The groundwork of Charlotte's early economy was undoubtedly laid by gold miners and laborers in tobacco and later, cotton fields and mills. But if it was one thing that would ultimately elevate Charlotte above similarly sized towns in the region it was the introduction of the railroad system. This would ultimately give Charlotte a competitive edge in the region that was almost unmatched, connecting it to urban cities in nearly all directions. You're probably familiar with the Morehead name around town... with Morehead Street stretching from its western most point at W. Morehead and Wilkinson Blvd. to its eastern most point at E. Morehead and Queens Road, along with John Motley Morehead Elementary School (renamed Governor's Village STEM Academy) in University Research Park. There's a reason for such dedications.
John Motley Morehead, like many who would come to have a profound impact on Charlotte, was not born in North Carolina. A governor and railroad promoter, he was born in Pittsylvania County, VA, the son of John and Obedience Motley Morehead. The family moved to Rockingham County, N.C., when John Motley was two years old. He was educated by Dr. David Caldwell at his school near Greensboro and at The University of North Carolina, from which he was graduated in 1817. Morehead then studied law with Archibald D. Murphey and was admitted to the bar in 1819. Afterwards he began practicing law in Wentworth, the county seat of Rockingham County.
Morehead soon became involved in local politics and represented Rockingham County in the House of Commons during the 1821 session. After moving to Greensboro and beginning to practice there, he represented Guilford County in the house during the sessions of 1826–27 and 1827–28. His next political involvement was as a delegate to the North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1835, where he ably represented Guilford County's interests in the successful attempt to equalize political representation between the eastern and western counties of the state. This equal representation advocacy was more beneficial to the western part of the state at that time because it had less slaves than eastern North Carolina. In the 1830s Morehead became a promoter of internal improvements, particularly the development of transportation to the western part of the state. His advocacy of this cause made him a leader in the North Carolina Whig party, which strongly supported internal improvements as one of its fundamental tenets. Morehead won the governorship in 1840 and again in 1842, defeating in turn Democratic candidates Romulus M. Saunders and Louis D. Henry. As governor he supported internal improvements legislation, including state aid to railroad development, the building of highways, river and harbor improvements, constructing canals and turnpikes, the new public school system, and the improvement of navigation, but his efforts were thwarted by a Democratic majority (which would be today's Republican Party) in the General Assembly. He did succeed in establishing a school for the deaf in Raleigh to which blind students were later admitted. The successor of this school, now exclusively for the sight impaired, bears his name.
Bust of Governor Morehead Inside the State Capitol
After his two gubernatorial terms, Morehead continued his interest in developing the transportation resources of North Carolina. He helped raise private funds for a railroad line to accompany $2 million finally authorized by the legislature, which became the North Carolina Railroad (NCRR). In 1854, Morehead became the first president and the railroad's terminus was named Morehead City, North Carolina in his honor in 1860. There he promoted the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad and the Western North Carolina Railroad, devoting most of his time in the 1850s to these endeavors. In 1858–59 he reentered politics as Guilford County's representative in the House of Commons, and in 1860–61 he represented the county in the senate. In February 1861 he served as a delegate to the abortive "Peace Conference" held in Washington to stave off a civil war. Morehead resigned from the senate after North Carolina joined the Confederacy and was one of the state's delegates to the Confederate Provisional Congress during 1861–62. This service terminated his formal political career.
On 6 Sept. 1821 he married Ann Eliza Lindsay of Guilford County. They had eight children, including James Turner and Eugene Lindsay. Morehead died at Alum Springs, Rockbridge, VA, and was buried in the yard of the First Presbyterian Church, Greensboro, NC.
To read more about the first railroad to come to Charlotte, check out Fact Friday 29, "The Day That Changed It All."
Until next week!
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Information taken from:
NCpedia.org - "Morehead, John Motley"
Wikipedia.com - "John Motley Morehead"
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass