A History of Martinsville, North Carolina

In January of 1771, the North Carolina House of Burgesses passed an Act creating Guilford County by taking parts of Orange and Rowan Counties. The new county was named after Francis North, first Earl of Guilford, whose son Frederick was Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time of the county's creation.

The boundaries of Guilford County at the time of its creation were considerably greater than they are today. The county was bounded on the east by present-day Caswell, Alamance, and Chatham Counties; on the north by the Virginia state line; on the west by Stokes, Forsyth, and Davidson Counties; and on the south by Montgomery and Moore Counties.

The first "court house” in the new county was the home of Robert Lindsay, by the banks of the Deep River in the southwest section of the county. To finance the construction of a more permanent public building, a poll tax of two shillings was levied on each taxable person for a period of three years. In 1774, land was purchased for the court house site, and the new county seat was named Guilford Court House. The following year, Alexander Martin and Thomas Henderson bought 100 acres of land adjacent to the court house site, and this development, called Martinsville, became the county seat. Many references have the name as Martinville with no "s," but the founders intended for the name to actually be Martinsville, with the "s."

In 1779, the southern portion of Guilford County was taken to form Randolph County, and six years later the northern part was cut off to create Rockingham County, leaving Guilford County with its present dimensions.

During the years that followed, Martinsville experienced surprisingly little growth. Part of this was attributed to the fact that the county seat was no longer located in the center of the county, and there was an increasing demand for the establishment of a new seat of government. In 1808, it was determined that the center of the county lay six miles from Martinsville, “in the middle of a duck pond in a brush thicket,” in present-day Fisher Park. Since marshlands were hardly suitable for a new county seat, a site six blocks to the south was chosen and named Greensboro, in honor of Major General Nathanael Greene, Revolutionary War hero and commander of the colonial troops at the Battle of Guilford Court House.

Martinsville Road is a short minor little road that presently runs between Lawndale Drive and Battleground Avenue. It is named for the community of Martin Ville (also called Martinville and Martinsville), which was itself named for Alexander Martin.

A little history lesson is in order to appreciate the little community of Martinville, and its demise.

The Fourth Provincial Congress had met in Halifax, NC in April of 1776 and passed what came to be known as the “Halifax Resolves” which requested of the Continental Congress that it declare independence for all the colonies. Eventually of course such independence was declared and signed on July 4, 1776.

This declaration required that each state have its own official constitution, and so the Fifth Provincial Congress was called together again in Halifax, NC in October of 1776 for that purpose. After much wrangling a constitution was adopted in December of 1776 and declared to be in force, providing for two legislative branches, an executive branch headed by a governor who would be elected by the legislature, and a judiciary. Robert Caswell was elected as the first governor and installed in January of 1777.

During the Revolutionary War the North Carolina General Assembly passed laws allowing for the confiscation of property owned by those loyal to the British. Each county had its own confiscation committee, which would arrange for sale of confiscated estates. It was not unusual for the county commissioners themselves to end up buying much of this confiscated property, at greatly reduced rates.

Well, as things happen, the primary Loyalist in the piedmont of North Carolina was a man named Edmund Fanning, who had” mysteriously” inherited 350 acres of land in Guilford County from William Churton, former surveyor general for the British, who had himself purchased these 350 acres around 1767 and died shortly thereafter.

There is evidence to suggest that Edmund Fanning, a member of the Royal Governor’s Executive Council, knew about plans being made to form Guilford County out of Orange County, and who knew that the Churton land would eventually be at the center of the new county (which consisited of present day Rockingham, Guilford, and Randolph Counties), and the likely placement for the country seat. And so Fanning inherited the property through very strange circumstances.

And then the new county was formed, and yes, the court house was placed on one acre of Fanning’s land, purchased through a land agent.

Well, after the county was formed, the Martin and Henderson families, related by marriage, seemed to have undue influence, which would benefit Martin soon enough. For who would be more likely to have property confiscated by the county confiscation committee than Edmund Fanning himself, chief Loyalist of the piedmont of North Carolina.

So in 1780, Edmund Fanning’s 350 acres was sold to who other than the Alexander Martin/Thomas Henderson family.

In 1782, Alexander Martin was elected governor of North Carolina and served two one year terms, after which he retired back to Guilford County. In 1785, the General Assembly approved that a town be laid out around the Guilford court house area, on land, which of course, Alexander Martin owned. This town was to be named Martinsville in honor of then former Governor Martin, and would serve as the county seat of Guilford County. And so it was, though the town did not prosper, and was to remain fairly small for the next fifteen years.

At the same General Assembly meeting in 1785, in which the formation of Martinsville was approved, Rockingham County was created out of the northern tier of then Guilford County. Already in 1779, the southern tier of Guilford had been included in the new county of Randolph. Thus Guilford County came to have its current boundaries.

This change would not bode well for Martinsville. Whereas Guilford Court House had been roughly the geographic center of the older much larger Guilford County, the geographic center of the new county was several miles to the southeast.

It wasn’t long before controversy arose over the location of the county seat. For obvious reason people on the southeastern part of the county, in Pleasant Garden as well as in the Buffalo Creek communities, desired that the court house be more centrally located. Two groups or parties came into being in the county, the “Centre” party wanting relocation to the geographic center of the county, and the “Martinsville” party wanting to keep the court house just where it was. When the county commissioners, controlled by Martin’s family and the Martinsville party voted in 1807 to have a new jail and court house built in Martinsville, the controversy erupted into full bloom.

An election was called to vote on the placement of the new court house, with both parties pressing the matter in meetings all over the Guilford County. But the Center party won the vote, and that was the beginning of the end of Martinsville, which faded into oblivion over time, as the new county seat was moved to the southeast, and named after the hero of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, Nathanael Greene. Alexander Martin died shortly after, in 1808. And all that’s left in name of the old road that ran from Martinsville to the new community of Greensboro is the short little Martinsville Road we have today.

Martinsville (aka Guilford C.H.) was granted a US Post Office on July 1, 1797, and its first Postmaster was Mr. Smythe Moore. On June 26, 1834, this PO was closed permanently.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved