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American Indians in North Carolina

Region of Responsibility

The Museum of the Cape Fear is a regional history museum, responsible to 20 counties that are part of the Cape Fear River valley. To learn more, click on each county's name to read a brief history.

Map showing the Cape Fear River valley
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As most North Carolinians know, the counties in our state were formed from the larger counties. That is true about Anson County, which was formed from a part of Bladen County. Today, there are three counties separating the two. Anson County was formed in 1750, named for George, Lord Anson (1697-1762), who at the time was First Lord of the British Admiralty.

Map-making technology of the time being what it was, had Anson County’s western border extend-ed, at least theoretically, all the way to the Mississippi River, making it one of the largest territories in the colony.

A large population of Catawba and Cheraw Native Americans existed in the county, with many settlements along the Pee Dee River. In 1854, the population was 13,489, of whom 6657 were free, and 6832 slaves. (Source: New and Complete Gazetteer of the United States, Baldwin, Thomas J. and J. Thomas, M.D., Lippincott, Grambo & Co., Philadelphia, PA, 1854: page 46.) The county was also the birthplace of Leonidas K. Polk, who became the first commissioner of agriculture in the state. While known for his agricultural prowess, Polk was in the Confederate Army and fought at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Anson County can claim having the nation's first soil conservation district, Brown Creek, established in 1937. Today, the county is home to the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, one of ten in the state, whose acreage totals 8,443.

The “Mother of All Counties,” a moniker attributed to Bladen County because 55 other counties were created from it. It formed in 1734 from New Hanover County and named for Martin Bladen, English commissioner of the Board of Trade and Plantations. (Board of Trade and Plantations served as the main British office to oversee colonial affairs, which began on May 15 1696.)

Prior to European settlement, the area was occupied by Native American peoples: Waccamaw and Cape Fear. (Cape Fear has come to represent a general population of Native Americans that lived along the river, and identified as such by the European settlers.) During this time, the Native Americans were growing food, hunting with bows and arrows, and making coil pottery.

Bladen County’s geography is rich in rivers that include the Black River, South River, and the Cape Fear River. These rivers provided transportation for crops and naval stores products, allowing for farmers to export their goods.

In addition to three rivers, Bladen County is home to the Bay Lakes and 2 State Parks: Jones Lake State Park and Singletary Lake State Park. White Lake is also a popular attraction for swimming and camping.

Furthermore, the county is rich in colonial history starting with the Scottish settlers. It was the site of the Battle of Elizabethtown, where the Patriots broke Loyalists/Tory power. When the American Rev-olutionary War began, records indicate that 300 men served in the Bladen County Militia.

Bladen County is the third largest county in North Carolina, encompasses 879 square miles, and is known for Houston peanuts.

Map of Welsh settlers in Brunswick County, NC

Brunswick County was established in 1764 out of Bladen and New Hanover counties. It is interesting that Brunswick County is named after the town that established in 1726, prior to the county—Brunswick Town. The town named itself after the Duke of Brunswick who also happened to be King George I of England.

It is North Carolina’s southern most county and encompasses Cape Fear and the mouth of the Cape Fear River; both of which provide direct ac-cess to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Native Americans in the area were first referred to by the settlers as Town Creek Indians, then, as with so many, they became known collectively as Cape Fear Indians. Brunswick County was settled mostly by the English and French Huguenots. Prior to settlements, the area had been explored by both England and Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries.

With a number of slave-holding plantations along the lower Cape Fear River, the area became known for raising corn, cotton, rice, indigo, and tobacco. Two colonial governors made a home in Brunswick County—Arthur Dobbs and his successor, William Tryon, and Benjamin Smith, governor from 1800-1811, who had several residences there; and, Governor Daniel Russell was born at Winnabow Plantation.

Brunswick County has been home to Civil War forts, built along the Cape Fear River, including one that is preserved as Ft. Anderson State Historic Site. The county is a wealth of history and beaches; and, approximately 40 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway runs through it.

Formed in 1808 from Brunswick and Bladen counties, Columbus County is named for, as you might suspect, Christopher Columbus. The first settlers came up the Cape Fear River after sailing from Bar-bados. When they arrived they met the local Native Americans: the Waccamaw, Cape Fear and Sapona. The 1946 history of Columbus County, published by James A. Rogers, states that as settlers came into the area, the Native Americans left and joined the Catawbas, who live further west, and the Seminoles in Florida. Other European settlers to the area include English, French and Scots.

The county was created by an Act of the General Assembly because the inhabitants had difficulty in getting to the Brunswick County seat for business and legal transactions. The General Assembly directed that a site for a courthouse and jail be determined, and until these buildings were ready, the courts would be held at Stephen Barfield's home. To pay for the new structures, commissioners, appointed by the General Assembly, were ordered to levy and collect a tax of three shillings on the poll and one shilling on every 100 acres of land.

Water lilies at Lake Waccamaw State Park
Lake Waccamaw State Park

The county is home to Lake Waccamaw State Park. Archaeologically, it is known for its many Native American canoes and other evidence of their life. William Bartram, and his father John, America’s first botanist, explored Lake Waccamaw in the 18th century.

Whiteville is the county seat, and today the agrarian county grows sweet potatoes, corn, soybeans, Irish potatoes, catfish, pecans, peanuts.

An act by the Colonial Legislature created Cumberland County in 1754, and, like so many other counties, was formed from Bladen County. The county is named for Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, and son of King George II. Cumberland County is known for its large settlement of Highland Scots, which began in the late 1720s. Ironically, it was the Duke of Cumberland that led the English to victory over the Scots at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

The Scottish Highlanders settled the early river villages of Campbellton and Cross Creek, which merged in 1778 and renamed Fayetteville in 1783, after the Marquis de Lafayette, the first city in the United States to do so. Fayetteville became the largest inland port due to its proximity to the Cape Fear River. As such, plank roads developed throughout the county for goods to be imported and exported.

When the nation recorded its first census in 1790, Cumberland County’s total population was 8,671, which included more than 2,100 African Americans. The county has been home to several African Americans notable to history: Isaac Hammond, Henry Evans, Hiram Revels, E. E. Smith, and Charles Chesnutt, to name a few.

In Cumberland County there are the remains of a burial sand mound used by late Woodland Period (1-1,000 CE) American Indians. The archaeological evidence that is found in the area suggests that American Indians used the area for hunting and establishing trade routes.

Many historical events occurred in the county, including North Carolina ratifying the Constitution to become the 12th state, the burning of the North Carolina Arsenal by Union troops, the Battle of Averasboro, and the establishment of Camp Bragg, now Fort Bragg; the largest populated military base in the world.

The county contains nine municipalities, including Spring Lake, Wade, Godwin, and Falcon where the Falcon Children’s Home has been since 1909.

North Carolinians might automatically think of the Duplin Winery when they hear Duplin County. The winery, established in the 1960s, is the oldest winery in the state. But before the establishment of the winery, Duplin was formed from New Hanover County in 1750. It is named for Sir Thomas Hay, Lord Duplin, a member of the English Board of Trade and Plantations.

The European settlers to the area included English, Welch, Swiss, Scots, Scotch-Irish, and German. The Native Americans who already called the area home were the Tuscarora and Siouan.

The Northeast Cape Fear River runs through the county, along with Muddy Creek, Bear Swamp, Maxwell Mill Pond, and Picadilly Bay; pretty common geographical features for North Carolina’s coastal plain. Ulster Scots and Swiss Protestants created a settlement on the east bank of the Northeast Cape Fear River named Sarecta and it became Duplin County’s first incorporated town in 1787.

The completion of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad in 1840, ran through the western half of the county and provided opportunities for growth and development. The first major industry in the area was naval stores, the harvesting of resin from pine trees for making tar, pitch & turpentine. African Americans—enslaved, freed, and free—worked in the naval stores industry more than anyone else.

Duplin County is 819 square miles, making it the 9th largest in the Tar Heel state. In 2000 the population was a little over 49,000 residents.

Harnett County was formed in 1855 from Cumberland County. It is named for Revolutionary patriot and delegate to the Continental Congress, Cornelius Harnett. The Native Americans who inhabited the area were Tuscarora and Cheraw. It was heavily settled by Scottish immigrants after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Since its European beginnings, the county has been and continues to remain largely agrarian. Tobacco, cotton, sweet potatoes, soybeans, wheat, and a variety of livestock are the main products.

The early Scottish settlers to the area had taken a loyalty oath to never again fight against England. This became problematic as revolutionary fervor stirred around them. Many tried to take a neutral stance, but they were still taunted by patriots and their desire to have neighbors stand together against the British. The descendants of those Scottish settlers spoke Gaelic into the late 19th century.

Overlook at Raven Rock State Park
Raven Rock State Park

The largest non-agricultural industry in Harnett County was in the town of Erwin. In 1943, Erwin Mills, a textile factory, began manufacturing denim. They manufactured so much denim that it became known as the “Denim Capital of the World.”

The Battle of Averasboro took place at the Cumberland/Harnett county border in the Township of Averasboro during the Civil War. In March 1865, the Confederate Army, who was managing to stay just ahead of Union troops, turned and fought a delaying action in an attempt to slow the larger and better equipped soldiers under Gen. Sherman. The battle was a Union victory. The Averasboro Battlefield Commission, Inc., began preserving the battlefield and developing the historic site, with a museum, in the late 1990s.

Harnett County is also home to Raven Rock State Park, located west of the county seat—Lillington.

Hoke County developed from portions of Cumberland and Robeson counties. After two attempts failed to create the county, it was finally established in 1911. The county is named for Robert F. Hoke who was a Confederate general, and then after the war, he became director of the North Carolina Railroad.

Originally residing in present-day Hoke County were the Cheraw and Lumbee American Indians and a large population of Lumbee still call the county home. Since part of Hoke County derived from Cumberland, it already contained a number of Scottish settlers. Many place names in the county reflect this.

The Fort Bragg reservation takes up the northern third of the county. On the reservation, but also within the counties border is the site of a Civil War skirmish—Monroe’s Crossroads. This cavalry engagement is best know for Union General Judson Kilpatrick’s “Shirttail Skedaddle.” He was caught unaware, as the nickname suggest, but his troops were victorious in the end. Leading up to the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads, Union troops under General Sherman marched through the county on its way to the North Carolina Arsenal in Fayetteville.

Hoke County Fall Festival graphic

Raeford, the county seat, has the distinction of having the first medical school in the state. Edenborough Medical College was started by Hector McLean. Two of its graduates founded McNeill’s Pharmacy, North Carolina’s oldest pharmacy, which is located in Whiteville.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, Hoke County helped establish North Carolina as the leading producer of turkeys. The processing plant employed a large number of its residents. From this came the North Carolina Turkey Festival. Today, it is called the North Carolina Fall Festival with an attendance 60,000 visitors.

Lee County is known for its brickmaking. Their brick companies have earned the county their moniker, “Brick Capital of the U.S.A.” The mixture of sand and clay that dominate the area provide two important ingredients for making bricks.

Lee County was formed from parts of Moore and Chatham counties in 1907, and is named for Robert E. Lee. Geographically, the county’s location sits precariously on the fall line dividing the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. Geologically, coal was commercially mined in the county beginning in 1855. This was Egypt Coal Mine. In addition, local mineral deposits provided investors with the opportunity to establish the Endor Iron Furnace as early as 1862. Iron produced there made cannonballs, and other ordnance, for the Confederacy. It outlasted the war to eventually become “one of the South's largest and best-equipped iron furnaces along with a rolling mill and foundry.”

Early history of the area, with regards to the American Indians, have yet to be fully studied. With its proximity to the Cape Fear River, its European settlers were largely Scottish, along with people of African descent who likely were the enslaved of settlers. The confluence of the Deep and Haw rivers create the counties northern border, but it also creates the start of the Cape Fear River.

Raleigh & Augusta Airline Railroad stock certificate

Lee County is also known for its railway line. What started in 1855 as the Chatham Railroad eventually became known as the Raleigh & Augusta Airline Railroad, whose chief engineer was Colonel Charles O. Sanford, for whom the county seat is named. This created the impetus for growth.

The same clay that makes bricks, also provides potters with economic opportunities. In 2002, the first Sanford Pottery Festival was celebrated.

Montgomery County was formed from Anson County in 1779. It is named for General Richard Montgomery who was killed leading an early morning charge into Quebec on December 31, 1775, during the early months of the Revolutionary War. (To fans of Hamilton, the musical, this is the same Gen. Montgomery who “took a bullet in the neck in Quebec.” Montgomery was killed by grapeshot and it is not known where he was precisely hit or what wound killed him. However, Aaron Burr was by his side. Furthermore, he was in command because Phillip Schuyler, Hamilton’s future father-in-law, took ill and had to step down.)

Town Creek Indian Mound

The county is home to Town Creek Indian Mound State Historic Site, a sister agency of the Museum of the Cape Fear. The site is an archaeological wonder whose significance cannot be overstated in learning about the American Indian culture, especially in pre-Columbian times in the southern Piedmont. Natives to the area are considered to be a part of the Siouan language family.

In addition to a well-documented history of native peoples, the county’s Uwharrie Mountains, give it an impressive natural geographic feature. The Uwharrie Mountain range, geologists have surmised, is one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America at over 500 million years old. The National Forest Service manages the mountain range and has an office there. It offers an array of recreational activities. Gold has also been found there.

Uwharrie National Forest entrance sign

Montgomery County can claim another unique attribute. Within its boundaries is the Town of Star, which, according to the Corps of Engineers, is the exact geographic center of North Carolina.

Moore County was formed in 1784 from its current neighbor, Cumberland County. Moore County is often synonymous with golf and the sandhills. It is named for a Revolutionary War captain named Alfred Moore. Moore would later serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The county seat, Carthage, is named for the ancient North African city.

Archaeological evidence indicates the native people were of the Siouan language family, as were the majority of American Indians in that part of the state. Their life centered around growing food and hunting for survival. The evidence further indicates that the American Indians were there as early as the beginning of the sixth century.

European settlers came to the area about 1739. They were English, Ulster Scots, Highland Scots, and Germans. As typical of settlement patterns in North Carolina, these Europeans traveled down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania, or came up the Cape Fear River to colonize and make a new home.

Pinehurst World Golf Hall of Fame

Golfers come from all over to tee up on the links at Pinehurst. In 2005, the U.S. Open was held at Pinehurst #2, which was established in 1903. In 1974, the World Golf Hall of Fame opened in Pinehurst, but it was relocated to St. Augustine, FL. in 1989.

During the 1880's, Shaw's Ridge, later incorporated as Southern Pines, became a popular resort area for people seeking “fresh air and mineral water” for their ailments. It is now a popular retirement area.

Arguably, New Hanover County is one of the most historic counties in North Carolina. Formed in 1729 from Craven County, (the county where New Bern is located), it is named for the House of Hanover of which England’s King George I belonged and who had died in 1727. Its native inhabitants at the time of European contact include Cape Fear, Waccamaw, and Siouan tribes. European settlers were English, Welsh, Irish, French Huguenot, and Highland Scots.

It’s a popular tourist destination because it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Cape Fear River to the west. At its very tip is Cape Fear.* From the cape is Frying Pan Shoals, which made it dangerous for sea-going vessels. Despite that, much needed supplies needed by the colony in the early 18th century managed to make it up the river to the colonial Port of Brunswick. After much dredging, Wilmington, the county seat, is one of only two ports in the state.

Major historic events that occurred in the county include the Battle at Fort Fisher, which closed the port of Wilmington and perpetuated the fall of the Confederacy. Prior to that, in 1862, Wilmington dealt with a major Yellow Fever epidemic.

Wilmington rioters in 1898

Sadly, New Hanover County was the site of the only successful coup d'état to occur in the United States. On November 10, 1898, 2000 white men marched around Wilmington meeting up with groups of Black citizens. Shots rang out and several black men were killed. In the end, local government officials, elected by the people, are forced to resign. The municipal government is overthrown.

*A cape is a “point or extension of land jutting out into water as a peninsula or as a projecting point.”


Onslow County was formed from New Hanover County in 1734. Named for Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons in the British Parliament, it was settled by the English, Welsh, French, Swiss, Scots, and Germans. Prior to European settlement, the area was inhabited by natives of the Siouan language family.

In 2019, the local newspaper in Jacksonville, the county seat, boasted of “10 things you might not know about Onslow County.” There are six related specifically to its history. Here they are:

1.) The Onslow family, for whom the county is named, used the Latin motto, Semper Fidelis (Always Ready) long before the Marine Corps adopted it.

2.) The county is known for its fossils. Sixty-five million years ago, it was home to giant sloths, woolly mammoths and other prehistoric species.

3.) Scientists and U.S. Navy personnel, conducted guided missile tests off Topsail Beach. The secret project was nicknamed, Operation Bumblebee. The experiments’ success eventually helped NASA’s Mercury program.

The first African-American U.S. Marines

4.) One of the most successful privateers of the War of 1812, Otway Burns was born in Onslow County. He also built the state’s first steamboat, Prometheus, in the county’s coastal village, Swansboro.

5.) The first African Americans, 22,000 strong, in the Marine Corps were stationed at Montford Point. The first women to join the Marines were trained at Camp Lejeune.

6.) “In the heart of the county is the New River, which has the distinction of being the only river in the nation with its headwaters and mouth in one county.” (Timmi Toler, JDNews)

Civil War buffs will immediately recognize and suspect that Pender County was named for William Dorsey Pender, who was a Confederate general and mortally at the Battle of Gettysburg. Pender County was formed from New Hanover County in 1875. Burgaw Indians resided the area prior to settlers from England, Germany, Wales, and France.

In February 1776, a small, but significant Revolutionary War battle took place along one of the county’s creek—Moore’s Creek—the first battle of the American Revolution to take place in North Carolina. The decisive Patriot victory deterred British military activity from the state for several years. Today, the historic site is operated by the National Park Service.

The county is a dichotomy of rural agriculture and beach tourism, both a mainstay of the economy. In the 19th century, enslaved labor provided the plantation life with wealth and prestige. In 1840, the establishment of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad through the center of the county, made the plantation system more profitable.

Surf City after Hurricane Fran in 1996
Surf City, North Carolina after Hurricane Fran in September 1996 (Photo WSOC). 

Topsail Beach and Surf City are the counties two coastal destinations. In 1996, Hurricane Fran wreaked havoc, destroying beloved piers, rows of homes, and creating a new inlet. (Topsail Island is located in both Onlsow & Pender counties. North Topsail Beach is in Onlsow County.)

Communities in the county include: Atkinson, Burgaw, Hampstead, Holly Ridge, North Topsail Beach, Scotts Hill, Sneads Ferry, Surf City, St. Helena, Topsail Beach, Watha.

The county contains a total area of 880 square miles: 871 square miles of arable land and forests, and 9.5 square miles of water. The Venus Flytrap grows naturally in the area.

The earliest inhabitants of the area were the Siouan-speaking Cheraw Indians, which is common for this section of what is now North Carolina. Also typical of this region, the area’s European settlers included Highland Scots, German, Scotch-Irish, and English.

Richmond County was formed in 1779 from Anson County and named after Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond, a firm supporter of the colonists; in 1778, he called for the removal of British troops from America. Rockingham, the county seat, was named in honor of Charles Watson Wentworth, the second Marquess of Rockingham. He spoke on many occasions against the King’s and parliament’s handling of American affairs, advocating conciliation and trade concessions before the Revolutionary War broke out and criticized Britain’s conduct of the war once it began. (The county seat was originally called Richmond Court House when it was established in 1779. In 1785, three years after Wentworth’s death, the name changed to Rockingham.)

In the late 1800s, an England native named John Shortridge established a woolen and saw mill along one of the county’s creeks. It is believed that Shortridge named the growing village Hamlet, because in England, a small cluster of houses were called a hamlet. Hamlet is known for its railroad history, which maintained its economy. Hamlet has another claim to fame as well: it's the birthplace of the great jazz musician, John Coltrane. (Read a brief bio on John Coltrane)

Hamlet Depot and Museums

NASCAR fans will have heard of “the Rock,” the nickname given to the North Carolina Motor Speedway. In February 2004, the track held its last race until it was purchased in 2007 by former NASCAR driver Andy Hillenburg. In August 2018, a group of NC investors purchased the track and it is now known as Rockingham Speedway & Entertainment Complex.

In 1787, Robeson County was formed from Bladen County. It is named for Colonel Thomas Robeson, who, ironically, fought at the Battle of Elizabethtown during the Revolutionary War, which is in Bladen County. In land area, Robeson County is North Carolina’s largest county at 951 square miles.

Its best known geographic feature is the Lumber River, which stretches 115 miles, 81 miles designated by the National Park Service as a wild and scenic waterway. It is believed that the Lumbee Indians took their name from the river. The Lumbee are North Carolina’s largest tribe and their ancestors, along with Cheraw, were the first peoples to inhabit the area. The European settlers included Scot-tish, English, Welsh, and French immigrants.

During the Civil War, many of the American Indian men wanted to avoid being conscripted, or draft-ed, into the Confederate Army. They hid in the swamps and fought against those oppressing them. The group formed under the leadership of the Lowry’s, whose leader eventually rose to be Henry Berry Lowry. Lowry was never captured and what happened to him is one of North Carolina’s history mysteries. The outdoor drama, Strike at the Wind! tells the complex story of the Confederate Home Guard, of Union control, Lowry and his men’s elusive way of life, and the area residents who support-ed him.

Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base postcard
North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill

Robeson County is also home to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Established in 1887 as the Croatan Normal School, it became a constituent of the University of North Carolina in 1972. In 1996 it officially became the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP).

In the Robeson County town of Maxton existed the Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base. The base played an important role in World War II where 20,000 glider pilots and crewmen were trained for campaigns in Burma, Africa, Sicily, and Normandy.

In 1784, Sampson County was formed from part of Duplin County and named for Col. John Sampson, a member of North Carolina’s House of Commons. The first inhabitants of the area, and their descendants are still present in the county today, are the Coharie Indians. European settlers to the area included English, Welsh, and Scots.

The second largest (in area) of North Carolina’s counties, parts of Wayne and New Hanover counties would eventually be annexed into Sampson County. In the central part of the county, at the confluence of the Coharie and Six Runs creeks, begins the Black River, known for its bald cypress trees, the fifth oldest tree species in the world. Some of the river’s cypress trees are over 1600 years old.

The 13th Vice-President of the United States, William Ruffus King, was born in Sampson County in 1786. King left UNC in 1804 to study law with William Duffy of Fayetteville. Sampson County is also the birthplace of Micajah Autry, who died with Davy Crockett at the Alamo; and, Theophilus Hunter Homes, Lieutenant General in the Confederate Army whose father was Governor Gabriel Holmes.

Another Sampson County native is John Merrick, founder of the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company. Merrick was born enslaved in 1859 and eventually became one of the most successful African-American businessmen in the county, having embarked on a series of business ventures. Founded in 1898, the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company is headquartered in Durham.

Powwow Grand Entry 2019, Coharie Cultural Center
Powwow Grand Entry 2019, Coharie Cultural Center 

Since 1969, the present-day Coharie Tribe holds an annual Powwow, which raises funds for the tribes cultural and educational activities. The first recorded meeting of the tribe took place in 1910. Enoch Emmanuel was elected chief and he served in that position for 16 years. Today, the Coharie chief is elected by the tribal membership every four years. In 1971, the Coharie Tribe was formally recognized by the state.

As its name suggest, Scotland County was a destination for many Highland Scots. Previous to European settlement, the original inhabitants were Cheraw Indians, a group of native people from the Siouan language family. The county was formed in 1899 from Richmond County, which borders Scotland to the west. The county is the southern tip that divides the Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions of the state.

It was in Scotland County, on March 8, 1865, that General Sherman and the left wing of his Union Army crossed into North Carolina, having left South Carolina in sporadic heaps of ash. Historic accounts of that time consistently describe weather conditions of relentless rainfall, and soldiers marching down muddy roads in standing water. The next day, the same army crossed the Lumber River at Gilchrist Bridge.

The county’s military history also includes Camp Mackall, established in 1943 as a United States training facility during World War II. Before leaving for the European Theater, the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions trained there. Camp Mackall was named in honor of Private John Thomas (Tommy) Mackall who was mortally wounded in the Allied invasion of North Africa.

In 1961, the campus of St. Andrews Presbyterian College opened its doors at its new location in Laurinburg, the county seat. In 2011, after a merger with Webber International University, the school became St. Andrews University. The university is known for the Scottish Heritage Center and the renown St. Andrews Pipe Band.

Scotland County can also claim native son, John Charles McNeill, the first poet laureate of North Carolina. Here are a few lines from one of McNeill’s poems:

John Charles McNeill portrait
John Charles McNeill 


“I have not been among the woods, Nor seen the milk-weeds burst their hoods,

The downy thistle-seeds take wing,

Nor the squirrel at his garnering. …”

Read the rest of the poem.

Living Floor at the Hardaway site
Excavation of “a living floor” at the Hardaway site, which began in 1954 and continued at intervals until 1980. Photo: STEPHEN R. CLAGGETT

Long before Stanly County was established in 1841, archaeology has proven that American Indians began occupying the area, now known as the Hardaway site, between 10,000 and 8,000 BCE (Before the Common Era). Historically, it’s the oldest excavated site in the state. When the artifacts were first discovered, folks referred to the place as the Hardaway site, after the Hardaway Construction Company that built a dam near there in 1917. (In other words, Hardaway has no meaning or reference to the American Indian culture.)

Later tribes to live in the area included the Cheraw, Keyauwee, and Tuscarora Indians. European immigrants included the German, Dutch, Scotch-Irish and English. Stanly County was formed from Montgomery County and named for John Stanly, a Speaker of the North Carolina House of Commons and, later, a U.S. congressman. Its county seat, Albemarle, incorporated in 1857, was named for the Duke of Albemarle, George Monck, one of the Lords Proprietors.

In the town of Misenheimer is Pfeiffer University, a college affiliated with the United Methodist Church and originally founded in 1885.

Stanly County is home to one of the museum’s sister agencies, Morrow Mountain State Park with scenic vistas of the Uwharrie Mountains. Within the park boundaries is the Dr. Francis Kron house. Kron was born in Prussia and emigrated to America in 1823, and is recognized as the first medical doctor to settle and practice medicine in the southern piedmont. Dr. Kron traveled long distances to care for patients and practiced medicine until after the age of 80.

Gold was discovered in Stanly County by Mathias Barringer, though after it was first discovered on John Reed’s farm in neighboring Cabarrus County. Subsequently, Barringer began the subsurface mining industry in the state.

Bordering South Carolina to the north and Charlotte to the southeast, Union County was established in 1842 from both Mecklenburg and Anson counties. Before European contact, Waxhaw and Catawba natives inhabited the area. The Europeans that settled the area included German, Scotch-Irish, English, and Welsh.

James Crawford plaque

The naming of the county was a compromise between the Whigs and the Democrats of the time. Each wanted to name it for their party’s leader. For the Democrats that was Andrew Jackson, who was born in the area. (The Whigs wanted Henry Clay.) They agreed upon calling their new county “Union.”

Andrew Jackson, 7th president of the United States, was elected from Tennessee, where he established a plantation, The Hermitage, whose website states that he was born near Lancaster, SC. Both SC and NC claim Jackson’s birth. Both states do agree that he was born in the Waxhaws area, which straddles the present-day border.

In 1896, the Baptist churches established Wingate University. It was named for Washington Manly Wingate, a Baptist minister and a former president of Wake Forest College (at first acting president from 1854-1856, then president from 1856-1879).

On March 7, 1942, the military base, Camp Sutton, was officially dedicated. It served as a training facility as part of the country’s preparation and build up during the early years of World War II. By 1943, POWs were sent there. One POW was a veteran of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps.

A group of Freedom Riders visited the Union County town of Monroe in 1961 to teach youth how to demonstrate peacefully. Having been refused an appointment with the mayor, Fred Wilson, they protested in front of his dental office.