The county of Cabarrus was formed on December 29, 1792, and seven justices were named by Governor Richard Dobbs Spaight to serve the new county: Robert Harris, Senior and Junior, took the oath of office along with William Scott, John Allison, Edward Giles, David Jarrett, and Joseph Shinn. New members were added from time to time to fill vacancies on the court as will be seen in the minutes of the court. Each of the justices heard relatively minor cases within a district [later, township] of the county, and each needed a constable to serve legal papers.
The records of the court were kept by its clerk, who carefully made a record of all transactions carried out during the week of court, and then carefully transcribed his notes into a permanent record book.
A jury was summonsed for each session of the court, and disposed of numerous matters during the week as will be seen from the minutes. The custom at that time was to choose jurors from each of the Captain's Companies, or "beats," each of which was in charge of a militia captain, so that all sections of the county would be represented on the county juries. Thus, each quarter session's minutes contains a list of those to be summonsed for the next session of the court. Occasionally, an appeal of a judgment to the Superior Court in Salisbury was entered by a dissatisfied party. That court met twice a year, and Cabarrus furnished three jurors to serve as a part of the multi-county Superior Court jury.
The first court met in the home of the widow Russell for about three years while the citizens of the county disagreed on the location of the county seat.
A compromise was reached, and a bill was passed by the Assembly on December 4, 1795, providing that the county court of Cabarrus was to appoint three "discreet and prudent" residents of the county to contract for the construction of a courthouse, prison and stocks on twenty-five acres of the land of Samuel Hughey [Huie], which tract had already been surveyed by the county surveyor, Zaccheus Wilson. At the January 1796 Session of the court, the justices named John Means, James Scott, and Leonard Barbrick to superintend the building of the county buildings and lay out the county seat. By his deed dated February 4, 1796, Huie conveyed twenty-six acres of his land to the Commissioners for the sum of twenty-five pounds, and the land was laid off in lots.
The town tract was bisected by Union Street, running generally northwest and southeast, and by Corbin Street (later renamed Corban), which ran generally northeast and southwest. Forty-three lots were sold to the highest bidder, with two lots reserved for public use. The courthouse itself was built in the intersection of the two streets, each of which was 66 feet wide. The courthouse, built by John Masters, was a rather inelegant 30 foot square frame building, 15 feet high, with a shingled hip roof. The building rested on pillars three feet high. Small windows admitted light to the sparsely lighted interior, which was dominated by a judge's bench at one end. A table for the use of the clerk was located in front of the bench. There were seats for the jury, and a table for the use of lawyers and litigants. There was little room for spectators in the cramped quarters, which were hot in summer and freezing cold during winter sessions. Despite its shortcomings, the building was used until 1826 when it was replaced by a more spacious brick building.
The "court weeks" were a time for both socializing and carrying on trade for county residents. Those who came into town on court business also stayed to shop at the general stores which ringed the courthouse square and to settle their accounts. Some brought produce to swap for needed supplies. The county seat, then only a village, was filled with the excitement of jurors from all parts of the county, merchants hawking their wares, and those who merely came to enjoy the spectacle. The latest gossip was exchanged and old acquaintances renewed.
In the sparse minutes of this first governing body for Cabarrus County we find a record of steady growth as new roads were laid off and carefully maintained, and bridges were erected at the old fords. We also see a meticulous attention to detail in the management of the affairs of the county and its public funds. In short, we find in the minutes of the county court not only a wealth of information to aid those searching for their ancestors, but a careful accounting by those who held the public trust during Cabarrus County's crucial formative years. They laid solid foundation stones for us and our generations.
February 5, 1994
Image courtesy of NCpedia, State Library of North Carolina