Charlotte and the Hornets Nest Historical Marker
This uniquely first-person historical marker on the edge of Charlotte's Old Settler Cemetery shares the story behind Charlotte's association with the phrase "hornet's nest." The symbol of a hornet's nest appears on city seals and is ubiquitous in the city's lore as the phrase dates back to the American Revolution when Patriot forces frustrated the army of British General Cornwallis leading to officers referring to the area as "a hornet's nest of resistance" to British control.
This marker can be found next to several others at the Old Settler's Cemetery
Backstory and Context
Charlotte was of vital importance during the American Revolution as it lay directly on the route the invading British army took, which is now Tryon Street. On 26 September 1780 General Cornwallis found himself pitted against a greatly outnumbered but disorganized assortment of North Carolina Patriots, commanded by General William Lee Davidson. Davidson ordered most of his force to retreat, and sent a detachment, under Col. William R. Davie, to delay Cornwallis at Charlotte, little more than a place of about 20 homes, two streets, at the intersection of the courthouse, present-day Trade and Tryon Streets.
British cavalry formed a line about 300 yards from Davie's men and charged. The Patriots held their fire until the cavalrymen were about 60 yards away. The musket fire stunned the British. Pulling back, Davie's men repelled two more charges. The British continued pressing, Davie moving back, his men covering each other. Davie continued withdrawing until his force crossed the Rocky River, 16 miles from Charlotte and four miles in front of Davidson's army. Though the Battle of Charlotte was not in itself decisive, it showed the stubbornness of the outnumbered Americans and symbolized the resolve of Mecklenburg County, leading to the area given a new nickname.
Cornwallis, after sixteen humiliating days in Charlotte, was heard to say that this place was a hornet's nest. Charlotteans were so honored to be dubbed in such a manner that they permanently adopted the nickname in perpetuity. The official city seal features a hornet's nest.