John Shelton Reed: North Carolina Needs a New Holiday

Barbecue: a Savor the South® cookbook, by John Shelton ReedWe welcome to the blog a guest post by John Shelton Reed, author of Barbecue: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook. Reed’s Barbecue celebrates a southern culinary tradition forged in coals and smoke. Since colonial times Southerners have held barbecues to mark homecomings, reunions, and political campaigns; today barbecue signifies celebration as much as ever. In a lively and amusing style, Reed traces the history of Southern barbecue from its roots in the sixteenth-century Caribbean, showing how this technique of cooking meat established itself in the coastal South and spread inland from there. He discusses how choices of meat, sauce, and cooking methods came to vary from one place to another, reflecting local environments, farming practices, and history.

In previous posts, Reed has shared a surprising cocktail recipe and debunked a mysteriously popular barbecue myth. In today’s post, he calls for a memorial holiday to mark one historic North Carolina barbecue.


North Carolina Needs a New Holiday: Commemorating the Wilmington Barbecue of 1766

It was 250 years ago, in late February of 1766, that the Royal Governor of North Carolina, William Tryon, attempted to win the New Hanover militia’s good will by treating them to a barbecue. He did not succeed: citizens of Wilmington threw the barbecued ox in the river and poured out the beer. (This was not an early expression of North Carolinians’ preference for pork; they were upset about the Stamp Act.) Every schoolchild knows about the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when some rowdy New Englanders threw boxes of tea in Boston harbor to protest a British tax. Yet how many have heard of the Wilmington Barbecue?

Not only was it seven years earlier than the Tea Party, its story is much more colorful. While the Tea Party offers only a pitiful attempt to avoid the blame by dressing up as Mohawk Indians, the Barbecue story involves a stand-off between the local militia and the British Navy, a conflict between the Governor and the courts, a duel to the death, and a suicide by disembowelment. (The earliest known printed account can be found in Francois-Xavier Martin’s History of North Carolina from the Earliest Period, published in 1829, when the events would have been still—if just barely—within living memory.)

So why has the Tea Party had all the press? You need look no further than the title pages of American history textbooks. Until quite recently, nearly all of them were written and published in the Northeast. And the regional disparity in public relations skill persists to this day: Boston has a Tea Party museum entirely devoted to “the event that lead [sic] to an American Revolution!” while the Barbecue has been almost entirely forgotten, even in Wilmington.

We at the Campaign for Real Barbecue ( believe that this anniversary year is a good time to right this injustice. We have urged the North Carolina General Assembly to commemorate this significant episode in the history of North Carolina, and of the United States, by declaring that the last Monday in February will be observed henceforth as “Wilmington Barbecue Day.”

We urge all North Carolinians to write their state representatives and ask them to support this cause. Perhaps you should include a copy of this page so they’ll know what you’re talking about.

John Shelton Reed lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Cofounder of the Campaign for Real Barbecue (, his many books include Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, coauthored with Dale Volberg Reed. His latest, Barbecue: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook, is now available.