'Treasures of Carolina' History Museum Exhibit Reveals N.C. Stories


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A new exhibit will feature the oldest item held by the State Archives: the 1584 map “La Florida” created under the reign of Phillip II of Spain.

Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina.

A rare opportunity to step back in time and look into the lives of North Carolinians on momentous occasions has arrived at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh. The “Treasures of Carolina” exhibit, (Oct. 24-June 19, 2016,) opens a portal into stories of North Carolinians told through documents, photographs and other media from the State Archives. The highlight of this free exhibit is North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights, a rarely displayed document that will only be on view when the exhibit opens (Oct. 24-27) and when it closes June 15-19.

This exhibit holds appeal for both adults and children. Take your children to gaze upon the faded cursive writing of the copy of the Bill of Rights, and contemplate how this now fragile piece had the strength to change a nation. The document, taken by a Union soldier in 1865 and sold to private individuals over the years, was only retrieved after both a sting operation involving the FBI and other federal agencies and a subsequent five year-court battle. Deemed a public record belonging to the state, it is finally home and on display.

Other documents on exhibit for a limited time are:

● The 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and James Iredell’s Diary – On view Oct. 28, 2015-Feb. 7, 2016. North Carolina’s official copy of the 11th Amendment was ratified in 1795. In 1790, James Iredell had been appointed to the first U.S. Supreme Court by George Washington. The Edenton resident, Federalist and attorney wrote several pieces to support ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

● The 1663 Carolina Charter – On view Feb. 8-14, 2016. As a reward for their support, King Charles II of England gave the Province of Carolina to eight subjects known as the Lords Proprietors of Carolina.

● Famous Signatures – On view Feb. 15 through June 14, 2016. Exhibit visitors will see letters or documents signed by George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein and Buckminster Fuller.

Other interesting items that you can see throughout the exhibit’s run include:

● The oldest item held by the State Archives: the hand-tinted 1584 map “La Florida” created under the reign of Phillip II of Spain. The map reflects the names of Native American settlements and mountains. It shows hardly any of present-day North Carolina but does depict the Cape Fear River under its original name, “Rio Jordan.”

● The earliest will known to exist in North Carolina, recorded in 1665 by Mary Fortsen. Female property owners were extremely rare in the 1600s so this document is proof of an unusual happening.

● An 1839 petition for U.S. citizenship, signed by Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born in Siam (now Thailand). They settled in Wilkes County and married sisters. Altogether, the families had 21 children. 

● A Civil War letter from Martha A. E. Henley Poteet to her husband, Francis Marion Poteet, who was away at war. The cutout she enclosed showed her 4-week-old daughter’s hand with the request “write to Me what to name her.” It speaks of family love and the hardship of war to anyone who gazes on it. The family lived in McDowell County. 

Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina

● A 1903 copy of the North Carolina Constitutional Reader. In 1901 rules were enacted to prevent illiterate African Americans from voting, and this book was published to help African Americans read the Constitution in case they were questioned at the polls when trying to vote.

In this section on voting you’ll also find a document listing the “colored voters” for Buncombe County Election Records (1871-1900) including details such as full name, age, occupation, place of birth and place of residence. The signatures reveal the courageous ones who showed up to vote.

Also interesting are a pair of fans — one prosuffrage dating from 1915 — and another antisuffrage dating from 1916 with a cartoon on it. 

And look for a sheet of music printed in 1866 and attributed to “Tar Heel.” It is the first known use of the term in post-Civil war published works.

If your children are interested in history — or even if they are not — standing in front of these historic documents can open the gateway to important discussions.

 

 

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