Sunday, October 14, 2007

Thomas Ruffin: eyewitness to history

While searching in the Southern Historical Collection for something else, I came across a fascinating letter from Supreme Court Judge Thomas Ruffin to his family, an eyewitness account of the fire that destroyed the North Carolina Capitol building in 1831. So urgent was the occasion that he didn't date the letter with the date, but with the time of day (9 a.m.). Realizing that the building was going to be completely destroyed, happy that by valiant efforts the public records were removed before it was too late, he was most distressed about the certain loss of the marble statue of George Washington: "There is no man alive, who can replace it!"

The state of North Carolina had commissioned this impressive statue by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova in 1815. It was not replaced until 1970, when a duplicate was placed in the rotunda of the rebuilt Capitol. Meanwhile in 1857, a bronze statue of Washington, from a mold of the statue by Jean-Antione Houdon that stands in the rotunda of Virginia's capitol, was erected on Union Square. It was the first statue placed on the grounds of the North Carolina capitol.

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