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Ruth Cannon, Preservationist

On December 22, 1965, Ruth Cannon died, bringing an end to a life of extraordinary dedication to preservation and to North Carolina history.

Born Ruth Coltrane into a banker’s family in Cabarrus County, she married Charles Cannon, longtime president of Cannon Mills Company in Kannapolis. A history major at Greensboro College, Cannon was a stalwart member of heritage groups including the Colonial Dames and the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Cannon’s true mark, however, came about independently of those organizations. In 1939, she was among the founders of the North Carolina Society for the Preservation of Antiquities, a group that continues to exist today under the name Preservation North Carolina. That same year she headed the book committee for the Garden Clubs of North Carolina and began an initiative that resulted in the publication of pioneering Old Homes and Gardens of North Carolina. She presented a copy to Governor Clyde Hoey late in 1939.

Cannon was instrumental in organized the restoration of Tryon Palace and Historic Bath, and she helped to found the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo. The Cannon Cup, which she established and is named for her husband, has been given each year since 1948 for distinguished work in historical research, preservation and restoration.

Walter Hines Page of Cary, Editor and Ambassador to Great Britain

Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On December 21, 1918, journalist and diplomat Walter Hines Page died in Pinehurst.

Born in 1855 in what’s now Cary, Page was drawn to journalism, and in 1883, founded the State Chronicle newspaper in Raleigh with financial backing from his father. By that time, Frank Page had moved to Moore County where he prospered in the lumber industry. Active in the educational realm, the younger Page was among the founders of the Watauga Club, an organization that advocated for the economic and social betterment of North Carolina, and helped what’s now North Carolina State University.

In 1885, Page turned the Chronicle over to Josephus Daniels and moved to New York, shifting from daily journalism to the editorship of The Atlantic Monthly. In 1899, he founded a publishing firm with Frank Doubleday. An articulate public speaker, he was a popular orator who primarily focused on education, politics and the new South.

Outspoken in his promotion of Woodrow Wilson for president in 1912, Page was tapped to serve as the 28th president’s ambassador to Great Britain. After the outbreak of World War I, he was a strong supporter of the Allied side and frequently encouraged the Wilson administration to intercede.

Due to failing health, Page returned to North Carolina in the fall of 1918.

or 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.

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.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit the N.C. Department of 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 Facebook and Twitter.

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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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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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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