Chatham County was formed in 1771 from what was a portion of Orange County. Chatham County is where some of the first settlers, were what later became known as English Quakers who settled along the Haw and Eno Rivers. The county was named for William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham and who served as British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1768 and who opposed the harsh colonial policies.
A division of the area was begun and in 1907, parts of Chatham County along with a portion of Moore County were combined to form Lee County. The county seat of Chatham County is Pittsboro and the county covers an area of 709 square miles.
A slave by the name of George Moses Horton was born 1797 into slavery on a tobacco farm in rural Chatham County. He composed poems all through his teen years, and is said to be one of the many slaves that had his works published while still a slave. His poems were published in 1829 under the title The Hope of Liberty. He was recorded as the first black southern author and was the first African American poet to produce a volume in more than a half century. Horton died in 1883 but his legacy still lives on today in Chatham County. A plaque stands today in Chatham County marking this historic even.
Between the Revolutionary War and the Great Depression, Chatham County was a major producing area for coal. Much of the coal mined during the Civil War was used to fuel Confederate operations, today 96% of the coal mined in North Carolina comes from Chatham County and the remaining 3% comes from smaller quarries located in Randolph and Lee counties.
The farmers in the area include small tobacco farms. The soil composition of hard red clay found in Chatham County is not conducive for growing large quantities and is unfertile. Livestock, however, has been a major contributor to the state’s economy and the county is the state leader in the poultry industry. Most of the farms have been sold and redeveloped but to date the poultry industry remains the main economic source. Forage crops, such as hay have been grown in Chatham County and it has become one of the largest forage producers in the country. Many of the remaining farmers today have become organic farmers to keep up with the demanding public for better quality and healthier food sources. To be able to utilize the hard red clay of Chatham county, several brick manufactures have made Chatham County home.
Because of the scenic beauty of the area, Chatham County has attracted many artisans, artists’ studios and the Chatham Artists Guild.