Charters of Freedom bring founding documents to life in Canton

The settings include the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Civil Rights documents. Kyle Perrotti photo The settings include the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Civil Rights documents. Kyle Perrotti photo

Canton is paying homage to some of this nation’s most vital founding documents through the installation of Charters of Freedom settings at the town’s museum next to the former town hall building. 

There are already Charters of Freedom settings across North Carolina and beyond, even as far as Indiana, with more on the way in several states. The settings are installed by Foundation Forward, a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded in 2011 by North Carolina residents Vance and Mary Jo Patterson, along with their friend, Ron Lewis, who had recently retired as the Burke County manager. Lewis’ friend David Streater, a criminology professor who lives in Western North Carolina, volunteered to serve as the Education Director for Foundation Forward.

Streater said Foundation Forward prides itself on abstaining from politics or religion — it simply prioritizes a series of documents he believes will always have the ability to bring people together.

“First and foremost, we aim to educate,” he said, adding that he hopes to get local civics classes out to the settings once they’re finished.

Part of Streater’s role as education director is to propose the settings to town boards. In Canton, he also enlisted the help of an old friend, Mike Wood, with whom he graduated from Pisgah High School back in 1972. Streater said when it came time to find a “local champion,” someone with strong ties to the community who could act as a liaison between Foundations Forward and town officials, Wood came to mind.

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Mike Wood, left, and David Streater have championed the Charters of Freedom settings in Canton. Kyle Perrotti photo

“It’s one of the greatest honors I’ve had,” Wood said, adding that he is happy to see something so positive coming to the town after all the hardship its seen between the COVID pandemic, the deadly 2021 flood and last year’s mill closure.

Late last year, Streater went before Canton’s town board and presented his plan for the Charters of Freedom. They had some questions, but before long, a letter of intent was signed, and the town agreed that a good place for the settings would be in front of the town’s museum. Mayor Zeb Smathers told The Smoky Mountain News that as Canton continues to redevelop downtown following the flood, something positive like the settings can serve as a sort of totem.

“People can get lost in the political division, but let us not forget about the sacrifice of others to uphold these documents,” he said. “And the placement is in a central location where everyone can enjoy them.”

Wood added that he thinks the settings are important because they give folks a chance to view documents laid out in front of them similar to how they are at the National Archives, especially since many people will never make it to Washington, D.C., to see them.

“We want the community to know it is for them,” Wood said. “With all the misrepresentation in this day and age about our founding documents and what they mean, this is a chance for people to just come see it first-hand. That’s why I love that it’s an outdoor setting that will be there for people 24/7, 365.” 

Streater said the settings are designed to last 300 to 500 years.

Anyone interested in supporting the project financially can visit There are multiple ways to get involved, including the purchase of engraved brick pavers. Questions can be directed to Wood at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.421.1238.

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