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Researching in Rutherford County

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map showing Rutherford County

This week’s North Carolina County of the Week is Rutherford  County so I wanted to post some information about the county.

Rutherford County was created in 1779 from Tryon County. Tryon County was abolished in 1779 and the area of that county became Lincoln County and Rutherford County. .

Neighboring counties are Burke, Cleveland, Henderson, McDowell, and Polk The county lies on the North Carolina-South Carolina border; Cherokee County, SC is directly south.

The closest early major migration route to Rutherford is the Upper Road. The Upper Road begins north in Maryland and ends in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County.

The county seat is Rutherfordton, which was established in 1787. Both Rutherford and Rutherfordton were named after Griffith Rutherford, a Revolutionary War General and member of the provincial congress.

One of the questions I receive often is about Native American heritage. Rutherford County has some Native American heritage. Historically, the Cheraw, also known as the Saura or Sara lived in an area that encompassed present day Rutherford County.

Rutherford County original records are from 1779 through the 1800s are located in the State Archives of North Carolina, but many records are missing due to a courthouse fire in 1907. Some, but not many are also available for the very early 1900s. Records are also included during the early 1770s when the area was still Tryon County, especially for deeds. the Government and Heritage Library has some books and microfilm for Rutherford County – view the catalog to see what books and microfilm our library has. Microfilm can be loaned to NC residents through their local libraries. Please contact your local public library about borrowing microfilm through Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

Read more about Rutherford County at NCpedia.

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  1. My maternal grandmother’s African-American roots go back as far as 1791 in Rutherford County in the Duncans Creek area. My ggg-grandmother, Sarah Brooks, a free child of color, was brought to that area as a four-year-old bond servant. She seemed to have remained in the area until her death, bearing five children who left their mark in the area as freemen and landowners who had strong ties with white Harrills, Lattimores, Elliotts and Ledfords in the Rutherfordton area. Family folklore tells that Sarah’s children were fathered by the same slave on a nearby plantation, likely one of the white families listed above. Family folklore also state that around 1840, Sarah and/or her children, purchased the freedom of the unnamed slave partner and father. Reportedly my gg- grandfather, Jerry Brooks, walked forty miles from Crowder Mountain to Rutherfordton to make the final payment on his slave father’s freedom. Would 1839/1840 slave sale records be filed in Rutherford County and therefore, possibly destroyed in the 1907 fire? Would 1841/1842 slave sale records in Rutherford County now be on file in Cleveland County formed in 1841 as I recall? Also. what type of record would have been filed for the payoff of a slave? Years ago, a saw a to lists of slave sales, one a male list and a second female list, detail names of slave, seller and buyer alnog with the date of sale. As I recall, it specifically covered Rutherford, NC between 1800 and 1850 and was fairly extensive. Does such a list still exist?

    P.S. The Shelby newspaper did an extensive write-up on the Brooks family heritage at the end of February this year.

    1. Genealogical Services says:

      If he was manumitted (legally set free), there would be a court record in Rutherford County; however, due to courthouse fires, they may have been destroyed. If he was freed illegally (not through the courts), the only records would be in the private papers of the person who freed him. If he was legally freed, the payments would be a bond paid to the court, the bond varied by year, but it would have been around $500-$1000, which was a hefty sum back then as it is now. If he were freed illegally, it would have been a payment, agreed upon with whoever freed him and the family. It was difficult after 1830 to free slaves, but not impossible. From about 1820s-1850s, it became more and more difficult in NC to free slaves and by the beginning of the Civil War, it was practically impossible. This is my area of research and these statements about the difficulties and laws comes from 14 years of researching free African Americans in antebellum NC.

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