The 2013 history calendar is turning out to be a busy year with anniversaries. In the Civil War Sesquicentennial, it will be the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg. It’s the 250th anniversary of the founding of Mecklenburg County. Nov. 22 will be the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. All of the dates and more will probably receive due notice.
However one very important date in the history of North Carolina slipped completely under the media radar last month, and I am amazed that nothing was made of it.
I am referring to the 350th anniversary of the Carolina Charter of 1663. On March 24 of that year, King Charles II of England granted to his political cronies, the Eight “Lords Proprietors,” the lands south of Virginia and “westward unto the South Seas” to be known as Carolina.
This was the birth certificate of what would become North Carolina and South Carolina and the founding basis of our government. It ranks among the most important documents in North Carolina history. The names of the proprietors are still with us: Albemarle, Craven and Carteret and, of course, Ashley Cooper, Berkeley, Clarendon and Craven. And who could forget Seth Sothel?
A pathetically small ceremony was held in the State Capitol with the original copy of the Charter on display from its vault in the N.C. State Archives. It is no longer able to be displayed publically in the N.C. Museum of History due to display constraints.
How the commemoration of such an important piece of North Carolina history could be so ignored is even more disappointing when one realizes that it had been over-shadowed a few weeks earlier by the unfortunate timing and hullabaloo made over a 10th anniversary of the return of North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights, which had been missing since the end of the Civil War and returned to the state via an FBI sting operation over an alleged sale in 2003.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that the Bill of Rights (including the Second Amendment) would take precedence over any other document of historical significance to the current crowd in Raleigh.
Fifty years ago, in 1963, when North Carolina was preparing to celebrate the Tercentennial of the Carolina Charter, South Carolina was asked to join in the event but snubbed the affair, preferring to hold off until 1970 to celebrate the founding of the Holy City of Charleston – the place where the Ashley and Cooper rivers join to form the Atlantic Ocean. This time I don’t know if anyone even bothered to ask. I have always said that North Carolina is a state and South Carolina is a condition.
Former eighth-grade history students (who are by now in assisted living) will recall that the Carolina Proprietary was an unwieldy form of government with the Crown later buying back the shares from the Lords and creating a Royal colony with a governor. The result was the division of Carolina into North and South and two very different futures.
North Carolina with its lack of harbors became the “Rip Van Winkle state” while plantation-based South Carolina developed a commerce rivaling colonial Boston.
The original pattern set by the proprietary government drawn up by John Locke with its social strata of titled “Landgraves and Caciques” would sow seeds that would resonate throughout our history. Later generations of the Old South would view themselves as having a special place in the American experience, resulting in the unfortunate events in 1863 of Gettysburg and Vicksburg that we will be commemorating later this year. Thank you, South Carolina.
Only six other states – Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island – possess their colonial charters. In Pennsylvania Charter Day is a state holiday.
What a shame for Charles II whose portrait with his flowing locks looking like Captain Hook from Peter Pan or like a cocker Spaniel graces the Charter and peering out from a large capital letter C on the title page .
It unfortunate that this important milestone in N.C. history should again be denied the attention it deserves. It should also give us tremendous pride in the validation that North Carolina is truly the “valley of humility between two mountains of conceit.”
F. Marion Redd of Hillsborough is a retired UNC staff member and a board member of the Mecklenburg Historical Association.