Ode to the Bull City


It’s everywhere you look around town.

Bull City restaurants. Bull City blogs. There are little bulls in art all over the city. Even the downtown bus line carries the “Bull City” namesake.

But have you ever wondered where the nickname comes from?

Asking around why Durham is called the Bull City finds some residents coming up short.

“Did we ride into Durham on bulls?” asked Sharika Strickland of Hillside New Tech. “I thought that Durham was called the Bull City because of that gigantic bull in the middle of downtown.”

Well, not exactly.

Durham is famous for many reasons. For instance, the largest troop surrender of the Civil War took place here. But it was the tobacco companies on top of the markets that played a hand in handing Durham its Bull City status.

According to Durham County public library archives, the early years of Durham tobacco companies changed hands often. Just before the Civil War, two men named Thomas Morris and Wesley Wright started a tobacco company called Morris & Wright.

But when the war broke out, Morris and Wright’s business was interrupted, forcing them to sell to another local named John Green. During the Civil War Confederate surrender that took place, soldiers from both sides enjoyed smoking Green’s product.

After the Civil War, veteran soldiers from both sides were requesting more and more tobacco. Green’s company was forced to come up with a trademark to separate their product from others.

According to the archives, what became the start of the company’s new trademark arose when Green and a partner, James Whitted of Hillsborough, sat at a table enjoying a plate of oysters.

While Green was trying to figure out a trademark, Whitted pointed to a bull’s head on the Colman’s Mustard jar they were using. Colman’s Mustard was, and still is, a British mustard that was first created in the early 19th century. The bull’s head was Colman’s trademark.

Whitted suggested a bull as the tobacco company’s new trademark. Bull Durham Tobacco was born. With the tobacco industry driving much of the town’s potential and economy by then, it wasn’t long before bulls became closely associated with the city and its number one product.

Enter the Bull City namesake.

After learning Durham’s early history, Strickland said she was impressed.

“If it wasn’t for the tobacco companies, Durham wouldn’t be what it is now,” she said.

No, that is not a gang sign that (From left to right) Hillside New Tech students Cornelia Powell, Chantelle Love and Jazmyn George are holding up. It is the Bull City symbol. (Staff photo by Mahdiyah Al-askari)

No, that is not a gang sign that (From left to right) Hillside New Tech students Cornelia Powell, Chantelle Love and Jazmyn George are holding up. It is the Bull City symbol. (Staff photo by Mahdiyah Al-askari)

Local business owners agree.

Franklin Santana, along with his wife Jessica Greene, owns Bull City Craft, an arts and crafts shop, located at 2501 University Drive. He said he thinks all of the bulls and Bull City titles give the town character.

“I think it gives Durham a mystic look,” said Santana.

He said he decided to name his shop “Bull City Crafts” because bulls are recognizable and such an important part of the city.

Santana lived in New York his whole life until 2006, when he and his wife moved to Durham. He opened up his shop in April 2011, citing the city’s “attractiveness.”

“It’s less crowded than New York,” he said. “When I came here, I saw Durham had potential.”

From Morris to Wright to Green, it seems many local business people thought the same thing about the town.

It is a potential that still impacts our city all these years later.

If you want to watch Mayor Bill Bell talk about the Bull City nickname with NBC17, click here.

Mahdiyah is a YO:Durham Intern


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