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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The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey

Nov-21

Nell Cropsey. Image from the Museum of the Albermarle.

On November 21, 1901, Nell Cropsey, disappeared from the front porch of her family home near the Elizabeth City waterfront.  The Cropsey family had moved to Elizabeth City from New Jersey in 1898.

The case grabbed national media attention, making newspaper headlines up and down the east coast.  The night Nell disappeared she had broken up with her boyfriend of three years, Jim Wilcox. After spending the evening together in the parlor with her sister Ollie and her boyfriend, the couple stepped onto the front porch and into legend. Wilcox maintained that he left Nell there on the porch after she broke up with him. Nell never returned to the house and was found in the Pasquotank River 37 days later.

Wilcox was arrested and tried. The case, built on circumstantial evidence, was a sensation in its own right. Protesters and mobs interrupted the first trial until the judge declared a mistrial and ordered a new trial in a nearby county. Wilcox was eventually convicted but in 1920 received a pardon from Governor Thomas Bickett. Fourteen years later Wilcox took his own life.

Nell Cropsey’s death remains a mystery, at least for some.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Death of Junaluska, Revered Cherokee Warrior

A purported photograph of Chief Junaluska from the State Archives

A purported photograph of Junaluska from the State Archives

On November 20, 1858, distinguished Cherokee warrior Junaluska died.

Little is known of his early life. Although he was not chief, Junaluska spoke for the tribe in 1811 when he refused the Shawnee request for the Cherokee to join in fighting against the influx of settlers. As further indication of his loyalty to the United States, Junaluska recruited 100 warriors to join the war against the Creek Indians in 1814. An account of the conflict credits Junaluska for saving Andrew Jackson’s life at Horseshoe Bend, Alabama.

Junaluska returned to his farm in North Carolina and lived a quiet life until Andrew Jackson, then President of the United States, called for the removal of Cherokee to Oklahoma in 1838. Junaluska survived the Trail of Tears, but later walked home to North Carolina.

The General Assembly granted Junaluska citizenship in 1847, and gave him 337 acres of land and $100 in recognition of his military service. The land was at Cheoah, near what is now the town of Robbinsville, and was, ironically, part of his property prior to the Cherokee removal.

Visit: This Saturday, the N.C. Museum of History will host its 19th Annual American Indian Heritage Celebration, highlighting the history and culture of North Carolina’s eight state-recognized tribes.

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Kingston Trio Hits the Top of the Charts with “Tom Dooley” in 1958

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.22.59 PMOn November 19, 1958, the Kingston Trio’s version of the folk song “Tom Dooley” hit number one on the music charts. The song is based on the true story of Tom Dula, hanged in Statesville in 1868 for the murder of Laura Foster.

The case drew wide attention, including a series of reports that appeared in the New York Herald. After being hanged, Dula was buried in a family cemetery in Wilkes County. Many in the community to this day defend him, arguing that he took the fall for a woman named Ann Melton. North Carolina guitarist Doc Watson’s grandmother claimed to have heard Melton’s deathbed confession that she, not Tom Dula, killed Laura Foster.

While Watson sang the traditional folk ballad “Tom Dula,” the best-known version of that song was a bestseller for the Kingston Trio, renamed “Tom Dooley.” Members of the group actually visited Dula’s grave on a concert swing through the state.

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Name of James Glasgow Expunged from the Map

The_State_of_North_Carolina_from_the_best_Authorities_c_by_Samuel_Lewis_Engraved_by_Vallance

A circa 1796 map of North Carolina that includes Glasgow County.
Image from the State Archives.

On November 18, 1799, Glasgow County, in eastern North Carolina, was renamed Greene County.

In 1791, Dobbs County was split. Half became Lenoir County, named for Revolutionary War General William Lenoir, and half became Glasgow County, for North Carolina’s first Secretary of State James Glasgow.

Nathanael Greene

Among other duties, Glasgow oversaw the military grant program that awarded land to soldiers who served in the Continental Line during the American Revolution. Warrants for land were easily forged, which led to Glasgow’s downfall.

In 1797, future President Andrew Jackson wrote a letter to the governor exposing the ongoing land frauds. Charges became official, and Glasgow was brought to trial. The jury handed down five indictments; Glasgow pled not guilty.

After ten days in court, Glasgow was found guilty of three charges: issuing a fraudulent warrant; issuing a duplicate warrant with two separate grants on it; and issuing a grant without proper evidence of the assignment. The residents of Glasgow County did not want to be identified with a criminal and the county was renamed Greene, for Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene.

While Glasgow’s name disappeared from the map, his misconduct left a lasting mark in North Carolina’s history. The court that tried Glasgow ultimately became the North Carolina Supreme Court.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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