Laetitia and her group drove east out of Moravian Falls in the direction of the Piedmont Plateau, a band of low, rolling hills with red clay soil between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Their destination was the cluster of university towns called the Research Triangle. The triangle consists of North Carolina’s three major universities, Duke, University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State, clustered close to one another in Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh, respectively.
They stopped first at Durham. Before it became known as the home of Duke University, the city was known for its bright-leaf tobacco. The combination of growing the tobacco plants on the relatively poor Piedmont red soil and a charcoal heat-curing process discovered accidentally in 1839 by a slave named Stephen produced a mild aromatic tobacco that became very popular. During the Civil War, soldiers from both sides confiscated it from the local farmers and developed a taste for it. After the war, national demand for the product led to the formation of the Bull Durham Tobacco Company. Its name came from a Coleman’s English mustard container labeled “Durham Mustard” that featured a bull’s head as part of the logo.
Durham is sometimes known as the “Bull City” and has a statue prove it. Laetitia and her group saw the bronze bull at the city center and toured the Duke campus before moving on to Chapel Hill. One of the stories repeated ad nauseum when Laetitia’s extended family got together was about the wife of a Charolais cattle breeder who died, so his wife ordered a tombstone with the figure of a Charolais bull on it. When the tombstone arrived modestly sans couilles, she sent it back and ordered them retrofit. Laetitia was pleased to observe that the Durham bull was anatomically correct.
A small Anglican chapel built in 1752 once stood on the site of what is now the town center of Chapel Hill. It’s primarily a university town. Laetitia’s group visited the campus and then moved on to Raleigh.
Raleigh is the state capital and the site of North Carolina State University. After touring the campus and dropping her guests at their lodging with instructions to meet later, Laetitia found a campus bar called “He’s Not Here” that was in the midst of happy hour. The gossip from a nearby table that became the limerick of the day was a cautionary tale about the perils of trysting al fresco in the Piedmont region with its red clay soil.