The History of Durham North Carolina

The History of Durham North Carolina2018-12-25T05:14:43+00:00

Durham’s history is both interesting and rich, as the location where the city currently sits was a point of important historical events long before the place had the name current maps give it.

Native American History

The city is nicknamed Bull City for Dr. Bartlett Durham, and this happened in the 19th century. However, the history predates even this. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, there were a pair Native American tribes residing and farming in the area. These tribes were both related to the Sioux, and they were the Occaneechi and the Eno. An ancient village of Native Americans called Adshusheer is suspected by historians to have been here. The former Great Indian Trading Path came through Durham. Because of this, there is documented history of Native Americans assisting settlers in establishing Durham in forming sites for settlements, routes for transportation, and even Earth-friendly ways of using local natural resources.

Durham North Carolina was involved in the Civil War

European Colonization

An explorer by the name of John Lawson visited the area of Durham around 1701, chronicling the beauty, even going so far as to coin the phrase “the flower of the Carolinas” to describe the area. Colonists from England, Scotland, and Ireland settled in the area throughout the middle of the 18th century, primarily on land granted by King Charles I to John Carteret, who was the Earl of Granville at the time. These early settlers constructed gristmills, like the one at West Point, and worked the terrain the best they could.

The Revolution

Before the American Revolution took place, well before search engine optimization was even needed, Durham frontiersmen found themselves caught up in the War of Regulators. Legend has it that Loyalists cut the Cornwallis Road in this region to quiet down the rebellion in the year of 1771. Not long after this, a local farmer and shopkeeper named William Johnston served as a member of the Provincial Capital Congress in the year of 1775, as well as forging ammunition for the Revolutionaries and even financially underwriting some of the frontier explorations of Daniel Boone.

The Antebellum Years

The many years between the American Revolution and the Civil War brought a number of sizable plantations to the Durham area, including Leigh, Cameron, and Hardscrabble. Stagville Plantation was the center point of one of the biggest plantation holding across the whole South by 1860. A vast number of African slaves were taken to this area to provide labor. Slave quarters from these plantations had an impact on Southern culture through dance, rituals, music, and crafts. Some African Americans in the area were free men, even at this time, some of them veterans of the Revolutionary War. Dr. Bartless Durham, the city namesake gave land to be used for a railroad station in 1849.

The Civil War

A lack of consensus among farmers and plantation owners meant that North Carolina wound up being the final of the states to secede at the start of the conflict. Durham residents went into combat in a number of North Carolina’s regiments. The largest single surrender of the Civil War’s end took place at Bennett Place, where General Sherman of the North negotiated a deal with General Johnston of the South. This took place two and a half weeks after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

The Tobacco And Mill Era

Once Durham enjoyed a cessation of hostilities, troops of both North and South joined together in celebrations, part of which lead to the discovery of Brightleaf tobacco. This taste was a driving factor in the personal success of Washington Duke, and then his whole family. It generated one of the biggest companies in the world, which included R.J. Reynolds, P. Lorillard, American Tobacco, and Liggett & Meyers. This era of Durham history was fueled by the tobacco boom, leading to other developments such as the globe’s biggest maker of hosiery and the first ever mill to produce denim.

Establishment Of Education

1892 was the year that saw Trinity College pull out of Randolph County in favor of a move to Durham. Julian Carr joined Washington Duke in donating both land and money to help the college find a place to operate. Trinity College grew into Duke University by 1924, thanks to a donation of $40 million by James Buchanan Duke, Washington’s son. 1910 saw the foundation of North Carolina Central University by Dr. James E. Shepard, which was the first liberal arts college across the country that was intended for African Americans and supported by the public government and funds.

African American Entrepreneurs

Following the Civil War, African Americans saw their economics grow because of a combination of factors. These included jobs, ownership of land and businesses, community leaders, and vocational training programs. 1898 was a year of note because John Merrick started up the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Now, it is the country’s oldest and also biggest life insurance company owned by African Americans. M&F Bank started up in 1907 and went on to join the most robust banks in the nation that were both owned and managed by African Americans. A number of other African American establishments wound up close to these two businesses to the point that the Parrish Street area in Durham became nationally known as the Black Wall Street.

The Civil Rights Era

In 1935, Dr. James E. Shepard and C.C. Spaulding organized The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. This is often referenced as helping organize and inspire sit-ins in the Fifties and Sixties. One such sit-in took place at a Woolworth’s counter in nearby Greensboro, prompting national attention and even a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who for the first time advocated nonviolent confrontation as a way to battle unjust segregation laws.

The Research Triangle Park

The Fifties and Sixties also saw the development of what now exists as the planet’s biggest research park with university relations. The namesake of the Triangle region is the Research Triangle Park, carved up from pinelands in and around Durham into a special tax district of the county. The city of Durham has grown to border it on three sides, and in it scientists have come up with things like AZT and AstroTurf, winning Nobel Prizes along the way. Nearly 200 R&D companies work here, employing nearly 40,000 people.