Early History of Old Orange County

The source of this information is Orange County - 1752-1952 edited by Hugh Lefler and Paul Wager,
published in 1953, copied with permission. 

Before Orange County - The Indians

When the curtain rose for the drama of history to begin, the land that is now Orange county was occupied by small tribes of Siouan origin. The great Trading Path from Virginia to the Catawba nation led through the region of present Hillsboro and Mebane to Haw river. The first description of this famous Indian trail was given by John LEDERER, a German doctor, in June, 1670. He told of his visit to the Eno Indians along the Eno river near present Hillsboro. His narrative read:

*****Dr. Lederer's comments****

The county here, by the industry of these Indians, is very open and clear of wood. Their town is built round a field where in their sports they exercise with so much labour and violence, and in so great numbers that I have seen the ground wet with sweat that dropped from their bodies: their chief recreation is slinging of stones. They are of mean stature and courage, covetous and thievish, industrious to earn a penny; and therefore hire themselves out to their neighbours, who employ them as carryers or porters. They plant abundance of grain, reap three crops in a summer, and out of their granary supply all the adjacent parts. These and the mountain-Indians build not their houses of bark, but of watling and plaister. . . .Some houses they have of reed or bark; they build them generally round: to each house belongs a little hovel made like an oven, where they lay up their corn and mast, and keep it dry. They parch their nuts and acorns over a fire, to take away their rank oyliness; which afterwards pressed, yield a milky liquor, and the acorns an amber-colour'd oyl. In these, mingled together, they dip their cakes at great entertainments, and so serve them up to their guests as an extraordinary dainty. Their government is democratick; and the sentences of their old men are received as laws, or rather oracles, by them.
****end of Dr. Lederer's comments****

The author goes on to say that more than two centuries later the following comment was written. He does not say who wrote this comment.

Not far from Eno Town the young braves of North Carolina and Duke universities still carry on their ball play with much labour and violence, the government of the county is still democratic, and the three crops a year are possible for farmers who space their corn plantings properly.
Fourteen miles west-southwest from his visit to the Eno Village Lederer found the Shackory Indians dwelling upon a rich soil. These seem to tally with the Shakori (Shoccoree), or Saxapahaw, sometimes called Sissipihaw, dwelling Haw river in the neighborhood of Haw fields.

Another traveler, John LAWSON, came along the trading path from the south in 1701. The trail was followed across "three Great Rivers", identified as Little and Big Alamance rivers and Haw river. The Haw river ford, which was crossed "with great Difficulty, (by God's Assistance)," was in the neighborhood of the present village of Swepsonville, and bordered lands which Lawson described as "extraordinary Rich".

As he traveled through Haw fields, he met a trading caravan of thirty horses led by several horsemen. The leader, a man named MASSEY, from Leeds in Yorkshire, England, advised Lawson to secure ENO-WILL, a faithful Indian guide, who was to be found at one of the villages in the Occoneechee neighborhood. This Indian was a Shakori by birth, whose people had been met by Lederer at Haw river and who had since joined the Eno and another tribe known as Adshusheer.

The Occoneechee Indians had fled from their island home at the confluence of Dan and Staunton rivers and were then n the region of the Eno river, where they left their name in the "Occoneechee Hills", not far from present Hillsboro.

The Occoneechee (Occaneechee) Indians provided Lawson with a feast of "good fat Bear, and Venison." The Indians' cabins, or lodges, were festooned with dried bear and dear meat, "a good sort of Tapestry," which caused Lawson to declare that the Indians possessed "the Flower of Carolina; the English enjoying only the Fag-end of that fine Country."

Eno-Will agreed to guide Lawson to eastern Carolina. A halt was made at Eno town, located on a "Pretty Rivulet", fourteen miles east of the Occoneechee, and northwest of the present city of Durham. Here Lawson wrote this character sketch of his Indian friend:

****Lawson's sketch****
Our Guide and Landlord, Enoe-Will, was of the best and most agreeable Temper that I ever met with in an Indian, being always ready to serve the English, not out of Gain, but real Affection; which makes him apprehensive of being poisoned by some wicked Indians, and was therefore very earnest with me, to promise him to avenge his Death if it should so happen. He brought some of his chief Men into his Cabin, and two of them having a Drum and Rattle, sung by us as we lay in Bed, and struck up their Music to serenade and welcome us into their Town. And though at last, we fell asleep, yet they continued their Concert till Morning.
****End of Lawson's sketch****

Soon after this visit of John Lawson, the Siouan tribes of the Piedmont departed for eastern Carolina. Apparently all of the Indians in the region later included in Orange county had disappeared by the time that the white settlement of the area began.

The First Settlers

There were few white families in the 1740's in the area that was to become Orange County. But, by 1751 Governor Gabriel JOHNSTON reported that settlers were flocking in, mostly from PA. At the time it was formed Orange County had an estimated population of 4,000. By 1767 it had the largest population of any county in NC.

The migration along the "Great Wagon Road" from PA through Shenandoah valley to Carolina was made up largely of Scotch-Irish and German immigrants. "Scotch-Irish" is the term used in the reference book. German refers to the area that was later to become Germany.

The most distinctly Scotch-Irish settlement in the county was Eno, about 7 miles north of Hillsborough. They also settled in the area east of the Haw river and in the Little river and New Hope creek sections. The Scotch-Irish, in what is now Guilford County, organized Buffalo Presbyterian Church in 1756. The Scotch were said to have been most prevelant in Cumberland County, but there were some that settled in southern Orange in the area that is now Chatham County.

Germans held the land west of the Haw River. There were Lutherans and German Reformed. Ludwig CLAPP had a grant of 640 acres on the Alamance. Michael HOLT had large acreage along the Great and Little Alamance. John FAUST had land on Cain Creek. Adam TROLINGER had land on the west bank of the Haw River, near the present railroad crossing. Other German pioneers were Christian FAUST, Jacob ALBRIGHT, Peter SHARP, Philip SNOTHERLY and David EFLAND. Quoting from the book: "By 1773 there were so many Germans in western Orange that J.F.D. SMYTHE, an English traveler, experienced difficulty in finding anyone who understood his language in some areas west of Hillsboro."


English immigrants from VA settled in northern Orange along the Hico River and County Line Creek. There was a settlement of Irish near Stoney Creek in what is now Alamance County. The Welsh, including Thomas LLOYD settled between Hillsborough and what is now Chatham County.

Quakers were very prominent in early Orange County. There were some north of Hillsborough. There were more in the Cain Creek and Stinking Quarter Creek areas that are now part of Alamance, Chatham and Randolph. Two prominent Quaker pioneers were Jonathan LINDLEY of the Cain Creek section and William COURTNEY of Hillsborough.

Land Ownership in Orange County

From its beginning Orange County was the home of farmers. It has been said that in 18th century Orange county more than 75% of the land owners owned between 100 and 500 acres. This was at a time that large land grants were common, but only 5% of the land owners had 1,000 acres or more.

The three largest landowners in 1800 were William CAIN who had 4,417 acres, Richard BENNEHAN with 4,065 acres, and William STRUDWICK with 4,000. By 1860 77% of the land owners had 100 acres or less with only about 1% having 1,000 acres or more.

Slavery in Orange County

Slavery was well established in the colony of North Carolina long before Orange County came into being. Slavery was not as important an institution in Orange County as other places. At no time did slaves constitute more than 31 percent of the total population of the county.

In 1755 (3 years after its founding) only 8 percent of the families owned slaves. The largest slaveholder at that time, Mark MORGAN, had only 6 slaves. By 1780, however, 3 percent of Orange Co slaveholders had more than 20 slaves.

The 1790 census showed 10,055 whites, 2,060 Negro slaves, and 101 other free persons. At that time there were 14 slaveholders who had 10 slaves or more. 4 of these 14 lived in Hillsboro. William COOPER was the largest slaveholder in Hillsboro with 22 and Richard BENNEHAN, a planter, was the largest slaveholder in the county with 24. Others who had 10 or more were George ALLEN, John TAYLOR, Matthew McCAULEY, John HOGAN, Thomas H PERKINS with 10 each; Walter ALVES with 11; William SHEPPARD and William O'NEAL with 12 each; Hardy MORGAN with 14; Alexander MEBANE with 16; and a person whose name is not known with 20.

In 1860 less than half of all landowners in the county had slaves.
Over 40 percent of those had only one slave. The following is a direct quote: "Most slaveholders owned a small number of slaves, hence the relationship between master and slave was very close. The master knew his slaves by name, took a personal interest in them individually, and looked upon them almost as members of his family".

In 1860 the 3 largest slaveholders were I. N. PATTERSON with 106, Paul CAMERON with 98, and Henry WHITTED with 78.