Richmond County (1779)

Written By Jonathan Martin


The first inhabitants of present Richmond County were the Native American tribe of the Saura or Cheraw. These Indians settled along the Pee Dee River which the Saura used for travel and as a critical water and food source. However, once the Europeans started to arrive in the region, the Saura succumbed to the detriment of Europeans disease and warfare. German, English, Highland Scot, and Scotch-Irish settlers moved into Richmond County after the Saura had either moved away or died off during the hostile Indian wars of the early North Carolina colony.


The original settlement in Richmond did not experience great growth until the economy of the region transitioned to a more industrial one. Farming families from northern colonies in Maryland and Virginia moved into Richmond County, and some of their early homes continue to stand in Richmond, such as the Dockery House (1830) and the Leak-Wall House (1854). In 1883, the Richmond Cotton Mill became the seventh mill chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly and it operated for several years until Sherman destroyed the mill during his march through the South. The Raleigh and Augusta Air Line railroad was completed in the late 1800s, and the first train to enter Richmond County entered the town of Hamlet in 1877. The textile industry along with the introduction of railway travel allowed Richmond to thrive during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.


Several cultural attractions and historic landmarks exist in Richmond County. “The Rock,” or the North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, was once the center for North Carolina NASCAR races. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Rock hosted two important races: NASCAR’s AC Delco 200 Busch Grand National Race and the AC Delco 400 Winston Cup Race. Numerous fans and race car drivers flocked to Rockingham to watch NASCAR races, but with the advent of the race track in Charlotte, the Rock’s popularity dwindled and the last race held at the speedway was in 2004.


The historic districts of Hamlet and Ellerbe have been popular historic havens in the past decades. The Hamlet Railroad Depot (1900) was once the center for railroad travel in Richmond County, and the National Railroad Museum and Hall of Fame are presently housed by the depot. In addition, the Hamlet Opera House (1912), originally built around the model of the Bijou Theatre in Wilmington, has been renovated in Richmond. The Ellerbe Springs Bed and Breakfast, built in 1906, continues to stand in Ellerbe along with many other historic structures and homes in this township.


Charles Lennox, the third Duke of Richmond, became the namesake for Richmond County. Lennox was one of the few British noblemen defended the American colonies prior to the American Revolution. Originally part of Anson County, the Piedmont county of Richmond was established in October 1779 due to the difficulty residents expressed in their traveling across the Pee Dee River to the courthouse in Anson County. Richmond Court House became the seat of government in 1779, but in 1785 the seat became known as Rockingham. Charles Watson Wentworth, the Marquis of Rockingham was another supporter of the colonists during the Revolution era. Cordova, Ellerbe, Ghio, Hamlet, and Hoffman are other townships within Richmond County.


The Pee Dee River is not the only waterway in Richmond County.  Others are Seaburn Spring and Naked, Hamer, and Buffalo creeks.


Agriculture and manufacturing have been important industries in Richmond since its founding and later development. Richmond farmers grow corn, cotton, tobacco, and vegetables. Several factories around the county develop different textiles, house molding fixtures, furniture, and steel products.


Several historical figures called Richmond their home. Alfred Dockery (1797-1875) was born to a farming family and he became a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1835. Dockery later served as a U.S. Congressman, and one of his greatest achievements in the North Carolina legislature was the establishment of Wake Forest Institute, the forerunner of Wake Forest University. Congressman Dockery later organized North Carolina’s Republican Party during the Reconstruction period.


Cameron Morrison (1869-1953) or the “Good Roads Governor” started his public service in the 1890s. Governor Morrison brought about over 5,000 miles of paved roads in North Carolina in the 1920s, and he helped lead the state in improving public higher education. In addition, Governor Morrison corrected many of the state’s race problems during his tenure as governor of North Carolina.


One of the most leading jazz musicians of his time of the 1950s and 1960s was born in Richmond County. Though two cities claim to be his birthplace, John Coltrane (1926-1967) was born in Hamlet. When Coltrane was only three months old, his family moved to High Point, North Carolina, where the fledging musician studied both the clarinet and saxophone. Coltrane moved to Philadelphia where he continued to study music, and in 1945 Coltrane, along with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis, started performing landmark recordings. Coltrane formed his own jazz group in 1960, but he soon passed away at the early age of forty in 1967. The house of Coltrane’s birth was renovated and it houses the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter of Richmond County.