Press release from The Mountain Gateway Museum:
A map used as evidence in the famous 1867 murder trial of Tom Dula, the earliest will known to exist in North Carolina, and audio recordings of World War I soldiers’ oral histories are some of the highlights to be found in Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives, a traveling exhibition set to open Saturday, Sept. 1st, at the Mountain Gateway Museum & Heritage Center in Old Fort.
Featuring a total of 26 rare documents, photographs, and other media from the State Archives’ collection in Raleigh, this free exhibit offers personal, sometimes poignant, insights into some of the people and events significant to North Carolina’s history. The exhibit will run through Friday, Dec. 21.
“Museum visitors will see materials that chronicle the development of North Carolina and tell some of its stories,” said Sarah Koonts, State Archivist and Director of the Division of Archives and Records, who will be the special guest at an exhibit preview and reception for Friends of the Mountain Gateway Museum (FOTMGM) members at 6 p.m. Friday, August 31, at the museum.
“The State Archives preserves many well-known documents, but the stories, personalities, and struggles of individuals, families, and groups are often revealed in everyday items such as letters, photographs, and government documents and registries,” Koonts said.
For example, one of the gems to be found in Treasures of Carolina is a heart-rending letter written by Martha Henley Poteet of McDowell County to her husband and Civil War soldier, Francis, who was away at war. In the letter, Martha asked for her husband’s help in naming their four-week-old daughter. Inside the letter Martha enclosed a cut-out tracing of her baby’s hand.
Another treasure in the exhibit is a hand-drawn map used as evidence at Tom Dula’s 1867 trial for murdering Laura Foster in Wilkes County. A jury convicted Dula of the crime, and he later was hanged. His fate later was told in the popular ballad “Tom Dooley,” which The Kingston Trio made a number-one hit in 1958.
Treasures also features an 1839 petition, handwritten and signed by famous conjoined twins Chang and Eng of Siam (now Thailand), in which they sought to become American citizens and settle in Wilkes County, NC. They were naturalized, married sisters, and eventually fathered 21 children.
In this exhibit, visitors will discover the important role of the State Archives of North Carolina — the state’s memory bank. From parchment documents to digital files, the State Archives collects, preserves and makes accessible over 100 million treasures chronicling the Tar Heel State, past and present.
“We hope visitors will come away with an understanding of the importance of our state archives and state archives across the nation,” Koonts said.
The variety of public records and private manuscript collections in Treasures of Carolina will focus on three themes: providing evidence of civil and property rights, government transparency, and the preservation of North Carolina’s history and culture.
A sampling of the exhibit treasures and their fascinating stories follows.
● The earliest will known to exist in North Carolina, recorded in 1665 by Mary Fortsen. It is unusual because female property owners were extremely rare in the 1600s.
● The oldest item held by the State Archives: the 1584 map “La Florida.” Created under the reign of Phillip II of Spain, the map includes what became North Carolina and depicts the Cape Fear River under its original name, “Rio Jordan.”
● A 1903 copy of the North Carolina Constitutional Reader. In 1901 rules were enacted to prevent illiterate African-Americans from voting. This book was published to help them read the Constitution in case they were questioned at the polls when trying to vote.
For more information about Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives or to learn how to become a member of the Friends of the Mountain Gateway Museum (FOTMGM), contact Mountain Gateway Museum & Heritage Center at 828-668-9259 or visit its website at www.mgmnc.org. Located at 24 Water Street in Old Fort, the museum is open year-round, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free.
For details about the State Archives of North Carolina, go to archives.ncdcr.gov.