old east

People place too much emphasis on where they attended school when in reality one’s energy should be directed towards what a degree can do for you and how best to put it to work. A simple woodworker by love, it’s my belief a diploma is representative of a much more important set of tools. Of course some tool brands are better than others, but where you buy them is of little importance. And, then there’s school pride!

I’m a lifelong Wolfpack fan as I received an undergraduate degree from NC State. And yes, as a young college student my woodshop locker sported a bumper sticker that read “UNC Students Are Ugly and Their Mammas Dress Them Funny.” I also learned the State fight song which unofficially includes the derogatory exclamation telling Carolina where it can go. With all this being said, I was absolutely bedaffled when I recently learned of a 1799 petition to our state’s general assembly in which my earliest known Burris family ancestor, …and his neighbors, expressed a similar dislike for the University of North Carolina. It’s safe to say that my 5th great-grandpa Solomon Burris was not a Carolina fan.

Quoted directly from the above mentioned 1799 petition, the University of North Carolina was referred as:

“…an institute, whereof we have a sorry opinion after reading in Abraham Hodges’ Journal, the scandalous & shameful behavior of some students, neither can we derive any advantage from it by getting our sons academically educated, as we are doomed to a rural and obscure life, which we would be very well contented, if we only could not get disturbed, even therein.”

Note that Abraham Hodge was the first official printer of North Carolina’s governmental records. From the town of Warrenton, his publications also included the North Carolina Almanac and State Journal.

What was it about the university that troubled my ancestor and his fellow neighbors who all resided near Bear Creek in present day Stanly County? To really understand you must get to know the lands my ancestor lived upon. You must also understand the scheme used for funding the new University of North Carolina. These are deep issues that need more time than I’m willing to give in this post. For now, let’s talk UNC.

On 2 Nov 1789 the General Assembly of North Carolina, then meeting in Fayetteville, met and enacted a law establishing the University of North Carolina. Chapter 20 of that particular session’s meeting reads in part:

“WHEREAS in all well-regulated governments it is the indispensable duty of every Legislature to consult the happiness of a rising generation, and endeavor to fit them for an honorable discharge of the social duties of life, by paying the strictest attention to their education: And whereas an university supported by permanent funds, and well endowed, would have the most direct tendency to answer the above purpose…”

Those were tough economic times. Hardships during the Revolutionary War had been replaced by new trade wars with England. The new government of North Carolina was not taking in the amount of revenue needed to properly pay for the creation of a university. Seeking a funding stream that would least upset its citizens, the above act of the General Assembly was followed up with another law “for funds, appropriated for building &c. the university &c.” Chapter 21 of the 1789 session reads in part:

“ WHEREAS the General Assembly by their act, entitled “An act to establish a university in this state,” passed on the eleventh day of December instant, have declared that a university shall be established and erected in this state, which shall be called and known by the name of The University of North Carolina : And whereas adequate funds will be found to be the means which will most effectually ensure to the state the advantages to be hoped and expected from such an institution

I. …That a gift of all monies due and owing to the public of North-Carolina, either for arrearages under the former or present government, up to the first day of January, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three, inclusive, (monies or certificates due for confiscated property purchased excepted) shall be and is hereby declared to be fully and absolutely made, for the purpose of erecting the necessary buildings, employing professors and tutors, and carrying into complete effet the act before recited …

II. And be it enacted, that all the property that has heretofore or shall hereafter escheat to the state; shall be and hereby us vetted in the said Trustees, for the use and benefit of the said university.”

It was in the above clause, highlighted in red, that the citizens of old Montgomery County were at odds. Let me explain with a one paragraph crib note version. Here goes >>>
Much of the suggested loyalist’s lands to be sold were located in Montgomery, now Stanly County. And, much of the lands in that region were bought by deed as sub-divisions of the Loyalist purchased sub-divisions of Gov. Dobb’s 100,000 acre Great Tract # 6 …which was initially purchased for resale by James Huey. Complicating the matter, following the Revolutionary War, residue of the Loyalist owned Great Tracts were escheated to North Carolina for issuance as land grants. Barnaba Dunn and several other land speculators got into the picture and gobbled up six tracts comprised of multiple entries totaling approximately 64,000 acres in now Stanly. They planned to make a profit by their own scheme of subdivision, selling at a higher price than what was paid out in the grant. That’s huge, and unbeknownst to Barnaba Dunn, he really didn’t get the land owed him as much of it had already been scarfed up in process of sub-division of the Great Tract! So, in short, the common folk of now Stanly County had to deal with a toxic concoction of land acquisition by both state as well as privately sold lands. Complicating the issue, the 1789 act by the State of North Carolina gave right to sell all unclaimed land for the benefit of the new University. Got it? If not, take a look at the following image. Overlaid on C. M. Miller map of Stanly County, it shows the great tracts in white and the large grants issued to speculator Barnaba Dunn and others are outlined in red.

Stanly Great Tracts 1

It really is a mess. And it was in that environment where Solomon Burris and others made a go at life in our new country. With that bit of background covered, let’s look at the petition, the signers, and let’s see how things played out for those living near Bear and Long Creeks of Rocky River:

To the Honourable; The General Assembly of N. Carolina


About three years ago, Adley Osborn, attorney for the Trustees of the University, intimated to us, that our improved Plantations and all vacant land lying in Great Tract No. 6 first granted to Murry and Crimble, and escheated, were given as a Donation to the University & wanted to compromise with us for it. But we been entirely uninformed of any thing, concerning this matter, and thinking ourselves safe enough by our state, grants, refused firmly to enter into any compromise and ever since we geen let alone, till now lately said Attorney Osborn attempted the second claim for our lands by a threatening advertisement to which we are unwilling to agree, and taking the refuge to your kind & deserved protection, he postponed his procedure till after your present session.

The vacant land around us is in the hands of a few speculators and we’re bereaved of the chance of entering any parcel of land to meliorate our circumstances have to buy it from the mercies of userers at their own price, Whereby we and our poor families must groan while only a few individuals enrich themselves on the turf of a multitude of honest, poor, and industrious farmers; And to complete our melancholy fate, even our respectable State is claimed for the benefit of the University; An institute, whereas we have a sorry opinion after reading in Abram Hodge’s Journal the scandalous & shameful behavior of some students neither can we derive any advantage from it by getting our sons academically educated, as we are doomed to a rural and obscure life, which to lead we would be very well contended, if we only would not get disturbed , even therein.
We therefore beg most humbly, the Honourable The General Assembly may seemingly consider that we, are in the righteousness possession of our lands by state grant have paid regularly our taxes and never deviated from any duty, which could make us unworthy and deprive us of our Property, Liberty, and Independence , and to reinstate us in our former peaceable possessions and rites, and to secure us graciously from the present & all future claims and attempts from the University as well as any other Corporation or any Individual whatsoever; in which expectations and confidence we subscribe ourselves respectfully

The Honourable; The General Assembly

Montgomery County
Novbr, 23, 1799

Martin Almond       Ambros Honicut
Conard Almond       John Sides       Augustine Rowland
Adam Smith       Elisha Honicut       Richard Holland
Henry Oudee       Hardy Hatley       ……….. Holland
Jacob Oudee       James Mainord       Hosia Rowland
Droury Honnicut       Young Wardrobe [Waltrop]       Isac …born
Titus Wittly       Uriah Smith       Sharwood (x) Smith
Nicholas Rauch       Drewry Smith       Aaron (x) Green
Dempsey Honnicut       Thomas Notley       John Manor
George Springer       Benjamin Cagle       Edward (x) Herrin
Solomon Borras       George Carkey       Geore (x) Whitly
Richard Almond       Sharad Rowland       Absolum Harwood
Nathan Almond       Robert Rowland       Thomas Lowder
Alexander Underwood       Bird Pyron       Richard Green 
Christian Coble           John Medlin
Joel Rowland           Thomas Almond
Richard Honeycut           Howel Harwood
John Smith
Hardy Honeycut
Mally Rowland
F’ Rowland
Thomas Castle
Asa Smith
William Sugg
(written in German)
Gideon Almond
Urias Spaight
Draper Burges
(written in German)



Also acted upon during the same session, being Fall 1799, there was even a petition by one of the speculators who sought compensation for troubles he had encountered. In 1794, Barnaba Dunn received a grant for 12,220 acres made up of lands that had been escheated or returned back to the state as it once belonged to British loyalists James Huey and Murray Krimble. Barnaba complained:

“your petitioner proceeded to have the said land surveyed, but on an actual admeasurement, it appears that 8,641 acres of the land could not be surveyed agreeable to the locations in consequences of entries being made thereon previous to those of your petitioner by James Huey and Murry Crimble. These facts are clearly stated by the certificate and oaths of Surveyors.”

See? Didn’t I tell you this was messy! The General Assembly agreed with Barnabus Dunn’s assessment though he was denied compensation based on the grounds of failing to verify the 8,641 missing acres.

Getting back to the petition of citizens from old Montgomery County, the documents mentions lawyer Adley [Adlai] Osborn and how he

“intimated to us, that our improved Plantations and all vacant land lying in Great Tract No. 6 … were given as a Donation to the University & wanted to compromise with us for it.”

Imagine coming in from a hard day’s work to be greeted by a high and mighty muckety-muck who wanted to intimate that the land you owned had been given away. What??

I’m not yet sure how far this all ultimately played out along the lands of Bear and Long Creeks. That’s because any contest towards Adlai Osborn’s actions in Montgomery County were likely lost in the devastating 1838 courthouse fire. Surprisingly though, the Montgomery County petitioners concerns are validated in a surviving deed found in neighboring Cabarrus County. Before looking at the deed it’s important to understand that the great tract No. 6, as with others, was initially subdivided into eight large parcels. Each parcel was numbered as seen below.


Now that you’ve got your bearings let’s look at the deed. Dated 10 May 1795, Aldai Osborn, Commissioner and attorney for the Trustees of the University of North Carolina, for 5,000 pounds, sold the following to David Cowan of Rowan (Deed 2-7, Cabarrus NC):

First Tract: “Being in the county of Montgomery in the said state to wit, Tract No. 16 from the Great Tract No. 6 granted to William Houston by George the Second King of Great Britain by patent recorded March 13, 1745 afterwards conveyed to William Tryon containing 12,500 acres beginning at the southeast corner of Tract No. 15 at two post oaks on the east side of Long Creek running east 250 chains, thence north 500 chains, thence west 250 chains, thence south to the beginning.”

Second Tract: “Also one other tract No. 17 subdivided from the said Tract No. 6 granted to Henry Slingby by George the Second, King of Great Britain by patent bearing the date March 3, 1745 containing 12,500 acres beginning at the east corner No. 16 running north 500 chains, thence west 250 chains, thence south 500 chains, thence east to the beginning bounded by said Tract No. 16 on the south and tract No. 18 on the west.”

Third Tract: “Also one other tract No. 19 subdivided from the said tract No. 6 granted to Houston by George the Second King of Great Britain by patent recorded March 3, 1745 beginning at a gum the northeast corner of Tract No. 12 running south 500 chains to two post oaks and dogwood, thence east 250 chains, thence north 500 chains thence west 250 chains the beginning containing 12,500 acres.”

As you can see in comparison to the map above, the third parcel lies on both sides of Bear Creek just north of the lands of Solomon Burris and others. And for my ancestors who lived mostly in southern Stanly County, note that the southern boundary line of great tract 6 can be readily seen on modern day GIS maps. It runs east to west just north of the present day town of Locust. Surviving deeds from the 1800’s mention tracts with large acreage and refer to the line as being the “Deberry Line” indicating that family once owned the south end of Great tract 6 in the area of tract 14,15, and 16. And as for tract 13, the southern line of that tract is referred to in early deeds as the “Couins Line” likely meant to be Cowan’s who was once owner of that tract.

In closing, I hope you better understand the concerns faced by my early ancestors. Please forgive me for the cheap shot against that fine ole Institute known as the University of North Carolina. It’s a good school as are all within the UNC system. It makes me proud to be a North Carolinian! However, and as always, GO PACK!

I’d also like to thank Dr. Bruce Pruitt and Mitch Simpson on their collaborative efforts to reconstruct the early lands of Cabarrus County. You can find their research in Concord as well as at the North Carolina State Library on Jones Street in Raleigh. And also, Stewart Dunaway researched every record imaginable in connection to the land dealings of “Henry McCulloh and son Henry Eustace McColluh,” which is the title of his must-read book on the subject. For those interested in learning more, there’s no better place to start than with a visit to the library with a few days devoted to reading the works of Pruitt, Simpson, and Dunaway. And lastly, a huge thanks goes out to the Facebook page Stanly and Montgomery County Genealogy.  It’s there where a member post first led me to the 1799 petition.




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