Raleigh Street Names

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Joseph McDowell, image courtesy the NC Division of Archives and History.

On Saturday, March 31, 1792, William Christmas began to survey 400 acres just purchased from Joel Lane to become the City of Raleigh, the new capital of North Carolina. Christmas and his helpers stayed nearby at Lane’s home called Wakefield while they worked for the next two weeks clearing the way for a street grid.

The names of those streets were presumably assigned by the nine capital commissioners that chose to buy land from Lane, or perhaps they were chosen by Lane to show his gratitude for their patronage.

Street names went like this: the bounding streets would be called North, South, East and West. The streets that surrounded Union Square where the capitol building would sit were named for North Carolina’s eight judicial districts: New Bern, Edenton, Morgan, Salisbury, Halifax, Wilmington, Fayetteville and Hillsborough. Several prominent North Carolinians got a nod: William Lenoir – Senate Speaker, Stephen Cabarrus – House Speaker, William R. Davie – Governor, and of course state senator Joel Lane.

Then there were the capital site commissioners. The eight judicial districts were represented, plus one at-large. Each commissioner would get a street named for him in Raleigh. They were:

  • General Henry William Harrington of the Fayetteville District, Richmond County. A Revolutionary War hero, he was not present during the deliberations for choosing the site of the new capital.
  • Frederick Hargett of the New Bern District, Jones County.
  • William Johnston Dawson of the Edenton District, Chowan County. His grandfather was the Royal Governor Gabriel Johnston. He became a U.S. congressman in 1793 after defeating Anti-Federalist candidate Stephen Cabarrus.
  • Joseph “Quaker Meadows” McDowell of the Morgan District, Burke County. He was called “Quaker Meadows Joe” to distinguish him from his cousin Joseph “Pleasant Gardens” McDowell (the names of their respective plantations). Both were legislators and soldiers, but Quaker Meadows Joe was most likely the Major of the Burke County militia and a Revolutionary War hero. Major McDowell led his Over-Mountain Men to a resounding victory over the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, and restored hope to the colonies after the fall of Charles Town.
  • James Martin of the Salisbury District, Stokes County. Martin was surely one of Lane’s tightest cronies, as they, along with Theophilus Hunter, served as commissioners to oversee the building of a courthouse, jail and stocks for the newly formed Wake County in 1771. Then during the Revolutionary War, Martin, Lane, and Issac Hunter bought seized property from Tory-sympathizers at a Cross Creek (now Fayetteville) auction.
  • Thomas Blount of the Halifax District, Edgecombe County. He was also absent during the capital locating party at Lane’s.


    Thomas Blount, image courtesy the NC Division of Archives and History.

  • Willie Jones of the Halifax District, the at-large commissioner. Jones was a Regulator sympathizer before the Revolutionary War, and an ardent state’s rights supporter. He led a movement to oppose North Carolina’s ratification of the new federal Constitution after giving up a slot to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. President George Washington visited him at his home in Halifax to ease Anti-Federalist tensions. Jones moved to Raleigh and is buried somewhere on what is now the Saint Augustine College’s campus.
  • James Bloodworth of the Wilmington District, New Hanover County.
  • Thomas Person of the Hillsborough District, Granville County. He was the first commander of the Hillsborough militia during the Revolutionary War. Also a Regulator sympathizer and rabid Anti-Federalist, he once called President Washington “a damned rascal and traitor” for signing the Constitution into law.

By that Saturday, Thomas Blount finally made his way to Wake Crossroads, and he and William Dawson spent two more weeks lodging at Wakefield and assisting William Christmas with surveying.

Strangely, Christmas was the only major player not to receive a street named for him. Christmas was also a state senator from Franklin County, and had been conveniently present at Wakefield while Lane persuaded the commissioners to buy his land. Joel Lane might have said to the commissioners, “See, I already have this surveyor William Christmas here as my guest. Now how about another round of cherry bounce?”

One thought on “Raleigh Street Names

  1. The City of Raleigh’s Public Works Department has developed a public wiki for the purpose of collecting the history behind some of our City’s public street names. They range from obvious themes, like the Beatles-inspired Trailwood Springs neighborhood, to the not-so-obvious, like the historical Boylan Heights neighborhood. We encourage the public to log in to the wiki and contribute what they know about their neighborhoods. https://trianglewiki.org/Raleigh