Arriving at the Fair Grounds, the immense concourse of people gathered around the large stand, which had been erected amidst a clump of trees, for the ladies and invited guests. The stand was beautifully decorated with evergreens, festoons, flags, hornets’ nests, and other emblematic devices. The ladies of the city had been diligently weaving these evergreen and floral adornments for several days preceding the Centennial. A precious bouquet and wreath, sent by Mrs. L. H. Walker, from the grounds of Washington’s tomb at Mt. Vernon, added a venerated sanctity to the whole.
At 11 o’clock, Rev. Dr. A. W. Miller, of the First Presbyterian Church, opened the exercises with an eloquent prayer. The “Old North State” was then rendered in stirring tones by the Citizens’ Band.
Ex-Gov. Graham then called the assembly to order, and said there was cause to congratulate the vast assemblage of patriotic citizens convened on this centennial occasion, for the bright, auspicious weather that prevailed, and for the general health and prosperity of the country. He felt highly gratified with the patriotic demonstration, and rejoiced to see in our midst so many prominent citizens from sister States. The Governor of North Carolina, and several of the Judges of her Courts were present. The Governor of the far-off State of Indiana, (Mr. Hendricks,) was here, representing one of the great Western States which sprung from old Virginia. There was a representative present (Mr. Bright) from Tennessee, the daughter of North Carolina. The Governor (Mr. Chamberlain) of South Carolina; the ex-Governor (Mr. Walker) of Virginia, and a large delegation from both of these States were all present to participate in the centennial festivities. In the name of North Carolina, he bade all a hearty welcome.
After the conclusion of ex-Gov. Graham’s remarks Maj. Seaton Gales, of Raleigh, was introduced to the audience, who, previous to the reading of the Mecklenburg Resolves, delivered a short address expressing his entire confidence in their authenticity.
The orator of the day, Judge John Kerr, of the fifth Judicial District, was then introduced amidst loud applause. He spoke for half an hour in stirring, eloquent language, worthy of his high reputation as an impressive speaker.
Hon. John M. Bright, of Tennessee, was next introduced. He delivered an address of great power, abounding with many interesting historical facts relating to the early history of North Carolina, and the character of her people. As these speeches will be published, it is deemed unnecessary to present a synopsis of their contents.
The speeches being concluded, the invited guests, firemen, military, &c., marched into Floral Hall, and were entertained with toasts, short addresses and music, while the cravings of hunger were rapidly dispelled by the sumptuous food, and rich viands set before them.
On Thursday night, a stand having been erected around the Centennial Pole in Independence Square, a number of short and stirring addresses were made by ex-Gov. Hendricks, of Indiana; ex-Gov. Walker, of Virginia; Gov. Chamberlain, of South Carolina; Gov. Brogden, of North Carolina; ex-Gov. Vance, Gen. W.R. Cox, Gen. T. L. Clingman, Judge Davidson and Col. H. M. Polk, the latter two of Tennessee.
Gov. Hendricks, at the commencement of his address, spoke substantially as follows:
“This is one of the greatest celebrations that has ever taken place in this country. Here your fathers, and mine, one hundred years ago, declared themselves free of the British crown. I need not refer to the events since. In intelligence, wealth and power, we are ahead of the world. Right here I must tell you that the fame of the Mecklenburg Declaration belongs not to the people of Mecklenburg alone, nor to the State of North Carolina, but its fame belongs to Indiana as well–in fact, to all the States of the Union. I claim a common participation in the glory of this great event. They were not only patriots, these Mecklenburgers of 1775, but they were also wise statesmen. One has but to carefully read this Declaration to discern the truth of this statement. The resolutions looked to a delegation of powers in the Continental Congress for their protection against enemies abroad, and all general purposes of nationality, but they assert most unequivocally the right of local self-government, and all the reserved powers not plainly granted to the general government. These old patriots showed their wisdom by providing against an interim of anarchy for want of lawful officers to protect life and property; so they resolved that each military and civil officer under the Provincial government should retain all their authority. I ask the people of North Carolina to join with us in the National celebration, to take place in Philadelphia in 1876. Shall I see North Carolina represented there? (Cries of yes! yes!) What a lesson it will be to the whole country! The troubles of the war can be yet settled by a system of good government.”
Other speakers indulged in similar patriotic sentiments
After the speaking was over on Centennial night, the Mayor (Colonel Johnston) ascended the stand, and congratulated the large audience upon the excellent order and good feeling which had prevailed from the beginning to the end of the exercises. He thanked those present for their attendance and participation in the honors and festivities of the occasion.
Then commenced the pyrotechnical display which had been witnessed to some extent during the intervals of the addresses. The “rocket’s red glare,” without the “bombs bursting in air,” gave proof “on that night” our people were there. The streets, and the houses in the vicinity were never before so handsomely illuminated, and a brilliant and appropriate closing scene of “the day we celebrate” conspicuously displayed on a broad waving banner. Hundreds of the descendants of the patriots of Mecklenburg, and surrounding country, were present, as well as a goodly number of descendants of kindred spirits from the Cape Fear region, whose ancestors proved themselves “rebels” by “stamping underfoot the stamp paper” intended for the use of the Colony–an act “worthy of all Roman, or Grecian fame.” The celebration of the 20th of May, 1875, was a grand success–such a celebration as has never before occurred in the history of North Carolina, and will never again be witnessed by the present generation. May the Centennial of the 20th of May, 1975, be still more successful, pass off with the same degree of order and good feeling, and be attended with all the blessings of enlightened civil and religious liberty!