The citizens of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, declared independence from Great Britain a full year before the Declaration of Independence was written. The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, originally called the resolution of the citizens of Mecklenburg County, was signed and read aloud on the county courthouse steps on May 20, 1775. This document put Great Britain on notice that we were dissolving “the political bands which have connected us to the Mother country” and declaring ourselves “a free and independent people”. The speed with which this Declaration was written, adopted and signed was apparently driven by reaction to the battles of Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts, where the British had attacked and killed fellow British citizens a month earlier. The resolutions took less than 24 hours to transpire. You can read them here.
Realizing that these resolutions were hastily put together and lacked organization and coherence, a committee was appointed right away to revise them. What came about by May 31st that year was a completely different document which was called the Mecklenburg Resolves. Subsequently, Captain James Jack was sent to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to ask that the proceedings in Mecklenburg County be approved by the Congress. The North Carolina delegation was supportive of the actions taken, but deemed it premature to talk of a declaration of independence in Congress.
After 1819, when the Mecklenburg Declaration was first published (the original having been lost in a fire much earlier), the people of North Carolina began to take a new pride in their part of the American Revolution and gaining independence, despite the controversy over the validity of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. The early NC government maintained that North Carolinians were the first Americans to declare independence from Great Britain. To commemorate that belief, the seal and the flag of North Carolina both bear the date of May 20, 1775. There are two camps on this point – believers and non-believers – however, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence does not attract very much attention from historians these days.
The first “Meck Dec” celebration was held in Charlotte on May 20, 1825. For many years it remained a celebrated state holiday. It continues to be celebrated on The Square (at the corner of Trade and Tryon Streets uptown) each May. You can see last year’s celebration here and here, complete with dignitaries, speeches, re-enactors and cannon fire. You can also read more about the Mecklenburg Declaration at the Mecklenburg Historical Association website. Other activities are planned in celebration as well:
The Mecklenburg Declaration has also been memorialized at the North Davidson underpass at Matheson Avenue. Check out artist William Puckett and photos of his murals on concrete here.
~ Julie Morris ~