Shooting in the New Year

  • By Anne Aldridge Webb
  • Photography by Denise Clay

A centuries-old New Year's tradition continues to thrive in Cherryville.

Shooting in the New Year in Cherryville, N.C.

And bless our hearts, for the old year’s gone and the New Year’s come,
And for good luck, we’ll fire our guns!

These are the final words of the chant of the Cherryville New Year’s Shooters, who ring in each New Year with a tradition that began more than 200 years ago and was brought to our state by some of its earliest settlers. Part solemn ceremony and part traveling celebration, shooting in the New Year is a unique piece of North Carolina history and a meaningful day for area residents.

Beginning at midnight each year on the first day of January, shooters go as a group throughout the area, to homes and businesses that have been in the community for generations. There they call out the residents to shoot in salutation. For more than 18 hours, and through three different counties — Gaston, Lincoln, and Cleveland — the shooters follow the route bringing ceremony and good tidings to neighbors. At each stop along the way, a crier recites the “Chant of the New Year’s Shooters,” and then participants fire their muskets, one by one, each loaded with black powder, no bullets allowed. The noise of the musket is thought to drown out evil spirits and bad luck; while the chant — part poem, part speech, and part song — asks for peace and prosperity in the New Year.

Tracing the tradition

Although the chant is written in more of an Old English style, the custom itself came from German, Swiss, and other European settlers in the area. Many of the pioneers arrived in our state via Pennsylvania, where the Mummers now bring in the New Year with costumes and a parade. The tradition of the Mummers is closely related to the New Year’s Shooters, as this, too, began with visits
from house to house. Citizens carried firearms for protection and noise, singing and dancing at each home and receiving a meal or drink from the host in return. Both practices continued to evolve through the years, with an emphasis on costumes, entertainment, and parades in Pennsylvania, while in North Carolina, the focus became home visits and ceremonial shots.

Locally, there is documentation of New Year’s Shooters in the Cherryville area back to 1770, before the town was even established or named. A copy of a chant dating back to the 1800s is on display at the Cherryville Historical Museum. Many of the names of these original settlers are also the names of the current shooters, showing the passing of this custom from generation to generation. Some families have been on the route for more than 100 years, and local participants claim that not one year has ever been missed.

A historic event in modern times

Rusty Wise has been shooting since he was 16 years old. He remembers looking out his window at 2 a.m., then a little boy, watching as the Shooters came to visit his home. Now he serves as secretary for the New Year’s Shooters organization and puts in many hours of work to make the event happen. Long gone are the days of small groups walking from farmhouse to farmhouse; there are now more than 300 shooters and a caravan of participants. He works with president and long-time shooter Carl Dellinger for weeks ahead to determine the scheduled stops. The organization holds meetings to discuss safety and training and spends time coordinating with law enforcement and emergency services. Information is posted on the group’s website, and the large finale shot held at nearby Rudisill Stadium provides an ideal spot for the many spectators.

Still, Wise is humbled and amazed by the timelessness of the event. “Few things stand the test of time the way the Shooters have,” he explains. “New Year’s is the time in our community when people still come out to be together.” Even those who have moved away often make New Year’s the day they visit home. Last year, there were participants from four different states.

History and community

What keeps the tradition flourishing is not only the historical significance, but also the emotional ties of those who participate each year. Each shooter has his or her own individual story. All of the black-powder guns are either historic or carefully made replicas. Some shooters wear special hats, decorate their vehicles, or add to the pageantry of the day in other ways. Wise remarks that on New Year’s Day, job titles, economic status, or other things that separate citizens on a daily basis have no meaning. Everyone is an equal part of the community.

For Darrell Beam, who has been shooting since 1981, participating with different generations of friends and family is one of the things that make the experience so valuable. He says, “My daughter Amanda’s first shot was at the age of five. I made her rifle with a pistol barrel and scaled down the stock to fit the barrel, making it a miniature black-powder muzzle loader. I bought 10 barrels 16 years ago on clearance. I have one left. The others have been made into what we call kid’s guns for other up-and-coming shooters. Although Amanda remains the youngest so far, I am saving the last barrel for a grandchild.”

His favorite spot to shoot is the Carolina Care rest home, where the residents are brought outside on sunny days or watch from inside when the weather is bad.
Beam and Wise remark on shooting for so many hours straight, through all kinds of weather, through the cold dark night where shots are quieter, to the midday shots with hundreds of participants and spectators.

The Cherryville New Year’s Shooters are an ode to both history and community with moments both solemn and jubilant. Despite the many years of history behind it, the event is as important as any holiday could be in the modern life of the region. Beam says, “It is a rolling party covering 18 hours and at least 60 miles with more hugs and Happy New Year wishes than you could ever imagine.”

Anne Aldridge Webb lives and writes in Alamance County.

This entry was posted in Central N.C., History, January 2010, Piedmont and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Shooting in the New Year

  1. Tucker says:

    I just moved to Crouse, NC 6 months ago and altho the firing of the musket has made my pets crazy and kept me up all nite its nice to see that some traditions never die….good jobs guys!!

  2. ckelley says:

    You must not be from Cherryville, so I am sure it seems foolish to you. I grew up there and it has never bothered me to be from a small close knit town that still has beliefs. It’s kind of like having blackeye peas and collard greens on New Years Day maybe one day I will be very wealthy from eating so much of it. And if not, I will do it anyway for tradition. I am proud to be from there and know from experience that there are people everywhere who will pretend to be better then you and have power. The good people far out weigh the bad in Cherryville and that is a rarity in most places. Happy New Year!

    • bbrittain says:

      I wish you a very Happy New Year also, and like you, I love tradition. It shouldn’t bother anyone to be from a small, close knit town that has “it’s” beliefs. Growing up that was about all we ever had to eat was greens, pintos and a whole lot of pasta and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, going to school. We never did eat our lunch in the cafeteria. There was not much food to go around just because of being a military “brat”. No, we never thought about being better than anyone else. In fact, those in the service that have families are living on a thread. We were busy packing and unpacking and moving. A parent in the service fighting and firing a gun for a cause is a lot different than people going door to door, “chanting” “crying” and firing “guns” for their own cause and that being “to scare off witches, evil demons and the like. I do understand where you are coming from and there are extremely good people in Cherryville as there are in every town; so because there are so many good people everywhere, I just wonder why all towns all over the country do not shoot a gun “musket” on New Years? They ought to go up to New York city where a tradition goes on of seeing the ball drop and thousands in the street happy, singing and saying, “Happy New Year” to one another. Not here, all we hear is booming (this year, from Thursday all the way until Monday evening). We live in town and have been living here for more years than you can count on your fingers and toes. We pay tax, city and county just like everyone else and these people don’t understand some just don’t like it; some that use to like it, don’t anymore and some don’t like the noise; some don’t like the traffic being blocked. But, do we get to vote on our likes or dislikes? No! Within a half a mile, there were four stops made by the New Year Shooter’s and “52” booms heard at each stop. Now, I know people like the New Year Shooters and I know they are not bad people, but the noise is. Not only did we here the 52 booms at each of the four “very” close stops, but it was heard day and night from Thursday until Monday (the day after New Years) they had respect for those who attended church.

  3. jim says:

    If you don’t like it move. I will put shoot another round for you Happy New Year yank

    • bbrittain says:

      Why don’t you learn how to speak or did you just learn how to fire a musket in school? Oh, and another thing, since this town likes so much drama and excitement by what is going on in Cherryville now, it seems as though the shooting of guns didn’t do such a good job in getting rid of evil that you people think you are getting rid of. Read the newspapers…….honey. Seems like there are an awful lot of individuals in this town that still think evil lurks! As far as you thinking I am a “yank” as you called me on your post, I have lived here probably a lot longer than you, but I don’t like the fact that some in this town don’t believe in peace……….there is no peace in Cherryville and it will only get worse, because of those like yourself. There are enough fireworks on the 4th of July, and if you people are so inclined to fire a gun, why don’t you go be real heroes.

  4. bbrittain says:

    These individuals believe the chant, loud noise and smoke will make crops grow, keep evil away and make some people prosper. Hmmm……..Cherryville has not prospered in years and those muskets are not doing anything but driving people out of Cherryville. We are to have freedom of speech and to be able to vote, but nobody is allowed, when it comes to the Cherryville New Year Shooters because they have been shooting since 45BC (so I have read online) I never knew they made muskets that long ago. This was before Christ and we all live in the Bible belt and the good old south. Makes one wonder what these individuals are really trying to prove? The only evil thing they are doing is rattling our homes (shaking the foundation and cracking them) and scaring our animals away. I am only one person, but there are so many more out there that feel the same way and would like to see a stop put to it or have it so the New Year Shooters shoot, fire away at one time, in a given place. Blast away from those who don’t wish to be bothered by the mess. Pretty bad when they have a right to shut down a major highway! But that is just how Cherryville is, isn’t it? It is all about who you know and nothing else. It’s about power and who has the most!

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