Gates County (1779)

Written By Sai Srikanth

Named after General Horatio Gates, of Revolutionary War fame, Gates County, much like Franklin County, was founded in 1779 during America’s struggle for independence. However, the land that comprises Gates County was widely inhabited by the Chowanoke Indians prior to English settlement in the late sixteenth century. Small settlements dotted the county’s countryside by the early 1700s.


Much of the county’s historical relevance occurs during the nineteenth century. Gates County’s rich religious history aided in what some historians call the “democratization of Christianity.” Some of the states earliest Baptist and Methodist churches were founded in Gates County, notably the Middle Swamp Baptist Church in 1806 and the Savages United Methodist Church in 1811. Both denominations preached to integrated congregations, a practice that continued by in large until the Civil War.


Gates County residents, however, voiced strong opinions regarding secession and the Civil War. A.J. Walton was chosen by Gates countians to represent them at North Carolina’s secession convention. When the war commenced, Gates County was the first to summon a company and a few Gates countians rose to prominence in the new Confederate States of America. William P. Roberts went on to become the youngest Brigadier General in the Confederacy and Laurence H. Simmons also rose to the rank of Brigadier General. The county supplied the Confederate States of America with food by shipping it through the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.


In the 1900s, technological innovation changed the county’s landscape. Bridges were constructed to connect Gates County with its neighbors. Railroads emerged as the new form of transportation and trade, significantly aiding the export of the counties timber and agricultural industries, and consequently turning the Great Dismal Swamp Canal into a recreational site.


Gatesville, the county seat and only major town in the county, surprisingly doesn’t account for much of the county’s population. In fact, Gates County’s population hasn’t even doubled in the last 200 years, currently home to 10,000 residents. However, the county prides itself on sparsely populated towns, for people there believe the towns build a strong and unified community.  When Thaddeus Eure’s, North Carolina’s longest tenured Secretary of State, political career began, he appealed to this close-knit community to “give a young man a chance,” espousing the intimacy of county. The other towns in Gates County include Hall, Reynoldson, Haslett, Holly Grove, Hunters Mill, and Mintonsville.


Geographically, Gates County offers pristine views of the Albemarle Sound to its south and contains a portion of the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. Both bodies of water are predominantly used for recreational activity and leisure. Merchants Millpond State Park also falls within county limits. The park is famous for its cypress trees and its large swamp.