Archive for the ‘North Carolina Time Traveler’ Category

The Web site for North Carolina Historic Sites  “invites you to open doors into the past.”  But near the Moore County town of Carthage at the House in the Horseshoe, you don’t even have to open the doors to be transported back to the reality of the Revolutionary War in North Carolina.  The house still has some mighty large bullet holes in it—especially visible around the back door.

back door

Bullet holes are visible around the back door at the House in the Horseshoe.

On July 29, 1781, the house’s owner Phillip Alston and a small band of patriot militia were besieged there by Tories (forces loyal to the king) under the command of David Fanning.  The attack occurred in the early morning hours and, trapped in his house, Alston ordered his men to barricade the doors and windows.  Fanning posted his men along a split rail fence outside the home and, for several hours, the men exchanged fire with no side gaining a real advantage.

As her house was being riddled by bullets, Temperance Alston, Phillip’s wife, was level-headed enough to hide her children in the chimney, standing them on a table so that their bodies were behind the brickwork.  Just as Fanning was considering retreating, his men found a small wagon in Alston’s barn and he ordered it loaded with hay and set afire with the purpose of pushing it into the house.  In an effort to save the lives of everyone in the inside, Temperance cautiously stepped out and negotiated a surrender.


A scene from one of the reenactments at the House in the Horseshoe in 2011.

This year is the 33rd annual commemoration of the skirmish at the House in the Horseshoe, with a full scale reenactment each day: Saturday Aug. 4 at 4 p.m., and Sunday Aug. 5, at 2 p.m.  There will be also cannon demonstrations, presentations of period crafts and trades, colonial games, and traders selling 18th century replica wares.

This is a fantastic opportunity to be up close to the action—but not so close that you have to put your kids in the chimney!

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I am fortunate to be able to spend a good deal of time in and around Black Mountain.  I am always amazed at the breadth of talent and artistry in the area.  It’s not uncommon for a small town to have a creative atmosphere, but I’m always reminded of the days when Black Mountain was home to a remarkable experimental center of learning.

supine dome

The Supine Dome Model with Si Sillman (bending), Buckminster Fuller, Elaine de Kooning, Roger Lovelace, and Josef Albers, Black Mountain College, summer of 1948. Photograph courtesy of the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate, Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico

Founded in 1933, Black Mountain College focused on fine arts education—but the education was not always text-book, so to speak.  The teachers and students lived together as a community and learned from one another.  One writer stated “As the college evolved, it assumed characteristics of a small college, a summer camp, a religious retreat, a pioneering community, an art colony and a farm school.”  In a way, it defies categorizing—it is, simply, Black Mountain College.

The list of teachers and students at Black Mountain College reads like a virtual who’s who of 20th Century arts, including musicians, painters, poets, actors, dancers, fiber artists, sculptors, and architects.  Names like Robert Rauschenberg, Walter Gropius, Robert Motherwell, Josef Albers, John Cage, Charles Olson, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham and Willem de Kooning.

The North Carolina Archives accepted the college’s administrative records after it closed in 1956.  The papers and the manuscript collections associated with students and faculty have long been popular with researchers who traveled to Raleigh from all over the world to study the influential college.  The archives’ collections related to Black Mountain College recently have been transferred to the new Western Regional Archives, officially opening on August 13 in Asheville.

John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Black Mountain College 1953 Summer Institute in the Arts. Black Mountain College Research Project Papers, Visual Materials, North Carolina State Archives, Western Regional Office.

Having the documents and photographs close at hand will surely be a great complement to Asheville’s  Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, a facility that explores and preserves the legacy of the college through exhibits and programs.  And, of course, North Carolina is known around the world for the breadth of its traditional and contemporary arts.  Learn more at the North Carolina Arts Council.

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I don’t think that many people are aware that the two most famous sets of conjoined twins in the 19th century called North Carolina home – Chang and Eng Bunker (the original Siamese Twins) and Millie-Christine McKoy (the Carolina Twins or the Two-Headed Nightingale).


Chang and Eng Bunker. Image from the State Archives.

Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Thailand (then Siam) in 1811, amassed a fortune for themselves on the circus and exhibition circuit and retired to North Carolina in 1839.

They first lived in Wilkes County, where they married sisters Sarah and Adelaide Yates. With growing families, the brothers purchased land in Surry County and built large homes a little over a mile apart. For the rest of their lives they spent 3 nights at one house and then 3 nights at the other.

If you visit the Andy Griffith Playhouse  in Mount Airy you can see a large collection of Siamese Twin memorabilia. The North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill has Chang and Eng papers and artifacts.

Millie-Christine considered herself one person and railroad lines even issued letters to conductors instructing them to require only one ticket for the “dual woman.”  She was born into slavery near Whiteville, Columbus County, in 1851.


Millie-Christine McKoy. Image from the State Archives.

Exhibited initially as a curiosity, the twins eventually learned to sing and dance.  She even performed for Queen Victoria in England. Having eventually been able to profit from shows and exhibitions (after emancipation), Millie Christine purchased the Columbus County property on which she’d been born.

The State Archives has manuscript collections for both Millie-Christine and Chang and Eng—they have put together an educational resource site that includes digitized images of some of the documents.

Chang and Eng and Millie-Christine are buried in North Carolina, and using findagrave.com, you can see their final resting places. (You can also see the grave of celebrated 20th century conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton, who spent their last years working at a grocery store in Charlotte.)

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Blackbeard is perhaps the best known of the pirates who haunted our coast in the 1700s.  But did you know that the bloodiest pirate battle in North Carolina history did not involve him?  Rather, it was at the hands of one of his protégés in the waters off what is now Southport, N.C.

Stede Bonnet gave up a life among the planter elite on Barbados to become a pirate in 1717.  He was known as the “Gentleman Pirate,” not so much for the way he behaved, but for his dress and for the way he launched his piratical career.  Instead of capturing a vessel, he purchased and armed a ship, naming it the Revenge, and he hired a crew – yes he paid them.  I wonder what that job interview was like?

Stede Bonnet

Stede Bonnet in an early 18th century engraving by an artist who had never seen the pirate.

The novice pirate entered the North American shipping lanes and began plundering.  Blackbeard, partnering with Bonnet, captured the ship that he would call Queen Anne’s Revenge while commanding Bonnet’s Revenge.  The two joined forces a few times; in fact, Bonnet was aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge during Blackbeard’s weeklong blockade of Charleston, S.C.  Following Blackbeard’s grounding of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Bonnet returned to solo pirating, capturing over a dozen ships.

In August, 1718, he established a base near present-day Southport, since the Cape Fear estuary offered a secluded place to rest and re-outfit.  Because of the Charleston incident, South Carolina’s governor sent ships in search of pirates.  They found Bonnet on September 27.  A fierce battle ensued, ending with the surviving pirates’ surrender after six hours.  Stede Bonnet was hanged on December 10, 1718, effectively ending the “Golden Age of Piracy” in North Carolina.

You can see the historical marker about Stede Bonnet, placed near a creek and a neighborhood sporting his name in Southport.  The North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport features a display about him.  But, one of the coolest ways to spend an evening is with Southport’s Captain Bert Felton, who will take you out in his restored 1938 workboat to where the battle took place.  He offers a fantastic, history-filled cruise.

There is no better way to take in the history and natural history of the Southport area than a tour with Captain Bert Felton in his restored 1938 work boat, the Solomon T.

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A couple of things crossed my desk recently that I wanted to share.  I got word about the upcoming annual homecoming in Pembroke this week for the Lumbee Tribe.  There are a ton of educational and cultural activities, culminating on Saturday, July 7.  Be sure to visit the Museum of the Native American Resource Center at Pembroke, too—they will open at 11:00 on Saturday, after the parade.  The other thing is that last week, while researching for my post on outdoor dramas, I found, sadly, that Strike at the Wind was no longer in production.  The long-running play told the story of North Carolina’s own Robin Hood figure—Henry Berry Lowrie.

Henry Berry Lowrie

Henry Berry Lowrie. Photo believed to have been taken about 1845.

Viewed by some as a hero and by others as a criminal, Lowrie has been a legend ever since he disappeared in the swamps of Robeson County in 1872.  There is a historical marker about him near Pembroke.

During the Civil War the Robeson County Indians (now known as Lumbee) were considered free people of color.  And, as such, were often forced to perform hard labor for the Confederacy. Many Lumbees worked on Fort Fisher or in salt mines.

Henry Berry Lowrie and his brothers, like many young Lumbee men, took to the swamps of eastern North Carolina to escape forced labor.  They began to raid the homes of white Robesonians, taking guns, clothing, and supplies.  Following a violent raid in February 1865, the Confederate Home Guard went to the home of Henry Berry’s father, Allen Lowrie, where they found items from the raid.  Allen’s family was taken into custody and eventually Allen and his son William were executed for the crime.

In March of 1865 Henry Berry and his brothers, some cousins, and a few other men embarked on a seven-year campaign of murder and larceny.  Most of the men who were murdered by the band were in some way involved in the Lowrie executions.  During the height of the “Lowrie War” Henry Berry often appeared in public, and occasionally shared the spoils of his raids.  His Robin Hood-like behavior made him popular among the poor.

 Governor William W. Holden declared Henry Berry Lowrie an outlaw in 1868. A bounty of $10,000 was placed on him in 1871.  Lowrie disappeared in February 1872 and the bounty was never collected.  Whether he was killed or whether he lived for a time after his disappearance we may never know.

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The Lost Colony is produced each summer at the Waterside Theater in Manteo. Image courtesy of The Lost Colony.

Chances are if you grew up in North Carolina or even if you vacationed here as a kid, you probably went to see an outdoor drama or two with your family: sitting in an amphitheater with your parents, and your siblings, and your sunburn, in no particular order of irritation.  Most of our outdoor dramas mix history with musical elements—with the end result a fun-filled summer evening.


A scene from Unto These Hills at the Mountainside Theater in Cherokee. Image courtesy of Unto These Hills.

Did you know that this summertime tradition got its start North Carolina?  The nation’s very first outdoor drama was Paul Green’s The Lost Colony, launched in Manteo in 1937.  Intended as a single season celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first English settlers’ arrival on the continent, it has remained in continuous production with the exception of the World War II years.  As his master’s thesis under Paul Green, Kermit Hunter wrote Unto These Hills about the history and traditions of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.  The play, rich in pageantry, was first produced in 1950.  Hunter followed up in 1952 with Horn in the West.  The story of Daniel Boone and other mountain settlers in the 1770s is staged each summer in Boone.


A scene from Pathway to Freedom, courtesy of the Snow Camp Outdoor Theater.

With so many North Carolinians involved with the developing entertainment form, the Institute of Outdoor Drama was established in 1963 as a clearinghouse for information and advice about outdoor drama production.  The Institute, now based at East Carolina University, serves outdoor dramas around the country and assists communities considering their own productions (of which there are generally thirty to forty at any given time).  North Carolina is now home to fifteen outdoor dramas, eleven of which are historical.  Subjects are as varied as the Halifax Resolves, the Underground Railroad, and even an infamous murder.  Take in some history under the stars this summer!

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Underwater archaeology in North Carolina has received a lot of press lately thanks to the Queen Anne’s Revenge project.  But the state’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) actually got its start because of a ship that went down 150 years ago this month—the Confederate blockade runner Modern Greece.

Wreck of the Modern Greece

Painting depicting the wreck in 1862.

A rare tour of the UAB, which is located in Kure Beach, will take place June 27.  The free open house will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a special noontime program at the Oceanside Gazebo at nearby Fort Fisher State Historic Site.   It is a cool chance to see some of the thousands of artifacts recovered from the Modern Greece.

On the morning of June 27, 1862, the doomed blockade runner was spotted near the eastern entrance to the Cape Fear River.  Heavy fire from federal ships forced the ship aground.  To keep the cargo of clothing, cutlery, ammunition, and thousands of rifles out of Union hands, soldiers at Fort Fisher opened fire on the stranded vessel.

Navy divers

Navy divers prepare to explore the wreck in 1962.

The Modern Greece was thought destroyed until 1962, when a storm uncovered the wreckage. Divers found much of the vessel and its cargo intact. Historians and archaeologists from the State of North Carolina and the United States Navy joined forces to recover the artifacts.

When private companies started trying to salvage artifacts, the state stepped in.  A landmark court case led to a statute saying that North Carolina has sovereign right to “all shipwrecks, vessels, cargoes, tackle, and underwater archaeological artifacts which have remained unclaimed for more than 10 years.”

Nathan Henry and rifle

Nathan Henry, Assistant State Archaeologist, displays an Enfield rifle from a treatment tank that holds many more.

Artifacts from the Modern Greece allow people to better understand blockade running and its importance to the Confederacy.  The ship has two anniversaries this year – 150 years since it sank and 50 years since it was discovered.  A Highway Historical Marker commemorating the shipwreck and its importance to underwater archaeology will be erected later this year.

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