Friday, May 21, 2010

Charlotte Observer: The spirit of the Mecklenburg Declaration lives on

Andy Polk, a legislative aide to Rep. Sue Myrick, wrote this for the Charlotte Observer yesterday.

For those who may not be familiar with our area's origins, May 20th is a day to learn and reflect on our local history.

Thomas Polk was the first to settle Charlotte in 1755. He traveled to North Carolina in search of a place with large tracts of land to settle, and space to raise a family. He stopped at the intersection of present day Trade and Tryon streets, in uptown Charlotte where he purchased the land and built a home. ...

In 1771, local leaders were able to secure a charter for Queens University - what would have been the first college in the area - only to have the king strip the charter in 1773. Citizens in Mecklenburg, like others across the colonies, began hurting from the crippling taxes and harsh laws imposed by the king. Once loyal subjects, newly identified "Americans" began speaking out publicly against this harsh rule.

By 1775, disputes between American colonists and the British were at a tipping point. Thomas Polk, commander of the Mecklenburg militia, called for a council of local leaders to gather at the Mecklenburg courthouse on May 19, 1775, to discuss grievances against the crown. That same day, news arrived in Charlotte that Americans had been killed by British troops at the previous month's battles at Lexington and Concord.

This news spurred the predominantly Scotch-Irish leaders, who already had a long history of fighting British rule, to move beyond debate to action. That night, local leaders drafted and signed a document called the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, fondly known as the "Meck Dec."

At noon on May 20, 1775, Thomas Polk stood at the Mecklenburg Courthouse and read aloud the declaration to the public: "... 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..." By this act, Mecklenburg declared itself "a free and independent people," more than a year prior to the Declaration of Independence.

Original copies of the Mecklenburg Declaration were lost in a fire in 1800, causing some historians to question the validity of the document, even while many point to sources such as newspaper articles to prove its existence. As a proud descendant of Thomas Polk, I don't need a document to prove the "Meck Dec" existed. The independent spirit of our local forefathers proves its existence.

It is this spirit and our fierce determination for freedom that caused English General Cornwallis to call Charlotte a "hornet's nest" during the Revolutionary War. It is this same spirit that led us to name our streets "Independence Boulevard" and "Freedom Drive," and a school "Independence High." It is this spirit that moved state leaders to put May 20, 1775, on our state flag, and why it remains there today.

We should be proud of our history and independent spirit, teaching it to our children and to newcomers. Only by knowing where we come from can we know who we are and the great things we are capable of accomplishing as a community. ...

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