How did Chatham County get its name?


Our Chatham reader Laura Lee didn’t have a compelling reason for asking “Why is it called Chatham County?” She was simply curious to know the answer, and asked Our Chatham to find the history behind Chatham’s name.

The Answer:

According to Chatham County’s website, Chatham County is named after British statesman William Pitt. Pitt was the 1st Earl of Chatham in England and known for defending colonists’ rights before the American Revolution.

Chatham County’s History:

Native Americans traveled throughout the county before the region’s first settlers arrived. The first settlers came around the mid 1700s from northern areas such as Pennsylvania. Many of the early settlers were English Quakers. In 1751, a Quaker settlement was established in now-called Siler City. Because of the Piedmont’s temperate climate, most of Chatham’s settlers had a livelihood focused on agriculture.

Chatham County was officially formed out of Orange County through an Act put into effect in 1771. Orange County was originally such a large county that public duties were difficult and expensive. As a result, many people protested in a regional uprising known as the “War of Regulation”. The protesters, also known as “Regulators”, rebelled against colonial officials for corruption and inefficiency.

Chatham county’s formation most likely happened as a way to prevent “Regulators” from congregating together. The Act also resulted in the creation of Guilford and Wake counties.

On this spot were hanged by order of a Tory court June 19, 1771, Merrill, Messer, Matter, Pugh, and two other Regulators. Placed by the Durham-Orange Committee, North Carolina Society, Colonial Dames in America, April, 1963.

Picture of a plaque honoring the “Regulators” who were hung for their actions. More information about the plaque can be found here.

Other places within Chatham County have a connection to history:

  • Jordan Lake got its current name in 1973 after former senator Benjamin Everett Jordan, who was a North Carolina native.
  • It is unclear whether Pittsboro gets its name from William Pitt or after his son William Pitt the Younger.
  • Siler City is named after Samuel Siler, who donated land for railroad development in the area. A depot named “Siler Station” was built on the property Siler donated.

Where you can find more information:

If you want to learn more about Chatham County’s history, you can visit the Chatham Historical Museum located on 9 Hillsboro St., Pittsboro, NC. Chatham County also offers different programs that can teach you about Chatham County’s history and local government.

Have other questions about your town or your county? Ask us! Subscribe to our newsletter and ask us any questions you want someone to answer.

Here are the resources we used to research Chatham County’s history:

North Carolina Architecture by Catherine W. Bishir

The Formation of the North Carolina Counties, 1663-1943 by David Leroy Corbitt

An Address on the Revolutionary History of Chatham County, N. C. by Henry Armand London

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