The people that make up North Carolina have a long history of rebellion. Most folks know that North Carolina declared its independence twice, in 1776 and in 1861. But it may surprise you that some citizens in North Carolina declared their independence in 1775. In fact, the current state flag continues to bear the date of this first Secession: May 20, 1775.
Let’s take a look at the story of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
The declaration was a resolution drawn up by citizens of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, to be sent to their representatives at the Continental Congress, stating that they had separated from Great Britain. A bold move.
Up to this time many in the American Colonies were in loud protest against oppressive acts of the British Parliament, but they still considered themselves British subjects. Events like dumping tea into the Boston harbor were civil protest and disobedience, but they were acts of citizens who did not yet think of themselves as rebels.
But the people of Britain had a long history rebellion already, and early Americans inherited this tradition of fighting for freedoms. Many others that had come to the continent were also pretty independent types, such as the Irish.
And most of the people of Mecklenburg, North Carolina, traced their roots back to Scotland and Ireland. A feisty lot, indeed. Let’s cover what had been happening that led up to the declaration.
In the early hours of April 19th, 1775, British soldiers were on their way toward two locations in Massachusetts: Lexington, where they were to capture Colonial leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock; and Concord they were to seize gunpowder. But the Colonists had prepared for such an event. Men rode swiftly to give warning, fellows with names like Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott.
So it was that in Lexington about 70 Minutemen gathered to confront 240 British Redcoats. This was a new thing, armed men ready to fight, facing the soldiers of the Crown.
The face-off began, both sides wary, no one sure what would happen. Suddenly a shot was fired, “The shot heard round the world,” the shot that now is legendary. Ralph Waldo Emerson later wrote the poem Concord Hymn, which begins with these words:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The Redcoats won that skirmish and continued on. Meanwhile, American militias had gathered in Concord, and things there turned out differently. By the time the next series of battles were over the British losses were 73 killed, 174 wounded, and 26 missing. Lord Percy, who had led the British back to Boston after the Concord defeat, later reported on the events to London, and included this statement:
“Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob will be much mistaken.”
The first American rebels had made their mark.
The next month the elected representatives of Mecklenburg County were meeting at the courthouse in Charlotte, to discuss the tensions with the British government. That same day an express rider arrived with news of the battles of Lexington and Concord. Hearing that British soldiers had fired on and killed fellow British citizens, discussions grew intense. Resolutions were composed which we now know as the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. It was to be sent to the North Carolina representatives at the Continental Congress, declaring that they had separated themselves from Britain: the first North Carolina secession.
The citizens of Mecklenburg stated that Great Britain had “wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties and inhumanly shed the innocent blood of American patriots at Lexington” and that we “dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the Mother country” and declare ourselves “a free and independent people.”
North Carolina still honors these early Americans, men and women whom many feel may have been the first to declare their independence from Great Britain.