This reading illustrates the significant role Thomas Polk played in protecting and defending the Liberty Bell – a famous symbol of the American Revolution. It also illustrates his role in a critical moment in the Revolution: the Continental Army’s winter at Valley Forge in 1777-78. The winter at Valley Forge was severe and deadly for the Army, which was greatly reduced by disease. Still, the worn-out troops maintained faith in and loyalty to the Patriot cause, due in large part to General Washington, who stayed with the Army despite the horrible conditions in the soldiers’ encampment. Ultimately, he led his troops out of Valley Forge more disciplined and spirited than ever.
On September 24, 1777, Mecklenburg County resident Thomas Polk arrived safely in Allentown, Pa., after escorting the Liberty Bell there from Philadelphia.
Born in Pennsylvania, Polk and his family moved to Anson County, before becoming one of the first settlers of Mecklenburg County, and promoting the establishment of Charlotte. He became a prosperous planter and was active in the local and state political scenes. As the American Revolution began to come into full swing, Polk was appointed colonel of a regiment of North Carolina militia. He fought at Brandywine and spent a harsh winter at Valley Forge.
As invading British forces approached Philadelphia in 1777, Polk was tasked with escorting some important items out of the city to avoid capture. The city’s bells—including what was then called the State House Bell and is now known as the Liberty Bell—were included among Polk’s precious cargo so they wouldn’t be melted down by the British to make cannon balls.
After saving what is now one of our nation’s most precious artifacts, Polk continued a successful military career, served on the Council of State and hosted George Washington during his southern tour. He died at his Charlotte home in 1794.
Citation: “Charlotte’s Thomas Polk Saved the Liberty Bell, 1777.” NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, September 24, 2016. https://www.ncdcr.gov/blog/2014/09/24/charlottes-thomas-polk-saved-the-liberty-bell-1777. Accessed 21 August 2023.
- In reading this source, what do you learn about Thomas Polk’s background? In what ways was he influential in the greater-Charlotte region?
- According to this source, what role did Thomas Polk play in supporting the Continental Army’s winter at Valley Forge? Why was this event significant?
- In your opinion, was the Liberty Bell (then, the State House Bell) worth saving from capture? What might this bell have represented or symbolized for members of the Continental Army or Patriots?
Prosperous: successful in material terms; flourishing financially