What was the legacy of Revolutionary Thomas Polk?
The American Revolution (1775-1783) began as a protest by American colonists against the tyranny of Great Britain’s King George III. North Carolina was one of thirteen original colonies that participated in the war. Until then, North Carolinians had intense loyalty to Britain. In 1775, North Carolina’s first soldiers joined the Continental Army. In April 1776, the state’s Fourth Provincial Congress passed the Halifax Resolves to support independence. North Carolina representatives presented the Resolves to the Continental Congress on May 27. Within two months, these representatives signed the Declaration of Independence. Although the Charlotte region was still developing, key events occurred in the area. One man’s name appears in historical records of these events alongside General George Washington: Thomas Polk.
Born in Pennsylvania, Thomas Polk later moved to North Carolina as a young man. There he started a family and became popular in the community of Anson County. In 1765, he led settlers in the War on Sugar Creek, a violent movement around disputed property rights. Polk supported the founding of Mecklenburg County and the town of Charlotte. He became a community leader as a justice of the peace, a county commissioner, and the first treasurer. Later, he served as a local militia captain who aided Governor William Tryon against the Regulators, a group of western North Carolinians rebelling against what they believed was unfair taxation and royal governance. In 1772, Polk worked as a surveyor to establish the state boundary between North and South Carolina.
During the Revolutionary War, Thomas Polk worked across North Carolina and the colonies. He influenced public opinion about British rule and helped create the Mecklenburg Resolves of May 1775. The Resolves were a radical set of statements that denied Parliament’s power and gave authority to a Provincial Congress. They also outlined several principles, including that anyone who worked with Britain was an “enemy to his country.” The local militia armed itself to protect the colony from British authority. Thanks to Polk’s leadership, the Resolves inspired similar actions across North Carolina.
Later, Polk became colonel of the Fourth North Carolina Continental Regiment. He led troops to support Washington’s main army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Back in North Carolina, Polk and his troops resisted invading British troops. He often used his own funds to buy supplies. In 1781, General Nathaniel Greene appointed him brigadier general. After the war, voters elected Polk to the Council of State and the Continental Congress. He was also a promoter and trustee for Queen’s College. By 1790, Polk owned lots of land in Mecklenburg County. He was also one of the largest slaveholders, enslaving forty-seven African Americans, which set Polk apart among Charlotte residents as an elite and powerful man. Investing in human property accumulated wealth and privilege for his family at the expense of those enslaved people, and that wealth would be passed onto his descendants. He died in Charlotte in 1794.
Tyranny: cruel and oppressive government or rule.
Continental Congress: assembly of delegates from the North American rebel colonies held during and after the War of American Independence; it issued the Declaration of Independence (1776) and framed the Articles of Confederation (1777).
Disputed: argued or debated over
Justice of the peace: civil officer or judge appointed to hear minor cases, perform marriages, grant licenses, etc., in a town, county, or other local district
County commissioner: member of a U.S. county board overseeing the collection and spending of funds and other affairs of the county
Militia: citizen soldiers typically serving in emergency situations
Governance: how a place or organization is managed
Parliament: lawmaking branch of the British government
Provincial Congress: lawmaking organizations created in 10 of the 13 colonies early in the American Revolution
Principles: general laws or truths
Colonel: military officer below Brigadier General
Brigadier general: military officer ranking above colonel and below major general
Trustee: one or more people appointed to manage the affairs of a company, institution, etc.
Consider the legacy of Revolutionary Thomas Polk. How would you describe it? What impact did he have on Charlotte? On the American Revolution?
First you will establish a possible thesis statement or opinion based on what you have already analyzed in the case study sources. Then, you will collect and evaluate evidence, refining your thesis statement as needed. Your teacher may ask you to work individually or in small groups. Consider what each of the sources says, how each portrays Thomas Polk, and ultimately how the information reflects his legacy. You will use your collected evidence to answer the compelling question in the second part of the assignment.
The second part of the assignment is to design a museum display using materials of your choice that reflects Polk’s legacy and impact on Charlotte and the nation. Prepare a museum label that describes the display’s design and his legacy.