Fayetteville, North Carolina, established in 1783, is known today mostly for its Fort Bragg Army Base, but during the post-Revolutionary era Fayetteville was an economic and political juggernaut in North Carolina. Located near the Cape Fear River and “cross creeks”, “Fayetteville was a logical spot for early inland development” (JSL 5). This fact allowed Fayetteville to become the prime commercial trade outlet for both eastern and western Carolina.
As Fayetteville’s economic influence and prospect grew, so did Fayetteville’s political influence and aspiration. Fayetteville hosted the North Carolina Constitutional Convention where on November 21st, 1789, the Constitution was signed. America’s first public college, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was chartered in Fayetteville as well as the “act of cession which led to the formation of Tennessee…” (JSL 10). So when the politicians and public began to ask questions about a permanent location for the states capitol the answer was simple really, Fayetteville. But, as you know, Fayetteville is not the state capitol. However, do you know why?
In post-Revolutionary North Carolina, Fayetteville had the political power but yet did not succeed in their bid at becoming home to North Carolina’s government. Why is this so? Politics is a dirty game. One in which many people, politicians, industries and interests invest stake in and therefore all have a say in what occurs I will explain later how the dirty game of politics led to Raleigh becoming the state capitol.
To better understand why Fayetteville had become the political, economic juggernaut within North Carolina you have to understand Fayetteville’s historical origins. Originally, “Fayetteville was a settlement of a shipload of Highland Scotch near the mouth of Cross Creek in 1736. Cross Creek was so named because it was the resultant of the two creeks which meet in the valley between the western and eastern part of Grove Street” (Oates 1). The Highland Scott’s had stumbled upon fertile soil that was perfect for cultivation because of its location near the river. Its location also made it a viable trade post in North Carolina’s East and West regions.
Early Cumberland County (not yet formed) had begun to prosper due to its merchant trade within the region and “as the number of permanent residents grew, Cumberland County was formed in 1754 from Bladen. The county was named for William, Duke of Cumberland, commander of the British troops that defeated the Scottish Highlanders at the Battle of Culloden” (JSL 5). The first chartered town within Cumberland County was called Campbelltown (est.1762). The Highland Scotts lived in cross creek and as previously discussed their location was more suitable for trading. Cross creek had become more a trading community than Campelltown but the merchants who bartered in Cross Creek lived in the Campbelltown area. Both areas had an economic advantage, uniting to form what is currently Fayetteville.
Oates states that, originally the two regions united to form upper and lower Cambelltown(1780) and in 1778 upper and lower Campbelltown joined to form Campbelltown. In 1783 the name of this town was permanently changed to Fayetteville(159). The name change took place in honor of Marquis de LaFayette, a French Revolutionary War General Hero, who had just visited the town. During the post-Revolutionary War era, counties, townships had begun to name themselves after Revolutionary War heroes. The name change in honor of Marquis de LaFayette was more of a political move and less of a patriotic gesture, another tool in which the city’s governance used to gain political prestige and support. Fayetteville’s name is an example of early American patriotism and showcases how American’s have always supported their troops, and their country but it also showcases, how on the political spectrum it is used to gain support.
Fayetteville fights to become the state capitol
The leaders of the newly independent North Carolina government were faced with the grim challenge of selecting a site in which North Carolina political affairs would be conducted. If chosen wrong, North Carolina’s future could be put into jeopardy. For example, New Bern, which had been the states capitol until the Revolutionary War when, because of its location, had come under enemy British attack. With the British Army laying siege to New Bern North Carolina’s government could not take place within New Bern so relocation was necessary (State Capitol).
The Assembly met in Hillsboro, New Bern, Tarboro, and Fayetteville all before establishing Raleigh as the capitol seat. The Assembly constantly changed locations, with each change brought a new state capitol. How could pivotal legislation be passed if North Carolina’s leaders did not have a permanent place of governance? Politicians asked the same question, and soon began proposing a means to the solution.
The first movement to fix a permanent seat of government[…]began May 8th, 1779, when the Legislature met at Smithfield. It was then agreed that the General Assembly and its offices shall have a “fixed place” in which to “preserve the public records” and tend much to the ease and advantage of the North Carolina’s inhabitants (Battle). In 1787, the Assembly requested that its inhabitants tell their delegates to decide upon a measure in which to fix a permanent seat of government.
The convention met on July 1 and August 2, 1788 in Hillsboro. The convention proved ineffective in ratifying the Constitution (its main purpose) but did however choose Isaac Hunter’s plantation in Wake County as the site of the new state capitol. The Assembly’s decision to choose Isaac Hunter’s plantation dealt a humiliating blow to Fayetteville’s ambitions at becoming the state capitol.
Fayetteville’s residents saw the choosing of Hunter’s plantation as an attack on their superiority. To make what occurred worse is the fact that “Isaac Hunter’s residence was a notable tavern in those days, where liquid refreshments were served” (Battle 3). It seemed to people of Fayetteville, the politicians favored a tavern in which to drink over an urbanized all-American city, a city with a recent history of passing major legislation such as North Carolina’s ratification of the Constitution.
The new proposal sparked immediate outrage, “a protest against the selection of Isaac Hunter’s plantation was drawn up by a delegate from Cumberland and signed by 119 of the 268 delegates to the Convention and entered on the journal” (Battle 3). The delegates had the right to be outraged, as previously stated residents of Fayetteville and Cumberland County felt deceived by not receiving the right to become North Carolina’s state capitol. “Later a committee selected Joel Lane’s plantation and construction of the State House was begun in 1792” (State Capitol). Fayetteville’s opposition to the new measure is the reason it took nearly four years to begin construction of the state capitol. Fayetteville’s immediate response at not becoming the state is evoked by this quote: “Because the establishment of a seat of government in a place unconnected with commerce and where there is at present no town will be attended with a heavy expense to the people and the town when established never can rise above the degree of a village” (Battle).
Although Fayetteville failed in their attempt at becoming the state capitol their political ambitions represented the times. Fayetteville is the example of post-Revolutionary America, an America that was young, vibrant, and free of disillusionment.
This article shows how little we as a people know about our history. Few in North Carolina know that Fayetteville attempted to become the state capitol. When I proposed this topic in my English 102 I Humanities class not a single soul knew of Fayetteville’s attempt to become the state capitol, although one student’s hometown was Fayetteville. Few know the University of North Carolina at Chapel was charted in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Before doing research I did not know this even though I attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The purpose for this article is to solely educate and inspire you the reader by providing historical evidence I obtained through research. I would like to leave you the reader with this quote, in hopes that you may begin to think about the origins and history of your town, county, or country.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
—— George Santayana
Junior Service League of Fayetteville. Historic Fayetteville and Cumberland County, Upper Cape Fear, 1754-1976. Highland Printers Fayetteville, NC. C. 1976. Print.
Battle, Kemp P. Sketches of the Early History of the City of Raleigh : Centennial Address, Fourth of July, 1876. Raleigh [N.C.]: Raleigh News Steam Job Print, 1877. Print.
Oates, John Alexander. The Story of Fayetteville and the Upper Cape Fear. [Fayetteville, N.C.]: Fayetteville Woman’s Club. 1950. Print.
State Capitol. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Archives, and History, 14 06. 2010. Web. <http://www.nchistoricsites.org/capitol/default.htm>.
About the Author
Benjamin Blue is a Freshman UNC Chapel Hill student planning to major in Economics and Global Studies and minor in Chinese and Creative Writing.