A brief remembering of ‘Old Rowan’
By Rodney Cress
For the Salisbury Post
I have written several articles about Rowan County history over the past two years, and local citizens have gone out of their way to thank me for them, mentioning how history stories are so much better than crime and politics. But what is surprising to me is how little I know about the county in which I was born and live. ěOld Rowanî was a term I never heard of until recently. Local historians and their groups have spent lots of their time researching this, and they should be praised for their efforts. A reminder of our history is always a good thing.
The earliest account of the area where Salisbury now stands goes back to December 1700, when a traveler on the Yadkin River spoke of the areaís fertile land, tall trees and abundance of streams and water. In 1729, the king of Great Britain purchased seven-eighths of the Carolinas from the Lords Proprietors for 2,500 pounds for each eighth part. But John, earl of Granville, refused to sell his part in which Rowan County was situated. Settlers demanded a county government for Rowan as early as 1737, as the German and Scotch-Irish started settling here. In 1745 the Jersey Settlement was formed. This was because settlers from Hopewell, New Jersey fled there and ended up in North Carolina and Rowan County. Jersey Church Road is now in Davidson County but played a large part in the formation of churches in our area. They were followed by the Moravians who purchased 98,985 acres called the ěWachovia Tractî in 1751. In August 1774, Rowan County freeholders adopt a resolution opposing Crown taxes and duties.
Old Rowan was formed in 1753 and covered most of western North Carolina and part of Tennessee. Col. George Smith and Capt. Jonathan Hunt were listed on the bill to form Rowan County. Several counties that were formed from Rowan include Guilford and Surry in 1770, Burke in 1777, Iredell in 1788, Davidson in 1822, Davie in 1836 and Catawba in 1842. These counties later split to form 17 other counties. Rowan finally was given credit for the total forming of 30 counties. Also in the same year, the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions was formed and the first courts were held close to Trading Ford.
Later, a courthouse was built, and in 1762 Superior Court was held here as Salisbury became the center of the court systems for Western Carolina. Superior Courts were established officially in 1766 and split into six districts, with Salisbury as one of them. In 1778, guards were listed working at ěSalisbury District Goal,î thought to have been part of the military and not a jail. Hugh Torrence was sheriff in 1786.
Rowan also took part in the Revolution after the Parliament of Great Britain passed the Stamp Act requiring all contracts and public documents to be written on government papers and a stamp placed on them. Citizens saw this as taxation without representation. Members of the newly formed Provincial Congress were selected from Rowan. The British army under command of Lord Cornwallis marched into Salisbury on February 1781. Cornwallis later surrendered to Gen. George Washington at Yorktown in Virginia in October 1781. A provisional treaty of peace was signed in September 1782, and the final treaty was signed in September 1783 declaring the 13 colonies as independent and sovereign states. In 1791, President Washington visited Salisbury and spoke these words on the steps of Captain Edward Yarboroís residence, ěMy friends, you see before you nothing but an old, gray headed man.î
At what point Old Rowan seemed to end and Rowan County took over is not quite clear, at least to me. History after Washingtonís visit was more recorded but still not in great detail. Much of our history comes from land records and genealogy records, and rightfully so. Valuable details on everyday life during Old Rowan were at a minimum. Farming, inn keepers and taverns were the way of the times during the Old Rowan days. Indians were still friendly, and everyone seemed to get along with their neighbors. Churches and businesses sprang up all around Salisbury and Rowan.
We were well on our way to becoming what Rowan County is today.
Rodney Cress lives in Salisbury. Contact him via email at rcress@ carolina.rr.com.