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L. L. Polk, Agricultural Reformer

An image of L. L. Polk in a 1926 issue of the Progressive Farmer. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

An image of L. L. Polk in a 1926 issue
of The Progressive Farmer. Image from
the N.C. Museum of History

On April 24, 1837, Leonidas LaFayette Polk, founder of The Progressive Farmer and president of the National Farmers’ Alliance, was born in Anson County.

Polk attended Davidson College and served in the Confederate army before advocating for farmers’ rights. In 1877, he was named the state’s first agriculture commissioner by Gov. Zebulon B. Vance.

After founding The Progressive Farmer, one of the nation’s oldest and most widely read agricultural periodicals in 1886, Polk used the publication to promote the creation of a land grant university, separate from the University of North Carolina. In1889, his vision became a reality when what is now N.C. State opened. He also used the Farmer to advocate for the creation what is now Meredith College, founded in 1891.

After helping found the Farmers’ Alliance in North Carolina and assuming a high position in it, Polk became a leader of the new Populist Party, which soon gained strength in the South and the West. He quickly became the Populists’ presidential nominee, but died in June 1892 before the general election.

In 1995, Polk’s house, a two-story gingerbread Gothic structure, was purchased by the Leonidas L. Polk House Foundation and moved to its present location on North Blount Street in Raleigh.

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Robert F. Hoke, Victorious at Plymouth, Promoted

On April 23, 1864, Robert Frederick Hoke, then only 27-years-old, became the youngest major general in the Confederate States Army. He was promoted days after leading a successful campaign to recapture Plymouth in Washington County.

Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Early in April, Brigadier General Hoke and his division had been assigned the task of recapturing Plymouth, and thus reopening the Roanoke River to Confederate operations. Hoke was assigned his own division from the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, which was reinforced with additional troops and assisted by the newly commissioned ironclad, the CSS Albemarle.

Beginning on April 17, Hoke moved his ground troops against the federal garrison at Plymouth, while the Albemarle attacked Union gunboats stationed in the river. After the sinking of the USS Southfield, Hoke was able to besiege the river town and force the Union garrison to surrender on April 20.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis wired a telegram to Hoke to congratulate him for his victory and, within that message, was Hoke’s promotion to Major General. He and his division would finish the war fighting at other North Carolina engagements, including Fort Fisher, Wyse Fork and Bentonville before surrendering in Durham in April 1865, while serving under Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston.

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Fayetteville Arsenal Surrendered, 1861

A sketch of the Fayetteville Arsenal

A sketch of the Fayetteville Arsenal

On April 22, 1861, the U.S. Arsenal at Fayetteville surrendered to a force of state militia troops roughly a month before North Carolina seceded from the Union.

At the time of the firing on Fort Sumter 10 days earlier, the Fayetteville Arsenal was guarded by a company of the Second U.S. Artillery. On April 22, the U.S. soldiers were confronted with a large force of nearly 1,000 state militia troops reinforced with artillery.

Former Governor Warren Winslow, acting as agent for then Governor John Ellis, negotiated the surrender of the post, which allowed the federal soldiers to leave with their equipment, but forced them to turn over the arsenal’s equipment to the state. By April 27, the Union artillerymen were able to get transportation to Wilmington, and by May 7, the company had arrived at Fort Hamilton in New York City.

During the Civil War, the arsenal manufactured small arms for the Confederacy with machinery shipped there shortly after secession from Harpers Ferry, Va. One of the arsenal’s better-known products was the “Fayetteville Rifle,” a copy of the US 1855 rifle.

Union Major General William T. Sherman captured the arsenal in March 1865, and had the installation destroyed.

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Astronaut and Moonwalker Charles Duke

Charles M. Duke. Image from NASA.

On April 21, 1972, Charlotte-born Charles M. Duke became the youngest man to walk on the moon at age 36.

After graduating and receiving a commission from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957, Duke embarked on a career in the Air Force as a pilot. His dedication to aeronautics and advanced education at MIT made him an ideal candidate for NASA, which selected him and 18 others in April 1966 to form Astronaut Group Five. Before visiting space himself, Duke served as the capsule communicator for the Apollo 11 crew, the first crew to land on the moon. The Earth-based capsule communicator’s job is to keep constant contact with the crew in space.

During the Apollo 16 mission, Duke was the lunar module pilot alongside mission commander John Watts Young and command module pilot Thomas K. Mattingly. On April 21, Duke and Young stepped out onto the lunar surface, becoming two of only 12 people ever to walk on the moon. They spent 71 hours in the Descartes Highlands, a rugged region of the moon.

In just over 20 hours of moonwalks, the pair carefully surveyed the Moon’s surface, collected samples and deployed scientific equipment. Duke is one of nine North Carolina-born astronauts.

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Wanchese and Manteo Conclude Visit to London, 1585

A 1585 watercolor of an Algonquin chief by John White

On April 19, 1585, Algonquian Indians Wanchese and Manteo set sail aboard the English vessel The Tyger to return to the Roanoke Island region. The Indians had sailed to England in 1584 with Arthur Barlowe and Thomas Harriot. They caused a sensation when they were presented at the English Court.

While in England they were hosted by Sir Walter Raleigh at the Durham House. There they met with Thomas Harriot and, over the course of several visits, taught him the Algonquian language. Wanchese, unlike Manteo, was not curious to learn English.

Wanchese remained suspicious of English motives and the English in general and eventually thought of himself as a captive rather than a guest. These ill feelings would cause trouble for the colonists once he returned to Roanoke.

The Tyger raided Spanish shipping lines during the voyage to America and forcibly exchanged goods with Spanish traders on Puerto Rico, where the ship waited to reunite with its fleet. From there the vessel continued on to Roanoke, arriving near Ocracoke Inlet in June 1585.

Wanchese slipped away from English control in early July. He urged resistance to the settlers, setting himself at odds with the English and Manteo.

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Washington’s Tarboro Layover, 1791

A highway marker in Tarboro  commemorating Washington's visit

A highway marker in Tarboro commemorating Washington’s visit

On April 18, 1791, President George Washington arrived in Tarboro. Washington was met at the Roanoke River by Col. John B. Ashe who escorted him into town. The procession was welcomed by a salute from a single cannon.

While in town, the President was entertained at the home of Major Reading Blount. After a single night’s stay, Washington left Tarboro for Pitt County. In his diary, Washington remarked that the town of “Tarborough” was “more lively and thriving” than Halifax.

Washington’s stay in Tarboro was part of tour of the Southern states that he embarked on in early 1791, after establishing a site for the new “Federal District” along the Potomac River. The tour was part his effort to visit every state during his term of office.

After leaving Virginia and crossing the Roanoke River, Washington’s first stop in the Old North state was Halifax. From there, the President’s carriage tour took him through Tarboro, Greenville, New Bern, Trenton and Wilmington before heading to South Carolina. On his return trip, Washington came back into North Carolina near Charlotte and traveled northward, visiting Salisbury, Salem and Guilford Court House.

NCpedia has a great overview of Washington’s Southern tour.

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.

Prelude to Attica: Prison Riot in Raleigh, 1968

Gov. Bob Scott visits Central Prison. Image from the State Archives.

Gov. Bob Scott visits Central Prison. Image from the State Archives.

On April 17, 1968, inmates at Central Prison in Raleigh began a riot.

The riot started as a peaceful protest, with roughly 500 inmates “sitting-in” in an attempt to get prison officials to listen to their grievances. They were upset about restricted visiting hours and poor living conditions in the aging facility.

When the prisoners were ordered to return to their cells, a violent riot began in an open yard. Inmates threw torches which started fires that damaged several buildings. Prisoners with homemade weapons attacked the staff. Riot-control officers were called in and ordered to open fire. Guards fired down from the walls. Six inmates were killed and more 75 people, including two state troopers and two corrections officers, were injured.

Today, Central Prison still houses male prisoners with sentences over 20 years. Major renovations in the 1980s included the destruction of the original castle-like building. The prison also now provides inmates with a mental health facility, therapy sessions, worship groups and educational opportunities.

The facility has not had another inmate riot since 1968.

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.

Ill-Fated Donner Party Included North Carolinians

A depiction of the Donner Party’s winter camp published a few years after the event. Image from the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.

On April 16, 1846, the 87 men, women, and children known as the Donner Party set out from Sangamon County, Illinois, on their ill-fated journey to California.

Already running behind schedule and facing an early winter when they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the group saw its situation made worse by an enormous blizzard with snow as high as 16 feet that trapped them in place for five months. So desperate was their situation that some members resorted to cannibalism. Before the winter was over, 46 of the group had died.

George and Jacob Donner, who led the group, were Rowan County natives. The Donners moved from North Carolina to Kentucky, and then to Indiana and Illinois. George was elected leader of the group, and so the party bore his name.

George’s wife Tamsen Eustis was a well-educated woman from Massachusetts who also had a North Carolina connection. She was an administrator at the Elizabeth City Academy before moving to Illinois and meeting George. Unfortunately, George, Tamsen, and Jacob Donner all perished in the cruel winter of 1846-47. When rescuers did come, Tamsen refused to leave her husband, who was dying from an infected wound. Tamsen’s three daughters and two stepdaughters were all rescued and survived.

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.

SNCC’s Raleigh Roots

A 1963 brochure for SNCC

On April 15, 1960, about 150 student leaders from 10 states met at Shaw University in Raleigh for the “Southwide Leadership Conference on Nonviolent Resistance to Segregation.” The meeting took place just two months after the Woolworth sit-ins in Greensboro had launched the protest effort.

The session was designed to consolidate isolated sit-in efforts and map strategy. It was organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference whose executive director, Ella Baker, was a Shaw graduate. The conference created the “Temporary Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee” headquartered in Atlanta.

The weekend’s keynote speaker, the Reverend James Lawson of Nashville, criticized established older groups such as the NAACP for moving too slowly and acting too conservatively. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a large group in Memorial Auditorium, urging students to adopt the nonviolent philosophy of Ghandi and face jail time for peaceful protest if necessary.

SNCC members were the “shock troops” and frontline leaders in the civil rights movement, especially in Mississippi in the summer of 1964. John Hope Franklin called them “probably the most courageous and the most selfless” of the civil rights workers.

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Fort Macon, Contested Ground during the Civil War

Sketches of the 1862 surrender of Fort Macon. Image from the State Archives

On April 14, 1861, a militia company from Beaufort, acting on its own, boated over to Fort Macon, near Atlantic Beach, and seized the fort in the name of the state from a lone Union army caretaker.

Only two days after the firing on Fort Sumter, North Carolina had not yet left the Union to join the Confederate States of America. By the time North Carolina did secede on May 20, Fort Macon was securely in state hands with hundreds of Confederate soldiers making it ready for war. Over the next year, the fort was armed with 54 heavy cannons.

However, the Confederacy did not manage to hold the fort for long. In April 1862, after an extended siege led by Union Brig. Gen. John G. Parke, Fort Macon’s Col. Moses J. White surrendered the garrison to Union forces. The fall of Fort Macon closed the port of Beaufort to the Confederacy. The seizure was part of the Burnside campaign which saw much of coastal North Carolina fall into Union hands.

Today, Fort Macon is one of 35 state parks.

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