May 19, 2023 - Culture

A local ESPN writer just published a hilarious new book about Charlotte’s role in American independence

Captain Jack statue along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway off of Kings Drive in Charlotte. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Captain Jack statue along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway off of Kings Drive in Charlotte. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

David Fleming’s curiosity about the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence began more than a decade ago, when he started wondering why the date “May 20, 1775” is emblazoned across the North Carolina state flag.

From there, Fleming, a Davidson resident and ESPN senior writer, fell down a rabbit hole researching the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, or “MeckDec.”

  • This is a declaration of independence from Britain that a group of citizens reportedly signed in Mecklenburg County a year before the better-known U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed (on July 4, 1776).
  • Captain James Jack, who owned a bar in what’s now Uptown, rode from Charlotte on horseback to deliver the MeckDec to the Philadelphia Congressional Congress. But he never received the same kind of accolades as Paul Revere, Fleming notes.

Driving the news: This week, Fleming published a book on the MeckDec called “Who’s Your Founding Father.” The book’s release comes days before May 20, the anniversary of the MeckDec.

  • This is not a dry history book: This is an exploration from one of the state’s most accomplished writers, full of wit, personal musings and astonishment. Throughout it Fleming wears, as he describes it, “MeckDec face” — the kind of reaction one has when learning about Charlotte’s lesser-known but important history.

The big picture: People like to complain about how Charlotte doesn’t have much history to speak of. Fleming hopes to dispel that notion and prove that, in fact, Charlotte’s history is rich and important, and that it should be celebrated.

  • “Why isn’t it (MeckDec) the first thing people think of when they think of Charlotte?” Fleming says. “This is literally the cradle of American independence.”

In researching his book, Fleming stumbled across all kinds of surprising nuggets.

  • For instance, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were, as Fleming describes them, “frenemies.” Adams delighted in realizing that Jefferson allegedly plagiarized parts of the MeckDec when writing the Declaration of Independence.
  • The MeckDec was supposedly thought up in part in a natural spring out in Huntersville, on a piece of property owned by the Alexander family. The spring still exists as a muddy hole off the highway, and Fleming found it with the help of a local church.

MeckDec Day used to be a well-known and celebrated holiday in North Carolina, Fleming says.

  • For years, sitting presidents would come to Charlotte to celebrate the MeckDec anniversary. Among them: Taft, Wilson, Eisenhower and Ford.
  • Public schools in North Carolina used to close on May 20 in observance of MeckDec day.

In the 1980s, however, enthusiasm for the anniversary faded, Fleming tells me. Charlotte busied itself with growing quickly into a “New South” city, complete with a new NBA team.

Yes, but: There’s doubt over the authenticity of the MeckDec because a fire destroyed much of the MeckDec paperwork on the Alexander property in 1800.

What they’re saying:Buy David’s book. It’s awesome. And this is not hyperbole: It will change how you see American history,” local writer and WFAE host Tommy Tomlinson tweeted.

What’s next: Fleming is hosting a book launch event with a signing and release of a MeckDec-inspired honey ale, a collaboration with Lost Worlds Brewing in Cornelius. The launch event takes place Saturday starting at noon.

Courtesy of Hachette Books
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