John Wilkes was a distinguished statesman and member of Parliament. Also, he was a fearless political writer who was violently opposed to the oppressive measures of Great Britain against her American Colonies. In 1763 he published a severe attack on the government in the "North Briton" newspaper. As a result, he was sent to the Tower where he was ultimately acquitted. Later, he sued for and recovered five thousand dollars damages and then went to Paris. In 1768 he returned to England where he was elected a member of Parliament. In his private character he was licentious, but his eminent talents, energy, and fascinating manners made him a great favorite with the people. He died at his seat in the Isle of Wight in 1797, aged seventy years.
Colonel Benjamin Cleaveland, Hero of King
Colonel Benjamin Cleaveland lived and died in Wilkes county at a good old age. A speech impediment prevented him from entering public life yet he is remembered at the "hero of a hundred fights with the Tories." He entered service during 1775 as an Ensign in the second regiment of troops and was conspiciously brave during the battles of Kings Mountain and Guilford court house.
"Riddle Knob, in Watauga county, derives its name from a circumstance of the capture of Colonel Benjamin Cleaveland, during the Revolution, by a party of Tories headed by men of this name, and adds the charm of heroic association to the loveliness of it unrivaled scenery. Cleaveland had been a terror to the Tories. Two notorious characters of their band, (Jones and Coil) had been apprehended by him and hung. Cleaveland had gone alone, on some private business, to New river, and was taken prisoners by the Tories, at the 'Old Fields, on that stream. They demanded that he should furnish passes for them.
"Being an indifferent penman he was some time in preparing these papers, and he was in no hurry as he believed that they would kill him when they had obtained them. While thus engaged Captain Robert Cleaveland, his brother, with a party followed him, knowing the dangerous proximity of the Tories. They came up with the Tories and fired on them. Colonel Cleaveland slid off the log to prevent being shot, while the Tories fled, and he thus escaped certain destruction.
"Some time after this circumstance the same Riddle and his son, and another were taken and brought before Cleaveland, and he hung all three of them near the Mulberry meeting-house, now Wilkesboro. The depredations of the Tories were so frequent, and their conduct so savage, that summary punishment was demanded by the exigencies of the times. This Cleaveland inflicted without ceremony."
Source: North Carolina Historical Sketches by Wheeler.
Images of Wilkes County Wills and Estates 1778 to 1799
Names of Testators:
Wilkes County Genealogy Records
Genealogy Records Available to Members
1833 Wilkesboro, North Carolina Map
Price-Strother Map Map
Miscellaneous List of Records 1775 to 1946 in North Carolina State Archives
List of Wills 1778 to 1970
The county was formed in 1777 from parts of Surry County and Washington District (now Washington County, Tennessee). It was named for the English political radical John Wilkes, who lost his position as Lord Mayor of the City of London due to his support for the colonists during the American Revolution. During the year of 1799 the northern and western parts of Wilkes County became Ashe County. In 1841 parts of Wilkes County and Burke County were combined to form Caldwell County. In 1847 another part of Wilkes County was combined with parts of Caldwell County and Iredell County to become Alexander County. In 1849 additional parts of Wilkes County and Caldwell County were combined with parts of Ashe County and Yancey County to form Watauga County. The county seat is Wilkesboro.
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