Those unaffiliated with Charlotte often look at the shiny new buildings in Uptown or absence of an “Olde Towne” district and bemoan the lack of history in the area. This is a mistake. While the built environment of Uptown admittedly doesn’t transport you back to colonial times, the claim that Charlotte lacks interesting history is completely untrue.
The intersection of Trade and Tryon was the crucible for arguably the biggest controversy in the history of North Carolina, a controversy that carries major implications on a national scale as well*.
I am of course referring to the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, commonly known as the “MeckDec.” The MeckDec is a controversial document that was purportedly signed in what is now Uptown Charlotte on May 20, 1775. As you hopefully know, that’s well over a year before the United States Declaration of Independence.
That’s a big deal, since it means Charlotteans were the first group of people in the New World to declare independence from British rule. That fact alone would be reason enough to care about the MeckDec, but there are plenty of other reasons as well. With May 20 right around the corner, let’s remind ourselves why “MeckDec Day” is so important in our city:
The MeckDec Controversy has been around since 1831 and still exists to this day
You know those National Treasure movies where Nic Cage traipses about the East Coast piecing together clues to solve some historical mystery? Well, that actually happened with the MeckDec, and the mystery continues still today!
The controversy is this: After the MeckDec was signed, Captain James Jack (who owned a tavern where King’s Kitchen is today) rode to Philadelphia to present it to the Continental Congress and make the declaration of independence official. However, at that time the Congress was debating and approving a petition to King George (our own Queen Charlotte’s husband!) asking for reconciliation.
So the ideas of the MeckDec were shelved for less aggressive declarations and the document was forgotten about outside of Mecklenburg County for many years. The original copies of the document have never been recovered and are thought to have been lost in a fire.
For decades the legend was accepted as fact in North Carolina, but in 1831 an investigation of the document was published that questioned its existence. But wait! Just when it seemed that the MeckDec was Mythbusted, text was found in 1838 that confirmed the Mecklenburg Resolves (documents with less-revolutionary language written just days after the MeckDec) were printed in newspapers in 1775 after sitting undiscovered for years. If those were just lying around, wouldn’t it stand to reason the MeckDec could as well?
So much intrigue! Crack the case, Benjamin Gates!
It explains a lot of the art you see around town
Have you seen the mural under the Matheson Bridge in NoDa with a bunch of folks milling about in colonial garb? How about the guy on the horse near Little Sugar Creek Greenway on 4th Street and Kings just outside of Uptown? Both of those Charlotte icons are steeped in MeckDec lore.
The Matheson Bridge mural was painted by Will Puckett in 2012 after it was conceived by NoDaRioty, the NoDa Neighborhood Association’s arts committee and funded through grants from the city and Arts and Sciences Council. It depicts the legend and characters of the MeckDec story in a series of images.
The guy on the horse statue’s proper name is “The Spirit of Mecklenburg” and it depicts Captain James Jack riding to Philadelphia with the MeckDec carefully tucked away in his saddle bag. The statue was dedicated in 2010 and was made possible by the May 20th Society.
It’s commemorated on the State flag of North Carolina
Bet you never noticed this before. Check out the date on the top banner there. May 20th, 1775. That’s MeckDec day, homeboy. This is the same flag that North Carolina General Assembly members from all around the state look at as they pass legislation to try to stick it to the Great State of Mecklenburg. Joke’s on them, we’ve got a history of bold action in the face of oppression from afar.
It’s Charlotte’s “Patriot Day,” and we should make it that way
Every year in Boston, the third Monday in April is a civic holiday known as “Patriot Day.” All government offices are closed and the city essentially shuts down to celebrate. The Red Sox always play a home game that starts before noon and of course there’s the running of the Boston Marathon.
I can think of no reason Charlotte shouldn’t have a similar celebration associated with MeckDec day where schools, businesses, and government offices are closed in order to give people time to celebrate the day with their families in the beautiful late May weather and focus on our civic pride. Regardless of if the document exists, MeckDec lore is unique to Charlotte and has played a major role in the city’s history.
If this idea intrigues you, let’s kick this thing off, grassroots-style. Rather than petition the leadership of the city to hear our idea, let’s take matters into our own hands and dedicate our time this May 20 to serving our community. Through word of mouth we can create a critical mass of Charlotteans giving back with their time and show the leadership of the city that MeckDec Day is our day to celebrate. I’ll be at Second Harvest Food Bank with the Charlotte Podcast and would love to have you join the crew.
There are a ton of great events
At one time in Charlotte’s history, the annual celebration of MeckDec Day was a bigger celebration than July 4th. After all, why celebrate the silver medal when you can celebrate the gold? In fact, four sitting presidents visited Charlotte for the MeckDec Day festivities (Taft, Wilson, Eisenhower, and Ford if you’re scoring at home).
Presidential visit or no, there’s plenty of MeckDec-themed celebrating to be had this year, with everything from reenactments to trivia to sporting events to volunteer opportunities. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something to celebrate the greatest day on Charlotte’s calendar:
Friday, May 20, noon – Independence Square – May 20th Society MeckDec Commemoration
This event put on by the May 20th Society will feature historical reenactments and readings, revolutionary segwalloons (which rule), and a cannon-firing
Friday, May 20, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. – Volunteer at Second Harvest with The Charlotte Podcast
As I mentioned above, the Charlotte Podcast is hosting a volunteer event at Second Harvest (sign up here), but what really matters is that you spend some time during this day giving back to the community. If you can’t make the volunteer event, meet up at Unknown Brewing starting at 5 p.m. to hang out and share your love of all things Charlotte
Friday, May 20, all day – Olde Mecklenburg Brewing – MeckDec Day Celebration
Celebrate Meck Deck Day at OMB with a nice cold pint of Capt. James Jack Pilsner — named after the heroic Charlottean that rode the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress in Philly in 1775. They’ll also have live music and trivia from the May 20th Society
Saturday, May 21, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – Charlotte Museum of History
Make your own MeckDec book, create crafts, take a tour of the Hezekiah Alexander Home Site (a signer of the MeckDec and Mecklenburg Resolves), and attend a presentation on the Southern Campaign of the Revolution. Please register here in advance
Saturday, May 21, 6:06 p.m. – MeckDec Day at the Ball Park – BB&T BallPark in Uptown
Join the May 20th Society, the Charlotte Museum of History, and their Young Affiliates Society at BB&T Ballpark as the Charlotte Knights take on the Gwinnett Braves
Saturday, May 21, 7 p.m. – MeckDec Celebration at the Charlotte Independence – Ramblewood Stadium
Cheer on the Charlotte Independence as they face off with FC Cincinnati at Ramblewood Stadium for the second leg of the Queen City Cup Challenge. Celebrate MeckDec Day during the game with Charlotte trivia and prizes from The Charlotte Museum of History and the May 20th Society
For more information on the MeckDec story, check out some of my favorite online sources:
- Charlotte Museum of History
- The May 20th Society
- Mecklenburg Historical Association
- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission
- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Libraries
Cover image courtesy of the Mecklenburg Historical Association