Revolt and the Revolution in Charlotte. Who Knew?

This nascent New South city is deeply rooted in a Revolution-era past. You just have to know where to look.

Men dressed in full redcoat regalia march down Tryon Street just south of Charlotte’s main intersection, fittingly known as Independence Square. Armed with rifles and fife and drums, the group is a sore thumb in a sea of buttoned-down bankers. It’s May 20, Meck Dec day in the Queen City.

Short for the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, the Meck Dec was signed and read on Charlotte’s courthouse steps on May 20, 1775, more than a year prior to the national declaration.

“… We the citizens of Mecklenburg County, do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the Mother Country, and hereby absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown …”

It reads of invasion of the inalienable rights of man, a crown that has “wantonly trampled our rights.” It reads of a community fed up. And it was the first time the colonies provoked Great Britain by pursuing freedom from overseas rule.

As the story goes, the day before, on May 19, militia Captain James Jack (whose name might ring a bell because a popular pilsner at The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery honors him), reportedly had come through on horseback telling disturbing tales of recent nearby battles, infuriating Charlotte’s most prominent into action. That night, the Meck Dec was born.

After it was read and signed, Capt. Jack reportedly rode it—a treasonous trip punishable by death if intercepted—to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. A statue commemorating Jack’s pursuit, “The Spirit of Mecklenburg,” stands at the corner of Kings Drive and Fourth Street, several blocks south of Uptown along the walkable Little Sugar Creek Greenway’s Trail of History.

But celebrating Meck Dec day isn’t the only way to jump into Charlotte’s Revolutionary-era history. Grab your cell phone and download the Charlotte Liberty Walk app and lace up for a step-by-step walking guide of historic sites through Uptown. Plaques and monuments, accompanied by impressive art by local painter Dan Nance, mark key moments in history that helped make Charlotte the city she is today. Prefer a printed copy? Stop by the Charlotte Visitors Center in the Charlotte Convention Center or the Levine Museum of the New South—both have information on Charlotte’s many historical sites.

Follow these signs for Charlotte's Liberty Walk

Of note, in the fall of 1780, the British Army set up camp at today’s Independence Square, at the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets. The marker stands in the southern section of the camp, where British Lt. Col. Tarleton’s infantry and cavalry, loyalist militia and others posted up. Four cannons parked at the crossroads near the courthouse amid a present-day display of churches and coffee shops, banks and bars.

Other tour markers include cemeteries, inns, homesites and recollections of famed visitors deeming Charlotte “more hostile than any other” territory under British rule. One of the city’s nicknames—“a hornet’s nest of rebellion”—was given by British General Cornwallis himself and shows up today on the city’s NBA team, the Charlotte Hornets.

For an extra dose of Revolutionary-era life, head over to the Charlotte Museum of History for a look at the Hezekiah Alexander Homesite. Alexander was a blacksmith and planter-turned key elected official in Mecklenburg County who served from 1774 to 1776. Originally from Maryland, Alexander was a member of the North Carolina Fifth Provincial Congress, a group that wrote North Carolina’s first constitution and bill of rights and one of the original signers of the Meck Dec.

Hezekiah Alexander homesite

The site features the Alexanders’ original two-story home, circa 1774, the oldest surviving structure in the county, and boasts a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Other replica constructs on the site—a springhouse used for storage and a log kitchen, separate from the home for fear of fire—also offer a glimpse into Revolution-era life in Charlotte.

Several Revolutionary War battle sites, too, are just an hour or less from Uptown Charlotte, including Camden, Kings Mountain, and Cowpens.

So she may be a blossoming city, still trying to make her mark in today’s world but the Queen City, chartered before the United States itself, boasts her share of history rejecting the crown—a true hornet’s nest of rebellion. 

Virginia Brown
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