The North Carolina Room of the Forsyth County Public Library welcomes all attendees and guests of the North Carolina Association of County Commisioners for their August, 2016 convocation. Our very popular blog, which attracts over 100,000 hits per year, focuses on local and regional history. Here is a bit about the proud heritage of our county, Forsyth. Please click on the pictures for full size images.

Once upon a time, in 1664, what is now North Carolina was made up of only two counties…Clarendon and Albemarle. In 1667, Clarendon was abandoned, and then there was one. Three years later, Shaftesbury, Currituck, Pasquotank and Berkely were created as districts of Albemarle…my mother’s ancestors were among the founders of Currituck. The link below shows an animated map of NC county formation. Just click “play” to watch. To see the map at any given time, click the dated links.


Early Days in Forsyth

One morning in early June, 1851, Barbara Yokely woke up and found her husband John slumped on the floor in the front room of their house. There was a lot of blood and it was obvious that he was dead. So she summoned the sheriff.

Since the Yokelys lived in a nebulous area known as the Northern Division of Davidson County, by the end of the day three sheriffs, from Davidson, Davie and Forsyth counties, had paid a visit to the site. Each noted that John Yokely had suffered a couple of severe head wounds, and each noted the bloody ax lying nearby. But none of them wanted to take the case.

The killer was apprehended about a year later. He was initially lodged in the Forsyth County jail. But he was tried in the Davie County courthouse in Mocksville, and was executed in a nearby location known as Callahan. No one was ever able to prove what county the crime had occurred in. That was the way of things as regards county lines for at least 250 years.


There were many mapmakers in the mid-19th century. It is almost impossible to find any NC map from that period that shows all county borders accurately. A good example is this 1860 Colton map, which has one part of Forsyth County’s line correct and another incorrect. The blue tinted region, which includes the Panther Creek area, is incorrectly shown as being part of Forsyth. That did not happen until 1927. The green tinted area was correctly shown as being a part of Davidson, which became a part of Forsyth in 1889. All of the principals in the Yokely murder lived in the extreme northwestern part of that area, where the county lines of Forsyth, Davidson, Davie and Yadkin now converge. It was far from certain which county any of them actually lived in, thus the confusion as to which county had jurisdiction in the murder. The full story of that event can be found here:

Swinging Into Eternity, Part 1


From Anson to Forsyth

When the Moravians found the tract of land that would become Wachovia in 1752, it was located in Anson County. They purchased about 100,oo acres from the heirs of William Granville for 35¢ an acre. But by the time the first Moravian settlers arrived from Bethlehem, PA a year later, their land was in Rowan County. A couple of years before the beginning of the American Revolution, in 1773, Surry County was created from Rowan. In 1789, Surry was divided, creating Stokes County. It would be 60 years before the final division, which created Forsyth County from Stokes in 1849.

In the Beginning: Forsyth County

On January 16, 1849 the NC General Assembly drew a line across the center of Stokes County and named the new southern half after Germanton native Colonel Benjamin Forsyth, whose War of 1812 regiment, the Forsyth Rifles, was so feared that the British put a bounty on Forsyth’s head.  We have an original copy of the bound volume of the laws passed in the 1848-49 session.

A supplemental act named Zadock Stafford, John Stafford, Henry A Lemly, Leonard Conrad and Francis Fries as the first board of county commissioners. Francis Fries was elected chairman.


Francis Fries, chairman of the first county commission

The first order of business was the acquisition of sites for the required county courthouse, jail and poorhouse. Since Salem was at the center of the county, that was the logical place, but the pious and peace loving Moravians already knew about county seats.

In 1773, the seat of the new Surry County had been located at Richmond, on the Yadkin River near the old Donnaha Indian village, just a few miles from the outlying Moravian towns of Bethabara and Bethania. In those days, because of long travel times, the monthly court sessions became bawdy camporees, with much drinking, dancing and carousing into the wee hours. It wasn’t long before the Moravians began saying “If you want to go to hell, you need go no farther than Richmond.” And years later when Richmond was blown off the face of the earth by a tornado, they looked at each other and nodded wisely. They wanted no part of that.

So they sold the commissioners 51 1/4 acres of land immediately north of the Salem boundary for $5.00 per acre, a tidy $4.65 per acre profit over the original price. The agreement provided that until a new courthouse could be completed, court sessions could be held in the Salem Concert Hall, but any whippings, a common punishment at the time, had to be administered somewhere outside the town.


Will Flynt, first county sheriff

On March 19, sixteen “gentlemen justices” appointed by the governor elected William Flynt (sheriff), Andrew Stafford (clerk of court), Thomas J. Wilson (county attorney), F.C. Meinung (register of deeds), George Linville (county trustee), John White (coroner) and Abraham Steiner (standard keeper).


Thomas Wilson, first county attorney

The next day, Constantine Banner, Francis Fries and Israel Lash (cashier of the county’s only bank, a branch of the Cape Fear Bank in Wilmington) were elected as the county finance committee. Francis Fries, Phiip Barrow, Andrew Gamble, John Reich and Jesse Waugh were elected as justices of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions and the new county of Forsyth was in business. As the legendary Chub Seawall liked to say in his many letters to editors all over the state: “Call your next case.”


Israel Lash, county finance committee

Early Days: Forsyth County

For a time, with everyone busy building courthouses and poor houses and jails, nobody had time to bother with the naming of the new county seat. Most just called it “the county town” or even “Salem”, which did not sit well with the folks south of the border. Finally, in 1851, the General Assembly stepped in and named it Winston, after Revolutionary War hero Joseph Winston, also a Germanton native.


Major Joseph Winston is buried at Guilford Courthouse National Battlefield

There is a touch of irony here, because the Moravians were pacifists and had agreed to pay extra taxes to avoid service in both the Revolution and the War of 1812. Now they finally had their “own” county, but had both the county and the county town named for war heroes. Salem became an incorporated town in 1854. Winston followed in 1859. By then, many people were already calling the Twin Cities Winston-Salem. But the two towns were not officially joined until May, 1913.

We do not have a picture of Colonel Benjamin Forsyth, but you can see an excellent account of his life, posted by our recent intern Tim Myers, here:

Forsyth’s Saga: The Life and Legacy of Benjamin Forsyth


First Forsyth County courthouse, 1849. It was designed by the first chairman of the county commissioners, Francis Fries, who a few years later would design the magnificent Main Hall at the Salem Female Academy.


The second Forsyth County courthouse, 1897, was designed by the famous southern architect Franklin Pierce Milburn, who also designed many Southern Railway depots and the existing Buncombe County, NC courthouse in Asheville.


On Memorial Day weekend, 1921 Forsyth citizens gathered to watch the dedication of the memorial to the county residents who paid the ultimate price in the “Great War”, which we now know as World War I. It consists of the flagpole seen at right center and a stone base with a brass plaque listing the names of the heroes.


The third Forsyth County courthouse was erected in 1926, designed by the local firm of Northup & O’Brien. The view is from the south, and the cars are parked on Third Street.



In 1949, Forsyth citizens produced a year long series of events celebrating the centennial of the county. Here we see the chairman of the comissioners, James G. Hanes, presenting a plaque to Carver High School freshman Willie Johnson, who had won a countywide competition to design a new county seal. At the right is a time capsule, which was buried that day, to be opened in 2049.



Willie Johnson’s seal, 1949


Voting booths, 1950. These were for paper ballots. The first electronic voting machines would be installed in 1960.


By 1959, the county courthouse was out of room. A plan was developed to increase the size onsite. As internal demolition proceeded, county officials were surprised to find that the 1897 courthouse had only been partly demolished and the 1926 building erected over it. Here Fred Church, for many years the clerk of court, views the original plaque naming Mumford Bailey of the Bailey Brothers Tobacco Company as the guiding light for the 1897 building.


In 1975, the old courthous was replaced on a new site by the Forsyth County Hall of Justice, designed by local architect Fred Butner. As we speak, plans are underway for a complete renovation of this facility. The original courthouse site was sold to private developers, who have renovated the building as upscale apartments to house young professionals as a part of the rebirth of downtown Winston-Salem. County administrative offices are now located in a separate building two blocks away.