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The naming of a county can provide a lesson in North Carolina history. What is now Greene County was once part of Johnston but in 1758 it became Dobbs County for royal governor Arthur Dobbs. In 1791 that name was “expunged from our map,” as historian Kemp Battle phrased it, and a new county was named for the Secretary of State, James Glasgow. When Glasgow met an ignominious end, in 1799 the name was changed to Greene to honor Nathanael Greene, the hero of Guilford Courthouse.
Original Date Cast:
James Glasgow (ca. 1735-1819), born in Maryland, in 1765 acquired a plantation on Contentnea Creek known as “Fairfield” as a gift from his father-in-law. Glasgow, active in the colonial militia, took part in the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge but soon forsook the military for politics. As assistant secretary of the Provincial Congresses, 1775-1776, and clerk of the Council of State, 1776-1779, Glasgow earned the respect of the state’s Revolutionary patriots. His reward was election by the legislature in 1777 as North Carolina’s first Secretary of State. A principal duty of that position was the oversight of the military land grant program, the issuance of property in what became Tennessee to veterans of the Revolution.
In 1797, on receipt of a letter from Andrew Jackson setting forth charges of impropriety in the issuance of the grants, Gov. Samuel Ashe and the legislature set in motion events leading to Glasgow’s resignation and eventual conviction on land fraud charges. Notwithstanding the fact that others were involved in the scandal, Glasgow suffered the consequences. The committee of inquiry determined that the Secretary of State should be charged with a misdemeanor, dereliction of duty as a public officer. A tribunal found him guilty on two counts and fined him 1,000 pounds on each. Glasgow left the state and settled near Nashville, Tennessee, where he died in 1819. “Behold the reward of dishonesty and official corruption!” wrote Kemp Battle in 1903.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 303-305 – sketch by Charles R. Holloman
Russell S. Koonts, “An Angel Has Fallen!: The Glasgow Land Frauds and the Emergence of the North Carolina Supreme Court,” North Carolina Historical Review (July 1995): 301-328
Kemp P. Battle, “The Trial of James Glasgow,” North Carolina Booklet (May 1903)
James M. Creech, History of Greene County, North Carolina (1979)
William S. Powell, North Carolina Gazetteer (1968)
Price-Strother map (1808)