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.

Other related resources:

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.

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.

Other related resources:

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.

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.

Respected Pastel Artist Drew Upon Civil War Experience

James-Wells-Champney-Sketches,-0034

One of Champney’s sketches. Image from the Outer Banks History Center.

On November 17, 1862, 19-year-old James Wells Champney drafted a collection of small images titled “First impressions of North Carolina, sketched in cars on the [way] to newbern.”

The son of a painter-illustrator, Champney apprenticed in Boston to become a master wood engraver, but the outbreak of war interrupted his artistic training. He volunteered for the 45th Massachusetts and deployed to North Carolina in November 1862 as part of reinforcements for the Union occupational forces then at New Bern.

Another of Champney's sketches from New Bern. Image from the Outer Banks History Center.

Another of Champney’s sketches from New Bern. Image from the Outer Banks History Center.

Like many artists-turned-soldiers, Champney used his artistic abilities to document his wartime experiences, depicting military installations, soldiers, African Americans, civilians and other scenes in and around New Bern. When he left the service after falling ill with malaria in July 1863, Champney had filled two sketchbooks, which are now held by the Outer Banks History Center.

After the war, Champney moved to Europe to study under renowned artist Pierre Édouard Frère. He returned to the United States an expert in pastels and established a studio in New York City where he worked for the remainder of his life. He died unexpectedly at the age of 59 after falling down an elevator shaft.

Visit: Champney’s sketches are featured in “Face to Face: Civil War Sketches and Stories,” an exhibit at Tryon Palace in New Bern that tells the story of the Union occupation of the area, and the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo, which holds the Champney sketches in its collection.

Other related resources:

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.

Federal Writers Project Director Edwin Björkman

Untitled3On November 16, 1951, renowned writer, journalist and literary critic Edwin A. Björkman died in Asheville.

Born and raised in Sweden, Björkman worked as a clerk, journalist and actor before coming to the United States in 1891. Upon arrival, he briefly stopped in Chicago and then joined a Scandinavian colony in Minnesota, writing for newspapers to support himself. He later wrote for several papers in New York, served in the short-lived League of Nations’ news bureau and taught Scandinavian drama at Yale before moving to Waynesville in 1925.

In North Carolina, Björkman worked as the literary editor of the Asheville Times, and, during the Depression, directed the North Carolina Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration. While working with that project he led the effort that produced North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State.

Throughout his career, Björkman was a prolific writer, producing no less than 10 original novels and translating countless plays and other works into English from European languages. He married four times before dying at age 85, and he is buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.

Other related resources:

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.

Charlotte Heist Foiled, 1933

A man prepares to rob a bank in Massachusetts, circa 1934. Image from the Boston Public Library.

On November 15, 1933, noted criminal Roger “The Terrible” Touhy orchestrated a mail truck robbery in the heart of the Charlotte.

Robert Touhy’s FBI mugshot

At the time of the robbery, Touhy was battling mobster Al Capone for control of illicit alcohol sales in Chicago. While awaiting trial for kidnapping, Touhy sent four men in his gang south to “raise” money for his defense. Although Charlotte had no connection to organized crime at the time, it was a burgeoning hub of the financial industry.

The theft took place in broad daylight. Members of Touhy’s gang ambushed the truck by driving out in front of it from an alleyway as it made its way down Third Street. The gang members got out of their car and moved toward the mail truck. At least one of the group brandished a machine gun as the others disarmed the driver. Two of Touhy’s gang easily clipped the lock on the truck with wire cutters, threw out the mail clerk they found inside and, within two minutes, stole about $100,000 in cash and bank notes.

Charlotte detective Frank Littlejohn conducted an extraordinary investigation and, within two weeks of the heist, three suspects were in jail and the fourth was dead in an apparent mob knockoff.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 912 other followers