James H. Williams was a noted Colonial historian, author, North Carolina history expert, and officer of the Mecklenburg Historical Association. He died on December 29, 2020.
In the colony of North Carolina, new counties developed as more and more settlers moved into unoccupied western parts. The area that is now Mecklenburg County was originally Bladen County, which was formed out of New Hanover in 1734. As the population of Bladen County increased, its citizens petitioned the Assembly to divide the county, thereby forming Anson County in 1750. In 1762, the residents of Anson County asked the Assembly to divide Anson and form a new county named Mecklenburg.
In the Colonial Assembly meeting in New Bern from 3 November to 11 December 1762, a bill was introduced to divide Anson County. It was read three times, passed, and sent to the council, which approved and sent it on to the Governor. On 11 December 1762, His Excellency Governor Dobbs “was pleased to give his assent” to the law dividing Anson County into two distinct counties effective “from and after the First Day of February.” All land east of the dividing line remained Anson County, and the land west of the dividing line “shall be thence forth one other distinct county, called by the Name of Mecklenburg.”
That same law required “that a Court for the said County of Mecklenburg, shall constantly be held by the Justices thereof … upon the Third Tuesdays in January, April, July, and October, in every Year.” Accordingly, the first court date for the Mecklenburg County Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions was 19 April 1763. That same date has also been presented as the date for the formation of Mecklenburg County.
Under the laws of the Colony, Justices of the Peace for the counties were appointed by the Assembly and approved by the Governor. Sixteen men were appointed, approved, and took the oath of office at the first court session on 19 April 1763. They then elected all other county officials, including the sheriff and the Register of Deeds.
The first Justices of the Peace for Mecklenburg County were Alexander Lewis, Nathaniel Alexander, John Thomas, Robert McClenahan, Paul Barringer, Henry Forster, Robert Miller, Robert Harris, Richard Berry, Martin Phifer, Robert Ramsey, James Robinson, Mathew Floyd, Abraham Alexander, Thomas Polk, and James Patten.
Unfortunately, the Mecklenburg County Court records from 1763 to 1774 no longer exist (or at least have not been found), so we do not have a complete record of the officers appointed by the court. We have found, however, evidence for two of the officers appointed in addition to the Justices.
A receipt from 1763 filed under the Miscellaneous Mecklenburg County Records in the North Carolina State Archives shows “Mr. Alexander Lewis Sheriff of Mecklenburg County” Mecklenburg County Seal photo courtesy of The Charlotte Museum of History collected taxes in 1763. Sheriff Lewis collected 7 shillings 2 pence from 777 taxable persons and paid the money to the County Treasurer after deducting his 6 percent commission. This proves that Alexander Lewis was the first Mecklenburg County Sheriff.
Also, the first Mecklenburg County Deed book still exists in the county Register’s office. The first page is badly torn and about half is missing, but it indicates the first Register of Deeds was George Alexander and that he made his first entry on 26 April 1763.
William L. Saunders, Ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, Vol. 23 (Goldsboro, NC, 1904 reprint Wilmington, NC 1944).
Ellen Poteet, “Alexander Lewis: First Sheriff of Mecklenburg County” OMGS Quarterly Vol. 28 (2010) 2: 13.
Cash receipt to the Sheriff of Mecklenburg County for taxes for the year 1763. Miscellaneous Mecklenburg County Records, 1763; State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC.