Opinion,The Learning Curve
RALEIGH – Most of the John Locke Foundation’s work – our research program, our journalism and communications services, our outreach events – focus on the present and future. They are intended to inform policymakers and politically active North Carolinians about the major issues affecting our state and stimulate discussion and debate about how best to address those issues in the future.
But to dwell only on the present and the future would be to give our audience an incomplete picture of North Carolina politics and public policy. “If you would understand anything,” wrote Aristotle, “observe its beginning and its development.” Without a solid grounding in the history of our state, North Carolinians cannot hope to chart the right course for the future.
That’s why JLF decided many years ago to invest some of our resources in promoting the study of North Carolina’s political, economic, and social history. Our North Carolina History Project includes original research, lectures, educational programs, a satellite office in Edenton (once North Carolina’s capital), and our online history encyclopedia, which has become one of the most popular of JLF’s dozen websites.
I was running some online-traffic statistics the other day, and discovered that these have been the most-visited entries at NorthCarolinaHistory.org over the past three months:
• The Civil War in North Carolina. While most of the famous battles of the war occurred in other states, North Carolina played a key role by supplying troops and materiel to the Confederate war effort (as well as a few thousand troops to the Union). Our state was also the setting for other fascinating events during the conflict, including political tensions between the state and central governments, self-emancipation by slaves making their way to Union “contraband” camps, and the final surrender of Gen. Joseph Johnston’s army to Gen. William T. Sherman. This page has plenty of links to other encyclopedia entries.
• The Greensboro Sit-In. On February 1, 1960, four African-American students of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat at a white-only lunch counter inside a Greensboro Woolworth’s store. While sit-ins had been held elsewhere in the United States, the Greensboro sit-in catalyzed a wave of nonviolent protest against private-sector segregation in the United States. This entry describes how the protest came to be and how it affected the civil rights movement.
• The Edenton Tea Party. Political activism in the Tar Heel State dates back much further than 1960, of course. In fact, it dates to before there was a sovereign state. The Edenton Tea Party was one of the earliest organized women’s political actions in United States history. On October 25, 1774, Mrs. Penelope Barker organized 51 women in Edenton. Together they formed an alliance wholeheartedly supporting the American cause against “taxation without representation.”
• Blackbeard the Pirate. With its shallow inlets, North Carolina’s Outer Banks became a haven for many pirates during the 17th and 18th centuries. The most notable was the pirate Blackbeard, originally known as Edward Teach. Blackbeard called Bath, N.C., his home and spent his time as a pirate ransacking and pillaging unsuspecting ships off the banks of North Carolina until he was captured and executed in 1718.
• The City of Raleigh. Created by the state in 1792 as a planned capital city, the area encompassing present-day Raleigh had a handful of sparse colonial settlements as early as the 1760s. Enterprising landholders named Isaac Hunter and Joel Lane purchased large tracts of farmland in the area. Near their homes, they operated taverns and ordinaries for travelers on the main north-south route, cutting through central North Carolina. Called Wake Crossroads, this primitive outpost initially served as the county seat for Wake County. The entry describes the transformation of Wake Crossroads into Raleigh and the city’s subsequent economic and social development.
• Antebellum Gold Mining. America’s first gold rush wasn’t in 1849 in California. In 1799, young Conrad Reed found a 17-pound gold nugget in a Piedmont creek bed. His discovery began decades of intensive gold mining. One result was that Charlotte evolved from little more than a village into a regional financial center. American and foreign investors heard and read of gold discoveries in Mecklenburg County. Many immigrated to the Carolina Piedmont to start or work in the mines. Although gold prospecting and mining occurred as far west as present-day Cherokee County and as far east as present-day Nash and Halifax counties, most gold was found in ten Piedmont counties: Guilford, Randolph, Davidson, Rowan, Montgomery, Stanly, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Gaston, and Union. You can read more about it here.
Other popular NorthCarolinaHistory.org entries cover the Lost Colony, the state’s various constitutions, the history of major political parties, the careers of North Carolina’s governors and U.S. senators, and the history of North Carolina counties from Cherokee to Currituck.
If you aren’t already a regular reader, give it a try today and sign up for the NC History Project Facebook page so you’ll get regular updates on new content. I promise you’ll enjoy it – but I can’t promise you will find it easy to stop reading once you give it a go.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.