north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



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      Born in Ireland in 1722, Francis Locke was raised by his parents John and Elizabeth in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After his father’s death in 1744, Elizabeth married John Brandon, and eight years later the family moved to Anson County (present Rowan County). In 1753, Francis purchased 640 acres from his stepfather and established his home four miles west of Salisbury on the Lincolnton road.

      Francis entered into a thriving business with his brother Matthew Locke operating a fleet of wagons carrying deerskins from the colony’s frontier to Salem, Salisbury, and Charleston, South Carolina. In 1759, Governor Arthur Dobbs appointed Francis Locke an ensign in a militia company commanded by Captain Griffith Rutherford. It is unknown if he ever saw battle in the French and Indian War.

      Locke opened a tavern in 1764 and, although it was illegal for a tavern keeper to be appointed sheriff, the county court recommended him to Governor Dobbs as the best candidate for the position. He served from 1765 to 1766; however he complained that he was only able to collect taxes from 1,000 of the 3,000 taxables in the county. Francis explained to the county courts that he had been violently opposed by several citizens, many of whom had joined the Regulator movement.

      In the early 1770s, Locke held a variety of positions in Rowan County including county coroner, roads surveyor, jailor, and bridge builder. In September 1775, he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the Rowan County militia under Griffith Rutherford. In that capacity, Locke took part in the “Snow Campaign” that winter, attacking Loyalist settlements in upcountry South Carolina. The following year, Locke took command of the Rowan militia in Rutherford’s expedition against the Cherokee.

      In 1777-1778, Locke remained in command near Salisbury, guarding military stores and arresting local Tories. He commanded Rowan militia at the Battle of Brier Creek in the disastrous 1779 expedition of Brig. Gen. John Ashe near Savannah, Georgia. In June 1780, Locke led Whig forces in the American victory against Tories led by James Moore at Ramsour’s Mill. The following month he commanded militia in the fight at Colson’s Mills after Brig. Gen. William Lee Davidson was wounded.

      During Cornwallis’s 1781 invasion of North Carolina, Locke commanded a regiment of Rowan County militia under the overall command of Brig. Gen. Andrew Pickens of South Carolina. Locke’s men took part in a small skirmish along Grant’s Creek near Salisbury, and participated in many delaying actions in Nathanael Greene’s “Race to the Dan”. His men’s terms of service ended in early March 1781, and they returned home before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

      Locke resigned his militia commission in 1784 and retired to his plantation. Ten years later, the Rowan County court nominated him as attorney for the state, replacing William Sharpe. Locke died two years later and is buried at Thyatira Presbyterian Church. Locke’s son, Francis, Jr., became a superior court judge and United States Congressman.

Walter Clark and William L. Saunders, eds., Colonial Records of North Carolina and State Records of North Carolina, X, XIV, XV, XXIII Hugh F. Rankin, The North Carolina Continentals (1971)
William S. Powell, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, IV, 79-81—sketch by James S. Brawley
George McCorkle, “Sketch of Colonel Francis Locke,” North Carolina Booklet (1910)
Francis Locke Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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