From humble beginnings in October 1783 the North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati has grown to a membership of nearly 500 members, each of whom represents an ancestor who served as a commissioned officer of the Continental Line between April 19, 1775, and September 3, 1783. (Each officer is represented by only one hereditary member.) Three members of the North Carolina Society have served as President General of the national organization. Several members have been elected to other offices in the General Society, including the former North Carolina Society president, William Pless Lunger, who is the Vice President General. Other North Carolinians serve on various Committees at the national level. North Carolina in recent years has consistently led in the percentage of members contributing financially to the General Society.
The North Carolina Society was founded by a group of former officers of the North Carolina Continental line who gathered near Hillsborough on October 23, 1783, in a cabin owned by James Hogg, a Scottish merchant and member of the Hillsborough Committee of Safety. Little remains of the cabin today, but the site is owned by the Society, and the brick remains of its chimney and foundations are protected by a fence erected in 2012.
Some six hundred commissioned officers from North Carolina served in the war. Of this number, 66 contributed one month’s pay to join the Cincinnati. Brigadier General Jethro Summer was elected president, General Thomas Clark vice president, the Rev. Adam Boyd secretary and Lt. Colonel Howard Murfree treasurer. Delegates were elected to represent North Carolina at the meeting of the General Society the following spring, and soon the veterans’ organization and its individual members were exerting a significant influence on post-war North Carolina. Gradually, however, as the Society’s founding members left the state during the western expansion of the United States, many to claim Revolutionary War land grants, its influence diminished until by the turn of the century the Society had become dormant.
In 1896 a small number of descendants of the original members gathered in Raleigh to revive the Society. By the turn of the century the North Carolina Society once again was a constituent part of the national organization. Since that time membership has increased to more than 400, a number exceeded only by the Virginia Society. Meetings are held in the fall and spring at select locations in North Carolina, and at Anderson House in Washington, D.C., headquarters of the national organization. In the fall of 2007, conscious that it lacked a safe location for its records, the North Carolina Society purchased a house on Fairview Road in Raleigh, where small gatherings are held and where the Society’s records are safely stored. Through the generosity of the members, the Society’s headquarters are free and clear of any indebtedness.
North Carolina is one of the few state societies that have their own distinctive Eagles, the insignia of the Society. The North Carolina Eagle was modeled on an original 18th century Eagle manufactured from 1784 to 1791 and sold in Philadelphia and Savannah. North Carolina authorized the issuance of this Eagle in 1904, and a small number were manufactured by a Baltimore jeweler. But in the great Baltimore fire that year the jewelry company was destroyed, along with the original dies for the North Carolina Eagle, only a few copies of which survived. One of these descended in the family of Lewis Castleman Strudwick, who as president of the North Carolina Society in 1998 arranged to have the Eagles reproduced and once again made available to members. Prior to his death, Strudwick gave the prototype of the eagle to the North Carolina Society for use by the president.
The North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati: Renascence and Highlights
Renascence: The 1876 Centennial celebrations sparked interest in lineage and patriotic societies, and this interest led to the resurrection of the defunct state societies and the revival of the General Society. Accordingly, the Rhode Island Society was reborn in 1878, the Virginia Society in 1889, the Connecticut Society in 1890, the Delaware Society in 1895, and the North Carolina Society in 1896.
The effort to revive the North Carolina Society was led by Graham Daves, a New Bern antiquarian, and his older brother Edward G. Daves, professor of Greek at Trinity College, Hartford, who was a member of the Maryland Society. Both brothers conducted research into the North Carolina Continental Line and the defunct North Carolina Society and published their findings, among other places, in the state university magazine. After the death of his older brother, Graham Daves moved to Asheville, where he joined forces with Major Charles Luken Davis, a Pennsylvanian, in calling an organizational meeting to revive the North Carolina Society.
That meeting took place at 10:00 a.m. on Easter Saturday, 4 April 1896, at the State Library in Raleigh. Presiding was John Collins “Jack” Daves of Baltimore, a member of the Maryland Society and son of Professor Edward G. Daves and nephew of Graham Daves, the brothers who had conducted the first research that led to the renascence of the North Carolina Society. Of the thirty-five descendants of Original Members invited to the meeting, thirteen indicated they wished to join and of this number five showed up. The North Carolina Society was declared revived, and all thirteen who had said they wished to join were elected to membership. Wilson Gray Lamb of Williamston was elected president and would serve in that office until his death in 1922. James Iredell McCree was elected secretary and Jack Daves, treasurer. Graham Daves and Major Charles Davis, the two men who sparked the renascence, were elected as the revived Society’s first honorary members, and each member was assessed fifty dollars for the Permanent Fund. Thus was the North Carolina Society regenerated.
In the month of renascence, Major Charles Davis and Captain Henry H. Bellas published the first book on the North Carolina Society, History of the North Carolina Continental Line and Cincinnati (Philadelphia, PA, 1896).
President Lamb has been described as “one of the noblest of the noble—a worthy scion of a knightly race.” Descended from a family long associated with the Albemarle Region of North Carolina, he had served in the Confederacy throughout the Civil War and had afterwards settled in Williamston, where he prospered in lumbering and merchandising. A man of commanding appearance known for his tact and charitable nature, he was an influential figure in state politics. Under the practiced hand of this solicitous gentleman, the revived North Carolina Society would begin to develop the solid foundation on which it exists today.
A discouraging setback occurred a month after the reorganization meeting when President Lamb, his fellow officers, and Graham Daves attended the 1896 Triennial in Philadelphia. There they were told the North Carolina Society’s by-laws and admission rules, which were not yet written, would have to be approved by the Standing Executive Committee before North Carolina could be re-admitted.
While disappointed, President Lamb and his fellow officers and members were undeterred. On arriving home, they set about advancing the nascent Society and preparing it for official recognition at the next Triennial.
In February of the following year, 1897, the Society met in Raleigh to celebrate Washington’s birthday and in July held its first annual meeting in Asheville, for which the first roster was printed. At this first annual meeting, the Society’s by-laws were framed, and two Honorary Members were admitted who would play key roles in developing the society over the next thirty years—the Right Reverend Joseph Blount Cheshire, Jr., of Raleigh, the Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina; and Marshall DeLancey Haywood of Raleigh, librarian at State College and later of the State Supreme Court and a highly capable and prolific North Carolina historian. Cheshire would serve as the revived society’s first chaplain and as General Society chaplain from 1905 to 1917, while Haywood would serve many years as North Carolina’s Assistant Secretary. Also at this meeting, Jack Daves and his uncle Graham presented the North Carolina Society with its first historical artifact, a “beautiful gavel made of live-oak, grown at Fort Raleigh, on Roanoke Island, [and] decorated with silver.”
At its 1898 Washington birthday celebration in Raleigh, the Society adopted a seal and passed a resolution calling for the Society to sponsor historical publications, a resolution whose spirit has led the North Carolina Society over the years to promote and issue numerous scholarly books.
On 6 February 1899, the North Carolina General Assembly ratified the Society’s articles of incorporation, and on 11 May of that year the North Carolina Society was provisionally admitted to the General Society at the Triennial in New York.
On 17 June 1902, the North Carolina Society was formally admitted to the General Society at the Triennial in Hartford, Connecticut.
Highlights: And now some highlights of the North Carolina Society from its renascence to the present:
In 1904, the North Carolina Society arranged with A. H. Fetting Company of Baltimore to produce its own distinctive eagle with a seven-feathered tail, based upon the Georgia eagle which had been modeled on the Jeremiah Andrews eagle, manufactured from 1784 to 1791. Unfortunately, soon after the North Carolina eagle had been commissioned, the die was destroyed in a Baltimore fire, so examples are rare.
The year 1907 saw the publication of the second book on the North Carolina Society— Charles L. Davis’s North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati (Cambridge, MA, 1907).
On 7 May 1913, President Lamb, Vice President Jack Daves, and Assistant Treasurer Bennehan Cameron traveled to Washington and conferred an honorary membership on President Woodrow Wilson, a former North Carolina resident and Davidson College student.
From 9-12 May 1917, the North Carolina Society hosted its first Triennial at Asheville, marking the 134th anniversary of the founding of the Society of the Cincinnati. By the time of the 1917 Triennial, the regenerated North Carolina Society had already become, in its twenty- one-year existence, the largest state society, boasting 139 members. Among these 139 were representatives of every single Original Member.
On 5 May 1932, John Collins “Jack” Daves of Baltimore, by then a hereditary member of the North Carolina Society, was elected the ninth President General at the Triennial in Philadelphia. This courtly, reserved gentleman, who would serve seven years, from 1932 to 1939, was the first Southerner in 107 years to attain that august post. He also served as president of the North Carolina Society from 1922 until his death in 1939.
An important and influential member from 1906 until his death in 1954 was William Eve Bush, an investment banker from Augusta, who helped the Society recover from the doldrums of the twenties and thirties. “Old Bill,” as he was called, insisted upon the exacting genealogical standards for which the North Carolina Society is now known and helped bring about the robust financial condition it now enjoys. As a North Carolina representative on the General Society’s Standing Executive Committee, he also arranged for the North Carolina Society to become a more integral part of the national Society.
On 4 November 1950, the North Carolina Society held its first autumn meeting at Anderson House, a practice it has followed ever since, and in 1954 it awarded honorary membership to Presidential Candidate Adlai Stevenson, whose ancestors came from North Carolina.
The year 1971 was an important one for the North Carolina Society. In that year, it helped publish Hugh F. Rankin’s North Carolina Continentals (Chapel Hill, NC), and on 28-30 April it hosted its second Triennial at Wilmington, with over 200 in attendance. To cap it all off, at the 1971 Triennial, Raleigh attorney Armistead J. Maupin—considered by many to be the member who has done the most for the North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati—was elected the twenty-second President General.
As mentioned earlier, in 1976, with the sponsorship of the North Carolina Society, Curtis Carroll Davis’s informative book Revolution’s Godchild: The Birth, Death, and Regeneration of the Society of the Cincinnati in North Carolina was published. It was the third book on the North Carolina Society in eighty years.
At the 1995 triennial in Boston, North Carolina Cincinnati William Russell “Bill” Raiford was elected Vice President General and at the 1998 Triennial in Charleston was elected President General.
Finally, in 1998, Lewis Castleman Strudwick, in his role as president of the North Carolina Society, arranged for Liberty Jewelry Company of Baltimore to reproduce the 1904 North Carolina eagle, thereby providing North Carolina Society members with a distinctive eagle for the first time in 94 years. This eagle is featured on each of the 2007 Triennial printed items and is complemented in textual items by the Caslon typeface used in the earliest editions of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
The North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati has come a long way since that first meeting in 1896 with only five men in attendance. It has hosted three triennials. It has produced three Presidents General and a respectable number of other general officers and committee chairmen and members. It has regularly supported historic publications and educational projects, such as its recent educational film “First in Victory – First for Independence: North Carolina’s Role in the American Revolution,” indicating that it has never lost sight of its purpose and is well attuned to the General Society’s commitment to education as the Cincinnati’s primary mission. Like those Original Members who helped shape the character of the nascent state and union, its members today hold many leadership roles that enable them to help determine public policy. Its financial condition is remarkably sound; its prospects are bright; and, perhaps most importantly, even though its admission standards are among the strictest, it now stands as the second largest of the fourteen societies with a roster of approximately 450 members.