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Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence

by Ronnie W. Faulkner, 2006

Souvenir version of the Mecklenburg Declaration from 1892The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is the name given to a document that was allegedly produced on 20 May 1775, when the residents of Mecklenburg County declared themselves "free and independent people." The so-called declaration did not surface until 1819, 44 years after the event, when it was published in the Raleigh Register at the behest of U.S. senator Nathaniel Macon. The original document was supposedly destroyed in a fire in 1800, and the published text was reconstructed from memory by John McKnitt Alexander and given to Macon by his son, William Alexander. William Polk, the son of the organizer of the Charlotte meeting, gathered testimony from several elderly men who claimed to have been present. Mecklenburgers immediately started celebrating the date.

The authenticity of the document was not seriously questioned until the posthumous publication of the works of Thomas Jefferson in 1829. In a letter of 9 July 1819 to John Adams, Jefferson dismissed the Mecklenburg Declaration as a hoax. The North Carolina legislature in 1830-31 was so aroused by this development that it established a committee to investigate. As committee chairman Thomas G. Polk organized the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Mecklenburg Declaration, it is not surprising that his committee gathered evidence to support the contention that the declaration was authentic.

Despite North Carolina's efforts, a number of scholars outside the state maintained that the Mecklenburg document was a fraud. The ultimate scholarly blow came in 1907 with the publication of William Henry Hoyt's The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence: A Study of Evidence Showing That the Alleged Declaration of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, Is Spurious. Using the latest methods of scientific history and internal criticism, Hoyt maintained that the evidence was overwhelming that the reconstructed declaration was a misconstruction of the Mecklenburg Resolves of 31 May 1775, which contemporary newspapers proved had been written. Most North Carolinians ignored Hoyt's work, but not Samuel A. Ashe, editor, historian, and descendant of one of the state's most prominent families. The first volume of Ashe's History of North Carolina (1908) presented both sides of the issue but ultimately agreed with the naysayers.

A bitter fight broke out in the North Carolina General Assembly over a bill authorizing the purchase of Ashe's book for the public schools. House Speaker Augustus W. Graham, the son of a governor and descendant of a "signer" of the Mecklenburg Declaration, took the floor and defeated the authorization bill. Opponents of the measure, appealing to patriotism, noted that the date of 20 May was enshrined on the state flag and seal. However, the difference in the old style (Julian) and new style (Gregorian) calendars was 11 days at the time the British adopted the new style in 1752. Even in 1775, Charlotte was in a remote area, and some persons still may have been using the old calendar. This fact could have contributed to a misapplication of the 20 May date to the authentic Mecklenburg Resolves of 31 May 1775.

The negative opinions of professional historians toward the Mecklenburg Declaration, including such luminaries as Stephen B. Weeks, John Spencer Bassett, and R. D. W. Connor, remained intact. The one academic who did support the Mecklenburg legend was Archibald Henderson, a mathematics professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Although modern scholars no longer accept the Mecklenburg Declaration as authentic, it has long been maintained and celebrated. The document emerged at a time when North Carolina was the sleeping and backward "Rip Van Winkle State" and thus appealed to pride by establishing that the state was not only progressive but also in the vanguard of the independence movement.

References:

Richard N. Current, "That Other Declaration: May 20, 1775-May 20, 1975," North Carolina Historical Review 54 (April 1977).

Ronnie W. Faulkner, "Samuel A'Court Ashe: North Carolina Redeemer and Historian, 1840-1938" (Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1983).

Image credit:

Souvenir depicting the Mecklenburg Declaration from The Mecklenburg declaration of independence : a study of evidence showing that the alleged early declaration of independence by Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, is spurious. Online at http://archive.org/details/mecklenburgdecla00hoytuoft. Accessed 5/1/2012.

 

Origin - location: 

Comments

Comment: 

I know nothing about the Mecklenburg declaration but I have an Orig. Sept. 20 1838 Niles National Register. It has the Mecklenburg declaration in it. The Niles paper states "A late number of the Southern Literary Messenger contains this famous document which we subjoin"
The Mecklenburg declaration is signed by ABRAHAM ALEXANDER chairman JOHN McKNITT ALEXANDER sec'y

Comment: 

I too have decedents related to the Mecklenburg Declaration ( Hezekiah Alexander ) signed the Mecklenburg Declaration.
A school teacher Patty Alexander of Charlotte NC took My Grandfather (Elmer Lee Hager) and My mother age 8 in the year 1952 to every graveyard related to our family from Denver, NC. all the way down Hwy 16 across Catawba river and throughout Mecklenburg County explained a lot of this lost history of our family and yes Hezekiah did sign the Mecklenburg Declaration before it was plagiarize by Jefferson
Searching all this information has been fun and fun exciting. On my Fathers side William G Broadwell born in Kansas City July 1943 we traced his family back to one of the 13 Colonies and found relative's lived in what is now called New Jersey and later moved to Clinton New York before new generations moved to Penn and later to Missouri and so on.
To me Its better than any movie and should be explored a little further.
And to find out the Declaration of Independence originally came from Charlotte and called the Mecklenburg Declaration and celebrated every May 20th for a great number of years calling the holiday Mec Dec Day this is all jaw dropping to our family. Enjoy your search, Wm Broadwell.

Comment: 

I am Chad Peters a direct descendant of at leat two signers of this and other 1775 1776 documents. One is john davidson signer the other david reece signer davids daughter penelope married johns son george. So these two are heads of both familys. While inlaws. Johns his brother george and robert moved from scotland round 1720-30 and iredell county by 1748. Why English jesters killed 75% of our noble scot family. So we went to ireland to escape charles 2 to come to america. Here we we generals william lee davidson died at cowens ford rowen county 1781 the first senator 2 first representitives to house of commons fought as of april 17 1776 with 4th regiment under colonel polk also at battle ramsons hill as major. 6 milita from william davidson john davidson thomas davidson to david vance gabriel ragsdale and william whitson all blood or marriage. Noted gabriel anf william whitson house of commans william davidson senate also notable is captin smith whose sister married williams davidson twin brother samuel capt in revolution so rest assured that this family one hates the english two would sponser this document and three next to mr washington have given more to this union then mr jeffersons family could in the next thousand years. As a jefferson lover his Elegant and wonderful writings if copied would have some flash and contains none. also writing the Declaration of Independence took him many many trys also being refined till perfection. Ours was simple no british its a no brainer. Cause 1812 again our president was on the run while washington city burned. I leave you with these statments to help Serve my ancestors who have given everything to make us what we are. their due. They fought risking everything before it was the trend. When it was needed. I will continue our heritage and ask to look around if this is the america you knew or know? If not Remember your heritage and stand one last time again to declare you're freedom and you're childrens children that default or not our kids cant be bought that we are fighting mad and ready to cast off the shackels of this police state opression.
I like more forfathers who came before me
As a father husband business owner freedom and liberty lover do herby sign this saying if its my Morals and traditions and freedom that has to go to protect my freedoms Put me in a coffin or a cell cause its not a option. This day dec 21 2013
Chad Peters.

Comment: 

My father, a dentist, who was born on July 29,1889, and died on August 22, 1972, firmly believed the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence to be authentic. He kept a copy of it until the day he died. Daddy was a history buff and knew the histories of Mecklenburg County, Rutherford County, North Carolina, the USA, as well as British and Europe in more true details than any other amateur history buff of whom I have ever heard. He was a charter member of the Mecklenburg Historical Society, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), and the source of those less informed for the "real deal" considering nearly all things historical, including even our own family geneology. A man gifted by God our Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as few others have ever been both intellectually and academically as few others have ever been.

A person of gentle and genteel character--self-efacing yet learned to the nth degree, my father (Dr. Frank Kelly Haynes) was a Christian gentleman to the core. I could never doubt the veracity of his diciplined character and humble heart. He was a "leader of leaders"; yet he never would have admitted nor would he have subscribed to such an assessment of himself.

Again, Daddy stood by his belief that the now so-called "Meck-Dec" was authentic. His dental office was initially on the 2nd floor over Garibaldi and Burns Jewelers in the 100 block of South Tryon Street. Soon after he was established there he moved into the new and trendy Independence Building at "the square" where his office occupied Suite 508. It was noteworthy to him that he could see from the Independence Building a view of the mountain top of Spencer Mountain from the height of the 10th, 11th, and 12th floors of that "skyscraper" building of note of its day.

Comment: 

Thanks for writing. The Mecklenburg Declaration continues to be contentious more than 200 years later!

Mike Childs, NCpedia, N.C. Government & Heritage Library.

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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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