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Why Will Bells In Hillsborough Ring For 222 Seconds On Sunday?

Scott Washington/Orange County Historical Museum

On Sunday at 2 p.m., bells across Hillsborough will ring in honor of the 222 years of the the Bill of Rights. All five historic churches will ring their bells, and citizens are expected to ring in as well.

Last year, say organizers, merchants stepped outside their stores and rang bells. People rang what they had. Car keys. Cow bells. Car horns. "One lady rolled up, opened her window, and rang her bell. I said 'Well, that was our first drive-by car ringing!" notes Scott Washington. He's the the Assistant Director of the Orange County Historical Museum in Hillsborough, and is organizing the event.

Even many area cell phones are set to ring at the same time.

Scott Washington notes that Hillsborough is the second place in the U.S. to celebrate the anniversary, known as "Bill of Rights Day."

He has carefully detailed the town's history:

In 1771, six Americans were executed in Hillsborough, NC by order of English colonial Governor William Tryon on the grounds of high treason for daring to exercise freedom of speech, freedom of petition, freedom of assembly for raising questions about colonial government policies. In response, these brave Americans were denied due process, denied right to self incrimination, and were summarily executed. They had no "Bill of Rights" to protect them. In 1788, a statewide constitutional convention was held in Hillsborough to debate and ratify then “new" U. S. Constitution. However, without a Bill of Rights, North Carolina was the only state of the thirteen to neither ratify nor reject the Constitution until provisions were made for inclusion of one. That forced the first Congress to act, because without North Carolina ratifying the Constitution, the whole concept of the "United" States of America hung in the balance. Other states that had ratified the Constitution had also proposed amendments so there was a groundswell of support. To show you how urgent America's first leaders thought this Bill of Rights issue was, within two months of George Washington being sworn in as the first President, James Madison stepped forward to rectify this oversight and generate amendments that would address this Bill of Rights issue. Three months later, Congress, for the first and only time in American history, passed a whole block of amendments, 12 in total, on September 25, 1789, which were then sent to the states for ratification. Its concerns satisfied, only then did North Carolina ratify the Constitution on November 21, 1789 and Amendments a month later and two years later, when Virginia ratified the Amendments, 10 of 12 which received enough votes became what we refer to today as the "Bill of Rights," the ones which protect American's civil liberties-essential freedoms of speech, petition, assembly, expression, conscience, belief, and legal fairness.

Notable bells and bell ringers:

  • Dickerson Chapel AME (The church served as Hillsborough’s courthouse in 1791, the same year the Bill of Rights went into force.)
  • Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens will ring the historic bell adjoining the 1771 Regulator Site (behind the Orange County Board of Education building, 200 E. King St, Hillsborough, NC 272778.) 
  • Scott Washington, Organizer of the Community Bell Ringing and Assistant Director of the Orange County Historical Museum will ring the replica of the Philadelphia Liberty Bell in front of the 1845 historic courthouse (at the corner of Churton Street and King Street,  104 E. King St., Hillsborough, NC 27278.)
Carol Jackson has been with WUNC since 2006. As Digital News Editor, she writes stories for, and helps reporters and hosts make digital versions of their radio stories. She is also responsible for sharing stories on social media. Previously, Carol spent eight years with WUNC's nationally syndicated show The Story with Dick Gordon, serving as Managing Editor and Interim Senior Producer.
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