Joel Lane, Raleigh’s “Founding Father”

Written By Jane Shaw Stroup

Joel Lane (1739 or 1740–1795) was a North Carolina political figure active in the colony’s preparation for the American Revolution. After the war ended, he was one of the many North Carolina Anti-Federalists. Anti-Federalists opposed ratification of the U. S. until James Madison promised to add a Bill of Rights.

Lane is probably best known, however, as the “founding father” of both Wake County and the city of Raleigh, capital of North Carolina. His home in Raleigh is the oldest remaining home in Wake County and is open to the public through tours.

Lane’s Plantation

Joel Lane was born in 1739 or 1740 near Halifax in the eastern part of the colony. When he was about 30 years old, Lane moved with his family to the Piedmont region near today’s Raleigh. He and enslaved workers built up a plantation of several thousand acres. Exactly what the plantation grew isn’t known, although corn, tobacco, and sweet potatoes were grown in the area at the time.

Lane’s plantation ownership gave him “a status that naturally drew him into politics,” says the National Park Service in its discussion of the Joel Lane’s House, a registered historic place. Lane became a member of the colony’s General Assembly. In 1771 he persuaded the assembly to create a new county, Wake, near his home by putting together parts of three counties, Johnston, Orange, and Cumberland. The new county was named for Margaret Wake, wife of the colonial governor at the time, William Tryon. Lane was appointed county judge, a position he held throughout his life.

A Delegate to the Provincial Congress

As agitation for independence grew, Lane became a delegate to North Carolina’s 1775 Provincial Congress, held in New Bern, North Carolina. The members agreed to support the resolutions made by the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774 to boycott British goods. He soon became a member of the Committee for Safety for the Hillsborough District. That was one of 22 committees in the state that oversaw North Carolina’s role in the war when the Provincial Congress was not in session.

Although he was named a lieutenant colonel, Lane did not participate in actual fighting, serving instead on the Committee of Safety and handling logistical (transportation and organizational) matters. During the war, his home (which included an inn) was often the place of political meetings.

Selecting the Capital City

In 1792, the state of North Carolina created a capital city. Until then, assembly members had to go to a different city each time the assembly met. Lane was a member of the General Assembly, and the Raleigh area was attractive because of its central location. Lane persuaded the state government to buy 1,000 acres of his property.

When the University of North Carolina was formed in 1789—the first public university in the country—Lane was one of the first trustees.

Lane had a large family. He and his first wife, Martha Hinton, had three sons. His wife died in 1771, and in 1772 he married his wife’s sister, Mary Hinton. They had nine children. Both Lane and his wife died in 1795, within five days of one another. The cause of death is not known, but it may have been a contagious disease