John Blue of Scotland County, Inventor of Agricultural Tools

On November 28, 1861, inventor John Blue was born in what is now Scotland County.

Raised on a cotton farm, Blue had an interest from a young age in inventing tools to make life easier. Before he left the family farm to start a life of his own, he often tinkered in his father’s blacksmith shop.  Despite the crude tools available to him there, he was able to invent the first cotton-stalk cutter.

Blue struck out on his own in 1883 and continued to invent agricultural tools on the side, including an iron cotton planter and a fertilizer spreader. After a few years, he founded a business on his farm with his father. The business grew steadily into a factory that made a variety of agricultural tools in addition to repairing them. The factory eventually got so large that Blue added a foundry to supply his own iron.

Over the course of his career, Blue continued to invent new products and secure patents for them. His son, John Jr., took over the business after his death and, though it shifted its operations to Alabama after a major fire, the company continues to operate to this day as CDS-John Blue.

Visit: The John Blue House and Heritage Center in Laurinburg tells the story of Blue and the region.

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John Baptista Ashe, Revolutionary War Veteran and (Almost) Governor

Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On November 27, 1802, John Baptista Ashe, who was just elected governor, died before ever being able to take office.

Born near Wilmington in 1748, Ashe’s early career was marked by military service in both the War of Regulation and American Revolution. After independence, he was elected to the General Assembly from Halifax, and quickly became popular in legislative circles. He was unanimously chosen as speaker in 1786.

Ashe’s first foray onto the national scene came in 1785, when he was nominated as a delegate to the Continental Congress, but failed to win election to the post. Despite that setback, he was elected to Congress the next year and also took an active role in North Carolina’s 1789 Constitutional Convention.

After North Carolina ratified the federal Constitution, Ashe was elected to the First and Second Congresses where he voted on a number of important issues including the site of the new nation’s capital and excise taxes on liquor.

When a committee of the legislature arrived at Ashe’s Halifax home in 1802 to tell him of his election to governorship, they found him ill. He died several days later.

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Alfred Moore Scales, Confederate Veteran and Governor

Image from the State Archives.

On November 26, 1827, Governor Alfred Scales was born in Reidsville.

Scales studied law at UNC and privately under William Battle, before winning election as today’s equivalent to the Rockingham County district attorney. He quickly moved up the political ladder, serving in the General Assembly in the early 1850s before being elected to Congress later that decade.

Scales joined the Confederate Army a month before secession and continued his service until the surrender at Appomattox, but after the war, Scales was reelected to the General Assembly and the U.S. House.

It wasn’t until 1884 that the Democratic Party nominated Scales for governor. He won the state’s top job over Republican Tyre York, making him the 45th governor of North Carolina. Like many other governors of the era, Scales focused his efforts on education and internal improvements like railroads and highways. One of the highlights of his tenure was the establishment of the school that later became North Carolina State University.

After stepping down as governor, Scales left public life and moved to Greensboro where he continued to practice law and got involved in banking. He died in 1892.

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Historic Origins of the Tsali Legend and “Unto These Hills”

Q-3a

On November 25, 1838, the Cherokee Indian known as Tsali was executed.

Part of group that refused to leave North Carolina after Cherokee leaders signed a treaty ceding their tribal lands to the United States, Tsali, his family and a few friends had gone into hiding in the spring of 1838. Though accounts differ on the specifics, it’s clear that Tsali and his group were captures by federal troops on November 1.

Tsali and several in his group managed to escape shortly after being captured, and somehow in that process, three soldiers were hurt or killed. Though it wasn’t clear that Tsali was responsible for the deaths of the soldiers, and a federal commander in the area, Colonel William S. Foster, maintained that Tsali wasn’t responsible, two Cherokee allies of U.S. troops caught Tsali and executed him.

Foster issued a proclamation in support of the Indians who killed Tsali and allowed them to say in the area. Eventually these groups would be recognized as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Tsali’s story remains a folk legend in area and is dramatized in the play Unto These Hills, which is produced in Cherokee every summer.

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The Wreck of the Huron on the Outer Banks, 1877

The wreck of the Huron. Image from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

On November 24, 1877, the USS Huron ran aground near Nags Head, en route for Havana from New York. Commander George P. Ryan chose to sail close to shore to avoid having to travel against the Gulf Stream or taking the time to plot a route beyond the strong currents.

During the night, rough seas and dense fog hindered the officers’ ability to navigate the treacherous coastline. The Huron came too close to the shore and ran aground around 1:30 a.m. Although the closest lifesaving station was only two miles away, it was closed until December. Some of the sailors braved the currents and cold temperatures and 36 made it to the shore. Ninety-eight men died.

Two months later, another 85 men died when a second ship, the Metropolis, ran aground north of the Huron wreck. The two disasters prompted Congress to fund additional lifesaving stations and to increase their months of operation.

Today, the wreck of the USS Huron is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1991, the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources designated the wreck site as North Carolina’s first “Historic Shipwreck Preserve.”

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Concept of Alford Plea Tied to Forsyth County Case

The first page of the Aflord decision from the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On November 23, 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the North Carolina v. Alford case. The court ruled that a defendant could plead guilty to a crime while still maintaining his innocence. This type of plea is now commonly called an Alford plea, after the defendant in the proceedings.

The litigation began in Forsyth County. Henry Alford was indicted for first-degree murder in 1963. Though he maintained his innocence, Alford ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on the advice of his attorney who told that him that since the prosecutor had a fairly substantial amount of evidence, he would probably be convicted and might get the death penalty.

Alford appealed to a federal court, saying that he was coerced into pleading guilty. That court found his appeal convincing and overturned his plea, but the state ultimately appealed that decision to a circuit court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court upheld Alford’s plea, saying that a court can accept a guilty plea as long as the defendant is adequately represented, “intelligently” chooses to enter into the deal and there is strong evidence of actual guilt.

Today, 47 states, including North Carolina, continue to accept Alford pleas.

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Elizabeth Steele, Nathanael Greene and Their Legendary Encounter

Elizabeth Steele gives General Nathanael Greene money
to aid the patriot cause. Image from Getty Images.

On November 22, 1790, Elizabeth Maxwell Steele, a legendary patriot during the American Revolution, died at her home in Salisbury.

Twice widowed, Steele was the only woman operating a tavern in Rowan County before the war. She was self-sufficient, wealthy and well-connected, and during the Revolution she used her means to become what she called a “great politician.” Steele wasn’t a politician in the modern sense of the word. Rather, she looked out for her family’s and her community’s interests by seeking and sharing information about the war.

Legend has it that in February 1781, Steele overheard General Nathanael Greene in her tavern complaining of being “fatigued, hungry, and penniless”. The story goes that she gave Greene two satchels of money and that the relieved general took a portrait of King George III off the wall and wrote on the back, “O George, Hide thy face and mourn.” He then hung the picture up backwards.

The portrait survives with those words chalked on the reverse. There is no way to authenticate the story, but it is known that Greene was in the vicinity at the time. Irrespective of the legend, Steele was an exceptional woman who was vital to local discourse during the Revolution.

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