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

 
 
 

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Essay:
     Fort Defiance, a domicile despite its name, was the home of William Lenoir, a planter, teacher, soldier, justice of the peace, legislator, and entrepreneur. Lenoir was born on May 8, 1751 in Brunswick County, Virginia, and moved to Edgecombe County, North Carolina, at the age of eight. Initially he was a schoolmaster, but after his marriage to Ann Ballard, Lenoir decided to become a surveyor. In that capacity, he moved to Wilkes (now Surry) County in 1778 to take advantages of the opportunities along the frontier.

     There in 1788, on a 2,000-acre tract south of the Yadkin River, Lenoir built his home on the premises of a defunct colonial garrison known as Fort Defiance. The original two-story structure, completed in 1792, was 40 feet long and 28 feet wide, containing four rooms on each story. In 1823 Lenoir built a three-room addition for himself and his wife and an unmarried daughter; the main house he turned over to his son, Thomas, and his wife and seven children. Before his death William Lenoir dispersed his property among his children who built homes in the vicinity of Fort Defiance. Their community came to be known as Happy Valley. Six generations of Lenoir descendants made their home in Fort Defiance. The family cemetery is on the grounds of the house which was last inhabited in 1961.

     By the mid-1960s Fort Defiance had fallen into disrepair. In 1964 Mildred McDowell Jones, wife of a Lenoir descendant, formed the Fort Defiance Project to raise money to preserve the structure. The project received assistance from the state and garnered a legislative grant, contributing to the successful restoration. Now operating as a private historic site, Fort Defiance houses original furnishings and artifacts.


References:
Maurice C. York, “The Many Faces of Fort Defiance” (historical research report, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1979, microfilm copies at UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)—essay by Richard Shrader
Margaret E. Harper, Fort Defiance and the General (1976)
Thomas Hickerson, Echoes of Happy Valley (1962)
Fort Defiance website: http://www.fortdefiancenc.org/index.htm
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Fort Defiance

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