A History of Oxford, North Carolina

City Hall - Oxford, North Carolina

Samuel Benton was Granville County's representative to the colonial General Assembly in 1761, when he purchased 1,000 acres of land and built a plantation home known as "Oxford." In 1764, the colonial General Assembly ordered that this area be known as the county seat and Benton gave one acre of land where the court house was to be built. Not until 1811 did the state General Assembly authorize the county to buy fifty acres around the court house from Thomas Littlejohn and began to lay out the town, selling lots at public auction in 1812, and incorporating the town in 1816.

Through the colonial and revolutionary periods, the county was the home of a number of citizens of considerable social influence in North Carolina. Most notable was John Penn, a landowner in present-day Stovall, who was elected in 1775 to represent North Carolina in the Continental Congress. He was one of North Carolina's three signers of the Declaration of Independence.

By 1860, Granville County plantations and farms had some of the state's best agriculturists, consistently growing large crops of tobacco with the help of a large slave population. Oxford had become a sophisticated town and was famous as a seat of learning by the creation of several academies and colleges. Although Granville was one of five counties with as many of 10,000 slaves, there was also a sizable community of free blacks claiming dozens of craftsmen, especially masons who helped build the grand homes of the more affluent families.

With the outbreak of the American Civil War, several militia companies were formed, among them the "Granville Grays." It is estimated that over 1,500 Granville County men participated vigorously in many battles until the war's end.

The fall of the plantation economy based on slavery did not end Granville County's dependence on tobacco profits. The discovery of Bright-Leaf Tobacco, which is cultivated in a sandy soil rather than rich clay soil and is "flue-dried," provided a greater incentive to cultivate the golden leaf. With the coming of railroads, tobacco warehouses and factories were built. Smaller farms with hired labor, renters, and sharecroppers increased. New towns of Stovall, Stem, and Creedmoor were created on these rail lines. Because the sand soil found in the southern townships was best suited to grow Bright-Leaf Tobacco, the shift of the county's economic focus turned southwards where farm laborers migrated.

Bright-Leaf Tobacco brought business to Oxford. Businessmen positioned themselves to take advantage of this new industry and many merchants, lawyers, and doctors set up shop in town. New schools, churches, literary societies, and two orphanages were formed. By the late nineteenth century, this thriving local economy resulted in a beautiful brick commercial district which included as many as three banks, general and hardware stores, an opera house, various professional offices, and new types of businesses.

Two world wars and the Great Depression brought many changes to Granville County. Even with revenues from Bright-Leaf Tobacco, many Granvillians left the county for larger cities with more opportunities. The establishment of Camp Butner at the beginning of World War II engulfed many of their homes and tobacco fields, but spawned what is today a thriving community due to the various hospital and prison facilities situated in the area.

Seeing the need for attracting new industries to the county, several local business leaders formed organizations in the 1950s and 1960s to accomplish this task. By the 1980s, there were 38 major manufacturing industries in the county, principally around Oxford and Creedmoor. After more than two centuries, Granville County no longer has a primarily agricultural economy.

Merrittsville was granted a U.S. Post Office on October 1, 1803, and its first Postmaster was A.H. Snead. The name was changed to Oxford on May 23, 1816, and its first Postmaster was Rhodes N. Herndon. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception.

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