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 December 05, 2011
Origin of “Tar Heel” (North Carolina nickname) - summary

Entry in progress—B.P.

Wikipedia: Tar Heel
Tar Heel (or Tarheel) is a nickname applied to the state and inhabitants of North Carolina as well as the nickname of the University of North Carolina athletic teams, students, alumni, and fans.

The exact etymology of the nickname is unknown, but most experts believe its roots come from the fact that tar, pitch and turpentine created from the vast pine forests were one of North Carolina’s most important exports early in the state’s history.

Because the exact history of the term is unknown, a number of legends have developed to explain it. Many believe it to be a nickname given during the U.S. Civil War, because of the state’s importance on the Confederate side, and the fact that the troops “stuck to their ranks like they had tar on their heels”.

The term “Tar Heel” gained popularity during the Civil War.

History of term
In its early years as a colony, North Carolina settlements became an important source of the naval stores tar, pitch, and turpentine especially for the English navy. Tar and pitch were largely used to paint the bottom of wooden British ships in order to both seal the ship and to prevent shipworms from damaging the hull.

At one time, an estimated 100,000 barrels (16,000 m3) of tar and pitch were shipped annually to England. After 1824, North Carolina became the leader in the United States for naval stores. By the Civil War, North Carolina had more than 1600 turpentine distilleries, and two thirds of all turpentine in the United States came from North Carolina and one-half from the counties of Bladen and New Hanover.

Historians Hugh Lefler and Albert Newsome claim in North Carolina: the History of a Southern State (3rd edition, 1973) that North Carolina led the world in production of naval stores, from about 1720 to 1870.

At the time, tar was created by piling up pine logs and burning them until hot oil seeped out from a canal. The vast production of tar from North Carolina led many, including Walt Whitman, to give the derisive nickname of “Tarboilers” to the residents of North Carolina. North Carolina was nicknamed the “Tar and Turpentine State” because of this industry.
(...)
Early known uses of the term
. The earliest surviving written use of the term can be found in the diary of 2nd Lieutenant Jackson B. A. Lowrance who wrote the following on February 6, 1863 while in Pender County in the southeastern North Carolina “I know now what is meant by the Piney Woods of North Carolina and the idea occurs to me that it is no wonder we are called ‘Tar Heels.’”

. After the Battle of Murfreesboro in Tennessee in early January 1863, John S. Preston of Columbia, S.C., the commanding general, rode along the fighting line commending his troops. Before the 60th Regiment from North Carolina, Preston praised them for advancing farther than he had anticipated, concluding with: “This is your first battle of any consequence, I believe. Indeed, you Tar Heels have done well.”

. An August, 1869 article in “Overland Monthly” magazine recounted an anecdote regarding “a brigade of North Carolinians, who, in one of the great battles (Chancellorsville, if I remember correctly) failed to hold a certain hill, and were laughed at by the Mississippians for having forgotten to tar their heels that morning. Hence originated their cant name ‘Tarheels.’”

. In a letter dated from 1864 (in the North Carolina “Tar Heel Collection") a Colonel Joseph Engelhard described the Battle of Ream’s Station in Virginia. In that letter he states: “It was a ‘Tar Heel’ fight, and ... we got Gen’l Lee to thanking God, which you know means something brilliant.”

. North Carolina State Governor Vance said in one of his speeches to the troops: “I do not know what to call you fellows. I cannot say fellow soldiers, because I am not a soldier, nor fellow citizens, because we do not live in this state; so I have concluded to call you fellows Tar Heels”.

. A piece of sheet music, Wearin’ of the Grey, identified as “Written by Tar Heel” and published in Baltimore in 1866, is probably the earliest printed use of Tar Heel.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
tarheel, n.
Forms:  Also Tar Heel, Tar-heel, tar-heel.
Etymology:  < tar n. + heel n.
U.S. colloq.
A nickname for a native or inhabitant of North Carolina, in allusion to tar as a principal product of that State. Also attrib.
1864 R. E. Park Diary 9 Dec. in Southern Hist. Soc. Papers (1876) II. 232 A poor, starving Tar Heel at Elmira.
1869 Overland Monthly Aug. 128/2 A brigade of North Carolinians‥failed to hold a certain hill, and were laughed at by the Mississippians for having forgotten to tar their heels that morning. Hence originated their cant name, ‘Tar-heels’.

9 October 1840, The Mississippian (Jackson, MS), pg. 1, col. 2:
MEADVILLE, Franklin co.
September 26, 1840.
“Dear Sir:  The Old Soldier carries the full swing in this county.  The Democrats are making a clean sweep here in old Franklin, and the log cabin and Tippecanoe Club are running into the ground in our section.  Hard cider and the shaking of coon skins, and the rattling of gourds won’t do, for we wear tar on our heels and drink corn whisky out of a *chunk bottle*—Whiggery can’t win in these diggings.”

22 May 1845, Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), pg. 4, col. 2:
From Cist’s Cincinnati Advertiser.
Fancy Names.

(...)
North Carolina, Tar-boilers, ...

21 October 1846, The Emancipator (New York, NY), “To the Workingmen of Essex” by A. L. Bayley:
There are at this moment at least as many poor whites in the slave states as there are slaves, who are hardly less miserable than the slaves themselves. They have no weight in society, grow up in ignorance, are not permitted to vote and are tolerated as an evil, of which the slaveholder would gladly be rid.  They are never spoken of without some contemptuous epithet.  “Red shanks,” “Tar heels,” &c., are the names by which they are commonly known. The slaveholders look with infinite contempt upon these poor men—a feeling which they cherish for poor men every where.

(American Civil War Letters & Diaries)
Lee, Walter, ?-1865(?). “Letter from Walter Lee, March 29, 1864”
[Page 110 | Paragraph | Section | Document]
in an uproar in less than two minutes after he arose. He said it did not sound right to him to address us as “Fellow Soldiers,” because he was not one of us-- he used to be until he shirked out of the service for a little office down in North Carolina, so now he would address us as “Fellow Tar Heels,” as we always stick. I was in a good place to hear every word that he said, and I don’t think I ever listened to a more able speech of the kind in my life. It was very able and deep, interspersed with anecdotes, illustration of his subject, which kept the men from feeling fatigued. The
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Results Bibliography
Lee, Walter, ?-1865(?), Letter from Walter Lee, March 29, 1864, in Forget-me-nots of the Civil War: a Romance, Containing Reminiscences and Original Letters of Two Confederate Soldiers. Battle, Laura Elizabeth. Press of A. R. Fleming Printing Co., 1909, pp. 355. S1585-D042 [Bibliographic Details] [3-29-1864] LeeWal:L1585-42

24 July 1864, New York (NY) Times, pg. 6:
Life and Manners in the Old North State.
Peculiarities of Tar Heels.

Posted by Barry Popik
Other ExpressionsOrigin of "Tar Heel" (North Carolina nickname) • (0) Comments • Monday, December 05, 2011 • Permalink