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Durham History, North Carolina

Durham is believed to be first inhabited by the Eno and Occaneechi. The tribes settled in a village called Adshusheer which would eventually became Durham. While staying the village, these tribes of Native Americans developed the land and even established routes which are still useful today.  

The name Durham derived from Dr. Bartlett Durham. It was in 1849 during the war that Dr. Durham sold a four-acre land to the government to make way for a railroad station. Durham became part of the history when the largest surrender and the eventual end of the civil war happened in Durham specifically in Bennett Place.  

But it was the presence of soldiers in Durham that ushered the city into popularity. During that time, Durham was already manufacturing tobaccos but only in smaller scale. When the soldiers found out about the great tobaccos from Durham, the word spread like wildfire and soon people started coming to Durham to invest in tobacco.  

Among those tobacco plantation owners, none of them had a greater impact on the city than Washington Duke. Starting out in a small log cabin, his company grew rapidly to be one of the biggest tobacco makers in the country after he purchased a two acre land in Durham and improved considerably in production. By 1890, the company merged with other corporations in the country and became a monopoly in tobaccos and related products.  

Because of the success of Washington Duke, he donated a piece of his land in Durham to become the new location of Trinity College in 1892. This was eventually renamed as Duke University following the hefty donation of $40 million by Washington Duke’s son, James Buchanan Duke. 

Another significant institution that was instrumental to the history of Durham is the North Carolina Mutual Life Company. The company was established in 1898 and was founded by John Merrick. It would become the biggest African-American owned insurance company. Durham is popular and attractive for African-Americans since many freed slaves opted to settle in Durham and worked in different businesses. Because of the success of the insurance company, another significant institution was established. The North Carolina Central University was founded in 1910 and became a liberal arts university geared towards African-Americans.  

Although tobacco production in Durham stopped in the year 2000, the early success of Durham boosted their status as a leader in education. Influence of African-American arts, culture and music is clearly seen in Durham which was credited to a number of African-Americans establishing their mark in the city.

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