Rushville Republican

March 14, 2013

Stuart: Spratt-ically unbelievable history

Don Stuart
Rushville Republican

RUSHVILLE — I think it’s safe to say that the county I live in is quite a bit older than the county you live in. I live in Mecklenburg County, N.C., which, throughout 2013, is celebrating its 250th anniversary of officially existing.

I just hollered at my No. 4 son (age 15) to do the math on how long ago 250 years was, and he just hollered back that, in a delightful coincidence, it was the last year that I actually made a humorous observation in my weekly column.  

A 250th anniversary is known as a “sestercentennial.” Or a “Quarter-millennial.” Or a “Semiquincentennial.” Or a “Bicenquinquagenary.” I like the last one best, mainly because it will drive (The Republican’s ) spell-check absolutely insane.

The first act of Mecklenburg County government is supposed to have taken place Feb. 26, 1763. A court was held in what the official bicenquinquagenary website calls a “ramshackle cabin,” owned by a guy named Thomas Spratt. The first official act of the county government was a filibuster by Thomas against his wife’s sequestration of the family’s stock of “lean,” a big problem for Spratt, as everyone who lived in the county knew that he could eat no fat.

Incidentally, the name “Mecklenburg” came from the birthplace of the reigning Queen of England at the time, Charlotte, wife of King George III. Charlotte was from Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a small north German duchy. Charlotte was queen for a total of 57 years and 70 days, a period of time also known as a “bicharlottequinquagenary.”

There’s a statue of Queen Charlotte prominently located at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and many more statues can be visited on the Mecklenburg County “Trail of History.” Close your eyes and let me take you on a “verbal” tour of the stirring depictions of prominent Mecklenburgians.

On second thought, I guess you’ll have to keep your eyes open after all, or you won’t be able to, you know, read the verbal tour.

We start with “Spirit of Mecklenburg,” a statue of a small fixed-wing airplane flown from Charlotte to Philadelphia by a guy named James Jack in the spring of 1775.

Kidding! About the airplane part anyway. The James Jack and the journey to Philly and the 1775 bits are all true.

The story goes that, May 20, 1775, having learned about the Battle of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, a band of Mecklenburg County patriots wrote up the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, also known as the MecDec. Really.

If all this is true, then Mecklenburg County was the very first locale in all the thirteen British Colonies to declare independence.

As for the statue, it shows James Jack, a local tavern owner now known to history as Captain Jack, galloping along on a horse on his journey to Philadelphia to deliver the MecDec to the Continental Congress. He did this a few weeks after the MecDec was signed, having spent every night in-between in his tavern stoking up on plenty of, ummm, “no-afraid,” let’s call it, to gird himself for the perilous trip.

This leads us to the statue of Thomas Polk, a guy so interwoven into the early days of Mecklenburg County and the war for independence, that he’s practically the Forrest Gump of early American history.

He was one of the earliest settlers in Mecklenburg Count, married to the former Susannah Spratt. He was in the Colonial Assembly, he was a militia leader, and he was the one who called the May 20, 1775 meeting that produced the MecDec.

His biography on the Mecklenburg bicenquinquagenary website also says that, in 1777, as the British were converging on Philadelphia, he led the detachment that moved important artifacts and material out of the city to keep them from falling into the Redcoats’ hands – and among the things he helped spirit away was the Liberty Bell. Although if you imagine that hefty bell literally falling into the Redcoats’ hands, you could envision several Redcoats no longer having hands, right?

To top it all off, when George Washington – as in “Father of Our Country” and all that – visited Charlotte in 1791, he dined at the home of Thomas Polk. Unfortunately, Polk’s wife Susannah invited some of her Spratt relatives to the party, including Thomas, who got into the now locally-famous “Spratt spat” – a tiff with George Washington over who would get the last piece of lean.



Contact: TakefiveT5@yahoo.com