Archive for the ‘North Carolina Time Traveler’ Category

Veterans Day (November 11 in honor of Armistice day) is a time for recognizing the sacrifices made by members of our armed services.  So this time of year I like to call people’s attention to a little-known North Carolina program that benefited the state’s  Confederate veterans.

Patent sketch for the Jewett leg for above-the-knee amputations

About 75 percent of the operations performed by surgeons during the Civil War were amputations.  For those who survived amputation and the resulting infections, the pursuit of artificial limbs was natural.

Artificial legs, and to a lesser extent, arms, also helped the amputees get back to work in order to support themselves and their families. The United States government assisted Union amputees after the Civil War, but Confederate veterans were considered the responsibilities of the states.

North Carolina responded quickly to the needs of her citizens and became the first of the former Confederate states to offer artificial limbs to amputees.  The General Assembly passed a Resolution in February 1866 to provide artificial legs to amputees.  (Because artificial arms were not considered to be very functional, it was another year before the state offered artificial arms.)  The state contracted with Jewett’s Patent Leg Company, and a temporary factory was set up in Raleigh.  During the five years that the state operated the artificial limbs program, 1,550 Confederate veterans contacted the state for help.

Samuel Clark’s 1866 leg.  It is currently on display at the North Carolina Museum of History.

There are two Jewett legs that are on display in North Carolina.  Robert Alexander Hanna’s below-the –knee prosthetic is in the visitor’s center at Bentonville Battlefield in Four Oaks. Hanna’s family reported that he made a variety of peg-type legs to use on the farm so that he could save the manufactured one for special occasions. Samuel Clark received an Jewett leg for his above-the-knee amputation.  His later pension indicated that he was unable to use the device.  Clark’s prosthetic leg remained in his family and is now on loan for the new exhibit called North Carolina and the Civil War: The Raging Storm, 1863, which just opened at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh.

The records of the Artificial Limbs Department are available for research in the North Carolina State Archives.  And an index to all of the records, by the name of the veteran, is published in Phantom Pain, which is on sale on at our Historical Publications office.

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Living in southwest Wake County, I pass over Jordan Lake often in my travels—I always enjoy the view.  Many North Carolinians enjoy the water, beaches, trails, and woodlands at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area.

Historically speaking, though, Jordan Lake is but a youngster. After a devastating tropical storm in 1945, the government began to look at methods of flood control for the Cape Fear River Basin.  In 1962 the Army Corps of Engineers submitted a plan that recommended building three reservoirs—ultimately only the construction of Jordan Lake would be realized.  Groundbreaking for what became Jordan Lake took place in December 1970, and the lake was full about 12 years later.

Flood water over-topped the dam during construction in 1973.

As a regulatory requirement, a thorough archaeological investigation had to be made in the area that would be inundated.  The cultural resources management project was conducted 1978-1979 by a Michigan company (led by principal investigator Steve Claggett, who ultimately would return to North Carolina and become State Archaeologist).

The project’s archaeological surveys determined that there were about 350 sites in the area—two were the focus of extensive excavations.  Archaeologists verified that Indians had inhabited the vicinity as far back as the Early Archaic period—or about 10,000 years ago.  To this day the work stands as on of the largest salvage archaeology programs carried out in the state.

In recognition of the archaeological work that made Jordan Lake possible, the North Carolina Archaeological Society, Research Laboratories of Archaeology at UNC-Chapel Hill, and State Parks co-sponsor North Carolina Archaeology and Heritage Day at White Oak Recreation Area.  This year it will be on Saturday, October 6, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The free family event offers a variety of exhibits, demonstrations, entertainment, and activities related to archaeology and North Carolina’s cultural heritage.

Members of the North Carolina Archaeological Society identify projectile points for visitors at the heritage event in 2011.

The organizers have put together a great day, including primitive technology demonstrations such as fire making, flint knapping, and pottery making; displays about archaeology around the state; and hands-on activities for children, which include screening for artifacts, identifying plant remains, mending broken pottery, making pottery, and face painting. Kids of all ages should come prepared to get their hands on history!

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I love seeing antique automobiles on the road—and whenever I see more than a couple of them, I know that there must be a car show somewhere nearby.  The North Carolina Transportation Museum (NCTM) in Spencer has a wonderful permanent exhibit featuring historic automobiles and it is hosting a Plymouth Club Car Show on September 8 and Antique Auto Show on October 20—the show will be free for spectators.

The Bumper to Bumper exhibit at the North Carolina Transportation Museum features a variety of antique automobiles.

The North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh also has some interesting automobiles ranging from Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s #3 car to the curious Buggymobile.  What is the Buggymobile, you ask?  The Buggymobile is one of those inventions that never took off.  But, that is only figuratively speaking… because it did work!

Gilbert Waters’ 1903 Buggymobile, a prototype automobile, is on display at the North Carolina Museum of History.

Gilbert Waters, who operated G. H. Waters & Sons Buggy & Carriage Factory with his father in New Bern, visited Baltimore, Md., in 1899.  There he observed a steam-driven vehicle.  Upon his return home, Waters began work on his own self-propelled buggy.  His gasoline-powered Buggymobile was completed in early 1900.  A high-wheeled carriage boasting bicycle chains moved by a five-horsepower engine, Waters’ Buggymobile “raced down Main Street at 12 miles an hour,” according to a news item of the day.

Despite a successful test-drive Waters could not obtain financial support from local banks, or even his father!  One banker told him, “Buggies without horses will never be practical and they would be too expensive and dangerous anyway.”  Without financial backing to produce more Buggymobiles, Waters returned to the horse-drawn carriage business.

Gilbert Waters operated his buggy shop until 1922 when he was, ironically, driven out of business by the success of the automobile.  Waters produced only one more Buggymobile, in 1903, to replace his “worn out” 1900 model.  The new vehicle got up to forty-miles per gallon with a two-gallon gas tank, the gasoline for which, Waters had to order from Baltimore.  Gilbert Waters drove the 1903 Buggymobile until the mid-1940s.  It was donated to the Hall of History (now the North Carolina Museum of History) in 1948.

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I grew up in Wilson—long nicknamed the World’s Greatest Tobacco Market—but I never heard the extraordinary tale of how bright leaf tobacco was first cured.

An accident in 1839 led to one of the most important breakthroughs in North Carolina agriculture history.   A slave named Stephen on Abisha Slade’s Caswell County farm worked as a blacksmith and oversaw the curing of the tobacco crop. On one occasion, due to the warmth created by the fire, Stephen fell asleep in the curing barn. A few hours later, he woke up to find the fire almost completely out. To try to keep the heat going, he rushed to his blacksmithing pit, retrieved charcoal and threw hot coals on the curing fire, creating a sudden, intense heat. His actions caused the tobacco to cure quickly, leaving it with a vivid yellow color.

Cured bright leaf tobacco. Photograph courtesy of Michael T. Southern, N.C. State Historic Preservation Office.

The new tobacco, which became known as bright leaf tobacco, soon became popular with smokers.  Within a generation, the success of bright leaf made North Carolina a leader in the United States’ tobacco industry.

Tobacco has long been a critical factor in North Carolina’s economy and history.  The tobacco barns that used to dot the landscape, however, are disappearing.  Many farmers have turned to different crops.  And those who still cultivate tobacco use modern technology for curing.  The State Historic Preservation Office has a nifty website that examines surviving tobacco barns of various types and gives tips for preserving them and suggestions on adaptive reuse.

The state’s oldest flue-cure barns are found in the Old Bright Belt and the northern Middle Belt along the Virginia border. The compact barns are most often built of hewn logs. Photograph courtesy of the State Historic Preservation Office.

Both the Tobacco Farm Life Museum in Kenly and  Duke Homestead State Historic Site in Durham offer opportunities to explore and learn about traditional tobacco culture.  On September 8th, Duke Homestead is hosting a free  Harvest and Hornworm Festival. Activities will include demonstrations of historic tobacco harvesting, stringing and curing, hornworm races, a MoonPie eating contest, musical entertainment, and craft vendors.

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With a national political convention taking place in Charlotte next month, I invite visitors and North Carolinians, alike, to visit the President James K. Polk State Historic Site.  Polk remains a political icon, and is one of the most highly regarded presidents among scholars and experts.

James Knox Polk, the 11thpresident of the United States, was born in North Carolina in 1795.   While the original log home on the Polk’s farm in Mecklenburg County, just south of Charlotte, has disappeared, a cabin accurate to the period is open to the public at the Polk site.

Reconstructed log cabin similar to one young James K. Polk lived in at the Pres. James K. Polk State Historic Site near Pineville.

Polk and his family moved to Tennessee in 1806 to reunite with other family members already there.  He returned to his home state to attend the University of North Carolina, where he graduated with honors in 1818.   Of his Chapel Hill days he later recalled, “It was here that I received lessons of instructions to which I mainly attribute whatever of success or advancement has attended me in subsequent life.”

After graduation Polk returned to Tennessee to study law.   His first election was to the state legislature in 1823. He then became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and served for 14 years, including 4 as speaker.  In 1837 he was elected Governor of Tennessee for one term.

President James K. Polk

A staunch Democrat, Polk narrowly won election to the Presidency over Henry Clay in 1844, making him the youngest president to that date at age 49.

Polk entered the presidency with a clear plan of action; foremost was westward expansion. Seen by contemporaries as conscientious and attentive to the needs of the country, in his Presidential campaign, he promised not to run for a second term.  True to his word, he did not.

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I am just back from a trip to Scotland.  It was a dream vacation for me—a return to the land of my forefathers, so to speak.  My grandmother’s family tree was bursting with “Mc’s.”  The photo that I share is appropriate to my blog—it is of me and my son at the Clava Cairns, a site with prehistoric burial cairns and standing stones near Inverness.

The Clava Cairns near Inverness are truly a step back in time.

But, after visiting castles, battlefields, and lochs, I was having a hard time concentrating on a North Carolina travel topic.  And, then I thought of North Carolina’s own rich Scottish heritage.  Many Scottish emigrants, Highland, Lowland, and Ulster (Scots-Irish), have made an impact on our state.

One of Scotland’s most beloved heroines, Flora MacDonald, lived in North Carolina for awhile. There is no shortage of reminders of the Scottish influence in North Carolina:  place names, pipe and drum bands, highland games, and heritage societies.  The Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville interprets that area’s strong Scottish history.  The Scottish Tartans Museum in Highlands showcases the history of Scottish tartans and Highland clothing.

A great way to get a taste of Scotland without having to take a trans-Atlantic flight is to check out some of the Highland games that occur around North Carolina throughout the year.  Among the events are the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, the Triad Highland Games, the Rural Hill Scottish Festival & Loch Norman Highland Games, and the Scotland County Highland Games.

I will be back to reality next week with more North Carolina history—posts will become more occasional, focusing on special events and happenings—as the summer travel season comes to a close.

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Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a widowed Washington socialite turned Confederate spy.  While well known for her pro-states’ rights and slavery expansionist views, she also maintained friendly relationships with leaders from the North.

Image of Rose Greenhow from the book My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule At Washington, by Rose Greenhow, 1863.

When war broke out, Col. Thomas Jordan and General Pierre G.T. Beauregard recruited Greenhow to lead a Confederate espionage ring. In July 1861, she provided Beauregard with details concerning the strength and route of Union forces headed towards Richmond. The information helped Beauregard secure a victory at the first Battle of Bull Run (Manassas).

Allan Pinkerton, the head of the Federal Secret Service, caught onto Greenhow’s activities and placed her under house arrest. This only forced her to get more creative in her system of communication.  In January, 1862, she and her daughter were transferred to the Old Capitol Prison. During her time there, she still managed to relay messages to the South. In June 1862 the Federal government tried her and sent her to the South where she was welcomed as a hero and awarded $2,500 by President Jefferson Davis.

Davis sent her to Great Britain and France in 1863 to raise support for the Confederacy. Her return trip a year later was aboard the blockade-runner Condor, which ran aground near Fort Fisher. Greenhow was carrying dispatches for the Confederacy and $2,000 in coins, secured in a heavy purse worn around her neck. Fearing imprisonment, and contrary to the captain’s advice that the ship would rise with the tide, she fled in a lifeboat with five crew members to escort her ashore. The lifeboat capsized and she drowned, pulled under by the weight of the purse.  Everyone else from the Condor escaped capture.   Greenhow was buried with full military honors in Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington.

Fort Fisher state Historic Site is hosting a special 2nd Saturdays program on August 11.  Spies, Signals, and Secrets: Civil War Communication” includes a presentation about Rose  Greenhow, plus coding activities, signal flag demonstrations, and tours by costumed interpreters.  The visitor center includes Greenhow in their interpretive panels.  The state archives houses Greenhow’s European diary and a cipher code that were among her possessions aboard the blockade runner.

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