Thomas Person, a patriot and Revolutionary War general, was known for his opposition to the Federalists in the late 1770s. As leader of the Anti-Federalists in the N.C. House of Commons, Person was a staunch supporter of a strong legislature that held frequent elections. He believed that frequent elections kept politicians attuned to the will of the people. Person’s political leanings and affiliations foreshadowed what became known as Anti-Federalist ideas of government and power. Person County is named in his honor.
Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Moore also contributed much to the establishment of Person County. After the Revolutionary War, Moore returned to the county, and bought several acres of hilltop property--Mount Tirzah (or Mount Beautiful). Nearly 1,000 troops from Person County served the Confederacy during the Civil War. E. Fletcher Satterfield, a Person native, brought forward the Confederate flag during the Battle of Gettysburg. A statue stands in his honor at the Person County Courthouse.
The Civil War greatly affected Person County. A plantation economy dissolved into one of smaller farms. Farmers grew the same crops, however: tobacco, cotton, and corn. In 1890, the Norfolk and Western Railroad laid track in the county and that allowed for the establishment of new tobacco factories and warehouses. The county was now connected to the larger world and could distribute its crops and products. J. A. Long, a businessman in Person County persuaded the railroad to invest in the region. In 1891, Long also helped establish the People’s Bank (which was later absorbed into Wachovia Banks), and he organized the Roxboro Cotton Mills before 1900. Long’s individual efforts, combined with the effects of improved transportation, made textiles an important industry in the county.
Person County’s shape has changed through the years. It is surrounded by several North Carolina counties, including Durham, Orange, Caswell, and Granville County, as well as Virginia’s Halifax County. Person was originally a part of Edgecombe County, and it was formerly established in 1746. However, the North Carolina legislature continued to change county and precinct borders until Person County was eventually culled from Caswell in 1792.
The first inhabitants of the region were the Occaneechi and Sappony. German and English settlers were some of the first Europeans to arrive in the 1770s. The Sappony were regarded as the “honest and bravest” Indians according to William Byrd, a surveyor who along with the Sappony established the border line between Virginia and North Carolina. Originally referred to as the Indians of Person County, the Sappony changed their name to reflect their Saponi tribal affiliation.
Person County’s seat of government is Roxboro, named after Roxburgh, Scotland. Hurdle Mills, Brooksdale, Bethel Hill, Gordonton, Bushy Fork, Moriah, and Concord are other communities and townships within the region. Person County is home to several physical and natural rivers and streams. Lake Hyco, a man-made lake created by the Carolina Power and Light Company in the early 1960s, serves as a cooling supply for a steam electric generating-plant. The Flat River, Castle Creek, and the Tar River all flow through the county. Several historic and cultural attractions are located within Person. The Webb House, built in the early nineteenth century, and the Hall House, the oldest brick house in Roxboro, are two historical sites. The cultural institutions include the Roxboro Little Theatre, the Person County Nature Society, the Person Players, the Timberlake Art Gallery, and the Person County Museum of History.
An interesting basketball event occurred in Person County when Person Senior High School and Hillside High played on February 3, 1977. According to the Courier-Times, Person High Rockets lost 2-0 to Hillside; only one basket was made in the entire contest. The first shot of the game was made by Hillside’s Leon McCrae, and in the remaining thirty minutes of play, not a single shot had went through the rim. The Rockets took seven shots while Hillside made one of five, and the game became the lowest scoring basketball match ever in North Carolina’s sport’s records. However, the game did not beat the national record because in 1930 Georgetown beat Homer 1 to 0 in an Illinois state high school tournament.
Person County Past: Tales From Central Piedmont. Phyliss Boatwright. (The History Press: Charleston, SC 2006).
“Person County.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
“The History of Person County.” Roxboro Chamber of Commerce website. http://roxboronc.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=65&Itemid=70, (accessed on August 18, 2011).
By Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Colonial North Carolina, Counties