It’s not Boston’s Freedom Trail, but it’s a start for Charlotte and its proud Revolutionary War history.
After all, it was here that the flames of revolution were fanned by the 560-mile ride of Capt. James Jack. He was Charlotte’s most recognizable Revolutionary War figure who, in the summer of 1775, rode horseback to deliver seditious papers to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Many believe those papers – signed by Charlotte leaders on May 20, 1775 – declared Mecklenburg County’s liberty from England rule, a year before the newly declared country severed ties to the crown.
Five years later, in September 1780, a local militia 150 strong fought at Trade and Tryon streets to hold back 4,000 British troops in what became known as the Battle of Charlotte.
Now workers are finishing Charlotte’s new “Liberty Walk,” placing 104 red granite pavers – with a likeness of Capt. Jack and his horse – along a three-quarter-mile urban path. The pavers are 20 to 30 feet apart, starting at South Tryon Street and The Square. The walk loops onto West Trade Street and then North Church Street, before turning right onto West Fifth Street. After crossing North Tryon, it takes another right onto North College Street and then another onto East Trade – back to The Square.
In all, there are 15 sites, 12 of which have been there for years in the form of plaques and markers that have largely gone unnoticed and unconnected.
“Charlotte has all these Revolutionary War sites, but no one notices them,” said Scott Syfert, a Charlotte lawyer who is vice chair of the May 20th Society, the group that promotes Charlotte’s role in the revolution. “We’re just trying to refocus attention to these sites by linking them together and bringing in a graphic arts component.”
Many sites long gone
The society is spearheading the Liberty Walk with the Arts & Science Council, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, Charlotte Center City Partners and Central Piedmont Community College. The society and CPCC also were responsible for the bronzed statue of Capt. Jack galloping on his horse, unveiled at Kings Drive and 4th Street near the college two years ago.
Since most of Charlotte’s sites are long gone, the society hired historical artist Dan Nance to paint depictions of the sites and tell their stories using bar codes that allow walkers to watch video clips on mobile phones or tablets.
What they’ll hear is a story of Charlotte at a critical time late in the war.
On Sept. 26, 1780, the British led by Gen. Charles Cornwallis entered Charlotte expecting only token resistance. Instead, they found a militia led by Gen. William R. Davie that – under cover of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, then at Trade and Tryon streets – drove back three cavalry charges.
During the battle, Cornwallis called Charlotte a “hornet’s nest” of revolutionary activity.
After the British eventually occupied Charlotte, they targeted Jack and a half-dozen other leaders. They immediately burned Jack’s home, along with the law office of patriotic leader Waightstill Avery, who would become North Carolina’s first attorney general.
Reviving Charlotte history
The idea for the $130,000 Liberty Walk came when Syfert and CPCC President Tony Zeiss were in Boston and walked that city’s 2 1/2 -mile Freedom Trail.
“We both said we need to do this in Charlotte,” Syfert said.
Ultimately, more sites could be added. There is talk of linking the Liberty Walk to the Capt. Jack statue and the planned Trail of History, a series of sculptures of notable Charlotte figures that will line the new public greenway below the statue.
The group wanted to get the project completed by the Democratic National Convention to let visitors know of Charlotte’s colorful history.
“We may not have much left,” Syfert said, “but we do have a history that we can proudly showcase.”