Monday, June 01, 2009

Rockingham County

It’s been a while since I posted one of my county histories. So, I thought this morning, we would look at Rockingham County.

Rockingham County, located along the state’s northern border, was created in 1785 from portions of Guilford County. The county was named for Charles Watson Wentworth, the Second Marquis of Rockingham, a member of the British Parliament who advocated American independence. The county seat is Wentworth, named for the marquis, and was incorporated in 1799.

In 1860, Rockingham County had a total population of 16,746 people, including 6,318 slaves and 407 free persons of color. In the 1860 presidential election the county cast 1,017 votes for Breckinridge, 485 for Bell, and162 for Douglas. When the time came for the proposition of calling a state convention to consider the question of secession in February 1861, Rockingham County voted 808 to 570 in favor of the idea. Representing the county at the secession convention in May 1861 were Dr. Edward T. Brodnax, a War of 1812 veteran and a representative in both the state house and senate. The other Rockingham County representative was former North Carolina governor David S. Reid. Besides serving as governor, he was also a state senator, a representative in the US House, a US Senator, delegate to the Peace Congress, and a member of the Confederate Congress.

Companies from Rockingham County include Companies H, I, and K, 13th NCST; Company G, 14th NCST; Company L, 21st NCT; and Companies A, D, E, F, G, H, and K, 45th NCT.

While Rockingham County saw no large troop movements, or pitched battles, there are numerous points of interest. Alfred M. Scales, a Confederate brigadier general, was born in Rockingham County in 1829. Scales was a lawyer and represented his area in the state house in 1852 and 1856, and in the US House in 1857. During the war, Scales served as colonel of the 13th NCST, and was promoted to brigadier general on June 13, 1862. His brigade consisted of the 13th, 16th, 22nd, 34th, and 38th NCT regiments. Following the war, Scales continued to practice law and served again the state house, and in 1874, in the US House, where he remained until 1884, when he was elected governor of North Carolina. He retired from politics in 1889, and served as president of Piedmont Bank in Greensboro, and as an elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro. He died in 1892 and is buried in the Green Hill Cemetery in Greensboro. There is a historical marker off NC 87 that talks of his birthplace.

Another point of interest is a home, located two miles east of Madison, in which in 1847, Stephen Douglas married Martha Martin. The local family connection did not seem to help Douglas carry the county in the 1860 presidential race.

Rockingham County was also the birthplace of Thomas Settle, Jr., in 1831. Prior to the war, Settle was a lawyer and served in the NC House in 1854, and in 1858, became speaker of the house. He was also on the board of directors of UNC (there was only one at the time). During the war, he served for a year as a captain in the 3rd North Carolina Infantry. After the war, he was a member of the 1865-66 Constitutional Convention, and in the fall of 1865, was elected to the NC Senate, where in he was elected speaker of the senate. He soon became one of the leading founders of the Republican Party in North Carolina. He was elected an associate justice of the state supreme court in 1868, and then in 1871, served as ambassador to Peru. In 1872 he was back in North Carolina where he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the supreme court bench. He tried twice to run for governor, and was defeated the last time by Zeb Vance in an election known as “The Battle of the Giants.” Afterwards, Settle was appointed to a US District Court as a judge in Florida, serving until his death in 1888. He is also buried in Greensboro.

Surprisingly, Rockingham County has fully embraced the North Carolina Civil War Trails Marker program. The county has seven markers in the county, denoting Scales’s law office; the important rail link over the Dan River; Annie Eliza Johns, a nurse in the hospitals in Danville, Virginia; the Leaksville Cotton Mill; and the Wentworth Cemetery, among others. You can check out the list here.

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