Matthews, Monroe, Wingate, Marshville, Wadesboro, Rockingham, Hamlet
Go back in time from contemporary Charlotte to the era when cotton was king and agricultural life was dominant in the southernmost part of North Carolina. This rural landscape comes alive in the poetry and prose of a surprising crop of writers.
Writers with a connection to this area: Daniel Bailey, Joseph Bathanti, Jonathan Daniels, Virginia DeBerry, Donna Grant, Jaki Shelton Green, Langston Hughes, Mary Kratt, John Lawson, Sharyn McCrumb, Lawrence Naumoff, Louis D. Rubin Jr., Gene Stowe, Timothy Tyson, Alice Walker, Carole Boston Weatherford, Tom Wicker and Robert F. Williams.
Whenever I push my shovel deep into my Carolina red-clay
garden, I wonder what lies hidden. Usually I find
only cutworms, roots, a stone; but just when I forget to
be watchful, my hoe clinks against metal: a harness ring
from a plow horse long ago, a pale green medicine bottle,
a white shard of china with a faint wisp of blue design.
Since we bought this knoll and field five years ago, I have
grown accustomed to the knowledge of other women who
have worked this earth and lived in a house on the foundation
stones that still lie beneath the great oaks. Great grandmother
was born here. These pieces of their lives
waited like fragments of a message from these and other
southern women and men who knew and now rest from
the freedom and tyranny of the land.
I live on the edge of a shiny New South city that is far
more concerned with its modern image than with history.
The question is, “How do we look? How fast are we suc-
ceeding?” Rarely do I hear, “Who are we and where did we come from?
How did we make this journey?”
—From “Finding the Pieces,” in The Only Thing I Fear Is a Cow and a Drunken Man, by Mary Kratt (Durham: Carolina Wren Press, 1991), vii.
Charlotte’s suburban growth follows us as we head east. Begin by heading southeast on U.S. 74, which in Charlotte is known as East Independence Boulevard. Before leaving Mecklenburg County, you’ll pass through the burgeoning community of Matthews, originally called Stumptown for the remnants of trees that studded the landscape as farmers began clearing the land for cotton planting in the early 1800s.
Matthews today is an affluent bedroom community with a quaint downtown (off 74 to the right on Sam Newell Road). Matthews is also home to regional mystery writer Daniel Bailey, who worked for many years as chief deputy sheriff of Mecklenburg County before his appointment as sheriff in 2008. Bailey oversees the largest sheriff’s jurisdiction between Washington and Atlanta, which makes his second career as a mystery writer rather remarkable. His first two novels, set in South Carolina, are Justice Betrayed and Execute the Office.
Beyond Matthews, Highway 74 crosses into Union County and passes through the town of Indian Trail. The Waxhaw Indians originally occupied this area and built sturdy lodges and farmed an expanse of land that stretched from south of Charlotte as far west as Monroe. In the 18th century, British explorer John Lawson traversed this area on his survey of the Carolina interior and wrote enthusiastically in his journal about how well the Waxhaw people lived. Unfortunately, it would take only two decades for the Waxhaw people to be nearly wiped out by contact with European settlers who brought smallpox and other diseases with them to the Carolinas.
This area also lays claim to two U.S. presidents: James K. Polk, who was born in Mecklenburg County near Pineville, and Andrew Jackson, whose birthplace is disputed. He was born either near Waxhaw in Union County or just across the state line, in South Carolina.
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