Story of the counties of north carolina

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Story of The Counties

of North Carolina

With Other Data

As Printed in

The Orphans' Friend and
Masonic Journal

Oxford, N. C.

By Fred A. Olds.

Raleigh, N. C.

Press of Oxford Orphanage

Story of the Counties of North Carolina

The first settlement in what is now No.: Carolina was made in 1585, and the first governor of what was then termed "Virginia," in honor of Queen E­lizabeth, politely termed the "Virgin Queen," was Ralph Lane, appointed by Sir Walter Raleigh, who seined from April, 1585, to June, 1586. The following year the col­ony which it was fondly hoped would be a permanent one, came over in charge of John White, Li the second "Governor of Virginia," also appointed by Sir Walter Raleigh. He served in this capacity from April to Au­gust of that year and returned to England August 27, 1587, expecting to return with more colonists and with supplies. This second colony goes down into the utter mists of history as "The Lost Colony of Roanoke"; the first "City of Raleigh" having been royally planned to be on that island ; where the only sign left of it is "old Fort Raleigh." It was 76 years before the next governor was appointed.

The first permanent white settlement in North Car­olina was made probably as early as 1650, in the section eastward of the Chowan river, presently extending to and down Albemarle sound. A grant of lands to Roger Green was made in 1653, on Roanoke river and the south or west side of Chowan river, because he had secured the making of settlements there; settlements having al­ready progressed on the north or east side of the Chow-an. The earliest grant of which a copy now exists was made by the King of the Yeopim Indians to George Durant, March 1, 1662, for a tract of land on Perquimans river and Roanoke sound ; now known as "Durant's Neck." The original decd was in existence in the court house at Hertford, Perquimans county, only a few years ago, but is now lost. The copy is in a deed-book. This grant set out that the eastern boundary of the tract ad­joined one which the Indian King had before sold to Samuel Pricklove, but of the latter there is no record.

Many persons held grants prior to 1663 from the Governor of Virginia.

On the 20th of March, 1663, King Charles the Second of Great Britain granted "Carolina," which included what are now North Carolina, South Carolina and part of Georgia, to eight "Lords Proprietors :" Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon; the Duke of Albemarle; Lord Crav­en; Lord Berkeley; Lord Ashley; Sir George Carteret; Sir William Berkeley and Sir John Colleton. The King put in a section enabling persons who had grants from the Governor of Virginia to hold their lands. The Lords Proprietors also recognized the fact that lands had been purchased from the Indian inhabitants be­fore their charter and that grants were issued and also the further fact that this early settlement had so grown that it needed a fully organized government of its own. This settlement in the Albemarle region is therefore the "Parent Settlement" of North Carolina and from it settlers spread southward. In 1690 a colony of Frenchmen left the James river settlement and went to the Pamlico sound section. In run more colonists came from James river, also Frenchmen. In 1710 Germans un­der Baron de Graffenreid came over and settled at New Bern. In 1713 settlers had made their way as far south­ward as New river, in what is now Onslow County.


Albemarle was the first "county," and in October, 1663, the Lords Proprietors gave a commission to Wil­liam Drummond as its "Governor," and he held that office until 1667. He then returned to Virginia, where in 1675 he took part in "Bacon's Rebellion," was captured and publicly hanged directly after he had been carried before Governor Berkeley, who was a Lord Proprietor.

On January 7, 1665, it was decided by what were called the "Concessions" that there should be eight "coun­ties" in Carolina, each named for a Lord Proprietor, but only Clarendon, Albemarle and Craven were erected as separate governments. These county governments were ordered to be parts of an imperial government and Gov. Philip Ludwell in 101 was directed to summon a "par­liament" of 20 delegates.


The second executive, after William Drummond had served four years, was Samuel Stephens, likewise ap­pointed by the Lords Proprietors, and then followed, be­ginning in 1670, Peter Carteret, John Jenkins, Thomas Eastchurch (who died before taking the oath), Seth Sothel (who on his way to "Carolina" was captured by pirates and detained several months), John Harvey, Philip Ludwell (governor of all Carolina, with head­quarters at Charleston, governing North Carolina through a deputy, this plan being followed from 1689 to 1712), Thomas Jarvis, Henderson Walker, Robert Daniel, Thomas Cary, William Glover, Edward Hyde, Thomas Pollock, Charles Eden, William Reed, George Burrington, Richard Everard. Of these John Jenkins, Henderson Walker, William Glover, Edward Hyde, Thomas Pollock and William Reed held the office because they were Presidents of the Council. Samuel Stephens died while in office. The following held as deputy-gov­ernors: Thomas Jarvis, John Harvey, Robert Daniel and Thomas Cary.

Sir Richard Everard was the last of the governors under the Lords Proprietors, serving under them from July, 1725, to May, 1728. Edward Hyde was the first governor of North Carolina as a separate and dis­tinct province, South Carolina having been set apart by the Lords Proprietors.

The other governors under the Crown were, after Everard, George Burrington, Gabriel Johnston, Arthur Dobbs, William Tryon, Josiah Martin, the last of the Royal "governors." Nathaniel Rice, Matthew Rowan and James Hasell acted as governors, as presidents of the council. Then came independence, with Richard Caswell as the first governor, from December 19, 1776.


The governors were elected by the legislature (called the General Assembly) from Caswell to Richard Dobbs Spaight, Jr., the latter retiring Dec. 31, 1836. The Consti­tution was changed in 1835 and the people began to elect the governor, Edward B. Dudley being the first to take office, December 31, 1836.

After Richard Caswell came the following:


Abner Nash, Thomas Burke, Alexander Martin, Samuel Johnston, Richard Dobbs Spaight, Sr., (who was killed by John Stanly in a duel at New Bern) , Samuel Ashe, William R. Davie, Benjamin Williams, James Turner, Na­thaniel Alexander, David Stone, William Hawkins, Wil­liam Miller, John Branch, Jesse Franklin, Gabriel Holmes, Hutchings G. Burton, James Iredell, John Owen, Montfort Stokes, David L. Swain, Richard Dobbs Spaight, Jr., Edward B. Dudley, John M. Morehead, William A. Graham, Charles Manly, David S. Reid, Thomas Bragg, John

W. Ellis, Henry T. Clark, Zebulon B. Vance, William W. Holden, Jonathan Worth, Tod R. Caldwell, Curtis H. Brogden, Zebulon B. Vance, Thomas J. Jarvis, Alfred M. Scales, Daniel G. Fowle, Thomas M. Holt, Elias Carr, Daniel L. Russell, Charles B. Aycock, Robert B. Glenn, William W. Kitchen, Locke Craig, Thomas W. Bickett, Cameron Morrison.

Some governors served several terms ; Caswell 7 ; Martin 5 ; Johnston 3 ; Spaight, Sr. 3 ; Ashe 3 ; Williams 4 ; Turner 3; Alexander 2 ; Stone 2 ; Hawkins 3 ; Miller 3 Branch 2 ; Holmes 3 ; Burton 3 ; Owen 2 ; Stoke 2 ; Swain 3 ; Dudley 2 ; Morehead 2; Graham 2 ; Reid 2 ; Bragg 2 ; Ellis 2 ; Vance 3 ; Worth 2.


The following counties have furnished governors : Bertie, David Stone.

Bladen, John Owen.

Brunswick, Benjamin Smith, Daniel L. Russell. Buncombe, David L. Swain, Zebulon B. Vance, Locke Craig.

Burke, Tod R. Caldwell.

Chowan, Samuel Johnston, James Iredell. Edgecombe, Henry T. Clark, Elias Carr.

Forsyth, Robert B. Glenn.

Guilford, Alexander Martin, John M. Morehead. Halifax, William R. Davie, John Branch, Hutchings G. Burton.

Lenoir, Richard Caswell.

Mecklenburg, Nathaniel Alexander, Z. B. Vance, Cameron Morrison.

Moore, Benjamin Williams.

New Hanover, Samuel Ashe, Edward B. Dudley. Northampton,. Thomas Bragg.

Orange, Thomas Burke, William A. Graham. Person, William W. Kitchin.

Pitt, Thomas J. Jarvis.

Randolph, Jonathan Worth.

Rockingham, David S. Reid, Alfred Moore Scales. Rowan, John W. Ellis.

Sampson, Gabriel Holmes.

Surry, Jesse Franklin.

Wake, Charles Manly, William W. Holden, Daniel G. Fowle.

Warren, James Turner, William Hawkins, William Miller.

Wilkes, Montfort Stokes.

Wayne, Curtis H. Brogden, Charles B. Aycock.


Albemarle and Clarendon were the first two counties in North Carolina. The first cut into Albemarle, in 1672, created Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank and Perquimans. Their names survive, but Albemarle and Bath are ex­tinct. The other extinct counties are as follows:

Bute, formed in 1764, from Granville; named for the Earl of Bute, who had great influence with King George the Third and was so unpopular that an effigy of him was publicly hanged and burned at Wilmington October 25, 1765. In 1779 the county was abolished and became Franklin and Warren.

Dobbs, formed in 1758, from Johnston ; named for Gov. Arthur Dobbs. Abolished in 1779, becoming Wayne and Lenoir.

Fayette, formed in March, 1784, from Cumberland by a strange error in the drafting of an act dividing Cumberland, making one half Moore, the other Fayette. In October the legislature repealed the act so far as Fayette was concerned and it existed only 6 months.

Glasgow, formed in 1791; named for Secretary of State James Glasgow, who in 1799 was convicted of gross frauds in grants of the public lands. Directly up­on his conviction the county was abolished and from it Greene was formed.

Tryon, formed in 1762, from Anson ; named for Gov. William Tryon. Abolished in 1779, and from it Lincoln and Rutherford were formed.


The total area of the state is 48,740 square miles; total population 2,559,123; average number of persons to a square mile 52%. Only 9 counties, Buncombe, Gaston, Rowan, Mecklenburg, Forsyth, Guilford, Durham, Wake and Wilson have more than 90 to a square mile, while 4, Graham, Hyde, Dare and Tyrrell, have only 6 to 18. Fourteen of the 100 counties show a decrease in popula­tion since 1910, but in four cases this was due to reduc­tion in area. Two new counties, Hoke and Avery, were organized since 1910.

The smallest county in area is Chowan, only 165 square miles (there being 640 acres in a square mile) ; the next smallest Mitchell with 213; Clay third with 220. The largest in area is Robeson, 990 square miles; next Bladen, with 976; third Columbus with 933. The small­est county as to population is Clay, with 4646; next com­ing Tyrrell, with 4849; third Graham, with 4872. The largest population is in Mecklenburg, with 80,695; next Guilford, with 79,272; third Forsyth, with 77,269.

The population of the state increased 352,836, or 16 per cent since 1910, while the average increase for the entire United States was 15 per cent. In 1820 the popu­lation was 638,829. In 1790, when the first U. S. census was taken, it was 393,751. The greatest increase in the state's population was in the period between 1870 and 1880, when it was 30 per cent; the smallest increase was, between 1830 and 1840, when it was only 2 per cent.

The city populations are: Winston-Salem 48,395; Char­lotte 46,338; Wilmington 33,372; Asheville 28,504; Ral­eigh 27,076; Durham 21,719.

Of the population 1,279,062 are males, 1,280,061 fe­males, the latter being in the majority by 999. In the 10 years 1910-1920 the total population increased 16 per cent; males 16.4 per cent,' females 15.5 per cent. Of whites there are 1,783,779, Negroes 763,407; Indians (in­cluding those called Croatans) 11,924; Chinese 88; Ja­panese 24; Hindu 1. The white population increased 9.4 per cent. Of the white .population only three-tenths of one per cent is foreign-born; numbering 7,099. This is by far the smallest proportion of foreign-born in any state.


The losses of state and county records, by fire and va­rious other causes, is amazingly great. Up to the time that Raleigh was fixed as the permanent seat of govern­ment, there was one "capital" after another. Records were moved hither and thither and many were lost or damaged. The county court houses have suffered from 39 fires, as follows: Anson 1; Bladen 2; Buncombe 1; Cabarrus 1; Cherokee 2; Davidson 1; Davie 1; Gaston 1; Greene 1; Guilford 1; Harnett 2; Hertford 2; Iredell 1; Jones 1; Lenoir 2; Martin 1; Montgomery 1; Moore 1; New Hanover 3; Orange 1; Pasquotank 1; Pitt 1; Rock­ingham 1; Rutherford 1; Sampson 1; Swain 1; Wash­ington 3; Watauga 1. Five of the fires were the work of incendiaries. One court house, that of Onslow, was blown away. Records from seven were taken out by troops or raiders and burned or damaged.

Roll Call of Counties


Area 492 square miles. Population 32,718. Formed in 1849 from Orange. Name Indian, old form Ana­monsi; meaning unknown; some claim it to be de­rived from Allemania, because of the large number of citizens of German birth or antecedents, but there is little or no title for the latter idea. County seat Gra­ham, named for General Joseph Graham of the Revolu­tionary army. Its first court house was built in 1849, of brick. It was remodeled in 1882, 1888 and 1889 and is yet in use. The will books and deed books begin in 1849 and there has been no loss by fire or otherwise.


Area 289 square miles. Population 12,212. Form­ed in 1847 from Iredell, Caldwell and Wilkes. Named for William Julius Alexander of Mecklenburg. Coun­ty seat Taylorsville, named for General, afterwards President, Zachary Taylor. The first court house was built in 1848, of wood, at Taylorsville. The present one, of brick, was built in 1902. Some of the clerk's records were burned by Federal troops in April, 1865, of Gen. Stoneman's brigade of raiders. The first book of wills does not begin until September 1, 1868. The records in the register's office are complete, the first deed book be­ginning June 30, 1847. The first register of deeds was Moses Austin, a cripple who lived in the country and rode in a sled drawn by an ox. His records, written with a goose-quill pen, are faultless. The first clerk of court was R. Partee Matheson.


Area 234 square miles. Population 7,403. Formed in 1859 from Ashe. Named for the Alleghany Indians; old spelling "Allegiwi" ; meaning "a fine stream." County seat Sparta; named for a famous province or state in Greece. In April, 1859, fifty acres of land at Sparta were presented as a town-site and location for the court house and jail, but as the War Between the States soon came on no court house was built until 1867, the site having been accepted in 1866. The county voted with Ashe un­til the latter year. During the period from 1859 to 1867 the courts were held in Shiloh Methodist church, four miles west of Sparta. The first court house was of wood and very small. In 1878 it was replaced by one of brick. This was used until 1910, when the one now in use was finished. There have been no losses of records by fire or other causes. The will books and deed books begin in 1847 ; covering territory then in Ashe.


Area 556 square miles. Population 28,334. Formed September, 1748, from Bladen. Named for Lord George Anson, an English admiral, who lived in South Carolina several years. When formed the county embraced all the territory from where Lumberton now is to the Mis­sissippi river, including all of what is now Tennessee. County seat Wadesboro, for Thomas Wade, who frequent­ly represented the county in the legislature. The first court house was built in 1755, at Mount Pleasant, 12 miles from the present Wadesboro. Up to that date the courts were held in various private houses and many rec­ords were lost as a result. In 1785 this first court house was torn down and removed to Wadesboro and set up as a residence. The first name of Wadesboro was New Town, Or Newton, and the first court house there was of logs, at the intersection of two streets. It was so large there were driveways through it. In this building Bishop As­bury held a notable service. It remained in use until 1830, when the third court house was built, of brick. This was burned in 1868, and all the records destroyed except the original wills and the will books in the clerk's office and the deed books in the register's office. In 1914 the present court house, spacious and handsome, costing $114,000, was built. The will books begin August, 1751; county court minutes (damaged by fire) 1771, only three of them remaining. The deed books begin 1751.


Area 427 square miles. Population 21,001. Formed in 1799, from Wilkes. Named for Governor Samuel Ashe of New Hanover, a Revolutionary patriot and one of the first North Carolina judges. County seat Jeffer­son ; named for Thomas Jefferson, Revolutionary patriot, author of the Declaration of Independence of the United States; U. S. Secretary of State; President of the United States; founder of the University of Virginia. A tract of 50 acres was deeded to the county as a site for Jeffer­son and the court house in 1800. The first court house was of logs. It was probably built in 1800 ; also a log jail. The second court house was of brick, built in 1833, when a brick jail was also built. This jail was burned by Federal raiders in April, 1865. The first county court was held in an old log church. The first record of the county court bears date May, 1806; that of the first superior court March, 1807. The act creating the county is per­haps .the shortest on record : "All that part of Wilkes county west of the extreme height of the Appalachian mountains shall be a separate and distinct county by the name of Ashe." The present court house was built in 1904.


Area 238 square miles. Population 10,335. Formed in 1911, from Caldwell, Mitchell and Watauga. The hun­dredth county in the state and the last one created. Nam­ed for Col. Waightstill Avery, of Morganton, who was challenged to a duel by Andrew Jackson, afterwards President of the United States. County seat Newland ; named for lieutenant-governor William C. Newland of Lenoir, Caldwell county. The "Old Fields of Toe" [the Toe river] was chosen as the site, it having been "grant­ed" by the state to Col. Avery November 9, 1783. The county was named in his honor August 1, 1911. The court house and jail were finished in April, 1913. In average elevation above sea level Avery is the highest county east of the Rocky Mountains- The will books and deed books begin in 1912.


Area 840 square miles. Population 31,024. Formed in 1705, from Bath. At first called Archdale, for Gov. John Archdale, which name it held until 1712. Named for Henry Somerset, Duke of Beaufort, who in 1709 became one of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, having pur­chased the share in the Colony formerly owned by the Duke of Albemarle. County seat Washington, the first place in the United States named for George Washing­ton and which, before its charter, was called Pea Town ; incorporated in 1782. The first county seat was Bath, the oldest town in North Carolina ; incorporated in 1705. In it is St. Thomas Episcopal church ; the oldest in the state ; built in 1724 and in regular use ever since. The first court house was at Bath, built in 1706, of wood. The second one was built early in 1756, at the same place, but it had not been paid for and the officials declined to occupy it until a tax had been levied to meet the cost, so a commission, composed of Michael Coutanche, Wyriot Ormond, John Barrow and Richard Dunston, a carpen­ter, was directed to view the building and report. The county court in December of that year accepted the building and it was occupied. In November, 1785, Washington became the county seat, Col. James Bon­ner, its founder, giving the land for the court house and jail. No court houses have been burned but some records were lost during the War Between the States. A deed book was taken by a lawyer to his office and that night the office, he and the book were burned. In this book were recorded over 200 deeds, and great search was made for the originals of which over 100 were secured and recorded. The first will book begins 1720 and runs to 1842, containing 400 wills, all copied from those on file. Court dockets begin in 1794. There are many losses and many gaps in the records. The first deed book begins in 1700 and the sequence to date is com­plete.


Area 703 square miles. Population 23,993. Formed October 2, 1722, from Albemarle. Named for James and Henry Bertie, two of the Lords Proprietors, who to­gether owned a share, or one-eighth, of Carolina. County seat Windsor, named for the castle in England near London, for many centuries the principal residence of the reigning monarch. The first court house, of logs, was built in 1724, at St. John's, now in Hertford county. In 1743 the second court house was built, at Wolfenden, two miles north of Windsor, of wood. In 1750 Windsor became the county seat and the third court house was built there, of brick, in 1767. This was used until 1887, when the present court house was built. Some addi­tions and improvements have since been made. No fires have occurred in court houses, but there are wide gaps in the will records, for the first will book does not begin until 1761, and of those for the 39 earlier years there is not a trace. From 1761 to date there are no gaps and all the books in use are originals. The rec­ords of inventories and settlements of estates begin in 1727 and are complete to date. The county court rec­ords do not begin until 1760. The first deed book begins October 31, 1722, only 29 days after the county was form­ed, and to date there are no gaps, all being originals. The records include some of Bertie precinct; a fart of the once vast county of Albemarle.

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