Wilkes County’s mother county is observing her 250th birthday next month.
Surry County’s sestercentennial (250th) anniversary celebration will officially start with an event from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 21 in the old courthouse square in Dobson. Admission for the event, dubbed Surry 250, is free. Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in Elkin is the presenting sponsor.
In 2018, the Surry County commissioners created a committee to organize the 250th observance. The kickoff event on Aug. 21 will include plenty of live music and food, but especially old time pickin’ and sonkers (similar to cobblers). There will also be a car show and movies, displays and demonstrations focused on the county’s rich history and more.
Wilkes and Surry have similar histories and close connections, but ties are especially close between Surry and eastern Wilkes.
With Wilkes County’s 250th coming up in just a few years, Wilkes leaders might want to pay close attention to how the occasion is marked in Surry.
The act creating Surry from the northern part of Rowan County, dated Jan. 26, 1771, appointed Matthew Locke, Martin Armstrong, Anthony Hampton and Griffith Rutherford to survey the dividing line between Surry and Rowan. All four were Indian fighters and Patriot militia leaders.
Wilkes was created from Surry on the east and the District of Washington on the west, effective Feb. 15, 1778. The portion from the District of Washington is no longer part of Wilkes.
The Surry-Wilkes line was established at a point starting 26 miles west of the Surry County courthouse on Gideon Wright’s property, which was was roughly midway between today’s Elkin and Dobson.
The northern end of this new line put the Mitchell and Fisher river watersheds, including the Lowgap area, in Wilkes. This didn’t sit well with the influential Franklin family, which lived and had large land holdings in that area.
In 1792, Rep. Jesse Franklin (later governor) introduced a bill moving the Mitchell and Fisher watersheds back to Surry. Wilkes was destined to lose this anyway with establishment of Alleghany County in 1859. Surry lost portions of the Mitchell watershed, including the Saddle Mountain area, to Alleghany in 1869, 1870 and 1875.
Gideon Wright was a known British loyalist and this likely influenced Royal Gov. William Tryon’s decision to put the first courthouse on his property. In 1779, after independence was declared, it was moved about two miles to property owned by William Shepherd and Armstrong. Shepherd, like Armstrong, was a Patriot militia leader.
After Stokes County was created from Surry in 1789, the courthouse was moved to Rockford on the Yadkin River to be more centrally located.
Following creation of Yadkin County from Surry in 1851, commissioners were named to determine the center of the county, build a courthouse there and call the new town Dobson. County courthouses in North Carolina generally were spaced so the distance between them was no more than one day’s travel by horse.
The late William S. Powell, history professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and the best source on the origin of North Carolina place names, wrote that the county seat of Surry was named for either William Dobson, a local justice of the peace, or for N.C. Rep. William P. Dobson.
There also are differing views on the origin of the county’s name, but Powell maintained that it came from the County of Surrey in England, which was Gov. Tryon’s birthplace.