Tryon’s Ferry

Author Stewart Dunaway, who is currently researching Randolph County’s antebellum road and bridge petitions in the State Archives, recently sent me the following excerpt from a road petition dated 1813:

“[your petitioners] …pray that the road leading from Center Meeting House to Tryon’s ferry on Deep river on that part of it which reaches from the Guilford line to the Old Trading road be reestablished as a public road as we… humbly conceive it would be of singular advantage to the neighborhood and the community…”

I had to admit that I’d never heard of “Tryon’s Ferry” before; Randolph County’s waterways have seldom in the last 200 years run so deep that they couldn’t be forded most of the time. Ferries used flat-bottomed boats of various sizes to carry traffic across bodies of water too deep or fast-running to be safely crossed on foot. The one ferry I knew of is Waddell’s or Searcy’s Ferry, on the lowest part of Deep River in the southeast corner of the county. But this petition obviously refers to some part of the Deep presently located in north-central Randolph.

Only one major Deep River crossing comes to mind lying between Randleman/Union Factory/ Dicks’ Mill and Bell’s-Walker’s Mill on Muddy Creek, and that’s the ford of the Great Indian Trading Path, or Occanneechi Trail.

The Trading Path crossed the Deep somewhere under the present Martha McGee Bell Bridge which carried the I-73/I-74/ US 200 bypass across the Randleman Reservoir today. I know of no bridge that was ever located at this site before the interstate bridges were built in the 1980s. People in Randleman once told me that the ford of the Trading Path was called The Island Ford (which causes confusion with Island Ford in Franklinville, where the Pee
Dee Road crossed the Deep).

There is one other written account of a Deep River ferry I know of, and it’s generally in the right place. Early Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury travelled all over the United States preaching and converting sinners between 1778 and 1818.  His Journal and Letters have been published online at
, and meticulously record his every day’s journey.

Monday, July 24, 1780, p. 368: “Cool, like the fall; I am kept in peace; rose with a sense of God’s presence; have only time to pray and write my journal; always upon the wing, as the rides are so long, and bad roads; it takes me many hours, as in general I walk my horse. I crossed Rocky River about ten miles from Haw River; it was rocky, sure enough; it is in Chatham county, North Carolina. I can see little else but cabins in these parts, built with poles: and such a country as no man ever saw for a carriage. I narrowly escaped being overset; was much affrighted, but Providence keeps me, and I trust will. I crossed Deep River in a flat boat, and the poor ferryman sinner swore because I had not a silver shilling to give him.”

Tuesday, July 25th (p. 369) he noted “the people are poor, and cruel one to another: some families are ready to starve for want of bread, while others have corn and rye distilled into poisonous whiskey; and a Baptist preacher has been guilty of the same…. These are poor Christians… We forded Deep River, rode to White’s, within ten miles of the camp,
into a settlement of people from Pennsylvania, some were Quakers.”

When Asbury visited on January 30th, 1789 (p. 591) “the rain was great… Deep River was very high; and we had an awful time crossing it.” In 1790 he began a tradition of staying with the family of William Bell (proprietor of Bell’s Mill), step-father of John and William McGee, who were Methodist camp meeting ministers. On December 17, 1793, he left the McGees in the morning and… “crossed Deep River, in a flat, not without danger; thence down Caraway Creek to Randolph town [Johnstonville?]; thence to Uwharrie at Fuller’s Ford.  Here we were assisted by some young me with a canoe.  Thank the Lord, both men and horses were preserved!  The young me sometimes prayed and sometimes swore.”

Nov. 16, 1798: “We rode to Mr. Bell’s, on Deep River, thence 30 miles to Wood’s, upon Uwharrie River.  This day was very warm, and we had exceedingly uncomfortable roads.  Going at this rate is very trying, but it will make death welcome, and eternal rest desirable.”

Feb. 26, 1800: “We lodged at Mr. Bell’s; having ridden only 15 miles in 2 days…. My horse had hard work; my carriage was very loose in the joints by constant and long play; and myself much tired; but I revived when I saw the lawyers going to the Western courts.  I thought, if they toiled and suffered for justice and silver, how ought I to labour for truth…”

It’s a rare day in July nowadays when someone can’t walk across most of Deep River, let alone ride a horse across. (But then the long-suffering Bishop travelled in a carriage!)

Enough about the “Ferry”– more about the “Tryon” later.

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2 Responses to “Tryon’s Ferry”

  1. Linda Crowell Moore Says:

    I am a direct descendent of Martha McFarlane McGee Bell. I now reside in Texas, but remember fondly searching for the old Bell cemetery near Sophia with my parents. We finally found it, but it was a shambles. My husband and I visited it about twenty years ago and were delighted that it had been cleaned up. My parents are buried in the Marlboro Friends Cemetary. My mother was a Farlow and her family was from Sophia aka “Sophie”.

  2. June McCullough Says:

    Recently moved to NC and am enjoying reading of the history and exploring the territory! Fascinating!

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