Opinion Columns & Blogs

December 28, 2008

French explorer sets us straight

The late Jonathan Daniels, longtime editor of The News and Observer of Raleigh, N.C., used to say that the Tar Heel State was a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit. He was referring to North Carolina's proximity to Virginia and South Carolina, of course.

Late in life, Daniels founded The Island Packet, a newspaper on Hilton Head Island, which I served as editor for nine years. Daniels, a history buff who wrote several historical books of his own, would have chuckled to learn the Carolinas he loved don't know where one starts or the other ends.

Charlotte Observer columnist Dan Huntley recently reported that, half-way through its mission, the N.C.-S.C. Boundary Commission can't draw the 400-mile state line with certitude.

I don't know what worries me more: That nearly two centuries after the current boundary was established we don't know exactly where it is, or that the Boundary Commission is asking people to search through attics for old maps that could end the confusion. In this era of satellite photography and GPS devices, it's astonishing that state boundaries could be settled by a long-forgotten deed found in grandmother's chest of drawers.

Huntley quotes retired Winthrop University history professor Louise Pettus as saying a principal source of the uncertainty is that until surveys of 1812-1815, the border was drawn along features such as roads that shifted or disappeared over time.

Border precision is key for many reasons, including eliminating confusion over police and fire jurisdictions.

Also, both states jealously guard their revenue sources. For example, moving the boundary a few hundred feet along the shoreline of Lake Wylie could make a big difference if it's lined with pricey mansions. And, heaven forbid, what if we lost one of our Wal-Marts?

Therefore, in the interest of history, I am compelled to reveal that I possess solid evidence that the existing boundary between York County and Mecklenburg County, N.C., is misplaced.

As proof, I cite the diary of Jean Paul Frontage, a little-known French pioneer who was among the earliest European adventurers to explore this part of the country. This valuable document was given me by the late Bob Carpenter, a highly respected Rock Hill lawyer.

Carpenter was the first to seize on the significance of Frontage's explorations. Every year, Bob and his wife, Carolyn, would throw a party on the occasion of the Frenchman's birthday.

"I realized the significance of Frontage's discoveries," Carpenter once told me, "after I saw a sign for 'Frontage Road' along every interstate highway we drove. I couldn't believe that I had never heard of a man who obviously had blazed trails from the Carolinas to California."

Beyond a doubt, Frontage's diary establishes that the true boundary between the Carolinas is an east-west line parallel to and a few miles north of S.C. 9. Yes, that means all of York County actually is in North Carolina!

Think of the implications.

This resolves the ancient dispute over which state legitimately can claim to be the birthplace of President Andrew Jackson. Old Hickory clearly was a Tar Heel, and North Carolina no longer should be accused of trying to abscond with the Palmetto State's only president.

By becoming part of North Carolina, York County gets the Rev. Billy Graham, Tyler Hansbrough and Richard Petty.

The Charlotte Knights won't have to move; and, with any luck, the Charlotte Bobcats will.

We give up Grand Strand beaches but add the North Carolina Blue Ridge. South Carolina keeps its historic homes along Charleston's Battery; we get the Biltmore House.

York County loses the CSS Hunley but picks up the Wright Brothers and their historic flight at Kitty Hawk.

Overnight our average family income would jump, poverty would decline and our children's SAT scores would increase. We'd be healthier, wealthier and better looking.

Best of all, we'd inherit a governor who believes the unemployed deserve help and children should have health care, and we'd surrender a legislature that will accept any cockamanie notion so long as it's cloaked as a tax cut.

God bless John Paul Frontage.

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