After devoting nearly half a century to the study of North Carolina history, I have, with the publication of the Encyclopedia of North Carolina, been afforded the opportunity to review what I have learned. Without doubt, North Carolina has changed dramatically during my lifetime in the areas of urbanization, population growth, technology, economy and industry, race relations, and ethnic and cultural diversity. In 2006 the state is as likely to be noted by those living in other regions of the country for its prominence in banking and finance as for the quality of its pork barbecue, for its many successful residential developments in cities and suburbs as for its beautiful countryside, and for its role in the information technology industry as for its tobacco farms and agricultural products. Historians have a growing number of subjects to occupy them, as today's evolving issues cast new light on events of the past.
Yet, despite all of these changes, many things in North Carolina have remained the same. The state that I have known my whole life continues to be a place where a small-town attitude prevails. People work hard at their jobs. Parents remain devoted to nurturing and educating their children. Neighbors and co-workers still take an interest in each others' lives. In times of need, no people on earth are more generous than North Carolinians—whether they have lived here for generations or have recently relocated here from other places. Even with all the exciting opportunities and pursuits and entertainments of modern-day life, the North Carolina of previous generations has never really been lost.
The Encyclopedia of North Carolina is a means by which all of us can view our state in its entirety and perhaps plan a future based on a better understanding of our common history. I think the need for such a book first came to me when I was newly out of the army at the end of World War II and happily employed as the researcher on the staff of the North Carolina Department of Archives and History in Raleigh. It was my responsibility to reply to requests for information on historical, geographical, and biographical subjects. I spoke to many people who sought information about North Carolina and wanted definitive answers to a variety of questions—some of which were quite simple and easily answered, but others of which could be resolved only through research, experience, or long pondering.
The need for a ready source of information arranged in an easy-to-use form began to intrigue me. Years later, through the work of many hundreds of people, that idea has taken shape as the Encyclopedia of North Carolina—a comprehensive reference work designed to capture the distinctive historical and cultural personality of the Tar Heel State. I have envisioned this encyclopedia as the final installment of a series of three works, the first two being the North Carolina Gazetteer (1968) and the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (six volumes, 1979-96). The Gazetteer provides information on some 20,000 of the state's places, including counties and towns, lakes, mountains, and other named places or natural features. The Dictionary of North Carolina Biography contains more than 3,500 articles on the lives of significant North Carolinians and others born outside the state who played important roles in its history. I wanted the Encyclopedia of North Carolina to be both a completely new document and an extension of these previous works.
With the support of many friends and colleagues as well as the University of North Carolina Press, I began to work in earnest on the encyclopedia in the early 1990s. During the initial stages of the project, I prepared a list of more than 3,500 topics that I believed would be important and interesting to a wide range of people. I sent the list to fellow historians, specialists in various fields, librarians, teachers, politicians, members of local historical societies, and many others, asking them to comment on the topics. Many of these people added subjects to the list that had not occurred to me, while others suggested removing certain subjects. As work progressed, the evolving list was sent to writers, requesting their collaboration. Looking back now on the more than 560 authors—academics, professional writers, and amateur historians motivated solely by lifelong interest—who volunteered to contribute without compensation, I am still amazed by the cooperative spirit of people who seized on the opportunity to tell the state's stories. In keeping with that spirit, I am pleased to think of this as our encyclopedia rather than my encyclopedia.
As the number of completed articles increased, many editorial decisions were made with the goal of creating a factual, balanced, and useful book that would suit the needs of its intended audience—indeed, the needs of anyone interested in North Carolina's past and present. Over time, the realization grew that not all of the several thousand subjects could be included in individual articles. Faced with limited space and a practically endless list of noteworthy historic homes, cemeteries, schools, towns, academies, businesses, artistic groups, and other institutions—all arguably important and dear to many North Carolinians—we were constantly confronted with the daunting task of reviewing which of these subjects would merit individual articles in the encyclopedia, which would be mentioned within related articles, and which would be left out altogether. In some cases it became editorially necessary to condense or revise multiple articles into a single piece.
Regrettably, we also faced the difficult decision of omitting some articles after they had been commissioned and completed. Finally, recent events and new historical findings made it necessary to update and expand articles on a number of topics that were originally completed earlier in the project's development. My colleagues and I have done all that is humanly possible to bring fairness and good judgment to this challenging editorial process. We benefited immensely during this process from the wisdom of expert scholars, anonymous peer reviewers, and other advisers who carefully considered not only articles themselves but also the underlying questions of how best to represent a seemingly infinite body of knowledge in a finite space.
I believe that we—contributors and editors—have succeeded in making the Encyclopedia of North Carolina a comprehensive work representing all that is essential in understanding the formation and modern characteristics of the Tar Heel State. The scope of the subjects covered is perhaps the encyclopedia's most exciting feature. Never before have the entire history and culture of North Carolina been so thoroughly and skillfully explained in a single volume. The encyclopedia features information on practically every aspect of the state, including its discovery, exploration, and settlement; the national and ethnic origins of its people; politics and government; military history; the judiciary; education; religion; recreation and sports; business and industry; fine and folk art; customs and manners; agriculture; language and literature; transportation; geology; the natural environment; and legends and folklore.
Readers will find answers to thousands of North Carolina-related questions, both serious and amusing, in the encyclopedia. What happened to the once-thriving Carolina parakeet? Why are there so many Scottish place-names in the southeastern section of the state? Who were the Exodusters? What role did women play in the Regulator Movement? Why is the North Carolina coastline nicknamed the "Graveyard of the Atlantic"? What famous inventions were made by North Carolinians? Which North Carolina governor boxed naked with members of his council and a visiting South Carolina dignitary? Which local festival celebrates the attributes of mules? What Durham native is known as the "First Lady of Gospel"? When was electricity first made widely available to rural families? Which now-prosperous North Carolina city did George Washington call a "trifling place" while traveling through the state? What are North Carolina's largest American Indian tribes? How many state flags has North Carolina officially flown? Why have North Carolinians at various times in history battled over inoculations, ticks, moonshine, oysters, and pork barbecue?
There are articles on some topics that have never appeared in a work of this kind and stand as curious footnotes to North Carolina history. These include peculiar events, groups, and cultural oddities, as well as esoteric subjects such as field names, pseudonyms, and reported sightings of angels. Some supposedly factual statements, formerly accepted as reliable, have been explained and rejected, including the belief that rock walls in Rowan County were built by prehistoric men; that Napoleon's Marshal Ney escaped a firing squad and came to North Carolina; and that residents of Mecklenburg County declared independence from England in 1775.
Of course, in a work of this size—and despite the strict attention and multiple layers of editorial review every article in the encyclopedia has received—factual errors may on occasion be found. The editors accept responsibility for any errors and welcome correspondence concerning possible corrections that may need to be made. It should also be said that I myself regret that certain subjects were not able to be included in the book, and I expect some readers will be similarly disappointed that a particular topic has been left out. To those, I pledge our intention to enhance and improve the information offered here, insofar as may be possible, through future work.
In summary, I hope and believe that the Encyclopedia of North Carolina as it has evolved is a resource in which anyone connected with the state might take pride, a reference anyone might find fascinating and informative. The encyclopedia stands ready to serve the North Carolina historian, teacher, student, government worker, journalist, librarian, farmer, businessperson, and any other who desires to explore, in whole or in part, the history of the state. Those outside its borders will perhaps come to understand through the encyclopedia's articles why natives and residents appreciate their state so much, readily finding the significance, beauty, and vitality of North Carolina within these pages. Undoubtedly, the encyclopedia will be a good starting place for research about the state for many years to come.
William S. Powell