Archive for the ‘Revolutionary War’ Category

Tempora labuntur, omnia mutantur

July 4, 2016
Oak trees at 722 West Main Street, Franklinville, NC

Oak trees at 722 West Main Street, Franklinville, NC

Even though Vergil, several millennia ago, said that ‘tempus fugit,’ time flies, as I was looking east out my home office window this holiday morning, I was struck by how slowly changes can happen.  The two oak trees in the distance above are living witnesses to the events described in my post “July 4th, 1842.”  174 years ago, this very day, at this very hour, they and the other oaks in “Coffin’s Grove” sheltered the crowd that listened to Henry Branson Elliott’s Independence Day oration.  Perhaps his podium stood where the trailer for my lawn mower is parked today.

Most of Franklinsville, and much of eastern Randolph County, stood in my yard that day.  Many of them are buried in the Methodist cemetery about a hundred yards further east. I have pictures, and potholes in my yard, indicating that there were at least 4 other large oaks in the grove that day.  What with the realignment of the road, and the driveway, and paving, and etc.- perhaps there were once many more.  The one on the right was struck by lightning a few years ago, and hasn’t been doing well since.  One closer to the house died in 2006, and when the stump was cut I counted more than 220 rings.  That oak rose from its acorn about 1780, as did Elisha Coffin, born in 1779 and the owner of this property in 1842, when he (and the tree?) were 63 years old.

When I started this blog in 2007 I was just thinking of using it as a place to post short notes on the history of Randolph County, North Carolina.  I have file drawer after file drawer stuffed with research I’ve conducted since the 1970s, and if I waited until I wrote a book that would encompass it all, most of it would never be seen by anyone. Now that I’m in my sixties, I realize more and more that our productive time is limited, and that time passes and we all grow older, if we’re lucky.  I have owned Elisha Coffin’s house and property since 1989, and I have planted trees here of my own that I won’t see on their 63rd birthday.  But time labors, and everything changes, as Ovid wrote in the title of this post.

One thing that has changed starting this past Friday is my paid job.  For almost 30 years I’ve practiced as a self-employed attorney in Asheboro, and wrote history part-time as a hobby.  Now my hobby is my job, and I will practice law part-time, if at all.  As of July 1, 2016, I am the Director of Local History and Genealogical Services at the Randolph County Public Library, and this blog can be found on the blog roll of the library website.  I am sure that this will allow me to add more material to this collection, which has gradually become more of a resource for local history than I ever dreamed.

But then, one of those things that time has labored to change are printed books.  Thanks to Google an hour’s historical research on the internet can be faster, deeper and broader than ever a day in the library and archive once was.  This blog has started to fill a Randolph-county-shaped hole in the interwebs even though I didn’t foresee that at the time.  A challenge in becoming a librarian in the digital age is figuring out how to serve future generations who haven’t been raised to hold books in the high esteem of their forebears.  I’m not sure what that may look like, but I am sure this blog will be part of it.

Since I’ve been in a Latin mood this morning, here’s another phrase you may have in your pocket.  “Annuit Coeptis” – “He nods at things being begun,” usually translated as “God approves our undertakings.”  It’s the motto on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States, and is on every U.S. one-dollar bill.  Like planting trees and founding countries, much of what we start we may never see completed.  But still we begin, and hope it all works out for the best.

Unconventional Warfare

April 29, 2014

Pineland Money

Confession:  About fifteen years ago, when I was Mayor of Franklinville, I secretly collaborated with the Pineland Resistance Movement, guerrilla freedom fighters seeking to destabilize the civilian government.  They had me in return for a pig-picking in some hot, forsaken section of Montgomery County, and a helicopter ride.  Looking back, maybe I sold myself cheap.

Twice each year the center of North Carolina becomes the fictional country of Pineland as part of the Robin Sage training exercise, the final test for students at the Special Forces Qualification Course held at the U.S. Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, based out of Fort Bragg.  Several hundred servicemen and women from the base act as the People’s Republic of Pineland home defense forces, and the aspiring Green Berets play the resistance.  Civilians volunteer to be “trained” as resistance forces by the Special Forces “advisors;” I was a Mayor role-playing an elected official for what they called a “key-leader engagement.”   Using citizen volunteers adds realism; on the flip side, so does seeing a squad of black-clad ninjas crawling up through one’s pasture, or hearing gunfire and flash-bang grenades at midnight.

Pineland Resistance, Fayetteville Observer photo

Pineland Resistance, Fayetteville Observer photo

From the Special Forces press release:  “Candidates are placed in an environment of political instability characterized by armed conflict, forcing Soldiers to analyze and solve problems to meet the challenges of this ‘real-world’ training.  With the help of civilian authorities and local citizens, Robin Sage has been conducted since 1974; before this, similar exercises were run under the names Devil’s Arrow, Swift Strike, and Guerilla USA.  The exercise’s notional country of Pineland encompasses 15 counties in North Carolina, including Alamance… Chatham, Davidson, Guilford… Montgomery, Moore, [and] Randolph…  Special Forces candidates and Robin Sage role-players live, eat and sleep in these civilian areas.”

People's Republic of Pineland

People’s Republic of Pineland

The mythical country of Pineland comes to life for two weeks twice a year, and by the time it’s over, maybe the new Green Berets have learned enough to stay alive in some place like Afghanistan.  As the father now of a son in Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., I hope they learned a lot.  Whenever I hear of a Green Beret in a casualty report, I hope it wasn’t anyone I ever knew in Pineland…

University of Pineland

University of Pineland

The Army calls this an exercise in “unconventional warfare,” though it seems as though the unconventional has become the norm nowadays.  The irony of this part of North Carolina, these central counties, being the heart of the fictional resistance movement is not lost on me as a historian, however.  Pineland has brought the teaching of guerilla warfare into 20th and 21st century Randolph, where the real article inflamed the same ground during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Bloodshed and politics went hand-in-hand here during the War of the Regulation in 1771; during the Whig-Tory War of 1780-1782; and during the War of the Rebellion of 1861-1865  There is no accurate count of casualties from any of these eras of internecine conflict, but it is no exaggeration to estimate the dead in the hundreds.  An actual body count would put Randolph, Moore and Chatham counties into the lead as North Carolina’s bloodiest battlefield- yet we don’t even make the list.

Pineland Guerillas

Pineland Guerillas

Colonel David Fanning’s assassination of Randolph County’s militia leader, Colonel Andrew Balfour, wasn’t Fanning’s first murder, or his last.   In his one circuit of the county in March, 1781, Fanning killed Balfour, the head of the militia infantry, seriously wounded John Collier, the head of the cavalry; burned houses and barns, and generally decapitated civilian government by scattering the justices meeting at the county court.  He did the same in Chatham County, and for good measure he attacked state government in Hillsboro, capturing the Governor and Council and taking them prisoners to the British in Wilmington.

Head of the Resistance Forces, Pineland Bob Snyder, retired Green Beret.  AP Photo, Gerry Broome.

Head of the Resistance Forces, Pineland Bob Snyder, retired Green Beret planning an attack in Ramseur. AP Photo, Gerry Broome.

The lack of government and justice after the Revolution insured that simmering desires for revenge would survive in family lore for more than four score years, to surface in Randolph of the 1860s.  A county that overwhelmingly resisted secession continued to resist Confederate government.  Though the county sent large numbers of soldiers into the southern army, it also sent many into the Federal forces, and as many more refused to fight for either side.  As I have written before, North Carolina’s first recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor was Howell G. Trogdon of Franklinville.  Many others left the county to fight for the Union or to protect their Quaker families in Indiana or Ohio.

Randolph County was under martial law for much of the war, with government forces supporting the tenuous control of civilian authorities while they searched for deserters, draft dodgers, “recusant conscripts,” “Holdenites,” “Lincolnites,” and other undesireables.  Purgatory Mountain was honeycombed with the underground hide-outs of the “hiders out of the army.” The county had a shadow government, the Heroes of America or Red String, whose members after the war formed the nucleus of the Republican Party.

Chief Kidd's Hideout

Chief Kidd’s Hideout

As civilian officials tried to cope with “an environment of political instability,” some went too far.  Deputy Sheriff Alfred Pike of Franklinville finally captured the leader of the resistance, “Colonel” Bill Owens, only after obtaining information on his hiding place by torturing Owen’s wife and children.  A Deputy for 15 years, Pike was so roundly censured in the press for his tactics that he resigned and moved his family to Texas, and the blow-back cost his boss, Sheriff J.W. Steed, his job in the election of 1864.

Robin Sage 3

This is just part of the story of Randolph during the Civil War that was researched and written by Bill Auman for his PhD dissertation.   It has recently been published by MacFarland, and is available on Amazon.   [  ;  William T. Auman, Civil War in the North Carolina Quaker Belt: The Confederate Campaign Against Peace Agitators, Deserters and Draft Dodgers (2014).]

WTA Civil War Quaker Belt

Buy his book, and read the real story of Randolph’s war.  You will never look at the Confederate flag decal on some ratty pickup truck in the same way again.  Maybe if they knew their own family history, they’d have bumper stickers for The People’s Republic of Pineland, instead.


Hoover’s Mill (aka Rush’s Mill, Arnold’s Mill, Skeen’s Mill)

October 31, 2011

Every historic site has both a public and a private history.   In the case of this mill site on Covered Bridge Road in Tabernacle Township, I have a thirty-year personal association that gives me an intimate knowledge of it.  In the summer of 1975 I participated in the archeological excavation of the Mt. Shepherd Pottery which is located about a mile southeast of this site.  At that time the Skeen’s Mill Covered Bridge still stood on Covered Bridge Road, and I convinced some friends to join me in an expedition up the Uwharrie to see if we could discover if there was actually a mill anywhere around the Skeen’s Mill Bridge.  Over the course of an afternoon we not only found a site of surprising natural beauty, but well-preserved evidence of an elaborate mill seat.  And a “For Sale” sign.

Not knowing anything more than that, I convinced my parents to return with me the next weekend, and eventually prevailed upon them to purchase the tract which included the entire junction of the Uwharrie and Little Uwharrie Rivers.  After graduating from college and returning home, I actually lived in a trailer perched high above the site of the dam for two years while researching and writing my architectural history of Randolph County.   The property is still owned by my family.  But for two hundred and thirteen years previously, it had been owned by a parade of other people, and it has taken me years to piece together not just the history of this one tract of land, but the story of the surrounding neighborhood, part of what has been called the “Uwharrie Dutch” community, where this mill and the Mt. Shepherd Pottery were commercial landmarks.

Map of the "Uwharrie Dutch" region from MESDA Journal

The historic layout of the property took some time to puzzle out.  State Road 1406 runs from Hoover Hill Road on the East to Tabernacle Church Road on the West; and the one-hundred-foot-long Skeen’s Mill Covered Bridge (Tabernacle Township Site 18 in my architectural history) spanned the Uwharrie River about twenty feet north of its modern replacement.  It was built before March 1900, when C.T. Hughes was paid $11 for “repairing the bridge at N.R. Skeen’s.”  The bridge was one of only three remaining in North Carolina when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1960s, but it was unappreciated and neglected by its nonresident owner and was destroyed by high water about the year 1984.

The mill was located to the South of both the covered bridge and modern bridge, about 150 feet from the road.  The foundations trace the footprint of a building thirty by fifty feet in plan, with its western side built into the side of a hill where the miller’s house  stood about fifty feet above and 200 feet southwest.  What was initially very confusing is that the mill race ran in the opposite direction that it should have if the dam was located anywhere near the covered bridge.  The tail race obviously flowed back into the Uwharrie River downstream from the bridge, but the head race was dug into the side of the hill, ending at least twenty feet above the mill perfectly situated for an overshot water wheel.  But the race ran south, curling around the hill at the foot of the miller’s house until it bent into a horseshoe shape and began running in a canal paralleling the Little Uwharrie River, where we finally found the evidence of head gates and a dam.

Only iron bolts drilled into the river bed indicate the location of the dam, which ran diagonally across the Little Uwharrie at a 50-degree angle to the flow.  Water was funneled into the head gates, and then ran in a horseshoe-shaped canal approximately 1,340 feet around the hill to the site of the mill, a very impressive engineering achievement for some unknown millwright.   Parts of two sets of mills stones were then in evidence, made of the individually-quarried blocks set in plaster that were characteristic of “French Buhr” stones.   The road which crossed the Uwharrie at the covered bridge stopped at the mill and then continued South, parallel to the river, in deeply-cut double tracks, one wide enough for a horse and wagon, the other just wide enough for a horse.  The tracks converged to cross the Little Uwharrie at a ford just northwest of the confluence, and then continued south west.

Research into previous ownership was the first order of research, beginning with the most recent and going backwards.  The recent history of the entire neighborhood was clear:  the surrounding lots had first been sold  in 1963 as part of the “Thayer Plantation” subdivision (See Plat Book 10, Page 116, Randolph County Registry).   Lee C. Thayer was the operator of a sawmill located on the railroad in Trinity, and owned hundreds of acres in Trinity and Tabernacle townships.  He lived in the Queen Anne style Victorian house at the northwest corner of Covered Bridge and Thayer Roads which was the center of a tract totaling more than 350 acres.  When the business hit bad times, the land was sold , roads were pushed out into the woods and hundreds of small lots were sold at auction.

The Thayers acquired the mill tract in 1943 (DB 386/PG 340); for the previous  thirty years it had been owned by the family of Julian Pearce, who bought it at auction in 1910 (DB134/PG276).  The auction had settled the estate of J.R. Skeen, son of Noah R. Skeen for whom the covered bridge was named.   The Skeen Mill tract consisted of 52 acres on both rivers, and included a tract “bought by N.R. Skeen from John Hill known as Boy Hill in the forks of the two prongs of Uwharrie River just below the Skeen Mill…”

Reaching back into the 19th century the information grew sketchier, but Skeen acquired the mill about 1890 from Penuel Arnold, who bought “Rush’s Mills” from the Estate of Nineveh Rush in 1881 (DB58,P352).  An article from The Courier of 1934 described Rush’s Mills: “the Little Uwharrie came down on the top of a hill just west of Big Uwharrie.  And 120 rods before it emptied into the bigger river it was forty feet higher on a level than the big river.  So Rush, with the help of his slaves, built a small dam on the hill, plowed and shoveled a canal or race around the hill and landed the water on a 20-foot wheel which operated a long saw placed so as to give it speed up and down.”  The grist mill was forty feet further down the race, where “two sets of stones were put in, one for wheat and one for corn.  When it rained enough they could run the saw and the grist mill at the same time.  When rains let up they could not run either one.”  (R.C. Welborn, “First Saw Mill in Tabernacle Dates Back to 1820”)

Rush bought the mill and 300 acres in February 1826 from the Estate of Jacob Hoover (DB16, P319).  Jacob Hoover (b. 1754) had acquired 35 acres, including “the mill seat where Jacob Hoover now lives… in the fork of the Uwharrie”  in October 1794 from the estate of his father Andrew Hoover (DB7, P263).  Andrew Hoover was the anglicized name of Andres Huber, who had purchased 275 acres on both forks of the Uwharrie from Henry Eustace McCulloh in February 1763, when the area was still part of Rowan County (see Rowan DB5, P343).

Andreas Huber was born January 23, 1723 in Ellerstadt, now part of the German Palatine.  As the ninth child of a vintner, Huber saw little opportunity at home, and at age 15 he arrived at Philadelphia.  He lived with a brother in Lancaster County until age 22, when he married Margaret Pfautz and moved to Carroll County, Maryland.  By 1763 he and his large family had settled on the Uwharrie.   After the Revolution he turned the mill at the forks over to son Jacob and moved further down the Uwharrie to the Jackson Creek area, where he died and is buried in the Hoover cemetery. (See Genealogy of the Herbert Hoover Family by Hulda Hoover McLean, published by the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 1967).

Nothing much was heard of Andrew thereafter until 1928, when his 3rd great- grandson Herbert Clark Hoover was elected President of the United States.  Though Herbert Hoover had been born and bred in Iowa, his distant cousins and proud Republican brethren of Randolph County didn’t miss the opportunity to turn the President’s ancestor into a modern folk hero.  A 1928 story by T.M. Pridgen published in the Charlotte News (“Myths of Prowess of early Hoovers along Uwharrie”) declared that Andrew Hoover was a Quaker and neighbor of Daniel Boone, and Hoover’s mill was “an important granary of the Revolution.”  “The story goes that Andrew Hoover was not afraid of man, beast or devil; that he climbed to the top of Eagle Nest Rock when others were afraid to; that he swam the raging Uwharrie to save the lives of his horses; and he set out to face the headless horseman on the Uwharrie trails, and braved the other ghostly figures that moved like lost souls down the valley.”

It is doubtful whether any of those florid claims are real.   Far from being supporters of the Revolution, the Hoovers were part of the German Pacifist community that clustered around this area of the Uwharrie during the 18th century.  I have written about this before in my article on the Mt. Shepherd pottery [ ]  Historian John Scott Davenport has extensively researched the area, and asserts that though President Hoover was a Quaker, “the Uwharrie Dutch were predominately Dunker and Mennonite.  The Uwharrie Dunkers [German Baptists] were the largest settlement of that sect in North Carolina, 1778-1782.  Their minister was Jacob Stutzman, who bought Ramsey’s Place from Henry Eustace McCulloh in 1764, and led the congregation until he moved to Clark County, Indiana Territory, in 1801…. Dunkers did not have meeting houses until the mid-19th century; hence Mast’s Old Meeting House [across the Uwharrie just east of Hoover’s Mill; see DB10, P5) was a Mennonite church.  Mennonites, called “Dutch Friends” by the Quakers, fellow-shipped with Quakers, appeared occasionally as witnesses to Quaker weddings.  The Dunkers would have nothing to do with Quakers.  Land problems, brought about by their rigid pacifism during the Revolution, and the influx of Quakers into the Uwharrie following the Revolution, were largely responsible for the removal of the Dunkers from Randolph County.”  (Letter dated November 12, 1976, in the Hoover files of the Randolph Room)

Jacob Hoover (1754-1821) married Elizabeth Stutzman, a daughter of the Dunker minister, and it is likely that his mother Margaret Pfautz was also a member of the congregation.  But Andrew’s family must not have been as strict as others, as their numerous deeds were all properly sworn to and recorded.  It is said that disastrous floods in 1795 and 1798 caused all of Andrew’s children but Jacob and Jonas to move west to Indiana.  Jacob ran and rebuilt the mill, which was alternately washed away by a flood and destroyed by fire, until he was crippled in an accident during a flood.   It seems likely that the unusual configuration of the present mill race stems from a desire to protect it from flood waters; a breach of the dam on the Little Uwharrie would never wash away the mill on the other side of the hill.

Finally, we can take one additional step further back into history:  the 1733 map of North Carolina by Surveyor General Edward Moseley (A New and Correct Map of the Province of North Carolina) depicts both Deep River and the Uwharrie, but the only landmark noted in the whole area of the county is in the forks of the Uwharrie: “Totero Fort.”  This is a reference to the Tutelo Indian tribe, which appears to be far south of where they had been visited in September 1661, when Thomas Batts and Abraham Wood led an expedition from Fort Henry (Petersburg, VA) to Totero Town (approximately where present-day Salem Va. is located).   In 1701 John Lawson visited the Keyauwee tribe living nearby on Caraway Creek at Ridge’s Mountain, but said nothing about any Tutelos.   It may be that attacks by the fierce Iroquois tribe forced the Tutelos to move South, but in 1714 the Occaneechi, Saponi, Eno, Totero and others relocated to Fort Christanna in Lawrenceville, Va.   More research is needed to confirm or deny this single tantalizing reference, but the location- the hill above the bottomland in the forks of the rivers- would be a natural defensive position for a palisaded village.

With a variety of documented stories spanning nearly 300 years, the Hoover Mill site is certainly a landmark of Randolph County history.

Reuben Wood’s Library

March 27, 2010

[Because of the length of this research paper, I divided it up into five sections; actually six now, because the footnotes wouldn’t register with the blog software, so I but them in a separate post.  I and II deal with Reuben Wood and his family and career; the footnotes follow; and II, IV and V is the inventory of his library, transcribed by me from the handwritten text in Will Book 4.  Not every title has been recovered- if you have any ideas for one of the odd titles, email me.]

With no diaries and other first-hand accounts available to tell us of daily life in 18th-century Randolph County, one of the only alternative sources is to look in the Will Books maintained by the county Clerk of Court.  The series of books, dating back to the formation of the county in 1779, preserve more than just the Last Will and Testaments of county residents; those who died without a will (“intestate”) often provide even more information.  A typical first step in the administration of any estate was compiling an inventory of the deceased’s personal property, and one of the next steps was often to sell it all at a public auction.  These inventories and sale accounts are the best window into early American domestic life we have as local historians.

While looking for something entirely different many years ago, I noticed that one of the very first inventories in Will Book 4 (the blank book was started in November, 1812) was the “Inventory and Account of the Sale of the Estate of Reubin Wood, Esq., Dec’d”, which took up 14 of the first 15 pages in the book.  I knew nothing at the time about Reuben Wood, other than he appeared to have owned a remarkable number of books, and the fact that many of them were law books indicated that he must have been an attorney.  I filed the Reuben Wood papers among the many hundreds of interesting Randolph County curiosities pending further research.

[Home spinner- a dozen yarn ends at the time]

Last fall I stumbled across it again, because one of the items of farm equipment sold at Wood’s 1812 auction sale was an unusual piece of textile production equipment.  “1 spinning machine — 9.0.0 [9 pounds sterling/ no shillings/no pence] ” was purchased by Benjamin Elliott, an Asheboro merchant who would go on, with his son Henry Branson Elliott, to convert his grist mill at Cedar Falls into Randolph County’s first textile mill.  Every estate at that time included numerous items of textile production equipment, and the Wood estate also sold “1 loom & apparatus” at 2.10.0, two spinning wheels (at 0.18.7 [probably a flax wheel] and 0.7.0 [probably a cotton or ‘walking’ wheel]), and one “flax machine” at 0.5.0 (probably a flax “brake,” an ironing-board-sized contraption that removed the hard outer husk from raw flax).

[36 yarn ends at once- more like a factory!]

The “spinning machine” was by far the most expensive piece of textile equipment, and was probably what was commonly called a “spinning jenny” or “plantation spinner,” used by slaves to mass-produce cotton yarn needed to weave clothes and domestic textiles.  This is the only reference I have seen to such a device in Randolph County estate records.  Its presence raises a number of questions:  was it meant to be used by the family’s slaves (there were nine)?  Does it indicate a long-standing family bias against imported English or European textiles?  Did Reuben Wood perhaps affect cotton “homespun” clothing, as Thomas Jefferson and North Carolina’s congressman Nathaniel Macon?  Or was this a recent acquisition indicating the effect of anti-English trade embargoes preceeding the War of 1812?  We’ll never know.

[Colonial Williamsburg coachmakers build a riding chair]

The Spinning Machine caused me to take a closer look at the Wood inventory.  One other unusual item stood out:  “1 Riding Chair”, purchased by the widow Charity Wood at the premium price of 22.0.0 Pounds Sterling!  (compare “1 Waggon,” at 15.0.0, or “1 Cart with Oxen” at 16.5.0!).  This indicated the upscale status of the Wood family just as much as the fact that Reuben Wood owned nine slaves at the time of his death.  Just recently the wheelwrights at Colonial Williamsburg reproduced a riding chair for the collection of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and explained that

[Child’s riding chair for horseback use]

“Riding chairs were popular in the 1700s… These vehicles typically had two wheels and seated one or two people…  Riding chairs were more comfortable than riding on a horse…  In a riding chair, you could move a bit, shift your weight. You didn’t have to sit on the back of a sweaty horse in August.  Also, it was easier on the horse, which didn’t have the weight of a human on its back. ”  [See ]

Not so extraordinary for the times was that a slave auction was part of the sale– in fact, the major financial aspect of the whole estate.  70.86% of the total auction proceeds of 2,272 pounds, 7 shillings, 11 pence represented the value of nine human beings (1,610 pounds, 12 shillings, 6 pence).  All but one of the nine were purchased by the widow or by family members, so this particular sale did not represent the catastrophic separation of slave families that many such auctions did.  No comparable research has been conducted in other Randolph County estates, so it is not clear whether the high proportionate value of the enslaved blacks was unusual in this case.

What was without a doubt unusual was the high proportionate value of Reuben Wood’s Library to the total value of his estate.  Almost fifteen and three-quarters percent of the total auction proceeds was made up of the price paid for books.  While that may not sound impressive, look at it this way:  when the value of enslaved people are subtracted from the total estate, the sales total just 661 pounds, 9 shillings and 9 pence; and out of that total, 357 pounds, 9 pence represented books—54% of all personal property excluding slaves.  Two hundred twenty-three separate titles are listed by name, and due to the book-binding practices of the time, it can be safely assumed that the vast majority of these titles were multi-volume sets.  My study of the collection indicates that it probably represented approximately 800 volumes, a large private library even by modern standards.

To understand how mind-boggling this percentage is, we must check out other Randolph County estate inventories.  A comprehensive comparison was beyond my available time these past 6 months, but a random check of 50 or so estates in the first four will books indicates that not one in three Randolph County decedents at the turn of the 19th century even listed books as part of their estates.  Typical of those was Joseph Hill (d. 1794, WB 2, p.18) and Barnaby McDade (d.1812, WB4, P17), both of whom list simply”1 Bible.”   Elizabeth Wright (Feb. 1813, WB4, p.22), lists “1 Hymn book” and “3 books.”  Stephen Cox (August 1814, WB4, p.92) listed “1 spelling book” which sold for 4 shillings, 7 pence and “1 Arithmetick & Testament” worth 1 shilling.

Only four take the trouble to list books by title, as did Joseph Wilson when he inventoried the Wood estate.  Haman Miller of the Farmer community, who died in  1814 (WB4, p.97), was one of the wealthiest men in the county.  His wife listed “1 Testament”, “1 Hymn Book,” and 18 assorted law books in her inventory, indicating his status as a Justice of the Peace (what we would today consider a county commissioner).  His sale listed “1 Dictionary… 1 Pilgrim’s Progress… 1 Little Boston Collection… Acts of Congress… Acts of the General Assembly… and Laws of the United States.”  Col. John Brower, another JP (d. 1814, WB4, p.100) had an estate sale which raised $2,312.48, of which just $37.41 was attributed to the sale of his 71 books, including “Dutch [German] Books,” “Acts of the General Assembly,” “Martin’s Justice,” “Hutchinson’s Works,” and “Carver’s Travels” comparable to those Reuben Woods’ collection.  William Tomlinson (1812, WB4, p.74) unhelpfully lists “1 lot of old books” and “1 lot of pamphlets” and a book on Landlord-Tenant law, but also features a volume of “Christian Philosophy” and 4 volumes of “Newton’s Works” (Sir Isaac Newton? Unclear).  In none of these estates is the proportion of books to the total anywhere near that in the Reuben Wood estate.

Before researching the man himself, I decided to look closely at the contents of his library.  As best I could, I transcribed each title, alphabetized them, and then sought to classify them by subject matter.  It became obvious that the inventory had been based on the short title embossed on the leather spine of a book or series, which was probably called out aloud by one person while being transcribed phonetically by another- a process that inevitably led to mis-spellings and odd transpositions.   I attempted to match each short title from the inventory with the author and exact title of an edition which might have been the one listed.  The most useful resource for this purpose was the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) of items printed before 1801 [ ]; I also used the Law Library of Congress Rare Book Collection [ ] for specialty law titles.  Three early-19th century library catalogues provided interesting comparisons:  the 1822 printed catalogue of books in the UNC-Chapel Hill Philanthropic Society library; the 1828 catalogue of the University of Virginia library; and the 1831 catalogue of Harvard’s Porcellian Club Library.

Twenty-eight titles have so far defied my analysis- either no specific title was given [“A Lott of Books”/ “A Dutch Book”/ “A French Grammar”]; or the original listing is perhaps in error [Grolisque?  Canuclad?]; or the information given was vague or inadequate [“A Small View,” “Christ”?], or I have been unable to match the title to any known comparable book [“Astrolhology,” “Sullivant’s Lectures,” “Thiston’s Memorials,” “Jennings Works,” etc].

Undoubtedly more titles will become clear with additional research, but some things are obvious.  At least 67 titles were those used by a working lawyer, representing what appears to be one of the largest private law libraries in Piedmont North Carolina.  Four books were reference works [such as Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary] and six were in German or French.  Sixteen were Classical Literature, with Greek and Roman authors in translation.  Ten related to religion, with a strong bias toward Presbyterianism, with a large number of titles from the Scottish Enlightenment.  Another 18 can be classified as contemporary philosophical and ethical works, including Locke, Helvitius, Lavater, Chesterfield and Edmund Burke.   Twenty-one titles would then have been classified as “Political Economy,” titles that were standard currency among the Founding Fathers: Junias, Burke, Adam Smith, Burlemaqui, Joseph Priestly, Thomas Paine.  Twenty-eight titles were in the realm of History and Biography: not just ancient history, but a number of contemporary works indicating an interest in foreign policy, especially of France, Ireland, Scotland, India, and Prussia.  Finally, twenty-three titles were purely for entertainment, with classics of English Literature such as Paradise Lost, The Spectator, and The Rambler; early novels such as Clarissa Harlow, Tristam Shandy and Tom Jones; and a number of volumes of poetry.  Oddly missing are standard titles and authors such as Shakespeare [neither plays nor sonnets], Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey.  Perhaps these titles were in the “1 Lott of Books” which sold for the amazingly large price of 37 pounds, 2 shillings and 6 pence- more than the Riding Chair, more than “1 Bay Horse, 26.10.0” and half the price of “1 Negro Girl, Eleanor, 75.0.0”.

Reuben Wood’s Library II

March 22, 2010

When I turned toward researching Reuben Wood himself, I was surprised to discover that a genealogical sketch of his life had been written by none other than Senator Sam Ervin, Jr., of Morganton, a great-great-great-grandson of Reuben Wood.  An entry in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, summarized a manuscript written by Senator Sam, which stated :

“My mother’s… great-great-grandfather, Reuben Wood [was] an old-time lawyer of Randolph County, North Carolina, who practiced as a trial lawyer in virtually every superior court and county court of pleas and quarter sessions which sat in the vast region lying between his home in Randolph County and Jonesboro, Tennessee.”

It appears that Reuben Wood was the first resident of Randolph County actually licensed to practice law in Randolph County. How had this man been so thoroughly forgotten in his own home county?

Reuben Wood’s father, John Wood (b. 23 May 1716- May 3, 1794), was a native of Middleborough, Massachusetts. He had four children by his first wife Sarah Clement, one of whom, Zebedee Wood (26 Feb 1745- 11 July 1824), became Reuben’s partner in Randolph County government.  Soon after the birth of Zebedee, John Wood moved his family to the town of Mendam in Morris County, New Jersey, where his next son was born and Sarah died, perhaps from complications in childbirth. With four children under ten, John Wood quickly remarried and father four more children by his second wife Sibbel [Sybil] Wilborne. Reuben Wood (circa 1755- July 1812) was born to John and Sybil in New Jersey, but his brother David, who arrived in 1759, was born in North Carolina, indicating that the family had moved once again.

Surely the boy Reuben came to North Carolina with his family; but the “History of Morris County, New Jersey” lists a Reuben Wood from Mendham as a member of Captain Cox’s Company of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment in 1776. Perhaps he returned to attend school—Princeton is close by—and lived with his mother’s relatives. Even if so, both Reuben and Zebedee were soon involved with the militia in Randolph County. Zebedee Wood was one of Randolph County’s first militia captains in 1779, at a time when the militia captain’s district was the fundamental governing unit of the county.  In 1779 Reuben served as lieutenant (second in command) of Captain Thomas Clark’s infantry company, which “rendezvoused at Salisbury & marched to Charlestown under Col. Archibald Lytle a Continental Col. & joined General Lincoln” in the defense of Charleston. Whether Reuben was still there when Charleston fell to the British in May, 1780, is unknown, since in November 1779 he had married Charity Hinds, probably a sister of his militia commander Captain John Hines, whose “Light Horse” Company Wood joined as lieutenant in 1780.  Hinds was one of the most active captains in the new county, and spent a great deal of time in 1781 and 1782 jousting with the Tory guerrillas led by Colonel David Fanning.

By 1782 Wood was no longer serving in Hinds’ company; he must have taken time in the early 1780s to further his education.  There is no mention of him in county court records before1782, and those minutes are missing between 1783 and 1787; but suddenly when Book 3 opens in September 1787 Reuben Wood is listed as “State’s Attorney,” the equivalent of the modern District Attorney.  The educational gap between 19 year-old militia lieutenant in 1779 to State’s Attorney by 1787 was not as deep then as now; no law schools and graduate degrees were available, so a prospective lawyer apprenticed to his trade by “reading” law with an established attorney. It could not have hurt his chances for employment that brother Zebedee was by then one of the Justices of the Peace who ran the county court.

[Rowan County Courthouse in Salisbury]

Where Reuben Wood received his legal education is an open question, but closely available was his immediate predecessor as Randolph County State’s Attorney. When the county was formed in March 1779, one of the very first orders of business was to hire as State’s Attorney Spruce Macay [McKay] (?-1808), who also served as the Rowan County State’s Attorney. Macay was the son of Rowan County Sheriff James Macay, and graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1775. He served as State’s Attorney in Rowan until 1785, when he may also have resigned his Randolph position. Macay left the practice of law in 1790 when he was elected a Superior Court Judge, but in the 1780s at least one soon-to-be-famous lawyer read law with him: Andrew Jackson (1767-1845). The 17-year-old Waxhaw native moved to Salisbury to live with McKay and study the law in 1784. After two years with Macay, Jackson moved on to study one more year with another Salisbury lawyer John Stokes (March 20, 1756 – October 12, 1790), a crotchety veteran who would emphasize his points in court by banging the silver knob that replaced a hand he lost in the Revolution. In September 1787 Jackson was licensed to practice law in Rowan County, and on December 11, 1787, “Andrew Jackson, Esquire, produced a license from the Honorable the Judges of the Superior Court of Law & Equity Authorizing him to practice as an Attorney in the Several County Courts.  Took the Oath prescribed and proceeded to practice in said Court.” One of the Justices of the Peace sitting at that session of court was Zebedee Wood, and Reuben had been practicing as States Attorney for the County since at least June of that year. So perhaps Reuben Wood and Andrew Jackson were classmates in the law office of Spruce Macay; that they were practicing members of the Randolph County Bar at the same time is a fact.

[Bust of Andrew Jackson, ca. 1812]

Reuben Wood temporarily resigned his office as States Attorney several times in the 1788 so that other attorneys could handle particular cases. One of his replacements in 1788 was John Louis Taylor (1769-1829), a Fayetteville resident and graduate of William and Mary. Taylor became a Superior Court Judge in 1797 and in 1810 was appointed the first Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Part of the reason Wood couldn’t represent Randolph full time was that he had also been appointed State’s Attorney in Burke County for the years 1788 and 1789. Burke County then encompassed all of western North Carolina, including the huge undeveloped territory which would become Tennessee. Burke County’s quarter sessions began on the first Monday of the month, so Wood may have had trouble getting back home in time for the regular second Monday beginning of Randolph Court.

[Burke County Courthouse]

There are claims among some secondary sources that Reuben Wood and his brother Zebedee were both attorneys. I have seen nothing to indicate this, and the confusion apparently begins with a misreading of the suffix “Esq.” which court records attach to both their names. In modern American useage “Esq.” [an abbreviation for ‘Esquire’] indicates that the subject is a lawyer. In the 18th century America it was used to denote anyone who held an office of trust under state government, such as Justices of the Peace, Sheriff, Clerk of Court, Register of Deeds, etc., also including all attorneys. In English useage of the time, “Esquire — A rank next below that of Knight… this title is held by all attendants on the person of the Sovereign, and all persons holding the Sovereign’s commission being of military rank not below Captain; also, by general concession, by Barristers at Law”. Reuben Wood was entitled to the honorific as an attorney; Zebedee Wood as both a militia captain and as Justice of the Peace. According to NC law at the time, an attorney was not allowed to practice as an attorney if he accepted a commission as a Justice of the Peace, so obviously in the Wood family, brother Zebedee was the politician and brother Reuben the lawyer.

That didn’t mean that they didn’t serve together at times. Both were among the county’s delegates to the North Carolina Constitutional Conventions of 1788 and 1789.
The first, meeting in Hillsborough, considered the arguments of Federalist party managers and overwhelmingly rejected ratification of the proposed U.S. Constitution. The Anti-Federalists, who feared a strong central federal government, objected to the document without some guarantee of basic personal freedoms. Ratification was rejected by a vote of 184-84, with six members abstaining to vote. Interestingly, Reuben Wood was Randolph County’s sole abstention; the rest of the county delegation voted unanimously to reject.

The second convention, meeting in Fayetteville, ratified the Constitution upon the promise of the future Bill of Rights. An attempt to add amendments to the Constitution strictly limiting the Federal government’s control over the states was defeated 187-82. Then the Constitution was ratified by a vote of 194-77. On this occasion, Reuben Wood voted with the majority both times, and Zebedee Wood voted with the losing Anti-Federalists. Nathan Stedman, their Randolph County co-delegate who had voted against ratification in 1788, abstained from both votes- therefore not siding with either brother!

[Early Buncombe County Courthouse]

Their tours of service together didn’t end with the Constitutional Conventions- in 1791 both brothers were elected to represent Randolph County in the General Assembly: Reuben in the House of Commons and Zebedee in the State Senate. The next year Reuben continued his long-distance commutes to court, as he was hired by the Justices sitting at the organizational meeting of the Buncombe County Court to serve as that county’s first State’s Attorney. With Randolph court being held beginning on the second Monday of each quarter, and Buncombe court being held beginning on the third Monday of each quarter, Wood’s travel time on horseback must have made continual service in both next to impossible. But riding the circuit of the county courts became Wood’s professional life. As Sam Ervin writes in the DNCB:

[Jonesboro,”The Oldest Town in Tennessee”]

“With horse and saddlebags, Wood attended virtually all of the courts that sate in the vast territory between his home in Randolph County and North Carolina’s westernmost county town, Jonesboro, which now lies within the boundaries of Tennessee. He was among the lawyers considered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1788 for appointment as attorney for the Washington District, embracing practically all of the territory that subsequently became the state of Tennessee.” The man Reuben Wood lost the Tennessee District Attorney job to: his brother at the bar, Andrew Jackson, who used it as his springboard into state politics and ultimately, the Presidency.

[President Andrew Jackson, 1844]

Reuben Wood resigned the Buncombe County position in April of 1795.  He was at least 40 years old at the time, and either the harsh demands of life in the saddle or his growing family must have dictated that he stay closer to home. The number his books which were authored or published in the 1790s also argue that he then had more time to read and expand his library. Starting in the 1780s Reuben and Charity Wood had a family of eight children, four sons and four daughters, half of whom were still living at home at the time of the Census of 1810. With more than 600 acres of land to tend in the Polecat Creek/ Sandy Creek area, with eight children, and with the head of the family often gone for weeks or months at a stretch, it’s understandable that Reuben Wood gradually became a substantial slave owner.

[Burke County looking towards Tennessee]

Senator Sam Ervin observed of his ancestor, “Unlike most of his contemporaries at the early NC bar, he devoted his chief efforts to the law rather than to politics. As a consequence, he became noted as a wise counselor and skillful advocate.” Wood’s politics in truth may not have been suitable for either federal or state politics: his vote in the 1788 constitutional convention did not benefit the Federalist positions of James Iredell/ Alfred Moore/ William R. Davie, who later received appointments from Washington and Adams; his vote in 1789 also would not have endeared him to the Jeffersonian party where his brother Zebedee had voted the straight line. One political plum that Reuben Wood did receive late in his career was an appointment by the legislature as a “Counselor of State” from 1800 through 1806, which apparently was a something of an “in-house counsel” position giving advice to the Governor.

It’s possible that one reason he accumulated such a large personal collection was so that he could accept young men as law students.  When Andrew Jackson switched over to study law with John Stokes, he was following Spruce Macay’s recommendation to study with the man whose law library “exceeded any other in the region.” Wood’s collection would certainly have given him that reputation; even in 1821 the library of the Dialectic Society at the University in Chapel Hill was just a little more than twice its size.  Looking at the men who married his daughters gives us some evidence that Wood set about training a new generation of lawyers.  Joseph Wilson (1782-1829), a Quaker native of Guilford County, was Reuben Wood’s only confirmed student; he was licensed to practice law in 1804 and settled in Stokes County, where he served in the legislature. From 1812 until his death he served as State’s Attorney in the western district of North Carolina, the same job Reuben Wood had started twenty years before. Wood became so identified with bringing law and order to Western North Carolina that he was subsequently known as “the Great Solicitor.” Wilson’s brother Jethro Starbuck Wilson also likely studied with Wood; he married Wood’s daughter Laura (, became a lawyer and went into practice in Charlotte. Further along the distaff side of the family tree, Senator Sam Ervin’s mother Laura Theresa Powe was the great-grandaughter of Mary and Joseph Wood’s daughter Laura Theresa Wilson (1808-1848), a family line which included five additional lawyers.

It’s not clear that any of Reuben Wood’s own sons followed him into the practice of law.  In fact, their relationships do not appear to have been close.  Oldest son John L. Wood was excluded from the draft will his father wrote, and appears to have left Randolph County for the western territories at an early date. When his father died, he was contacted in Tennessee, and his descendants settled in Arkansas.  Son Albert L. Wood was left only a life estate in part of the family property by his father, and soon followed his brother West; his family settled in Missouri.  There is some indication Joseph Wood became a frontier doctor; his family settled in Texas.  Youngest son Edwin may have been his father’s favorite; could he have been working to follow his father into the law?  Unfortunately, Edwin only survived his father by two years, the only one of the children to die so young.

Some sudden illness apparently came upon Reuben Wood in the summer of 1812; as is the case with many lawyers, his own personal affairs were not in good order.  He owed a number of outstanding debts, and he was owed payment for work done for clients on credit.  He drafted a will, obviously on his sick bed, which was not properly signed or witnessed, and was never probated.  Reuben Wood died at home in late July, 1812. Though he had wanted young Edwin to settle the estate, his brother-in-law Joseph Wilson took over, appointing guardians for the three minor children, settling the widow’s petition for dower support, conducting the inventory and the sale of Wood’s personal property. It is unknown how long Charity Wood survived her husband. All of the children had left Randolph County and all of Reuben’s real property had been sold by 1825, and so far no reliable records mention Charity. The location of the burial plot of Reuben Wood, Edwin Wood and perhaps Charity Wood is also unknown. Brother Zebedee and his family, who lived not far away from Reuben, are buried at Shiloh Methodist Church, near Julian.

Trying to reconstruct a man’s private and professional life almost 200 years after his death is not an easy task even when sources are plentiful. With the early founders and leaders of Randolph County, the sources are scattered, many puzzle pieces are missing, and without personal letters, journals or diaries, intellectual opinions and internal motivations are hard to imagine from the bare legal records that remain. Reuben Wood’s library offers a rare window into his mind, his interests, and his education- the only insight available, since absolutely nothing remains of his home, his grave, his physical existence. Perhaps the list of his books in Will Book 4 really is Reuben Wood’s most appropriate memorial.

Thankfully, the internet has now made research into Reuben Wood’s library much easier than it was just a decade ago. A study of the books Wood read and chose to purchase adds color to the picture of him outlined by Senator Sam Ervin in 1972: not just a hard-working, circuit-riding trial lawyer, but a philosopher of the law, a deep thinker on topics of constitutions and government, economics, and ethics. Well-educated in the classical tradition, and committed to educating others, he established a tradition of professional and public service that has endured down to the present day. Even after uncovering, sifting, and organizing all this information about Reuben Wood, it still surprises me that he and his brother Zebedee have been so completely forgotten by the county they served. A contemporary of the Founding Fathers, Reuben Wood should have been remembered as our Randolph County Adams, Jefferson or Madison. This is an attempt to correct that oversight.

Randolph County Military History

November 9, 2009

[An unknown Randolph County Civil War soldier. This ambrotype was sold at an estate auction in Grant Township in 2001.]

The following overview of Randolph County’s involvement in the military history of the United States was written in 1936 by Tom Presnell. I copied it from a typescript in the files of the Randolph Room which had his handwritten corrections, which are made as indicated.

I always think of the author as “Colonel Tom Presnell,” because that is how my father Lowell Whatley invariably referred to him. Presnell (b. 5-11-1908 – d. 8-9-1973) was my father’s predecessor as commander of the Randolph County National Guard unit, and they had collaborated closely over the new National Guard Armory on South Fayetteville Street, designed under Colonel Tom and built under my father’s supervision. Tom Presnell had been a Major in command of the Asheboro guard unit when it was activated in 1941.

After World War II Presnell worked as one of the county’s first probation and parole officers. In retirement Colonel Tom became the most active advocate for the preservation of local history. When I became interested in history in the 1960s, I was directed to Miss Laura Worth, the nonagenarian county historian (she’ll be subject of a future post) who operated out of a vault in the basement of the courthouse, and Colonel Tom Presnell, who ran the Randolph County Historical Society and wanted to build a museum in the Armfield House on the corner of Fayetteville and Salisbury Streets (now the site of Randolph Bank). The Armfield House museum ran afoul of the need for sprinklers in a frame structure, and the best compromise that could be made was that the Historical Society was given the Armfield Kitchen, formerly the Asheboro Female Academy. Colonel Tom moved the Female Academy to a borrowed lot facing the Junior High School, and began its restoration. Presnell died in a freak accident in the summer of 1973, when his parked car was demolished by a runaway tractor-trailer truck.

[Major Tom Presnell in 1940.]

“Randolph Military History Shows Her Son’s Bravery in Wars of Many Decades,” by Tom Presnell.

From Revolutionary days to the present, in time of stress, Randolph sons have poured forth to war. At the battle of Guilford Court House, Randolph Militia units under command of Lieutenant John Collier, took part in the battle at that place. Of course records are scarce and vague as to this period but it is known that Thomas Dougan, Col. Andrew Balfour, Captain William Clark, Hugh McCain, Alexander Gray and others fought valiantly for liberty and were leaders in the fight against the Tories in this county and surrounding section. Few of them were in the Continental army but from 1775 to 1783 there was practically continuous fighting [with] marauding bands of the organized [Tories] in this and Chatham counties.

In the war of 1812 with Great Britain, the militia of Randolph again went to war but saw little action because this war was fought mostly on the seas and in the northern part of the United States— far from their homes.

During the Civil War the county contributed the full quota to the Confederate cause. Over 3000 boys left Randolph in 1861 to fight for the protection of their homes and property. Randolph sent to the front nine full companies, all commanded by Randolph men. These companies were: I, L, and M, of the 22nd N. C. Regiment; F and G of the 46th N. C. Regiment; B, of 52nd N.C. Regiment; F, of the 70th N.C. Regiment; A and D, of the 8th Battalion; and numerous other soldiers scattered over other regiments.

[Flag of the “Randolph Hornets” (22nd Regiment, Company M, North Carolina Troops), taken in the 1970s in the old Randolph Room of the Asheboro Public Library. The deteriorated silk flag is now in dire need of restoration.]

Near the last of the war the Junior Reserves were organized, and saw some active service. They were boys of about sixteen to seventeen years of age and commanded by C served throughout the war in the army of northern Virginia and in the eastern Carolina. They were in all the principal battles except the first battle at Manassas. At Gettysburg under Pettigrew, and at Seven Pines their losses were severe.

Only a few returned from this gigantic conflict that raged for four years. Many rested in Soldier’s graves; several had died of disease, but many more of them had died fighting for their land. Returning home they encountered hardships that weak men could not face. The country was overrun with deserters. Robbery and pillaging was prevalent over the county.

In the war with Spain, in l890, few Randolph men saw action, mostly because it did last long — only about ninety days.

In 1911 a call was issued through the columns of the Courier, stating that “all citizens interested in organizing a company of infantry in the State Guard meet at the court house…” The notice was signed by James Kivett and George Ross. James Kivett became the first officer in Germany K, Third Regiment of Infantry . The company changed officers several times, T. Fletcher Bulla at one time was Captain, B. F. Brittain, C.E. Elmore, Ed Mendenhall and others were Lieutenants at different times. Dozens of men in all walks of life now living in Asheboro and elsewhere, at one time and another joined the guards for the annual two weeks encampment.

[Members of Company K digging trenches at Camp Sevier, SC. Randolph Room Photo.]

Returning to Asheboro early in 1917 with 53 men and three officers, saw another crisis and recruiting for overseas service began. A reorganization occurred about this time; the Third Regiment became the 120 Infantry and assigned to the 60th Brigade, 30th (Old Hickory) Division. In September, 1917 Company K was sent to Camp Sevier, S. C. to become acquainted with the officers of the company. The officers at that time were Capt. B. F. Dixon and Lieutenants Hal M. Walker and Everett Luck; and about 150 army personnel.

The infantry spent about nine months training at Sevier, the company with the infantry of the 30th Division, composed of the troops from North Carolina and Tennessee, embarked for France. Landing in France in June, 1918, The Division, along with the 27th Division was attached to the British Division in Belgium. On September 29, the Division did some of the most courageous fighting of the entire war.

During the war these two divisions gained fighting glory by successfully assaulting the Hindenburg Line— an assumingly impregnable fortress. Company K going into the assault with 208 men, only 67 emerged living or unwounded. They had fought in the fiercest part and had accomplished their objective, but only at the cost of supreme sacrifice. Capt. Dixon, Sergeant Tom McDowell, Private John Kivett and many other Losing their lives.

[Private J.A. Long of Company K]

After a few days rest, October 10 saw this outfit back in the lines engaged in another fierce battle.

In addition to the National Guard Company, Randolph furnished many men for all branches of the service during the war. Most of the Randolph men who entered the army by way of the selective draft were sent to Camp Jackson, S.C. for training, being assigned to the 81st division. They too went to France and saw action in battle.

After the Armistice was signed, American troops in France wore sent home as fast as possible, The 120th infantry landing in Charleston, S.C. in April, 1919, and Company K was mustered out of service, the boys returning home and Company K was disbanded.

In 1921 the National Guard was reorganized but Asheboro did not get one of the companies. However in 1928 Headquarters Company 3rd Bn., 12 Infantry, a unit of the North Carolina National Guard was secured for the town, being organized by C.J. Lovett and Roy Cox, Lt. Cox his junior officer.

This company is now composed of two officers and 28 enlisted men. Cox is 1st. Lieutenant in Command and Vance Kivett is 2nd lieutenant. The armory is located on N. Church Street and was built only some forty years ago. The large drill room, besides being used for military purposes, is often converted to a dance hall and a meeting place for various civic organizations.

Andrew Balfour Family Cemetery

March 24, 2009

Doul Mountain Road, Cedar Grove Township

Randolph County Landmark Report.

The dramatic story of the assassination of Colonel Andrew Balfour on the steps of his own home is by far the best known and best documented episode of Randolph County’s Revolutionary War history. Balfour’s grave site is the only remaining physical evidence of his residence in the county, but his memory lives on in numerous ways. Not only is the local chapter of the DAR named for him, but the Asheboro Masonic Lodge and an entire neighborhood of North Asheboro bears the Balfour name. His grave was originally located on his farm somewhere near the site of his house, the exact location of Balfour’s house is now unknown, but he was buried on a west-facing slope of what is now called Doul Mountain, west of Tot Hill Farm Road and Bettie McGee’s Creek. The grave became the center of a family graveyard now accessed from Doul Mountain Road, and situated on property now belonging to the City of Asheboro but outside the fenced boundaries of the Airport Authority. Once overgrown and surrounded by corn fields, the cemetery was renovated by the DAR and local Boy Scout troops. Five marked graves are enclosed by a stone wall and shaded by crepe myrtles and two young trees. The stone marking Colonel Balfour’s plot in the center is inscribed “murdered by a band of Tories at his home;” a more pious epitaph also reads “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord.” It is flanked on one side by the grave of his second wife, Elizabeth Dayton who died in 1818 and their son, Andrew Balfour Jr., Oct. 22, 1776-Dec. 31, 1825. On his other side are the markers of the colonel’s sister, Margaret Balfour, who died in 1816, and Margaret B. Hughes, 1775-1820 (his daughter by Elizabeth Dayton).

The cemetery, located at or near the site of Balfour’s home and marking the site of his murder, is historically valuable in illustrating and explaining the vicious guerrilla warfare that centered around Randolph County in the aftermath of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Andrew Balfour was not the only Whig killed in the “Tory War,” but he became its best known victim. David Fanning was the partisan leader of the royalist Tory forces based in the southeastern section of the county. His greatest exploit was a surprise attack on the state government meeting in Hillsborough, where he captured Governor Thomas Burke and a number of members of the General Assembly, and marched them to Wilmington as prisoners of war. But the majority of Fanning’s work in the year 1782-1783 lay in terrorizing the friends and families of local patriot leaders, burning their barns and homes, intimidating local government, and engaging in several pitched battles with Whig cavalry and militia forces. Fanning’s assassination of Andrew Balfour was part of his plan to deprive the local Whig forces of any competent leadership.

The primary source of the details of Balfour’s murder were assembled by the Rev. Eli W. Caruthers in his 1854 book “Revolutionary Incidents And Sketches Of Characters, Chiefly In The Old North State” (commonly referred to as “The Old North State in 1776”).  Chapter 20, starting on page 297, contains information on Colonel Balfour gathered by Caruthers and pioneer historian Judge Archibald D. Murphey. The Rev. Caruthers, a minister in Greensboro, interviewed numerous Randolph County residents and descendants of Col. Balfour in the early 1850s in preparation for writing his book. It appears that the family also allowed him to read and copy the private correspondence of Margaret and Eliza Balfour.

Colonel Andrew Balfour was born February 23, 1736 (old style) at Braidwood Estate near Edinburgh.[i] He was the son of Andrew Balfour, a well-to-do member of the Scottish gentry and his wife Margaret Robertson. Andrew (who may actually have been the third in his family bearing that name) attended Edinburgh University, engaged in a mercantile business with his brother Robert Scott Balfour, and later opened his own business.  Balfour married Jane McCormick in 1769 and fathered a daughter Isabel (nicknamed “Tibby”) in 1771. 

[i] Geneaological information on “Andrew Balfour iii” is from the Balfour family website

He emigrated to America from Grenock, Scotland in May of 1772, leaving his wife and child to follow later, and arrived in Boston on the 18th of July, 1772. While working in Enfield, Connecticut, he received news that his wife had died in Scotland of fever on June 17, 1773.  His sister Margaret Balfour sailed with Balfour’s daughter Tibby to Charleston, South Carolina, where their brother John Balfour resided. Meanwhile, Balfour met Elizabeth Dayton of New Port, Rhode Island and married her there on May 1, 1774, before embarking for Charleston to reunite with Margaret and Tibby.

Balfour moved south in 1777, leaving his wife with her relatives in New England while he investigated family land in North Carolina and visted his brother in Charleston. Balfour’s father had purchased land in South Carolina for his son John, and before 1773 he evidently purchased a thousand acres in North Carolina from Lord Granville, and offered it to his son Andrew if he would homestead it. Balfour, basing himself in Salisbury, had the property surveyed in May, 1779, and found it to contain 1,900 acres on the “waters” of Bettie Magee’s Creek, a tributary of Little River and the Pee Dee River basin. Balfour moved to the property with a number of slaves and began operating a “plantation.” As a prominent landowner Balfour became highly regarded in a short time, and was elected Second Major of the local militia in 1779. In 1780 he was elected one of the county’s first state representatives to the General Assembly and a short time later was appointed Colonel of the Militia.

It is interesting that Andrew Balfour became a Whig, as his brother John living in Charleston and Cheraw remained a Tory loyalist. Balfour may have served in General Ashe’s Georgia campaign, which Caruthers theorizes led him to be captured by a band of armed Tories in South Carolina. In the fall of 1780, he and Jacob Shephard, father of the Hon. Augustine H. Shephard, who was also a prominent Whig, were captured by a party of Tories, from the Pedee, under the command of Colonel Coulson, who were carrying them as prisoners to the British at Cheraw, but were attacked by Captain Childs, from Montgomery, who completely dispersed them, and set their prisoners at liberty to return home.” [ii]

[ii] Quoted in Caruthers, “REVOLUTIONARY INCIDENTS AND SKETCHES OF CHARACTERS, CHIEFLY IN THE OLD NORTH STATE” (commonly referred to as: “The Old North State in 1776”), Chapter 20. The book is most easily found on the web at

About the same time Balfour was fighting for the Whigs, David Fanning arrived in the county from South Carolina and assembled a guerrilla army of pro-British Tories. Fanning and Balfour became linked in opposition. The only good account of their continuing series of battles comes from the Autobiography of Fanning himself:

I returned to Coxe’s Mill and remained there till the 8th June [1781]; when the Rebels embodied 160 men to attack me, under the command of Cols. Collyer and Balfour.  I determined to get the advantage by attacking them, which I did with 49 men in the night, after marching 10 miles to their encampment.  They took one of my guides, which gave them notice of my approach: I proceeded within thirty steps of them; but being unacquainted with the grounds, advanced very cautiously.  The sentinel, however, discovered my party, and firing upon us, retreated.  They secured themselves under cover of the houses, and fences; the firing then began; and continued on both sides for the space of four hours; being very cloudy and dark – during which time I had one man killed, and six wounded; and the guide, before mentioned, taken prisoner; whom they killed next morning in cold blood.  What injury they suffered, I could not learn; As the morning appeared we retreated, and returned again to Deep River; leaving our wounded men at a friend’s house, privately.

. . . About the 7th March 1782 Capt. Walker and Currie, of the Loyal Militia fell in, with a party of Rebels, and came to an engagement, and fired for some time, ’till the rebels had fired all their ammunition; and then, wished to come to terms of peace between each party; and no plundering, killing or murdering should be committed by either party or side… which was to be agreed upon by each Colonel… Soon after my men came to me and informed what they had done; we received the rebel Col. Balfour’s answer; ‘there was no resting place for a Tory’s foot upon the Earth.’  He also immediately sent out his party, and on the 10th, I saw the same company coming to a certain house where we were fiddling and dancing.  We immediately prepared ourselves in readiness to receive them, , their number being 27 and our number only seven; We immediately mounted our horses, and went some little distance from the house, and commenced a fire, for some considerable time; night coming on they retreated and left the ground.

Some time before, while, we were treating with each other, I had ordered and collected twenty-five men to have a certain dress made which was linnen frocks, died black, with red cuffs, red elbows, and red shoulder cape also, and belted with scarlet, all fringed with white fringe, and on the 12th of March, my men being all properly equipped, assembled together, in order to give them a small scourge, which we set out for.  On Balfour’s plantation, we came upon him, he endeavored to make his escape; but we soon prevented him, fired at him, and wounded him.  The first ball he received was through one of his arms, and ranged through his body; the other through his neck; which put an end to his committing any more ill deeds.

We also wounded another of his men.  We then proceeded to their Colonel [Collier] belonging to said county of Randolph; on our way we burnt several rebel houses, and catched several prisoners; the night coming on and the distance to said Collier’s was so far, that it was late before we got there.  He made his escape, having received three balls through his shirt.  But I took care to destroy the whole of his plantation.  I then persued our route, and came to one Capt. John Bryan’s; another rebel officer.  I told him if he would come out of the house, I would give him a parole; which he refused, saying that he had taken parole from Lord Cornwallis, swearing ‘by God! he had broken that and he would also break our Tory parole.’  With that I immediately ordered the house to be set on fire, which was instantly done.  As soon as he saw the flames of the fire, increasing, he called out to me, and desired me to spare his house, for his wife’s and children’s sake, and he would walk out with his arms in his hands.  I immediately answered him, that if he walked out, that his house should be saved, for his wife and children.  When he came out, he said ‘Here, damn you, here I am.’  With that he received two balls through his body: He came out with his gun cocked, and sword at the same time.

The next following being the 13th march, was their election day to appoint Assembly men, and was to meet at Randolph Court House.  I proceeded on in order to see the gentlemen representatives; On their getting intelligence of my coming they immediately scattered; I prevented their doing any thing that day.

From thence I proceeded on, to one Major Dugin’s house, or plantation, and I destroyed all his property; and all the rebel officers property in the settlement for the distance of forty miles. [iii]

[iii] David Fanning, “The Narrative  of Colonel David Fanning” printed in Richmond, Va., 1861 and reprinted by the Reprint Company, Spartanburg, SC. This book can be found on the web at

The impact on the community can be seen in the following letter from Balfour’s second-in-command of the local militia, Major Absalom Tatom, who had also been Randolph County’s first elected Clerk of Court in 1779. Tatom wrote to Governor Thomas Burke:

Hillsboro’, March 20th, 1782.
Sir: – – On Sunday the 11th inst., Col. Balfour, of Randolph, was murdered in the most inhuman manner, by Fanning and his party, also a Captain Bryant and a Mr. King were murdered in the night of the same day, by them. Colonel Collier’s and two other houses were burned by the same party.
Colonel Balfour’s sister and daughter, and several other women, were wounded and abused in a barbarous manner.
There, sir, are facts. I was at that time in Randolph- -saw the Tories and some of their cruelties. Without a speedy relief, the good people of that county must leave their habitations, and seek refuge in some other place.
I am, sir, your o’bt serv’t,
A. Tatom.

Fanning blamed Balfour for refusing to approve the truce negotiated by his own men in their skirmish with the Tories, and obviously saw Balfour as the chief impediment to Fanning’s control over the county. The account of Fanning and his men dressed in their special black and red uniforms provides an even more intimidating picture of their terrorizing sweep across the county. Andrew Balfour was not the only one to die during Fanning’s ride of terror, but interestingly, he is the only one to be remembered by the general public even though Fanning’s account of the death of John Bryan is much more dramatic.

Many additional accounts of the assassination of Andrew Balfour have survived. On Sunday, March 10, 1782, Balfour was resting. His wife, son and younger daughter were still in Connecticut, but Balfour’s sister Margaret and daughter Tibby were at home with him. Family tradition says that he had recently returned home sick from some tour of military service and was convalescing in bed.
Judge A.D. Murphy, writing in the University Magazine of March, 1853, gave a succinct account of the murder: “

In one of his predatory and murderous excursions, [Fanning] went to the house of Andrew Balfour, which he had plundered three years before. Stephen Cole, one of Balfour’s neighbors, hearing of his approach and apprised of his intentions, rode at full speed to Balfour’s house and gave him notice of the danger that threatened him. Balfour had scarcely stepped out of his house before he saw Fanning galloping up. He ran, but one of Fanning’s party, named Absalom Autry, fired at him with his rifle and broke his arm. He returned to the house and entered it, and his daughter and sister clung to him in despair. Fanning and his men immediately entered and tore away the women, threw them on the floor and held them under their feet until they shot Balfour. He fell on the floor, and Fanning taking a pistol, shot him through the head.

The pace of communication at the time is illustrated by the fact that Balfour’s wife Eliza learned of her husband’s murder on May 14th, two months after his death but just two days after she received two letters from him. Margaret Balfour wrote her with details of the day on September 24th, from Swearing Creek near Salisbury, where she and Tibby had gone to live with friends:

On the 10th of March, about twenty-five armed ruffians came to the house with the intention to kill my brother. – – Tibby and I endeavored to prevent them; but it was all in vain. The wretches cut and bruised us both a great deal, and dragged us from the dear man before our eyes. The worthless, base, horrible Fanning shot a bullet into his head, which soon put a period to the life of the best of men, and the most affectionate and dutiful husband, father, son and brother. The sight was so shocking, that it is impossible for tongue to express any thing like our feelings; but the barbarians, not in the least touched by our anguish, drove us out of the house, and took every thing that they could carry off except the negroes who happened to be all from home at the time. It being Sunday, never were creatures in more distress. We were left in a strange country, naked, without money, and what was a thousand times worse, we had lost forever a near and dear relation. What added to our affliction, was the thought of his poor, helpless family left destitute, and it was not in our power to assist them. I wish his two families were united together… Until then, I shall hire out my negroes, and go to Salisbury, where we intend to try the milliner’s business. If there is good encouragement for that business with you, please let me know it, as soon as possible. If there is not, I beg you will come to us; and while I have a sixpence, I will share it with you. We are at present about tem miles from Salisbury, at Mr James McCay’s, where we have made a crop of corn. We remained only a few days on our own plantation, after the dreadful disaster, having been informed that Fanning was coming to burn the house and take the negroes.

Even after the war ended and Fanning had fled to Canada, Margaret Balfour continued to advocate for justice for her brother. Writing to Eliza Balfour on June 6th, 1783 Margaret says:

Some time last February, having been informed that my horse [stolen by Fanning’s men] was at one Major Gholson’s, I got Mr. John McCoy with me, and we went to the Major’s, where we found the horse, but in such poor condition, that it was with great difficulty that we got him home. However, he is now so much recruited, that he is fit for a little service. When I was after the horse, I heard that one of Fanning’s men was in Hillsboro’ jail; and, as the court commenced on the 1st of April, I went to Hillsboro’, and witnessed against him. The crime was proved so plainly, that not one lawyer spoke a word in his favor, though he had three of them employed. My story was so affecting, that the court was willing to give me every satisfaction in their power; and in order to do this, they broke a little through the usual course, for they had the villain fried, condemned and hung, all in the space of the court. While the judge was giving the jury their charge, I heard several gentlemen of my brother’s acquaintance wishing to God the jury would not bring him in guilty, that they might have the pleasure of putting the rascal to death with their own hands; and if the jury had not brought him in guilty, I am sure they would have killed the wretch before he had got out of the house. If it is an inexpressible happiness for one to know, that his dear friends are much beloved, we have that happiness; for I believe, that there has not a man fallen since the beginning of the troubles, who was more sincerely and generally lamented, than our dear Andrew.

Margaret Balfour’s account is confirmed by an indictment obtained by Attorney General Alfred Moore in Hillsboro Superior Court in April, 1783, which states that

The jurors for the State, upon their oath, present that David Fanning, late of the county of Chatham, yeoman, and Frederick Smith, late of the county of Cumberland, yeoman, not having the fear of God in their hearts, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, on the ninth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two, and in the sixth year of American Independence, with force and arms, in the county of Randolph, in the District of Hillsboro’, in and upon one Andrew Balfour… did make an assault, and that the said David Fanning, [with] a certain pistol of the value of Five shillings sterling… charged with gunpowder and one leaden bullet, which pistol, he, the said David, in his right hand… held, to, against, and upon the said Andrew Balfour, then and there feloniously, wilfully , and of his malice aforethought, did shoot and discharge, and…by force of the gunpowder, shot and sent forth…in and upon the head of the said Andrew…the leaden bullet aforesaid…so as to… strike, penetrate, and wound…in and upon the head of him the said Andrew, one mortal wound of the depth of four inches and of the breadth of half an inch, of which said mortal wound, the aforesaid Andrew Balfour then and there instantly died; and that the aforesaid Frederick Smith, then and there, feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, was present, aiding, helping, abetting, comforting, assisting and maintaining the said David Fanning…against the peace and dignity of the said State.”

After the murder Margaret Balfour settled in Salisbury with her neice Tibby. Eliza Balfour and her children joined them on December 25, 1784, after a voyaging to Wilmington, journeying up the river to Fayetteville, and across country past the plantation and grave of her husband before arriving in Rowan County. In 1790 Tibby Balfour married John Troy of Salisbury, and had by him two daughters and a son, John Balfour Troy, who became a prominent merchant and Justice of the Peace in Randolph County (and the ancestor of Colonel Guy Troy, of Liberty). Margaret Balfour resided on the Balfour plantation with her grand-neice Rachel Troy, who had married Lewis Beard. She died in 1818 and was laid to rest in the burying ground beside her brother.

Schoolmaster Yorke and the Tories

February 15, 2009


In researching Tryon’s Ferry and the history of the Regulators, I read through one of the very early sources of Revolutionary history, B.J. Lossing’s 1850 “Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution.” Benson Lossing (1813-1891), an artist and illustrator, was one of the first historians to travel to the sites of the war and record its historic sites. When he came to North Carolina in 1849 local guides took him all over the state. It is obvious that he and they considered the Regulation one of the first battles of the Revolution, and Lossing devotes considerable space to its story.

However, it is obvious that he relied greatly on local tradition, some of which was barely accurate. For example, he recounts the story of “Captain Messer,” the Regulator commander whose small child begged the Governor to spare his father’s life (Chapter 14, footnote 34). Lossing was actually referred to Benjamin Merrill, whose execution is told in the words of Governor Tryon at p.495 of the Regulator Papers.

I am wondering if the following is another example of garbled local oral history. Lossing writes at length of the Regulator disruption of the September, 1770 term of Superior Court in Hillsborough. A local resident reported that “We heard a Party or Parties of the said People called Regulators patrolling the Streets to the Terror of the Inhabitants,” “armed with Wooden Cudgels or Cow Skin Whips.” The “Regulators exasperated…did…assault the House of Colo. Fanning…break and destroy a considerable part of his Household furniture, Drink and spill the Liquors in His Cellar, and almost totally Demolish his House” (Regulator Papers, pp. 262-263). Lossing then writes:

When this violence was completed, they repaired to the court-house, and appointed a schoolmaster of Randolph county, named Yorke, clerk; chose one of their number for judge; took up the several cases as they appeared upon the docket, and adjudicated them, making Fanning plead law; and then decided several suits. As the whole proceedings were intended as a farce, their decisions were perfectly ridiculous, while some of the “remarks” by Yorke were vulgar and profane. The facsimiles here given of the writing of Fanning and Yorke are copies which I made from the original in the old record book. … Yorke was a man of great personal courage, and when, a few years later, the war of the Revolution was progressing, he became the terror of the Loyalists in that region. An old man on the banks of the Allamance, who knew him well, related to me an instance of his daring.

On one occasion, while Cornwallis was marching victoriously through that section, Yorke, while riding on horseback in the neighborhood of the Deep River, was nearly surrounded by a band of Tories. He spurred his horse toward the river, his enemies in hot pursuit. Reaching the bank, he discovered he was upon a cliff almost fifty feet above the stream, and sloping from the top. The Tories were too close to allow him to escape along the margin of the river. Gathering the reins tightly in his hands, he spurred his strong horse over the precipice. The force of the descent was partially broken by the horse striking the smooth sloping surface of the rock, when half way down. Fortunately the water was deep below, and horse and rider, rising to the surface, escaped unhurt. It was a much greater feat than Putnam’s at Horse Neck.*

The “Old Man of Allamance” appears to have given Lossing a garbled version of the story of Colonel David Fanning’s chase of Andrew Hunter down Faith Rock. I can’t believe there could be two so similar events in the same geographical area during the Revolution.

Supporting this is the fact that Lossing’s source knew no first name for Schoolmaster Yorke. “Robinson York” was indicted by the Crown Attorney in New Bern in March 1771, together with 61 other reputed Regulators (Regulator Papers, pp. 360-362). But available history is silent as to whether Robinson York might have been the Schoolmaster Lossing was told about. Certainly Randolph County has had its plentiful share of Yorks through history; one unattributed private letter from 1768 talks about troubles John York and Cemore York were having with their neighbors such as William Barten, John McGee and James Low (all of whom would today be placed in the Sandy Creek/ Liberty area, which is of course the historic York stomping grounds) (Regulator Papers, p. 151).

In regard to the greater history of Randolph County, I (as writer and therefore the arbiter of history) feel we must disentangle Schoolmaster Yorke from the story of Fanning and Bay Doe. Perhaps further research will enlighten us about the role Robinson York may have played in the Regulation, with so many of his near neighbors.

[*This is a story given by Lossing in Vol. 1, Chapter 18. General Putnam’s Continental forces were routed in West Greenwich, Connecticut (then called “Horse Neck Landing”). Putnam was obliged to ride for his life, making his escape by riding zig-zag down a steep cliff five miles east of Stamford.]

[Note on sources: The applicable chapter of Lossing can be found online at . The full title of his book is B.J. Lossing, Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution; or, illustrations, by Pen and Pencil, of the History, Biography, Scenery, Relics and Traditions of the War for Independence. New York: Harper Brothers, 1850. Volume One covers New York State, Canada, Northern New Jersey, Wyoming Valley (Pennsylvania), Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island; Volume Two covers Southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and the New York Metropolitan Area.]

Tryon’s Ferry II

February 13, 2009

William Tryon (1729-1788) was Royal Governor of North Carolina from 1765 to 1771, and served as the last Royal Governor of New York.  A professional soldier, he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina in 1764, and upon Arthur Dobbs’s death the next year he became Governor.  In 1757 he married Margaret Wake, a London heiress.  He rigidly obeyed the instructions of his superiors and rigorously enforced the dictates of the British government.  He made New Bern the provincial capital, and built there one of the finest governmental seats in the colonies– later called derisively, Tryon’s Palace.

Tryon inherited a province where settlers in the west were becoming progressively dissatisfied with the local officials appointed by the royal government.  Politicians from the numerous yet sparsely-settled eastern counties dominated the few large western counties where the population was booming. Local sheriffs supported by judges appointed by the provincial government had complete control over the “backcountry” regions. Many of the administrative officers appeared motivated solely by their own personal profit, and the entire system was believed to be corrupt. The effort to eliminate this system of government became known as the War of The Regulation, and opposition to the Royal Governor’s administration became known as the Regulators.

Present-day Randolph County was then roughly the western half of Orange County (now eastern Randolph) and eastern Rowan County (now west of Asheboro).  The Sandy Creek community was the home of the most active Regulators, including James Hunter, Benjamin Merrill, Peter Craven, Rednap Howell and Herman Husband.   The Holly Spring community was home to others such as Herman Cox and William Moffitt.  The creation of Guilford County in 1771 (including the area set off as Randolph in 1779 and Rockingham in 1785) was a political strategy to separate “the main Body of the Insurgents” from the rest of Orange and Rowan counties.

In June, 1768 a committee of Regulators met at Thomas Cox’s Mill (on Millstone Creek, downstream about 200 feet from the present Raymond Cox Mill near Buffalo Ford) to demand redress from the government.. At their request James Hunter and Rednap Howell journeyed to Wilmington, met with Governor Tryon, and presented the grievances of the backcountry. Tryon and the Royal Council summarily rejected the various petitions of the Regulators, and demanded that the inhabitants obey the law and pay their taxes. That summer Tryon took a personal tour of the backcountry, listening to the grievances of unhappy settlers but more importantly testing the loyalty of the county militias. (He scheduled musters of the local troops in Orange, Rowan and Mecklenburg counties, where he summoned the men to take the Royal Standard in place of their county flags.) Tryon left Hillsborough on August 17th and arrived in Salisbury late on the 18th—an extremely fast trip on horseback. His return trip was more impressive: the Governor, at the head of the Mecklenburg and Rowan militias, marched as one brigade through the heart of Regulator country on his way to Hillsborough. Tryon spent the night of Friday September 16th at “Deep River Camp,” with no note of how he crossed the river. His show of force overawed the disgruntled backcountry settlers, and put off the shooting war for three more years.

The long-delayed battle finally happened on May 16, 1771, and took 2 hours.  The disorganized Regulators lost to the professional soldier, and Tryon took as many of the ring-leaders prisoner as he could catch. After the battle Tryon and his army moved west, taking a southern route toward the Wachovia Settlement.

They apparently followed the trading path southwest to arrive on May 21st at the plantation of James Hunter on the upper reaches of Sandy Creek, where they burned his house and barns. (Hunter was the husband of Mary Walker, daughter of Samuel Walker, owner of Walker’s Mill)

That same afternoon they arrived at the property of Hermon Husband, who lived on Sandy Creek west of what is now Liberty. Governor Tryon stayed at Husband’s for a week, before leaving and burning everything.

While at the Husband plantation Tryon issued numerous orders, such as one proclaiming that Husband, James Hunter, William Butler and Rednap Howell were to be considered ‘Outlaws,’ meaning they could be shot on sight (Regulator Papers, p. 473).  Part of the delay was due to bad weather, but a larger part were the large numbers of residents crowding into the Governor’s camp to take advantage of his offer of pardon.

On May 26, Tryon wrote to General Hugh Waddell, then camped near the Yadkin, saying “As most of the Inhabitants on the North side of Deep River and many on the South side, in the whole amounting to above thirteen hundred have come into Camp and Submitted themselves to Government… I am to require you to join me as soon as possible with the Forces under your Command at the upper Ford of Deep River, where the Trading Path crosses.” (Regulator Papers, p. 468).

At the same time he sent the Orange Corps down the Peedee/ Crawford Rd. to Harmon Cox’s, where they requisitioned supplies from the Deep River/ Richland Creek Quaker settlements (Regulator Papers, p. 467).  That Corps then marched northwest up the Cape Fear Road (the road which went from Cross Creek toward Salem- the later Plank Road) while Tryon sent an advance party southwest down the Trading Path.

Sunday May 26th found the advance party (“the Rangers”) stopped 2 miles from Deep River by flooded Pole Cat Creek; they made a miserable camp the next two days through heavy rain with nothing to shelter them but tree limbs and bark.

On Wednesday May 29th the army crossed Pole Cat by felling a large log and walking Indian file, taking 5 hours. They camped that night on the northwest bank of Deep River, which was also flooded.  Evidently their bivoack was at the “upper” or Trading Path ford referred to in Tryon’s order (I am assuming the “lower” ford would be Island Ford where the Crawford/ Pee Dee Road crossed).

On the morning of the 30th the army crossed Deep River and moved to camp at “Kaiway” (Caraway). The order book is silent as to how they crossed the Deep, noting only that “The Waggoners to Harness their Horses at break of Day and cross the River immediately after.”

The next day they crossed the Uwharrie “at the ford” and marched to Flat Swamp (now Davidson County) where Tryon’s forces met up with General Waddell’s troops before moving north to Salem.

A busy May in Randolph, 1771—but no definitive evidence on the origin of the name “Tryon’s Ferry.”

My inference, however, is that some kind of ferriage was required to cross Deep River that day in its flood stage, if not for the majority of the army, at least for its wagons of supplies and its artillery. And perhaps, for the Governor of the Province of North Carolina and the Commander in Chief of the King’s Royal Army in Those Parts.

On June 30, 1771, barely a month after he crossed Deep River one way or another, Governor William Tryon departed North Carolina for his new job as Governor of New York.

[NOTE ON SOURCES:  the 1971 NC Department of Archives and History publication “The Regulators in North Carolina: A Documentary History, 1759-1776” (compiled and edited by William S. Powell, James K. Hunta and Thomas J. Farnham) is the source for all of the quotes, dates and transcripts of Tryon and the Regulators given here.  Sadly, no portrait of Gov. Tryon is known; one that was traditionally thought to be him has been shown to be an officer of another regiment.]

Tryon’s Ferry

February 11, 2009

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.