A Trifling Place
8:48 am
Wed February 6, 2013

Charlotte: "A Very Trifling Place" (But Not The Only One)

Credit Library of Congress

WFAE listeners have e-mailed me about how we should probably change the title of this podcast. They find it offensive. One listener says it reminds him of  "small, off-the-beaten path, lonely, dismal, dark places" and surely, surely, it's not Charlotte that President George Washington was talking about. 

Credit Tasnim Shamma

I'm sorry to report that it is. As part of his tour of the South, he was greeted by at least 500 people (many of whom who had fought in the Revolutionary War) who had lined the streets to see him. He stopped for a "gala picnic supper in the yard of Colonel Thomas Polk's home" on the Northeast corner of Trade and Tryon. Here's the text of his diary entry from May 28, 1791: 

     "Saturday 28th. Sett off from Crawfords by 4 Oclock and breakfasting at one Harrisons 18 Miles from it & got into Charlotte, 13 miles further, before 3 oclock. Dined with Genl. Polk and a small party invited by him, at a Table prepared for the purpose.
       It was not, until I had got near Barrs that I had quit the Piney & Sandy lands -- nor until I had got to Crawfords before the Lands took quite a different complexion. Here they began to assume a very rich look. 

      Charlotte is a very trifling place, though the Court of Mecklenburg is held in it. There is a School (called a College) in it at which, at times there has been 50 or 60 boys." 

But guess what? Charlotte’s not alone. Just a month earlier, Washington also described Greenville, NC as “a trifling place.” On April 19, 1791, he writes:  

"I left Tarborough accompanied by some of the most respectable people of the place for a few Miles. Dined at a trifling place called Greenville 25 Miles distant and lodged at one Allans 14 Miles further a very indifferent house without stabling which for the first time since I commenced my Journey were obliged to stand without a cover." 

I was wondering what Washington meant about standing "without a cover".

Did he get rained on that night in Greenville? I sent a message on Twitter to @WarrenBingham who is working on a book about George Washington's Southern Tour of 1791. He responded, "He was referring that his horses had to stay out overnight w/o cover. Usually were stabled/but not unusual in spring in Carolinas/Ga". Thanks, @WarrenBingham! Good to know!

To read more about President Washington's impressions of Charlotte, check out this chapter or Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library's Carolina Room.