Week in NC History

A German Shepard is trained to carry messages at Camp Lejeune during World War II.

John White, Vance’s Envoy to England

On December 17, 1894, John White, who during the Civil War purchased supplies for North Carolina in England, died of a stroke.

Born in Scotland in 1814, White emigrated to Warrenton in 1828 to join his brother who was already living there. By the outbreak of the Civil War, he had become a prominent merchant.

A year into the war, Governor Zebulon Vance commissioned White to secure military provisions in England. He secured contracts with the firm of Alexander Collie and Company for shipping supplies to North Carolina in exchange for bonds on cotton that would be shipped on blockader runners. A percentage of the supplies went to the Confederate government, while the rest went exclusively for the support of North Carolina’s troops.

White returned to North Carolina in early 1864 but was later reappointed for the London mission. Arriving near the end of the year, he was unable to reestablish contact with the North Carolina government before the end of the war, and returned home in the summer.

Robert E. Lee and his daughter Agnes stayed with the Whites during the former general’s visit to the state in April 1870.

John Wright Stanly of New Bern, Debtor to Financier

On December 18, 1742, John Wright Stanly was born.

As a young man living in Jamaica, Stanly partnered with shipping merchants to export cargo from the Caribbean to the American colonies. One partnership proved disastrous; a Philadelphia merchant accused Stanly of owing him money and Stanly was sent to debtor’s prison in 1768.

Eventually able to clear his name, Stanly left Philadelphia for South Carolina in 1772. While en route to Charleston, a shipboard friendship with a North Carolina resident and a storm off Cape Hatteras led Stanly to New Bern, where he discovered a town full of opportunity.

In New Bern, Stanly became a successful ship owner and merchant. He was also a privateer for the Patriot cause during the Revolution, loaning General Nathanael Greene substantial sums for his North Carolina campaign. After the war, Stanly invested in his adopted town’s future, becoming the New Bern Academy’s first president. He died in 1789 of yellow fever.

Today, his handsome late Georgian-style residence is one of Tryon Palace’s historic houses. Check out Tryon Palace’s website for more information.

A North Carolina Valley Forge Story

On December 19, 1777, the Continental Army, including the North Carolina Brigade, entered winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Among the North Carolinians present at the Pennsylvania camp was 19-year-old Major Willam Polk. Polk spent much of the harsh winter recuperating. He had been shot through the mouth while shouting orders at Germantown that October—the ball that hit him knocked out teeth and shattered his jaw.

Polk served with distinction in the Continental Line, having seen action at some of the Revolution’s fiercest battles including Brandywine, Camden, Cowan’s Ford, Cowpens and Eutaw Springs. After the Guilford Courthouse battle he was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel and henceforth known as “Colonel Polk.”

After the Revolution, Polk was elected the first president of the State Bank in 1810 and served in that position until 1819. In 1821, he spoke at the dedication of the Canova statue at the State Capitol. Four years, later he welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette, with whom he had fought at Brandywine, to Raleigh and ate breakfast with him at Polk’s North Street home.

At his death in 1834, Polk was the last surviving field officer of the North Carolina Line.

New River to Camp Lejeune

On December 20, 1942, Marine Barracks Camp Lejeune was named in honor of the 13th Commandant and Commanding General of the 2nd Army Division in World War I, Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune.

The Camp Lejeune story began in 1940. World War II had been raging in Europe for more than a year and military planners were posturing forces for America’s eminent entry into the fight. An East Coast amphibious training facility was needed, and 110,000 acres were purchased in North Carolina. Close to ports at Wilmington and Morehead City, Lejeune was a logistical gem. When planners added in the remote pine forests and miles of beach, the value of Camp Lejeune as a home training base for Marines was unbeatable.

Congress authorized more than $14 million for the construction of the base in April 1941 and in May the base’s first commander was appointed. The base was then known as Marine Barracks New River, N.C.

Camp Lejeune’s value to the Corps in World War II was evident through the contributions of Marines trained or based there. Billed as the “Home of Expeditionary Forces in Readiness,” Camp Lejeune is the largest marine base on the east coast.

Walter Hines Page of Cary, Editor and Ambassador to Great Britain

On December 21, 1918, journalist and diplomat Walter Hines Page died in Pinehurst.

Born in 1855 in what’s now Cary, Page was drawn to journalism, and in 1883, founded the State Chronicle newspaper in Raleigh with financial backing from his father. By that time, Frank Page had moved to Moore County where he prospered in the lumber industry. Active in the educational realm, the younger Page was among the founders of the Watauga Club, an organization that advocated for the economic and social betterment of North Carolina, and helped what’s now North Carolina State University.

In 1885, Page turned the Chronicle over to Josephus Daniels and moved to New York, shifting from daily journalism to the editorship of The Atlantic Monthly. In 1899, he founded a publishing firm with Frank Doubleday. An articulate public speaker, he was a popular orator who primarily focused on education, politics and the new South.

Outspoken in his promotion of Woodrow Wilson for president in 1912, Page was tapped to serve as the 28th president’s ambassador to Great Britain. After the outbreak of World War I, he was a strong supporter of the Allied side and frequently encouraged the Wilson administration to intercede.

Due to failing health, Page returned to North Carolina in the fall of 1918.

An Arrest Over Anti-Slavery Materials

On December 22, 1859, the sheriff of Guilford County arrested Daniel Worth for circulating literature that denounced slavery.

Born near Greensboro in 1795, Worth was likely educated in a school led by Levi Coffin, the reputed “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. Like many other Quakers in the region, Worth moved to the Midwest, settling in Indiana in 1823. In 1857, he returned to North Carolina as a missionary. He preached across the Piedmont, distributing antislavery materials at public gatherings. Newspapers denounced him and called for his arrest.

Worth’s offense was punishable by one year in prison and, at the discretion of the court, a whipping. He was tried and convicted in the spring of 1860 in Asheboro. He also lost upon appeal in Greensboro. Released on a $3,000 bond, he jumped bail and made his way to New York where in May he denounced North Carolina as a “den of slavery.”

He made the rounds in abolitionist circles, including a stop at Henry Ward Beecher’s church, where the famed minister, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, proclaimed himself unworthy to unfasten Worth’s shoes. Worth soon returned to Indiana where he died in 1862.

Bald Head Island Lighthouse Lit for the First Time

On December 23, 1794, the Bald Head Island Lighthouse was lit for the first time. The lighthouse, planning for which began in 1783, was the first one authorized in North Carolina (the second was Ocracoke for which plans began a year later). In 1789 Benjamin Smith, who recently had acquired the island, promised the state ten acres for use as a site for a lighthouse.

Congress appropriated funds for the lighthouse in 1792. The state legislature levied a tax to help fund the beacon. Around 1812, the lighthouse was damaged beyond repair due to the effects of soil erosion. Congress appropriated $15,000 for a replacement. Daniel Way accepted the contract in July 1816 and finished the new lighthouse the following year. Use of “Old Baldy,” as it is known, was discontinued in 1835.

The oldest lighthouse on the North Carolina coast, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. “Old Baldy” is distinctive for its eight-sided design. Modern restoration efforts have returned the lighthouse to its nineteenth century appearance. A reproduction of the 1850s keeper’s cottage stands alongside the sentinel.

Mary Van Landingham, Long Remembered for Humility Quip

On December 24, 1937, writer and cultural leader Mary Van Landingham died in Charlotte.

Born in Charlotte in 1852 to a family with deep roots in the area, Van Landingham made a name for herself by becoming active in several civic and cultural organizations, including the Daughters of the American Revolution, North Carolina Society of the Colonial Dames and North Carolina Folklore Society.

The first woman to be invited to speak to the N.C. Literary and Historical Association and the Mecklenburg Historical Society, she is perhaps best remembered for a speech she gave to the latter group in March 1900.

During that speech she attributed North Carolina’s relatively unimpressive literary output to the fact that the state was a “Vale of Humility between Two Mountains of Conceit,” those “mountains of conceit” being the states of Virginia and South Carolina. Van Landingham’s comments were widely reported in the press and became part of the popular lexicon used to describe North Carolina’s cultural scene.

Though an outspoken commentator on North Carolina arts and culture, Van Landingham was a fairly successful writer in her own right. Throughout her life she wrote newspaper articles on current events and historical topics, and in 1922, she published a book of essays, articles and speeches.

Staff writer Miles Layton can be reached at mlayton@ncweeklies.com