Originally Posted by Jim Bennett
Lookit that, early in the day and I just learned something. It kinda sounds derogatory but imagine it can be worn with pride.
I assume this is kinda like Hokie and Hawkeye then?
Yes, quite similar. It used to be somewhat derogatory but has evolved into a term used with great pride. Various versions of potential history of the term are below from Wikipedia and University of North Carolina's websites.
Our nickname, which also applies to North Carolina citizens, has at least two possible origins. One story hails back to the Revolutionary War and the troops of British General Cornwallis. After fording a river in eastern North Carolina, the British troops discovered their feet covered with tar, a product of North Carolina’s abundant pine trees and one of the state’s most important exports at the time. Some say the clever North Carolinians dumped it in the river to slow down the invading army. The British were said to have observed that if you waded in North Carolina rivers, you would get tar on your heels.
Another story comes from the Civil War. A group of North Carolina soldiers scolded their comrades for leaving the battlefield when things got tough. The soldiers threatened to stick tar on the heels of the retreating soldiers to help them stay in the battle. General Robert E. Lee is said to have commented “God bless the Tar Heel boys!” Whatever the reason for the moniker, our students and sports teams have long worn it with pride.
In its early years as a colony, North Carolina settlements became an important source of the naval stores
tar, pitch, and turpentine, especially for the British navy. Tar and pitch were largely used to paint the bottom of wooden British ships both to seal the ship and to prevent shipworms
from damaging the hull.
At one time, an estimated 100,000 barrels (16,000 m3) of tar and pitch were shipped annually to England
After 1824, North Carolina became the leader in the United States for naval stores.
By the Civil War
, North Carolina had more than 1600 turpentine distilleries, and two thirds of all turpentine in the United States came from North Carolina and one-half from the counties of Bladen
and New Hanover
Historians Hugh Lefler and Albert Newsome claim in North Carolina: the History of a Southern State
(3rd edition, 1973) that North Carolina led the world in production of naval stores from about 1720 to 1870.
At the time, tar was created by piling up pine logs and burning them until hot oil seeped out from a spout. The vast production of tar from North Carolina led many, including Walt Whitman
, to give the derisive nickname of "Tarboilers" to the residents of North Carolina.
North Carolina was nicknamed the "Tar and Turpentine State" because of this industry.
Somehow, these terms evolved until the nickname Tar Heel was used to refer to residents of North Carolina and gained prominence during the American Civil War
. During this time, the nickname Tar Heel was a pejorative, but starting around 1865, the term began to be used as a source of pride.
In 1893, the students of the University of North Carolina
founded a newspaper and christened it The Tar Heel,
which was later renamed The Daily Tar Heel.
By the early 1900s the term was embraced by many as a non-derisive term for North Carolinians by those from inside and outside the state of North Carolina.