I grew up in rural NC. My family had lived in or near Winston-Salem for generations. After high school, I came to UNCC, a young university with a bit of basketball history under its belt. When I arrived, there was no University City. UNCC was a vibrant campus located several miles outside of Charlotte, with only 20% of its student body of 10,000 living on campus. I was one. It truly was our own place. I look at its impressive urban campus today and am both amazed and filled with pride. It offers dozens of post-graduate degrees and, in this 250th year of Mecklenburg, will sport a football team for the first time in its history. We only dreamed of that when I was there.
After graduation, I decided to remain in Charlotte, where I was a pioneer in the big city. This pioneer located a job, built a career, and started a family. Charlotte & Mecklenburg grew. The Hornets played basketball here. The Panthers became a staple for all of us with roots in the Carolinas. Hurricane Hugo put our homes in the dark for days or weeks. International flights became a staple at our airport. We were blanketed with the most snowfall ever--18 inches, in 2004. We hosted the Democratic National Convention. We were making history every day.
Genealogy is my passion. Part of what makes genealogy tick for me is learning about ancestors in the context of the history they experienced. I thought I was a pioneer here, but in the last couple of years, I have learned I was wrong. My 3rd great grandfather worked in the Confederate Naval Yard in Virginia as the Civil War commenced. The Union blockade forced the Naval Yard to abandon its port and to consider other ways of transporting urgently needed materials to the armies in the fields. In those days Charlotte was a tiny town of 2200 people, but with several railroad lines.
The government saw the advantage of transporting goods on those lines and so Charlotte, which has no waterfront, became the Naval Yard for the war's duration. My ancestor brought his wife and family here with the Naval Yard’s move in 1862. They lived here the remainder of their lives and, many years later, my 3rd great grandparents were buried in Elmwood cemetery. They saw the arrival of Civil War and its aftermath. My 2nd great grandmother was one of their 9 children. She was a teenager during the war, and within a few years of its conclusion, she married a handsome soldier from Virginia who had come to Charlotte after the war. Although they moved to Durham and then near Winston-Salem, most of her siblings remained here and so descendants have been in this city since those tense war years.
In another line of my family, my 4th great grandfather signed up with the Continental Army in his hometown in Pennsylvania. It was 1776 and he was 21. After his year's enlistment was up, he re-enlisted for the duration of the war. In 1880 General Washington ordered his unit (and others) to South Carolina because of the British presence in Charleston. A diary entry indicates these soldiers passed down our Tryon Street. His application in the 1800s for a War pension (yes, the young nation paid modest pensions to soldiers who served in the Continental Army) describes his and his unit's movements through Charlotte. Only months after passing through Charlotte, he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Camden and spent the remainder of the Revolution as a prisoner of war at Mount Pleasant in SC. Upon his release, he returned to Mecklenburg County where he married a local girl. They lived the remainder of their lives here, where he was a cooper (barrel-maker) by trade.
It turns out that I'm not a pioneer after all. Generations before me took part in the history of Mecklenburg. Now it's my turn; mine and my sons.