Joy Jackson is a graduate student in UNC’s Master of Public Administration program and a CCP intern working in Caswell and Lenoir Counties.
As described in an earlier blog posting, CCP is working to collect information for a historical tour of Caswell County. It almost goes without saying that the full history of the area is impossible to uncover in one summer of research or convey in one brief blog posting. However, what is easy to understand is that this rural, largely agrarian community has a rich and colorful past that can be easily missed or go untold.
Information compiled from historical reference books, news reports, interviews with local residents and the Caswell County Historical Association has revealed numerous stories of interest and historical significance: the process for curing bright leaf tobacco, a special method which creates a distinctly sweet and ultimately lucrative product, was discovered on a plantation in Caswell County; three courthouses, each with a unique history, preceded the one that stands today in Yanceyville; the exponential and violent growth of the Ku Klux Klan in the area during the mid-1800s which contributed to the murder of John W. Stevens and the ensuing Kirk-Holden War; the historical significance of the Dillard School and the 1951 trial of Matt Ingram, and African-American resident of Caswell County who was convicted and acquitted of assaulting a white woman by looking at her from a distance of 75 feet are all examples of the stories that make up Caswell’s rich historical tapestry.
There have also been recent forays into the history of the county. One of the most notable and high profile was a 2008 documentary, Meeting David Wilson, made by a young African American man interested in tracing his family lineage. His journey ultimately took him to Ghana but along the way he found a significant piece of his family history in Caswell County. It was there that his relatives were owned as slaves on a tobacco plantation. The plantation, now a farm, is still owned and operated by the same family who owned it prior to the Civil War. During the documentary, film maker David Wilson meets the current owner of the farm, also named David Wilson. During his visit they tour the property and converse about their shared history. An ABC news story about the documentary, which aired on MSNBC, can be viewed here.
Caswell County residents are well aware of the importance of their community’s history and this awareness has been the impetus for historical tours, applications to the national historic register and numerous other efforts to bring this information to the public. Hopefully, CCP’s research will provide a fresh perspective and valuable information to those striving to raise awareness of the history of the county they call home.