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



Marker Text:

     Montfort Stokes served in the U.S. Senate prior to his term as governor, a post from which he resigned in 1832 to accept President’s Andrew Jackson’s appointment as chairman of a federal Indian commission. Stokes was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, on March 12, 1762, the eleventh child of planter David Stokes and the former Sarah Montfort. He went to sea at thirteen, and during the Revolution enlisted in the Continental Navy. Following the Revolution, Stokes settled briefly in Halifax and then in Salisbury, where he read law under his brother John and began a lifelong and politically important friendship with Andrew Jackson. His first wife was Mary Irwin of Tarboro, whom he married in 1790. His second wife, whom he married in 1796, was Rachel Montgomery of Salisbury. Stokes had eleven children from the two marriages.

From 1786 to 1790 and from 1799 to 1816, he served, respectively, as assistant clerk, and clerk of the state Senate. In 1804 he declined an opportunity to complete an unexpired term in the United States Senate, and on numerous occasions was chosen a presidential elector on the Democratic-Republican ticket. Stokes moved to Wilkes County about 1810, and during the War of 1812 held the rank of major general in the state militia. In 1816 he was selected by the General Assembly to fill the Senate seat vacated by, James Turner’s resignation, after which he was elected and served until 1823. As a senator, his committee work focused on the District of Columbia and on postal and military affairs. Initially identified with the policies of John C. Calhoun, he later embraced Jacksonian democracy. Conspicuously more liberal than his Senate colleague from North Carolina, Nathaniel Macon, he opposed the further extension of slavery in the Missouri Compromise, and expressed his support for a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.

Returning to North Carolina, Stokes chaired the reform convention of 1823, and in 1824 lost an election for governor. In 1826-1827 and in 1829-1831, he represented Wilkes in the upper and lower houses, respectively, of the General Assembly. Stokes was elected to his first term as governor on December 17, 1830. Despite strong opposition from the eastern part of the state, he won election to a second term the following year.

As governor, Stokes was strongly identified with the interests of western North Carolina, political and constitutional reform, internal improvements, and a sound banking system. Only secondarily did he lend his support to the tentative efforts underway to provide for public education. Responding to the slave rebellion led in 1831 by Nat Turner in lower southeastern Virginia, Stokes pushed back against the widespread hysteria that swept through North Carolina. His stance curbed violence against enslaved people, and Free People of Color, in North Carolina. Stokes was a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson and a vocal opponent of nullification. Repeatedly he denounced that doctrine as hostile to the Union.

In November of 1832 Stokes resigned his governorship to accept President Jackson’s appointment as chairman of a federal commission on Indian affairs. Relocating to Fort Gibson in present-day Oklahoma, his work there facilitated the removal and relocation of Indian people from the southeastern United States. He remained in Oklahoma doing similar work for the remainder of his life. Stokes died at Fort Gibson on November 4, 1842, and was buried near the post.

W. O. Foster, “The Career of Montfort Stokes in North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review (July 1939): 237-272
Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, XVIII (1936)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 454-455—sketch by Daniel M. McFarland
Robert Sobel and John Raimo, eds., Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, III (1978)
Montfort Stokes Papers, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh
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north carolina highway historical marker program

Gov. Montfort Stokes

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources