Fact Friday 420 - Early History of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County (1760s-1800s)

Fact Friday 420 - Early History of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County (1760s-1800s)

Happy Friday!

This week's Fact Friday comes to you from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.


This photo shows the Atherton Cotton Mill which opened in 1893.

The Courthouse Village, 1760s-1800s:

In 1762 Mecklenburg County split off from Anson County. Several of the little crossroad communities that dotted the area wanted to be the county seat, but after a fight led by Thomas Polk, Charlotte won the honor and was incorporated in 1768.  Commissioners were instructed to lay off one hundred acres in half-acre lots on which houses would be erected. An anonymous surveyor laid out a grid-iron of streets following the order, far in excess of what was needed at the time, defining an area that would remain the entire village well into the nineteenth century. At the center of the grid where Trade and Tryon streets crossed was a small square containing the county courthouse. The courthouse assured Charlotte's position as the main trading city in the county, because when farmers came to town on legal business they would naturally do some trading at the same time.

The village stayed quite small for many decades. In the earliest years Mecklenburg's rural residents were subsistence farmers, able to raise little more than the food and animals they needed to live. Gradually small cash crops were grown: flax, livestock, and grain (which was converted to liquor for easy shipment, probably down the Catawba to Charleston). This small trade made for little growth, and when the first United States census was taken in 1790 Charlotte had less than five hundred souls. George Washington, passing through several years after the Revolutionary War, remarked in his diary that the hamlet was a "trifling place." 

There were moments of glory during the Revolution, nonetheless. According to tradition, on May 20, 1775, a group of county leaders signed the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, declaring themselves free from England more than a year before the Continental Congress took the same step in Philadelphia. The original Declaration burned in a house fire in 1800, causing doubts about its veracity. Today the signing date is part of the North Carolina state flag and seal, and the day continues to be celebrated in the county. The intersection of Trade and Tryon streets at the center of the city is called Independence Square in commemoration of the event.

In 1780 a Revolutionary War skirmish was fought in the area. British general Lord Cornwallis tried to occupy the hamlet, but met with such stiff local resistance that he and his troops quickly left. Cornwallis muttered that Charlotte was a "hornet's nest," and the citizens proudly adopted the appellation as the village's nickname. 



Charlotte Mecklenburg HLC Presents: The History and Growth of Charlotte, NC 

Email chris@704shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!

“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin

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