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The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence: Revolutionary Hipsters of Charlotte

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When you think of all the famous stories of the American Revolution, you probably think of rebels tossing tea into the Boston harbor or of the oft discussed battles at Bunker Hill and Lexington and Concord. What you probably don't initially think of is Charlotte, North Carolina. Those who support the legitimacy of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, however, are trying to shift the perception of Charlotte's role in our Revolutionary War.

According to some, you should have Charlotte in the forefront of your mind if you really want to consider some trail-blazing revolutionaries. On this day, May 20, in 1775 some believe that a group of prominent men in the community wrote and signed the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence (colloquially referred to as the MecDec) that declared the area independent from Great Britain.

Now, if your Revolutionary War dates are a little foggy, this would mean that Charlotteans declared independence a full year before John Hancock put quill to paper on July 4, 1776! That would clearly make Charlotte the hipster of American Independence, we were rebelling before it was cool.

Of course, if you've checked out the previous article on Charles Woodmason's impression of Mecklenburg, then you already know Charlotte was a hotbed of Scotch-Irish Presbyterian dissidents. It was, undoubtedly, the fiercely independent nature of Mecklenburg's back country settlers that inspired them to take a much more forward stance on the mounting tensions within the country at this time.

Exactly what actions these back country rebels were inspired to, however, remains the point of controversy. Some argue that the groups of citizens who met from May 19 to May 20, 1775 formed and signed the MecDec after receiving word of the British and American clashes at Lexington and Concord. An original record of this fabled document, however, has not survived. Rather, a purported copy of the original survived and is, largely, the basis for the current claims of veracity.

What has survived, without controversy, is a record of the Mecklenburg Resolves from May 31, 1775. The resolves set out to "provide in some degree for the exigencies of this county in the present alarming period" and reads more like a declaration of independent governance within the county and the organization of rebellion, rather than a full out break-away from Great Britain. While the resolves might not be as mysterious and sexy as the MecDec, both documents give insight into how Charlotte came to later be categorized as a "hornet's nest of rebellion" by General Cornwallis.

Recently, some Charlotte residents have set out to revive the once popular May 20th celebrations that centered around the MecDec. Throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, residents celebrated this day with even more fervor than they did July 4th. Presidents even traveled to Charlotte to celebrate this controversial piece of local history. This year, a parade and celebration is going on downtown, the Charlotte Bobcats have chosen today as the date to officially change back to the Charlotte Hornets, and celebrations will continue at tonight's Charlotte Knight's baseball game.

For information on May 20th events happening around town visit the May 20th Society's website here.

To read up on the documents, the controversy, and the history of Charlotte's rebels visit the Mecklenburg Historical Society site here or the NCPedia entry on the MecDec here.

To listen to a fascinating discussion of the Mecklenburg Declaration, check out today's Charlotte Talks from WFAE featuring an interview with Scott Syferet, Charlotte lawyer and author of The First American Declaration of Independence? The Disputed History of the Mecklenburg Declaration of May 20, 1775.

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