Stokes County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2010)



John Stokes


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1750s / Scots-Irish from PA, MD, and VA

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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 Stokes County

Maps of Stokes County

Books About Stokes County

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A History of Stokes County

The Dan River - Stokes County, North Carolina

Stokes County was created from Surry County in 1789. It was named in honor of John Stokes, a Virginia Captain in the American Revolution, who was seriously wounded at the Waxhaw Massacre when Colonel Abraham Buford's Regiment was cut to pieces by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton. John Stokes settled in North Carolina and served in the North Carolina Legislature. After the war, President George Washington appointed him a Judge in the U.S. District Court of North Carolina.

When Stokes County was taken from Surry County, the old court house was ordered to be sold, and the proceeds were to be equally divided between Surry and Stokes and applied towards the erection of two new court houses. The Act ordered the first court to be held at the home of Gray Bynum, and all subsequent courts were to be held where the justices designated until the court house could be constructed. Commissioners were named to select the site and have public buildings built. In 1790, Germantown was laid out on land deeded to the county from Michael and Henry Fry. Germantown remained the county seat until 1849, when Forsyth County was created out of Stokes County. The Act establishing Forsyth County directed that the first court of Stokes after the passage of the act to be held at Germantown, at which time the justices were to determine a location for the new court house and jail. In 1851, Crawford was established as the county seat. In 1852, Crawford was renamed to Danbury, which as been the county seat ever since.

Stokes County was formed in 1789 and named for Captain John Stokes, a member of the revolutionary army. Stokes was a prisoner of war from 1780 – 1783. On August 2, 1790 President George Washington appointed him United States Judge for the District of Western North Carolina.

When Stokes County was formed in 1789, there were many large plantations throughout the county and the major task was to produce enough grain, meat, fruit, and fiber to survive. Whatever was left over was sold or bartered. Early on, a small quantity of tobacco was being grown for home use and for sale.

As the years passed, the population grew from 8,528 in 1790 to 16,196 in 1830. The only place for these later settlers was in the foothills and along the ridges of the Sauratown Mountains. Thus the farm size became smaller and more emphasis was placed on cash crops.

The first major industry to develop was mining and iron making. Iron ore and limestone were found throughout the county and the most famous iron works in Stokes was the Tunnel Bloomery Forge, built in 1843. The operation eventually became known as the Moratock Mining and Manufacturing Company. The Moratock Iron Furnace still stands today, a true testament to its superb creation.

While the iron industry was at its peak, there was another industry beginning to grow - the manufacturing of tobacco products - chewing tobacco, twist, and plug. By 1841, Stokes County was the second-largest producer of tobacco products in North Carolina.

After the Europeans entered the American continent, the Saura people were visited three times by John Lederer, a German physician. His second visit took place in 1670. He found their villages on the Catawba, Yadkin, and Dan Rivers. He thought the “Upper” and “Lower” Saura villages on the Dan River did not yet exist. In 1673, James Needham and Gabe Arthur reported Saura villages in the areas where John Lederer found them.

In 1972, twenty-five native American burials were found in Stokes County; most of the skeletons lay with their heads facing west.

Who were these people? Who were their ancestors? How much is known about them?

An exhibit, that in 1996 moved from the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, VA to the Danville branch, calls them the “Dan River People.” From prehistoric times they were inhabitants of the “Upper” Dan River watershed, including the upper reaches of the Smith and Mayo Rivers and their tributaries.

Like other native Americans, the Saura lived in harmony with their environment, making full use of nature’s abundance without causing permanent damage to their part of the planet.

Prior to 1000 AD, the earlier forbears of the Saura were hunter-gatherers and lived in temporary camps perhaps, as a note to William Byrd’s Histories claims, “originally” in the mountain region of western North Carolina where they were known as Saule.” After 1000 AD, They practiced agriculture and lived in palisaded villages. They were ancestors of the Sara (Saura, Sauro, Charah, Cheraw, Sarraw), who left the area after 1700. They were members of the eastern Siouan linguistic group, along with Tutelo, Saponi, Catawba, Occaneechee, and Keyauwee of piedmont Virginia and North and South Carolina.

Hanging out on the right bank of the Dan River, above its confluence with Town Fork Creek, it is easy to feel what the museum’s exhibit suggests: that the Saura “had it all.” If, as pre-scientific philosophy taught, the “four elements” are earth, air, fire, and water, the Saura had mastered these: for food, shelter, clothing, and even tool-making, medicine, and personal adornment.

Early on, the Saura built high on the ridges. Later, perhaps to be near their plantings on the rich alluvial soil of the flood plains, they built nearer the river. Their houses, according to one writer, were “arbor-like,” of sapling poles that were “bent at the top and tied with white oak thongs, giving a curved roof; all then was covered with bark and mats, which kept out the wind and rain perfectly.” Smoke went out through a hole at the peak.

In the rich alluvial soil the Saura raised many varieties of corn, peas, beans, pumpkins, cymblings (or cymling, a type of squash), watermelons, muskmelons, and potatoes. They settled near fresh water and, no doubt, like William Byrd and other early travelers, drank directly from the streams. Stream water was easily carried home to make tea and puddings. Flooding replenished the soil, and the river supplied the fish portion of the Saura diet: brown bullhead, catfish, longnose gar, silver redhorse, sucker, and yellow perch. All of these have been identified from remains at the Belmont and Koehler archaeological sites near Martinsville. The river also supplied mussels and turtles. The Saura were skilled at making nets, spears, traps, and hooks (from deer ulna and phalanx and turkey leg bone).

Clay was used for house-building and pottery. Daub (clay mixed with twigs and grass) was used to seal and insulate. Quartz was used to temper pottery. Other minerals were used as well. Tools of chert and jasper have been found at Stokes County sites (not in Virginia). Talc was fashioned into bowls. Salt was a seasoning. The supplies of these were apparently controlled by the Monocan and Mannahoac of northern Virginia. Diabase, an igneous rock used for large stone tools, is found around Martinsville. Quartzite was used for tools but wouldn’t keep a decent cutting edge.

Even holes in the earth were useful for cool storage and as trash bins.

With their snares and their arrows the Saura must have pulled from the air a variety of avian food, judging from the list of birds' remains identified at the Koehler and Belmont sites:

bob white
passenger pigeon
snow goose
common crow
Canada goose
whistling swan
wild turkey

Bird parts were used for food, for bone tools, and for personal adornment.

In the earliest times the ancestors of the Saura probably had to carry with them the gifts of fire bestowed by lightning. Later, the Saura could make their own fire using the "pump drill" and the "bow drill." The Saura used stones to contain campfires.

They heated chert to make it easier to chip when making tools. They used fire in making pottery. They carried out "prescribed burning" in areas which they frequented - to reduce undergrowth and to "open" the forests, making it easier to travel, to spot game, and to speed an arrow to its target. They used repeated and controlled burnings in making dugout canoes. They practiced "slash-and-burn" agriculture, using fire to clear for planting. According to both early evidence (from archaeology) and late testimony (from William Byrd, who had Indians in his survey party), "fire-surround" hunting was used by the Saura when they were desperately in need of meat.

But to speak merely of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water doesn't do justice to the sophistication of the Saura. We have to say a bit more about their uses of plants and animals.

Aside from the beans, squash, and gourds found at the Saura village sites as evidence of their diet and kitchenware, the following plants were in evidence at "Lower" Sauratown:

acorn, bedstraws, purge, bramble, chestnut, ragweed, grape, hazelnut, poke, may-pops, walnut, hickory, persimmon.

Among condiments found at "Lower" Sauratown to enhance the flavor of foods were colts-foot, salt cakes, calcified bones, and wild honey. Archaeologists found evidence that the Saura practiced herbal medicine: snake root (e. g. prenanthes serpentaris) as an antidote for rattlesnake bite; balsam root for stomach ache and infection; sassafras (sassafras albidum) poultice to reduce swelling, and as tea; elm root bark, pounded and dried, to cure cuts and wounds that were not infected; pine-pitch smoke: good for the eyes! And emetics such as cassine vomitoria and ilex vomitoria carefully pounded in a mortar, smoked, sun-dried, and made into tea. Plants for personal use included hair dyes, body grease, and paint and tobacco. Plants had other uses: for arrows, quivers, traps, mats, baskets, bedding, nets, sewing, ropes, tools, ladles, bowls, and bottles.

We can conjure up images of many of the animals they hunted, but we might have trouble with others. Puppies were kept not because they were cute but as emergency delicacies. And you may assume that the Saura must have been desperately hungry if they took the trouble to cook up anything as tiny as a meadow vole (microtus pennsylvanicus) or a white-footed mouse (peromyscini leucopus) or woodrat (tribe neotomini) or as disgusting as muskrat (ondata zibethicus), opossum (didelphis virginiana), raccoon (procyon lo-tori) or spotted (spilogale putorius) or striped (mephitis mephitis) skunk.

Zoo-archaeologists have learned that animal butchering was a fine art as practiced by Native Americans. The cuts and scratches which archaeologists have found on animal bones can reveal whether the creature was being skinned for its hide; cut up for carrying home from a "long hunt," deboned for a lighter load, or stripped for its tendons. Cuts on hoof bones may indicate hoofs' use in making soap, glue, ornaments, or rattles.

The Saura used amphibians and reptiles for medicines, food, and many other functions: snake fangs as combs; snake venom as an antidote for poisoned arrows, venomed splinters slowed enemy pursuers, a rattle-snake tooth comb and poultice could cure a sprain, and rattlesnake rattles were used for personal adornment.

Now we have to recall an area of human life in which the Native Americans, the Sauras included, were not so clever: diplomacy. One could argue that it was the Europeans' superior technology (read firepower and firewater) and their willingness to use it in less than ethical ways that did in the "Indians." They were driven first to the southern edge of the Dan River drainage, thence out of the watershed entirely, joining first the Keyauwees on the Pee Dee, near Cheraw, South Carolina; and then the Catawba, near present-day Charlotte, North Carolina - and not (probably) by the European explorers, traders and finally settlers - in fact, at a time just prior to the European incursion. They were driven southward because pressed (about 1400-1500) by raids of the Pennsylvania Seneca along the "Warriors' Path," those rivals harassed not only the Saura but also the Saponi and the Occaneechee.

In the case of the Saura, it was apparently a matter of "We'd rather move than fight" or "Rather move than negotiate." After all, the world was large and so they moved on down south. The last survivor may have been seen in Germanton (then the county seat) in 1836.

Stokes County is located in northwest North Carolina and is home to the Sauratown Mountain range which rises the southwest edge of the county and extends northeast for over half the width of the county. The Sauratown Mountains were named for the Saura Indians, a tribe that inhabited this area.

The Saura Indians are first mentioned in the journals of explorer Ferdinand DeSoto, who in the year 1540, came upon a small band on the banks of the Pee Dee River, near the present North-South Carolina boundary.

The Sauras left no written history. All that is known of these people is found in the few records of the wilderness explorers, and what modern archaeologists have been able to uncover from their village sites. More information and artifacts are available for viewing at the Hanging Rock State Park Visitor Center.

Today, the Sauratown Mountains provide many interesting destinations for visitors, including such places as Moore’s Springs, Piedmont Springs, Cascade Falls, Tories Den, Hanging Rock State Park, the Rock House, Moratock Iron Furnace, and the Dan River. All are easily accessible by automobile.

The Dan River begins in Patrick County, Virginia, near Buffalo Knob and eventually flows to the Roanoke River in Halifax, Virginia. The river enters the northwest corner of Stokes County, near the community of Asbury, flowing diagonally across the county toward the community of Pine Hall, dropping approximately 500 feet in elevation on its course through Stokes County. The river is said to be named for an early Saura Chief, Danapaha.

The Dan River remains an important part of Stokes County. It is the site of recreational activities such as kayaking, fishing, tubing, and swimming. Along with Hanging Rock State Park and the Sauratown Mountains, the Dan River is one of Stokes County’s greatest natural resources.

Stokes County was once home to several resorts that are similar to today’s popular spas. The resorts were centered around springs, mineral waters, with a focus on relaxation and social activities.

The beauty of the Sauratown Mountains combined with the presence of numerous springs and mineral waters combined to make the central part of Stokes County a thriving resort area from the early 1850s into the 1920s.

Three large hotels were operating near their respective mineral springs, all close to one another and within a few miles of Danbury. In their heyday, the large white frame hotels known as Piedmont Springs, Moore’s Springs, and Vade Mecum Springs were elegant and lavish, with such attractions as orchestras and string ensembles from Europe.

In addition to drinking water from the springs, there were many activities available, such as swimming in the Dan River, rocking or playing cards on the shady porches, horseback riding, playing billiards, and waiting for the daily delivery of mail to each resort. The amount and quality of the food was legendary, with guests consuming large quantities of country cooking three times daily. One of the cooks at Piedmont Springs even went on to become head cook at the White House.

Mineral waters were used widely in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and the waters from Stokes County springs compared favorably with that bottled and sold in other parts of the United States. Advertisements for the Stokes County waters claimed that they were laxatives, cathartics and diuretics, and could cure such afflictions as constipation, indigestion, kidney and bladder trouble, rheumatism, and skin diseases. Both customers and physicians provided testimonials on the beneficial qualities of the waters.

Splendid as the resorts were, they were subject to devastating fires and were not revived after the fires of the 1920s and 1930.

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