Thomas Burke Chosen Governor

On June 25, 1781, Thomas Burke was chosen by the General Assembly to serve as North Carolina’s third governor under the constitution of 1776. At the time of Burke’s appointment, the state was ravaged by war and on the brink of anarchy. Government on both the state and county levels had almost completely broken down.

Burke took extraordinary measures to reform the militia, increase essential revenues, banish intractable Loyalists and defend against renewed British attack from both Virginia and South Carolina. Acting on his own authority, he established special courts and assumed for himself veto power over legislative acts.

Less than three months after assuming office, Burke’s frantic efforts came to an end in Hillsborough when he and several other state officials and officers of the Continental Line were taken prisoner by the Loyalist leader David Fanning. Transported south to Wilmington and then to Charleston, (technically it was still Charlestown) Burke was released on parole after an ordeal of two months. Fearing that his life was in danger, however, he escaped from his very loose confinement and returned to North Carolina and the governorship, thereby violating both his parole and the code of honor in the eyes of many contemporaries.

When the embittered Burke convened the General Assembly in April of 1782, his rather ambiguous offer to retire from public office was accepted almost without remark. Having served only 10 months as governor, two of those as a prisoner, he returned to Hillsborough a ruined and deeply disillusioned man. He died less than two years later.

Hinton Rowan Helper, and the Antislavery Movement

On June 26, 1857, the New York Daily Tribune published an advertisement touting a new book, The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It. The author was Hinton Rowan Helper, born in Davie County. The book, which denounced slavery in no uncertain terms, caused a sensation.

Helper argued that an economic system based on enslavement only slowed the South’s growth and illustrated the various ways in which the region lagged behind the North. He went further, denouncing slave owners as “robbers, thieves, ruffians and murderers,” and arguing that slaves should gain freedom by violence if necessary.

In his native state, Helper became a villain of the highest order. His book was outlawed, and anyone found owning a copy could be imprisoned. In 1857, editor James G. Bennett handed President James Buchanan a copy saying, “There is gunpowder enough in that book to blow the Union to the devil.” The Impeding Crisis further polarized American politics, and helped get Abraham Lincoln elected in 1860. Next to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, no book was more important in stimulating sectional strife.

Helper’s childhood home, built in 1818, is a National Historic Landmark.

The Death of Elisha Mitchell

On June 27, 1857, Elisha Mitchell, exploring the Black Mountain range, slipped and fell to his death in a deep pool at the bottom of a 60-foot waterfall. Search parties were organized and the body was discovered several days later by “Big Tom” Wilson.

Wilson was an extraordinary tracker and guide. He was also noted locally as a skilled bear hunter and storyteller. Wilson located Mitchell’s trail and tracked him to the place where he fell. Since the pocket watch Mitchell had been wearing was broken at 8:00, it has been assumed that was likely the time of his death.

In 1835, Mitchell announced that a peak in the Black Mountains was the highest in the eastern United States. He estimated its height at 6,672 feet, only 12 feet short of the present official height. A “controversy of major proportions” ensued in the 1850s between Mitchell and Thomas L. Clingman, who called into question the accuracy of the earlier observations and measurements. Mitchell died in the effort to set the record straight.

Initially interred in a cemetery in Asheville, Mitchell’s remains were later moved to the top of the mountain which now bears his name.

The Dogwood, the Cardinal, the Plott Hound, the Emerald

On June 28, 1973, the General Assembly designated the emerald as the state’s official precious stone.

Emeralds are a variety of the mineral beryl. Beryl is colorless in its pure state, but chromium turns beryl green. The aquamarine is blue beryl, and there are also yellow, light green, red and pink varieties. Beryl, in all its variety of colors, is found among mica, quartz and feldspar, all of which are abundant in the North Carolina mountains.

North Carolina is very rich in minerals. More than 300 varieties have been found—more than in any other state. North Carolina also has the largest emerald deposits found in the United States. Most of the mining operations for the gem are in Alexander and Mitchell Counties.

In 2012, the Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences acquired four of the largest emeralds ever found in North America. Surprisingly, all four of the gems were found on the same property and three were found on the same day. One of the stones, known as the Carolina Emperor, is a whopping 64 carats.

Governor Martin and His Campaign Promise to Complete I-40

On June 29, 1990, Governor Jim Martin dedicated the final segment of Interstate 40, a 2,554-mile highway that stretches from Wilmington to Barstow, California. The first Interstate-funded construction on I-40 nationwide had taken place in Haywood County more than three decades earlier.

Nearly 3,000 people were in attendance for the opening ceremony.

The day’s festivities continued with an ice cream social at a rest area west of Warsaw and a final ceremony at Wilmington’s Grace Baptist Church not from the eastern end of the interstate.

Though an extension of I-40 through Raleigh to Wilmington appeared in the final Interstate System map adopted by the Eisenhower administration, opposition to the Raleigh-to-Wilmington stretch remained strong through the early 1980s. Major pushes by Governor Jim Hunt, local officials and Wilmington area state legislators were no match for the opposition led by U.S. Senator Jesse Helms.

Martin finally turned the tide after he was elected governor in 1984 and construction began to move forward. The final price tag for the 122-mile Raleigh-to-Wilmington project was $417 million.

The benefits of the project, which cut an hour off the travel time between Raleigh and Wilmington were realized fairly quickly. In the first decade following I-40’s opening, tourist spending in New Hanover County increased by more than 52 percent, according to a study done by state Department of Commerce.

Freedom Rallies Began in Williamston, 1963

On June 30, 1963, a month of protests known as “Freedom Rallies” began in Williamston.

The seat of Martin County on the Roanoke River was a “hotspot” of the civil rights movement, and Green Memorial Church, a Disciples of Christ church rooted in the Holiness tradition, was the epicenter. Discontent had simmered in the area since the 1957 acquittal of white men charged with the murder of a local black man.

Protesters, keenly aware of civil rights movement sweeping across the South, made it their goal to desegregate schools and the public library. Local woman Sarah Small and Golden Frinks of Edenton, a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the efforts. As the protests continued, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference held biweekly nonviolence training sessions at the church.

Protests continued for 32 consecutive days and involved as many as 400 people, many of them children and teenagers who sang and prayed at the church before marching uptown, about a half-mile to the courthouse. State troopers and local deputies kept close watch over the nonviolent summer rallies.

Rallies were suspended temporarily after Governor Terry Sanford’s office organized interracial meetings, but resumed in the fall when 12 white ministers and seminarians from Boston joined the effort. The fall protests were a bit more violent with protesters throwing bottles and the police using electric cattle prods on at least one occasion, but they ended following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November.

North Carolina’s 4-H Clubs Rooted in Ahoskie

On July 1, 1909, I. O. Schaub, a North Carolina State University researcher, organized the first Corn Club in Ahoskie. The club was eventually recognized as North Carolina’s first 4-H club.

The 4-H Club movement grew out of an effort from what was essentially the Cooperative Extensive Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Seaman A. Knapp, who worked for USDA, set up demonstration farms across the South during the late 1800s and early 1900s to convince farmers to diversify their operations and plant other things besides cotton.

Knapp saw the importance of getting youth involved early on his work, and he developed the Corn Club concept to teach boys the latest farming techniques on one-acre plots of land. His concept was quickly adopted by other agriculture leaders, including Schaub, Jane McKimmon and G. W. Herring.

The 4-H movement picked up more momemntum in 1914 after Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which more permanently established the Cooperative Extension. That in turn led to more personnel who were able to organize the clubs. The clubs also expanded to include livestock and crops other than corn.

Today, 4-H has more than 10,000 established programs across North Carolina and more than 7 million participants nationwide.

First ABC Store Opens in Wilson

On July 2, 1935, the state’s first Alcoholic Beverage Commission—ABC, for short—Store opened in Wilson to an excited public. The store offered legal alcohol in the state for the first time in 26 years. On its first day of operation, shoppers purchased 825 bottles of liquor at a total cost of $1,003. There were no reports of rowdiness or drinking on the premises as had been predicted by prohibitionists.

Prohibition had been in effect in North Carolina since 1909, after voters approved a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages in a referendum. North Carolina was the first state in the nation to approve such a measure and did so by the wide margin of 62 to 38 percent.

The rest of the nation joined North Carolina in 1920 with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, which made it illegal to manufacture, sell or transport intoxicating liquors anywhere in the country. The amendment was repealed in 1933, and North Carolina was one of only two states that refused to ratify that repeal.

In 1935, the General Assembly passed laws that granted local options for the sale of alcohol and set up the system of Alcoholic Beverage Control Boards to administer retail shops.

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