William Polk historical marker

William Polk 1758-1834 (H-104)

Revolutionary War officer; first president of State Bank, 1811-19. In 1825 hosted Lafayette in house that stood here.

Location: Blount Street at North Street in Raleigh
County: Wake
Original Date Cast: 1992

William Polk (July 9, 1758-January 14, 1834) was a first cousin to Samuel Polk, the father of Pres. James K. Polk. Polk served with distinction in the Continental Line and took part in Revolutionary War battles at Germantown, Brandywine, Eutaw Springs, and Cowan’s Ford. After the Guilford Courthouse battle, he was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel and henceforth known as “Colonel Polk.” At his death Polk was the last surviving field officer of the North Carolina Line.

Polk was in the 1780s surveyor-general of territory now part of Tennessee. In 1785-86, he represented Davidson County (present Tennessee) in the House of Commons and in 1787 and 1790 represented Mecklenburg in that same body. In 1791 he was made the state’s collector of revenue. About 1799 Polk moved from his native Mecklenburg County to Raleigh, where he lived the rest of his life and played a prominent role in state and local affairs. He was a member of the Council of State in 1806.

With the establishment of the State Bank in 1810, Polk was elected as its first president, serving in that position from 1810 to 1819. In 1821 he spoke at the dedication of the Canova statue at the State Capitol. Four years later he welcomed Lafayette, with whom he had fought at Brandywine, to Raleigh and breakfasted with him at his North Street home. He was among the incorporators of the “Experimental Railroad” built in 1833 for the new Capitol. Polk was for forty-two years, 1792-1834, a member of the board of trustees of the University of North Carolina. He was the author of the infamous “monitor law,” despised by students and faculty alike.

It was, according to tradition, in the yard of Polk’s home that Henry Clay in 1844 wrote his fateful letter about Texas annexation. That story has proved to be spurious. Polk’s house, situated in what is now the center of Blount Street, was moved in 1872 to permit the street to be cut through. The house, relocated to Hart Street, was destroyed by fire in 1975.

Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina (1905), II, pp. 361-368—sketch by Marshall DeLancey Haywood
Marshall DeLancey Haywood, Builders of the Old North State (1968) Elizabeth Reid Murray, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina (1983)
Kemp P. Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, 2 vols. (1907-1912)
William Henry Hoyt, The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence (1907)

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