It happened long ago, in the year 1794, but just as lustful folks are prone to do these days, Taylor Duke ignored the risks and seduced a local gal by the name of Chaney Mangum. Duke, a weather-beaten Orange County farmer, figured nobody would learn about the indiscretion, least of all his wife. But when Mangum bore his bastard son nine months later, it blew his cover.
It also ignited one of the most enduring blood feuds ever seen in these parts. The Dukes, for whom the university is named, and the Mangums, some of the University of North Carolina’s biggest benefactors, have been at loggerheads ever since, with the vendetta spreading to the worlds of business and politics. And more recently, basketball.
Tonight, the feud resumes in all its glory when the UNC Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils take the court in Durham. The winner not only will claim basketball supremacy, but will momentarily gain the upper hand in a family feud that has boiled for 200 years.
Both clans are rooted in the rural villages of Red Mountain and Bahama, in what is now northern Durham County. On the surface, the backgrounds are similar. Both families grew tobacco. Both thrived in business and influenced politics.But family members, particularly during the 19th century, shuddered at the thought that the Dukes or Mangums had anything in common. Over the years, they’ve battled over politics, competed for higher social standing and, on occasion, lusted after one another.
William Preston Mangum II, a family historian, says the two sides don’t fuss as viciously as, say, the gunslinging Hatfields and McCoys. But they don’t exactly get together for Sunday dinner either.” I don’t want to say hatred, but underlying these two families is a desire to get the better of each other,” he said in a recent interview at, appropriately, the Washington Duke Inn in Durham. “There definitely are ill feelings.”
Especially noteworthy is how the families took their rivalry to the rarefied arena of higher education. The Dukes nurtured fledgling Trinity College in Durham, pumping so much tobacco money into the school that its trustees renamed it Duke University in 1929. Less publicized is how the Mangums directed their generosity to the state university nine miles away in Chapel Hill. The Mangums were crucial in helping the university survive its first century. Willie P. Mangum served on the board of trustees for 43 years. Adolphus Mangum, a professor, helped reopen the school after the Civil War. Charles Staples Mangum founded the UNC School of Public Health. Countless other Mangums graduated from UNC. A dormitory and several academic awards are named after the family.
The campus connection is where the basketball game fits in. Both teams have jockeyed all season for the country’s top ranking. Between them, they’ve won the last three national championships and are two of the most successful programs of all time. All told, it’s one of the most deep-seated and unforgiving rivalries in the nation.
Taylor Duke couldn’t have known at the time that his amorous urges would cause such a long-lasting fuss. All he knew was that a comely maiden, Chaney Mangum, had caught his eye. As can happen when such desires manifest themselves, Chaney Mangum bore a son. At first, the father’s identity was kept quiet and the adulterous Duke was spared any public shame. But the secret didn’t last long. The couple had difficulty containing their affection. One thing led to another, and the still-unmarried Chaney Mangum had another child. This time, the Mangums identified Duke as the suspected father in both cases. Angered by his cavalier attitude, they took him to court and forced him to pay $5 a year in child support. The judgment was no small debt for the prolific Duke, who had 10 other children.
In the 1800s, the feud extended beyond the bedroom and into the! politic al realm. For a time, the Mangums reigned supreme, although the Dukes did their best to discredit their neighbors. Willie P. Mangum was the most famous of the bunch. An 1815 UNC graduate, he served 23 years in Congress. He was also a founder of the Whig party and ran for president in 1836. He carried South Carolina in the election, but not his home state — thanks to opposition from people like the Dukes. The Dukes were fervent Democratic Republicans and were vocal about it, something that caused Willie Mangum no small amount of consternation.
In the 1830s, a supporter wrote Mangum in Washington to report on the political troublemakers back home. The writer singled out the Dukes, calling them, with uncanny foresight, part of “a Devilish clan.” The Mangums weren’t above making fun of the Dukes, either. One 19th century Mangum noted in his will that he owned a horse named Duke.
After the Civil War, the families’ fortunes changed. The Mangums, part of the Old South’s aristocracy, lost virtually everything. The Dukes, on the other hand, made the most of Reconstruction, thanks to tobacco. Washington Duke, a legitimate son of Taylor Duke, raised bright leaf tobacco and entered the manufacturing side of the business. Soon he and his three sons had created a fabulously profitable enterprise.
Suddenly flush with money, the Dukes didn’t hesitate to throw their weight around. In 1881, for example, residents of eastern Orange County wanted to split off and form a new county. The leading proposal was to name it after Willie P. Mangum, the former lawmaker. But Washington Duke nixed the idea. He vowed to yank the Dukes’ considerable assets from the area if he had to live in Mangum County. The threat worked: The jurisdiction became known as Durham County.
The mostly forgotten conflict is detailed in Willie Mangum’s papers, stored at the Southern Histo! rical Collection in Chapel Hill. “A lot of people have never heard that before,” says William Preston Mangum, the family historian. “But it’s a true story.”
After two centuries, the feud has cooled somewhat, no longer colored by nasty court battles or political fights. But the two families remain ever loyal to their respective schools. The Duke kids still go to their university. And virtually all the Mangums go to UNC. The bumper sticker on William P. Mangum’s Oldsmobile reveals as much: “Tar Heel by birth, Carolinian by the grace of God.”
Copyright 1994 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.Record Number: RNOB172307