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John Blue of Scotland County, Inventor of Agricultural Tools

This Day in North Carolina History - 17 hours 2 min ago

On November 28, 1861, inventor John Blue was born in what is now Scotland County.

Raised on a cotton farm, Blue had an interest from a young age in inventing tools to make life easier. Before he left the family farm to start a life of his own, he often tinkered in his father’s blacksmith shop.  Despite the crude tools available to him there, he was able to invent the first cotton-stalk cutter.

Blue struck out on his own in 1883 and continued to invent agricultural tools on the side, including an iron cotton planter and a fertilizer spreader. After a few years, he founded a business on his farm with his father. The business grew steadily into a factory that made a variety of agricultural tools in addition to repairing them. The factory eventually got so large that Blue added a foundry to supply his own iron.

Over the course of his career, Blue continued to invent new products and secure patents for them. His son, John Jr., took over the business after his death and, though it shifted its operations to Alabama after a major fire, the company continues to operate to this day as CDS-John Blue.

Visit: The John Blue House and Heritage Center in Laurinburg tells the story of Blue and the region.

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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.


John Baptista Ashe, Revolutionary War Veteran and (Almost) Governor

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 11/27/2014 - 05:30

Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On November 27, 1802, John Baptista Ashe, who was just elected governor, died before ever being able to take office.

Born near Wilmington in 1748, Ashe’s early career was marked by military service in both the War of Regulation and American Revolution. After independence, he was elected to the General Assembly from Halifax, and quickly became popular in legislative circles. He was unanimously chosen as speaker in 1786.

Ashe’s first foray onto the national scene came in 1785, when he was nominated as a delegate to the Continental Congress, but failed to win election to the post. Despite that setback, he was elected to Congress the next year and also took an active role in North Carolina’s 1789 Constitutional Convention.

After North Carolina ratified the federal Constitution, Ashe was elected to the First and Second Congresses where he voted on a number of important issues including the site of the new nation’s capital and excise taxes on liquor.

When a committee of the legislature arrived at Ashe’s Halifax home in 1802 to tell him of his election to governorship, they found him ill. He died several days later.

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 FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Alfred Moore Scales, Confederate Veteran and Governor

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 11/26/2014 - 05:30

Image from the State Archives.

On November 26, 1827, Governor Alfred Scales was born in Reidsville.

Scales studied law at UNC and privately under William Battle, before winning election as today’s equivalent to the Rockingham County district attorney. He quickly moved up the political ladder, serving in the General Assembly in the early 1850s before being elected to Congress later that decade.

Scales joined the Confederate Army a month before secession and continued his service until the surrender at Appomattox, but after the war, Scales was reelected to the General Assembly and the U.S. House.

It wasn’t until 1884 that the Democratic Party nominated Scales for governor. He won the state’s top job over Republican Tyre York, making him the 45th governor of North Carolina. Like many other governors of the era, Scales focused his efforts on education and internal improvements like railroads and highways. One of the highlights of his tenure was the establishment of the school that later became North Carolina State University.

After stepping down as governor, Scales left public life and moved to Greensboro where he continued to practice law and got involved in banking. He died in 1892.

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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.


Historic Origins of the Tsali Legend and “Unto These Hills”

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 11/25/2014 - 05:30

On November 25, 1838, the Cherokee Indian known as Tsali was executed.

Part of group that refused to leave North Carolina after Cherokee leaders signed a treaty ceding their tribal lands to the United States, Tsali, his family and a few friends had gone into hiding in the spring of 1838. Though accounts differ on the specifics, it’s clear that Tsali and his group were captured by federal troops on November 1.

Tsali and several in his group managed to escape shortly after being captures, and somehow in that process, three soldiers were hurt or killed. Though it wasn’t clear that Tsali was responsible for the deaths of the soldiers, and a federal commander in the area, Colonel William S. Foster, maintained that Tsali wasn’t responsible, two Cherokee allies of U.S. troops caught Tsali and executed him.

Foster issued a proclamation in support of the Indians who killed Tsali and allowed them to say in the area. Eventually these groups would be recognized as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Tsali’s story remains a folk legend in area and is dramatized in the play Unto These Hills, which is produced in Cherokee every summer.

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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.


The Wreck of the Huron on the Outer Banks, 1877

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 05:30

The wreck of the Huron. Image from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

On November 24, 1877, the USS Huron ran aground near Nags Head, en route for Havana from New York. Commander George P. Ryan chose to sail close to shore to avoid having to travel against the Gulf Stream or taking the time to plot a route beyond the strong currents.

During the night, rough seas and dense fog hindered the officers’ ability to navigate the treacherous coastline. The Huron came too close to the shore and ran aground around 1:30 a.m. Although the closest lifesaving station was only two miles away, it was closed until December. Some of the sailors braved the currents and cold temperatures and 36 made it to the shore. Ninety-eight men died.

Two months later, another 85 men died when a second ship, the Metropolis, ran aground north of the Huron wreck. The two disasters prompted Congress to fund additional lifesaving stations and to increase their months of operation.

Today, the wreck of the USS Huron is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1991, the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources designated the wreck site as North Carolina’s first “Historic Shipwreck Preserve.”

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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 FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Concept of Alford Plea Tied to Forsyth County Case

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 11/23/2014 - 05:30

The first page of the Aflord decision from the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On November 23, 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the North Carolina v. Alford case. The court ruled that a defendant could plead guilty to a crime while still maintaining his innocence. This type of plea is now commonly called an Alford plea, after the defendant in the proceedings.

The litigation began in Forsyth County. Henry Alford was indicted for first-degree murder in 1963. Though he maintained his innocence, Alford ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on the advice of his attorney who told that him that since the prosecutor had a fairly substantial amount of evidence, he would probably be convicted and might get the death penalty.

Alford appealed to a federal court, saying that he was coerced into pleading guilty. That court found his appeal convincing and overturned his plea, but the state ultimately appealed that decision to a circuit court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court upheld Alford’s plea, saying that a court can accept a guilty plea as long as the defendant is adequately represented, “intelligently” chooses to enter into the deal and there is strong evidence of actual guilt.

Today, 47 states, including North Carolina, continue to accept Alford pleas.

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 FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Elizabeth Steele, Nathanael Greene and Their Legendary Encounter

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 11/22/2014 - 05:30

Elizabeth Steele gives General Nathanael Greene money
to aid the patriot cause. Image from Getty Images.

On November 22, 1790, Elizabeth Maxwell Steele, a legendary patriot during the American Revolution, died at her home in Salisbury.

Twice widowed, Steele was the only woman operating a tavern in Rowan County before the war. She was self-sufficient, wealthy and well-connected, and during the Revolution she used her means to become what she called a “great politician.” Steele wasn’t a politician in the modern sense of the word. Rather, she looked out for her family’s and her community’s interests by seeking and sharing information about the war.

Legend has it that in February 1781, Steele overheard General Nathanael Greene in her tavern complaining of being “fatigued, hungry, and penniless”. The story goes that she gave Greene two satchels of money and that the relieved general took a portrait of King George III off the wall and wrote on the back, “O George, Hide thy face and mourn.” He then hung the picture up backwards.

The portrait survives with those words chalked on the reverse. There is no way to authenticate the story, but it is known that Greene was in the vicinity at the time. Irrespective of the legend, Steele was an exceptional woman who was vital to local discourse during the Revolution.

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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 FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 05:30

Nell Cropsey. Image from the Museum of the Albermarle.

On November 21, 1901, Nell Cropsey, disappeared from the front porch of her family home near the Elizabeth City waterfront.  The Cropsey family had moved to Elizabeth City from New Jersey in 1898.

The case grabbed national media attention, making newspaper headlines up and down the east coast.  The night Nell disappeared she had broken up with her boyfriend of three years, Jim Wilcox. After spending the evening together in the parlor with her sister Ollie and her boyfriend, the couple stepped onto the front porch and into legend. Wilcox maintained that he left Nell there on the porch after she broke up with him. Nell never returned to the house and was found in the Pasquotank River 37 days later.

Wilcox was arrested and tried. The case, built on circumstantial evidence, was a sensation in its own right. Protesters and mobs interrupted the first trial until the judge declared a mistrial and ordered a new trial in a nearby county. Wilcox was eventually convicted but in 1920 received a pardon from Governor Thomas Bickett. Fourteen years later Wilcox took his own life.

Nell Cropsey’s death remains a mystery, at least for some.

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.


Death of Junaluska, Revered Cherokee Warrior

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 05:30

A purported photograph of Chief Junaluska from the State Archives

On November 20, 1858, distinguished Cherokee warrior Junaluska died.

Little is known of his early life. Although he was not chief, Junaluska spoke for the tribe in 1811 when he refused the Shawnee request for the Cherokee to join in fighting against the influx of settlers. As further indication of his loyalty to the United States, Junaluska recruited 100 warriors to join the war against the Creek Indians in 1814. An account of the conflict credits Junaluska for saving Andrew Jackson’s life at Horseshoe Bend, Alabama.

Junaluska returned to his farm in North Carolina and lived a quiet life until Andrew Jackson, then President of the United States, called for the removal of Cherokee to Oklahoma in 1838. Junaluska survived the Trail of Tears, but later walked home to North Carolina.

The General Assembly granted Junaluska citizenship in 1847, and gave him 337 acres of land and $100 in recognition of his military service. The land was at Cheoah, near what is now the town of Robbinsville, and was, ironically, part of his property prior to the Cherokee removal.

Visit: This Saturday, the N.C. Museum of History will host its 19th Annual American Indian Heritage Celebration, highlighting the history and culture of North Carolina’s eight state-recognized tribes.

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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.


Kingston Trio Hits the Top of the Charts with “Tom Dooley” in 1958

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 05:30

On November 19, 1958, the Kingston Trio’s version of the folk song “Tom Dooley” hit number one on the music charts. The song is based on the true story of Tom Dula, hanged in Statesville in 1868 for the murder of Laura Foster.

The case drew wide attention, including a series of reports that appeared in the New York Herald. After being hanged, Dula was buried in a family cemetery in Wilkes County. Many in the community to this day defend him, arguing that he took the fall for a woman named Ann Melton. North Carolina guitarist Doc Watson’s grandmother claimed to have heard Melton’s deathbed confession that she, not Tom Dula, killed Laura Foster.

While Watson sang the traditional folk ballad “Tom Dula,” the best-known version of that song was a bestseller for the Kingston Trio, renamed “Tom Dooley.” Members of the group actually visited Dula’s grave on a concert swing through the state.

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.


Name of James Glasgow Expunged from the Map

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 08:19

A circa 1796 map of North Carolina that includes Glasgow County.
Image from the State Archives.

On November 18, 1799, Glasgow County, in eastern North Carolina, was renamed Greene County.

In 1791, Dobbs County was split. Half became Lenoir County, named for Revolutionary War General William Lenoir, and half became Glasgow County, for North Carolina’s first Secretary of State James Glasgow.

Nathanael Greene

Among other duties, Glasgow oversaw the military grant program that awarded land to soldiers who served in the Continental Line during the American Revolution. Warrants for land were easily forged, which led to Glasgow’s downfall.

In 1797, future President Andrew Jackson wrote a letter to the governor exposing the ongoing land frauds. Charges became official, and Glasgow was brought to trial. The jury handed down five indictments; Glasgow pled not guilty.

After ten days in court, Glasgow was found guilty of three charges: issuing a fraudulent warrant; issuing a duplicate warrant with two separate grants on it; and issuing a grant without proper evidence of the assignment. The residents of Glasgow County did not want to be identified with a criminal and the county was renamed Greene, for Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene.

While Glasgow’s name disappeared from the map, his misconduct left a lasting mark in North Carolina’s history. The court that tried Glasgow ultimately became the North Carolina Supreme Court.

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.


Respected Pastel Artist Drew Upon Civil War Experience

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 05:30

One of Champney’s sketches. Image from the Outer Banks History Center.

On November 17, 1862, 19-year-old James Wells Champney drafted a collection of small images titled “First impressions of North Carolina, sketched in cars on the [way] to newbern.”

The son of a painter-illustrator, Champney apprenticed in Boston to become a master wood engraver, but the outbreak of war interrupted his artistic training. He volunteered for the 45th Massachusetts and deployed to North Carolina in November 1862 as part of reinforcements for the Union occupational forces then at New Bern.

Another of Champney’s sketches from New Bern. Image from the Outer Banks History Center.

Like many artists-turned-soldiers, Champney used his artistic abilities to document his wartime experiences, depicting military installations, soldiers, African Americans, civilians and other scenes in and around New Bern. When he left the service after falling ill with malaria in July 1863, Champney had filled two sketchbooks, which are now held by the Outer Banks History Center.

After the war, Champney moved to Europe to study under renowned artist Pierre Édouard Frère. He returned to the United States an expert in pastels and established a studio in New York City where he worked for the remainder of his life. He died unexpectedly at the age of 59 after falling down an elevator shaft.

Visit: Champney’s sketches are featured in “Face to Face: Civil War Sketches and Stories,” an exhibit at Tryon Palace in New Bern that tells the story of the Union occupation of the area, and the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo, which holds the Champney sketches in its collection.

Other related resources:

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 FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Federal Writers Project Director Edwin Björkman

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 11/16/2014 - 05:30

On November 16, 1951, renowned writer, journalist and literary critic Edwin A. Björkman died in Asheville.

Born and raised in Sweden, Björkman worked as a clerk, journalist and actor before coming to the United States in 1891. Upon arrival, he briefly stopped in Chicago and then joined a Scandinavian colony in Minnesota, writing for newspapers to support himself. He later wrote for several papers in New York, served in the short-lived League of Nations’ news bureau and taught Scandinavian drama at Yale before moving to Waynesville in 1925.

In North Carolina, Björkman worked as the literary editor of the Asheville Times, and, during the Depression, directed the North Carolina Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration. While working with that project he led the effort that produced North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State.

Throughout his career, Björkman was a prolific writer, producing no less than 10 original novels and translating countless plays and other works into English from European languages. He married four times before dying at age 85, and he is buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit the N.C. Department of 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 Facebook and Twitter.


Charlotte Heist Foiled, 1933

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 11/15/2014 - 05:30

A man prepares to rob a bank in Massachusetts, circa 1934. Image from the Boston Public Library.

On November 15, 1933, noted criminal Roger “The Terrible” Touhy orchestrated a mail truck robbery in the heart of the Charlotte.

Robert Touhy’s FBI mugshot

At the time of the robbery, Touhy was battling mobster Al Capone for control of illicit alcohol sales in Chicago. While awaiting trial for kidnapping, Touhy sent four men in his gang south to “raise” money for his defense. Although Charlotte had no connection to organized crime at the time, it was a burgeoning hub of the financial industry.

The theft took place in broad daylight. Members of Touhy’s gang ambushed the truck by driving out in front of it from an alleyway as it made its way down Third Street. The gang members got out of their car and moved toward the mail truck. At least one of the group brandished a machine gun as the others disarmed the driver. Two of Touhy’s gang easily clipped the lock on the truck with wire cutters, threw out the mail clerk they found inside and, within two minutes, stole about $100,000 in cash and bank notes.

Charlotte detective Frank Littlejohn conducted an extraordinary investigation and, within two weeks of the heist, three suspects were in jail and the fourth was dead in an apparent mob knockoff.

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.


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