A History of Halifax, North Carolina

Halifax County Jail - Halifax, North Carolina

April 12, 1776, the date commemorated on the North Carolina flag, signifies the Fourth Provincial Congress's adoption of the "Halifax Resolves" during a meeting in Halifax. With that action, North Carolina became the first colony to take a bold, official step toward declaring independence from England.

Between 1776 and 1782, nearly every session of the NC General Assembly was held in the town of Halifax. Halifax has given North Carolina more Governors, members of Congress, attorneys general, and brigadier generals than any other county in North Carolina. Halifax County was formed in 1758 and was named for George Montagu-Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax. He was, at the time, Secretary of the British Board of Trade.

The town of Halifax quickly became a county seat, river port, crossroads, and social center for the Roanoke Valley after being founded off the bank of the Roanoke River in 1757. Still the county seat of Halifax County, it is a mecca for people who enjoy history because it boasts one of North Carolina's largest historic sites in addition to a 19th century area lined with antique shops.

Halifax County is bound on one side by the Roanoke River which provides the Roanoke Valley with fine fishing and recreation. Halifax has been a great place to live for over 200 years. In fact, 40,000 visitors come each year to historic Halifax to the the location where the nation's first official declaration of independence was adopted. The first constitution of the state of North Carolina was written here also.

The Roanoke River Valley of northeastern North Carolina was settled in the early 1700s by colonists who found the valley's fertile bottomlands ideal for large-scale farming. By the late eighteenth century, the growth of that plantation system had created a society of merchants, craftsmen, wealthy planters, small farmers, freedmen, and slaves.

The town of Halifax was founded on the south bank of the Roanoke River in 1757 and quickly became a focal point for the entire valley. Halifax was a river port, county seat, crossroads, and social center. A farmer's market operated here and inns and taverns did a brisk business. By 1769, Halifax could boast of nearly 60 houses and public buildings.

During the American Revolution, the town was the scene of important political events: North Carolina's Fourth Provincial Congress met in Halifax in the spring of 1776. On April 12, that body unanimously adopted a document later called the "Halifax Resolves," which was the first official action by an entire colony recommending independence from England.

The Fifth Provincial Congress assembled in the town late in the fall of that year, drafting and approving North Carolina's first state constitution and appointing Richard Caswell the first governor. Lt. Gen. Charles, Lord Cornwallis briefly occupied the town in May of 1781 on his northward march toward Virginia and eventual surrender at Yorktown in October of that year.

Also during the entire American Revolution, the town of Halifax was one of the major muster locations for the North Carolina Continental Line as it was formed to march northward or southward. The Continental Army maintained a logistical depot in Halifax throughout the war. Halifax was also a major muster location for the Halifax District Brigade of Militia, which included the militia regiments of Edgecombe, Franklin, Halifax, Martin, Nash, Northampton, and Warren counties.

After the Revolution, Halifax and the Roanoke River Valley entered a golden age. Wealth, power, and influence were concentrated here; the society was among the most cultured in the state; planters and merchants built fine homes. Halifax remained prosperous until the late 1830s, when its political power was diminished and when the new railroad bypassed the town.

The first 85 years of the town's life are highlighted in the preservation of Historic Halifax. The Owens House with its gambrel roof is the oldest building, dating from about 1760. It is furnished as the home of a prosperous Halifax merchant. Two other buildings within the historic district also are thought to have been built during the eighteenth century: Eagle Tavern, which was moved and converted into a residence during the 1840s, and the Tap Room, a smaller tavern built sometime between 1760 and 1810.

The prosperity of the Roanoke River Valley is reflected in the many Federal-style plantation dwellings constructed here between the 1790s and the 1820s. The Sally-Billy House is an elegant example of such a dwelling; the tripartite house was constructed about 1808. The Burgess Law Office probably dates from the same period, although the roof line and other features of the structure follow the older Georgian style. Thomas Burgess owned the building in the early 1800s, and it is furnished as his law office and town house.

The two public buildings within the historic district were built by the same contractor. Both are fashioned of brick and are fireproof. The Clerk's Office, built in 1832 and 1833, served as a location for storing valuable court records. One of its rooms is furnished as a court official's office and one as a printer's office, complete with a working press. The jail was built in 1838: two earlier jails at the same location were burned to the ground by escaping prisoners.

Other site features reflect everyday life in Halifax: Magazine Spring, long a source of water for townspeople; the cemetery; Market Square, which served as the town park, pasture, and marketplace; and the river outlook, near the site of an early ferry landing.

Halifax was granted a US Post Office on March 20, 1793, and its first Postmaster was Mr. Charles Gilmore. It has been in continuous operation ever since.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved