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City of Raleigh: From Founding to 1800

Since Joel Lane is called the “Father of Raleigh”, we have included extensive details about the founding of the city of Raleigh and life in the new capital during the 18th century.

The following article is a vivid history of the decision to locate the capital in Wake County. “The Problem of the State Capital” is copied from Rebuilding an Ancient Commonwealth, 1584 - 1925 by R.D.W. Connor.

The Problem of the State Capital

Much of the confusion and inefficiency in the administration of public affairs can be traced to the failure of the Legislature to select a fixed seat of government (refers to the period between 1776-1792). New Bern, the old colonial capital, was no longer “the most sentrical town” in the state, yet New Bern would not give up its pretensions, while Tarboro, Fayetteville, and Hillsboro were ambitious to become New Bern’s successor. At practically every session from 1777 to 1790, the Legislature attempted to make a choice without success. The problem was complicated with politics and sectional rivalries. In 1782 Hillsboro was selected; but in 1783 the Cape Fear members, who preferred Fayetteville, traded with the western members to elect Martin of Guilford governor and repeal the act fixing Hillsboro as the capital. The next year Tarboro came within three votes and Hillsboro within two of victory, but “a few Neuse men,” combining with the Fayetteville party, prevented the choice of either. No Town could muster enough votes to win, and two could defeat the third.

For nearly two decades after independence, therefore, the governors and other state officials administered public affairs from their private homes, while the Legislature migrated from town to town auctioning off sessions to the highest bidders. Between 1777 and 1794, seven towns, none of them adequate for the purpose, enjoyed the honor and reaped the profits of legislative sessions.

The session of 1787 was held at Tarboro, which, with its twenty families, struck a visitor as “inadequate to the comfortable accommodation” of a Legislature of about 180 members besides the “people attending the Sessions in business or going there on motives of pleasure.” Forty or fifty members, besides “a great number” of other visitors, were packed away in the tavern; the others were cared for in private homes. “Every family almost received some of the Members; Beds were borrowed from the Country, 3 or 4 placed in a room, and two of their Honors in a Bed.” Bad weather added to their discomforts. “Snow, Sleet and Rain All day,” runs the visitor’s diary for December 22; fuel gave out at the tavern, “and we suff’rd there for want of Fire.” No wonder the members sought relief in “Drams of some kind or other before Breakfast!” (Attmore’s Journal, 36-37.)

The situation was no worse at Tarboro than at Halifax, or Hillsboro, or Smithfield, or Wake Court House. Personal discomforts and expenses were so great that members would not attend sessions promptly or regularly; in 1780 they refused to attend a special session in sufficient numbers to make a quorum. But bad as were personal accommodations, they were no worse than the facilities for transacting the public business. Sessions were held in courthouses where conveniences for legislative labors were totally lacking; legislative records were hauled “in a common cart” from town to town following the perambulations of the lawmakers; and administrative records, so essential to intelligent legislation, were scattered about in private houses in widely separated parts of the state.

The situation finally became intolerable; and in 1787 the Legislature, in a humiliating confession of its own impotence, referred the problem to the Convention which it called to consider the proposed Federal Constitution. (State Rec., XX, 197, 199, 377.) This Convention met at Hillsboro, July 25, 1788, and on August 2 adopted an ordinance that the capital be located within ten miles of Isaac Hunter’s plantation in Wake County, but left the exact site to be determined by the Legislature. Thus the Legislature and the Convention played battledore and shuttlecock with the state capital! The Convention’s choice was protested by 119 delegates; they predicted that a capital established at a place “unconnected with commerce” would never “rise above the degree of a village”; declared that it should be their policy “to encourage a great commercial town at the head of the best navigation in the State”; and argued that the selection of Fayetteville as capital “would have a great and instantaneous effect upon the decayed commerce of this country, . . . the principal part of which is now exported from Virginia and South Carolina.”

The advocates of Fayetteville died hard; in the Legislatures of 1788, 1789, and 1790 they combined with the Hillsboro supporters to defeat bills to carry the ordinance of 1788 into effect, and it was not until 1791 that the supporters of the Wake County site could effect a combination with the Neuse, Albemarle, and northern counties sufficient to win. They then succeeded in pushing through a bill for a commission to locate the capital, and on April 5, 1792, this commission purchased the Joel Lane plantation of 1,000 acres, near the Wake County courthouse, for which it paid 1,378 pounds, state currency…

The Events of 1792

January 4-5

Meeting in New Bern, the General Assembly enacts into law a bill to carry into effect the 1788 ordinance to establish the capital in Wake County within a ten mile radius of Isaac Hunter’s plantation. Twenty dissenting senators sign a protest.

January 11

The General Assembly appoints 14 commissioners: nine to purchase a site and lay out a town to be the capital of North Carolina, and five to superintend construction of a Statehouse.

March 20-24

(Webmaster’s note: The formatting of this article implies that the Commissioners were at Isaac Hunter’s Tavern for 4 or 8 days, which was not the case. For an accurate and detailed time line of their whereabouts, click on the Minutes of the Meeting of the Commissioners on the tab above.)

The five Statehouse Commissioners meet at Isaac Hunter’s Tavern to lay plans for building the Statehouse and later adjourn to Wake Courthouse, at or near Colonel Joel Lane’s home. On March 24, they decide not to adopt a plan or let a contract until the Site Commissioners specify a location for the city and a site for the Statehouse. They adjourn to meet June 4 on a site within the planned capital.

March 20-28

Five of the Site Commissioners, joined later by a sixth, meet at Isaac Hunter’s Tavern and adjourn to the house of Colonel Lane. The six commissioners who do the work are Frederick Hargett of Jones County, William J. Dawson of Chowan County, Joseph McDowell of Burke County, James Martin of Stokes County, Thomas Blount of Edgecombe County, and Willie Jones of Halifax County. Absent were commissioners James Bloodworth of New Hanover County; Henry William Harrington of Richmond County, and Thomas Person of Granville County. On horseback they ride over and inspect 17 tracts of land offered for sale to the State by Wake County residents Nathaniel Jones, Theophilus Hunter, Theophilus Hunter, Jr., Joel Lane, Henry Lane, Isaac Hunter, Thomas Crawford, Dempsey Powell, Ethelred Rogers, Michael Rogers, Hardy Deane, John Ezell, John Hinton, David Hinton, Kimbrough Hinton, Lovett Bryan, and William Jeffreys.

March 29

Site Commissioners begin voting on a site. On the first ballot, John Hinton receives three votes, Joel Lane two and Henry Lane one; a second ballot produces a nearly identical result: Hinton three, Joel Lane two and Nathaniel Jones one. The commissioners adjourn for the day. No decision has been made because no site has garnered a majority of votes.

March 30

Balloting resumes. On the third ballot Joel Lane receives five votes to John Hinton’s one. The Site Commissioners resolve to purchase 1000 acres from Joel Lane. They appoint William Christmas, Senator from Franklin County, surveyor.

March 31-April 4

State Sen. William Christmas of Franklin County, who had already laid out the county seats of Warrenton and Louisburg, is appointed official surveyor. Walking through the woods with the other commissioners, he marks off 400 of the 1,000 acres. His orientation seems to have taken account of the availability of springs at each of the four corners of the city. Buying posts from Theophilus Hunter, they lay off the city, run lines to ascertain city bounds and the place for building the Statehouse and formally adopt a plan for the city.

They name the site for Statehouse Union Square and the boundary streets East, North, South, and West. They name eight streets for the state’s eight districts: Edenton, Fayette(sic), Halifax, Hillsborough, Morgan(ton), New Bern, Salisbury, Wilmington. They name nine streets for the commissioners themselves (both those who were present for the actual work and those who were absent): Hargett, Dawson, McDowell, Martin, Blount, Jones, Bloodworth, Harrington, and Person streets. The four other streets they name for other state leaders of the time: Senate Speaker William Lenoir, House Speaker Stephen Cabarrus, Revolutionary Gen. William R. Davie, and finally the owner of the land, Senator Joel Lane. The General Assembly later that year decreed that by these names the streets “shall be called and forever known.”

April 5

Joel Lane executes a deed for 1000 acres to Governor Alexander Martin. The Commissioners resolve to conduct the sale of lots on June 4 and to advertise them meanwhile. Commissioners McDowell, Martin and Jones go home, leaving Blount and Dawson with Christmas to employ laborers and clear Union Square and some streets.

April 17

Statehouse Commission meets with Governor Alexander Martin, (who served until December 14,1792) in Hillsborough and obtain 10,000 pounds sterling warrants for building costs.

June 4 - 9

Site Commissioners meet. They reserve Union and four other squares (Caswell, Nash, Moore and Burke), and reserve lots 138 and 154 for brickyards to produce brick for building the Statehouse. (The city limits encompass 400 acres of the 1,000 acres purchased from Joel Lane.) Sales begin at 3 p.m. on lot 210, just north of the Statehouse site. (Part of that lot is now part of the new Museum of History site.) John Geddy is vendue master; William Christmas serves as clerk to the board. Sales of 216 of the 254 lots bring in 6,612.15 Pounds sterling, to be expended in constructing the Statehouse.

June 4 - 8

Statehouse Commissioners meet at Wake Courthouse; they decide to build a brick Statehouse 110 feet by 52 feet. ( When finished the building will be 102 feet in length and 56 in breadth and 43 in height.) They call for bids from contractors and receive plans from six hopeful builders. They also request and are given permission to cut timber from proposed streets for firewood to fire bricks, to cut timber on any part of the public square for building the Statehouse and to make bricks on the two designated lots or on any public land “without the limits of the City.”

The commissioners interview would-be builders and choose Rhodham Atkins of Stokes County. He promises to complete building in two and a half years, commencing July 20. They record a lengthy description of the proposed two-story Statehouse and choose John Allen of Wilmington to prepare plans for a governor’s house (which was never built).

Summer

Atkins begins work on the Statehouse. Eventually, six brickyards are being worked. People begin building businesses and homes in Raleigh. The first recorded homeowner and businessman is James Mitchell, who seeks and is granted a license to keep a tavern at his dwelling. Soon, Warren Alford begins building his hotel, later known as Casso’s Inn, opposite the southeast corner of Union Square.

September 3

Wake County Court decides to build a courthouse inside the city limits. The justices appoint a nine-member commission to “fix on and purchase. . . a Lot or half Lot in the most commodious and convenient part of the City of Raleigh for building thereon a large and elegant Court House for the use of the Court of Wake.” A special tax is levied to defray the cost of the building. The commissioners report six months later that they had “made choice and fixed upon a Lot on the West side of Fayette Ville Street,” and that the owners Theophilus Hunter, Sr. and James Bloodworth had agreed to donate their halves of the lot to the county. It is not until March, 1794, that they report that contract had been signed with John Conroy to erect the building for 1,099 pounds. The first court term to open in the new building was the one that convened on September 21, 1795.

September 3 -4


Statehouse Commissioners meet at Wake Courthouse and decide to build only a Statehouse and not a governor’s house. They determine that the building shall front east and west, confer with Atkins and adjourn until March, 1793.

September 6

Wake Justices name residents to lay off roads running specific distances from the ends of the four main streets in town.

November 29

Senate approves the Statehouse Plan.

December 5

House passes a resolution directing the building commissioners to alter the Atkins plan in order to add “a Frontispiece East and West, something similar to the front of the public buildings in New Bern,” with the idea of adding to the “Elegance of the building.”

December 31: Raleigh’s Official Birthdate

The General Assembly ratifies a bill accepting the reports of the two Commissions; confirms the names of the streets; names Burke, Caswell, Nash and Macon (later Moore) squares, and adopts the name City of Raleigh for “the permanent and unalterable seat of government of the State of North Carolina.”
(N.C. House Journal,Dec.31, 1792; N.C. Laws, 1792, c.14.)

Family arms: Still another century later, in 1899, the Board of Aldermen of the city of Raleigh adopts Sir Walter Raleigh’s colors, red and white, and his family arms to adorn one side of the official municipal flag. A writer at that time observed that the deer in the crest was doubly appropriate for this city, since wild deer once abounded in the forest that became Raleigh, and the word Raleigh itself derives from two Anglo-Saxon words meaning “meadow of the deer.”

The following information is from Wake, Capital County of North Carolina, by Elizabeth Reid Murray. 1983: Capital County Publishing Company, Raleigh, North Carolina.

The First Government Building

Proceeds from the sale of lots were earmarked for construction of a statehouse. A building commission appointed by the preceding assembly included Richard Benehan of Orange County; John Macon of Warren; Robert Goodloe, Franklin County; Nathan Bryan, Jones County; and Theophilus Hunter, Wake County. Richard Sutherland of Wake was clerk to the commissioners. The group met at least twice and contracted with a local carpenter and joiner, Rhodham Atkins, to draw a plan for the building. They presented their report, together with Atkins’s plan, to the General Assembly in November. (N.C. Report of the Senate committee to whom was referred the proceedings of the Commissioners for Public Buildings, Nov. 29, 1792, in N.C. Legislative Papers. “Rhodham Atkins” is listed as a “House Carpenter & Joiner” in Wake Court minutes, Sept. 1790:53.)

Construction of the statehouse was begun shortly after the sale of lots. The establishing act of December 31, 1792, referred to the “state-house now building on Union Square.” “We understand that the public buildings (sic)at the seat of government of this state, are prosecuting with vigour - that the foundations of the state-house is raised above the surface of the earth - that large quantities of bricks and other articles are provided, so that no delay is apprehended from the want thereof.” The two-story brick structure rested on a stone foundation. The brick, of Wake County clay, was made within a few blocks of the building site, the commissioners on location having reserved two city blocks flanking Hargett Street near the western limits as “brick yards.” They also, however, made provision for the building commission “to make bricks on any part of the Public land without the limits of the City,” and “to cut Timber in any of the Streets for fire wood to burn Bricks.” Within a year, there were “six brick-yards going on, ” according to a report by Willie Jones during a visit to inspect the building. Large numbers of workmen, black and white, were required to accomplish all the labor related to building the statehouse. Some of the workmen were slaves, skilled in certain trades such as brickmaking, masonry, plastering, carpentry and the like.

The interior was sufficiently completed to accommodate the late 1794 sitting of the General Assembly. The session which adjourned in January 1794 was scheduled to reconvene in the fall “in compliance with the ordinance of the convention in the city of Raleigh.” However, Governor called an extra session to meet in July of that year in New Bern - the final assembly to convene in Tryon’s Palace in the former capital of North Carolina. Workmen readied the new building in Raleigh for the December 30, 1794, convening of the General Assembly. (The ground floor offices were not completed until some months later.) At that session the assembly reelected as governor Richard Dobbs Spaight, who had been the last to be inaugurated in the New Bern palace and was the first to begin a new term in the Raleigh statehouse.

More People, More Business, More Income

The location of the state capital within the county increased the value of the land owned by Wake County residents, increased employment opportunities and increased the population of the county. Laborers found employment clearing trees. There were jobs for brickmakers, brickmasons, carpenters and other artisans connected with building. These employment opportunities, the prospect of others, and the creation of a new permanent market for goods and services influenced the growth of the new city.

Accommodations for Travelers

Before the state officials began to move their offices and homes to the new capital, enterprising Wake Countians set about opening “houses of entertainment” to provide sleeping, dining, and drinking accommodations for those traveling to or residing briefly in the new city under construction. Ordinaries and taverns multiplied in outlying parts of the county, as well as in town.

In fact so well prepared was the county for the assembly’s accommodation that the following glowing description appeared in the Halifax Journal during the second week the assembly was in session: “We learn from a gentleman of the first respectability at Raleigh, that the accommodations at that place, during the present session, have exceeded all expectations; and that comfortable boarding could now be furnish for at least one hundred more persons. (N.C. Journal -Halifax newspaper- Jan. 12, 1795.)

An overnight guest paid a shilling per night for lodging in a tavern, plus six pence for his horse which would be provided corn, oats, or fodder for three or four pence more. A guest’s breakfast or supper cost him two shillings, and “a good warm Dinner” was two shillings six pence. Tavern keepers’ rates continued to be set by the Wake County Court, which also regulated the prices of alcoholic beverages. These were available by the quart, pint, half-pint, or gill, and the customer had a choice of West India or New England rum, peach or apple brandy, “whiskey of good proof,” and Crab or “latter Cyder,” at prices ranging from four shillings down to four pence.

State Officers

The 1792 law creating the capital included the requirement that state officers not only move their offices to the capital but that they also make Raleigh “their place of residence.” Officers specifically named were the treasurer, the secretary of state, and the comptroller. The work in their offices required the services of various clerks, who also undoubtedly were, or became, Wake County citizens. By 1795 various other state officers and their staffs arrived, making a total of probably fifteen full-time employees of the state and at the same time new residents of Raleigh and of Wake.

The Governor

The legislation that created Raleigh did not, however, require the governor to live in the capital. Subsequent legislation was passed that stipulated that the governor must live at least half of each year in Raleigh, “exclusive of the time the Legislature may be in session.” Left to his discretion was the choice of months he considered “most proper for the convenience of the citizens of the state and the dispatch of public business”; but it was necessary that he publish a notice in “all the gazettes of this state” indicating those months during which he would be resident in Raleigh.

Governor’s Residence

Governor Samuel Ashe of New Hanover County was the first to be affected by this order. For at least the first of his three years as governor (1795-1798), however, he had to provide his own lodging. The state had built no official governor’s residence.

In 1797 an existing house was purchased from Dr. Redmond Dillon Barry, who lived in Raleigh briefly, at the southwest corner of Fayetteville and Hargett Streets. The purchase price of 788 pounds included garden, stable, and other outbuildings, one of which, presumably, was the office utilized by the governor and his secretary.

Governor Required to Reside in Raleigh

By the time Samuel Ashe’s successor, William Richardson Davie, was in office, the chief executive “and every Governor that hereafter be appointed” were directed by law to “make the city of Raleigh their place of common residence during the time they continue in office.” A further requirement was that the governor must, at any time he should be away from Raleigh longer than ten days, see that his secretary “constantly reside in the city of Raleigh during his absence,” and advertise “in one or more of the newspapers of the most general and extensive circulation in the state, the time of his intended absence (and) the place of his destination.”

Convention City

With two public halls, the statehouse and courthouse, together with an abundance of lodging and boarding facilities and the numerous sittings of the various courts during the year, Raleigh became the convention center of the state. The Grand Lodge of Masons was the first organization to hold its annual meetings in Raleigh, beginning in December,1794, even before the first Raleigh sitting of the General Assembly. The following January, and for certain other years, the trustees of the University of North Carolina held their annual meeting in Raleigh, probably in the statehouse. And in 1799, the North Carolina Medical Society was the first of a long list of statewide organizations to be formed in the capital city as well as to return for many annual convocations.

First Raleigh Government: State and County Arrangement

A growing urban population in its midst presented largely rural Wake County with new kinds of problems. The Justices of the county court had assigned street-clearing duties and the upkeep of city streets to Wake Countians residing in the city, and had appointed for law enforcement purposes patrollers and a constable within its limits. It was evident, however, that problems peculiar to a budding new town needed to be dealt with by an authority other than the county court. At its first session held in the new city, therefore, the General Assembly ratified an act “for the regulation of the city of Raleigh.” (see “A Bill for the Regulation of the City of Raleigh.” January 15-21, 1795, N.C. Legislative Papers.) Seven commissioners were appointed to make “such rules, orders and regulations and ordinances as to them shall seem meet for repairing the streets, appointing a Constable or Constables, city Watches or Patrols,” and to administer them “to the advantage, improvement and good government of the said city.”

The First City Commissioners

The commissioners originally had permanent or lifetime status; in the event of the death or resignation of any of them, the freemen of Raleigh were to elect successors. The seven named in the legislative act included two of the state officers who were required to live in Raleigh, State Treasurer John Haywood and Comptroller John Craven. The others were John Marshall and John Mares (or Mears), both of whom opened taverns in Raleigh the next few months; John Rogers, later a Wake justice and state representative; John Pain, who apparently moved away shortly thereafter and died in 1797; and Dugal M’Keethan, merchant. (M’Keethan, usually spelled Dugald McKethan).

No one was eligible to serve as commissioner for Raleigh who did not own a lot with a dwelling house on it within the city limits, or at least have the lease of such property for one year. The commissioners were to appoint one of their number to serve as treasurer and to employ a clerk. They were to levy annual property and poll taxes and appoint a collector; and every lot owner was required to list annually his property within the city limits.

Raleigh’s First “Mayor”

It was the duty of the seven commissioners to elect on the first Monday in March, 1795, “a proper person to act as Intendant of Police.” His responsibility was “to enforce obedience to the laws and punish offenders.” The charter did not specify whether he should be one of the seven nor whether he should preside over commissioners’ meeting. Both practices, however, were observed in the years immediately following for which records are extant. The term “intendant of police,” borrowed from the French, was used to denote the city’s chief executive officer for well over half a century, before the term “mayor” was adopted.

The man who has traditionally been considered Raleigh’s first mayor is State Treasurer John Haywood, the commissioner whose name appears first in the 1795 act appointing the original governing board for the city. Despite loss of the records of commissioners’ activities during the early years of Raleigh’s municipal life, John Haywood has continued over the years to be spoken of as Raleigh’s first principal officer, from March, 1795, until January 21, 1803, the date of the first popular election. Until that time, Raleigh’s earliest residents, like those of Washington, D.C., had no voting rights in the administration of their city—a voteless period of nearly a decade.

Immediate Urban Problems

Small as the young city of Raleigh was in the midst of sprawling, rural Wake County, there developed almost immediately some governmental problems that were peculiarly urban. For example, it was quickly apparent that upkeep of city streets was far different from maintaining highways through the county, which task continued to be the responsibility of the property owners through whose lands the roads passed. The General Assembly of 1795 enacted a regulation requiring any free male resident of the city, whether property owner or renter, to work on the city streets himself or furnish three male slaves in his place. The streets were still mere dirt roads, plagued alternately by dust, mud, and hardened ruts, and they undoubtedly bore a heavier daily traffic than their county counterparts. It was soon obvious that keeping them passable was too large a task for dwellers within the narrow city limits. The 1795 regulation directed that any free adult males living permanently or temporarily within a quarter mile of the city limits or the state-owned land surrounding Raleigh must work on the streets in the same manner as that in which city dwellers were required to work.

Another urban problem was the need for a public cemetery. Wake Countians living on farms and plantations had their own family graveyards. Most city dwellers, however, renting or owning only a small portion of a city block, had no such space in which to inter the dead. In 1798, therefore, the assembly made provision for the city commissioners to lay off up to four acres of state-owned land adjacent to the city for “a public burying ground.” Raleigh’s City Cemetery just east of East Street, the boundary of the city at that time, was the result. The earliest grave appears to be that of the young son of Secretary of State William White, John Haywood White, who died in 1800. In 1974, the remains found in seven gravesites on the Lane family property were reburied in this cemetery. (for more information on Lane’s Reburial, click here: Reburial.doc.)

The Fourth Estate

It was in the last year of the eighteenth century that there arrived in Raleigh two well-known writers and editors who provided Wake County with its first local newspapers. First on the scene, transferring his newspaper from Fayetteville, was New Jersey native William Boylan, partner in the firm of Hodge and Boylan which published the Fayetteville Minerva. On May 28, 1799, this organ became the Raleigh Minerva, published by Boylan until 1810. Boylan plunged immediately into the life of the Wake County community, becoming in 1804 a justice of the county court and its chairman in 1815. He was also several times elected to the board of commissioners for the city of Raleigh, and served on innumerable other boards and civic groups.

In September of the same year (1799) British-born editor Joseph Gales arrived from Philadelphia to begin publication of the Raleigh Register, which was to be an outstanding social and political force in the life of the state for more than half a century. In England he had published the Sheffield Register until his too-liberal views brought him into conflict with the government in power. Like Boylan, Gales immediately became involved in the life of the community, serving as secretary or treasurer to numerous boards, being chosen in the first municipal election a city commissioner, and later serving as intendant of police for many years until his death.

Between editors Boylan and Gales there began and continued a running rivalry not only editorially but in other business matters, including competition for election as state printer, a post each held at various times. The rivalry occasionally erupted in personal feuds which they aired in their respective editorial columns, and which were climaxed by a physical encounter in the middle of Fayetteville Street. In the resulting court suit, Boylan was fined 100 pounds. When Gales received payment, he turned the money over to the struggling Raleigh Academy (a school) after deducting costs of bringing suit.

Urban Services First Post Office.


With “all roads” leading to Raleigh, it was logical that the first post office established by the federal government in Wake County should be in the county’s one urban center. Although post offices had been created in other North Carolina towns much earlier, it was 1794 before Wake County was included. Beginning in October, 1794, Raleigh was an office on both the main north-south post road from Petersburg, Virginia, through the middle of North Carolina to Augusta, Georgia, and on an east-west “cross-road” from New Bern through Raleigh by way of Chapel Hill to Chatham Courthouse. One of Raleigh’s earliest merchants, William Shaw, was named postmaster for the Raleigh office, which he managed for fifteen years from one of his several places of business along Fayetteville Street. By 1801, and possibly from the beginning, the post office was maintained on the east side of the street in the 200 block.

Seasonal Services

For a while, some of the specialized services offered in Raleigh were seasonal. Artisans from other towns brought their skills and wares to Raleigh during sessions of the General Assembly, when they could reasonably expect more trade than at other times of the year. An example is John Geddy of Franklin County, who had served as vendue master at the 1792 sale of Raleigh lots. For three winters before his death at the end of the session of 1798, he moved temporarily to Raleigh to offer clock and watch repairing services and an assortment of silversmith’s and jeweler’s work for sale. Abraham Hodge, editor of the Halifax Journal, sent or brought for sale in Raleigh during assembly sessions large assortments of books, writing materials, and playing cards.

Year-Round Businesses

Eventually, the year-round population of Raleigh and its immediate vicinity was large enough to support some of these businesses on a permanent basis. Other shops and stores specializing in new lines of goods were added to those general stores that had opened earlier. Stores in town differed little from their country counterparts, unless perhaps the range and variety of items were larger in town. In another respect also they were similar; both continued for many years to accept “country produce” in lieu of cash for purchases. It was quite usual for the merchant or artisan to have his place of business and his home in one location, frequently in the same house. Typical of the combination home-and-store in early Raleigh was the one advertised for sale by Roger Fitch as follows:

”. . . on the East Side of Fayetteville Street. . . in an excellent Stand for Business; the Dimensions of the House are 28 by 24 Feet, one Story high, having four Rooms on the first Floor, and two Fire-Places; two Rooms on the upper Floor, with a Fire-Place. It is well calculated for a Store and Dwelling-House.”

Postmaster Shaw was by trade a general merchant, and offered still another needed urban service from his combination residence-business. He opened about 1795 what was in all probability the first commercial bakery in Wake County. Five years later he advertised that “no other person in Raleigh is in that line but himself.” Still later, describing the bakery for sale, he indicated that it had a twenty-four by thirty-six-foot dry cellar “in which is a Bake Oven, large enough to bake a Barrel of Flour at one Heat.” Among others offering specialized services, Thomas Churchwell had a tailoring business in the city in the late 1790s.

By 1796 or earlier William Camp, saddler, was in business in Raleigh, making and importing from Philadelphia for his local customers all sorts of bridles, harnesses, saddles, saddlebags, and other accoutrements for horses and horse-drawn vehicles. There evidently was enough demand to support a second saddler by 1799 when Jacob Wilfong moved his leather-working business to Raleigh from Hillsborough. As further evidence of brisk trade in the transportation field, a Halifax newspaper notice in 1798 announced that a “good Blacksmith, and Good Waggon-Maker will meet with great encouragement at the city of Raleigh.”

William Glendinning, a former minister, opened a general merchandise store on Fayetteville Street in the mid-1790s, moving soon to the head of New Bern Avenue. His stock included European books, especially law books.

The Peace brothers, Joseph and William from Granville County, were in business as J. and W. Peace by 1798 or earlier, selling general merchandise. Their store was a small wooden building in the first block of Fayetteville Street, west side. Another was Southey Bond who also in the 1790s operated a Fayetteville Street store that extended, with its warehouse, through the block to Salisbury Street. His was apparently one of the largest early business establishments.

Water Supply

At first, most businesses and homes had their own wells, even in town. Some were fortunate enough to own lots with natural springs. Eventually there were public wells, but no dependable municipal water works for many decades.

Taverns and Ordinaries

Of the numerous taverns that opened in 1794 for the first Raleigh session of the General Assembly, a few remained open the year-round. James Mitchell, who had been open for business for two years, had licenses to operate both a tavern and an ordinary, or lodging house.

In time to accommodate members of the 1795 session with rooms, statehouse builder Rhodham Atkins opened a “House of Entertainment” just outside the northern city limits at the end of Blount Street. A year later John Marshall opened his home to legislators during the session and continued to renew his ordinary license for several years. Lewis Green also boarded members in his combination home and tavern, as did Archibald Wills, John Porter, and Charles Parish. James Mears, an early Raleigh commissioner, owned an establishment he referred to as both tavern and “house of entertainment” where he could accommodate “thirty-five or forty members, besides travellers.”

Casso’s Tavern

The best known of the early hostelries was Casso’s Tavern. Facing the statehouse across East Morgan Street, it was the stage stop for the thrice weekly northern and southern stages. French-born Peter Casso acquired in 1795 the one-acre lot and buildings that Warren Alford had constructed. His additions and improvements were so numerous that by 1799 he had insured the buildings in England for “one Thousand Pounds Sterling.” The principal structure, thirty-four by twenty-eight feet in size according to his advertisement, was three stories high, having a Shade on one Side, and a Bar Room on the other, with five Fire Places.” Three smaller annexes of one and two stories contained additional “lodging rooms,” some with fireplaces; and in all there were about twenty-five “excellent Beds.”

From their two kitchens,pantry with cellar, smoke house, and fenced garden, Casso and his wife Margaret not only provided meals for their boarders but also catered public dinners and other entertainments. They could take care of forty horses in the “Stable, equal to any on the Continent,” with its saddlery, grain houses, and “Horse Yard paved.” They also kept a general store on the premises, as well as a vendue room. There was apparently no well on their lot; Casso later advertised that he served no water to his guests except “that of Mr. Turner’s Spring.”

Home Building in Town and Country: Early Raleigh Homes

A steady growth in building of houses and businesses is reflected in a healthy increase in property valuations for tax purposes over the first few years. The total property value in Raleigh more than doubled in the five years from the time of the first General Assembly session in the statehouse to the last year of the century. From a 1794 valuation of 8,612 pounds, the total valuation of lots and their improvements in 1799 had climbed to 22,355 pounds.

Most early homes in Raleigh were small frame dwellings of from two to four rooms, with one or two fireplaces, having small yards with separate outbuildings, wells, and vegetable gardens. Several of this description appear for sale in newspaper advertisements. Some modest domiciles were dependencies of larger establishments such as inns or taverns. An example is the small twelve-by-eighteen-foot structure preserved by the Raleigh Historic Properties Commission as the Andrew Johnson birthplace.

One of the earliest of the more imposing homes to be built in the capital is no longer standing, but was described by its builder in 1796. This was the home of Benjamin Seawell in the 400 block of New Bern Avenue, south side, where he also had a license to operate a tavern. It was, according to his advertisement, “an elegant Two-Story House, large and commodious. . . [with] a number of convenient rooms, ten of which have got fireplaces.” Most of the rooms were plastered. The house had a dry cellar seven feet deep, and its separate kitchen had a fireplace in each of its two stories.

The William White and the Treasurer Haywood Houses

Among other fine Raleigh homes built within the original city limits before the end of the eighteenth century, two remain standing as of this writing. These are the homes of Secretary of State William White, at 209 East Morgan Street, and of Treasurer John Haywood, 211 New Bern Avenue. The William White House was apparently built in the same year (1798) in which White became secretary of state and, in accordance with state law, moved to the capital from his home in Lenoir County. Mrs. White was the daughter of former Governor Richard Caswell. In this home, referred to at the time as White Hall, the Whites’ daughter Eleanor married David L. Swain, later governor and still later president of the University of North Carolina. (David L. Swain was the grandson of Jesse Lane, Joel Lane’s brother.) The interior features elaborately carved woodwork in several rooms.

Haywood Hall, as the Treasurer John Haywood home was later named, was apparently under construction soon after the White home was in progress. Treasurer Haywood, although a resident of Raleigh before Secretary White, lived elsewhere in the city until about May of 1800, the probable completion date for his New Bern Avenue house. While it was under construction, he lived in a house across Edenton Street from the statehouse, between Wilmington and Halifax streets, which he owned from June 1797 until June 1800. A widower from the time of his arrival in Raleigh until his remarriage in 1798, he built Haywood Hall for his second wife, Elizabeth (or Eliza) Eagles Asaph Williams, niece of Governor Benjamin Williams. The symmetrical Federal exterior has undergone virtually no change over the years, although the large dining room was one time divided into two rooms. Unique features of the interior woodwork are the carved apple and pineapple symbols of hospitality. Occupying two one-acre lots, the property originally had large garden areas and a family burial ground, the graves from which were subsequently removed to Oakwood Cemetery.

Those few examples of eighteenth-century country homes that have survived with less than complete remodeling reveal much about life styles as well as local architecture in those early years.

Among these are three Lane Family structures: (coincidentally the three oldest extant buildings in the county)
(1) The Joel Lane House,
(2) the house built in 1775 by Joseph Lane, several miles west of his brother Joel’s house and known by the name of later owners as the Bennett House and
(3) the north portion of that home known as Mordecai House, built about the time of the marriage of Joel Lane’s son Henry to Col. John Hinton’s granddaughter Mary (Polly) in 1785 and remodeled in 1826.

Prominent Citizens Attracted to Wake


Before the century was out, there were attracted to Wake County and to Raleigh from other parts of North Carolina men who were not only leaders in state government but also community leaders in the life of Wake County. In addition to the chief officers of the state who were required to make their permanent homes in Raleigh, other people came whose business brought them to the state capital.

One such resident was Col. William Polk, Revolutionary War hero from Mecklenburg County, who was by the 1790s supervisor of internal revenue for North Carolina. By late 1799, he had moved the supervisor’s office to Raleigh, where he lived the remainder of his life as an active participant in state and local affairs. His estate, directly adjacent to the northern city limits, later became part of Oakwood. (The Polk home was later removed from its original location blocking the end of N. Blount St. at North St., to two other consecutive locations. The house was irreparably damaged by fire Feb. 5, 1975, and subsequently razed.)

Another was Willie Jones, influential legislator from Halifax, who also spent part of the last years of his life in the county in which he had helped locate the capital in 1792. Jones built a summer home called Welcome a short distance east of the city limits. He established there one of the earliest parks on record in the area. An advertisement in the Raleigh Minerva in 1799 indicated that he wished to purchase several deer with which to stock his park, and that it would be ready for their reception that summer. Jones died less than two years later at his Wake County plantation. Its next owners, the Henry Seawell family, remodeled the house that apparently contained several unusual features, including rooms in the form of cubes that were said to be twenty-two feet in height, as well as in width and breadth. Following instructions contained in his will, Jones’s family buried him in an unmarked grave somewhere in these lands. (Minerva, Aug. 27, 1799; Register (w) June 23,1801; Annie Lane Devereux, “Historic Homes Part V: Welcome,” N.C. Booklet 11 (October 1900): 115-116; Ellen Mordecai, Gleanings from Long Ago,7-8; Halifax Wills microfilm 3:361, State Archives.)

A future governor of North Carolina, Benjamin Williams, moved to Wake County soon after his two-year term as United States Congressman ended in 1795. By 1796, he was a resident and evidently a popular member of Raleigh society. That summer he was elected “president” of the July 4 celebration, to preside over the toasts drunk at the midday dinner. Apparently he continued to make his home in Raleigh for at least part of the next seven or eight years; for he was a resident “of this city,” according to the Raleigh Minerva, when elected governor for the first time in November 1799. His wife was a half sister to Willie Jones.

Professional Men

People of professions other than politics and government were also drawn to the capital county. Of the group of physicians who helped found the North Carolina Medical Society in 1799, several practiced medicine for at least part of their careers in Wake County. These included Richard Fenner, Sterling Wheaton, James John Pasteur, Jason Hand, Calvin Jones, and Cargill Massenburg.

Attorneys practicing in Wake before the end of the century included not only those who made their homes in the county but others who lived elsewhere and appeared before various courts including those held in Wake. The list of attorneys who qualified in the eighteenth century to practice in Wake County courts is lengthy.

Eighteenth-Century Drawing Rooms Hospitality

Newcomers to Wake County were apparently welcomed with warmth and hospitality by settled residents. Joseph and Winifred Gales arrived in September, 1799, “in Raleigh, dear Raleigh!’” as Mrs. Gales later recorded. “It was a great contrast to all my previous life to reside in so small a place,” she stated in their joint family reminiscences. They found Raleigh, however, “a very pleasant community and the open hand of kindness was extended to us by all ranks.” The citizens’ hospitality even included lending the Gales family a house to live in until the home they planned to lease became available. While they waited, Secretary William White lent them “a small dwelling on Newbern Street.” This was undoubtedly on the same lot with White’s larger house, facing north. For the entire time of their Raleigh residency (after this brief delay) the Gales family home and printing office occupied the southern quarter of the 300-block of Fayetteville Street, directly south of and adjacent to the Wake County Courthouse.

Customs and Manners

The Gales family not only fitted into the society of their new home town, but added touches distinctly their own. A cultured family, they brought with them a good library, to which they constantly added. And they reintroduced neglected European customs and manners to some of their new neighbors, most of whom were several generations removed from their mother countries, principally Britain. This very difference in customs brought about a problem in their household. Mrs. Gales recalled:

When we hired Servants by the year it often happened, others, thinking perhaps that servants in our employ might have been initiated into English modes of doing things, would overbid us, and we were thus from time to time deprived of them. We lost them, being hired at higher prices than they merited, or than we could afford to give.

The Gales family, who had seen only two Negroes in all of England, were horrified at . . .the idea of purchasing slaves, of trading in the blood and sinews of our fellow-beings. . . And yet, apparently from necessity, during our residence at Raleigh, we were induced to purchase several, both as House Servants, and to aid us in conducting our Printing, Paper-making, and Farming concerns.

Social Events

Public social events appear to have been organized in the very infancy of the capital. As early as 1796 “the inhabitants of the city of Raleigh and its neighborhood” celebrated the Fourth of July with “an elegant dinner” prepared for the occasion by the popular innkeeper, Peter Casso, and later that evening with a ball in the statehouse. For this particular festivity, the ladies participated along with the gentlemen in both dinner and ball, although they “retired” from the table before the gentlemen drank their sixteen toasts. Later celebrations excluded women from the dinners, though evening balls were “given to the ladies.”

In addition to sponsoring the annual Independence Day ball, the budding society of Raleigh, augmented by visiting members of the General Assembly, soon introduced a winter social season as well. In December of 1799, “a number of gentlemen” prevailed upon Peter Casso to arrange for a midwinter subscription or “ticket” ball. More such events created an almost year-round “assembly season.”

Private dinner parties in the home were traditional social events. Treasurer John Haywood entertained all the legislators and other state officials for at least one meal during every session of the General Assembly. In the summer of 1798, he wrote to his wife “Betsey,” away visiting her mother, that “the Governor and his Council took what is called pot-luck at our House. . . .We gave them Ham, Beef, fried Chickens, Chicken Pie, roast Beef, peas, Beans, Greens,& Lettuce, with a Pudding. . . .some Raisons & some Almonds.” Mrs. Haywood presided over hundreds of other meals during her husband’s lengthy term as treasurer. One of her letters to her mother suggests the enormity of the duty, even with the help of servants at home and on their nearby plantation. Exhausted, the young wife and mother wrote:

This is the first time I have had a Leasure hour to write. . . Mr. H. invited, 30, Gentlemen to Dinner, Six and Twenty at the Long Table and our at a side Table—and that has been the Number every other Day since, untill Saturday last, which finished the first going through with the Assembly Men, but on Sunday following he had a Pick’ed set of Thirty:—consisting of Members and Transient People, at an Elegant Dinner. . . .so you will see, I Had Sixty Gentlemen to Dine in two Days only, I am almost worn out and Brok Down with Fatigue and want of rest we have Company every Day four or five, besides the Large Number every other day so that I have no rest Night or Day, the Children all Night and the People in the Day. . . .I am up every Night till Twelve or one Oclock at Night, prepareing for the next day’s Dinner. . .and the Federal Court meets the first of January and I shall have the same Trouble over again. . . .Mr. Haywood is now gone to the Governors to Dinner, this is the only Day our house has been still for weeks. . . .

The County’s Marketing Center Urban Attractions for Rural Folk

The increasingly urban center of the county attracted into town people from all over Wake County, for all sorts of reasons, both business and pleasure. Some of these activities were court week, marketing, election day, holiday celebrations, and even sporting events.

A mutual need for each other’s products brought town and country dwellers together, sometimes in the country but more often in the city, where farmers brought their produce to sell or trade. Advertisements of the shops in town indicated that the proprietors would accept cash, credit, or commodities in exchange for store goods, and often the newspaper notices catered particularly to the farmer in suggesting the suitability of “country produce” as a medium for exchange. Cash was scarce with the majority of country dwellers, and their farm and garden products were needed by city merchants for resale to other city residents.

Before the end of the century, the country residents through their county court justices determined that there was needed “a ready market for their surplus produce.” Speaking for the townspeople, the new Register editor commented that with an official market, they would be able to “purchase such necessaries as are now precariously supplied.” Accordingly they chose a location at the intersection of Fayetteville and Hargett streets, apparently in the middle of Hargett itself at the intersection with Fayetteville. They awarded the building contract to Micajah Muckleroy, the lowest bidder at 298 pounds. The market house was to be “of an Octagon form, 30 feet in diameter, with a Cupola on the top for a bell; to be set upon eight posts; to have four gates; to be bannistered around three feet high; the floor to be laid with brick; the whole to be neatly painted.”

By early May the following year (1800) the market house was completed and accepted by the court. William Glendinning was made inspector of weights and measures. This mid-street location apparently remained the site of the market house for forty years, although part of the original building had to be replaced after the great fire of 1816 and again in 1832.

Population at Century’s End

The county contined to grow. The population in 1790 was 10,192. There were 2,463 slaves. Of the 1,291 heads of household, 390 were slaveowners. Only 20 slaveowners were classified as planters, owning substantial amounts of land and 20 or more slaves. The last decade of the eighteenth century brought with it approximately a 32 percent increase in population for Wake County, to 13,437. This growth exceeded the overall increase of only about 22 percent for the state as a whole. Raleigh, which had not existed in 1790, had by 1800 acquired 669 persons within its 400 acres. Of these, 316 were free white persons, 18 were free Negroes, and 335 were slaves. In the rest of the county there were 8,872 whites, 324 free Negroes, and 4,241 slaves. Of the total population for the county, with only 669 residents of Raleigh, the vast majority, or 12,768 people, lived at century’s end in overwhelmingly rural Wake County.


What visitors say

Thank you so much for letting our IB Human Geography class come tour the Joel Lane house. I really enjoyed learning about how high-class people lived back them. I was surprised to hear that they were always working and had no time to themselves. I was also shocked at the size of the beds. They were so small! You two really played good parts and made me feel like I was really back in those times.

Henley