Monday, November 21, 2005

Today in History: November 21

North Carolina

On November 21, 1789, North Carolina ratified the Constitution to become the twelfth state in the Union. The vote came approximately two hundred years after the first white settlers arrived on the fertile Atlantic coastal plain.
Originally inhabited by a number of native tribes, including the Cherokee, North Carolina was the first American territory the English attempted to colonize. Sir Walter Raleigh, for whom the state capital is named, chartered two colonies on the North Carolina coast in the late 1580s, both ending in failure. The demise of one, the "Lost Colony" of Roanoke Island, remains one of the great mysteries of American history.
By the late seventeenth century, several permanent settlements had taken hold in the Carolina territory, which encompassed present-day South Carolina and Tennessee as well. In 1712, North Carolina became a separate colony. It reverted to a royal colony seventeen years later. In April 1776, the colony became the first to instruct its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence from the British crown.
Between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, North Carolina worked to establish its state and local governments. In 1840, it completed the state capitol building in Raleigh, still standing today. In mid-century the state's rural and commercial areas were further connected by construction of a 129 mile wooden plank road, known as a "farmer's railroad," from Fayetteville in the east to Bethania (northwest of Winston-Salem).
Divided on whether to support the North or the South in the Civil War, North Carolina reluctantly seceded from the Union in 1861. To learn more about North Carolina's role during the war, see the Today in History feature on Union General William T. Sherman's victory at Fayetteville.
In the 1930s the Farm Security Administration (FSA) sent some of the nation's finest photographers to North Carolina to document rural life and the adverse effects of the Great Depression.
Man picking cotton
Picking Cotton, Statesville, North Carolina, Marion Post Wolcott, photographer, October 1939.
FSA/OWI Photographs, 1935-1945
FSA/OWI Photographs, 1935-1945 contains hundreds of these images. Search the collection on North Carolina and Vachon to see John Vachon's series on farm life. For Marion Post Wolcott's photographs of cotton and tobacco growers, search on North Carolina and Wolcott. For Jack Delano's images of migrant workers, search on North Carolina and Delano. Browse the state and county index to find more photographs, including Ben Shahn's portrait of Fiddlin' Bill Henseley of Asheville.
Over the past century, North Carolina has grown to become a leader in agriculture and industry. The state's industrial output—mainly textiles, chemicals, electrical equipment, paper and paper products—ranked eighth in the nation in the early 1990s. Tobacco, one of North Carolina's earliest sources of revenue, remains vital to the local economy.

The Alaskan Frontier

Mt. McKinley
Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range, Mt. McKinley National Park, Alaska, 1958.
Taking the Long View, 1851-1991
On November 21, 1942, U.S. Army engineers, working closely with their Canadian counterparts, completed an emergency war measure with the opening of the Alcan Highway, an overland military supply route to the Territory of Alaska. Passing through the Yukon, the more than 1,500-mile roadway connected Dawson Creek, British Columbia with Fairbanks, Alaska and provided Americans and Canadians with an increased sense of security at a time of hostile Japanese activities during World War II.
By June of the following year the Army Signal Corps also completed an aerial version of the Alcan Highway. The Army's weekly publication Yank cited the new 2,000 mile long radio-telephone line, which helped link Washington, D.C. to Alaska, as the longest communication system of its type in the world.
In the 1780s, Russian fur traders became the first European settlers of this land across the Bering Strait from Siberia. Russian influence on native Alaskans is explored in the Library of Congress exhibition In the Beginning Was the Word: The Russian Church and Native Alaskan Cultures.
The Russian-American Company administered Alaska from 1799 until 1867, when Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska for the United States. Congress established The Territory of Alaska in 1912, prompted by the significant gold discoveries of the 1880s and 1890s. California As I Saw It: First Person Narratives, 1849-1900 contains accounts of those seeking fortune and adventure in Alaska. In Wonderland, a travel account published in 1894, New Jersey newspaperman Edward S. Parkinson recorded his impressions of Muir Glacier.
Image of a newspaper photograph of Muir Glacier
Landing at Muir Glacier.
There it was, an immense mountain of ice, moving forward at the rate of about forty feet per day. It looked as if the immense waves of an angry ocean had suddenly become frozen and were waiting for the warm rays of the sun to restore them to life again. At intervals immense pieces would break off and fall into the water, accompanied with a rumbling noise like that of distant thunder. The glacier extends from shore to shore, a distance of four miles, and lifts its pinnacles four hundred feet above the muddy river. It was my fortune to see one of the tallest of these break off and plunge into the river. When it struck, the spray was thrown far above the highest point of the glacier. The roar that accompanied the fall was terrific.

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