Why We’re All Called Tar Heels – Part 2

Why We’re All Called Tar Heels
Reprinted by permission of the author William S. Powell

Part 2 of 2  – [from December, 2008 FPHPS Newsletter]    

Read:  Part 1

Tar_Heel_postcard[Editor’s Note: Harry Warren, Director of the North Carolina Forestry Museum in Whiteville, NC, passed this article along to us during his presentation at our August meeting.  We thought it was so good that we wanted to share it with all the membership.]

A San Francisco magazine, Overland Monthly, in its August 1869 issue, published an article on slang and nicknames. The author cited a number of terms used in the Old North State. “A story is related,” he wrote, “of a brigade of North Carolinians, who, in one of the great battles (Chancellorsville, if I remember correctly) failed to hold a certain hill and were laughed at by the Mississippians for having forgotten to tar their heels that morning. Hence originated their cant name ‘Tarheels.’”

A piece of sheet music, Wearin’ of the Grey, identified as “Written by Tar Heel” and published in Baltimore in 1866, is probably the earliest printed use of Tar Heel.

On New Year’s Day, 1868, Stephen Powers set out from Raleigh on a walking tour that in part would trace in reverse the march of Gen. William T. Sherman at the end of the Civil War. As a part of his report on North Carolina, Powers described the pine woods of the state and the making of turpentine. Having entered South Carolina, he recorded in this 1872 book, Afoot & Alone, that he spent the night “with a young man, whose family were away, leaving him all alone in a great mansion. He had been a cavalry sergeant, wore this hat on the side of his head, and had an exceedingly confidential manner.”

“You see, sir, the Tar heels haven’t no sense to spare,” Powers quotes the sergeant as saying. “Down there in the pines the sun don’t more’n half bake their heads. We always had to show ‘em what the Yankees was, or they’d charge to the rear, the wrong way, you see.”

As in this particular case, for a time after the Civil War, the name Tar Heel was derogatory, just as Tar Boilers had been earlier.  In Congress on Feb. 10, 1875, a black representative from South Carolina had kind words for many whites, whom he described as “noble-hearted, generous hearted people.” Others he spoke of as “the class of men thrown up by the war, that fine class of men I mean, the ‘tar heels’ and the ‘sand hillers,’ and the ‘dirt eaters’ of the South – it is with that class we have all our trouble…”  The name also had a bad connotation in an entry in the 1884 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica which reported that the people who lived in the region of pine forests were “far superior to the tar heel, the nickname of the dwellers in barrens.”

wearing002The New York Tribune further differentiated among North Carolinians on Sept. 20, 1903, when it observed that “the men really like to work, which is all but incomprehensible to the true ‘tar heel’”.

At home, however,  the name was coming to be accepted with pride.  In Pittsboro on Dec. 11, 1879, the Chatham Record informed its readers that Jesse Turner had been named to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The new justice was described as “a younger brother of our respected townsman, David Turner, Esq., and we are pleased to know that a fellow tar heel is thought so much of in the state of his adoption.” In Congress in 1878, Rep. David B. Vance, trying to persuade the government to pay one of his constituents, J.C. Clendenin, for building a road, described Clendenin in glowing phrases, concluding with: “He is an honest man…he is a tar heel.”   In 1893, the students of The University of North Carolina founded a newspaper and christened it The Tar Heel.  By the end of the century, Tar Heel – at least within the state – had been rehabilitated. John R. Hancock of Raleigh wrote Sen. Marion Butler on Jan. 20, 1899, to commend him for his efforts to obtain pensions for Confederate veterans.  This is an action, Hancock wrote, “we Tar Heels, or a large majority of us, do most heartily commend.” And by 1912, it was a term of clear identification recognized outside the state.  On August 26 of that year, The New York Evening Post identified Josephus Daniels and Thomas J.L. Pence as two Tar Heels holding important posts in Woodrow Wilson’s campaign.

So there it was in 1922, the stamp of credibility on Tar Heel. Surely an august institution such as The New York Evening Post would never malign two gentlemen of the stature of Daniels and Pence, no matter how bitter the presidential election campaign.  The badge of honor stuck, and, in a manner of speaking, North Carolina residents who have sat back on  their heels ever since, happy to be Tar Heels.  Who’d want to be a Sandlapper, anyway?

We are Tar Heels – not “Tarheels”
Always write our name as two words, even when using
it as an adjective (e.g., “The Tar Heel tradition”
Tar [space] Heels   

Why We’re All Called Tar Heels – Part 1

Reprinted by permission of the author William S. Powell

Part 1 of 2     [first published in the November, 2008 FPHPS Newsletter]

Read: Part 2

[Editor’s Note: Harry Warren, Director of the North Carolina Forestry Museum in Whiteville, NC, passed this article along to us during his presentation at our August meeting.  We thought it was so good we wanted to share it with all the membership.]

We all have had to deal with the problem at one point or another, particularly when we go abroad (more than two states away) and declare our state of residence.  “Oh, that’s such a beautiful state,” folks respond, before pausing. “But why are you called Tar Heels?”        

The why comes easily, but when it all started takes explaining. In fact, history shows that North Carolina residents have taken an albatross from around their necks and pinned it on their chests like a badge of honor.  The moniker is rooted in the state’s earliest history, derived from the production of naval stores – tar, pitch and turpentine – extracted from the vast pine forests of the state.  Early explorers from Jamestown pointed out the possibilities for naval stores production along the Chowan River.  Eventually Parliament offered a bounty for their production, and North Carolina became an important source of tar and pitch for the English navy.  For several years before the American Revolution, the colony shipped more than 100,000 barrels of tar and pitch annually to England.

The distillation process for tar and pitch was messy and smelly. Rich pine logs were stacked, covered with earth and burned.  The tar ran out through channels dug on the lower side of the pile. Because of this product, so extensively produced in North Carolina, the people of the state were called “Tarboilers,” according to the first volume of the Cincinnati Miscellany and Ohio journal published in 1845. Forty-three years later, the poet Walt Whitman also recorded that the people of North Carolina were called “Tar Boilers.” In both cases the name clearly was applied in derision. In May 1856, Harper’s Magazine mentioned someone who “lost his way among the pine woods that abounded in that tar and turpentine state,” while an 1876 book on the Centennial Exposition described someone who “‘spent his youth in the good old ‘Tar and Turpentine State.’”

A story that at best must be considered folklore states that when Lord Cornwallis’s troops forded the Tar River in early May 1781 en route to Yorktown, they emerged with tar on their feet.  This marked their passage through North Carolina as tar heels.  The tar reputedly had been hastily dumped into the river to prevent the British from capturing it.  This story cannot be traced beyond the 20th century and may have been made up to suggest the naming of the river.    

But when, beyond doubt, did the term Tar Heel begin to be applied to North Carolinians? Clearly during the Civil War.  In the third volume of Walter Clark’s Histories of the Several Regiments from North Carolina in the Great War, 1861-1865, published in 1901, James M. Ray of Asheville records two incidents in 1863 that suggest the nickname’s original application. In a fierce battle in Virginia, where their supporting column was driven from the field, North Carolina troops stood alone and fought successfully.  The victorious troops were asked in a condescending tone by some Virginians who had retreated, “Any more tar down in the Old North State, boys?” The response came quickly: “No; not a bit; old Jeff’s bought it all up.”  “Is that so? What is he going to do with it?” the Virginians asked. “He is going to put it on your heels to make you stick better in the next fight.”  

After the Battle of Murfeesboro in Tennessee in early January 1863, John S. Preston of Columbia, S.C., the commanding general, rode along the fighting line commending his troops.  Before the 60th Regiment from North Carolina, Preston praised them for advancing farther than he had anticipated, concluding with: “This is your first battle of any consequence, I believe. Indeed, your Tar Heels have done well.”

Similarly, sometime after North Carolina troops had fought particularly well, Gen. Robert E. Lee is said to have commented: “God bless the Tar Heel boys.” Like the Cornwallis story, however, the exact occasion has not been noted.  

Lights of the Lower Cape Fear

Lights of the Lower Cape Fear – Some Important Dates
By Rebecca Taylor & Gayle Keresey

—  [first published in the October, 2008 FPHPS Newsletter]

1761  –  In 1761, the pilot road across the beach at the “Hawl-over” was blown out by a terrific hurricane and was converted into what was to be known as “New Inlet.”

1784  –   NC General Assembly passed an act levying an additional sixpence per ton duty on all vessels entering the Cape Fear River, the proceeds to be set aside for construction of the proposed lighthouse at Bald Head.  Benjamin Smith, owner of Smith Island, offered to donate ten acres of  “high land on the promontory of Bald Head” to the state of NC,  after a special assembly action providing protection of the cattle and hogs he grazed on the Island.

1789 – The NC General Assembly enacted legislation that added Smith Island to the “commissioners of pilotage for the bar and river of Cape Fear” and further prohibited any person from keeping “cattle, hogs and stock of any kind on Smith’s Island.”

August 7, 1789 – United States Congress passed act “for the establishment and support of light-houses, beacons, buoys and public piers.”  As of August 15, 1789 the federal government would assume all costs for lighthouses and other aids-to-navigation. They assumed all responsibility for twelve colonial lighthouses and four incomplete projects including Bald Head.

November 27, 1789  – “A committee of the House of Representatives reported that the Cape Fear commissioners had contracted with a man named Thomas Withers to deliver 200,000 bricks to Bald Head for the purpose of erecting a lighthouse.”

1790  – NC General Assembly transferred land for Bald Head and Ocracoke lighthouses to Federal Govt.

1795  – Congress had to make three additional appropriations of over $7,000 before the work was finished. Bald Head Light lit.  First keeper Henry Long who was paid $333.33 a year.

1810  – US Dept of Treasury authorizes double line of 2000 poles filled with brush to stop reported erosion endangering Bald Head.

April 1813 – Bald Head “lighthouse it self is washed down.” Only remnant of Bald Head lighthouse is steel engraving showing a water spout approaching the lighthouse.

May 22, 1816  – Treasury Dept. published calls for proposals for the building of a Light-House on Bald Head (Old Baldy) in the State of North Carolina.

1817 – Bald Head (Old Baldy) completed and lit.

September 1816 – March 1817 – Federal Point Lighthouse (#1) was built by Benjamin Jacobs. He was paid $1300. The beacon was 40 feet high and painted white. It stood on the north side of the entrance to the Cape Fear River.

April 7, 1817  – Charles B. Gause deeded an acre of land on Federal Point to the United States government for the erection of a light house. The deed was recorded in New Hanover County Deed Book P, page 396.

April 13, 1836 –  Federal Point (#1) was destroyed by fire.

1837 – Federal Point Lighthouse (#2) and a Dwelling House was built by Henry Stowell. The height of the tower was 40 feet from base to lantern, which was a Fixed light with 11 Winslow Lewis Patent lamps with 14 inch reflectors. The visibility was 15 miles.

1843-1845  – “A complete renovation of the lighthouse Federal Point (#2) and the keeper’s dwelling was made during the years 1843 through 1845.”

August 14, 1848  – Congress authorized bill for series of lighthouses from Bald Head to Wilmington. $3,600 for: beacon light on the Upper Jetty, Cape Fear river. $3,500: beacon light on Campbell’s island;  $3,500: beacon light at Orton Point  $3,500; light boat at Horse Shoe Shoal $10,000; two beacon lights placed at Price’s Creek  $6,000; two light-houses and keeper’s house on Oak Island  $9,000;  two buoys marking the bar  $500.”

1849   – “The last inlet light to be placed along the Cape Fear River was the Price[‘s] Creek Lighthouse, which was built in 1849.  Two structures were actually built on the river, and were part of a larger group of river lights that helped ships reach Wilmington, North Carolina’s largest port. The lights included Oak Island, Campbell Island, Orton’s Point, and a lightship at Horse Shoe [Shoal].  The beacons were configured as range lights that would line up to better reveal the inlet and help vessels navigate the channel.”

September 7, 1849 – “Oak Island lights were completed.”  “…It had two free-standing beacons and a separate structure for the keeper,” commonly called Caswell Lights.

May 2, 1851    Letter from Mr. Rankin commending payment to Wm. A. Wright “for services rendered under the appropriation for the erection of Light Houses.”
— January 1, 1850 erection of Beacons at Oak Island.
— May 1 – Aug. 17, 1850 Erection of Beacon at Orton Point.
— May 1 – Aug. 17, 1850 Erection of Beacon at Campbell’s Island.
— January 21 – Aug 17, 1851 Erection of Beacons at Price’s Creek.
In this letter there is a P.S. reading; “The Light Boat has arrived.”

“During the War” –  “Despite the fact that all lights were extinguished at the advent of the hostilities between the States in 1861, Colonel William Lamb found it necessary to have a beacon at Fort Fisher mounted on a very high mound of earth called Mound Battery, to guide the blockade runners through New Inlet. The beacon was only lighted upon the return of the proper signal from a friendly vessel and after the vessel had entered the Cape Fear safely, the light was extinguished. From reports, this light was a type of mobile unit.”

1863 –  “Price’s Creek Light House – Confederate States Signal Station.  We see on the Western side of the Cape Fear River the old antebellum light house and keeper’s residence on Price’s Creek, which were used during the Civil War as a signal station – the only means of communication between Ft. Caswell at the western bar and Fort Fisher at the New Inlet was Smithville, where the Confederate General resided.”  There are also references to signal communication between Ft. Fisher and Ft. Anderson near Orton Pt.

After the war  –  “The lighthouses on the Cape Fear River south of Wilmington, extinguished during the war, were not replaced, except for the screw-pile at Federal Point near New Inlet and the small lighthouses on Oak Island near the mouth of the main river.  Temporary day markers were erected to take the place of the other lights on the Cape Fear, and in the 1880’s a series of fourteen unattended range beacons, for the most part consisting of lanterns mounted on top of pilings, were installed to aid mariners navigating the lower reaches of the river. “

1865  – Frying Pan Shoals:  “A two-mast schooner-rigged vessel was anchored off the tip of the shoals in ten fathoms of water.  The hull and lower part of the masts were painted yellow and the words ‘Frying Pan Shoals,’ in bold black letters on each side, the vessel exhibited two lights at an elevation of forty feet above see level.”

1866  Cape Fear (Old Baldy) Lighthouse was extinguished because a new lighthouse had been erected on Federal Point. “Screw pile at Federal Point”

1879  – Oak Island range lights rebuilt.  “Commonly called Caswell Lights.”  “Also, written records clearly describe the lights that were rebuilt in 1879. The front range light was a wooden structure with gingerbread-house elements, secured to a sixteen-foot high by fourteen-food wide brick foundation…”  “…The lower or rear light was a simple one, Mounted on skids so it could be moved when the channel periodically shifted.”

June 14, 1879 – Mr. Henry Nutt, chairman of the Committee on River and Bar Improvement, informed the Wilmington newspaper, The Morning Star, that New Inlet was closed.  It was his honor to be the first to walk across this day, at 12 noon, dry-footed, from Federal Point to Zeke’s Island, a distance of nearly a mile, in the company of his grandson, Wm. M. Parsley.

1880  – The Bald Head Lighthouse (Old Baldy) was re-lighted, because the New Inlet was now closed.  The Federal Point Lighthouse (#3) was found to be useless.

August 23, 1881 – The lighthouse at Federal Point was destroyed by fire late this afternoon.  This lighthouse had not been in use since the closing of New Inlet, but it was occupied as a dwelling by Mr. Taylor, the former keeper.  It was a wooden structure, situated about one mile from the site of Fort Fisher.

1893  –   “A hurricane seriously damaged the Oak Island range lights and keeper’s house.”   “Front beacon was rebuilt.”

July 18, 1893  – Congress approved $35,000 for Cape Fear Lighthouse.  Also authority for an additional $35,000 if needed.

August 31, 1903   –  Charlie Swan became keeper of the NEW Cape Fear Lighthouse.  He lit the lamp that put it in service.

1941  – Bald Head Lighthouse (old Baldy) becomes a radio beacon.

May 15, 1958  – “The former keeper for Cape Fear Lighthouse, Cap’n Charles Swann, threw the switch that activated the Oak Island Lighthouse on May 15, 1958.  This was the last lighthouse built in North Carolina, and one of the last built in the United States.” Two Marine Corps helicopters were needed to put the lamp into place.”

September 12, 1958 – Cape Fear Lighthouse demolished.

1964 – Frying Pan Lightship – replaced by 1/5 million dollar “tower.”

November 27, 1964  – Last Frying Pan Lightship was relieved of duty after 110 years.   Was reassigned at a “relief” ship for the Cape May Station.  Was Lightship # 115, the first diesel on the east coast.

1964  – Frying Pan Light Station – Built in Louisiana and brought on a huge barge to NC, 28 miles southeast of Cape Fear – cost $2 million.

Spring/Summer 2004 – Frying Pan Schoals Station scheduled to be demolished.


Louis T. Moore and Dr. Fales Photograph Collections

Fales - Pier

Fales:   Shoo-Fly Pier

by Rebecca Taylor

In working to catalog and organize the pictures we’ve collected here at the History Center, I’ve been reminded again of the wonderfully rich resource we have access to at the click of a mouse button.

Owned and published on the web by the New Hanover County Public Library are the Dr. Robert Fales  “A History of  Wilmington in Pictures Collection” and the L. T. Moore “Wilmington in Pictures Collection.”

Dr. Robert M. Fales M.D. was a long time area physician who spent his retirement years collecting well over 1000 images of the Lower Cape Fear area.

He originally intended to collect only photos of area physicians who had practiced in Wilmington during the early part of the twentieth century.  But as news got out that Dr. Fales was collecting old pictures, people began to loan and give him all kinds of “old photos.”  Originally Dr. Fales made slides of the pictures and spend a good deal of time doing slide shows throughout the community.

Louis T Moore, a descendant of THE Moore Family, was the secretary of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce from 1921 to 1941 He was a tenacious promoter of his hometown and the area surrounding it.  His daughter, Peggy, recalls: “It was a ritual every Sunday afternoon. Daddy had this great big box camera and every Sunday we would drive out and take pictures.”

Bame Hotel

Bame Hotel

Moore wrote numerous articles for such magazines as The World Traveler, and the Nautical Gazette promoting tourism to the Wilmington and New Hanover County.  His most famous literary effort was the publication in 1956 of Stories Old And New of the Cape Fear Region.

The photograph collection contains almost 1000 pictures and in 1982 the Friends of the Library funded a project to copy all the silver nitrate negatives and make contact prints of the entire collection.  The effort to digitize the collection was a joint project of the New Hanover Public Library and the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society.

Though Wilmington is the historic entity that appears in the title of both collections they each contain a large number of images of our own “Federal Point.”  They provide a wealth of information for anyone doing research on the area as well as being just plain fun to look at.

To find these wonderful resources and many more image collections start here – for a description (and link) to all of the New Hanover image collections.

To find the Fales photograph collections scroll down this list to find either the “Dr. Robert M. Fales MD Collection”  or the “Louis T. Moore Collection.”  Both are searchable by subject, the Fales collection can also be searched by date.  The Fales photos can be printed on your printer or by right clicking you can “copy” them to a file or into a document.  The Moore Pics are a bit more complicated to copy but you can do it if you are proficient with a program that can edit pictures.