Why is North Carolina called
the "Tar Heel" State?
Carolina is known as the "The Tar Heel" state, a nickname that apparently
originated from comments made during the American Revolutionary War
(18th Century) and in the War Between the States (19th Century).
Revolutionary War Legend
One legend has the nickname being applied to the state's residents as
long ago as the Revolutionary War. According to this story, the troops
of British General Cornwallis were fording what is now known as the
Tar River between Rocky Mount and Battleboro (Eastern North Carolina)
when they discovered that tar had been dumped into the stream to impede
their crossing. When they finally got across the river, they discovered
that their feet were completely black with tar. Their observation was
that anyone who waded North Carolina rivers would acquire "tar heels."
Such was the first reference to the nickname "Tar Heel" state.
War Between the States Legends
Others say the nickname was acquired during the War Between the States.
One tale During one of that war's fiercest battles a column supporting
North Carolina troops was driven from the field. After the battle, the
North Carolinians who had successfully fought it out alone, happened
to meet the regiment which had fled to safety and were greeted with
the question, "Any more tar down in the Old North State, boys?"
"No, not a bit," shot back one of the North Carolina soldiers. "Old
Jeff's bought it all up," he went on, referring to Jefferson Davis,
President of the Confederacy.
"Is that so? What's he going to do with it?"
"He's going to put it on you'ns heels to make you stick better in the
Upon hearing of the incident, Robert E. Lee smiled and said to a fellow
officer, "God bless the Tar Heel boys."
A letter found in 1991 by State Archivist David Olson lends credence
to another more direct theory. A letter from Maj. Joseph Engelhard describes
a fight involving men from North Carolina in which Lee was heard to
have said, "There they stand as if they have tar on their heels." The
letter, dated August 24, 1864, told the tale of a battle on the outskirts
of Petersburg, Va. Engelhard was elected secretary of state for North
Carolina in 1876.
ALSO OF NOTE ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA -
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