A Brief Account of the Mecklenburg Centennial

The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, proclaimed to the world on the 20th of May, 1775, was celebrated in Charlotte on the 20th of May, 1875, with all the honors and ceremonies befitting such an important occasion. A vast assemblage of at least 25,000 persons were present to enjoy the “welcome” extended to all, and participate in the festivities of this gala day of North Carolina. For three days preceding the grand holiday, (17th, 18th and 19th) visitors were continually pouring into the city. Enthusiastic excitement and necessary preparations were everywhere visible. Flags and streamers greeted the eye in every direction. Many private residences were handsomely decorated. One of the most “exalted” ideas was a Centennial pole, 115 feet high, erected by Capt. Thos. Allen, in the centre of Independence Square, from the top of which floated to the breeze a large flag, capped with a huge “hornet’s nest” from Stokes county. To preserve the “Centennial” feature as far as possible of the Convention of the 19th of May, 1775, called out by Col. Thos. Polk, accordingly, on the 19th of May, 1875, a procession was formed, and the military companies formed into a hollow square around the Centennial pole, the bands, in the meantime, rendering sweet music, and the artillery firing minute guns. The Mayor, Col. William Johnston, then addressed the multitude, extending to them a cordial welcome in behalf of the citizens and authorities of Charlotte; after which Governor Brogden was introduced, and spoke substantially as follows: He said the principles of liberty enunciated by the fathers of the revolution, one hundred years ago, upon the spot he then occupied would live throughout all time. Here, as free American citizens, they had proclaimed the principles which North Carolina had ever since upheld, and of which this glorious flag, which waves protection to American citizens on land and sea was the star-gemmed type. Under this old flag we have a duty to perform in peace as well as in war. We have the principles of the fathers of the Mecklenburg Declaration to maintain. All should remember the sacrifices which gave us the right to that standard of our country; and we should not forget our duty to North Carolina, and her daughter, Tennessee, to the sister State of South Carolina, and to the whole country. Alluding to the growth of the United States in one hundred years, the Governor said that at the date of the Mecklenburg declaration of Independence, there were not more than six post-offices in North Carolina; now there are nine hundred post-offices; then there was no steam traveling; now there are twelve hundred miles of rail-way in this State alone. He hoped the country would go on to prosper in the fulness of civil liberty until there was no opposition to the principles we cherish. In the name of North Carolina he welcomed all her sons to this festival, and the sons of all other sister States.

May 20th, 1875–Centennial morning! Of the large number of illustrious patriots who participated in the exercises of the Mecklenburg Convention of the same date, 1775, not one was present to animate us with their counsel, or speak of the glorious deeds of the Revolutionary period–all having succumbed to the irrevocable fiat of nature, and passed to “that bourne whence no traveler returns.” Their example, their precepts, and sacrifices in the cause of freedom, constitute their rich and instructive heritage to us. A cloudless sky, a balmy atmosphere, and a glow of patriotic feeling beaming on every countenance, all conspired to add impressiveness to the scene, and awaken hallowed remembrances of the past. Agreeably to the published programme, the day was ushered in by the ringing of bells, and a salute of one hundred guns by the Raleigh and Richmond artillery. From six o’clock in the morning until several hours afterward, the whistles of locomotives every few minutes told of the arrival of trains, packed with visitors, firemen, military and bands of music. The various committees were kept busy in directing the movements and assigning quarters for the organized bodies; while landlords and keepers of boarding-houses showed an accommodating spirit, and received visitors until their utmost capacity for room was more than exhausted–full to overflowing. And, although some difficulty was observed in procuring bed room, yet an abundance of provisions was everywhere exhibited for the comfort and well-being of the “inner man.”

The Grand Procession

General Joseph E. Johnston, Chief Marshal, having been prevented from attending on account of severe sickness. General W.R. Cox, of Raleigh, was selected to fill his place. General Bradley T. Johnston, of Richmond, was placed in charge of the Military Department, and John C. Gorman of the Fire Department. The soldiers were nearly all dressed in gray suits, and the firemen in red and black, except the Wilmington company, which also appeared in gray. While the Chief Marshal and his assistants were endeavoring to bring order out of the immense mass of humanity in the streets, six splendid bands from Richmond, Newbern, Raleigh, Wilmington, Fayetteville and Salem, besides the Cadet band of the Carolina Military Institute, were exerting their sonorous energies to move the listening million by “concord of sweet sounds,” and thereby prevent them from ever becoming subjects “fit for treason, stratagems and spoils.”

At half-past ten o’clock the grand pageant was fully displayed. As far as the eye could reach the brilliant procession filled the streets, presenting a glittering, undulating line of infantry, artillery, firemen, laddermen, axemen, zouaves, cadets, grangers, masons, templars, highlanders, citizens, &c, with gleaming arms, rustling flags, soul-stirring music, and other manifestations of patriotic enthusiasm. Nearly every window, piazza and house-top was crowded with feminine loveliness, to cheer with their smiles and lend their graceful approbation to the “moving” exhibitions of the occasion. On the side-walks “miles of spectators” were seen submitting to the stifling effects of clouds of dust, with the laudable desire “to see and be seen.” While immense flags were floating to the breeze across the principal streets, countless numbers of miniature ones, in red, white and blue, fluttered from windows and porches. A large number of military and fire companies followed by delegations of the Masonic Order, Good Templars, Odd Fellows, Caledonian Clubs, Grangers, invited guests, visitors, &c, all joined in the grand procession to the fair grounds.

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