The Occaneechi, Haw, and Eno were the first Native Americans to live within present-day Orange County. As European surveyors and explorers traversed the new colony of North Carolina in the early 1700s, John Lawson encountered the Occaneechi tribe in 1701 while traveling along the Great Trading Path. The Occannechi’s location offered economic and political power, notably in the area of deerskin exchange among the tribes connected by the Trading Path.
In 1740, only a few white families were scattered along the Hyco, the Eno, and the Haw Rivers in the area that became Orange County, North Carolina. In 1748, there were approximately twenty taxables, but by 1751, Governor Gabriel Johnston reported that settlers were "flocking" in mostly from Pennsylvania. Alexander Mebane, the county's first sheriff, returned 1,113 taxables for the years 1752 and 1753, a figure which would indicate a total population of roughly 4,000 when the county was established in 1752. By 1767, Orange County had the largest population of any county in North Carolina.
In 1754, the present town of Hillsborough was chosen as the permanent county seat, located where the old Trading Path crossed the Eno River, near the picturesque Occoneechee hills. In the latter half of the eighteenth century Hillsborough was an important town in the political life of North Carolina and, for a short time, was the meeting place of the General Assembly.
For more history of early Orange County, see The North Carolina History Project
Caswell on the northwest, Person to the north, Durham to the east, Chatham on the south and Alamance to the west.
Orange County NC Register of Deeds website.