Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Wake Wednesday - Declaration of Independence - First Reading in Wake County - What was it like then?

An article from the N&O has haunted me for years. It was about the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in Wake County and what that must have been like.

I saved it. Can't find it now, but every summer at this time I think of it and how it captured my historic fancy those several years ago. So much so, that my young family including my two sons, husband and my father and step-mother made the trek downtown that hot, hot July 4 to tour the Joel Lane house and stand at the Boylan Bridge spot and imagine (despite construction detritus all around) what it must have felt like and sounded on that hill at the first reading in August of 1776.

Well, it haunted me enough to go searching for the article again. After several failed attempts - success!

I must give mad props and a plug to the NC Government and Heritage Library for their library card and the online access it provides. From their site, with my library card to log in, I was able to search the N&O Archives to find the article and I am so pleased. Now it is safely saved to my hard drive so I can pull it out each year and imagine being "in the room where it happened..."

The original reading in Raleigh would have looked very similar
to this reenactment in Aiken,SC in 2019 (source)

"Raleigh hears the Declaration - maybe"

M. Jacobs, C 2006, 'Raleigh hears the Declaration - maybe', News & Observer, The (Raleigh, NC), 30 Jun, p. A15, (online NewsBank).

You may need a subscription or a G&H library card to log in and read the article, but it is so worth it. No telling what else you might find with your card access.

This is my favorite passage from the article and the bit that propelled us down to that historic corner on a hot July afternoon:
In a chapter on the American Revolution, (Charles) Heck recorded that a colony-wide Council of Safety met at Halifax, N.C., on Aug. 1, 1776, and legislated that the citizenry would be "fully informed" about the Declaration of Independence.

He proceeded with "historic license:"

"[W]e have a right to conclude that [Colonel Joel] Lane was the 'Commissioner' or head of the Wake County Committee of Safety and was naturally the man who called the citizens available together before the little courthouse steps and read them as ordered on August 1st, 1776, or thereabouts, the Declaration of Independence."

Emboldened, he continued:

"How the sacredness of this hillside just north of Boylan Bridge [the present southwest corner of South Boylan Avenue and West Hargett streets] has so little been appreciated, the writer cannot understand. There, facing upward toward the crest of the hill where Joel Lane's new house stood, the words as Joel Lane, the political leader of the county, sounded them out in the experienced tone of a speaker, the people heard and the words reflected the words that spelled freedom and a new life to these pioneers and the echo must have resounded back over the fields and trees that covered the land where the city of freedom, so soon was to be born and where years of earnest effort were to make it become the embodiment of all that declaration stood for."
If you venture down to this historic "sacred hillside," I bet you will hear the ghosts of freedom too, 

... But hurry. I hear that development is changing the landscape quickly...

SW corner S. Boylan and West Hargett in Yellow

Happy Independence Day, Wake County.

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