Most local residents know that Charlotte gained the "hornet's nest" nickname during the American Revolution and that the city played an important role in America's journey to freedom. Most people even know that the Queen City possibly even declared its own freedom a full year before the nation did. Charlotte wasn't just a part of the American Revolution though - it played host to some of the most critical events of it.
So how has the city recognized important American Revolution sites in Charlotte? There were some plaques in the ground, and maybe a stray historical marker, but nothing else. Most visitors or residents walked past these sites without giving them a second thought because there was nothing tying them together; nothing to even mark some sites, and nothing fully explaining the significance of most sites.
You'll see pavers like the one above marking the route. There are 15 sites along the way. If you can't make it Uptown, or you're just curious as to what places are honored (and what they look like today), take a look at our virtual tour of Charlotte's Liberty Walk.
If you're Uptown, use this as a guide from site to site.
The tour starts on S. Tryon Street, between Third Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard in front of Wells Fargo Plaza.
Liberty Hall Monument
In front of Wells Fargo Plaza, you'll find the first stop on the walk. A granite monument is located on the site of what was Liberty Hall Academy, originally known as Queen’s College. It was erected in 1913 by the Daughters of the American Revolution to honor the Trustees of Liberty Hall.
Liberty Hall Academy was built as a classical academy in the late 1700s, with plans to turn it into a college. As the American Revolution escalated, classes were suspended and the building was turned into a hospital for injured American troops, and later British troops. The college would never recover from the war. It would move to Salisbury, and Liberty Hall would reopen as a high school in Charlotte. More about Queen's College can be found at the next site. Head down Tryon towards Third St. for the next marker - the original site of Queen's College. You'll find a marker on the ground in front of Wells Fargo Plaza.
Queen's College began in 1760, as Liberty Hall Academy. Plans were made to convert it into a college. Leaders decided to pay for the college was paid for by a tax of sixpence a gallon on all rum or other "spirituous liquors" brought into the county. England's King George III would not support the college, however, and denied a charter. Since the college wouldn't be under the control of the Church of England, George didn't want an institution "stirring up trouble among people and raising hell about having to pay taxes to England."
The college was now called "Queen's Museum" and operated without a charter. A second request for support from England was made and denied. This refusal severely angered the trustees of the school. How could someone literally thousands of miles away dictate how their lives could be run, and how their children would be educated?
George's fears turned out to be well-founded. It was at the college, some historians believe, that the first discussions were held that led to the adoption of a Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence on May 20, 1775. In that declaration, the rebellious settlers of Charlotte Town renounced once and for all any allegiance to the King of England.
As fighting in the American Revolution escalated, classes were suspended and the building was turned into a hospital for injured American troops. British general Cornwallis eventually took over the building and used it as a hospital for his own injured men. The British expected an easy time in Charlotte Town but found anything but. To hide casualties, dead British soldiers were buried in hidden graves behind the building. After sustaining losses in the area, Cornwallis would flee Charlotte and leave the building almost in ruins. The college would never recover from the war. It would move to Salisbury, and Liberty Hall would reopen as a high school in Charlotte.
Had the college survived the Revolutionary War, Charlotte — not Chapel Hill — would have claimed the nation’s first public university. Instead of still standing as the oldest public institution in the country (as Chapel Hill does today), Queen's College is a footnote in history, showing the determination of early settlers to be free.
The present-day Queen's University in Charlotte has no ties with this school, but it did use the name as inspiration.
Site of British Encampment
From September to October 1780, the British Army was encamped in Charlotte. There were about 4,000 people, including officers, soldiers, loyalists, laborers, sutlers and camp followers. This included a number of slaves who had been promised their freedom if they would run away from their masters and join the British side. The encampment made a square centered on the courthouse, which was at the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets. The marker here sits in what would have been the southernmost part of their camp. Four cannons were set up at the crossroads.
Just past the marker on the ground, there's a historical marker standing near the road.
The Battle of Charlotte
On September 26, 1780, the British army, under the command of General Cornwallis, advanced on Charlotte Town, directly along what is now South Tryon Street. The British expected little or no resistance from the "twenty Houses built on two streets" that crossed at right angles, where a courthouse stood.
The courthouse was supported by 10-foot tall brick pillars. The space under was used as a marketplace. As the British cavalry approached, they were met with musket fire from a small band of American troops that were hiding on the sides of the street and under the courthouse. This was the North Carolina militia (under Colonel William Richardson Davie), the Mecklenburg County mounted militia (under Captain Joseph Graham), and the Lincoln County mounted militia (under Major Joseph Dickson). While they didn't expect to be able to overtake the British, they did want to put up a good fight and cause them as much trouble as possible.
The British cavalry broke, retreated and charged again. But they were again driven back by musket fire. Lord Cornwallis himself rode up and harshly criticized the troops. They advanced again and were surrounding the courthouse when a third volley pushed them back yet again.
The Americans, knowing that they were overwhelmed, retreated up North Tryon Street. The British followed until they reached a muddy creek (about where the Brookshire Expressway is today). They stood their ground, forcing the British to halt and advance on them. After two volleys, the Americans retreated again and continued up the Salisbury Road (now North Tryon Street). They came to a small creek about three miles from town (the site where Historic Rosedale Plantation stands today). The Patriots again took a stand and again forced the British army to halt and advance. Overwhelmed again, the Americans began to retreat.
From this point, the Americans were essentially running for their lives, with both sides mounted on horseback. The British cavalry caught up with the Americans near where Sugar Creek Church is today, and Captain Graham was severely wounded and left for dead. At "Sassafras Fields" (near the UNC Charlotte campus today), several Americans were killed and wounded. When the British reached Mallard Creek, they found the main American army, under General William Lee Davidson, on the other side. It was getting dark, so the British decided to call off the pursuit and returned to Charlotte.
General Cornwallis had vastly underestimated the residents of Charlotte Town, as he expected to move quickly through the area and complete his conquest of the Carolinas. He would have to stop here for a few days to regroup. His men were becoming ill, food was scarce, and he was surrounded by hostile enemies. Two weeks later, he would hear the staggering news of the British defeat at King’s Mountain, and return to South Carolina. The stand taken here prevented Cornwallis from capturing North Carolina and gave time for the Americans to set up Cornwallis' capture in Virginia.
Cornwallis would complain that Charlotte was "an agreeable village, but in a damned rebellious country" and refer to the city as "a veritable hornet’s nest of rebellion." Proud Charlotteans received word, and nicknamed the city “The Hornet’s Nest.”
Continue to the intersection of Trade and Tryon, and you'll see a marker on the ground that designates the next stop.
On May 20, 1775, the citizens of Mecklenburg County became the first in the American colonies to declare themselves free and independent from the king of Great Britain. The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was signed by representatives in the county courthouse, which stood in the middle of the intersection of Trade and Tryon. This declaration preceded the United States Declaration of Independence by more than a year. The complete text of the Mecklenburg Declaration is on a plaque at this site.
A few days later, Captain James Jack was sent to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He carried a copy of the declaration and a letter asking Congress to approve the proceedings. Congress told Jack that they supported what had been done, but it was premature to discuss a declaration of independence in Congress.
The Declaration was first fully published by Dr. Joseph McKnitt Alexander on April 30, 1819, in a Raleigh newspaper. According to Alexander, his father, John McKnitt Alexander, was the clerk at the initial meeting. During the meeting, the delegates received word that battle of Lexington had been fought in Massachusetts, and the British had attacked colonists. The Charlotte delegates were outraged and decided to sever all ties with the crown.
Dr. Alexander said that the original Mecklenburg Declaration was destroyed in a fire in 1800, but his article was written from a "true copy" left to him by his father, who was now deceased.
The "Meck Dec" would be a hotly debated issue in later years, with no absolute proof that it ever existed. There is plenty of evidence pointing to each side, and even Thomas Jefferson weighed in on the issue. He was a skeptic.
Follow the direction of the pavers and turn left on Trade Street. When you cross the intersection, look for the clock and park on your left.
Thomas Polk Park
This park commemorates Colonel Thomas Polk – early settler, surveyor, state legislator, Justice of the Peace, founder of Mecklenburg County and of Charlotte, and a Colonel in the American Continental Army, serving under General Washington, during the Revolution. His house stood diagonally across the street from this park. Two stones in this park give more details of Polk’s life and accomplishments. Other stones tell the early history of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County and are well worth reading.
Continue down Trade Street and look to your right. There's no marker or designation, but there is a large hotel where the next site stood.
While on a tour of the southern states in 1791, President George Washington spent the night of May 28th in Charlotte. He was entertained by Col. Thomas Polk at his house at the square and most likely stayed at Cook’s Inn, which was across the street from this location. When the President departed the next morning, he left behind a box of white wig powder. For many years afterward, Mrs. Cook would put some of this powder on children’s hair telling them to always remember that they had President Washington’s powder on their hair. Washington didn't enjoy his stay in the region, and would later remark that Charlotte was "a trifling place."
Continue down Trade Street until you get to the Church Street intersection. Cross over Church Street, and stop, staying on the left side of Trade. Look for a marker in front of the park.
Captain James Jack Homesite
James Jack was a Captain in the Mecklenburg Militia. He lived here and ran the tavern owned by his father Patrick Jack. When the Mecklenburg Declaration and the Mecklenburg Resolves were signed on May 20 and May 31, 1775, Captain Jack volunteered to ride to Philadelphia and present them to the Continental Congress then meeting there. This was a long and difficult trip and was especially dangerous since the documents he was carrying would be considered treasonous by any British Government Official who found them in his possession. A bronze statue of Captain James Jack, riding off to Philadelphia is located in the Trail of History in Little Sugar Creek Greenway, East of here.
You should see a large church on your right. Cross Trade street, and continue up Church Street (towards the church).
First Presbyterian Church
In 1815, Charlotte town commissioners set aside this piece of land for a town church. The first building was started in 1818 and completed in 1823. It was a non-denominational church, simply known as "The Town Church." Preachers from many Christian denominations preached here from time to time, but most were Presbyterians. The Charlotte Presbyterian congregation began in 1821. In 1835, John Irwin paid off the mortgage and marked the property for the Presbyterian Church. In 1841, the congregation paid off the remaining mortgage and received the title to the property. The burying ground behind the church, now known as Settler’s Cemetery, was also set aside by the city.
Walk past the church until you get to the Fifth Street intersection. There should be a cemetery on your left.
In this cemetery lie the remains of most of the founders and leading citizens of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. It is a public cemetery and is not affiliated with the nearby First Presbyterian Church.
There's a map at the entrance which will help you find the graves of Thomas Polk and his wife Susanna Spratt Polk, the oldest grave in the cemetery (Joel Baldwin, 1776), a memorial to North Carolina Governor Nathaniel Alexander and a memorial to Major General George Graham
On the Fifth Street side of the cemetery, mounted on a wall, is a series of markers that give a short history of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
Exit the cemetery through the Church/Fifth Street intersection (the one you entered), and head up Fifth Street towards Tryon. (You'd be turning right onto Fifth if you're facing the cemetery). There's no marker or designation, so take it in as you go. Just before you get to Tryon, you'll be at the next site.
Line of the American Retreat
Along North Tryon Street, the American militia fought against the entire Southern British Army. Their purpose wasn't necessarily to defeat, but only to delay. Colonel William R. Davie commanded the North Carolina militia cavalry for several months before the British invaded the area. Since his group was just about the only organized one in the area, they were crucial to keeping the British out of North Carolina.
In the Battle of Charlotte, Davie, along with Captain Joseph Graham and the Mecklenburg County mounted militia, defended the courthouse (which stood in the middle of Trade and Tryon streets). After firing repeated volleys and causing the British Cavalry to draw back and take time to regroup, the Americans retreated up the Salisbury Road (today North Tryon Street) past this spot. Farther up the road, they stopped twice to form a defensive line, delaying the British each time. By the time the British reached the main American force eight miles north of town, it was late in the day and they withdrew to Charlotte. The Southern British Army occupied Charlotte for 16 days and then, after hearing of the American victory at King’s Mountain, retreated to South Carolina.
Keep going up Fifth Street, until you hit N. College. You should be able to see a Holiday Inn hotel with a statue in front.
Queen Charlotte Statue
This statue depicts Queen Charlotte in a garden with her dogs. It was funded by a private citizen and sits in front of the Holiday Inn at the intersection of North College and East Fifth streets. Turn right down N. College, back towards Trade Street. Again, there's no marker or plaque, so take in the site as you walk.
Dr. Ephraim Brevard Homesite
At the corner of Trade and College streets is the site of the Ephriam Brevard homesite. He lived here in 1775.
He was actually blind in one eye, but he still went to Princeton, trained as a doctor, and taught at Queen’s College. He married Martha, the daughter of Thomas and Susanna Polk and helped write both the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the Mecklenburg Resolves. He served as an officer and later as a surgeon during the Revolution and was captured at the fall of Charleston in 1780. Since he was an officer, he could choose to be sent home, but he stayed in Charleston to minister to the American prisoners. Because he was constantly around them, he contracted the same fever that killed many of his fellow soldiers. He returned to Mecklenburg where he died shortly after making his will. His wife Martha had died while he was away at war, and his infant daughter, also named Martha, was raised by her grandparents, Thomas and Susanna Polk.
His sister Mary was married to Brigadier General William Lee Davidson, who died at the battle of Cowan’s Ford. Nearby Davidson College is named after him.
Turn right onto Trade Street (back towards the square). Before you get to the square, you'll find a plaque.
Thomas Polk Homesite
On this site stood the home of Colonel Thomas Polk. He was an early settler, a state legislator, a Justice of the Peace, a surveyor, the founder of Mecklenburg County and of Charlotte, and a Colonel in the American Continental Army under General Washington during the Revolution. When the British occupied Charlotte, General Cornwallis used Polk’s house as his headquarters. President George Washington visited Charlotte on May 28, 1791 and was entertained here.
Continue towards the square.
Nathanael Greene Marker
The final spot on the walk is a marker honoring Nathanael Greene.
After the Americans lost at the battle of Camden, General Horatio Gates was relieved of his duties. General George Washington selected Nathanael Greene as the new commander in the south. Although he wouldn't win any significant battles, he would cause British General Cornwallis to move the British Army out of North Carolina and into Virginia, where they would eventually be defeated.
Greene led the southern army on a campaign against the remaining British posts in South Carolina until only Charles Town, S.C. remained. On Dec. 14, 1782, the British abandoned Charles Town and sailed away to the West Indies and to Britain.