Until He Be Dead: The End of Stede Bonnet

Sketch of he hanging of Stede Bonnet

Sketch of he hanging of Stede Bonnet

On December 10, 1718, Stede Bonnet, the “Gentleman Pirate,” was hanged in South Carolina. An unlikely buccaneer, Bonnet was born in 1688 in Barbados, orphaned at a young age and inherited a sizable plantation. By 1715, Bonnet was married and held the rank of major in the militia. In 1717, he gave up his life among the Barbadian planter elite, deserting his family to become a pirate.

Instead of capturing a vessel, Bonnet launched his pirating career in the way in which he was accustomed to doing business—he purchased and armed a ship and hired a crew. Bonnet was known to have been in league with Blackbeard on occasion—including during the siege of Charleston’s harbor. Despite his pardon by Gov. Charles Eden, Bonnet returned to piracy, establishing a base near modern-day Southport.

The state of South Carolina, responding to the piratical threat to the colony, sent a ship north in search of pirates. A fierce battle took place in September 1718—the largest and bloodiest of the pirate conflicts in the colony’s waters. Members of the captured crew were executed in Charleston, effectively ending the “Golden Age of Piracy” in North Carolina.

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Body Politic of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Created

A postwar photograph of the Cherokee who fought in Thomas’s Legion from the N.C. Museum of History

A postwar photograph of the Cherokee who fought in Thomas’s Legion from the N.C. Museum of History

On December 9, 1868, at a Grand Council held at Cheowa (modern day Robbinsville), the body politic of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) was created.

Nimrod Jarrett Smith, who served as Clerk of Council during these critical early gatherings, was deeply involved in Cherokee politics.  At age 25, Smith enlisted with William Holland Thomas’s 69th N.C. Volunteer Infantry, also known as the “Thomas’s Legion,” and rose by 1865 to the rank of 1st Sergeant of Company B.  After the Civil War, the Cherokees sought to solidify not only their land holdings, but also their very existence in the state.

On December 1, 1870, the new Cherokee government was ratified at another Grand Council in which Flying Squirrel was elected as the first Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  Smith would hold that title from 1880 to 1891.

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Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Moses Cone

cone_moses_01On December 8, 1908, pioneering textile entrepreneur Moses Cone died at age 51. He was buried in Blowing Rock on his 3,600-acre country estate, now part of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The eldest son of immigrants from Bavaria, Moses and his brother, Ceasar, began contracting with southern mill owners to market their textiles in 1891. They opened their own mill in Greensboro in 1895, and, by 1902, were operating White Oak Mill, the largest denim manufacturer in the world at the time.

Moses Cone was a conservationist and philanthropist. The Cone mill villages provided a social support network for their workers, and Cone hired the farmers from whom he bought his Blowing Rock land to continue to work there. He brought in whitetail deer, a number of varieties of apples, white pine and hemlock, and developed three lakes stocked with bass and trout.

Cone was also an advocate for education. He gave four dollars to the schools of Blowing Rock for every dollar raised by its citizens, and contributed to the start of Appalachian State University, serving on its original board. His widow, Bertha, sustained the estate until it was left to the Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro upon her death in 1947.

Minibikes and the Wrestling Mat: Hendersonville’s McCrary Twins

The McCrary Twins. Image from Good Spark Garage.

The McCrary Twins. Image from Good Spark Garage.

On December 7, 1946, Billy and Benny McCrary, the world’s largest twins, were born in Hendersonville.

After contracting measles at age 4, the twins’ weights quickly ballooned. By age 10, they each weighed 200 pounds, and by 16, each tipped the scales at more than 600 pounds. Billy and Benny would top out at 814 and 784 pounds, respectively according to the Guinness World Book of Records. Their enormous size has since been attributed, at least in part, to pituitary gland damage caused by the early bout of measles they both experiences.

To stem the boys’ growth, their parents bought a farm, believing perhaps the boys would burn up calories while working. But they had wanderlust and quickly quit high school to move to Texas and brand cattle. In a promotion with Honda and Holiday Inn, the McCrarys rode motorcycles from the east coast to the west. They entertained on the Tonight Show and at Myrtle Beach, big men atop tiny minibikes. They went on to become professional wrestlers under the name of the McGuire Twins, training in Mexico and appearing across the U.S. and Japan.

The McCrary Twins as immortalized on Family Guy (left) and The Simpsons (right). Image from Good Spark Garage.

Billy died in 1979 during a minibike stunt at Niagara Falls. Benny took other wrestling partners, among them Andre the Giant, before entering semi-retirement devoted to golf and evangelism.  He died in 2001. Their fame continues to grow. They have been immortalized in animation on The Simpsons and Family Guy.

Jacob Henry and Religious Liberty

dec-61On December 6, 1809, Jacob Henry, North Carolina’s first Jewish legislator, delivered a rousing speech about religious liberty to the General Assembly. Henry represented Carteret County in 1808 and 1809, a time when people were bound constitutionally to affirm the “truth of the Protestant religion” before holding any public office.  He served his first term without incident, but, in 1809, a newly-elected representative took issue with Henry’s religious affiliation and introduced a resolution to remove him from office.

The legislators decided to take up the resolution the next day, giving Henry time to prepare his defense. Without specifically mentioning Judaism, he addressed “natural and inalienable rights” and equalized religious sects with phrases such as “the ruler of the universe.”

Ultimately Henry was allowed to retain his seat. His inspiring and eloquent speech to the 1809 General Assembly has been published and quoted frequently ever since. It is considered a touchstone of religious rights and tolerance.

Visitors to Beaufort can see the Federal era house that he built at 229 Front Street, where it still stands today. Henry lived there with his wife, Esther Whitehurst, whom he married in 1801.

Upper House of Assembly Meets at the Newly-Constructed Tryon Palace

Plans showing the front elevation of Tryon Palace designed by John Hawks in 1767. Image from the Office of Archives and History

Plans showing the front elevation of Tryon Palace designed by John Hawks in 1767. Image from the Office of Archives and History

On December 5, 1770, the Upper House of Assembly first met in the Council Chamber of the newly-constructed “Government House” in New Bern. Later that evening, Governor William Tryon hosted a grand ball – complete with fireworks. The newly built Government House was not celebrated by all North Carolina citizens, however. In fact, many people, upset over the taxes imposed to build the structure, began to call the Government House “Tryon’s Palace.”

Tryon Palace served as the backdrop for North Carolina’s transformation from colony to statehood. In May 1775, then Royal Governor Josiah Martin fled the palace as patriot forces approached New Bern. When North Carolina became an independent state, the first four governors resided in Tryon Palace until Raleigh became the new capitol in 1794.

After a fire destroyed all but the kitchen and stable offices in 1798, most of the original land was utilized in highway and housing developments. In the 1940s, public interest and private donations convinced the state to consider the feasibility of bringing Tryon Palace back to life. The palace, reconstructed to the original design, opened as a public museum in 1959. Now a state historic site, Tryon Palace stands as a reminder of North Carolina’s rich historical legacy.

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North Carolina Approves the 13th Amendment

African American Heritage Commission Chair Harry Harrison, Historical Commission Chair Jerry Cashion, Secretary of Cultural Resources Linda Carlisle and N.C. Council of Women Executive Director Jill Dinwiddie unveil plaques commemorating ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

African American Heritage Commission Chair Harry Harrison, Historical Commission Chair Jerry Cashion, Secretary of Cultural Resources Linda Carlisle and N.C. Council of Women Executive Director Jill Dinwiddie unveil plaques commemorating ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

On December 4, 1865, the North Carolina General Assembly approved the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery. In order for a state to be readmitted to the Union following the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson  required states to approve the amendment. Ten days following North Carolina’s vote the requisite three-quarters of the states had approved its ratification and thus it became law.

This action by the legislature in 1865 actually came almost three years after the Emancipation Proclamation, which outlawed slavery in the southern states.  Following the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the freedmen’s convention met a few blocks northwest of the N.C. State Capitol.  That assembly was the first effort by the state’s African Americans to press for full political rights.

On December 6, 2010, officials of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, and others met to dedicate and unveil four plaques commemorating the extension of civic and voting rights.  In addition to one focusing on the 13th Amendment, the others so remembered were the 14th Amendment (granting rights to all citizens), the 15th Amendment (extending voting rights to new citizens) and the 19th Amendment (extending voting rights to women).

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