Carolinas, renowned Palmetto State historian Walter Edgar is retiring. He’s a guy who takes public history as seriously as he takes scholarship, so here’s hoping he keeps writing and speaking.
Yes, it does. In fact, it raises quite a ruckus.
REIDSVILLE, N.C.—Mark Anthony Vincent says he was tired and distracted as he drove his van through this city early one morning last May to deliver auto parts, and dozed off. Mr. Vincent says he looked at his GPS just before 4:47 a.m., when the 1999 Chevrolet ran off the road and slammed into a 101-year-old Confederate veterans monument in Reidsville’s central roundabout.
The van struck the 32-foot-tall granite pillar, jostling a 6-foot marble statue of a Confederate soldier, which toppled onto the van and broke into at least 10 pieces. The soldier’s head slammed through the van’s hood, crushing the engine.
Example #28476193 of why cars and monuments don’t mix. Watch where you’re going, people.
Many in Reidsville thought insurance would pay for a replacement and that would be that. Instead, two groups with different views of what the monument symbolized are squaring off in a debate over the statue’s future. The fight reflects the South’s continuing struggle over how to commemorate the Civil War.
No, it doesn’t. It reflects the continuing struggle between heritage groups over how to commemorate the Civil War. The other 100 million people in “the South” have other things to worry about. Read on.
The statue’s owner—the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which collected $105,000 in insurance money for the piece—plans to repair the base of the monument, replace the statue and move the whole thing to a cemetery away from downtown. The statue’s broken pieces now lie in the city’s public-works yard.
City officials, who say they have no authority over the statue, applaud the UDC decision. “Once it’s down, I think it sends the wrong message to put it back up,” said James Festerman, the 69-year-old white mayor of a city that is 42% black. “I don’t want industries that might want to move here to think this is a little town still fighting the Civil War.”
Too late for that, dude.
The Historical Preservation Action Committee, a local organization that backs keeping the statute at its former site, has led numerous protests at the roundabout, with members and supporters often dressed in Confederate uniforms. It has gathered almost 3,000 signatures of support. A “Save the Reidsville Confederate Monument” Facebook page has more than 1,900 “likes.”
“How sad that the City is attempting to eradicate the history and memory of those that sacrificed so much,” one fan wrote on the Facebook page.
Look, if municipal authorities had ordered the monument torn down, then it would be a case of the city “attempting to eradicate the history and memory of those that sacrificed so much.” The UDC claims ownership of the monument, they want to repair it and relocate it, and the city agrees with them. Not exactly a case of eradicating history.
The HPAC—which contends that either the city or the state owns the statue—joined with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a national heritage group, to hire a lawyer to press the state to intervene. The state refused. Now the HPAC has started raising money for a possible lawsuit against the city or the United Daughters. The threat of legal action has left the statue’s repair and replacement in limbo.
The SCV is pitching in to call for government involvement to thwart a decision by the UDC. There are so many levels of irony here that I’m getting dizzy.
Wait, it gets even more bizarre.
Conspiracy theories abound that Mr. Vincent, who is black and lives in Greensboro, about 22 miles from Reidsville, wrecked the statue on purpose, even though it almost killed him and destroyed his van. Police found no basis for such theories, Mayor Festerman said. Mr. Vincent has an unresolved traffic citation for the crash.
Yes, they’re accusing a distracted driver of a kamikaze attack on a monument. Heritage controversies—the cure for all those occasions when life makes too much sense.
A driver passing through Guilford Courthouse National Military Park this past weekend reportedly swerved to avoid hitting a deer and ended up crashing into the monument marking the final resting place of Gen. Jethro Sumner, whose remains were moved to the battlefield in 1891.
The motorist also knocked over a barrier and hit two trees, all while going only 30 mph. Was this a car or an Abrams tank?
The marker may be damaged beyond all repair, and the NPS might end up relocating Sumner’s grave to a safer location, which would, of course, require an exhumation. So this is kind of a big deal.
Oh, by the way—today is the anniversary of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, so this happened just in time for the park’s annual commemoration this weekend.
There’s an interesting controversy brewing in the Carolinas.
Advocates in North and South Carolina are fighting to have a region made up of 58 counties recognized as a national heritage area, specifically focusing on the contributions made by the Carolinas during the American Revolution.
The national heritage designation is a way to celebrate, protect and preserve what makes a region unique and can be used as a tool for tourism.
Examples of places with a national heritage designation include the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area and Iowa’s Silo and Smokestacks National Heritage Area.
Sounds like a good idea to me. So what’s the problem?
A recent National Park Service study was completed, and the counties were told they did not meet the necessary criteria for the designation.
In the published results, one of the reasons cited was that there is a lack of distinctive cultural traditions in North and South Carolina from the 18th century that have carried over into today’s everyday life. These distinctive characteristics must be readily apparent to an outside observer.
What, I wonder, would constitute a readily apparent and distinctive cultural tradition from the eighteenth century? Knee breeches? Smallpox inoculation?