Person County, North Carolina
         
   

   

Year Established

County Seat

Population (2010)

1791

Roxboro

39,464
 

First Settled

First Settled By

Significance of County Name

1720

Virginians from Halifax County, Virginia

Brig. Gen. Thomas Person
 

Other Significant Towns:

Allensville

Bethel Hill

Concord

Surl

Timberlake

Hurdle Mills

Bushy Hill

Woodsdale

Click Here - To see how Person County evolved each decade - includes all the known towns and villages.

A History of Person County

Reuben Phillip Brooks' General Store - Woodsale, North Carolina

Person County was created in 1791 from Caswell County. It was named in honor of Brigadier General Thomas Person, a Revolutionary Patriot, a member of the Council of Safety, and a trustee of the University of North Carolina. He gave a large sum of money to the university, and a building was erected in his honor, which is called Person Hall.

In 1792, Pittman's was mentioned in an act as the place where the courthouse was to be established. In 1793, Roxboro was established as the courthouse and has been the county seat ever since.


Person County Court House - Roxboro, NC

There is much that could, and should, be said about Person County. If we chose to speak of its geographical location there would be things to say. It has the rivers, lakes and streams...the woodland. The county is an almost-perfect square that nestles against ‘Ole Virginia’ motherland of so many who have long occupied her hills, valleys, and levels. A host of these families were there for its birth and though the ensuing years saw many family members depart there are great numbers who stayed on and stoked the homefires. Back home, here in old Person County.

It has the history, if we would speak of it. Coming into being late in the eighteenth century, the eastern half of Caswell County. There are historic dates we could post for its beginning and we could mention the evolution of the churches, schools, and courts of law and we could include dates. Perhaps this is all that should be said, however, Person is much, so much more.

Person County is a state of mind too. There are the sons and daughters, too numerous to mention, the ‘Miss Bessies’ and ‘Robert Blackwells’ all these passed by here. Best place to go to receive big, friendly waves from door, yard, and field. No solicitation needed, you just waved back...a loud ‘Howdy’ was not out of order.

The smell of honeysuckle, ‘granddad’s whiskers’ ...lilac in springtime, cool sips of well water ‘neath shady oaks in the searing heat of summer, not to mention good conversation and food. The smell of hickory smoke in autumn as you found your way down winding white, sandy roads.

Winters were often as winters go, sometimes bleak, but a game of rook or checkers down at the crossroads family store was just the ticket. Some of the names come softly to mind, ‘Calvin Warren’s’ or ‘Gentrys’...’Hesters.’ Going home, that’s what it was, still is. History is like that, going back to home people and home places...going as far back as you can.  Written by Jim Clayton with minor edits.


Located in the Northern Piedmont area of North Carolina, Person County is bounded by Durham and Orange Counties to the south, Granville County to the east, and Caswell County to the west. Virginia's Halifax County is to the north.

Person County, as we know it today, was first part of Edgecombe County in 1746; part of Granville County from 1746-1752; included in Orange County until 1778, and even part of Caswell County until 1791. By dividing Caswell County into two squares–each side measuring approximately twenty (20) miles in length, two counties of 400–square miles were formed.

The county was named for Brigadier General Thomas Person, a Revolutionary War Patriot, who made significant contributions to Person County and surrounding areas. He was a trustee of the University of North Carolina, donating large sums of money to the institution and being recognized by the construction of Person Hall.

Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Moore (fondly bestowed the honorific title of General) was another Revolutionary War hero of note, commanding troops in what became Person County. The story is told of his riding to the top of hill, admiring the beauty of the view and vowing to return to his "Lost Eden" after the war. In 1793, he purchased property in the southern part of the county and named it Mt. Tirzah (Mount Beautiful) or "General Moore's Mountain." The old home is still located at its original site and owned by a descendant. The front porch overlooks the same inspiring view. Moore was buried on a nearby hill.

Person County was a well–established plantation center before the Civil War. Crops included tobacco, cotton, corn, wheat, oats, fruits, vegetables, cattle, hogs, and sheep—many of the same crops grown and livestock raised here today.

During the Civil War, Person County supplied 800 to 1,000 soldiers to the Confederate cause. A granite monument on the Person County Courthouse lawn honors E. Fletcher Satterfield, who advanced the Confederate flag at Gettysburg. After the war, the area's large plantations were divided into many small farms.

J.A. Long, W.W. Kitchin, A.R. Foushee, J.S. Bradsher, J.C. Pass, W.F. Reade, and R.E. Long were key leaders who helped make a transition to a more-diversified economic base after the Civil War. The Norfolk and Western Railroad Company was a major influence around 1890, facilitating the addition of tobacco processing plants and warehouses. Although the processing plants disappeared many years ago, a few of the warehouses still stand.

J.A. Long established Peoples Bank in 1891 and the Roxboro Cotton Mills in 1899, later known as Tultex Yarns. Long died in 1915 but was succeeded by his son, J.A. Long, Jr., who began attracting new business to Roxboro. Baker Company opened here in 1923, making textiles a major contributor to the local economy. Baker was merged with Collins and Aikman Corporation (C&A), becoming a major industry in Person County.

Lake Hyco and Lake Mayo became major forces in the economic equation here. Person County contains parts of three major river basins: the Neuse, the Roanoke, and the Tar, providing essential clean drinking water to the south and east of the state. Rivers coursing over this scenic plateau and forming numerous valleys include the Tar, Little, Flat, Mayo, and Hyco. The area's ridges are not narrow and sharp like those in much of the Piedmont, and the gullies and ditches are not as abrupt. The land gathers into strong swells, small enough to represent the flat plateaus of the Piedmont yet intersecting with wide meadows. Person County claims two small mountains—Mt. Tirzah and Hagars Mountain.

Roxboro is the only incorporated municipality in the county although there nine townships, many with community centers or postal offices. The town of Roxboro was chartered Jan. 9, 1855. An annexation in 1998 brought the town's population to 8,000 and the county's latest census registers 33,000.


Van Hook Subscription School

This meeting house is the oldest school still standing in Person County; possibly, in North Carolina. It was built as a school for boys nearly 188 years ago near Paines Tavern by Kindle Van Hook, one of the original subscribers whose name is found in the agreement between the teacher William Whitefield and the parents of the students. After two moves it was last located on the Devereaux Davis farm and came to us from that location through the family of C.B. Davis.

Students' parents cut the wood for the "central heating system," a five–foot square fireplace. The spring down a nearby hill served as the water fountain. The floor was dirt and the windows were holes cut into the walls with no covering to keep out the elements. Desks were directly under the windows and surrounded the room. Holes can be seen in the logs where the desks were connected. Some of the logs have rotted away making the cabin only 7 feet high today. It is difficult to imagine twenty students housed in this one room which measures only 10 by 15 feet.

The teacher agreed to teach from April 10 to December 25, five days each week, except election day and holidays. The subjects taught at first were spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic for $5.00 per session per student. Later, classes in gauging, surveying, English, geography, and grammar were added, but were more expensive to take.

When the school was started in 1810, the teacher was only twelve years old. He had learned what he knew from his parents, James and Susanna Minchew Whitefield, and from his own reading. He later became a farmer, Justice of the Peace, and a surveyor. He taught in the Van Hook School until his death in 1857.

The last year of use is uncertain but records show it was in service up to the Civil War and maybe much longer. One of the latest teachers was Miss Harriet Van Hook, a descendant of the school's builder.


Newspaper Article - 1948

THE INDIANS OF PERSON COUNTY NORTH CAROLINA
HISTORY OF A PROUD AND HANDSOME TRIBE OF INDIANS NEAR ROXBORO MAY BE CONNECTED WITH LOST COLONY MYSTERY; ABOUT 70 FAMILIES LIVE IN EXTENDED FARMING COMMUNITY

By Tom MacCaughelty
Durham Morning Herald, March 21, 1948

Straddling the North Carolina border in the secluded hills east of U.S. Highway 501 is a community of American Indians whose history has remained as much a mystery as the fate of the Lost Colony. Commonly termed a "mixed-blood" group, these proud people are probably the product of marriages long ago of whites and Indians, and, in fact, have a tradition among themselves which says they are remnants of the Lost Colony. In color they vary between blondes and even red-heads with grey or blue-gray eyes to tawny and sometimes swarthy brunettes with hazel, brown, or black eyes. Some have the straight black hair associated with pure Indian, while others have differing shades of brown hair, either straight or wavy. In general appearance they are well- dressed and clean. They are a handsome people.

Their history is mysterious. As Indians, they never have been positively identified. Can they be, as their tradition holds, the long sought descendants of the friendly Indians who received the colonists of John White? Strangely enough, among the approximately 350 people in the scattered farming community, only six family names are represented: Johnson, Martin, Coleman, Epps, Stewart (also spelled Stuart), and Shepherd. Stranger still, three of these names correspond closely with those among the list of Lost Colonists: Johnson, Coleman, and Martyn. But theirs are common English names long familiar in North Carolina, and intermarriage with the proximity to whites would be expected to extend such names among them. (A seventh prominent name among this group is Tally.) As far back as anyone knows, these people have displayed the manners and customs of white settlers, but in this they don't differ from identified Indians.

Unfortunately, as far as settling the question goes, not a single Indian word had been passed down to the present group. If their former manner of speech could somehow be resurrected, there would be a good clue to their identity; for then experts could judge with some degree of accuracy whether they indeed originated among the coastal Algonquin language tribes. If so, there would be a good argument for the Lost Colony theory. If their language were Siouan or some other branch of the inland tongues, the score would be against the Lost Colony tradition.

Dr. Douglas LeTell Rights, author of "The American Indian in North Carolina," (published by Duke University Press in 1947) says that there is a possibility that the people, officially designated as Person County Indians, are descendants of the Saponi, originally a Siouan tribe. He notes that Governor Dobbs reported in 1755 that 14 men and 14 women of the Saponi were in Granville county. Person County was once a part of Granville county. ( Dr. Rights also suggests that these Indians in Person County may be a branch of, or have mixed with, the Indians of Robeson County. The people themselves deny being a branch of the Robeson County Indian, but say that there have been a few marriages between members of the two groups.)

The Person County Indians, if they are of the Saponi, couldn't choose a more highly regarded tribe. (Col. William Byrd, in his History of The Dividing Line describes this tribe.) Whether a remnant of the Lost Colony, or of the proud Saponi, or of some other group, these people have lived in the rolling hills and high plains northeast of Roxboro for countless generations. No one knows how long. According to E. L. Wehrenberg, for 17 years principal of the community school, it was not until 1920 that they were officially recognized by act of the North Carolina legislature as Person County Indians. Before that, however, they had always insisted upon being treated either as Indians or whites. Back in the days of subscription schools, they hired their own white teachers; and under the present county school system have always had white or Indian teachers. Wehrenberg estimates that there are about 70 families in the group. and that about two-thirds of the people live in Person County and the rest across the line in Virginia. This proportion has changed from time to time he says.



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