Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Populist Heroes Of America

I live in a state that was ambivalent during the Civil War. One of the very last of the Southern States to secede, North Carolina lost many more lives in that war than others such as Virginia, which is often given more notoriety.

To understand why North Carolinians were ambivalent and/or resistant to the Civil War, it helps to know that in 1860, there were 69,000 farms here, 7 out of 10 of which were 100 acres or less and only 300 plantations owned by just 121 planters.

There were more than 700 farmers for every one planter.  While in general, farmers did not own slaves, planters argued that their profits relied on a third of a million enslaved African Americans.

And yet, the interests of just 121 power-brokers pulled North Carolina into secession and war where 125,000 of its citizens would fight and more than 40,000 would die, more than any other state.

The ambivalence here was not concentrated just along the Appalachian Mountains as it was in Virginia where West Virginia broke away in order to stay in the Union.  Nor did the ambivalence and resistance to the war end when a North Carolinian became the first to fall for the Confederacy.

Pick up a copy of the November issue of Our State Magazine which is just hitting newsstands.  It includes an article in the magazine’s eight part series that runs through next May about North Carolina and the Civil War entitled A Separate Peace.

This month’s piece is about another pocket of resistance stretching across 5,000 square miles from Durham (then part of Orange County) through nine counties to the west across what the author Philip Gerard calls the “Quaker Belt.”

Eventually, a secret resistance called Heroes of America spread through Durham and south and east through the State Capital of Raleigh, population 5,000, and all the way to the coast.

Gerard, who also writes historical novels, chairs the creative writing faculty at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington and his articles in the series are each eventually posted at this link.

He refers to Heroes of America as a “rebellion within a rebellion” and one that appears to me to have been a truly populist union of pacifists and small yeoman farmers, who abhorred slavery.

In Durham that demographic schism as well as the war are interpreted at three state historic sites: Historic Stagville, Duke Homestead and Bennett Place where the Civil War ended.

Reading  A Separate Peace is also a reminder that moderates today must not be ambivalent as other factions become more extreme.

No comments: