The Colonial Trail into Durham

During Colonial days, the English, Scots and Irish settled along the waterways of the present Northeast corner of the county on land given to the Earl of Granville by the British Crown. As a result of the hard work of those early settlers, the area soon became a progressive and prosperous section of the State. The City of Durham was named after Dr. Bartlett Durham and became established as a railroad station settlement town. While the official birthdate is April 26, 1853 when the U. S. Post Office was established, the town was not incorporated until April 10, 1869. In 1881, Durham officials sought to become an autonomous political subdivision and decided to separate from Orange County. Durham County was formed on April 17, 1881 from portions of land transferred into the county from Wake and Orange counties. In 1911, an additional portion of land was transferred into the county from Wake County.                     

The Bull Durham Brand of Cigarettes

About 1850, Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco, branded as “Genuine Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco,” was a world-famous brand of loose-leaf tobacco manufactured by W. T. Blackwell and Company in Durham, North Carolina. Although the brand changed ownership multiple times, it remained in production until 1988 as one of the most successful tobacco brands of all time.

Names of Families in Durham County Genealogy Records

Records available to Members

  • List of Wills 1881 to 1996
  • Map of Durham

The Tobacco Business in Durham

About 1879 James Buchanan Duke entered into the smoking tobacc business against the Bull Durham Brand, also from Durham. Two years later, James Bonsack invented the cigarette-rolling machine which produced over 200 cigarettes per minute. Thereafter, Duke proceeded to make a deal with the Bonsack Machine Company whereby Duke agreed to produce all cigarettes with his two rented Bonsack machines and in return, Bonsack reduced the royalties charged to Duke from $0.30 per thousand to $0.20 per thousand. Duke also hired one of the mechanics of Bonsack, resulting in fewer breakdowns of his machines than his competitors. Afterwards, Duke spent $800,000 on advertising and lowered his prices so that by 1890 he joined with the American Tobacco Company.