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Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives Opens Oct. 24


On Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh will open an exhibit showcasing treasures — one-of-a-kind documents, photographs and other media — from the State Archives of North Carolina. Rarely on public view, these items will be featured in Treasures of Carolina: Stories From the State Archives. This free exhibit will highlight ordinary and extraordinary public records, as well as private archival materials, and it will run through June 19, 2016.

For example, Treasures of Carolina will include the oldest item held by the State Archives: the 1584 map “La Florida” created under the reign of Phillip II of Spain. The map includes what became North Carolina, and it depicts the Cape Fear River under its original name, “Rio Jordan.” 

“Museum visitors will see materials that chronicle the development of North Carolina and tell some of its stories,” said Sarah Koonts, State Archivist and Director of the Division of Archives and Records. “The State Archives preserves many well-known documents, but the stories, personalities and struggles of individuals, families and groups are often revealed in everyday items such as letters, photographs, and government documents and registries.”

Many items in Treasures of Carolina will be on view throughout the duration of the exhibit. However, some materials in the State Archives are so rare or valuable that they are stored in a vault and exhibited only for a limited time. Several of these documents, such as the 1663 Carolina Charter and North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights, will be featured on specific dates. 

Exhibit visitors will discover the important role of the State Archives of North Carolina — the state’s memory bank. From parchment documents to digital files, the State Archives collects, preserves and makes accessible over 100 million treasures chronicling the Tar Heel State, past and present. 

“We hope visitors will come away with an understanding of the importance of our state archives and state archives across the nation,” adds Koonts. 

The variety of public records and private manuscript collections in Treasures of Carolina will focus on three themes: providing evidence of civil and property rights, government transparency, and the preservation of North Carolina’s history and culture.

A sampling of the exhibit treasures and their fascinating stories follows. These items will be on view throughout the exhibit’s run.  

  • The earliest will known to exist in North Carolina, recorded in 1665 by Mary Fortsen. It is unusual because female property owners were extremely rare in the 1600s.
  • An 1839 petition for United States citizenship, signed by Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born in Siam (now Thailand). They settled in Wilkes County and married sisters. Altogether, the families had 21 children.  
  • The hand-drawn map used as evidence during the 1867 trial of Tom Dula, who was indicted and hanged for murdering Laura Foster. Dula’s fate is told in the popular ballad “Tom Dooley.”
  • A Civil War letter from Martha A. E. Henley Poteet to her husband, Francis Marion Poteet, who was away at war. She enclosed a cutout of her 4-week-old daughter’s hand with the request “write to Me what to name her.” The family lived in McDowell County.  
  • A 1903 copy of the North Carolina Constitutional Reader. In 1901 rules were enacted to prevent illiterate African Americans from voting, and this book was published to help African Americans read the Constitution in case they were questioned at the polls when trying to vote.
  • Audio recordings of World War I soldiers’ oral histories.  

These documents will be on exhibit for a limited time only.

  • North Carolina’s official copy of the Bill of Rights – on view Oct. 24 through 27, 2015, and June 15 through 19, 2016. This document was stolen from the State Capitol by a Union soldier following the Civil War. In an FBI sting operation, it was recovered in 2003.
  • 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and James Iredell’s Diary – on view Oct. 28, 2015, through Feb. 7, 2016. North Carolina’s official copy of the 11th Amendment was ratified in 1795. In 1790 James Iredell had been appointed to the first U.S. Supreme Court by George Washington. The Edenton resident, Federalist and attorney wrote several pieces to support ratification of the U.S. Constitution. 
  • 1663 Carolina Charter – on view Feb. 8 through 14, 2016. As a reward for their support, King Charles II of England gave the Province of Carolina to eight subjects known as the Lords Proprietors of Carolina.
  • Famous Signatures – on view Feb. 15 through June 14, 2016. Exhibit visitors will see letters or documents signed by George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein and Buckminster Fuller.  

Treasures of Carolina will bring history to life for many visitors as they discover items related to one of the state’s most sensational murder trials, Tar Heel soldiers’ World War I experiences, and much more. Treasures of Carolina is sponsored by the Friends of the Archives. 

Each week the State Archives will highlight an exhibit item and its intriguing history on the blog, so check it out!

For information about the N.C. Museum of History, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum, call 919-807-7900 or access or follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ or YouTube. For details about the State Archives of North Carolina, go to


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