James Kenan and the Family Legacy

On September 23, 1740, civic, military and political leader James Kenan was born.

Kenan began his long career in public service at age 22 when he was elected sheriff of Duplin County. After leading local opposition to the British Stamp Act, he served in the colonial assembly and the provincial congress. As a member of the militia in Duplin County, he helped lead a group of volunteers against Scottish Loyalists at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in 1776.

Kenan continued his involvement in politics after the Revolutionary War, serving in the state Senate for more than 10 terms and as a delegate to the State Constitutional Conventions.

Outside of the political arena, Kenan was a member of the original board of trustees for the University of North Carolina, where several buildings are now named for the Kenan family. He was also the first Master of the original Masonic lodge in Duplin County.

Kenan died in 1810 and is buried in Kenansville. His descendants have continued his legacy of philanthropy and public service, making significant contributions to the arts and education in North Carolina.

Liberty Hall, his father’s plantation and the site of his grave, is now open to the public as a museum.

Lincoln Takes Initial Step to Free the Slaves

Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Image from the National Archives.

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, stating his intention to free slaves in states that were rebelling against the Federal government.

Although he had conceived the idea earlier that year, Lincoln heeded the advice of his cabinet and waited for a Union battlefield victory to introduce the proclamation so it would not be viewed as an act of desperation. The Union victory at Antietam provided Lincoln with the opportunity, and he seized the moment.

The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on view at the N.C. Museum of History in 2013. Image from the News & Observer.

The Federal military governor of North Carolina, Edward Stanly, disapproved of the proclamation. He understood his duty was to return the state to the Union as it was prior to the crises—a Union where slavery was included. Lincoln offered exclusions and exemptions in the proclamation, including the exclusion of any area that had a representative in the Federal legislature.

Stanly seized upon this as a possible avenue to forestall the implementation of the proclamation in North Carolina, calling for and holding elections for the statewide office of U.S. Senator. Congress refused to seat the person who won the election, and Stanly resigned rather than implement Lincoln’s proclamation.

The final Emancipation Proclamation became active on January 1, 1863, freeing slaves in occupied eastern North Carolina.

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Bearded Brinkley Buried at Buladean

Image from the State Archives.

On September 21, 1850, Sam Brinkley, who became known for one of the world’s longest beards in the early 20th century, was born near Burnsville in Yancey County.

As an adult Brinkley stood at 6 feet, two inches with a beard that measured in at 5 feet, 4 inches at its peak length. Notoriety came with the remarkable growth of his beard. He began by exhibiting it to the curious, and he went on tour with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He reportedly earned thousands of dollars by charging people to see his beard, which he kept tucked in a pouch.

Brinkley was a late bloomer when it came to facial hair. According to newspaper accounts, until he was 21, he had no real beard to shave. By 23, the growth had reached the astounding rate of a full beard in a week’s time. One article reported that the beard was entirely natural, not the result of restorers or invigorators. Another called it “soft and beautiful.” For decades Brinkley was known as the world’s expert on the cultivation of beards.

He died in 1929 from complications of tonsillitis, and he is buried at Buladean in Mitchell County with a striking photo featuring his legendary beard recessed into his tombstone.

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Martin Luther King’s 1958 Surgery Led by North Carolinian

On September 20, 1958, Beaufort County native Dr. John Cordice operated on Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Harlem, N.Y., hospital. He is now widely credited with saving Dr. King’s life.

Born in the small community of Aurora, east of Greenville, Cordice was raised in Durham. After college and medical school at New York University and a work as a doctor alongside the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, Cordice became a heart surgeon at Harlem Hospital.

On the day in question, King was stabbed by a woman outside a New York department store while autographing copies of a book he was promoting. He was brought to Harlem Hospital, where then New York Gov. W. Averell Harriman requested that African American doctors work on him. Cordice, who wasn’t even on duty that day, happened to stop by Brooklyn medical office where he received a call to come at once and operate an important person who had been injured.

After rushing to the hospital, Cordice and other surgeons used a hammer and chisel to crack King’s sternum and remove the blade with which he had been stabbed, thereby saving King’s life.

At the time, credit for feat was given to Dr. Aubré de Lambert Maynard, the hospital’s chief of surgery, but historians have since concluded that it was Cordice and Dr. Emil Naclerio, an Italian-American , who truly ensured King’s survival.

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Cherokee Defeat by South Carolina Militia, 1776

On September 19, 1776, troops from South Carolina defeated a band of Cherokee Indians in what is now Swain County. The battle took place in a mountain cove known as the “Black Hole,” and was coordinated with a larger effort, now known as the Rutherford Expedition, to punish the Indians for raids on white settlers in the area.

The conflict had its roots earlier that month, when Colonel Andrew Williamson led 2,000 South Carolina militiamen north into Cherokee territory in early September. As they came to the cove, his men marched into an ambush in a gorge. The ensuing battle lasted for nearly two hours. The militiamen were surrounded by Cherokee and forced into a circular formation, leading to the engagement being known in time as the “Ring Fight.”

Williamson eventually led a bayonet charge, driving the Cherokees from the field. Relatively few casualties were incurred. The Cherokee left four dead on the field; 11 militiamen were killed and 24 wounded.

A week later, Williamson’s force united with Rutherford’s men at Hiwassee.

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The “Cherry Bounce King,” Amos Owens

On September 18, 1906, Amos Owens, a notorious moonshiner from Rutherford County, died. Known as the “Cherry Bounce King,” Owens was renowned for the delightful mixture of whiskey, honey and cherries that he made at his “castle” on Cherry Mountain.

Described as a fearless yet energetic Irishman, Owens achieved success quickly. People from all over the South visited him to taste his celebrated beverage. Owens was also was an infamous fixture in the local courthouse. Vehemently opposed to taxes on alcohol, he believed that he owed nothing to the government after fulfilling his civic duty as a Confederate soldier. Often arrested for his activities,

Owens was occasionally acquitted for minor crimes, but didn’t always manage to escape the long reach of the law. He frequently had to pay fines or spend time in jail, too. At one point he was locked up for an entire year.

Despite the risks that came with it, Owens continued to distill Cherry Bounce and every summer he hosted lively gatherings at Cherry Mountain to celebrate the cherry harvest. A colorful local figure who embodied the vitality and grit of Appalachia in the aftermath of the Civil War, Owens didn’t stop making moonshine until he was sent to prison in his 70s.

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Signers in Philadelphia Endorse Federal Constitution

Howard Chandler Christy's Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, with the North Carolina signers identified.

Howard Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the
United States,
with the North Carolina signers identified.

On September 17, 1787, a majority of delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia approved the U.S. Constitution, with North Carolina representatives William Blount, Richard Dobbs Spaight and Hugh Williamson signing on behalf of the state. Despite advocacy for its adoption by Federalists Spaight and Williamson, the North Carolina Convention declined to ratify the Constitution until the Bill of Rights was proposed in 1789.

A composite of North Carolina's delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

A composite of North Carolina’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

Interestingly, Williamson and Blount were not among the delegates originally selected. When the legislature met the previous January, it selected then Governor Richard Caswell, William R. Davie, Willie Jones, Alexander Martin and Spaight as delegates. Jones, staunchly anti-Federalist, did not accept the appointment, and Caswell was ill and unable to travel. Williamson and Blount were appointed in their stead. Davie and Martin left the convention early, leaving Williamson, Spaight and Blount remaining as signatories.

Richard Dobbs Spaight, from New Bern, later served as governor, and. Hugh Williamson—sometimes referred to as North Carolina’s Ben Franklin—was a physician, scientist scholar and resident of Chowan County. William Blount, a Bertie County native, was later governor of the territory that is now Tennessee, and U.S. Senator from that state as well.

A plaque in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Raleigh commemorates the three signers.

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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