“Witlings Defame Her”: William Gaston and “The Old North State”
State Supreme Court Justice William Joseph Gaston of New Bern penned the song’s patriotic lyrics in the 1830s, when North Carolina was lagging economically behind its neighbors and masses of people were moving away. A dedicated public servant and advocate for internal improvements, Gaston sought to defend North Carolina against accusations of being backward.
When court was in session in Raleigh, Gaston stayed at the home of Mrs. James F. Taylor. One day after a couple of women in the household returned from a concert by a group of visiting Swiss bellringers, they began to sing and play one of the concert tunes on the piano. Gaston became inspired. At his office on Hargett Street, he wrote several verses of the now-familiar song, adapting it to the melody he had just heard. A chorus of 50 young women first performed the song at the Whig state convention in Raleigh in October 1840.
R. Culver set Gaston’s poem to music in 1844, but the arrangement composed in 1926 by Mrs. E. E. Randolph in Raleigh is the version familiar to North Carolinians today.
For more on Gaston and the state song, check out the Old North State Fact Book from North Carolina Historical Publications.