What’s a Tar Heel?

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.