Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gates County

Gates County was formed in 1779 from portions of Chowan, Hertford, and Perquimans Counties. It was named in honor of Patriot general Horatio Gates. He was also honored with the naming of the county seat, Gates Court House, that was changed to Gatesville in 1831.

In 1860, the total population of Gates County was 8,443 people, including 3,902 slaves and 282 free persons of color. One article claims that Gates County was composed mostly of “subsistence farmers [who] did not hold many slaves.” Hmmm, I would think the census says otherwise. In the 1860 presidential election, Breckinridge received 338 votes, Bell received 394, and Douglas received a scant 12 votes. In the February 1861 vote on the question of calling a convention to consider the question of secession, Gates County men voted 367 for, with 141 against. Alfred J. Walton was the elected representative to the convention in May 1861. Walton was a farmer and a “strong secessionist after Lincoln’s call for troops.” He was a justice of the peace and chairman of the county court.

Gates County produced several companies for the Confederate cause. They included Companies B and H, 5th North Carolina State Troops; Company E, 33rd North Carolina Troops; Company C, 52nd North Carolina Troops; Company I, 68th North Carolina Troops; and, Company C, 2nd North Carolina Cavalry.

William P. Roberts, regarded as the “youngest Confederate general,” hailed from Gates County. He was born there in 1841, and prior to the war, was a teacher and a private in the local Militia. He enlisted on June 10, 1861, in what would become Company C, 2nd North Carolina Cavalry. Roberts was mustered in as an orderly (or first) sergeant, and on September 30, 1861, was appointed a second lieutenant. By August 13, 1862, he was captain of his company and in February 1864, appointed major of the Second. Roberts was wounded in the head at Haw’s Shop, Virginia, in June 1864, and soon thereafter took command of the Second. He was officially promoted to colonel August 19, 1864. Roberts was promoted to brigadier general in February 1865, and assigned a brigade in Lee’s Divisions of the Army of Northern Virginia. Robert E. Lee is supposed to have presented Roberts with his own gauntlets in recognition of Roberts’s maturity and leadership. He was paroled at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. He later served as a Virginia legislator. Roberts died in Norfolk in 1910, one of the last living Confederate generals, and is buried in the Old City Cemetery in Gatesville.

Information regarding military activity in Gates County is scarce.

The US Navy landed in Gates County on May 9, 1862, and burned a warehouse containing “bacon, corn, lard, fish, &c.” They were attacked on their return to Elizabeth City.

June 5 through 7, 1863, found a US Navy reconnaissance through the county and down the Chowan River.

John A. (Jack) Fairless, a deserter from the 52nd North Carolina Troops, apparently caused much trouble for local citizens in the area. His band of men “pillaged, plundered, burned, and decoyed off slaves in their forays into Chowan, … Berties, Perquimans, Hertford, and Gates Counties.”

Like in so many counties in North Carolina, the citizens in Gates County erected a monument to local Confederates on July 8, 1915.

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