Gary Strader/gStrader Photography

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who Was Martha Bell?

In order to understand Martha Bell, and for that matter the people of northern Randolph County one must get a feeling for what they did in their daily lives.

Martha McFarland was born in 1735 in Alamance County, North Carolina. In 1759, Martha married Colonel John McGee, a  farmer and trader who came to North Carolina in 1750. John McGee ran a Trading Post called McGee's Ordinary in the Southeastern Corner of Guilford County near what is known as Climax North Carolina. John McGee and Martha had five children: Jane (1760-1835), Susannah (1761-1843), John (1763-1836), William (1768-1817) and Andrew McGee (d. 1819). 
John McGee died in 1773, but left his family well provided for. Martha carried on his business and farming, just as he had been doing.

When he wanted a supply of goods he took his produce to Petersburg in wagons; and with a little money in addition, he obtained his supplies. After loading his own wagons, he rode along with them on horseback, keeping with the wagons through the day, and lodging in some house at night.

Having learned from him the route and the names of all his lodging places on the road, Martha set off on her first trading expedition and found no difficulty either on her way or in making her purchases. But after leaving Petersburg, it began snowing early in the day, and and she decided to leave the wagons and get out of the snow as soon as possible.

For a whole day's journey, there was not a house of any description, and the only growth of timber was pine. The snow was whirling about in every direction, driving in her face and blinding her until she became completely lost. But having learned that the largest limbs of the pine tree grow on the south side, she used that as her guide, and arrived at her destination, where she rested for the night.

On May 6, 1779, Martha McGee married William Bell, who was also quite wealthy, and moved to his home on Deep River, in Randolph County, North Carolina, where he operated a mill and store. Bell was the first sheriff of Randolph County. There were no children from this marriage.

Martha was characterized as a "woman of strong mind, ardent temperament, and remarkably firm resolution." Martha was also a midwife, and often traveled about the countryside to attend the births of children and to care the sick. She was known to set out in the middle of the night at imes to go to a neighbors home to help with a birth dressed in her husbands' Militia Uniform coat, and armed with two pistols and a knife. 

Portions of the old Mill Dam Wall lay scattered in Deep River, and some are still intact behind the brige supports that crossed the river.

Close up view of the remains of the Mill Dam of Bells Mill.

She was a devoted Presbyterian Christian and an ardent Patriot during the Revolutionary War.

The area where the Bells lived was divided between Patriots and Tories (American colonists loyal to the British), and there was a great deal of violence on and off the battlefield. William Bell, was a Capitan in the North Carolina Militia, and the Quartermaster for General Greene's Army.

He was  a well-known business and political figure, had taken so active a part against the Tories.  that he knew if he fell into their hands they would take his life. Capt Bell was also the first officer of the new Rebel County of Randolph, the Sheriff, who's duty it was to keep the peace, and to preside over the Court. In fact that for the first few years Court was held at Capt. Bell's Home until a courthouse could be built in the first county seat of Johnstonville which was only three miles west of the Bell Plantation.

So, for those reasons it was too dangerous for Capt Bell to even sleep at home, he spent most nights encamped away from home, lest he be found by the Tories that carried on nightly raids to homes all over the county. 


  1. Hello, Gary.
    I've seen this post before and was wondering what happened to your pictures. Is there a problem?
    Thanks for sharing this history.

    1. Thank you I am glad that you got something from my posts. Quite simply what happened with the photos is that Google assumes that they have a right to publish all my photos elsewhere on Google including those not published on yje Blogger.I had to remove them all.