I’m always on the lookout for something to take the monotony out of a day’s drive along I-95, so I was very excited to discover the town of Halifax, North Carolina. This historic site is just six miles off the interstate near the border of North Carolina and Virginia, has things to explore indoors and out, and is free. The place should be mobbed.
Instead, it was more or less empty when we first visited eight years ago and a brief stop last weekend indicated that things hadn’t changed much, if at all. So I’m going to repost the two articles I wrote in 2006–the first one today (obviously) and the second on Thursday, April 12 when the site holds its annual Halifax Day celebration. It is a great site and deserves more attention.
On our first visit, we arrived just after the Visitor’s Center had shut for the day, but some very thoughtful person had placed detailed maps in a box on the gate so we could take our own walking tour. (They still do this) When we paid a return visit two years later, we were able to view a presentation about the site, tour a small museum and visit some of the outbuildings.
The museum was just the right size to visit with two children who were tempted to use the 18th Century dugout canoe as a skateboard ramp for a stuffed bunny, even though they are old enough to know better. Although the town advertises its political history as the home of the Revolution, most of the exhibits in the museum and other buildings focus on social history — everyday life in the 18th and early 19th centuries. One facet that I found refreshing was the site’s frank acknowledgment of slavery and the treatment of free blacks. The subject is discussed openly but without sensationalism or the attempt to vilify the upper classes that is prevalent at so many other sites these days. Visitors are left to draw their own conclusions.
Halifax is subtly memorialized on the North Carolina flag, which bears the date of April 12, 1776. That is the date of the Halifax Resolution, when the North Carolina Provincial Congress voted to empower their delegates who would be attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to concur with the other colonies’ delegates if they voted for independence. This is taken to mean that North Carolinians, at Halifax, were the first colonists to officially recommend independence from Great Britain. But it actually sounds more like they agreed to second the motion if someone else brought it up first.
Anyway, they’re pretty proud of that resolution, as evidenced by the state flag. And for that reason, I give the museum curators at Halifax a lot of credit for not making the site an overblown rehashing of that historic document. Instead, it is much more interesting, giving information on basic life of local citizens of the period, from what they wore and ate to the situations they faced during the Revolutionary War. In 1781, the British took revenge of sorts against the “birthplace of the Revolution.” Part of Cornwallis’s army occupied the town under the command of the infamous Col. Banastre Tarleton, and the soldiers behaved so badly that Cornwallis had two of them court-martialed and hanged.
I liked Halifax so much that I decided it deserved two articles, so next month I will share pearls of wisdom about 18th Century law and order (the jail) and the high life (the Eagle Tavern). For this month, I will close with a poem that I copied down by George Moses Horton, a slave who lived from 1797 to 1883 and who wrote and published three books of poetry.
“Is it because my skin is so black
That thou shouldst be so dull and slack
And scorn to set me free?
Then let me hasten to the grave,
The only refuge for the slave
Who mourns for liberty.”
A reminder that not every North Carolina resident was able to declare independence in 1776.