Barbadians Upon the Cape Fear

Charles Town in the now defunct Clarendon County shown on a map of area. Image from the State Archives.

On May 29, 1664, settlers from Barbados under John Vassall disembarked on the Cape Fear River. They established a settlement on its west bank and north of Town Creek, called Charles Town after King Charles II of England.

Vassall was a merchant from Barbados who had organized a colonizing company under the patronage of Sir John Colleton, one of the eight Lords Proprietors of the Carolina Charter of 1663. After explorations conducted by William Hilton, a division occurred within the company. Vassall’s faction backed a Cape Fear site, while another under John Yeamans favored Port Royal, in what is now South Carolina.

Vassall pushed ahead with his project, and by 1666 there were about 800 settlers in the colony.

Meanwhile Yeamans’ son William negotiated an agreement with the Proprietors securing governorship of the colony for his father. Now a knight, Sir John Yeamans sailed for Carolina but on arrival focused on developing a Port Royal colony.

Charles Town declined in neglect and isolation, while Colleton’s death in 1666 deprived the Cape Fear colonists of their advocate. By 1667, Charles Town was deserted. Yeamans and a band of Barbadians established a new Charles Town on the Ashley River in 1670, which today is Charleston, South Carolina.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

John Reed and the Yellow Doorstop

A sketch showing the discovery of gold at Reed Gold Mine. Image from the State Archives.

A sketch showing the discovery of gold at Reed Gold Mine. Image from the State Archives.

On May 28, 1845, John Reed, the owner of the property where the first documented discovery of gold in the United States took place, died.

In 1799, Reed’s son Conrad found a 17-pound yellow rock in Little Meadow Creek in Cabarrus County. Conrad brought the rock home, where the family used it as a doorstop for years.

The elder Reed made several unsuccessful attempts to discern the rock’s value. In 1802, a merchant in Fayetteville paid the family $3.50 for it. Later Reed discovered that the rock was in fact gold and that the merchant received $3,600 from its sale.

In 1803, after turning a substantial profit selling nuggets found along the creek, Reed ventured into a partnership to purchase slaves to search for gold. The venture was rewarded with a 28-pound nugget, the discovery of which sparked an era of gold fever.

The Reed Mine helped establish North Carolina’s mining industry 20 years before the California gold rush. So much gold was discovered in the Charlotte area that, in 1837, the federal government established a branch United States Mint there to transform it into currency.

Visit: In recognition of the mine’s contribution to state history, the Reed Gold Mine is now a state historic site.

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Brief Return to Native State for Edward Stanly

A portrait of Stanly from the Library of Congress.

On May 27, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Edward Stanly appointed military governor of North Carolina.

Born in New Bern, Stanly served in the state legislature and practiced law in Beaufort County before being elected to Congress in 1837. After losing his third bid for re-election he returned to the state legislature, briefly served as state attorney general.

He moved to California after losing the Whig nomination for governor in 1848.

Stanly fiercely opposed the secessionist movement in California and believed that North Carolina was tricked into joining the Confederacy, so he volunteered to return to the Tar Heel State to work for peace.

Stanly found few friends back home in New Bern. Those on the Confederate side viewed him as a traitor, while many Unionists were angry that he wouldn’t authorize schools for African Americans. Outraged at Lincoln for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation which he believed would make peace between North and South impossible, Stanly resigned from his post less than nine months after taking it.

He returned to California where he died in 1872.

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“Foxy Brown,” “Jackie Brown” Star Pam Grier

Grier in Foxy Brown. Image from the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

On May 26, 1949, actress Pam Grier was born in Winston-Salem.

Grier’s father was an Air Force mechanic, keeping the family constantly on the move, so it was in Colorado that her acting career got its start. Spotted by an agent at the Colorado state preliminary to the Miss Universe pageant, Grier accepted the agent’s offer to come to Hollywood to try to make it in the film industry.

After making her debut on the silver screen in the 1971 film Big Doll House, Grier quickly became a staple of the so-called “Blaxploitation” genre of films—films geared toward urban black audiences whose plots and characters relied heavily on black stereotypes. She played the starring role in Foxy Brown, perhaps the best-known movie of the genre.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Grier acted in several blockbuster, more mainstream movies and began working in television as well. In her later career, she is perhaps best known for playing the title character in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 movie Jackie Brown, and she continues to work in movies and television to this day.

Grier was the first black woman to appear on the cover of Ms. magazine in August 1975, and Ebony included her on its list of the “100 Most Fascinating Women of the 20th Century.”

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Entombed at Sea in a Cask

Nancy Martin's grave at Oakdale Cemetery in  Wilmington. Image from the  New Hanover County Public Library.

Martin’s grave at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington. Image from the New Hanover County Public Library.

On May 25, 1857, Nancy Adams Martin died at sea. Her body was placed in a cask of alcohol to preserve her remains until the ship reached port.

Affectionately known as “Nance” by her family, Martin was the daughter of Wilmington businessman Silas H. Martin. A captain and shipper by trade, Silas planned a trip around the world, and his eldest son John and daughter Nance accompanied him on the voyage. It would be an ill-fated journey for the Martins.

Nance took ill about three months into the trip and quickly succumbed to the sickness. The only means of preserving her body for later burial was to store it in a cask of rum. The thought of her body sloshing around in a cask was too much for her father and brother, so it was decided that a chair would be placed in the cask, nailed in place and Nance seated and tied into the chair to keep her from swishing around.

The voyage continued and tragedy struck again. John was swept overboard and lost at sea.

Upon returning to Wilmington, Silas had Nance buried. Rather than disturb the remains they buried her in the cask in the port city’s Oakdale Cemetery.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Dramatist Lula Vollmer, Acclaimed for “Sun-up”

An ad for a 1929 performance of Sun-Up. Image from Community Players Theatre.

An ad for a 1929 performance of Sun-Up. Image from Community Players Theatre.

On May 24, 1923, Moore County native Lula Vollmer’s play “Sun-up” premiered on Broadway. Her first and most successful drama, “Sun-Up” depicted people of the southern mountain region. She donated her royalties of more than $40,000 to help educate them.

Born in 1898 and educated at what later became Asheville College, Vollmer went to New York after graduation in 1918 to try to sell the play. Although she worked for the Theatre Guild as a box-office clerk, the Guild joined other producers in rejecting “Sun-Up” until it was produced at the Provincetown Theater.

A portrait of Vollmer. Image from the State Library.

Subsequently it was performed in Chicago, London, Amsterdam, Paris and Budapest.

In 1925, “Sun-Up” was published in book form. Between 1923 and 1946, Vollmer wrote many other plays, among them “The Shame Woman,” “The Dunce Boy,” “Trigger” and “Sentinels,” although none had the commercial success of her first.

Except for Paul Green, Vollmer had more plays produced in New York than any other North Carolina dramatist. Grant Wood, famous for his painting American Gothic, was scene designer for one of her early works.

Vollmer also wrote a variety of radio serials and in later years wrote short stories for the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s Magazine and other magazines.

She died in 1955.

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Kenan Progenitor James Kenan

On May 23, 1810, Revolutionary era military and political leader James Kenan died.

Born on his family’s plantation near what’s now the town of Turkey, Kenan was elected sheriff of Duplin County when he was 22. He displayed strong leadership early, assembling a group of volunteers to go to Wilmington in vocal opposition of the British Stamp Act.

After serving in the colonial assembly and provincial congress, Kenan joined the Duplin militia at the outset of the Revolutionary War. He helped lead a group of volunteers against Scottish loyalists at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in 1776, and rose through the ranks to become brigadier general for the Wilmington District shortly after the war ended.

A Revolutionary War voucher issued to James Kenan. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

Kenan served more than 10 terms in the state legislature after independence and was prominent in the state’s political scene, acting as a member of the State Constitutional Conventions of 1788 and 1789, becoming a member of UNC’s original board of trustees and sitting on the council of state under Richard Caswell.

Active in the Freemasons, Kenan was the first Master of the original Masonic lodge in Duplin County.

Kenan died 1810. His descendants remained active in North Carolina’s civic, political and social life for generations.

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