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



Marker Text:

      Born in Ireland in 1730, Matthew 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 1752 he purchased 200 acres and built his home on the Charlotte road from Salisbury.

      Matthew Locke entered into a thriving business with his brother Francis Locke operating a fleet of wagons carrying deerskins from the colony’s frontier to Salem, Salisbury, and Charleston, South Carolina. They traded extensively with the Moravian settlements. In 1771, the Rowan County courts appointed him and three others to negotiate with local Regulators. Locke and his companions agreed to repay any unlawful taxes that had been illegally extracted from the individuals. The action so mollified the Regulators in the area that they dispersed. Locke was soon afterwards elected to the Colonial Assembly in which he served until 1775.

      At the outbreak of the Revolution, Locke became a member of the Rowan County Committee of Safety. In 1775 he became a delegate to the Third Provincial Congress in Hillsboro. He continued as a delegate in both the Fourth and Fifth Congresses as well, helping draft the Halifax Resolves. He took part in the drafting of the state’s first constitution in November 1776.

      Although Locke never saw combat during the war, he did serve as a commissary and paymaster for the North Carolina militia. In 1778, due to a perceived Tory threat in the region, Locke received a temporary commission as a brigadier general in the Salisbury District militia but never engaged the enemy. His son, George, was killed in the Battle of Charlotte in 1780.

      Locke served in the North Carolina House of Commons, 1777-1780, 1783-1785, and 1789-1793, as well as the state Senate in 1782 and 1784-85. He also served in the last Continental Congress, 1788-1789. Locke championed the abolition of property qualifications for voting rights, and called for universal manhood suffrage. In education, he supported a bill for founding and endowing Queen’s College and promoted a bill to establish a state university.

      In the Constitutional debates at the Hillsborough Convention in 1788, Locke was an outspoken Anti-Federalist. As a United States Congressman, Locke became a leading symbol of Jeffersonian democracy in North Carolina, consistently following the lead of his close friend Nathaniel Macon. Locke was reelected in 1796 and 1798 to serve four more years in the House of Representatives. In the election of 1800, Locke lost his seat to Archibald Henderson, a Federalist, ending Locke’s political career. He returned to his plantation, where he died the following year. At his death, Raleigh Register editor Joseph Gales, a staunch Jeffersonian, recorded the passing of “a friend and fixed Republican” who had “served his state admirably in Congress.” Locke was buried at Thyatira Presbyterian Church.

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, 81-84—sketch by James S. Brawley
Francis Locke Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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