“Meck Dec Day,” a holiday in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County that commemorates the signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence on May 20, 1775, was celebrated Sunday by area enthusiasts. Although disputed by historians - and somewhat forgotten by modern Charlotteans - locals still celebrate Mecklenburg’s call for freedom from the British. Some of them do it through a bike ride.
Clad in colorful biking clothes, wearing helmets and armed with water bottles, a group of bike riders gathered at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery on a sweltering hot Sunday afternoon.
These riders weren’t gearing up to go mountain biking, or casually riding one of the city’s many greenways. No, they had a plan and a purpose - to celebrate the ride of Captain James Jack, an event local historian Scott Syfert called a pivotal moment in Charlotte history.
Legend has it that Captain Jack was the South’s Paul Revere.
“He took the Declaration in the summer of 1775 north to Philadelphia, to the second continental congress,” Syfert said. “He rode 450 miles to do that.”
To commemorate that ambitious endeavor, the group did a shorter, 11-mile bike ride through uptown Charlotte. They started at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery - a meetup spot that rider Joe Fortier said was totally intentional. He said in addition to the name of the brewery, OMB also carries a “Captain Jack Pilsner.”
Fortier has lived in Charlotte since 1993, but he said he wouldn’t call himself a Charlottean or a Mecklenburger.
“No, I’m a New Yorker,” Fortier said. “Let’s not get that twisted, but yeah, I live here.”
But he said he does feel a connection to Charlotte’s history and sees the bike ride as a way to connect to Captain Jack.
“If you’re on the same path as him, you’re riding like him in a sense,” Fortier said. “2018 style.”
Alexis Frisinger is also a northern transplant to Charlotte. She’s from Indiana. But unlike Fortier, Frisinger said she identifies as a Mecklenburger. She said she participated in this ride to connect to the city she calls home.
“I think that wherever you live, it’s really important to get to know Charlotte on a micro level,” Frisinger said. “If I’m learning more about Charlotte, then it’s important to know where it came from.”
“This day, the Committee of this county met and passed the following resolves: whereas by an address presented to His Majesty by both Houses of Parliament in February last the American Colonies are declared to be in a state of actual rebellion, we conceive that all laws and commissions confirmed by or derived from the authority of the King and Parliament are annulled and vacated, and the former civil constitution of these colonies for the present wholly suspended.” - exerpt from the Mecklenburg Declaration of 1775
Robert Jack, 75, is a direct descendant of Captain James Jack. He read the first few lines of the Mecklenburg Declaration.
“I’ve been hearing about Captain Jack since I was little,” Jack said. “He makes Paul Revere look like a piker, that’s for sure.”
Jack came from California to participate in the ride for the first time, and to enjoy the beer named after his ancestor. When asked about how his family would tell the story of Captain Jack growing up, he said they’d stick to the history books.
“No need to add any frills, or gilding the lily. What he did was terrific,” Jack said, then added, laughing, “Now, whether he had any pilsners that gave him the courage to make the ride…”
In colonial times, Captain Jack’s hundreds mile-long ride to Philadelphia didn’t have immediate results. It would take over a year for the Continental Congress to draft and sign the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson that would start the American Revolution.
The details around the ride of Captain Jack are largely debated by historians.
“We don’t really know what he did because the records are largely lost,” Syfert, the local historian, said. “We know he did go to Philadelphia and did deliver the Meck Dec to the Continental Congress, but who he met with and how he got there and what he said are lost in historical fog.”
But the blurry details of Captain Jack’s ride didn’t curb the enthusiasm of those commemorating the event on their bikes. Syfert said the air of mystery arguably made it even more fun.
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