Encampment at Rockfish Creek, Prelude to Moores Creek Bridge

On February 15, 1776, Patriot forces under Colonel James Moore camped on Rockfish Creek in Cumberland County.

Nearby more than 1,500 Loyalist militia, most of them Scottish Highlanders, gathered under General Donald McDonald at what’s now Fayetteville to march to Wilmington. By fortifying the encampment at Rockfish Creek with over 1,000 men and five artillery pieces, Moore blocked the Loyalists’ most direct route to the coast, forcing them to utilize a narrow bridge at Moores Creek.

There, on February 27, the Loyalists were ambushed by about 1,000 Patriots, artillery and rifles, from Col. Richard Caswell’s and Col. Alexander Lillington’s forces. The Patriots were victorious, killing or wounding at least 50 men and capturing about 850 more.

The Battle of Moores Creek Bridge was a pivotal moment in North Carolina history. Without Loyalist forces to protect the colonial government, the royal system collapsed, allowing Patriot leaders the chance to establish a fledgling state government. The Patriot victory also denied Britain use of North Carolina’s ports, which were logistically significant. The battle at Moores Creek is often referred to as the “Lexington and Concord of the South.”

Initially a state park, the battlefield is now managed by the National Park Service.

Maceo Parker of Kinston Brought the Funk

maceo-parker-thumb1On February 14, 1943, saxophonist Maceo Parker was born in Kinston. Perhaps best known for his work with James Brown, Parker brought funk to the soul music of the James Brown Band. For nearly 20 years, Brown’s call “Maceo, I want you to Blow!” summoned his unique sound.

Parker was exposed to music early. His father played at least two instruments, and both of his parents sang for their church. His brother was also musical, and the pair joined James Brown’s band together in 1964. He has gone on to collaborate with a host of artists including George Clinton, Prince, Ray Charles, James Taylor, the Dave Matthews Band and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Among Parker’s many accolades and awards are the 2003 Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award, the 2012 Les Victoires du Jazz in Paris Lifetime Achievement Award and the  Icon Award at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam.

Parker tours internationally to this day. He is featured in the book African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina, published by the North Carolina Arts Council, and in 2016 he was recognized with a North Carolina Heritage Award.

Blind Boy Fuller of Durham, Blues Master

blind_boy_fuller1On February 13, 1941, Piedmont Blues musician “Blind Boy Fuller” died in Durham. Fuller was famous for playing a steel-bodied National guitar that was a natural resonator before amplification. Along with Reverend Gary Davis, Fuller dominated the Bull City’s blues scene, attracting and influencing many musicians.

Born Fulton Allen in Wadesboro in 1907, Fuller learned guitar and country rag songs from older singers in Rockingham. In his late teens, he moved to Winston-Salem where he played on sidewalks for shift workers in tobacco factories. He became completely blind in 1928 and moved to Durham the next year.

In 1935, Fuller was taken to New York by white merchant J. B. Long for the first of many recording sessions with the American Recording Corporation. He released more than 130 songs on several labels in his five-year recording career. Many of his songs centered on the daily struggles of black tenant farmers and the experiences of those who left the South for the North.

Fuller’s repertoire ranged from ragtime to the blues, including “Rag, Mama, Rag,” “Truckin’ My Blues Away” and “I Want Some Of Your Pie.” Fuller often recorded with other musicians, including guitarists Floyd Council and Bull City Red, and harmonica player Sonny Terry.

Hinton James: First Student at Chapel Hill

d-13-aOn February 12, 1795, Hinton James became the first student to enter the University of North Carolina. James, who had walked to Chapel Hill from his home in New Hanover County, was the only student for the first two weeks of the school year. Academically gifted, James helped organize the first literary club and debating society on campus. He was awarded a bachelor’s degree as one of the seven students in the university’s first graduating class in July 1798.

After graduation, James became an assistant to Hamilton Fulton, a Scottish engineer hired by the state to make navigation improvements on the eastern rivers. He was put in charge of operations along the Cape Fear River, but left in 1807 upon his election to the state legislature. He served three terms in Raleigh, before serving as mayor and treasurer of Wilmington and as a magistrate of New Hanover County.

James died in 1847 and was buried at Hopewell Presbyterian Church near Burgaw. A dormitory at the University of North Carolina is named in his honor.

Harriet Jacobs: A Champion of Freedom

220px-harriet_ann_jacobs18941On February 11, 1813, Harriet Jacobs, fugitive slave, writer and abolitionist, was born in Edenton.  Harriet spent her childhood unaware of her station in life. But when her white mistress, Margaret Horniblow, died in 1825, Harriet and her brother John were willed to Horniblow’s three-year-old niece, Mary Norcom and thus, under the control of Mary Norcom’s father, Dr. James Norcom.

A runnaway slave notice about Harriet Jacobs now in the State Archives

A runnaway slave notice about Harriet Jacobs now in the State Archives

After suffering years of physical abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of Norcom, Jacobs fled in 1835 and went into hiding in the attic of her paternal grandmother, Molly Horniblow, a free black woman living in Edenton only a block away from Norcom.  According to Jacobs memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861, Harriet lived in that restricted space for almost seven years until she managed to escape north via Edenton’s maritime Underground Railroad.

Jacobs gained her full and legal freedom ten years later. While living the life of a fugitive slave, Jacobs became an anti-slavery activist and an abolitionist author. By the time of the Civil War, as a free African- American woman, Jacobs served as a relief worker dedicated to assisting the newly freed people of her southern homeland.

The Lumbees and the Road to Recognition

A Lumbee family outside their Robeson County home, circa 1895-1915. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

A Lumbee family outside their Robeson County home, circa
1895-1915. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On February 10, 1885, the Indians now known as Lumbees were legally recognized by the General Assembly. The act designated the tribe as Croatan, which reflected the idea from the time that the group was descended from the settlers of the “Lost Colony.”

For many years the government pushed the Indians of the Robeson County region to declare themselves either white or African American, but for the Indians, state recognition grew critical when the schools became racially segregated in the 1870s. In order for their children to attend public schools, the Indians had to deny their heritage. There were no public schools for Indians.

State recognition led the county to establish a three-part school system with schools at all levels for the Indians. In 1887, the legislature also established the Croatan Normal School to educate Indian teachers.  The school is now known as the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Struggling with its own identity and with federal recognition, the tribe adopted a number of names over the years, finally settling on Lumbee.  The name comes from the Lumber River, which winds its way through the Indians’ traditional homeland.

Explorer and Artist William Bartram

430px-psm_v41_d594_william_bartram1On February 9, 1739, William Bartram, America’s first native-born naturalist, was born near Philadelphia.

In 1761, Bartram moved to Bladen County, where his uncle owned a plantation called Ashwood on the Cape Fear River. He opened a store and spent his free time exploring the flora and fauna of the region.

Bartram, demonstrating his significant artistic talent, provided patrons in England with drawings of American plants and animals as early as 1753. In 1773, John Fothergill, a London physician and proprietor of the largest botanical garden in England, commissioned Bartram to travel through the southeast collecting objects of natural history. That March he set out on the trip outlined in his book, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida.

While on his travels in May 1776, in what is now the Nantahala National Forest, Bartram encountered a Cherokee band led by chief Attakullakulla. In his writings, he described not only the flora and fauna but also the native Indians, cataloging forty-three towns and villages of the Cherokee nation. Bartram returned to Philadelphia after his expedition in 1777. His book,Travels, published in 1791, became the most important description of the southeastern United States during the eighteenth century.