“Where’s jazz going? I don’t know. Maybe it’s going to hell. You can’t make anything go anywhere. It just happens.” — Thelonious Monk

North Carolinians may be surprised to learn that one of the greatest jazz pianists in the history of music was born in the Tar Heel State.

On October 10th, 1917, Thelonious Monk entered the world in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Monk spent the first five years of his life in a neighborhood known as The Y because of its location next to a railroad junction that ran through the center of the Eastern North Carolina city.

In…


On October 1st, 1864, Rose O’Neal Greenhow drowned near the Cape Fear River while trying to break the Union blockade of North Carolina’s coast. What was this well known political socialite, the friend of presidents, senators, and generals, doing on a Confederate blockade breaker?

Rose Greenhow

The daughter of a slave-holding plantation owner, Greenhow was born on her family’s plantation in Maryland in either 1813 or 1817 — the exact date is disputed. Greenhow’s father was murdered by his valet shortly after her birth. …


“I transferred to my local bus and instructed the driver to let me off at the country road that wound three miles through the piney woods to my mother’s house in Big Easonburg Woods which is a country crossroads outside Rocky Mount.” — Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Jack’s sister’s home in West Mount area of Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Known for his literary experimentation, disdain for modern materialism, and love of traveling, Jack Kerouac was the voice of the Beat Generation. It would surprise many North Carolina natives to learn that Kerouac spent quite a bit of time in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Kerouac made frequent trips to Rocky Mount throughout…


Anyone who has attended American grade school knows that Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was born in a single-room log cabin in Kentucky on February 12, 1809 to Nancy and Thomas Lincoln. Or was he?

It may come as a shock to most of us, but there’s been a debate, of sorts, over Abraham Lincoln’s paternity and place of birth. The speculation and rumors go back, publicly at least, as far as 1899 — less than 35 years after Lincoln’s assassination. …


North Carolina is home to many tongue-twisting and unique placenames. From Lizard Lick to Chocowinity, and to the grammatically vexing Conetoe (which somehow, despite the rules of the English language, isn’t pronounced Cone Toe), the Old North State is chock-full of odd-sounding cities and towns. Let’s take a look at a few of the interesting placenames in the Tar Heel State.

Conetoe Let’s go ahead and get this one out of the way. It’s one of my personal pet peeves. Locals will tell you that the correct pronunciation is along the lines of kuh-neat-uh. If that’s the case, then I…


In the early days of America, stagecoaches were the only viable way to travel from town to town. Basic infrastructure was essentially non-existent. Roads were no more than common trails with rough terrain. Traveling alone by horse was impractical and dangerous. While stagecoaches offered a way for people to commute between cities and towns all along the Eastern Seaboard, a stagecoach journey had its own risks and dangers.

Stagecoaches took their name from the fact that they would run in 10–15 mile stages between main stops. During the colonial era, stagecoaches consisted of wagons with benches and a flat roof…


On August 23, 1784, in what was then the North Carolina counties of Washington, Sullivan, Spencer, and Greene, a group of frontiersmen declared themselves free from the state of North Carolina, establishing their own independent state that would eventually be known as the State of Franklin.

After the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, the United States government faced mounting war debts. In an attempt to offset its own debt, the North Carolina government passed legislation to cede the Western Counties portion of the state to the federal government in April of 1784. The region included nearly 30 million acres between…


A wood engraving of two Algonquian Natives, based upon a watercolor by John White. Courtesy of N.C. Museum of History.

One complication faced by historians researching the history of indigenous Eastern North Carolina peoples is the difficulty in untangling the various tribal and place-names found in the written record.

For example, the English settlers who recorded their encounters with the natives often named the tribes for their primary village or vice versa, while the various tribes identified themselves with other names. The language barrier was also a factor.

This changed, however, when Thomas Harriot successfully translated the Algonquian language. When the initial expedition to explore Roanoke in 1584 returned to England, the explorers brought with them the Croatoan chief Manteo…


By the middle of the 19th century, North Carolina was producing well over 30 million pounds of commercial tobacco thanks to the unique soil of Central and Eastern North Carolina and the development of the bright leaf curing process.

Much of the work on tobacco farms in the US was carried out on the backs of slaves. As chattel slavery grew in the South, so did tobacco production. …


In the first installment of our monthly piece that focuses on the history of small towns in North Carolina, we take a look at the rich heritage of the first incorporated town in the Old North State.

From colonization to Indian wars, rebellion and even swashbuckling pirates, there’s plenty of history behind the little town of Bath. Nestled along the mouth of the Pamlico River in Beaufort County, Bath holds the distinction of being the first formally organized town in North Carolina.

Before the peak of American colonization in the early 18th century, North Carolina lacked a permanent population of…

J. William Denton

J. William Denton is a historian, author, and blogger. His areas of study include ancient and classical history and North Carolina history (BS, MA, Ph.D.)

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