The North Carolina Flag

According to information on the NETSTATE Web site, a bill, introduced in March of 1885 in the North Carolina Legislature by General Johnstone Jones, was passed and the design of the North Carolina State Flag changed for the last time. That design of the flag is shown above with one date appearing on a scroll above the white star between the letters “N C” and another date appearing on a scroll below.  The date above, May 20, 1775, is the date representing the questionable Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. The date below replaced a previous date of May 20, 1861, the date of secession, used on the North Carolina flag throughout the Civil War. The date below, April 12, 1776, is the date of the Halifax Resolves. 1

Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence

NETSTATE clearly states that the date of May 20, 1775 on the upper scroll of the flag is a much questioned date for the “Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. 2 Historian David T. Morgan, states: “Even though it is generally believed in Mecklenburg County that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence of May 20, 1775 is authentic , there is no contemporary evidence to support that belief.”  Morgan further states: “It is a date regarded by historians as a later and flawed representation of the unquestionably authentic Mecklenburg Resolves of May 31, 1775”. 3

Unless and until removed from its Web site by the Mecklenburg Historical Association, the Association continues to hold the mistaken view that Mecklenburg County had the first governmental body in America to declare independence from the Crown of England. 4 Morgan points out:  “Historians, on the other hand, also question the claim that the meeting in Charlotte, at which the Mecklenburg Resolves were approved on May 31, 1775, was an “elected” body. 5

Morgan, after reviewing the above claim by the Mecklenburg Historical Association, agrees that the claim ” . . . falls short of a declaration of independence by an officially elected body with the authority to carry it out.”  He does not question the authenticity of the Mecklenburg Resolves of May 31, 1775.  In questioning the authenticity of the so-called declaration of independence, Morgan writes:

A meeting of patriots at Charlotte on May 31, 1775, (not May 20) approved a number of resolves that “for the present wholly suspended” British authority. Those resolves appeared in colonial newspapers over the next few weeks, and their authenticity cannot be doubted.

The resolves were strong but represented the SENTIMENTS of many and not the authority of elected officials. When the records of the Charlotte meeting burned up in a house fire about thirty years later, the men who had been at the original meeting (those who were still alive) met and reconstructed the resolves from flawed memories. Thus they created a flawed representation of the Mecklenburg Resolves and called it a declaration of independence.

On this newly-created document they put the date of May 20, 1775, thinking the meeting had occurred before the American colonies had changed from the old Julian calendar to the new Gregorian calendar, making it necessary to move old dates eleven days forward. The reconstruction of the Mecklenburg Resolves from memory became known as the “Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence,” and prompted much controversy.

There is no contemporary evidence (1775 or 1776) for any such meeting being held in Charlotte on May 20, 1775 under the Gregorian calendar, which went into effect in the 1750s in the British Empire, including colonial America. There is no evidence that the so-called “Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence” existed before 1805. 6

The Halifax Resolves

At the time the Fourth Provincial Congress met in Halifax, North Carolina, Cornelius Harnett was President of the Provincial Council (subsequently renamed the Council of Safety), and he was, in effect, the defacto Governor of the state when the Congress was not in session. 7

At the Fourth Provincial Congress, a committee of seven headed by Harnett approved a draft resolution prepared by Harnett for presentation to the Provincial Congress.   After four days of deliberation by the committee, the report containing this resolution was presented to and unanimously approved by the Provincial Congress on April 12, 1776.  The document contained the famous Halifax Resolves that directed the North Carolina delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to vote for independence from Great Britain, if a resolution for independence was introduced in that body by another colony. 8

Thus, North Carolina became the first colony to authorize its delegates to support a movement for independence (but not to initiate it).  And so, when the Virginia delegation introduced a resolution calling for independence, the North Carolina delegates, as instructed, voted for it on July 2, 1776. Two days later, on July 4, they joined the other congressional delegates in adopting Thomas Jefferson’s famous document that has ever since been known as THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. 9

A  Declaration in the form of a Dunlap Broadside was read by Cornelius Harnett on August 1, 1776 at Halifax. 10

END NOTES

1.  NETSTATE, North Carolina, The North Carolina State Flag  http://www.netstate.com/states/symb/flags/nc_flag.htm, [accessed 7 September 2013]
2.  NETSTATE, supra
3.  Morgan, David T., “Some Observations about the So-Called Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence” and follow-up messages, received by this Web site in mailings from Professor David T. Morgan between 6 September 2013 and 14 September 2013.
4.  The Mecklenburg Historical Association. http://www.meckdec.org/; [accessed 10 September 2013]; in a menu item “Declaration,” there is a hyperlink to an article entitled “Controversy” that acknowledges the dispute.  It states:  “Many prominent historians assert that the Meck Dec is spurious and remain unbelievers.  Others judge that a preponderance of evidence confirms the stated facts.”  No claim is made in the article that the “others” are historians.
5. Morgan, supra
6.  Morgan, supra
7.  Connor, R.D.W. CORNELIUS HARNETT: AN ESSAY IN NORTH CAROLINA HISTORY, Raleigh, N.C.; Edwards and Broughton Printing Company 1909. 1-209, p 112.
8. Morgan, David T., “The N.C. Delegation To The Continental Congress,” The North Carolina Historical Review, Volume LII, Number 3, July, 1975, pp 215-234, p 230
Connor, supra, p 143-145, 157.
9.  Morgan, supra, p 230; Connor, supra, p 143
10.  “Dunlap Broadside and Narrative”, an article in this website: see: http://www.corneliusharnett.com/index.php/image-gallery/commemorative/the-dunlap-broadside-and-narrative/ See also:  http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/dunlap.htm. [This US History Web site was accessed 10 September 2013.]  This site shows a copy of the Dunlap Broadside and provides a link to the various versions and provides a side by comparison of the language in each which are referred to as “First Draft,” “Reported Draft,” and “Engrossed Copy.”

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