A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 10, 2016
North Carolina: Rip Van Winkle State (nickname)

Rip Van Winkle is the famous sleeper in a popular story of that name by author Washington Irving (1783-1859) that appeared in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819). In 1833, William Campbell Preston (1794-1860), a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, dubbed North Carolina the “Rip Van Winkle of the South.” North Carolina was accused of not being up to the times in modernizing its roads and its institutions.

The Baltimore (MD) Gazette explained in 1834:

“The nickname of the Rip Van Winkle State has lately been given to North Carolina, on account of its slow progress in improvement, and the alleged sluggishness and want of enterprise of its population.”

The “Rip Van Winkle State” nickname was popularly used in the 19th century, mostly by other state not North Carolina itself. The nickname was only infrequently used after 1900 and is of historical interest today.


North Carolina History Project
Rip Van Winkle
During the early 1800s, North Carolina acquired a nickname: “the Rip Van Winkle State.” It was named so because more than few considered the state’s economy to be asleep while neighboring states were bustling with production and trade.  In modern politics, the term is used when policy makers oppose or promote certain plans: they want to improve the state’s economy, not take it backward, the argument goes, into its former Rip Van Winkle state.

Nathaniel Macon’s political reputation and voting record contributed to the nickname’s ascription.  The Tar Heel statesman voted against much economic legislation that increased the national government’s power and influence in the economy.  He believed, for instance, that state-government-sponsored roads were constitutional but federal-funded roads were unconstitutional.  As a result, North Carolina accepted only a slim percentage of federal transportation funds during the early 1800s.  Others believed that such political views retarded the state’s economic progress and contributed to its nickname.  Some even suggest that a lingering Maconite suspicion of government is what prevents some North Carolinians from considering all the benefits that government can bestow upon the state.

Wikipedia: Rip Van Winkle
“Rip Van Winkle” is a short story by American author Washington Irving published in 1819 as well as the name of the story’s fictional protagonist. Written while Irving was living in Birmingham, England, it was part of a collection entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Although the story is set in New York’s Catskill Mountains, Irving later admitted, “When I wrote the story, I had never been on the Catskills.”

Wikipedia: William C. Preston
William Campbell Preston (December 27, 1794 – May 22, 1860) was a senator from the United States and a member of the Nullifier, and later Whig Parties. He was also the cousin of William Ballard Preston, William Preston and Angelica Singleton Van Buren.
(...)
He was, however, elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives and served from 1828 to 1834. He was then elected in 1833 as a Nullifier to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy after the resignation of Stephen D. Miller.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
Rip Van Winkle, n.
Etymology:  From a proper name. Etymons: proper name Rip Van Winkle.
< Rip Van Winkle, the name of a character in Washington Irving's Sketch Book (1819–20), an amiable but lazy villager of Dutch descent, who falls asleep after a drinking party, sleeps through the American Revolutionary War, and awakes twenty years later in the United States of America. Compare earlier Rip Van Winkleish adj.
A person who or thing which resembles Rip Van Winkle, esp. in being unfamiliar with prevailing conditions; one who has remained oblivious or antithetical to fundamental social and political changes over an extended period.
1833 Advocate (Shelbyville, Kentucky) 28 Sept. 2/4 Wm. C. Preston, of South Carolina, in one of his furious tirades, applied to the State of North Carolina, the somewhat degrading epithet of ‘the Rip Van Winkle of the South’.
1853 Dickens Bleak House ii. 5 Both the world of fashion and the Court of Chancery are things of precedent and usage; over-sleeping Rip Van Winkles, who have played at strange games through a deal of thundery weather.
1857 Harper’s Mag. Dec. 135/2 This announcement will doubtless take many by surprise, and add another rivet, fastening upon us the sobriquet of the Rip Van Winkle State [i.e. North Carolina].

19 January 1833, Charleston (SC) Courier, pg. 2, col. 4:
[From the Fayetteville (N. C.) Journal.]
(...)
These reflections occurred to us on reading a paragraph, in which we found our good old republican state characterized as the Rip Van Winkle of the South, by one of the nullifying knights of the land of chivalry.

Google Books
14 September 1833, Niles’ Weekly Register, pg. 36, col. 2:
AN ADMIRABLE HIT! Our readers may recollect that Wm. C. Preston, of S. C. in one of bis furious tirades, applied to the state of North Carolina the somewhat degrading epithet of the “Rip Van Winkle of the South.” In an address, lately delivered to the people of Newbern, Mr. Gaston, than whom an abler man exists not in the south, thus replied to the insult: “Better is it,” said he, “to sleep on forever than to awaken to madness and to treason. better is it that we should impersonate the drowsy hero of Washington Irving, than excite the mingled horror and ridicule of mankind, by representing the combined characters of captain Bobadil and Cataline.”
Lynchburg Virginian.

6 March 1834, Alexandria (VA) Gazette, pg. 2, col. 3:
The nickname of the Rip Van Winkle State has lately been given to North Carolina, on account of its slow progress in improvement, and the alleged sluggishness and want of enterprise of its population.
(...)
Balt. Gaz.

Google Books
December 1834, Southern Literary Messenger pg. 137:
Why has North Carolina for example, proverbially styled the Rip Van Winkle of the south, been so blind to her own interests and duty, as not to send her deaf and dumb children to Hartford, instead of erecting an asylum at home?

Google Books
5 August 1843, Supplement to the Courant (Hartford, CT), pg. 128, col. 3:
(State nickname list from the New-York American.—ed.)
North Carolina, Rip Van Winkle.

OCLC WorldCat record
Rip van Winkle : political evolution in North Carolina, 1815-1835
Author: Daniel Miles McFarland
Publisher: 1954.
Dissertation: University of Pennsylvania
Edition/Format: Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript Archival Material : English

OCLC WorldCat record
The “iron horse” comes to Robeson, a county of a “Rip Van Winkle state.”
Author: Eugene McMillan Musselwhite
Publisher: Lumberton, N.C., 1968.
Edition/Format: Print book : English

Posted by Barry Popik
Other ExpressionsOther States • Wednesday, February 10, 2016 • Permalink


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