Guilford County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 488,406, making it the third-most populous county in North Carolina. Its seat is Greensboro. Since 1938, an additional county court has been located in High Point, North Carolina. The county was formed in 1771.
At the time of European encounter, the inhabitants of the area that became Guilford County were a Siouan-speaking people called the Saura. Beginning in the 1740s, settlers arrived in the region in search of fertile and affordable land. These first settlers included American Quakers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New England at what is now Greensboro, as well as German Reformed and Lutherans in the east, British Quakers in the south and west, and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians in the center of today's Guilford County. The county was formed in 1771 from parts of Rowan County and Orange County. It was named for Francis North, 1st Earl of Guilford, father of Frederick North, Lord North, British Prime Minister from 1770 to 1782.
Friedens Church, whose name means "peace" in German, is in eastern Guilford County, at 6001 NC Hwy 61 North, northwest of Gibsonville. It is a historic church that has operated continuously since the earliest European settlers came to this area. According to a history of the church, Rev. John Ulrich Giesendanner led his Lutheran congregation from Pennsylvania in 1740, into the part of North Carolina around Haw River, Reedy Fork, Eno River, Alamance Creek, Travis Creek, Beaver Creek and Deep River. The first building used by Friedens Church was made of logs in 1745 and served for 25 years. The second building, completed about 1771, was much more substantial and remained in use until it was replaced in May, 1871. The third building was destroyed by fire on January 8, 1939. Only the columns in front survived. The structure was rebuilt and reopened in May 1939.
The Quaker meeting played a major role in the European settlement of the county, and numerous Quakers still live in the county. New Garden Friends Meeting, established in 1754, still operates in Greensboro.
Alamance Presbyterian Church, a log structure, was built in 1762, though it was not officially organized until 1764 by the Rev. Henry Patillo, pastor of Hawfields Presbyterian Church. It has operated on the same site in present-day Greensboro since then. According to the church history, it is now using its fifth church building and now has its eighteenth pastor.
On March 15, 1781, the Battle of Guilford Court House was fought just north of present-day Greensboro between Generals Charles Cornwallis and Nathanael Greene during the American Revolution. This battle marked a key turning point in the Revolutionary War in the South. Although General Cornwallis, the British Commander, held the field at the end of the battle, his losses were so severe that he decided to withdraw to the Carolina and Virginia coastline, where he could receive reinforcements and his battered army could be protected by the British Navy. His decision ultimately led to his defeat later in 1781 at Yorktown, Virginia, by a combined force of American and French troops and warships.
In 1808, Greensboro replaced the hamlet of Guilford Court House as the county seat.
The county was site of early industrial development. The establishment of the Mt. Hecla Cotton Mill in 1818 marks one of the earliest cotton mills in the state. The re-establishment of the mill as a steam-powered factory is among the earliest examples of the use of steam power in the state.
Many of the county's residents were opposed to slavery before the Civil War. The county was a stop on the famous Underground Railroad, which provided escaped slaves with a route to freedom in the North. Levi Coffin, one of the founders of the "railroad", was a Guilford County native. He is credited with personally helping over 2,000 slaves escape to freedom before the war.
Education has long been a hallmark of the county. Guilford College was founded in 1837 as the New Garden Boarding School, its name changed in 1888 when the academic program expanded considerably. Guilford is the third-oldest coeducational institution in the country and the oldest such institution in the South. Greensboro College, established by the Methodist Church through a charter secured in 1838, is one of the oldest institutions of higher education for women in the United States. Immanuel Lutheran College and Seminary, which was located on a small campus on East Market Street until it closed in 1961. "Lutheran" was founded in 1903 in Concord for black students by white German Lutherans. The school moved to Greensboro in 1905, where a large granite main building was built. The school operated a high school, junior college, and seminary. The school was under the jurisdiction of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America.
In 1891, the county became home to the state's first and only publicly supported institution of higher learning for women, the State Normal and Industrial School. In 1932, the school became the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina when it joined with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and NC State University in Raleigh to form the Consolidated University of North Carolina. From the 1930s to the 1960s the Woman's College was the third-largest women's university in the world. The school's name was changed a final time in 1963 when it began admitting men; it is now known as the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
In 1911, a new county called Piedmont County was proposed, with High Point as its county seat, to be created from Guilford, Davidson and Randolph Counties. Many people appeared at the courthouse to oppose the plan, vowing to go to the state legislature to protest. The state legislature voted down the plan in February 1911.
In 1960 Guilford County helped spark a major development in the American civil rights movement when four black students from the North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro started an early civil rights sit-in. Known afterwards as the Greensboro Four, the four men deliberately sat at a "whites-only" lunch counter at the Woolworth's store in downtown Greensboro and asked to be served. They were arrested, but their action led to many other college students in Greensboro - including white students from Guilford College and the Women's College - to sit at the lunch counter in a show of support. Within two months the sit-in movement spread to 54 cities in 9 states; Woolworth's eventually agreed to desegregate its lunch counters and other restaurants in Southern towns and cities followed suit.
A darker racial incident in 1979 was called the Greensboro massacre. In this incident the predominantly African American Communist Workers Party (CWP) led a march protesting the Ku Klux Klan and other white-supremacist groups through a black neighborhood in southeastern Greensboro. They were attacked and shot at by the Ku Klux Klan and members of the American Nazi Party, several of the Communist Party marchers were killed or wounded in the attack. The case received further national publicity when the accused shooters were found "not guilty" by an all-white jury. It should be noted that none of people involved in this shooting, from either side, were citizens of Guildford County - they had merely chosen this location as a rallying point.