HISTORY OF GUILFORD COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA
Natural History & County Formation
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 information is made available strictly for private use and 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.
Chapter I ~ Guilford County: A Setting for Greensboro
The City of Greensboro is the county seat of Guilford County, in the heart of North Carolina. For perspective in presenting the history of Greensboro, this chronicle must properly begin with some facts about the County of Guilford.
Before and during the time of the early white settlements in this area, the land was covered with a luxuriant growth of trees, such as pine, oak, hickory, maple, and dogwood; and native flowers decorated the landscape with great variety and profusion. Grasses and wild pea vines are reported to have grown as tall as a man on horseback. Buffaloes coming to this vicinity to feed upon the rank foliage made paths which later became famous Indian trading paths, now roadbeds for railroads and highways. And the primeval forests and pastures of this section have long since been converted into diversified farms, industries, and homesites.
Wild animals, birds, and fish were very plentiful in the pioneer days. The buffalo is though to have been rare in these parts by the time of the white men; but the beaver, otter, gray fox, red fox, mink, squirrel, deer, black bear, raccoon, rabbit, muskrat, skunk, weasel, opossum, and others were the hunter’s reward. Bears that weighed as much as 300 pounds were not unusual, and beavers three and a half feet long and 27 inches across were proudly exhibited in Greensboro as late as 1890. By 1955 the beaver was entirely extinct, and deer and bears were found only in captivity. Rabbits, the most popular species of wild game in the opinion of both man and beast, while not as plentiful as in past years, still provide good hunting. Raccoons, preserved by “Coon Clubs,” are sufficient to keep the hunter and his dog well entertained. And, according to the game warden, there are far too many opossums, squirrels, and both gray and red foxes in Guilford County.
Among the game birds in the early days were quail, doves, ruffed grouse, and “turkies in great gangs.” And wild pigeons were in such profusion, that, according to Moravian records, “In the morning the pigeons go off in clouds, at sunset return to their camp, crowding so closely together that branches are broken off, and trees that have withstood many a heavy storm fall to the ground” with the weight of the birds. These great clouds of pigeons have long been extinguished. There are still some wild turkeys, but they no longer roam the woodlands in great flocks. Quail and doves, at one time very scattered, have been reclaimed through hunting laws and bird clubs and in recent years have become much more abundant. Song birds and other unprotected birds have made their own remarkable adjustment to the changing times.
The early white settlers of the Guilford area found the streams well populated with fish, including catfish, bass, bream, trout, suckers, and other species. The present situation with regard to fish is probably better than in the olden days. The streams, excepting those which are polluted with sewage and other refuse, still abound in the early varieties, plus carp; yellow, grass, and sun perch; black and white crappies; and others. Some of the lakes in the county are even overstocked, and it is not at all unusual to catch bass which weigh 7 or more pounds. Hunting and fishing in Guilford, therefore, may be a very rewarding as well as a pleasurable pastime.
Geological studies have revealed that the entire county is underlain by rocks of several different types. Because some of these rocks differ in their resistance to erosion, both the topography and the drainage pattern are greatly influenced by the geology. An outstanding result is the northeastward trend of the ridges and streams, with the currents in some brief instances flowing almost directly north. A major exception to this tendency is that of Deep River, which flows southeastward. The general make-up of Guilford apparently is more complex than that of any other county in this area, having 7 of the 9 geologic unites which appear in this section.
Two main parallels, having formations of gold, silver, and copper, traverse the county in a northeast by southwest direction. The course of one runs through the northwestern edge of the City of Greensboro. There are also abundant iron, gray granite, kaolin, and brick clay deposits of considerable importance.
The surface of Guilford is beautifully undulating and well watered by Deep River, Haw River, North and South Buffalo Creeks, Big and Little Alamance Creeks, Reedy Fork Creek, and (of all things!) Stinking Quarter Creek, as well as several smaller streams. These currents present an extraordinary feature in that they all rise in Guilford County. The creeks, directly or indirectly, flow into Haw River which somewhat southward converges with Deep River to form the Cape Fear River, thus providing one of North Carolina’s great river systems. The soil over the whole central portion of the county, from northern to southern borders is a light sandy loam, interspersed in many places with clay, and in large sections on the southeastern and southwestern borders the clay predominates.
This section of the country, averaging 850 to 900 feet above sea level, has a fine climate with a mean temperature of 58.2 degrees. Its winters are fairly mild and in the heat of summer the nights are usually cool and pleasant. And an adequate rainfall is normally distributed throughout the year.
Such was the splendid natural inheritance that became the setting of Guilford County, which was established by the General Assembly of 1770-1771. The Colonial Records of North Carolina show that in the fall of 1770 that official body met at New Bern. On December 10 of that year, Griffith Rutherford “moved for leave to present a Bill for erecting part of Rowan and part of Orange Counties into a separate County and Parish by the name of ———— County and ———— Parish and other purposes…” This bill appears to have been the first official step toward the creation of Guilford County. Although it was lost along with several others of similar demands, their supporters did not give up. Finally a bill which was considered favorably was introduced on January 15, 1771. Entitled “A Bill for Erecting a New County between the Towns of Salisbury and Hillsborough by taking part of the Counties of Rowan and Orange,” it was passed on January 26, 1771. As enacted it began:
‘Whereas the great Extent of the Respective Counties of Rowan and Orange render the Attendance of the Inhabitants of Parts of Rowan County, and the Inhabitants of the Upper Part of Orange County to do Public Duties in their Respective Counties extremely difficult and Expensive; For Remedy whereof
II ~ Be it enacted, by the Governor, Council, and Assembly, and by the Authority of the Same … a Distinct County, by the name of Guilford and Unity Parish.’
The act for erecting Guilford County was to become effective on April 1, 1771. Named Guilford for Lord Francis North, the first Earl of Guilford, whose son, Frederick, was prime minister of England, the county was named for the first Earl of Guilford in compliment to his prime-minister son who would inherit the title.
It is interesting that the county was given the church title of Unity Parish. Under the colonial government all counties were supposed to establish a branch of the Church of England and support it by taxation. Up to this time it had been customary to name a church in honor of some saint. But the majority of Guilford settlers were not members of the Church of England; and because of the strong feeling on this subject, as well as economic and social matters which will be discussed later [in the book], it has been said that the colonial assembly used the term Unity instead of the name of a patron saint, in the hope of placating the settlers of the county. The tax which was levied to erect such a church in Guilford was never collected, and its provision was later struck from the statutes.
Original Guilford County was formed from Orange County on the east and Rowan County on the west, the north-south line running just east of Greensboro. In terms of present divisions, it had as its northern boundary the state of Virginia; its eastern line extended to the counties of Caswell, Alamance, and Chatham; its southern border was formed by Moore and Montgomery; and its western limit was marked by Davidson, Forsyth, and Stokes. In 1779, the southern part of original Guilford was cut off to form Randolph County; in 1785, the northern part of original Guilford was cut off to form Rockingham County. The erection of these two counties reduced Guilford to its present size of 28.31 miles, running east and west along the southern border, and approximately 24 miles, running north and south, altogether about 679 square miles.*
[population statistics from 1955 omitted]… Guilford’s county seat has had 3 names: the first one, plain and simple Guilford Courthouse; the second, at the same location, Martinville; and, about 6 miles from the first two, the third and present one, Greensboro – the subject of this chronicle.
*The southern boundary of Guilford was surveyed in 1949, and that line, running east and west, is officially correct. The northern, eastern, and western lines, however, have not been completely surveyed in recent years; therefore the mileage of those 3 boundaries can not be definitely determined….
[END OF CHAPTER 1, ON PAGE 5]