The rebellious history of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County parallels the rebellious culture of its colonial inhabitants. Consider the Ulster Scots, also called Scotch-Irish, who came to the States from British-controlled Northern Ireland as indentured servants, not surprisingly bringing with them a hatred of British oppression.
These Ulster Scots were tough and accustomed to a harsh life. They were known for their independent spirit, strong work ethic and hot tempers. They held the firm belief that all men were equal, and had a natural distaste for any authority, especially British authority. Since Ulster Scots accounted for a significant part of North Carolina’s population in the 1760s, it seems only natural that the MecDec and the Revolution would soon follow.
The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence has a very rich and interesting history. Use the navigation to the left to view major milestones that have occurred, bringing us to where we are today.
The May 20th Society is created to revive celebration of Charlotte is rich history and the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
MAY 18, 2006
Nationally known historian Michael Beschloss gives the inaugural May 20th Lecture at the historic Morehead Inn.
MAY 17 – 18, 2007
Nationally known historian David McCullough speaks at the Charlotte City Club on Charlotte’s Revolutionary history and the importance of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. On Friday, May 18 Charlotte celebrated the largest uptown commemoration since President Ford’s visit in 1975.
MAY 20, 2008
Award-winning and nationally recognized historian Ken Burns participates at The May 20th Society’s guest speaker series to celebrate the 233rd anniversary of the MeckDec telling the audience:
“And I think you have, particularly in this complicated city which has experienced so much remarkable growth in the last few decades, needs to have anchors that bring us back to a period in which event those newcomers can share and participate in”
MAY 20, 2009
Doris Kearns Goodwin, nationally-known historian and author speaks at The May 20th Society’s 2009 celebration.
MAY 20, 2010
Cokie Roberts, renowned historian and political commentator speaks at The May 20th Society’s 2010 celebration.
To a crowd of more than 1,000 people, The May 20th Society unveiled the Spirit of Mecklenburg Statue located on the Little Sugar Creek Greenway – at the corner of 4th Street and Kings Drive.
May 19, 2011
Andrew Roberts, award-winning historian and author, speaks at The May 20th Society’s 2011 celebration.
MAY 17, 2012
Jeff Shaara, best-selling author, speaks at The Mint Museum Uptown for The May 20th Soicety’s 2012 celebration. The Charlotte Liberty Walk is formally unveiled.
MAY 20, 2013
Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and bestselling author, speaks at McGlohon Theater for The May 20th Society’s 2013 celebration. Civil Rights activist Reginald Hawkins was honored as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of desegregation in Charlotte.
MAY 20, 2014
The Inaugural MeckDec Day at the Ballpark took place at the new BB&T ballpark in uptown Charlotte. Revolutionary Segwalloons were added to Charlotte’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
MAY 19, 2015
Neil Howe, historian, economist, and demographer speaks at the Morehead Inn on “Generations of Americans, MeckDec & the Recurring Spirit of Revolution” for our 2015 celebration. Scott Syfert’s book The First American Declaration of Independence is published.
Each year, The May 20th Society continues to partner with organizations throughout the community in our shared mission to preserve, honor and promote Charlotte’s rich history. We are committed to providing superior programming to support the significance of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
MAY 20, 1902
The Shipp Monument, memorialized the life of Lt. W. E. Shipp, a fallen North Carolina soldier of the Spanish-American War. It originally was placed by the Federal Post Office and U. S. Mint. Today it stands on Graham Street, behind the Federal Courthouse in Charlotte.
MAY 21 – 24, 1906
The U. S. troops of Infantry, Calvary and Marines performed exhibition drills. The U. S. Marine Band played during the exercises.“The celebration of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is notable from the fact that it is the first time the United States Government has accorded the occasion official recognition.”The Charlotte Daily Observer, 5/20/1906
MAY 20, 1909
President William H. Taft attends the Mecklenburg Declaration commemoration at 700 E. Trade Street in Charlotte, then makes a special guest appearance at Biddle University, now Johnson C. Smith University, to address the students and faculty.
photos courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room
MAY 20, 1916
President Woodrow Wilson and his wife attend the Mecklenburg Declaration celebration as do approximately 100,000 revelers. Click the picture below for a larger version.
MAY 21, 1918
French troops, known as the Blue Devils, are in Charlotte taking a break from their war-torn land. They join the celebration with locals and visitors at E. 7th and Tryon Street.
MAY 20, 1922
General George Pershing, Commander-in-Chief American Expeditionary Forces, attends the Mecklenburg Declaration celebration.
MAY 20, 1925
The U.S. Congress appoints a special commission to attend that year’s commemoration; New York Time Magazine writes an article entitled “No Reason to Doubt.”
MAY 20, 1939
The North Carolina General Assembly holds a Special Session in Charlotte.
MAY 20, 1940
The First Mecklenburg Independence Festival includes the Queens Ball, a speech from the Governor and a Festival Queen, Miss Sarah Belk.
IN THE YEAR 1941
An August issue of National Geographic shows a picture of Charlotte’s Square (intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets) at rush hour and four women in colonial costumes holding the North Carolina flag to relay our history of the Mecklenburg Declaration to its readers.
MAY 20, 1948
The Mecklenburg Historical Society presents symphonic drama “Shout Freedom” kicking off several years of entertainment focus on the commemorations.
MAY 20, 1954
President Dwight D. Eisenhower attends the Mecklenburg Declaration celebration; 30,000 people attend at Freedom Park for Freedom Celebration Day. Click here or the photo below to watch a news clip covering his visit.
MAY 20, 1963
Charlotte Civil Rights activist Dr. Reginald Hawkins, led a march from Johnson C. Smith University to the Mecklenburg County Courthouse and declared “We shall not be pacified with gradualism; we shall not be satisfied with tokenism. We want freedom and we want it now.” Watch a video commemorating the 50th anniversary here.
MAY 20, 1968
First Lady Bird Johnson attends the Mecklenburg Declaration celebration.
MAY 20, 1975
President General Fordattends the Mecklenburg Declaration celebration. Over 110,000 people gather to hear the President speak in Freedom Park; the Charlotte Observer headline is “County Declares Independence.” A rider reenacts the famous ride by James Jack by taking the Mecklenburg Declaration by horseback from Charlotte to Philadelphia. It is the high-tide of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence commemoration. Within a decade, it will be largely forgotten. Watch clips from his visit here.
IN THE YEAR 1982
To account for the addition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday as a new holiday, the City of Charlotte removes May 20 as an official city holiday. It is the beginning of the decline of May 20 as a public commemoration in Charlotte and widespread amnesia about the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
MAY 20, 1996 – 2002
The 1st Noon Observance is celebrated on the corner of Trade & Tryon in 1996. Only a handful of people gather, but local civic groups keep the memory of the commemoration alive for the next decade. Due to Charlotte’s exponential growth, the destruction of much of the historic homes and buildings in downtown, and the arrival of many immigrants from other parts of the country, May 20th as a holiday and the history of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence gradually fade from popular memory. By 2000, the Mecklenburg Declaration is generally forgotten by the community; when discussed at all, it is widely (and falsely) believed to be a myth. Also in 2000, Congressman Mel Watt submitted the Mecklenburg Independence Day celebration into the Library of Congress “Local Legacies” program where it can be found on the LOC website.
All newspaper articles accredited to the Charlotte Observer.
APRIL 6, 1800
Fire destroys a house owned by J. M. Alexander, Secretary of the May 20th Convention, and keeper of the minutes, at his estate called “Alexandriana” in North Charlotte. The minute book with the May 19 – 20 convention records, and papers and records of a Court of Inquiry are burned. Although Alexander’s notes and working copy of the Mecklenburg Declaration survive the fire, all original copies of the Mecklenburg Declaration are lost. No subsequent originals have ever been located. This leads to a widely held myth that all records relating to the Mecklenburg Declaration were destroyed, and that the existing copy was re-written solely from memory (as opposed to from J. M. Alexander’s surviving notes).
SEPTEMBER 3, 1800
J. M. Alexander makes a new copy of the convention record and Mecklenburg Declaration for William R. Davie, using the working copy kept at his home which escaped the fire. This copy exists and is held at the University of North Carolina.
APRIL 30, 1819
Dr. Joseph McKnitt Alexander, son of J. M. Alexander, publishes in the Raleigh Register the convention record and Mecklenburg Declaration text based on the surviving records.
JUNE 5, 1819
The Essex Register in Salem, Massachusetts, reprints the Mecklenburg Declaration story from the Raleigh Register. John Adams reads a copy of the Mecklenburg Declaration as printed in the Essex Register.
JUNE 22, 1819
Adams sends Thomas Jefferson a letter enclosing a copy of the Mecklenburg Declaration from the Essex Register, noting, “The genuine sense of America at that moment was never expressed so well before, nor since.”
JULY 9, 1819
Jefferson replies to Adams, doubting the authenticity of the Mecklenburg Declaration, writing: “Nor do I affirm, positively, that this paper is a fabrication… But I shall believe it such until positive and solemn proof of its authenticity shall be produced… For the present, I must be an unbeliever in the apocryphal gospel.”Although Jefferson’s specific factual objections are addressed, this begins a historical controversy that has continued unabated to this day.
MAY 20, 1822
The first public commemoration of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is held in Charlotte. Congressman William Davidson states that North Carolina was “First in Liberty” and publishes a pamphlet with recollections of survivors from 1775 attesting to the validity of the Mecklenburg Declaration.
MAY 20, 1825
The fiftieth (50th) Anniversary of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is celebrated in Charlotte.
IN YEAR 1831
In order to settle the controversy begun by Jefferson once and for all, the North Carolina General Assembly adopts a report of a special commission promulgated by the Governor which upholds the authenticity of the Mecklenburg Declaration with sworn attestations from numerous eyewitnesses. Any controversy over whether the Convention of May 20th occurred, appears to have been settled.
MAY 20, 1861
North Carolina secedes from the Union and joins the Confederacy.
MAY 20, 1875
The Centennial celebration of the Mecklenburg Declaration in Charlotte draws 40,000 attendees during a period when Charlotte’s population is only 6,000, and is nationally covered by Harper’s Weekly.
MARCH 11, 1881
The General Assembly of North Carolina declared May 20th as a state holiday on March 11, 1881.
IN THE YEAR 1884
The Firemen’s Monument in Elmwood Cemetery, on 6th St. in Charlotte, was unveiled to the public.
MAY 20, 1898
A monument to the signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration is established in a public ceremony; it now resides behind the old City Hall at 700 East Trade Street.
The American Colonies are in turmoil. Although wide-spread violence has not yet broken out between the colonists and the British, it is clear that the situation is grave. Colonel Thomas Polk, commanding officer of the Mecklenburg County militia (and great-uncle of future President James K. Polk), orders that each militia elect two members to attend a convention at the log Courthouse (in the center of what is now Trade & Tryon Streets) to discuss the crisis. Twenty-six civic leaders attend. In addition to Polk, among the attendees are nine ruling elders of Presbyterian churches and four graduates of what is now Princeton University. According to the surviving notes of J. M. Alexander, Secretary of the Convention, the purpose of the Convention was: “[T]o adopt measures to extricate themselves from the impending storm & to secure unimpaired their inalienable rights, privileges, & liberties from the dominant grasp of British imposition & tyranny.”
MAY 19 – 20, 1775
The Mecklenburg Convention convenes. On May 19, an express rider brings news of a massacre of colonists by British troops at Lexington. The delegates, strongly anti-British in any event, resolve on a course of immediate secession from the British Crown. As one participant recalled: “We smelt and felt the blood & carnage of Lexington, which raised all the passions into fury and revenge.” During that night, in a contentious meeting the Convention draws up, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is unanimously adopted. It is read from the Courthouse steps at noon, May 20, 1775, to the citizens of Mecklenburg County as the first declaration of independence by any civic body in the British colonies.
MAY 31, 1775
Having declared independence, the next step was to establish a new code of governance for the County. A Committee of Safety in Charlotte adopts twenty resolves (now known as the “Mecklenburg Resolves”). They are essentially executive bylaws designed to set forth how the County is to be governed, now that it is independent from Great Britain. Captain James Jack, a local merchant, volunteers to carry all resolutions and new laws to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia where they are delivered to Richard Caswell and William Hooper, two of North Carolina’s delegates to the Continental Congress. They are declared premature by the Delegates, who are contemplating some sort of reconciliation with the British Crown. They send Captain Jack back to Charlotte with a letter of support, but the Delegates do not bring the Mecklenburg Declaration or Mecklenburg Resolves before the Congress.
The Mecklenburg Resolves are published in at least three newspapers: the North-Carolina Gazette(June 16, 1775); the Cape-Fear Mercury (June 23, 1775) and the South Carolina Gazette (June 13, 1775). Although widely read at the time, the Mecklenburg Resolves are forgotten and later regarded as a myth, until historians rediscover them in 1838 and 1847.
JULY 7, 1775
“This afternoon a man from Mecklenburg, who had been sent from there Express to the Congress in Philadelphia, and was not returning, brought a circular, addressed to Mr. Traugott Bagge; it was signed by Hooper, Hewh, and Caswell, and contained an Encouragement to take up arms, etc. He also brought a Call for a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, to be held on July 20th. We will think over these things, and consider what we must do about them.”
(Moravian Minutes, Salem, North Carolina)
JUNE – JULY, 1775
Returning from Philadelphia, Captain Jack stops in Salem, North Carolina, and speaks with Moravian Traugott Bagge, a merchant, about the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. In the German language Moravian archives written in 1783, Bagge writes: “I cannot leave unmentioned at the end of the 1775th year that already in the summer of this year, that is in May, June, or July, the County of Mecklenburg in North Carolina declared itself free and independent of England, and made such arrangements for the administration of the laws among themselves, as later the Continental Congress made for all. This Congress, however, considered the proceedings premature.”
The Moravian archive is not discovered until 1904, establishing demonstrable contemporary evidence of the Mecklenburg Convention. Similarly, in a letter dated
JUNE 27, 1775
A Moravian bishop in Salem, North Carolina, reports to his colleagues in Germany: “We had a quiet and blessed month, although around us the unrest increases. In Mecklenburg County, where they have unseated all Magistrates and put Select Men in their places, they are threatening to force people, and us in particular, to sign a Declaration stating whether we hold with the King or with Boston, but we thinking for the present they are only threats.”
The British respond to treason in Mecklenburg County. In a letter of June 30, 1775 to the British Colonial Secretary, the Earl of Dartmouth, North Carolina Royal Governor Josiah Martin writes: “The Resolves of the Committee of Mecklenburg which your Lordship will find in the enclosed Newspaper, surpass all the horrid and treasonable publications that the inflammatory spirits of this Continent have yet produced, and your Lordship may depend its Authors and Abettors will not escape my due notice whenever my hands are sufficiently strengthened to attempt the recovery of the lost authority of Government. A copy of these Resolves I am informed were sent off by express to the Congress at Philadelphia as soon as they were passed in the Committee.”
In August 1775, from a sloop in the Cape Fear river, Governor Martin formally responds to the people of North Carolina: “I have also seen a most infamous publication in the Cape Fear Mercury importing to be resolves of a set of people stiling themselves a Committee of the County of Mecklenburg most traitorously declaring the entire dissolution of the Laws Government and Constitution of this country and setting up a system of rule and regulation repugnant to the Laws and subversive of His Majesty’s Government…”
Later, Colonel Banastre Tarleton of His Majesty’s British Legion will record in his history of the Revolutionary War, that: “It was evident, and it has been frequently mentioned to the King’s officers, that the counties of Mecklenburg and Rohan [Rowan] were more hostile to England than any other in America.” His overall assessment: “The town [Charlotte] and environs abounded with inveterate enemies.”
APRIL 12, 1776
The Provincial Congress of North Carolina authorizes its delegates in Congress to vote for independence – the first such State to do so.
JULY 4, 1776
The National Declaration of Independence is adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia – fourteen months following the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.