Early Settlers

This was transcribed from: Iredell: Piedmont County, by Homer M. Keever, published by the Iredell County Bicentennial Commission, printed by Brady Printing Company and type set by the Statesville Record & Landmark, copyright November 1976, by Homer M. Keever. This excerpt from pages 35-48 is not for republication in any format; the copyright is held by the author. This is presented here strictly for educational purposes.

Early Settlers

White settlers first began to make their presence felt along the creeks that make up the southern half of Iredell County in 1749, just five years after it was decided that Lord Granville should have that section as his part of North Carolina and just five years before George Washington’s forced surrender at Fort Necessity in Pennsylvania alerted the frontier to the dangers of Indian raids.

Settlers had come before that, but most of the evidence of them is hazy and based on the fact that they were already there in early 1749 and some of them established well enough to become leaders. On April 7, 1749, a bill was introduced into the provincial Assembly to form the western part of the state into a new county to be named Anson. Three of the magistrates named in that bill – Walter Carruth, Alexander Osborne, and John Brevard – lived on the upper reaches of Rocky River and Coddle Creek. There was a fourth, James Macilwean, who was exploring the forks of Fourth Creek, but he proved to be merely a sojourner and left before the settlement picture becomes clearer. The other three stayed and became part of the story of Iredell.

Still other settlers were on Davidson Creek. What may be the oldest extant document for Iredell is a land survey for John Davison among the Davidson papers in the manuscript room at Duke University. It is dated November 26, 1748. Carrying the chain for the surveyors were two other early settlers, James Templeton and George Davison. Settlers such as Carruth, Osborne, Brevard, Davison and Templeton were located in that section early in 1749. How long they had been there is uncertain, but likely not for long. A suggested list of magistrates proposed earlier, in 1748, did not mention a single justice from the section that became Iredell.

Fourth Creek Settlements

Early in 1750 settlers also sought land around the forks of Fourth Creek. Evidence is that they had been there earlier. On February 5, 1750, John Oliphant and William Watt received a land warrant – that is, permission by Granville’s agents to have the land surveyed. Oliphant’s warrant called for 640 acres on both sides of Fourth Creek below Macilwain’s place. Watt’s warrant called for a survey to begin “on the path from John Oliphant’s to William Watt’s.” E. F. Rockwell passes on a tradition that Oliphant lived on Cabin Branch. A few years later Oliphant sold his land on Buffalo Branch to Fergus Sloan and moved to the southern part of the county where he bought a grist mill from James Lambert and began to play a part in the history of that section. William Watt kept his land around the present interchange of I-40 and NC 115 and became the ancestor of a large family.

Among the more interesting early land grants along the forks of Fourth Creek were those to John Edwards, not a settler but a man of wealth in Northampton County on the Roanoke River in eastern North Carolina. In 1749 he sent his son, John Edwards, Jr., along with a friend, James McManus, to the frontier to pick out some land for speculation purposes. After McManus had finished surveying seven or more tracts on Fourth Creek just east of what became Iredell County, they were “set on by several neighbors, particularly John Withrow and two of the Brandons, who hindered them by threatening them with swords and rifles.” Land speculators were not too popular then.

On April 2, 1750, Edwards entered his claim for three tracts, each a mile square, and in April 1751 he obtained a warrant to have the tracts surveyed. The first of those warrants calls for James Carter or Charles Robinson to survey for Edwards 640 acres, “lying in Anson County, on the side of the Atkin River, beginning about a mile below the fork of the fourth creek that empties into the said river, above the waggon ford, running up the said creek for complement, including an Indian Camp about eight miles beyond the path that crosses the buffalo licks.” The interchange of I-40 and I-77 today centers on that tract. The other two tracts, including the one where Fort Dobbs was built a few years later, were further up the creek.

The Edwards tracts were granted to him by Lord Granville and registered at the Rowan County courthouse in 1755. A close study of the tracts, made in connection with the state’s taking over Fort Dobbs as a historical park, shows they included land covered by earlier entries and surveys to other people. Much of “Mcilwean’s place” was included in the first tract. Much of a grant to John McCulloch of Hillsboro was included in the second tract. The rest of the land McCulloch sold to Captain Hugh Waddell when he came to this section to build Fort Dobbs. George Davison had some kind of a claim on land covered by the third tract. Robert Simonton was living on the eastern part of the first tract and bought it from Edwards as soon as the grant was made. Even then one of the Allisons had such a good claim to a corner of what was sold to Simonton that Simonton did not get that corner. No documentary evidence has been found, but the Simontons and the Allisons may have already been here by 1750; Simonton family tradition says as early as 1749.

Third Creek Settlements

To the west of the Fourth Creek settlers, along the headwaters of Third Creek and the middle branch of Fourth Creek, James and William Morrison were in the process of taking up land in 1751. The tombstone of William Morrison near Concord Church proudly proclaims that he was the first settler in that section. E. F. Rockwell, in the October 21, 1847, issue of the Carolina Watchman, tells why they happened to settle there.

“As they had been acquainted with George Davison, they first directed their steps to his house, where they had met a land speculator by the name of Higgenbottom, whom they met before at Hawfields. He directed them from their original intention to settle on the Pee Dee and piloted them to this region, then further west than any other white settlements.” Rockwell goes on to tell that on their way north they passed by Andrew Lambert’s, where they saw a grist mill and became sick on the soup he served them when they learned it was bear soup. In 1753 the Rowan County Court Mill licensed a public mill for William Morrison at his place on Third Creek. The year before, in 1752, Bishop Gottlieb Spangenberg heard that there was already a mill in that section but did not visit it.

Some might have been willing to challenge Morrison on his claim to have been the first settler. The McKnights were further up Third Creek before the French and Indian War. The earliest map of the section shows both Morrisons and McKnights on Third Creek. That was the Collet map, published in 1771 in London, but made from data gathered by Francis Churton, surveyor who was with Bishop Spangenberg on his trip up the Catawba in 1752. Years later, about 1800, some of the McKnight descendants boasted that their grants dated back to September 17, 1744. They were wrong. They had simply misread their Granville Grant. The date is on all Granville grants as the date when the king gave the land in this section to Granville. But the fact that they wanted to quote it suggests that they believed they were the earliest settlers in that section.

The Scotch-Irish

By 1749 settlers were definitely well established in the southern end of the county and were beginning to appear around the forks of Fourth Creek. Before Rowan County was formed in 1753, the upper ends of Third and Fourth Creeks and all of Fifth Creek had been flooded by settlers moving in from Pennsylvania. It is beyond the scope of a history like this to go into details as to who all of them were or where they settled. That has recently been done for both settlements by Robert W. Ramsey in his “Carolina Cradle,” a must for anyone working on the history of families not only in Iredell County but Rowan and Davie as well.

Practically all of those early settlers were Scotch-Irish from Pennsylvania. They had come down the great valley that lies west of the Blue Ridge in Maryland and Virginia, rather than up the rivers from eastern North Carolina and South Carolina. Where the Roanoke River breaks through the Blue Ridge, they came through the mountains and spread fan-like over the North Carolina Piedmont. The Scotch-Irish were lowland Scots who had lived in the northern counties of Ireland for several generations and then migrated to Pennsylvania, primarily because the English merchants were ruining their woolen trade with laws forbidding them to sell their goods in England. They also resented the attempts to make Anglicans of them when they were Presbyterians. A second generation of colonists and many of those immigrants who came to Pennsylvania after all the good land had been taken up around Philadelphia moved westward until they reached the mountain barrier. They then turned south from the area around Harrisburg and Carlisle and came down the Valley, taking up land first in the Virginia Valley and then in the Carolina Piedmont.

Coming along with the Scotch-Irish settlers were English Quakers and Germans, but the first ones in Iredell were almost wholly Scotch-Irish. The Germans settled nearby in the present Davie, Rowan, Cabarrus, and Catawba counties, and the Quakers stopped in the present Yadkin and Davie counties and further away in Guilford. Later their sons moved into Iredell, a family at a time, and some of them did loom large in the Iredell story, but they came in as a kind of seepage rather than a flood as did the Scotch-Irish.

The Great Wagon Road

The route those early settlers took down the Valley of Virginia was a good one, and still is. It is only slightly longer than the route just east of the Blue Ridge by Charlottesville and Lynchburg and shorter than the route down the fall line of rivers by Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Richmond, and easier to travel than either. Rivers are easier to cross, and hills along the route are not too high. Very early maps show a road down the Valley from Carlisle, Pa., to the Yadkin River about the present Tanglewood Park in Forsyth County. The maps label it the “Great Wagon Road.” That label may have been correct as far south as Staunton, the county seat of Augusta County in Virginia, but from there most of those who traveled would have questioned that it was “great.” There were even those who doubted if it were a road. Wagons did follow it all the way to the Yadkin, but the route had become little more than a trail.

In the late summer of 1752, Moravian Bishop Gottlieb Spangenburg came to the Yadkin and Catawba rivers, searching for Granville land on which to settle a colony of his fellow Moravians. He reported that more than 400 families had migrated that year, bringing with them their wagons and their stock. Down in Edenton the good bishop heard that the settlers were being drawn to the western Piedmont because they were informed that their stock would not need to be fed in winter. He ventured that they would be disappointed and that their stock would perish. He also heard that the Irish were a worthless lot, but as he traveled among them later, he came to the conclusion that there were many good farmers among them.


Undoubtedly stories of good grassland for their cattle brought the Scotch-Irish down the Great Wagon Road into the land between the Yadkin and the Catawba, but just how much open land there was in the forests is questionable. Most early historians have thought it was considerable; botanists have been inclined to think that the traditions about the open spaces have been exaggerated.

William Henry Foote, whose “Sketches of North Carolina” was published in 1846, calls the country between the Yadkin and Catawba “Mesopotamia,” a name that has been picked up by later writers. He describes the country as “covered with tall grass, with scarce a bush or shrub … with herds wandering at pleasure in undisturbed quietness.” Although he was discussing the settling of Sugar Creek in Mecklenburg County, the description is so phrased as to reach on up to the territory of Osborne and Brevard.

Jethro Rumple, who published his “Rowan County” in 1881, gives the same picture. He draws on two sources. He quoted John Lawson, who made a trip in 1700 through this section, from the Catawba villages in South Carolina to Saponi town on the Yadkin a half century before the first settlers. Lawson described the section through which he was passing as “pleasant savanna land, high and dry, having few trees growing upon it and those standing at great distance, free from grubs or undergrowth … A man near Saponi may more easily clear ten acres of ground than in some places he can one.” That was on the ridges. On the streams he told a different story, of trees so high that they could not kill the turkeys resting on the upper branches. Rumple adds, “This agrees with the recollections of the older citizens and traditions handed down from their fathers … an honored citizen of Iredell, lately deceased, told the writer that he recollected the time when the highlands between Third and Fourth creeks were open prairies, covered with grass and wild pea vines, and the wild deer would mingle with their herds of cattle as they grazed.”

Other odd bits of information seem to back up Rumple in his estimate. There is the tradition that the logs to build the first courthouse in Statesville had to be hauled from nearby creeks. It has been guessed that the same was true of the logs for Ft. Dobbs, and certainly the location of the fort makes more sense if we presume it was an open ridge where the view was not obstructed. And there is Grassy Knob, furthest east spur of the Brushy Mountains. The name aptly suggests grasslands even in North Iredell.

To the botanists, on the other hand, that much “prairie land” just does not make sense, especially not when the tendency of abandoned farm land to go to forest is taken into consideration. They say that the climax forests did not have much undergrowth and were more like park land and that there were likely enough open places under the trees to make the children of the early settlers exaggerate the amount of grassland, but no wild prairies of waving grass.

It is not hard to understand how the forests would have disappeared in the fist place. The Indians burned them to make hunting easier. Bishop Spangenberg makes a definite statement that Catawbas followed this practice and it is well known that other Indians did in other places. What puzzles the botanist is why, given a few years, the land did not go back to oaks and hickories in regular succession. Two answers have been suggested to that question. One is the scarcity of pines to throw seed and begin the process of succession again. The other is that the grasslands were heavily grazed by the buffalo which would eat even the pine seedlings. Both Lawson and Spangenburg go out of their way to mention that they saw pines after about a two-days journey from the Catawba and the Yadkin – Lawson as he went to the east and Spangenburg as he reached the mountains in the west. The way they mention them sounds as if they had not been seeing them. On the other hand, while no thorough analysis has been made of the Granville grants and the boundaries of most of them are indefinite, a trial analysis of later land grants and deeds show a few pines marking the corners of the tracts, not nearly so many as the oaks and the hickories, but enough to indicate that there were enough to begin the process of succession to the oak-hickory climax forest.


As to the suggestion that buffalo might inhibit succession by grazing the seedlings, this much is true. The buffalo were here, although they did not last long after the settlers came in. The large number of names with “buffalo” in them bears witness to that. When John Oliphant sold his grant, on which Statesville was later located, to Fergus Sloan in 1755, the tract was described as on “Buffalo Branch.” That name did not last long. On the Sharpe map of 1773 it is “Sloan Branch.” Much later it became “Free Nancy Branch.” The name of “Buffalo Shoals” on the Catawba River has lasted and has been given also to the creek that flows through western Iredell and into the river near the shoals.

E. F. Rockwell, pastor of Fourth Creek Church in the 1840s and one of Iredell’s most reliable historians, passes along two buffalo traditions that he picked up. One tells how the settlers moving into the section near the head of Fifth Creek came upon a company of hunters who had slaughtered a herd of some 20 buffalo for their hides and let the settlers have the meat. The other story tells how Henry Reed’s son, left at home one Sabbath while his elders went to preaching, saw a big buffalo right before the door of the cabin and shot him. He did not forget the incident, because of the punishment he got for violating the Sabbath. Buffalo were not here in the vast herds that filled the plains and prairies of the wild west, but they were here.

In two other ways the buffalo have left their impact on the history of the section. Roads and trails used by the settlers followed the routes the buffalo took, even across the mountains to the west. Rockwell tells of several buffalo traces that could still be identified in his time. And it is likely that the Sioux Indians who were in Piedmont North Carolina when the settlers came had followed the buffalo across the mountains and had become separated from the main body in the plains. “Catawba,” the name of the main tribe in this section when the settlers moved in, is the Siouan word for “separated.”


Cattle and other livestock replaced the buffalo. They gave to the Piedmont frontier something of the cowboy aspects that later developed in the west on the American plains and prairies. Especially to the south of Iredell, along the North Carolina-South Carolina border, there is evidence of round-ups and “cowpens” and cattle drives that marked the later west. It was at one of the “cowpens,” just across the line in South Carolina, that one of the crucial battles of the American Revolution was fought. Whatever evidence of round-ups and cattle drives there might have been in Iredell soon disappeared, but other aspects of the cowboy west lasted. The cattle, for instance, ranged wherever the grassland was and consequently the cropland had to be fenced in, with a statute requiring the fences. Stock law, with its fenced-in cattle, did not come until well after the Civil War.

Another aspect of the later west was the brands and marks registered to various settlers. Much of the time of the first county court of Rowan, held in June of 1753, was spent in registering such marks, as if it were the most important business at hand. William Morrison registered his mark as “a crop in the near ear, and an under keel in the same.” His brand was a [form of a W]. Robert Simonton’s mark was a “crop & slit in each ear,” and his brand just his initials, “R:S.” Andrew Allison’s mark was “a crop in the off ear and a half crop in the near ear.” His brand was an “A:A.” Alexander Osborne registered his mark as a swallow fork in each ear. He also registered a brand, but the court records are too badly torn to know what it was.

The cattle herds of Iredell must not be thought of in the terms of the vast herds in the days after the Civil War, when the cowboy was in his prime. Sixteen to 20 cattle would have been a large herd, but the cattle were here. So were the sheep and the hogs, who roamed the woods, living on acorns and marked with crops and slits and swallow forks.

One aspect of the cattle business that showed up very early in Iredell was the tanning business. Allison family tradition is that they found the Indians using soapstone tables north of the South Yadkin River to prepare the hides taken from the animals killed in the hunt, and one of the Allison family was sent back to Pennsylvania to learn the tanning trade. Later, during the Back Country period of Iredell’s history, tanyards played an important part in the economy. They had their beginning on the frontier.


The settlers came searching for land of their own. Practically all of the good land in Pennsylvania up to the mountains had been taken up, and many came into Piedmont Carolina in their search. James Gay, Iredell County poet of the early 1800s, who settled on Fourth Creek as late as 1771, set down his story in rhyme, telling how he spent his young in Northern Ireland and Scotland and then worked his way to Pennsylvania, to Paxtang on the Susquehanna River, where he married and tried to settle down.

Yet for a house I must pay dear rent;
After some time a son to me was born,
I owned no lands to raise me wheat or corn:
I therefore found I must try and go
Get some land whereon our bread might grow;
To Carolina lands my course I bent,
And since I’ve got here I am content
To spend my days in Iredell County here.

Land was here, and it was plentiful, but not exactly free, not like the homestead land of the Great West after the Civil War. The earliest settlers bought it from the Earl of Granville, until about the end of the French and Indian War, when he died and his heir refused to be bothered with making any more grants. Later settlers bought theirs from the independent state of North Carolina, after a law providing for its sale had been passed in 1777 and an entry officer had been appointed for Rowan County in 1778. During the 15 years between, settlers moved in, squatting on the land, marking off their tracts in hopes that the time would soon come when they could get a title to their holdings.

The Earl of Granville was John Carteret, heir to one of the original eight proprietors of Carolina. When the other seven proprietors sold their claims to the king in 1729, Carteret retained his share, and on September 17, 1744, just before the Scotch-Irish began swarming down from Pennsylvania, King George II granted him the northernmost one-eighth of the whole original Carolina. The southern line of that grant in 1752 became the dividing line between Anson and Rowan and remains the southern boundary of both Rowan and Iredell today.

The original cost of a Granville grant was not much, usually three shillings, occasionally 10. The catch came in the quitrents. The 640-acre grant to John Oliphant, on which Statesville was later built, called for “paying therefor yearly and every year unto the Earl, his heirs and assigns the yearly rent and sum of twenty-five shillings and seven pence, which is the rate of three shillings sterling or four shillings proclamation for every hundred acres, at or upon the two most usual Feasts of days of payment in the year, that is to say the feast of Annunciation of the blessed Virgin Mary and the feast of St. Michael the archangel, in even and equal portions & to be paid at the Court House of the County of Rowan.”

Just how well those quitrents were paid in Rowan County we do not know. Over his vast tract, Granville’s agents did have trouble collecting them, so much so that in 1764 Granville’s heir gave up granting any more land. The Granville grants and his agents were among the irritations that brought on the Regulation movement. Quitrents were not popular. It is surprising that no story of objection has come down in Iredell. The Iredell Scotch-Irish did not join the Regulator movement. Instead the Iredell militia was called into service twice to quiet the rebellion, at Hillsborough in 1768 and with Hugh Waddell on the Yadkin above Salisbury in 1771 as Governor Tryon was fighting the Regulators at Alamance.

There is some evidence that the Iredell settlers did not always play fair with the Earl’s agents. Some of the surveys show more land than called for in the grant. And Robert W. Ramsey, in his “Carolina Cradle,” interprets the slowness with which the first grants were made as an attempt of the settlers to live on the land as long as they could without paying quitrents. On March 25, 1752, almost four years after the first settlers showed up, Granville grants were made to 48 settlers, including Alexander Osborne; John and Robert Brevard; James Huggins and his son, John Huggins; George Davidson and George Davidson, Jr.; Benjamin Winsley; Rev. John Thompson; Robert, Andrew, and Thomas Allison; and William Morrison. Ramsey thinks that Osborne and the others had deliberately put off obtaining the grant to avoid paying quitrents so early.

The issuance of Granville grants was slowed down by the French and Indian War, but as soon as the Cherokees were quieted in 1760, immigration and the granting of land began again, with a large group coming in 1761, a group led by William Stevenson and composed mostly of his brothers and the brothers of his wife, Mary McLelland. They were here before the Granville grants were discontinued. In fact, William Stevenson had been here as early as 1758.

From 1764 until 1778 no more land was granted in Iredell, but settlers kept moving in, establishing some kind of claim to the land if the time came when grants would be made again. As soon as the independent state government of North Carolina was well organized, in late 1777, provision was made to grant unoccupied land outright at 50 shillings per 100 acres, 6 ¼ cents per acre. Settlers were to file a claim for the land and pay certain fees to the entry-taker. If nobody else filed a claim within three months, the entry taker was to issue a warrant for the land asking the surveyor to lay it out. If somebody else did file, it was up to the county court to decide between the claimants. At first the amount of land allowed each man was severely limited in an attempt to keep out the land speculator. Before the year was out, the law was changed to protect those who had taken steps to get a claim from Granville and who had improved the land either by clearing and fencing a field or building some kind of a building on it. Under those conditions the limitations on the amount of land that could be taken up were modified.

The Rowan entry office was opened early in February 1778, and an immediate rush ensued to enter claims for the better tracts. Evidence in the land grant office in Raleigh is that most of those filing entries obtained a warrant for a survey as soon as the three months were up, paying one-fourth of the purchase price down and saving the rest until the grant was made. They were often years paying the balance, and grants were spread out for more than a decade. It is the land entries and warrants rather than the actual grants that tell us most of who had moved into the section in the nearly 15 years from the suspension of the Granville grants until the opening of the Rowan land office. Even then we find only that the settlers were here, though, not when they came in. We must turn to other sources to know that. Land which had been granted by Granville was bought and sold. Those land transactions tell us part of the story. One of the best sources of information is the Rowan County court records. Many of the later settlers show up in those court minutes as a juror or in some other way long before their land grant or their entry.

Other Settlers

Many of those newer settlers were of the same Scotch-Irish stock as those who had come down the valley earlier, when the Earl of Granville was granting land. But the others were not. Some came from Maryland. Others journeyed from Virginia and eastern North Carolina, especially from the counties just south of the Virginia line. All of these were American colonists of several generations. The Gaithers, for instance, had been in Maryland since the 1630s. A Wooten had been with the original Jamestown colony. These families had drifted across the Piedmont of Virginia and North Carolina until they had reached the mountains and then turned south. Some of them, such as Swanns and Campbells, showed up along Fifth Creek as early as 1775. Others came later and filled up the country north of the South Yadkin River. These settlers brought a different tone to North Iredell. Whereas the Scotch-Irish were all Presbyterian of some kind or another and gave that church to the south end of the county, the Methodist and Baptist churches were to grow up mainly among the Marylanders and Virginians during the Back Country period of Iredell’s history.

In the southern end of the county two other ethnic groups were showing up, Highland Scots and Germans. The Highland Scots were there during the Revolutionary War, but just where they came from is uncertain. One group, who settled the New Perth section below Troutman, left little impact on the county. They moved away to Canada after the Revolutionary war was over. The other group, under the leadership of Colin Campbell, settled in the western part of the county and remained to make their impact felt on western Iredell and eastern Alexander counties. The Germans came in gradually from Rowan County just after the war was over and settled in the rougher country between the Scotch-Irish in the southern end of the county and those in the center. Most of the Germans came too late to get even state grants, but Jacob Troutman, by buying up entry claims and land warrants, was able to patent more than 1,000 acres lying all around the headwaters of Norwood’s Creek. The Lutheran churches grew up among these Germans in the early 1800s.

Land Holdings and Speculation

Land speculation played only a small part in the frontier days of Iredell. Some fairly large holdings were acquired but usually with the aim of building up a plantation or leaving land to their children. The 1800 tax list shows two-thirds of the farms in Iredell owning between 100 and 400 acres. Less than one percent were under 100 acres, and only 25 or 30 farms had more than 1,000 acres. Speculation land aside, only three had over 2,000 acres. Alexander Work, largest planter in the southern end of the county, had 2,919 acres. Christopher Houston, who had moved from the Catawba River to Hunting Creek in the northeast part of the county before the outbreak of the Revolution, had been able to pick up 2,908 acres. His neighbor, Thomas Young, who had moved in from Virginia during the early days of the war, had 2,475 acres. Iredell was primarily a land of small farms and plantations.

There were, however, a few noticeable instances of speculation, taking up land to hold it until there was a rise in price enough to make a sizeable profit. The early Edwards grant has already been mentioned. Soon after 1800 heirs of John Edwards sold 1,680 acres for $4,700. As land was being granted by the state in 1778 and 1779, David Woodson, a Salisbury surveyor, made entries for much choice land on Rocky and Hunting Creeks. In 1788 he was granted a tract of 1,658 acres on the upper reaches of Rocky Creek and later nearly 3,000 acres elsewhere. Iredell deed books are full of the sales of Woodson land. Hugh Montgomery, another land speculator of Salisbury, also made entries in Iredell, but not nearly so many as in Davie County. The land he got is not spelled out nearly as clearly as it is in the Woodson grants.

Iredell residents too were involved in land speculation as well as outsiders like Edwards and Woodson. Many of the land transactions of the Sharpe family indicate speculation. In 1795 Abner Sharpe, son of William Sharpe and clerk of the county court, took up a tract of 3,600 acres on the headwaters of Little Rocky Creek, on either side of the present Highway 115 and on to McHargue’s Mountain. Warrants for the tract had been bought from others who made entries in 1778 and 1779. He immediately sold that tract to his father, county surveyor. Joseph Sharpe, William’s brother, received a grant in 1809 for 2,250 acres on the upper end of Rocky Creek, land he acquired in connection with Fair Hope Iron Forge. Much of that grant became part of Wilkes and Alexander counties when county lines were changed.

The most grandiose land speculation was that of David Caldwell in the mid-1790s. In 1795 he received four land grants for what became known as “speculation land.” There was a small tract on Hunting Creek, a larger one on Rocky Creek for more than 6,000 acres, a third tract up and down the present Alexander County line, from McHargue Mountain to the Catawba River, for nearly 8,000 acres, and a fourth tract of about 4,500 acres entirely within present Alexander County. All four tracts totaled 19,044 acres. Later 100 or more acres was added as lines along earlier tracts were straightened out.

Caldwell was not by himself in that grandiose scheme. At one place in the proceedings he is identified as “trustee of Iredell County,” as if he were acting for the county court. His entries were made in 1793, but not until a new entry taker had been appointed by the court. They were made for far more than the land he finally got, each entry vaguely phrased, simply calling for another 640 acres to be surveyed next to his other tract. William Sharpe surveyed the land, evidently platting all the land he cold find that had not already been taken up. His plats, accurately drawn and described in the same neat handwriting of his Fourth Creek Congregation map of an earlier day, are invaluable to the historian, not so much because of the speculation land as because of its location of the settlers bordering it. Those plats can be found in the Land Grant office in Raleigh.

In 1798 Caldwell took into partnership with him Abner Sharpe, clerk of the Iredell County Court, and Adlai Osborne, son of Alexander Osborne and clerk of the Rowan County court. He did that by means of a third person transaction in which he sold the land to his son, Andrew Caldwell, and then immediately Andrew Caldwell sold it to the three of them. What happened to the speculation land after that is even more vague than the circumstances surrounding its granting. All three of the men who held it died in the early 1800s, and before they died they took joint action to see that the land passed to their heirs. There are various and sundry references to “speculation land” in deeds until well into the 1820s, but gradually any such references disappear from the records, and most of the land is unaccounted for.

After 1800, especially until about 1810, land in the northern part of Iredell was still granted to individuals. The small grants, usually for less than 100 acres, bear evidence of finding rough land between earlier grants. The golden age of land grants and homesteading was already past, had passed before the land speculation schemes of the 1790s. It had included the Granville grants of the 1750s and early 1760s and the state grants after 1777. But by 1810 that land had been taken up. From then on land was bought from its owners.