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Charlotte’s Trail of History adds statues of a settler and a chief on Friday

From out of the past, two old friends stand together again.

Early Carolinas settler Thomas “Kanawha” Spratt and legendary Catawba Indian Chief King Haigler came from different worlds, but their bond crossed cultural barriers and pointed the way to understanding between Anglicans and Native Americans.

On Friday, life-size bronze statues of the iconic historical figures will be unveiled and dedicated on the Little Sugar Creek Greenway near uptown Charlotte. It will be the second time this year a statue has been dedicated along Charlotte’s Trail of History, a public art project that will feature effigies of famous and lesser-known historical figures from Mecklenburg County’s past.

Backed by a consortium of community leaders and donors, the string of what will eventually be 21 statues will stretch a little more than a mile along the creek from Seventh Street at Central Piedmont Community College south to Morehead Street. All the statues will be turned over to the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department, which will maintain them using endowment money provided by the project’s donors.

The first statue, erected four years ago, depicted Revolutionary War figure Capt. James Jack. Dedicated in May was the figure of Jane Renwick Smedberg Wilkes, who helped found Charlotte’s first hospital in 1876 and also helped create one of the nation’s first hospitals dedicated to African-Americans. Money has already been raised to erect statues for William Henry Belk, Thaddeus Tate and James B. Duke, and the fundraising process has begun for Thomas Polk, the founder of Charlotte, and the Thompson Children’s Home and Training Institute.

Spratt was a fast friend to the Catawbas. He negotiated the leasing of Indian land to other Europeans and fought alongside the Catawbas, earning the nickname “Kanawha” from West Virginia’s Kanawha River, where a battle took place.

King Haigler, chief of the Catawbas from 1749 until his death in 1763, led during a time of unrest and change. Raids and killings by hostile tribes such as the Cherokees, along with the influx of European settlers, challenged the Catawba culture.

The chief cast his lot with the Europeans. He negotiated treaties with both North and South Carolina that guaranteed safety and support for his people, and protection for the setters. King Haigler had an especially close relationship with Spratt. Their statues stand as symbols of a unique friendship in American history.

“I’m glad to see them get the recognition they deserve,” said former U.S. Rep. John Spratt of York, S.C. “King Haigler knew how to build alliances and Thomas Spratt knew how to get people to work together.”

As people walk the greenway and see the statues of his ancestor and the great Catawba chief, John Spratt hopes they’ll want to learn more.

“This is a perfect way to tell their story,” he said. “It’s a chapter of history that ought to be told again and again.”

Money for the Trail of History statues is mostly private, donated by history-minded individuals or entities that have a connection to the figures being depicted. Trail of History Board Chairman Tony Zeiss said the nonprofit raised funds for the Spratt and King Haigler statues, and major donors included Jane Spratt McColl, Agnes Weisiger, John Spratt, Crandall Bowles and Derick Close.

The histories of the Spratt family and Catawbas are intertwined.

The father of Thomas “Kanawha” Spratt, also named Thomas, bought land near present-day Fort Mill, S.C., in 1750 and built two plantations. His son inherited the land in 1757. This property was part of the 225 square miles that North Carolina gave to the Catawbas in 1763. The Catawbas returned part of the land to the Spratts as a gift.

King Haigler was at least 15 to 20 years older than Spratt, and Zeiss sees the chief as more of a mentor to his young settler friend.

Despite the differences in age and background, they connected and made a difference in difficult times.

Zeiss thinks the statues can teach and inspire.

“We’ve had people of different cultures and races across every generation understanding and respecting each other,” said Zeiss, president of Central Piedmont Community College. “It’s about getting along and collaborating. They faced it back then. Thomas Spratt and King Haigler are good examples.”

Statues of the Carolinas settler and Catawba chief stand with a modern Charlotte skyline in the background.

As sculptor Chas Fagan created the two pieces at Carolina Bronze in Seagrove, he felt drawn to a time when Spratt and King Haigler walked the land, before the Queen City’s founding. Growing up in western Pennsylvania and steeped in history of the French and Indian War, he’d heard of King Haigler, a prominent chief on the East Coast.

Researching the two historical figures, Fagan reflected on how Spratt got the nickname Kanawha. While the details of Spratt’s brave acts in battle alongside the Catawbas are unclear, “it had to be something huge for him to be given a Native American name,” said Fagan, who created the Captain Jack statue on the Trail of History.

The depth of the friendship is illustrated by the story he found about how King Haigler came to Spratt with a small Catawba boy orphaned by a smallpox epidemic. Spratt adopted the boy, named Peter Harris, who later became a Patriot hero in the American Revolution. As an old man, he came to Spratt’s grandson and asked to be buried in the family cemetery. The request was granted.

As he worked on the figures, “I felt a personal connection,” Fagan said. “It was like they were two of my friends.”

For him, the statues are “a window into a time period we don’t necessarily see clearly,” Fagan said. “It’s a look into a true lasting friendship. It spans ages, spans community and spans background.”

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