This Month in New Bern, March 2017

In March 1938, Our State Magazine published an article entitled, “New Bern Has History Month” written by local historian Gertrude Sprague Carraway. According to Ms. Carraway, this was the second year in a row that New Bern was observing “History Month.” What exactly did that entail? An initial program was given at a public meeting of the Board of Alderman on March 1 and other organizations followed suit. Ms. Carraway declared that New Bern was believed to be the first in North Carolina to observe Local History Month, mark historic spots, issue free guide-books and offer guide services.

Here are only some of the thirty-five “firsts” in New Bern researched by Ms. Carraway and memorialized in articles, as well as guide books:

  • First in America to record officially the legal principle that a legislature is limited in power by a Constitution
  • First in America for a provincial convention called and held in defiance of British orders.
  • First revolving gun made here.
  • First in America to celebrate George Washington’s Birthday.
  • First in North Carolina and third in America, after Boston and Philadelphia, in celebrating Independence Day.
  • First incorporated school in North Carolina and second private secondary school in English America to receive a charter.
  • First town to get bequest and start free trade school for orphan girls.
  • First free school for white children in North Carolina.
  • First public schools for Negroes in North Carolina.
  • First printing press, first pamphlet, first newspaper, and first book published in North Carolina.
  • First torpedo put to practical use invented here.
  • First modern naval minesweeper made in State launched here in 1942.
  • First road and first ferry in North Carolina led from New Bern to Bath.
  • First postal service in North Carolina.
  • First post office in State under the Republic.
  • First State officials inaugurated here in Tryon Palace, the first state capital building.
  • First State legislature met here.
  • First large four-faced clock on a building in State, if not in world.
  • First in North Carolina to decorate streets with vari-colored electric lights during the Christmas season.
  • First in North Carolina to observe Local History Month, mark historic spots, issue free guide-books, and offer guide services.

Ms. Carraway was an enormous advocate for historical preservation, not only in New Bern but for other local, State and national areas as well. Born, August 6, 1896, she was a native and lifelong resident of New Bern who received her A.B. degree from UNC at Greensboro and later did graduate work at Columbia University in NY. She was a teacher, journalist, reporter, and Director of Tryon Palace Restoration. She was appointed by every governor in NC to membership on the Executive Board of the State Archives and History. She was the author of over fifty booklets, feature stories and numerous books, including the “Crown of Life,” a history of Christ Episcopal Church in New Bern and “Years of Light,” a book about the history of St. John’s Masonic Lodge #3. Ms. Carraway served as secretary of the Tryon Palace Commission from its inception in 1945 and resigned in 1956 to assume the position of Restoration Director to which she served until her retirement in 1971. She was President General of the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution from 1953 to 1956 and served as editor of the national magazine of the DAR. She was granted honorary lifetime status as President General. She was a member of numerous local, state and national organizations dedicated to history and the arts. She was friends with First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and was instrumental in inspiring President Dwight Eisenhower to declare one week in September as Constitution week. Her biography appeared in Who’s Who in America Who’s Who in America Education and Who’s Who, American Women. The was named “Woman of the Year” in New Bern in 1958 and was honored by state Magazine as the North Carolinian of 1962” and the North Caroliniana Society award in 1982. Ms. Carraway died on May 7, 1993 and is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery. March is now celebrated as Women’s History Month and who better to honor and remember in New Bern than Gertrude Sprague Carraway?

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