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Ricks, Robert Henry

by William S. Powell, 1994

4 Apr. 1839–1920

A photograph of Robert Henry Ricks from R. D. W. Connor's <i>History of North Carolina</i>, published 1919 by the Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois.  Presented on Robert Henry Ricks, farmer and capitalist, was born in the Stony Creek section of Nash County, the son of David and Martha Vick Ricks. His ancestor Isaac Ricks, an early settler on the south side of the great falls of Tar River, owned much of the land where the city of Rocky Mount now stands. Robert Ricks attended the local schools until age sixteen, and when the Civil War broke out, he was working as a hired hand on the farm of a neighbor. Enlisting in the Confederate army as a private, young Ricks saw duty in Manly's Battery and in other batteries of light artillery. After the war he returned to farming in his native county. He became unusually successful, eventually farming on a large scale, and was a pioneer in introducing bright leaf tobacco culture in eastern North Carolina.

As his capital increased, Ricks branched out into business and prospered in manufacturing and banking. He became a director (1889) and then president (1899) of the Rocky Mount Mills, the second oldest cotton mill in the state. In 1894 he was named director and vice-president of the Bank of Rocky Mount and in 1902, vice-president of the Washington Cotton Mills in Virginia. In Rocky Mount he established the Ricks Hotel firm and the Thorpe and Ricks Tobacco Company and was involved in many other smaller business enterprises. For four years a member of the Nash County Board of Commissioners, he served in the state house of representatives in 1903 and the state senate in 1905. For many years Ricks was a member of the State Board of Education and of the board of directors of the state penitentiary. He was one of the first trustees of the North Carolina Agricultural and Mechanic College at Raleigh (now North Carolina State University), and Ricks Hall on the campus honors his memory.

At his own expense Ricks erected a large marble monument to the memory of the Bethel Heroes, the Nash and Edgecombe men who fought at Bethel Church, an episode in the Peninsular campaign in Virginia at the beginning of the Civil War. Of these men, Henry L. Wyatt was the first Confederate soldier to be killed in that long and bloody conflict. The monument, placed in Battle Park on the north side of the falls of the Tar River and located a hundred yards from the first post office of the then village of Rocky Mount, was unveiled on Confederate Memorial Day, 10 May 1917.

Ricks married Tempie Thorne of Nash County in 1874; they had no children. The couple resided in a large Victorian mansion that they built on her ancestral property near the village of Gold Rock, some miles northwest of Rocky Mount. Here they were buried in a marble mausoleum. At the time of his death, Ricks was one of the wealthiest men in eastern North Carolina. In his will, considered unusually enlightened for the time, he left his business partners the controlling interest in joint enterprises. The residual estate was left in trust, the annual income to be used for the education of the lineal descendants of his nieces and nephews.


Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, vol. 5 (1906).

Bugs Barringer, A Pictorial History of Rocky Mount (1977).

Guy S. R. Concord, The Ricks Family of America (1908).

Thomas E. Ricks, ed., By Faith and Heritage Are We Joined: A Compilation of Nash County Historical Notes (1976).

Additional Resources:

"Obituary: Robert H. Ricks." American Wool and Cotton Reporter 34, no. 11 (March 11, 1920). 946.

"Gen. Robert H. Ricks." Confederate Veteran 28, no. 6 (June 1920). 224. (accessed September 26, 2013).

Connor, R.D.W. "Hon. Robert H. Ricks." History of North Carolina. Vol. 6. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co. 1919. 180-181. (accessed September 26, 2013).

Image Credits:

"R. H. Ricks." Photograph. History of North Carolina. Vol. 6. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co. 1919. 180. (accessed September 26, 2013).

Origin - location: 


My ancestors were Ricks from Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County. IDK if there related but I would love to see a family tree if one exist. I am interested in the Ricks famy history. Thank you.

My husband is the grandson of the young boy that Mr. Ricks adopted. He grew up in the same house. We have a beautiful portrait of Mr. Ricks, painted in 1918 by Beall Aryn?..( it is difficult to read the name of the artist) We are having it restored. Can anyone tell me who this artist may be?

My great-great grandfather was Robert Henry Ricks born December 10, 1870. He was a black man who's father's name was Johnnie. I am wondering if Johnnie was a slave owned by Robert Ricks, do you think this is possible? They all lived in Nash County. My grandmother Ricks told me stories of how she grew up as a share cropper on a tobacco farm in Rocky Mount.

I am head of an organization named in Mr. Ricks' honor and we have restored and maintained the cemetery where he & his wife are interred. I would love to take a high quality picture of this portrait.

I and my 4 siblings were beneficiaries of the educational trust left by Uncle Bob. I was told years ago that my elementary school principal, Lillie B, Shearin, once lived in the Ricks home. In the 1980s when my mother (now deceased) and her sister, both descendants, went by to visit the gravesite, they were told to leave by the family in residence. It broke my mother's heart.

I am head of a group that restores and maintains old cemeteries and the one in question is one of those and we have written permission to maintain and visit.

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