Meet Capt. James Jack of Mecklenburg County

“The public houses, taverns, ordinaries, and pothouses in Charlotte were doing a roaring business, as delegates, spectators, and hangers-on seethed through them, men of Loyalist sentiments collecting in the King’s Arms, those of rabidly opposing views in the Blue Boar, with shifting currents of the unallied and undecided eddying to and fro, purling through the Goose and Oyster, Thomas’s ordinary, the Groats, Simon’s, Buchanan’s, Mueller’s, and two or three nameless places that barely qualified as shebeens.”

A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Chapter 83

As a now-Charlottean, I was tickled pink when I reached this chapter and read the date: May 20, 1775. (Read: I squealed out loud in true history nerd ecstasy.) Jamie Fraser and Roger MacKenzie found themselves in Charlotte on what would become a celebrated day in North Carolina history. Meck Dec Day! On that day, local leaders met in Charlotte and signed the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, making Mecklenburg County residents the first colonists to declare independence from the Crown more than a year before THE Declaration of Independence! (Yeah, yeah, there’s some controversy about the existence of this document. But we’ll delve into that later when we explore the declaration further.) For now, let’s focus on Capt. James Jack, a man who is a critical piece of the Meck Dec story, and the sites you can visit in Charlotte to honor this local hero.

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Capt. Jack was Scots-Irish. (No doubt Jamie Fraser would have been able to quickly identify mutual family connections and friends.) His father immigrated to America around 1730 and later settled in Charlotte, where he established a tavern on Trade Street in 1773. Jack assisted his father with tavern operations. You can visit the site where the tavern once stood on West Trade Street near its intersection with South Church Street. (The tavern was burned by Lord General Cornwallis’ forces during the Revolutionary War.)

The tavern was about a block from the courthouse – a log building in the middle of the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets – where the Mecklenburg Declaration and a second document known as the Mecklenburg Resolves were created after Meckenburg County leaders learned that British troops had fired on colonists at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.

Militia leaders tapped Jack to deliver the documents to the North Carolina representatives at the Second Continental Congress. Although A Breath of Snow and Ashes does not mention Jack by name, chapter 83 concludes with an article from Fergus Fraser’s newspaper, L’Oignon-Intelligencer, which noted that a copy of the resolutions was to be “transmitted by express to the President of the Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia, to be laid before that body.”

Jack’s 1,100-mile journey on horseback to Philadelphia and back was a treacherous one thanks to the presence of British troops and the displeasure of North Carolina Royal Governor Josiah Martin (a familiar name to Outlander readers), who had caught wind of the treasonous documents. In a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth, Governor Martin described Mecklenburg County’s resolves as surpassing “all the horrid and treasonable publications that the inflammatory spirits of this Continent have yet produced.”

After you’ve visited the site of the Jack family’s tavern, head down to Elizabeth Park at the corner of Kings Drive and East 4th Street. There you’ll find “The Spirit of Mecklenburg,” a statue of Jack racing by horse to Philadelphia. (Fun fact: A local equestrian modeled as Jack for the sculpture.) This Paul Revere-esque image of Jack is now practically synonymous with the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.

Jack safely arrived in Philadelphia and delivered the documents to the North Carolina delegates. Congress, however, still had hopes of reconciliation with England at that point, so the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and Mecklenburg Resolves went no further. Jack would return home to become a militia leader, serving as a captain throughout the Revolutionary War. Perhaps that means we haven’t heard the last of Capt. Jack in the Outlander series!

21st century fun: Now, finish your Capt. Jack tour by doing as the Charlotteans do. Visit one of our modern day public houses – our local breweries! If you truly want to stay in theme, head down to the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, pull out your copy of A Breath of Snow and Ashes and sip on a pint of Captain Jack. The brewery describes this pilsner as capturing the “rebellious spirit with a subtly assertive hoppiness that complements the beer’s malty backbone.” Sláinte!

Sources and further reading:

Trail of History,” CPCC Television.

Second Coming of a Revolutionary War Patriot,” Journal of the American Revolution.

“Letter from Josiah Martin to William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth,” June 30, 1775. The Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, Volume 10.

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