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May 1775, Mayapples, and Maypoles

HEARTS May 1775 was an interesting step back into Mecklenburg County's history to learn more about the small town George Washington called "a trifling place," the muddy crossroads known as Charlotte. In the days leading up to May 20, 1775, the date Mecklenburg County announced the first declaration of independence from the Crown, we explored what life was like for these early settlers.

The Fiddler and Flutist opened to a full house at Cedar Grove with their traditional music from the British Isles. With Sharon Fogarty on various flutes throughout the day, and Glen Alexander on fiddle and guitar, their musical duo was the perfect touch from the start through their finale at the Maypole Dance.

David Fleming, author of Who's Your Founding Father? shared insights from his research into what life was really like in Mecklenburg County in May 1775. He described a wild west of sorts, disconnected from the more populated areas of the State and country. The arrival of Alexander Craighead on the scene tamed some of the behavior and perhaps inflamed others. The tight-knit, predominantly Scots-Irish community of Mecklenburg was frustrated with a distant and unsympathetic government in the days leading up to what is now known as the Meck Dec. The predominantly Scots-Irish community recognized the tyranny they knew all too well in Scotland and Ireland, while others in the country gave it another year for reconciliation.

Kendall Kendrick presented, “What Women Wore: Backcountry Fashion from 1750 to 1800," sharing details on fashion in the various classes during this time, and the realities of what was available in fabric and clothing through the cosmopolitan towns of Philadelphia and Charleston. Her interactive display of women's clothing was featured in the Cedar Grove hallway.

Mayapples and Box Turtles were the focus of this month's eco-minute presented by Abigail Jennings. A group of mayapple plants called a “stand,” is a treat to behold in our local woodlands. All plants in a stand begin from a single root and spread by rhizomes creating large colonies over generations. Although a stand appears to be many individual plants spreading out over a large area, they share a single root system.

Ripe Mayapple fruit has been described as having a tropical taste, a mix between pineapple and Starburst candy.  All other parts of the plant (e.g., rhizomes, leaves, stems, and unripe fruits) are highly toxic. Mayapple has a long history of traditional medicinal use. Native Americans used the mayapple as a powerful laxative, to get rid of intestinal worms, as a wart cure-all, and as an insecticide on crops. Modern pharmacologists and medical researchers have found potential for treating cancer and viral infections.

Jennings shared the unique mutualistic relationship between the Eastern Box Turtle, Terrepene Carolina Carolina, North Carolina's only land turtle, and the mayapple. Scientists have noted that seeds that fall within the mayflower stand, have a much lower germination rate. To create a new stand, the seeds need to travel outside the existing stand, and the Eastern Box Turtle is nature's perfect solution for the mayapple. The ripe fruit hangs from the plant at just the right height, which the turtles relish. Although other creatures enjoy mayapples, scientists have found it’s primarily the seeds distributed by the box turtle that germinate successfully outside the stand. The turtle’s gut provides what the mayapple seeds need to germinate, benefiting the plant through propagating the species.

The Eastern Box Turtle is threatened by vehicular death and loss of habitat due to development. Ways we can help the Box Turtle:

  • Enjoy turtles in nature, not as pets.

  • Do not remove them from their habitat. They have a very small range of territory, and if removed, they may die trying to return home.

  • Box Turtles are not water turtles, do not place them in water, as they will sink and likely drown.

  • If you see one trying to cross the road, help it cross by putting it directly on the side of the road it was aiming for.

Next up, Abigail Jennings shared the history of the Maypole with its roots in ancient spring and summer celebrations, dating back to Germany during the Iron Age (1200 BCE-550 BCE) and also to ancient Rome during the festival of Floralia, which occurred at the same time of year. These customs traveled across Europe by invading forces to the British Isles and later traveled to the New World. The Maypole's popularity has waxed and waned ever since.

HEARTS brought the Maypole back for this event. Created by Randolph Lewis in the traditional manner from a fallen cedar tree found on the site, see below for photos from start to finish on this endeavor. Thank you to all our guests who danced with us at our inaugural Maypole launch. We look forward to bringing the Maypole back each May for more community dancing!

Don't miss May 1775 Part 2 at the Hugh Torance House and Store on May 25th from 11-4, featuring reenactors and house tours. Free to the community, click here for more info and tickets.

Presenting the HEARTS Maypole

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Participating in the Maypole dance was the first time for me; it was fun with the music. Think I needed more practice! Always an educational program with excellent participants. J. Webb

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