Alamance County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2010)



Indian Word for "Blue Clay"


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1740 / Germans

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

Battles & Skirmishes

Coming Later

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Airports in Alamance County

Maps of Alamance County

Books About Alamance County

Genealogy Sources

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A History of Alamance County

Alamance County was formed in 1849 from Orange County. The name is supposedly derived from the Indian word meaning "blue clay." The county gets its name from the Alamance Creek on the banks of which was fought the battle between the colonial troops under Royal Governor William Tryon and the Regulators on May 17, 1771. It is in the central part of the state and is bounded by Orange, Chatham, Randolph, Guilford, and Caswell counties. The present land area is 429.99 square miles and the 2010 population was 151,131.

The first court was ordered to be held at Providence Meeting House until a court house could be erected, provided the justices of the peace at the first session did not select some other place for all subsequent courts until the buildings were completed. Commissioners were named to select a site in the center of the county, acquire land, erect a court house, and lay out a town by the name of Graham. Graham was established in 1851 and is the county seat. 

Early on, Alamance County was the home of several local tribes of Native Americans. Although it experienced the occasional visit from hunters, traders, etc., European settlement of this area earnestly began in the mid-1700s.

The early European settlers were mainly farmers who lived on what was, at the time, the frontier area of North Carolina. Originally part of Orange County, the area that would eventually be known as Alamance County experienced one of its most notable events in 1771 when a group of disorganized protesters called the Regulators, mostly farmers, engaged in a pre-Revolutionary War battle against the North Carolina Militia, led by Royal Governor William Tryon at Alamance Creek. Although not a direct rebellion against the crown, the Battle of Alamance was an important early demonstration of the growing dissatisfaction with the Crown.

The dissatisfaction with English rule led the Alamance area to be a key location during the American Revolution. Although no major battles took place in the county, several minor conflicts occurred, a few of which would eventually help to weaken the British Army for the nearby Battle of Guilford Court House on March 15, 1781. Although the Americans lost that battle, the British Army suffered sufficient losses to weaken them further for the approaching Battle of Yorktown, Virginia in October.

The development of the county over the next sixty to seventy years was marked by the development and growth of mills and mill towns, continued interest in farming, and by the development of travel. The first significant mill was opened in 1837 by Edwin Michael (E. M.) Holt, which produced Alamance Plaids, a then well-known cloth. Other mills would grow up during this time, and small communities with them. Farming also remained fairly popular in the area. However, in contrast to the assumed vision of rolling plantations, Alamance area farmers were mainly poor people who farmed their own small plots of land by themselves.

Alamance Mill - Burlington, NC - Founder Edwin Michael Holt

Other communities developed on the roads which ran through the county, connecting the cities in the east with the growing cities in the west. The area was growing at a comfortable pace, and in 1849, split off from Orange County to form Alamance County, named after the creek where the pre-Revolution battle had taken place nearly eighty years before.

In 1861, the United States began to fragment due to growing questions of states' rights concerning issues of money, agriculture, representation, and slavery. In February of that year, a peace conference was held in Washington, DC. North Carolina sent five delegates to this conference, including Chief Justice Thomas Ruffin of Haw River, an Alamance County community. Justice Ruffin was opposed to secession, but was voted down. Later on, President James Buchanan said that if Ruffin had persisted, the war might have been averted. In March of 1861, Alamance County residents voted against North Carolina's secession from the Union, 1,114 to 254. Hostilities would later prove that vote moot.

Alamance County joined the rest of North Carolina as the state split off from the Union and joined the Confederate States. Although no battles took place in the county itself, Alamance County did send its share of sons and brothers to the front lines. Only in the last months of the war did the residents of the county see a significant number of troops. Most important of these events was when President Jefferson Davis dictated a note to General Joseph Johnston for Union General William T. Sherman. General Johnston delivered that note, stopping in the hamlet of Company Shops to drop off some of the last of his men.

Some of the most significant effects of the Civil War were seen after the war. Alamance County briefly became a center of attention when, in 1870, a confrontation between local residents and an apparently corrupt Army colonel led to several people being wrongfully accused and arrested for various crimes. Only after involvement by a U. S. District Judge were these men and women freed and cleared of crimes. This event came to be known as the Kirk-Holden War.

As time passed, the communities of Alamance County continued to grow. Possibly the greatest growth of these communities occurred in Burlington. The North Carolina Railroad had chosen to go through an area it called Company Shops, after Graham, the county seat, had voted not to allow the railroad through its town limits, due to fears that the train would frighten horses and women. The result: Company Shops quickly grew into a small town, and continued to grow until today. However, by 1887, the NC Railroad had moved it operations to Spencer, NC, and the residents chose to rename their town "Burlington." There are several stories of how this name was chosen, but perhaps the most colorful is that the town was named for an old bull, originally from Burlington, Vermont, which wandered the streets of the town.

During this time of growth, Alamance County had one of its own rise to the governorship of North Carolina: Thomas Michael Holt in 1891. Alamance County would later send two more governors, William Kerr Scott (elected 1949) and Robert Walter Scott (elected 1968).

In 1912, the Piedmont Railway & Electric Company opened its "Street Railway" system that ran from Burlington to Graham to Haw River. By 1917, it was re-organized as the Alamance Railway Company, and this evolution lasted until around 1922, when it ceased operations. Click Here for a little more information on these two street railways.

Alamance County would continue to grow, even in the face of two world wars and a Great Depression. The county sent many men to fight in World War I, and many, many more to fight in World War II. More would later go to fight in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. The community lost many men to the cause of freedom, and a memorial has been erected to them in front of the new Alamance County Court House.

As time went on, Alamance County dealt with business growth, economic futures, and race relations. One of the most significant events in the early racial civil rights movement occurred in 1950, when Dr. Charles Drew, one of the first African American doctors in the United States, died in Alamance County hospital following an accident. Rumors began to surface that Dr. Drew died due to the hospital's refusal to treat an African-American patient. Although this unfortunate rumor was later proven to be false, it did help to fuel the movement to finally recognize the equality of races.

The past few decades of Alamance County history have been punctuated by steady population and economic increase. As we look toward the future, several efforts are underway, or have been recently completed: the restoration of several historic houses, the erecting of monuments and parks commemorating our county's history, and the renovations of some of our old mill towns. These are being done, not only to help us remember our past, but to point our way toward the future.


© 2019 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved