History Early Settlements

The following information is quoted directly from Greensboro, North Carolina – The County Seat of Guilford, by Ethel Stephens Arnett, written under the direction of Walter Clinton Jackson; published by the University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC, copyright 1955 by the University of North Carolina Press, renewed 1983 by Ethel Stephens Arnett; used by permission of the publisher. We wish to express our grateful appreciation to UNC Press for allowing us to post this material for use by genealogists in their own private research. This book is also listed on the “Research & Resource Books” page linked to the index page, and may be purchased through used-book dealers.

Chapter 2 ~ Early Settlements of Guilford County

First There Were the Red Men

“There has not been found in North Carolina, … any evidence that can reasonably demonstrate man’s life there much before the beginning of the Christian era. This does not mean, however, that such evidence will not be found in the future,” according to Joffre Coe in Archeology of Eastern United States. In this book Coe, anthropologist and native of Greensboro, has described a very early American Indian culture in the Piedmont known as the Guilford Focus, named for Guilford County:

All known Guilford sites are small. They are usually found situated on top of a knoll or on the end of a long ridge nearest a stream. Water, however, appears to have been used primarily for drinking or cooking and there is no evidence that these people gathered shell fish or other aquatic life to any great extent. They were hunters of large game, for the most part, and preferred to make their camps in the hills rather than along larger streams. The remains found at one place are very scant but their widespread distribution throughout the Piedmont and adjoining areas seem to indicate a long period of occupation for these small family groups. It also indicates that the Guilford culture changed very little during a period that may have lasted for a thousand years.

As early as 1200 A.D. these Piedmont Indians had developed agricultural habits. “The small hunting groups of the preceding periods were beginning to settle down into village communities. Fields were cleared and permanent houses were being constructed.” The wide wandering, hunting, and gathering existence began to change into a more restricted hunting and agricultural economy. One explorer, who came into this part of North Carolina in 1701, wrote of eating parched corn as familiarly as one speaks of corn flakes in 1955.

The first known inhabitants of this region were American Indian tribes which spoke a Siouan language. There were many of these tribes, but only two of them – the Saura and the Keyauwee – are known to have settled the area which later became original Guilford County. The Saura lived in the parts now known as Rockingham and Guilford, and the Keyauwee in Randolph. Sometime before 1650 the Saura had moved into North Carolina, and one group had eventually settled on Dan River and cleared a field more than a mile square which grew grass as high as a man on horseback. When the Quakers came to New Garden (Guilford College) they also found great open grass-covered spaces. While there are no known records to verify it, these, too, could have been former farms of the Cheraw (another spelling of Saura), as the Quakers called them. The Quakers’ minutes of 1764 indicated that the land which they then occupied had been bought from the Cheraw. In fact, scattered remnants of red men were still in existence when the white men came. A few Indians are said to have lived near Buffalo Church and others passed through the community.

North Carolina’s first historian, John Lawson, Surveyor-General of the province, and 5 traveling companions visited Piedmont North Carolina in 1701. Unfortunately his route touched only one of the original Guilford tribes, the Keyauwee. That contact, however, furnished a good idea of Indian life in the Guilford region at that time.

Lawson’s report of his stop in the neighborhood was almost as vivid as a motion picture. Crossing the Uwharrie River about noon, a few miles below the present site of High Point, North Carolina, he came upon the palisaded village of the Keyauwee, numbering about 500 people. Having looked over the place, the surveyor-general and his 5 companions divided themselves into two parties which were entertained in separate houses. “It was my Lot,” wrote Lawson, “to be at the House of Keyauwees Jack, who is King of that People.” Keyauwee Jack was a Congaree-Indian who had run away from that tribe when he was a boy and had attained his high position by marriage with the Queen of the Keyauwee. Lawson observed: “The Queen had a Daughter by a Former Husband, who was the beautifulest Indian I ever saw, and had an Air of Majesty with her, quite contrary to the general Carriage of the Indians. She was very kind to the English during our abode, as well as her Father and Mother.”

Carrying their hospitality still further, in one of the guests’ houses the Indians prepared two young deer and a country hare in a way that was in great fashion among them. At the other house “there was very good entertainment of Venison, Turkies, and Bears.” This great amount of meat appeared in no way unusual since it was already on hand when the party arrived. It was the custom of the tribe very carefully to preserve the bones of all the flesh they ate and to burn them, believing that if they failed to do so “the Game would leave their country and they would not be able to maintain themselves by Hunting.”

Another and most unusual custom of the Keyauwee which Lawson recorded had to do with their grooming: “Most of these Indians wear Mustaches, or Whiskers, which is rare; by reason the Indians are a people that commonly pull the Hair of their faces … up by the roots and suffer None to grow.” Like other Indians, however, they kept themselves highly painted with a red ore which came from neighboring mountains.

Both Lawson and Keyauwee Jack seemed to have had an enjoyable time together, matching their skills and even discussing religion:

I had a Manual in my pocket that had King David’s Picture in it, … The Indian asked me who that Indian represented? I told him that it was the Picture of a good King that lived according to the rules of Morality, doing all as he would be done by, ordering all his life to the service of the Creator of all things;… I concluded with telling him that we received nothing here below, as Food, Raiment, etc., but what came from the Omnipotent Being. They listened to my discourse with Profound Silence, assuring me that they believed what I said to be true.

This pleasant housepart ended the next day and the guests left for other parts of the country. Even at that early date the land which later became Guilford County was relatively easily reached. The famous Virginia Trail intersected the more famous Great Trading Path near the present North Carolina towns of Randleman and Asheboro, and ran north along High Point, Winston-Salem, Germanton, and Walnut Cove of today.

Such easy access to these historic paths eventually meant the ultimate undoing of the Indian settlements in original Guilford. The paths were used primarily for carrying on an extensive trade between the English and the Indians; and while there was not much trading in this particular area, the opened passageways were traveled by both the white men and the red men. From the time the two races first met, the British, through their more experienced trade relations and subtle methods of conquest, exerted a geneal weakening influence upon the Indians. Moreover, the original Guilford tribes were small and had little chance in competition with the large and powerful groups, such as the Iroquois of New York. And yet the local Indians were often attacked by raiding parties of the more potent tribes. Such Indians, as they traveled the paths through the Piedmont, accompanied their commerce and visitation with deviltry. Being thus frequently harrassed, the Saura had quit this region by 1650 and eventually had settled on the Pee Dee River near Cheraw, South Carolina, in the hope of finding better protection from their enemies. Occasionally during the next 100 years they were mentioned, still as a separate tribe. In their new location the Saura, like many of their race, were gradually weakened by “intemperance and distempers” introduced by the white men; and they finally became incorporated with their enemy, the Catawba, with whom they were still living when last mentioned in 1768. The Keyauwee ar said to have remained in the Guilford area until around 1710. What finally happened to them is a subject for speculation, for after that date they are lost to history. Thus, in the main, original Guilford, which had served as a home and a hunting ground for these red men, became a land of departed Indian tribes.

As if erecting their own original Guilford memorials, the name of the Saura survives in Saura Town; and the Uwharrie River and Carraway Mountains are named for the Keyauwee. Their agricultural activities were marked by cleared fields which are known to have grown for them some fruits, peas, beans, and corn, such as we have today. Their art is preserved in remaining arrowheads, spearheads, pipes, work tools, fragments of pottery, decorative and trade beads, and some ornaments manifestly worthy to adorn that “beautifulest Indian” maiden. [end of page 9]

Then Came The White Men

After the Indians had left the original Guilford area, the white men took possession of the land. About 200 years ago this region was marked by a steady stream of travelers whose destination was a place they could call home. They were not traveling blindly; they had thoughtfully considered this location and decided it would fulfill their hopes, their needs, and their ideals. An added advantage was that land was cheap and plentiful and the landlords welcomed them as inhabitants. So they came, by way of covered wagons, probably following “The Great Philadelphia Wagon Road” as far as they could, then resorting to buffalo trails, Indian paths, and when necessary cutting their own way through the wilderness.

These travelers have been described as an interesting procession as they moved slowly southward from Virginia and beyond, principally Pennsylvania. In the lead were cows, hogs, and sheep, kept in line by ruddy men and boys in the plain workday clothes of the pioneer farmers. Then came the lumbering canvas-covered, horse-drawn wagons, filled with simple household goods and meager farming tools. In the front of each wagon, holding the driver’s reins, was a healthy-looking woman. From amid feather beds and cooking utensils popped the frowsy heads of children, staring at the wonders of the new world. Hanging to the rear of the wagon bed were feed and watering troughs; and dangling below were water buckets. Under the wagon and back and forth into the woodlands trotted the family dog, chasing game by day and keeping faithful watch by night. And always with each group of travelers was the Holy Bible. This great migration took place largely from 1750 to 1770 although some had arrived in the early 1740’s and some came as late as 1775.

Three distinct groups of these pioneers landed in the region which later became Guilford County. They were Germans, Quakers, and Scotch-Irish.*

*They were called Scotch-Irish because England’s King James I had moved them from Scotland to Ulster, Ireland, where they had lived for over 100 years before they came to the New World; and correctly speaking they were Ulster-Scots. However, it would not be easy to change a tradition of 200 years; therefore, they will probably keep on referring to themselves as Scotch-Irish. The term is American in its origin; in Ireland they were called Irish-Protestants.

The Germans

Along the eastern portion of present Guilford County and also reaching from the Virginia line almost to South Carolina, a large immigration from Germany moved in, begining sometime before 1744. They had come in search of refuge from devastation, for their Fatherland had been for years the battleground of Europe in a series of religious struggles and wars of conquest. IN time many Germans grew tired of such experiences; and as an avenue of escape from the poverty, rapine, and destruction which surrounded them they came by the thousands to America, first settling in Pennsylvania. Soon the supply of more desirable lands of that province was exhausted, and the newcomers had to seek homes elsewhere. Thus it was that these German farmers and artisans, Lutheran and Calvinist in faith, hardy, self-reliant, frugal, and courageous, turned southward, many of them stopping in different sections of the Piedmont. And thus it was that a group settled along Haw River in the Guilford area. [CC’s note: and farther to the south in Rowan County.] For many years they kept mostly to themselves, continuing to speak their own language, seeking no public offices, and voicing no opinions in public affairs. But when called upon to defend the rights of the people, they were thoughtful, level-headed, constructive, and patriotic. They still survive in the names Albright, Clapp, Foust, Hoffman, Holt, Rightsell, Shepherd, Sharpe, Star, Whitsett, Wyrick, and others.

The Quakers

The Quakers selected the western part of present-day Guilford for their new homeland. William Penn, from a moderately wealthy family, had joined the unpopular sect of Quakers while in school at Oxford, England. The Quakers’ plain and uniform style of dress, and their “thee and thou” language, emphasized their differences in thought and customs which were not pleasing to other Englishmen. Penn saw in America a place where his persecuted brethren could establish a haven for themselves as well as develop a fine business colony. His invitation read much like a modern real estate advertisement:

The Richness of Air, the navigable Rivers, and thus the prodigious Increase of Corn, the flourishing conditions of the City of Philadelphia made it [the Colony] the most glorious Place … Poor People, both men and women, can here get three times the wages for their Labor they can in England or Wales.

Economic, political, religious, and social conditions in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were such that thousands decided to follow Penn to the New World. In time the Pennsylvania settlement grew crowded, and as more people came over from the Old World it became impossible to buy extra lands in that province. Some Quakers had already moved into the eastern parts of Virginia and North Carolina and through their Yearly Meetings in those sections, agents had made observations of the Piedmont region – its soil, its streams, its produce and productivity, and its land prices – and as early as 1750 a few Quakers were settled in this locality. From that date until 1765 substantial bands of mostly English and a few Welsh Quakers from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were pouring into the western Guilford area. Some Virginia Quakers, originally from Pennsylvania, and later some from eastern North Carolina who were of the same stock, also joined the migration. In their new settlement they were almost like one big family, planning, working, educating, and worshipping together in the same faith.

Subsequently a group of Nantucket Island Quakers, also in need of more room, purchased a large tract of land situation on the several spring heads of Deep River. From 1771 through 1775, these Nantucketers came in great hordes. J. Hector St. John DeCrevecoeur in his Letters from an American Farmer wrote:

There they have founded a beautiful settlement known by the name of New Garden…. No spot on earth can be more beautiful; it is composed of gentle hills, of easy declivities, excellent lowlands, accompanied by different brooks which traverse this settlement. I never saw soil that rewards men so easily for their labours and disbursements…. It is perhaps the most pleasing, the most bewitching country which the continent affords… the only drawback is that the softness of the climate and easy results from labour lead to too much idleness and effeminacy.

But fear of becoming idle and effeminate did not phase the purposeful Nantucketers, for they kept pouring in until Revolutionary times.

All of these Quakers were a quiet and peace-loving people, directly opposed to bearing arms against their fellow men; and yet, paradoxically, they made and sold guns for their fellow countrymen to use in patriotic defense. The names of both the Pennsylvania and Nantucket Quakers are still a local heritage: Armfield, Beal, Beard, Benbow, Chipman, Coffin, Edwards, Frazier, Gardner, Gifford, Horney, Hunt, Mendenhall, Murrow, Ogburn, Pugh, Starbuck, Swaim, Swain, Williams, Worth, and others.

The Scotch-Irish or Ulster-Scots

In the middle part of this section which later became Guilford County, the Scotch-Irish were the first permanent settlers. They came here from Ulster, Ireland, where in spite of political and economic hardships and religious hostility they had gained the reputation of being law-abiding, thrifty farmers and shrewd businessmen. Among them, said historian R. D. W. Connor, “were weavers, joiners, coopers, wheelwrights, wagon-makers, tailors, blacksmiths, hatters, merchants, laborers, wine-makers, rope-makers, and fullers.” But the more they prospered in Ireland the more rigid were the laws imposed upon them by the British Parliament. Angered and discouraged, thousands of them turned to America.

The exact date of the Scotch-Irish settlement in this locality is not known. The first land deeds were all dated December, 1753, though some people may have arrived earlier. For ten years before that time the Scotch-Irish had come into Pennsylvania in such numbers that early landholders bgean to fear the sturdy Scotchmen, lest they should gain political control of that region. For that reason they instructed their agents to sell no more land to the Scotchmen. It was then that the old Nottingham Presbyerian Church, located at that time in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (now at Rising Sun, Maryland, because of changes in state lines), formed the Nottingham Company which purchased a large tract of land for settlement in what is now Guilford County.

The records show that this staunch Presbyterian group soon “developed a democratic, individualistic, self-reliant society very different from that of the older settled coastal regions.” They have been characterized as having 3 distinct loves: religion, democracy, and education. Many of the names of those early settlers are familiar names of today, such as Caldwell, Dick, Donnell, Foulk, Gillespie, Gorrell, Hunter, Lindsay, McAdoo, McLean, McClintock, McMurray, Mitchell, Rankin, Scott, Weatherly, Wharton, Wilson, and others.

Pioneer Situations in the Guilford Area

While all 3 of these groups – the Germans, Quakers, and Scotch-Irish – had different characteristics, they all came to America for the same reasons: their desires for freedom to work and enjoy the fruits of their toil; and freedom to live and worship as they pleased – these were the end of their dreams. When they reached their destinations in this country they may or may not have had tangible riches, but they had a wealth of ability, inward resources, and vision for building a country.

Settling in forests as they did, far away from trade advantages of the coast, they would have had little use for money. So they had to be content, for a while at least, with largely self-sufficient farms and with very simple living. They slept in their covered wagons until they could build log cabins, many of which were two-story, double houses with a chimney in the middle and doors at each end of teh two downstairs rooms. These homes were located near springs or streams which provided natural waterworks. Some have estimated that 50 years had passed before there was much digging of wells. Their furniture was simple and so were the utensils and implements of home and farm. But they soon had workshops of various kinds where they made things to supply their growing needs; and some of the work of their hands, such as exquisite pieces of furniture, is still preserved and highly valued. They raised corn, wheat, flax, wool, and cotton. The seed had to be picked from the cotton by hand, and in the evening after supper each member of the family was supposed to pick enough cotton seed to fill his shoe. Then the fibers were carded, spun, and woven into cloth; and for more than 50 years practically all the family clothing was made in the home.

Such people would not be long without churches and schools. In each community a schoolhouse and church – usually the same building – went up along with dwellings and workshops. The minister and teacher – often the same person – generally supplied several communities, traveling at intervals from one to the other. Buffalo Presbyterian Church, one of the first and most influential, is now within the city limits of Greensboro. Among the early schools, Dr. David Caldwell’s Log College was the most outstanding and will be discussed in detail in a later chapter.

These churches and schools served as a nucleus for the social life of the community. People attended not only to hear a sermon or an entertainment but also to mix and mingle with kindred and friends. Here boys and girls met, fell in love, and married. When such an event took place the neighbors would get together and the men would build the couple a house and the women would help to assemble household belongings. Aside from the church and school most of the recreation in the early days was utilitarian – corn huskings, log rollings, quilting parties – but it was not long before there were stores and taverns for gathering places, especially for the men, where there were serious discussions of the trends of the times.

These were an industrious people and their fields soon began to widen and more shops – such as tanning, gunmaking, plowmaking, hatmaking, and cabinetmaking – began to appear. The countryside was becoming a community of busy citizens. Calvin H. Wiley, a native of Guilford County with Greensboro as his home address, commented in an Alamance church address:

In a short time there was a comparatively compact society, fixed in comfortable and peaceful homes, entirely self-sustaining and having opened farms, mills, shops, and stores. A new country, up to that time, had never been more rapidly, quietly, safely, justly and completely possessed; …. The mass of all were intelligent, sturdy, … farmers, with a keen eye for good land and a fine climate, of fixed religious faith, and devoted to self government and religious freedom.

The settlements had been established less than 20 years when William Tryon, British Governor of the province of North Carolina, reviewed this locality. He reported it was “of great value, being perhaps the best lands on this continent”; and he cited one plantation with “fifty acres of as fine wheat as perhaps ever grew, [and] with clover meadows equal to any in the Northern Colonies.”

Guilford County Is Erected

That recorded visit of Governor Tryon was not made, however, in order to praise the new developments in this region. On the contrary, he was having a lot of trouble with these liberty-loving people; or, as they put it, they were having trouble with him and his minions, and the governor had come to look into the matter. The officers of the crown – the clerks of the several courts, the recorders of deeds, the entry takers, the surveyors, the lawyers, and all the petty officers – had been demanding twice and three times the legal fees and the people were bitterly complaining about the situation. In addition to these unlawful collections, Tryon had promoted a poll tax to cover the cost of an elegant governmental palace at New Bern – said to have been the most handsome state house in America – and the people of the western counties vehemently resented that move. Such a tax forced the poorest man to pay as much as the richest, which seemed all out of proportion to the settlers of the Piedmont. Moreover, currency was so scarce that these western people found difficulty in securing enough money to pay the taxes which were already assessed. And when the exorbitant extras were added the spirits of the newly settled Piedmont were aroused to action. They announced that they would pay their just taxes, but no more.

All these dishonest officials, extortionate fees, and excessive taxes are significant to Greensboro, for they influenced the establishment of Guilford County.

It came about in this way. In 1766 the abused people, with Hermon Husbands, Rednap Howell, and James Hunter as prominent leaders, organized themselves into a group known as Regulators because they proposed to regulate their wrongs. They held meetings, drew up petitions for peaceful settlements, and presented them to Governor Tryon and the General Assembly; and some laws were passed for regulating the illegal practices. Those laws were not observed, however, and matters grew worse and worse. The Regulators let Tryon and his officers know that they meant business. IN 1770 they forcibly broke up the courts in which they could secure no justice and soundly thrashed the dishonest officials, chief among whom was the violently hated Edmund Fanning who had become the Regulators’ main target.

It appeared that they had no other recourse for redress of grievances. AT that time the eastern part of the province dominated the government, for it had more counties and hence more representation in the General Assembly. Even though the western region comprised one third of the whole white population of the province it had only 15 representatives in the House of Commons of 81 members (1770). Therefore the western region felt that no justice could be secured through the eastern ruling majority.

For several years the Regulators had asked the General Assembly to “divide the province into proper districts for collecting taxes,” but that body had ignored the request. At that time present Guilford was a part of Rowan and Orange counties and the people of Orange had to go to Hillsboro and those of Rowan to Salisbury to transact their business; and such great distances worked a definite hardship on citizens who lived at the remote boundaries of those counties. Then, too, more counties would mean more western representatives in the General Assembly and thus the Piedmont people would be able to help make and enforce the laws under which they lived. After this request for more divisions had been before Tryon and the Assembly for about 3 years, and the Regulators had grown into a power to be considered seriously, in the hope of decentralizing their force and thus “to quell the Insurgents,” the provincial government erected 4 new counties, one of which was Guilford.

With specific reference to Guilford, Governor Tryon wrote to Lord Hillsborough:

The acts for erecting four new counties seemed a measure highly necessary from the too great extent of the counties they were taken out of. The erecting Guilford County out of Rowan and Orange Counties was, in the distracted state of this county, a truly political division, as it separated the main body of the Insurgents from Orange and left them in Guilford.

There is much more tragic yet colorful history in connection with the Regulator movement – for example, a number of the participants who were pronounced outlaws by Tryon were settlers of the newly created Guilford – but further details are beyond the bounds of this history which proposes to follow only the steps to the formation of the County of Guilford.

Guilford’s County Seats

The struggle for justice and right which forced the erection of Guilford County and other reforms had not been easy; nor did it settle all problems: there was still the naming of the county seat. The act which established Guilford provided for court to be held in the home of Robert Lindsay until a courthouse could be built. In 1774 the county commissioners bought land from John Campbell for a courthouse site and the county seat was named Guilford Courthouse.

In 1781 Guilford Courthouse was a small village of 200 to 300 people. There are no records of a school or a church but there was a jail, a store or two, and a coppersmith shop which was, according to the Guilford Battle Ground Company, “quite a prominent feature as all the brandy and whiskey stills, for the county, were manufactured there.” <>Tradition holds that Robert Lindsay wished to have this little county capital located upon his land (in present southwest Guilford) as did many of his friends. But in the meantime Alexander Martin had appeared on the scene. A native of New Jersey, he moved to original Guilford in 1772, and being a man of unusual literary polish and mental poise, Martin soon became an important figure on the political stage, serving for many years as governor of North Carolina. In 1785 Martin with Thomas Henderson bought “100 acres of land adjacent to and whereon Guilford Courthouse now stands” (North Carolina Statutes) and sponsored a small real estate development which they called Martinville (the original deed spelled the name without an s). In 1785, therefore, Martin’s little town became Guilford’s county seat.

But the county seat question was still not permanently settled. After Randolph County was erected from Guilford on the south (1779) and Rockingham was erected from Guilford on the north (1785), some Guilfordians became dissatisfied with the location of their capital. They contended that since it was not at the exact center of the county it worked a hardship on some who had to travel farther than others to transact their business. Feeling on the matter became so intense that it is said to have influenced legislative elections. Citizens, therefore, determined to do something about it. Based on the testimony of surviving witnesses of the 1805’s to 1807’s, General John M. Logan, clerk of the county court, supplied the following information for the Greensborough Patriot:

There was great strife, and contention and canvassing throughout the county of Guilford on a proposition to remove the seat of justice from the ancient and battle-scarred town of Martinsville, and to establish a new metropolis at the centre of the territory. The population became arranged under jealous leaders into two opposing divisions… the Martinsville Party and the Centre Party. It would fill a volume, or at least one of the largest sort of chapters in history, to describe and bring up in review before the reader the divers hard arguments and sharp-pointed remarks which were hurled like javelins, arrows, and sling stones between the opposing hosts. It was a time that tried men’s soles – in traveling about into all manner of nooks and corners of the realm, gathering recruits for the wordy war. At length the Martinsville Party determined on…a right slick proceeding that was expected to throw the Centre Party…. But alas! for the short sighted wisdom of mortal man; this scheme wrought out their own speedy defeat. Having procured an enactment of the county court for the erection of a magnificent new capitol… it was expected to fix and forever establish the metropolitan supremacy of Martinsville. But this enactment and decree only served to redouble the vitality of the Centre Party, bringing out their latent talent and force. And on an accurate toll of the noses they were found to comprise half the population and a little more. So the new decree went forth and the glory departed from Martinsville and it was left from that time to decay among the bones of the dead who had fallen in the old battle of Greene and Cornwallis.

More specifically, it was by an act of the General Assembly, in 1807, that the county seat of Guilford County was moved to a more central point. “William Armfield, Esq., Doctor David Caldwell, jun., Charles Bruce, Hugh Forbes, Nathan Mendenhall, Jacob Clapp, and George Swaine were appointed Commissioners to fix on a suitable and central place for erecting the Court-House and other public buildings.” In 1808 they very carefully determined the exact center of the county and found it to be “in the middle of a duck pond in a brush thicket,” about where Fisher Park is now located, and 6 miles from Martinville. The land around the center spot seemed marshy and hardly suitable for the selected purpose, therefore the majority decided to place the courthouse on the elevation nearest to the center of the county, which is the intersection of Market and Elm Streets, 836 feet above sea level.

All the records state simply that the new county seat was named “Greensborough” in honor of General Nathanael Greene, who so gallantly defended this country during the Revolutionary War and at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse forced Lord Cornwallis’ army to its final steps of surrender at Yorktown. Dr. David Caldwell, Jr., is said to have suggested the name; and so far as is now known it was unanimously and immediately accepted.

When the center of the county was located it was found to be on the land of Ralph Gorrell; and the following deed was drawn:

Ralph Gorrell, Esq. to the Commissioners This Indenture made the Twenty fifth day of March in the year one thousand eight hundred & Eight Between Ralph Gorrell Esq of the County of Guilford & State of North Carolina of the one part & Charles Bruce, Hugh Forbis, Jacob Clap, Wm Armfield, David Caldwell, [Jr.], George Swain, Nathan Mendenhall of the County & State afs. of the other part – Commissioners appointed by the Act of Assembly for the purchasing a Suitable Tract of Land at or Contiguous to the Center of Guilford County for Erecting a Town Courthouse Prison and Stocks & Such other publick uses as they may Deem Necessary thereon witnesseth that the S. Ralph Gorrell for and in Consideration of the Sum of Ninety Eight Dollars to him in hand paid by the Said Commissioners and Receipt whareof is hereby Acknowledged hath granted & by these presents Doth grant Bargain & Sell alien and Confirm unto the S. Commissioners all thate Tract Mesuage or Tenement of Land in Guilford County on the waters of Buffelow – Beginning at a Post Oak grub on the west Side of his land turning thence East Eighty four poles to a willow Oak thence North Eighty poles to a stake thence west Eighty four poles to a Post Oak grub on his west line thence along S. line to the first Station containing forty Two acres.

The conditions under which the move was to be made were not only that the new location should be in the geographical center of the county but that the net proceeds fro the sale of the lots within the 42 acres should cover the cost of moving the court. Nathan Mendenhall surveyed the property, divided it into 49 lots, and drew a plan of the town – 3 streets running east and west for 3 blocks, and 3 running north and south for 3 blocks, with C. H. (courthouse) marked in the center intersection. There were 44 of the lots sold, ranging in price from $4.80 to $151; and brought altogether $1689.39.

There was not a dwelling in Greensboro at the time of the removal of the county court in 1809 and settlement of the new county seat was gradual. The first residence is said to have been built by a Dr. Chapman, Greensboro’s first physician; and the first business house was on the corner of the present West Market and Greene Streets. Robert Lindsay, Jr., with his wife and infant son, Jesse H., moved into Greensboro soon after it was established. David Gillespie, Dr. David Caldwell, Jr., Simeon Geren, Joseph Davis, Abraham Geren, and Henry Humphreys were appointed commissioners of police “in and for the town” in 1810 by the state legislature. Judge John McClintock Dick was a Greensboro resident by 1811. Thomas Caldwell, clerk of the superior court, built a brick house on West (Market) Street where the courthouse is now located and moved his family into it in 1815. In 1819 James Turner Morehead and the Reverend William Paisley became Greensboro citizens. No date is available for Major Jones Johnson, but he was definitely on the scene when Paisley arrived, for the Presbyterian minister found about 20 families in the village at that time; and Major Johnson has gone on record as the only professing Christian among them, he being a Baptist. Unfortunately there is no complete list of those 20 families; and little or nothing is known of what they did or how they lived, other than the general way of life during that period.

From 1820 to 1829 many significant moves began to take place in the little municipality – schools began to grow, a church was organized, laws were planned for town living, and many new names were added to the local census. John Motley Morehead, John McClintock Logan, the Reverend Eli Washington Caruthers, and Jeduthun Lindsay came about 1821. By 1829 the capital of Guilford boasted 369 inhabitants in the corporate limits and 115 living just outside the town….


This information is made available strictly for private use and is not for republication in any form. The copyright is held by The University of North Carolina Press and Ethel Stephens Arnett. Less than 5% of the material from the book has been posted here, in Chapters 1 & 2, and it is used by written permission from the publisher.