Tryon County, North Carolina
         
   

   

Year Established

County Seat

Population (2000)

1768

Tryon Court House

N/A - Abolished in 1779
 

First Settled

First Settled By

Significance of County Name

1740s

Scots-Irish from PA, VA, and SC

Royal Governor William Tryon

Click Here to see the approximate boundaries of Tryon County during its brief existence.

A History of Tryon County

The History of Lincoln County, by Alfred Nixon, 1910

Tryon County

In a letter of Governor Tryon of date December 12th, 1768, he describes Tryon County as "forty-five miles in breadth due north and south and eighty miles due east and west it having been found to be that distance from the Catawba River to the western frontier line which was run last year between the Cherokee hunting grounds and this Province." The site for the public buildings was not fixed until 1774. As there was no courthouse, the courts during this time were held at private residences that happened to be convenient and suitable for the purpose.

The Tryon County records begin with these words: "North Carolina, Tryon County. Pursuant to Act of Assembly of the Province aforesaid bearing date the fifth of December, 1768, in the ninth year of his Majesty's reign, for dividing Mecklenburg into two distinct counties by the name of Mecklenburg County and Tryon County and for other purposes in the said Act mentioned." His Majesty's commission under the great seal of the Province appointing certain justices to keep the peace for the county of Tryon is read. Ezekiel Polk, Clerk, John Tagert, Sheriff, and Alexander Martin, Attorney for the Crown, produce commissions and take oaths of office. Waightsill Avery produces license of attorney and takes oath of office.

The court records, beginning at April sessions, 1769, are in the handwriting of Ezekiel Polk , the first clerk, who lived near King's Mountain. Ezekiel Polk removed to Mecklenburg County, and afterwards became famous through his grandson, James K. Polk, President of the United States.

The Tryon Courts were styled the "County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions." In this court deeds and wills were probated, estates settled, land entries recorded, guardians appointed, orphans apprenticed, highways opened, overseers appointed, and many other matters attended to. There were grand and petit juries and an "attorney for the crown." These courts convened quarterly and continued without material change until the adoption of the state constitution of 1868.

The Courts of Oyer and Terminer, corresponding to our Superior Courts, were District Courts, several counties comprising one district. Tryon county was in Salisbury District and each county appointed its quota of jurors to attend the Salisbury Court. In 1782, the Salisbury District was divided, and Lincoln and other western counties were declared a separate district by the name of Morgan, where the judges of the Superior Courts shall sit twice every year and hold a Superior Court of law. Lincoln County remained in the Morgan District, the courts being held at Morgantown, until 1806, when a Superior Court was established in each county of the State to be held twice every year.

The Tryon Court was organized at Charles McLean's and the Quarter Sessions for the years 1769, 1770, and 1771, were held at his house. He lived in the southern part of what is now Gaston county, on the headwaters of Crowder's Creek, near Crowder's Mountain. Charles McLean was an early, active, and zealous friend of liberty. At January Sessions of 1770 he produced his Excellency's commission appointing him captain in the Tryon Regiment of Foot, and took the oath of office. In 1774, he was one of his Majesty's justices, and chairman of the committee appointed to select a permanent site for the courthouse of Tryon county. He was a delegate from Tryon County to the Provincial Congress at Halifax, 4th April, 1776; also representing Tryon County in Assembly during the years 1777 and 1778. Between sessions, as colonel of the Tryon Regiment, he was actively engaged against western Tories.

The criminal docket of Tryon is marked "Crown Docket," and the indictments are now brought in the name of the "King" or "Rex," as we now use "State." The minutes of a few cases tried at the first term will serve to show the administration of justice: "The King v. John Doe. Petty larceny. Jury empaneled finds the defendant guilty of the charge against him. Judgement by the Court that the defendant be detained in the Sheriff's custody till the costs of this prosecution be paid, and that at the hour of one o'clock of this day the said defendant on his bare back at the public whipping post receive thirty-nine lashes well laid on. "Rex v. Thomas Pullham. Profane swearing. Submitted and fined five shillings." "The King v. John Case. Sabbath breaking. Defendant pleads guilty, fined ten shillings and the cost." "The King v. John Carson. Neglect of the King's highway. Submitted and fined one shilling and sixpence." Letters testamentary granted Nicholas Welsh on the estate of John Welsh, deceased. William Wilson, appointed overseer of the road from the South Fork to Charles Town in that part of King's Mountain and Ezekiel Polk's and the head of Fishing Creek. The road orders extend to the "temporary line between So. and No. Carolina." At October Sessions the claims against Tryon County for the year 1769, include a charter, twenty pounds expenses in sending the charter, eight pounds; Charles McLean, to two courts held at his house, five pounds; other items swell the amount to seventy-one pounds, sixteen shillings, and ten pence; and a tax of three shillings and two pence was levied on each of the 1,221 taxable persons in Tryon county to meet the same.

At July Term, 1770, "Thomas Camel came into court and proved that the lower part of his ear was bit off in a fight with Steven Jones, and was not taken off by sentence of law; certified by whom it may concern." At a later term, "James Kelly comes into open Court of his own free will and in the presence of said court did acknowledge that in a quarrel between him and a certain Leonard Sailor on the evening of the 2nd day of June, 1773, he did bite off the upper part of the left ear of him, the said Leonard Sailor, who prays that the same be recorded in the minutes of the said court." This confession gave James Kelly such standing in the esteem of his Majesty's Justices that at the same term it was ordered by the Court that James Kelly serve as constable in the room of George Trout and that he swear in before Thomas Espy, Esq." From the court entries biting off ears was a popular way of fighting, but whole ears were at least an outward sign of honesty.

An old parchment, yellowed with age, labeled "Charter of Tryon County," encased in a frame, with great wax seal appended hangs on the courthouse walls. It is addressed in the name of his Majesty, "George the Third by the Grace of God of Great Brittain, France, and Ireland, King Defender of the Faith, and so forth, To All and Singular our Faithful Subjects, Greeting," and is officially attested by "our trusty and well-beloved William Tryon, our Captain-General, Governor and Commander-in-Chief." at Wilmington, 26th June, 1769. It authorized Tryon County to elect and send two representatives to sit and vote in the House of Assembly.

The Quarter Sessions of 1772 were held at Christian Reinhardt's. The site of his house is now in the northern corporate limits of the town of Lincolnton, on the Ramsour Battle Ground. The Tories were encamped around his house, and after the battle it was used as a hospital. His house was built of heavy hewn logs, with a basement and stone foundation, that served some of the purposes of a fort both during the Indian Troubles and the Revolution. Some evidence of its strength is furnished by this item from the record of July Sessions, 1783: "Ordered by the Court that Christian Reinhardt's loft be the public gaol of said county until the end of next court, October Term, 1783."

The courts of 1773 and 1774 were held at Christopher Carpenter's. He lived in the Beaver Dam section. There were some half-dozen Carpenters among the pioneers. Their signatures to all early deeds and wills are written in the German, Zimmerman (translates to Carpenter in English).

The commissioners appointed by Act of Assembly to select the place whereon to erect and build the court-house, prison and stocks of Tryon County, on 26th July, 1774, reported their selection of the place "called the crossroads on Christopher Mauney's land, between the heads of Long Creek, Muddy Creek, and Beaver Dam Creek in the county aforesaid as most central and convenient for the purpose aforesaid." The county court adjourned to meet at the "house of Christy Mauney or the crossroads in his land." The site of the old Tryon courthouse is eight miles southwest of Lincolnton, in Lincoln County. October Sessions, 1774, were held at the house of Christian Mauney, and a room in his dwelling was used as a jail.

The old county of Lincoln, with its fine farms and beautiful homes, dotted with towns and villages, and musical with the hum of machinery, the pioneers found a wild, luxuriant with native flora, the habitat of the red man and wild animals. There were herds of fleet-footed deer; there were clumsy brown bears and fierce wild cats and panthers; there were droves of buffalo, and countless beavers building their dams on the creeks. The early settlers waged a relentless war on these animals and set a bounty on many of their scalps. The scalps on which a price was set were the wolf, panther, wild cat, and such other as preyed on domestic animals. For killing a grown wolf the price was one pound; a young wolf ten shillings; a wild cat five shillings. The claims filed in court were for "scalp tickets." As late as October Sessions, 1774, there were audited in favor of individuals forty-nine "wolf scalp tickets." We still retain Indian, Beaver Dam, and Buffalo Creeks, Bear Ford, Wolf Gulch, and Buffalo Mountain, Buffalo Shoals, and the Indian names Catawba and Tuckaseegee, memorials of these primeval days.

In Tryon County there were many loyal subjects of the king, and there was likewise a gallant band of patriots who as early as August, 1775, adopted and signed the following bold declaration:

"The unprecedented, barbarous and bloody actions committed by British troops on our American brethren near Boston, on 19th April and 20th of May last, together with the hostile operations and treacherous designs now carrying on, by the tools of ministerial vengeance, for the subjugation of all British America, suggest to us the painful necessity of having recourse to arms in defense of our National freedom and constitutional rights, against all invasions; and at the same time do solemnly engage to take up arms and risk our lives and our fortunes in maintaining the freedom of our country whenever the wisdom and counsel of the Continental Congress or our Provincial Convention shall declare it necessary; and this engagement we will continue in for the preservation of those rights and liberties which the principals of our Constitution and the laws of God, nature and nations have made it our duty to defend. We therefore, the subscribers, freeholders and inhabitants of Tryon County, do hereby faithfully unite ourselves under the most solemn ties of religion, honor and love to our county, firmly to resist force by force, and hold sacred till a reconciliation shall take place between Great Brittain and America on Constitutional principals, which
we most ardently desire,and do firmly agree to hold all such persons as inimical to the liberties of America who shall refuse to sign this
association.

(Signed)

John Walker, Charles McLean, Andrew Neel, Thomas Beatty, James Coburn, Frederick Hambright, Andrew Hampton, Benjamin Hardin, George Paris, William Graham, Robt. Alexander, David Jenkins, Thomas Espey, Perrygreen Mackness, James McAfee, William Thompson, Jacob Forney, Davis Whiteside, John Beeman, John Morris, Joseph Harden, John Robison, James McIntyre, Valentine Mauney, George Black, Jas. Logan, Jas. Baird, Christian Carpenter, Abel Beatty, Joab Turner, Jonathan Price, Jas. Miller, John Dellinger, Peter Sides, William Whiteside, Geo. Dellinger, Samuel Carpenter, Jacob Mauney, Jun., John Wells, Jacob Costner, Robert Hulclip, James Buchanan, Moses Moore, Joseph Kuykendall, Adam Simms, Richard Waffer, Samuel Smith, Joseph Neel, Samuel Loftin.

In 1777, an act was passed establishing State courts, providing that all suits and indictments instituted and fines imposed "in the name or the use of the King of Great Brittain, when this territory was under his government, and owed allegiance to him, and all breaches on penal statues directed to be prosecuted in the name of the king shall be prosecuted and proceeded in the name of the State." This act terminated the "Crown Docket." and the King or Rex as prosecutor. The "State Docket" begins at October Sessions 1777.

The change of government from royal to state in Tryon County was consummated without a jar. The last Tryon court was held January, 1779. During this year Tryon is blotted from the list of counties and War of the Revolution is in progress. Lincoln County became the scene of many thrilling Revolutionary events.


When Tryon County was established in 1768 it included a good portion of northwestern South Carolina within its boundaries, as shown in the map above. All of the South Carolina counties identified attest to the fact that a lot of their early grants were within the purview of Tryon County, North Carolina. Of course, Tryon County was abolished in 1779 before these South Carolina counties were officially established in 1785, and the North Carolina-South Carolina border was not totally resolved until 1815, so it took years to straighten out all of the legal wranglings that occurred as a result of this initial course of action taken by North Carolina in 1768.



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