As for some of us, our family story along the Rocky River begins with a 1770’s trip down the Great Wagon Road. It begins there or, for many, it begins with an early arrival into the Chesapeake Bay followed by a much slower spread from eastern Virginia.

For those earliest of days, our understanding is complicated by the scarcity of official oversight, the impacts of unsettled Indian affairs, and the radically evolving jurisdictional laws especially pertaining to land acquisition. In this atmosphere, the race was on and officials at all levels hastily leveraged their meager resources in power plays designed to maximize political influence. Sometimes it all went badly wrong as things got out of hand. For instance, imagine the governor of one state issuing land not in his own state, but in the bounds of a neighboring state? Though you’d rightfully think they can’t do that, the above image shows it indeed happened. And, the case I’m about to share all took place in a budding community upon the waters of our Rocky River.

Situated in present day Cabarrus County, North Carolina, the above 200 acres Jacob Smith entered was located on the waters of Coldwater Creek. As South Carolina did not support local county land offices, requests for land were accepted in Charleston. It’s there where records show that Jacob and others petitioned possibly as a group for land on 8 Oct 1756. Issued out of South Carolina on 4 May 1762, Jacob’s land grant was located nearly 40 miles north of the present day South Carolina border. Jacob’s land was clearly in the bounds of North Carolina.
Jacob Smith was not alone. In late summer of 1756, South Carolina Council Journal minutes show that he and others were among a larger group who petitioned several times to the State of South Carolina in request of the following lands along the Rocky River:

William Leopard -100 acres on Rocky River
Frederick Charles– 100 acres on Buffalo
Charles Hart– 250 acres upon Buffalo (possibly several entries)
John Busard-250 acres upon Buffalo
John Sowder-300 acres upon Buffalo
John Slagen-350 acres upon Buffalo
Peter Crowell-400 acres upon Buffalo
Jacob Smith-200 acres upon Rocky (possibly several entries)
Stuffel Barnhat-350 acres on Rocky River or waters therof
John McKinly-250 acres on a branch of Rocky River
John Carr-Upon a branch of Rocky River

In addition of the one survey plat for Jacob Smith that I’ve posted above, I decided to look a little closer at the lands of Charles Hart. I’m not sure if or not there’s a surviving plat for Charles’ South Carolina land grants. However, on 7 Apr 1756, Charles Hart did in fact enter a grant in Anson County within the State of North Carolina. Note that Cabarrus grew from Mecklenburg which grew from the above Anson County. Issued 7 Apr 1750, the 500 acres of land was located on a “large branch of the Rocky River about eight miles west of the Great Lick.” From my platting projects in this area, I’m quite certain the land was situated upon the Dutch Buffalo Creek. However, of interest in this case is the file number given by the North Carolina Secretary of State office many years ago when they originally organized the grants into shucks. For this grant, the file number given is 0299. On microfilm, file numbers beginning with zero are located at the back of all the other films. Note this is true for all counties. And, the use of zero indicates a grant was entered but was never issued. Keep in mind that the Secretary of State’s office paired up all the entries and final issuances, placing them into shucks with a brief descriptive front label. After completion, there sometimes remained entries with no issuance. It’s like pulling out the family’s box of playing cards, matching them up, and then wondering what to do with the extras left over at the end. As for the land grants, either the final issuance record was lost or the grant was never finalized. In simple terms, the grant never matured. So, in these cases the grant was never officially issued (more on this later as deed records indicate a bit of a twist as to how this all played out).

The above makes sense for Charles Hart as he may have entered land in Anson County that never matured. Why did it not mature? …because Charles was not certain of jurisdictional control and ultimately turned to South Carolina where records there show he received two grants totaling 500 acres.

Beyond this struggle involving the basic mechanics of land acquisition, those earliest settlers along Rocky River faced a much greater threat. Primarily, there was the power struggle between the governors of North and South Carolina. And at center of the controversy was the South Carolina Governor’s dislike for Henry McCulloh who was the land agent for North Carolina’s Governor Arthur Dobbs. The remainder of this post will detail a series of petitions appearing in the minutes of the South Carolina Council Journals which illuminate the hardships faced by the earliest settlers of Rocky River. They seek understanding and legal clarity and their petitions tell of land and of the unfair decisions faced in identifying truth and the rightful way to move forward. All the while these early settlers faced the hardships of the new world and yet were met with a greater threat thrust upon them by their trusted leadership.


Dated 20 May 1755, the Grand Council for the State of South Carolina received and acknowledged a petition of inhabitants of Rocky River. In October of the following year, the petitioners had made application for their family rights. They were then granted warrants of survey which were properly surveyed and returned for issuance. However, the executive officers of North Carolina sent armed men to “free them to be subject to the laws of their Province and to pay their levies as if they were the subjects of that Province. That they were likewise threatened and scared away by Governor Dobbs’ officers with regard to his taking their land from them or obliging them to buy it from him.” The petitioners prayed for his Excellency’s “protection in their seemingly miserable condition and the eyes of many and of all their settlement which was large.”

The petitioners were:

Andrew Logan         Isaac Ross
David Caldwell        Pat’k Gibson
Will’m Crawford     G
eorge Crawford

On 12 August of the same year, another petition of the inhabitants of Rocky River was read before the Council. Having applied for grants from the State of South Carolina, some of the petitioners now lived upon the land “being secured to them agreeable to his Majesty’s Instructions and the Laws of this Province.” “…they were environed on all sides by Heathen Nations by whom some of the first settlers had not only sustained the loss of their goods but of their lives. That they had undergone many difficulties in settling the back parts of this Province such as poor lodging, Scarcity of Broad &C.” “That his Excellency Arthur Dobbs Esq’r, Governor &c of North Carolina, had lately been at most of their dwellings and claimed the lands they live upon as his property and he demanded of them twenty pounds sterling of an extraordinary rent annually for every one hundred acres or he would force them immediately to quit their respective plantations. That the petitioners were poor and unable to comply with such demands and being confident they were within the limits of this Province.”

Dated 24 Jul 1755 and being from Rocky River, South Carolina, the petitioners were:

James Turnbull                                     John Neil
Matthew Yong                                      William Lofton
James Loosh                                          John Wilson
Samuel Patton                                     George Neils mark (x)
John Eakin                                             Adam Alexander
Dennis Leverty                                     Alex’r Whitley
John Carmichael                                  James Belford
James Holland                                      John Queiry
Jos’h Harri’s mark (O)                          John Rodgers
Robert Russell                                      Will’m Penny
Henry Pierson                                       Saml Ferguson’s mark (0)
James Holey                                          James McPherson
Will’m Carmichael’s mark (S)           William Woodside
Andrew Logan                                      David Calwal
Will’m Crawford                                   Patrick Gibson
Isaac Ross                                             William Carr
John Mercer                                          Neal McKelly

“The board having considered the foregoing petition and letter were of opinion that his Excellency should write to Governor Dobbs and acquaint him that it is the opinion and also that of his Majesty’s Council that the petitioners and other inhabitants of Rocky River should continue in the peaceable possession of their respective plantations until such time as his Majesty should give his instructions for running the Boundary line between the two Provinces. “

And yet again, almost a year later, the following petition of 53 inhabitants of Rocky River was brought before the Council. This time the complaint was against Arthur Dobbs, as he had appointed a person to act as an agent on his behalf. Much of the petitioner’s lands (possessed by South Carolina surveys) was “resurveyed by virtue of precepts from the Governor of North Carolina …to their great concern and confusion and threatened to put them out of their houses and lands in a few weeks and in particular those who had obtained his Exc’ys warrant for survey.” The petitioners sought an official South Carolina presence in their neighborhood including a magistrate and captain. Also, “together with his instructions whether or not they should apprehend and bring before his Excellency in Charles Town the following persons viz’t Governor Dobbs’: agent and surveyor.”

Dated 7 Jan 1756, the petitioners were:

Robert Magrin      Alex’r Wiley        Will’m Crawford        Jn’o Person
James Neal
       David Calwell        And’w Logan        John Hawthorn
George Crawford        George Crawford        Pat: Gibson        John Query
John Logan        Sam’l Crawford        James Loosk        Den’s Laverty
Francis Logan        John Wilson        Tho’s Neal Sen’r        Rob’t Trimble
John Adkins        Alex’r Whitley        Thomas Neel Jun’r        James Neel
Robert Wilson        Moses Whitly        And’w Neels mark        Tho’s McCall
Robert McDowell        Andrew Davis        John Neel        James Wyley
John Crawford        Isaac Ross        Will’m Warren        Da: Adams Sen’r
John Rodger        George Craford        William Small        Da: Adams Jun’r
Matthew Young        Sam’l Craford        James Holland        James Adams
Samuel Paton        James Turnbull        Hen: Person
James McFaron        Alex’r McGrew        Geo: Youston        William Adams
N. Killin


In closing I’d like to thank Miles Philbeck who many years ago gave me my copy of the Jacob Smith survey. Also, much of this post is built upon the labors of Brent H. Holcomb and Stewart E. Dunaway. Brent transcribed verbatim the “South Carolina Council Journals” along with other record sources for that state. I advise those interested to look him up. His books on South Carolina are a wonderful resource. Also, my appreciation goes out to Stewart E. Dunaway who collected everything he could find on the life and work of Henry McCulloh. His old style phone book sized book titled “Henry McCulloh and Son Henry Eustace McCulloh” is packed and a must read for those interested in learning more about the Great Tracts of North Carolina. And always, a thanks to those who work the desk at North Carolina State Archives.  Theirs is not a job of doing your work and of finding the missing pieces of your history puzzle, though they do a great job of giving guidance in where and how to locate any available record housed at this wonderful depository of historical records.

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