Citywide Fire in Fayetteville, 1831

Fayetteville-Map-1825

An 1825 map of Fayetteville. Image from the Library of Congress.

On May 29, 1831, much of Fayetteville burned to the ground.

Starting in a kitchen on the northwest corner of Market Square, the fire’s central starting point was part of the reason it caused so much destruction. Though townspeople began trying to extinguish it around it noon, the fire continued to spread rapidly, destroying many of the nearby structures, including the building where the state had ratified the U.S. Constitution.

The town’s fire engine was unable to contain the blaze and, indeed, was destroyed itself in the flames. All destroyed, and the streets became a chaotic mess of people trying to save family members and possessions as the fire roared through town.

After four hours the inferno was quenched but not before taking more than 600 buildings including hundreds of homes, a school, two hotels, 105 stores, two banks and all but one of the city’s churches.

Although many people were injured and almost everyone displaced, no one was killed. Private donations poured into town once news of the disaster spread, with over $100,000 collected and distributed to the people of Fayetteville.

Many of today’s older buildings in the city, such as the Market House, are ones built after this spectacular fire.

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 Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Cross Burnings by Ku Klux Klan, Fifty Years Ago

Klansmen in robes with burning cross

Klansmen in robes with burning cross. Image taken from
the State Archives.

On May 28, 1965, members of the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses on the grounds of courthouses and city halls in 13 North Carolina cities and towns.

Crosses were burned in places large and small across the Coastal Plain and Piedmont, including Burgaw, Currie, Elizabethtown, Henderson, Oxford, Roxboro, Salisbury, Southport, Statesville, Tarboro, Ward’s Corner, Whiteville and Wilmington.

The coordinated campaign of cross burning was part of a wider wave of violence undertaken by the KKK in reaction to the growing civil rights movement that was sweeping the nation and state.

Just months later, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee found that North Carolina had the largest Klan presence of any state in the Union, with more than 6,000 members organized into at least 112 local chapters and scores more sympathizes. The Klan had even set up a booth at the State Fair.

Despite the violence and tension, then Governor Terry Sanford continued to quietly lead business and other community leaders toward desegregation not by calling for changes in law, but by setting up programs like the Good Neighbor Council, which encouraged fair employment practices to improve race relations.

Klansmen (Ku Klux Klan) in robes at tent meeting

Klansmen in robes at tent meeting. Image taken from
the State Archives.

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 Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

State’s Worst Mining Disaster, 1925

A headline generated by the Coal Glen disaster.

A headline generated by the Coal Glen disaster.

On May 27, 1925, a massive explosion took place in a mine operated by the Carolina Coal Company at Coal Glen in Chatham County.

That morning, an eyewitness recounted that the first boom of the explosion split the air and smoke began to fill the sky and women began to scream. People knew immediately what had occurred and rescue efforts began very quickly. By nightfall, 5,000 people waited silently at the mouth of the mine for word of survivors.

may-27-disaster-d

The aftermath of the Coal Glen disaster.

Almost as quickly the explosion became headline news across the country. While some of the miners were from communities in other states, just about everyone in the small village of Farmville knew someone who died. Fifty-three victims died in the worst mining disaster in North Carolina history. It took five days to remove the bodies from the mine.

The Carolina Coal Company was established in 1921 near the Chatham County village of Farmville. It was about two miles east of another operation known as Cumnock Mine. In a News and Observer article written shortly after the explosion, the event was erroneously called the Cumnock Mine Disaster. The 1925 disaster is still often referred to by that name, but it is more accurately called the Coal Glen explosion.

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 Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

The Watauga Club and the Origins of N.C. State University

Watauga Club

Members of the Watauga Club gather in the Executive Mansion in 1955.
Image from the North Carolina Museum of History .

On May 26, 1884, the Watauga Club was founded.

Comprised of a number of influential young leaders under the age of 30, including William Joseph Peele, Josephus Daniels and Walter Hines Page, the progressive organization championed several causes that its members hoped would set the state on a positive course into the future.

Improved roads, more effective farming and agricultural techniques and better schools were all touted by the club as it attempted to bring the state into a more modern era. But perhaps the most important and successful of the group’s goals was the establishment of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts. That institution was founded three years later, in 1887, and went on to become North Carolina State University.

The Watauga Club remains in existence today and includes about two dozen members, most of whom are influential leaders in the Raleigh area. North Carolina State University commemorates the club each year with its Watauga Medal. Two or three outstanding people are chosen to receive the honor, which “recognize[s] individuals who have rendered significant and distinguished service to North Carolina State University.”

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 Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Legal Precedents at Durants Neck

Ann Durant

On May 25, 1673, Ann Durant became the first woman to act in the capacity of an attorney in North Carolina. Durant represented Andrew Ball in his successful effort to recover wages due to him for work aboard a ship at a proceeding held at the home of council member Francis Godfrey.

On at least 20 other occasions she appeared before colonial courts on behalf of herself, her husband and others. She frequently appeared to collect debts owed to her store.

Durant’s court appearances were not the first display of her self-reliance. After she and George Durant married in Virginia in January 1659, the couple moved to their “southern plantation,” settling on the peninsula today known as Durant’s Neck. George served in various capacities in the colony, including speaker of the assembly and as attorney general.

Durant's Neck, Perquimans County, North Carolina

Land’s End, a house at Durant’s Neck. Image from the Library of Congress.

During her husband’s frequent absences, Ann ran their plantation, raised their nine children and often provided accommodations for officials attending meetings of the Assembly and Council held at their house. Prisoners were also sometimes held at the Durant home, and it was on their tract that the first public structures in North Carolina, stocks and pillories, were built.

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 Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Flight of the Last Royal Governor

Josiah Martin Marker

On May 24, 1775, Josiah Martin, the last royal governor of North Carolina, fled Tryon Palace under cover of darkness.

In 1774, delegates to North Carolina’s First Provincial Congress recommended that counties form committees of safety, a move to supplant royal authority. Fearing that the cannons on the palace grounds might be used in an insurrection, Martin had them removed in May 1775.

Abandoning the palace, Martin went from New Bern to Fort Johnston, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, where several English warships lay at anchor. He described the fort as “a wretched little place.”

Receiving reports that the Wilmington Committee of Safety planned to attack the fort and seize him, Martin took refuge on the HMS Cruizer that was resting offshore. It was a wise move, since five days later, the militia, in Martin’s words, “wantonly in the dead hour of night set on fire and reduced to ashes the houses and buildings within the Fort.”

The Cruizer would remain Martin’s headquarters through the summer and fall. From aboard the ship, on August 8, he issued his “Fiery Proclamation,” denouncing the safety committees.

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.

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 Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Moms Mabley, Boundary-Breaking Comedian from Brevard

On May 23, 1975, the comedian known to the world as “Moms” Mabley died in a White Plains, New York hospital.

Born in Loretta Mary Aiken in Brevard around 1897, Mabley was the granddaughter of a former slave. She left home as a teenager and joined a minstrel show based in Pittsburgh, beginning a 60-year career that included work in everything from African American vaudeville to Broadway to television and the movies. Mabley also released of more than 20 comedy albums during her lifetime.

Throughout her career, Mabley performed in many of the nation’s top venues, including Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, and broke gender and racial barriers by becoming the first female comedian to perform at New York’s Apollo Theater in 1940. Her television performances included appearances on the Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, Flip Wilson, Mike Douglas and Smothers Brothers shows.

Mabley is best remembered for her brilliant stand-up comic persona, a grumpy lady dressed in bright and crumpled housedresses, who delivered sly double-entendres tackling topics such as race and sex with expert timing and ad-libbing.

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 Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,158 other followers