Fire at Buies Creek, 1900

On December 20, 1900, a fire at Buies Creek Academy consumed every wooden campus building with the exception of a large tabernacle.

Before and after images of the fire damage at what's now Campbell University. Image from Campbell University Libraries.

Before and after images of the fire damage at what’s now Campbell University. Image from Campbell University Libraries.

The academy was the forerunner of Campbell University. It was founded as Baptist institution of higher learning in 1887 by James Archibald Campbell. In its first year, the academy only had an enrollment of 27. By 1898, the academy had three buildings and more than 60 students.

Campus legend holds that the origin of the university’s rather unusual mascot, the Fighting Camel, can be traced to the fire. When local entrepreneur Zachary Taylor Kivett found Campbell moping after the blaze, he asked “Why are you in bed? I thought Campbells had humps on them.” Kivett pledged on the spot to build a new brick building, which was completed in 1903 and was named for him. It is the oldest building on the present campus.

In 1926, the school became a junior college and its name changed to Campbell College in honor of its founder. Thirty-five years later, the school was promoted to a senior college, and in 1979, received its university status. Three years prior to officially becoming a university, the college opened Campbell School of Law.

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Colonel William Polk and His Grievous Wound at Valley Forge

Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On December 19, 1777, the Continental Army, including the North Carolina Brigade, entered winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Among the North Carolinians present at the Pennsylvania camp was 19-year-old Major Willam Polk. Polk spent much of the harsh winter recuperating. He had been shot through the mouth while shouting orders at Germantown that October—the ball that hit him knocked out teeth and shattered his jaw.

Polk served with distinction in the Continental Line, having seen action at some of the Revolution’s fiercest battles including Brandywine, Camden, Cowan’s Ford, Cowpens and Eutaw Springs. After the Guilford Courthouse battle he was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel and henceforth known as “Colonel Polk.”

After the Revolution, Polk was elected the first president of the State Bank in 1810 and served in that position until 1819. In 1821, he spoke at the dedication of the Canova statue at the State Capitol. Four years, later he welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette, with whom he had fought at Brandywine, to Raleigh and ate breakfast with him at Polk’s North Street home.

At his death in 1834, Polk was the last surviving field officer of the North Carolina Line.

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“Cherokee Clay” and Wedgwood Pottery

A Wedgwood bowl commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Roanoke Voyages. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

A Wedgwood bowl commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Roanoke Voyages. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On December 18, 1767, an agent of England’s Wedgwood potteries finished extracting several tons of fine white clay from the mountains of North Carolina.

By the 1740s, people in England and across the American colonies knew of the valuable white clay deposits in the Cherokee region of the North Carolina mountains. A British patent was filed around 1744 “for the production of porcelain from an earthy mixture, produced by the Cherokee Nation in America.

Josiah Wedgwood's great-great-great-great grandson speaks at the dedication of the a highway marker to Cherokee clay. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

Josiah Wedgwood’s great-great-great-great grandson speaks at the dedication of the a highway marker to Cherokee clay. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

With increasing interest in creating porcelain in England and the colonies, Josiah Wedgwood launched efforts to secure what was called Cherokee Clay. He hired an agent, Thomas Griffiths, to travel to America to conduct the business. Griffiths went to the Indian settlement of Ayoree in what is now Macon County to negotiate an arrangement for the purchase of five to six tons of Cherokee Clay. The clay was carried down the mountains by pack horses. Griffiths delivered the Cherokee Clay to Josiah Wedgwood in April 1768.

Because of the expenses incurred, Wedgwood never pursued additional shipments of the clay. His supply lasted 15 years. In 1783, he wrote that Cherokee Clay was the basis of his newly manufactured biscuit porcelain.

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The Declaration of Rights: Milestone at Halifax, 1776

A Declaration  of Rights document adopted by the North Carolina’s Constitutional Convention of 1788. Image from the Library of Congress.

A Declaration of Rights document adopted by the North Carolina’s Constitutional Convention of 1788. Image from the Library of Congress.

On December 17, 1776, the Fifth Provincial Congress at Halifax issued the North Carolina Declaration of Rights. Consisting of 25 articles, the document outlined the basic rights of citizens of the new state and became part of the state constitution, which was issued the following day.

The Declaration of Rights was the work of a 28-man committee chaired by the president of the congress, Richard Caswell, and it was modeled on English legal and political traditions. The first provision emphasized that all political power is comes from and is vested in the people, and other articles:

  • guaranteed free and frequent elections;
  • prohibited excessive bail, fines and punishments;
  • enshrined the right to a fair and speedy trial by jury;
  • protected freedom of the press, assembly and worship;
  • ensured taxation by public consent only;
  • established the right to bear arms in state defense;
  • placed the military under civil control; and
  • barred the creation of laws with retroactive penalties.

Notably at the time, these rights applied to free people only, and not to slaves.

In an ironic twist, the citizens of the state did not vote on either the Declaration of Rights or the new constitution. Instead, they went into effect on the authority of the congress.

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John A. Copeland Jr., Participant in John Brown’s Raid

On December 16, 1859, John A. Copeland Jr., was executed for his participation John Brown’s raid on the United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

Copeland, a free mulatto, was born in Raleigh in 1834. In 1843 his family moved to Oberlin, Ohio, and became involved with the abolitionist movement. In 1858, Copeland assisted in the rescue of a man who was arrested for being a fugitive slave and was arrested for his actions, but never tried.

Remaining an ardent abolitionist, Copeland and another North Carolinian, Lewis Leary, joined with John Brown in Ohio in September 1859. When Brown attempted to cause a slave revolt by taking the arsenal in October 1859, Copeland, Leary and another man were assigned the task of taking the Hall’s Rifle Works at the arsenal. When surrounded, the three raiders attempted to flee across the Shenandoah River. Only Copeland survived but he surrendered, and was put on trial for murder and slave insurrection.

Upon his conviction, Copeland was sentenced to death at the gallows in Charleston, Va. At his death, Copeland was reported saying “If I am dying for freedom, I could not die for a better cause – I had rather die than be a slave.”

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The Walton War: North Carolina Versus Georgia

A map showing what used to be Walton County. Image from the State Library.

A map showing what used to be Walton County in western North Carolina.
Image from the State Library.

On December 15, 1804, Buncombe County constable John Havner was killed, beginning what became known as the “Walton War.”

Today it seems unlikely that a tract of land in Transylvania County would have been claimed as part of the state of Georgia, but that was the case in 1803 when the Peach State laid claim to the territory and named it Walton County. North Carolina Governor James Turner actively defended the Tar Heel State’s claim, leading to confusion for the 800 or so residents of the region.

The dispute was submitted to Congress, where a committee initially accepted Georgia’s claim. Meanwhile, lawlessness prevailed in the area. It was difficult for Buncombe County to assert authority over Georgians. Events came to a head late in 1804 when Waltonians killed the constable. The Buncombe County militia marched into Walton County, taking 10 Walton officials prisoner.

In June 1807, officials from the two states met in Asheville to iron out their differences and set a boundary. They discovered that North Carolina’s claim was accurate. The Georgia commissioners were “astonished and mortified.” They relinquished claim to the territory that same year, and amnesty was granted to those responsible for the violence, but confusion reigned for some time.

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General Robert Howe, Revolutionary War Commander

On December 14, 1786, Robert Howe, Continental army general, died on his way to Fayetteville to serve in the state legislature.

Born in 1732 in New Hanover County, Howe inherited a considerable fortune and owned several large plantations in the region. When Brunswick County formed, he was elected to the colonial assembly, a post he held for six terms. He also served as a militia officer and commanded Fort Johnston from 1769 to 1773.

During the War of the Regulation, Howe commanded the artillery at the Battle of Alamance. At the outbreak of the Revolution, he served as a member of the Wilmington Committee of Safety and led the local militia that took control of Fort Johnston. In 1775, Howe was appointed colonel of the 2nd North Carolina Continental regiment, and the next year, he was promoted to brigadier general. While he was serving in South Carolina, his plantations were burned by British troops.

Howe was ultimately appointed commander of the Southern Department and was promoted to major general in October 1777.  He was the highest-ranking officer from North Carolina to serve in the American Revolution.

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

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