Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives

See one-of-a-kind documents, photographs and other media from the State Archives. 

On Saturday, October 24, 2015, the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh opened an exhibit showcasing treasures — one-of-a-kind documents, photographs and other media — from the State Archives of North Carolina. Rarely on public view, these items are featured in Treasures of Carolina: Stories From the State Archives. This free exhibit highlights ordinary and extraordinary public records, as well as private archival materials, and runs through July 31, 2016.

For example, Treasures of Carolina includes 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 it depicts the Cape Fear River under its original name, “Rio Jordan.”

“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. “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.”

Many items in Treasures of Carolina will be on view throughout the duration of the exhibit. However, some materials in the State Archives are so rare or valuable that they are stored in a vault and exhibited only for a limited time. Several of these documents, such as the 1663 Carolina Charter and North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights, will be featured on specific dates.

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,” adds Koonts.

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. These items will be on view throughout the exhibit’s run.

  • 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.
  • An 1839 petition for United States citizenship, signed by Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born in Siam (now Thailand). They settled in Wilkes County and married sisters. Altogether, the families had 21 children.
  • The hand-drawn map used as evidence during the 1867 trial of Tom Dula, who was indicted and hanged for murdering Laura Foster. Dula’s fate is told in the popular ballad “Tom Dooley.”
  • A Civil War letter from Martha A. E. Henley Poteet to her husband, Francis Marion Poteet, who was away at war. She enclosed a cutout of her 4-week-old daughter’s hand with the request “write to Me what to name her.” The family lived in McDowell County.
  • A 1903 copy of the North Carolina Constitutional Reader. In 1901 rules were enacted to prevent illiterate African Americans from voting, and this book was published to help African Americans read the Constitution in case they were questioned at the polls when trying to vote.
  • Audio recordings of World War I soldiers’ oral histories.
  • The 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote on August 18, 1920, overruling Minor V. Happersett, which ruled that the 14th Amendment had no right to vote. 
  • The 26th Amendment, which gave all American citizens, 18 years or older, the right to vote.

Treasures of Carolina brings history to life for many visitors as they discover items related to one of the state’s most sensational murder trials, Tar Heel soldiers’ World War I experiences, and much more. Treasures of Carolina is sponsored by the Friends of the Archives.

Each week the State Archives highlights an exhibit item and its intriguing history on the blog, so check it out!

The State Archives collects, preserves and makes accessible more than 100 million public records and private archival materials that chronicle North Carolina’s history. Gabriel will reveal some of the characters, the circumstances, and the narrative behind a few items featured in the exhibitTreasures of Carolina.