The North Carolina
Bladen Precinct was established in 1734 and later called Bladen County in 1739. The county was named for Martin Bladen (1680 - 1746), Lord Commissioner of Trade and Plantation. Bladen appears to have mostly been settled by Highland Scots. Gabriel Johnston, who became Royal Governor in 1734, persuaded Highlanders from his native Scotland to come and settle in North Carolina.
Several Highlanders came in the early 1730s. Alexander Clark brought several immigrants in 1736 from the Isle of Jura, Argyll County, Scotland. These men had suffered religious persecution and they were seeking freedom. Dougald McNeill and Colonel McAllister brought another 350 Scotsmen in 1739. These Scottish immigrants were not the first settlers of Bladen County. There were a few families already living on the Cape Fear River in the late 1720s. Several Quakers also settled Bladen in the 1740s. They were from Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Transportation and communications were key factors in the settlement and growth of Bladen County. In the early days of settlement, rivers were the only effective means of transporting goods to any extent; therefore the settlers occupied the lands along the Cape Fear River and the South River. The Cape Fear, a much larger river, attracted more of the early folks, yet along both rivers homes were built and plantations were developed.
Attempts were made in 1732 and 1733 to break away from New Hanover County, but Bladen County finally became its own entity on November 11, 1734, encompassing a very large area that was later broken into scores of other counties. In 1738, the first courthouse was built in Elizabeth, about three miles upriver from the present-day town and county seat of Elizabethtown.
In 1748, the people of the Pee Dee area petitioned for a new county, Anson, be formed since Elizabeth was over 100 miles away. Anson County was formed out of Bladen County in 1750. In 1752, another slice was taken to form Orange County.
Although Bladen County was sparsely settled at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, records indicate that 300 men of the Bladen Militia were in service when Fort Johnston, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in Brunswick County, was captured by the colonials in 1776. They witnessed the departure of the last Royal Governor, Josiah Martin, when he found refuge aboard a British vessel there.
In 1786, Robeson County was created out of Bladen County, and in 1788 the Great Swamp area was added to Robeson County. So great a slice was taken by Robeson County, it is often called the "State of Robeson."
Chaotic conditions existed throughout the country after the Revolutionary War, and it was some time before order was obtained and definite policies were formed by the new country. The people of Bladen County were solely focused on making a living, which included the production of turpentine, pitch, tar, staves, headings, shingles, and lumber. These products were shipped down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington. These were the primary products of the county well up to the Civil War era.
Bladen County contributed its share of men to the State's cause during the Civil War. Companies of over 100 men were formed in April, 1861, before North Carolina officially seceded from the Union. These Bladen County Companies served in all theatres of the war, from start to finish.
Railroads came to Bladen County in 1863 with a major stop at Abbottsburg, settled by Joseph C. Abbotts. He established a large lumber business there, and almost immediately the town became the largest in Bladen County. After the railroad came through, other towns grew along its line. Very soon, Clarkton, Bladenboro, and Council grew and the surrounding areas developed rapidly.
The first road improvement initative came in 1908 in Brown Marsh Township. By 1919, all other townships had issued bonds and started a large road building campaign. This opened up Bladen County to all of its people.
Bladen is a county rich in history and tradition. It was first settled by the Highland Scots in 1734, who came to this Cape Fear River Valley seeking religious freedom. These Scots scattered throughout Bladen, but since most of the desirable land had been taken up, the overflow went on up the river to found Fayetteville and to populate the Scot Counties of Harnett, Richmond, Moore, Robeson, Scotland and Montgomery. Many of the descendents of these first settlers still live in the county and, like their ancestors, they too are God fearing, hardworking, and freedom loving people.
Bladen County was named for Martin Bladen, Lord Commissioner of Trade and Plantation. The County's boundaries in the year 1734 were descrived as, "No less than man dared to travel West."
Bladen contained over 1,000 lakes and since many of them are of an oval shape and point in the same direction it has been speculated that they were formed by a bombardment of meteors 100,000 years ago. The lakes have developed into important recreational areas and tourist attractions. Within its present boundaries seven of the lakes remain and these plus the Cape Fear River, the South and the Black Rivers, ensure Bladen ample water for commercial and industrial development.
Two hundred years ago, rivers were the only highways and, buy the time of the Revolution, Bladen's great Cape Fear River was paying dividends. Down it floated flour, pork, beef, rice, butter, indigo, tar, pitch, turpentine, and lumber. By 1775, the manufacturing of turpentine was the principal industry. The turpentine and tar barrels were lashed together to make huge rafts which were floated down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington for transfer to ocean-going vessels.
Settlements sprang up all over the County. Landings on the river grew into communities. When the railroad came, it spawned still another set of communities.
Bladen's big river gave it's planters access to cash markets. When steamboats were built, the quickly found their way to the river. Not only did regular passenger and freight steamers run up the river, but others provided special service for the many plantation landings and Bladen boasted some of the finest plantation homes in the Southeast.
Bladen County at present maintains her wealth in her citizens and land. She is a county where all who visit are welcome, where industry is growing, where towns are expanding and where people continue to develop.
Historic spots of interest are found in various sections of the county. The famous Battle of Elizabethtown, where the Whigs broke Tory power, fought in the heart of the present county seat, was a decisive battle in the Revolutionary War.
Being in the eastern territory where the early missionaries pioneered, a number of churches in the area have records of early organization. Two of the old historic church buildings still stand: Brown March Presbyterian Church, begun in 1818; Carvers Creek Methodist Church, erected on the spot where Bishop Ashbury established the first Methodist Church in this section, and it is located on the site of the oldest religious settlement in Bladen County. The site was first used by the Carvers Creek Quaker Monthly Meeting House, established in 1734.
A number of beautiful and historic homes, or sites, can be seen in Bladen: "Harmony Hall", home of Col. James RIchardson of Revolutionary fame; The Purdie place, overlooking the Cape Fear River from a high bluff; "Oakland", the home of General Thomas Brown. The site of the home of "Whistler's Mother" at Clarkton is of great interest to many visitors. Only the brick walls remain of the hallowed spot, "Owen Hill," the home of Governor John Owen, Bladen's only governor.
The Cape Fear River was paralleled by Indian roads called 'Trading' and 'Warrior' paths, and the area was home to Waccamaw Siouan natives thousands of years before Spanish and English Europeans first explored the valley. Numerous archaeological findings in the county-from arrowheads and fishing weights to dugout canoes-testify to the presence of the county's first residents. Some of today's highways even follow the paths worn down by our first residents.
Bitterly fought over during the Revolutionary War, the Cape Fear Valley also became home to many veterans of another war, the French and Indian War. Veterans of that conflict were called upon to lead both Whig and Tory forces during the fight for our country's freedom. The Cape Fear River and her tributaries were a direct line to the Piedmont, and as such, rivers were strategically important.
Bladen County's colonial history is often overshadowed by the Battle of Tory Hole and Cornwallis' march to the coast. Some equally significant history was written by far more peaceful people, such as the world famous naturalists, John and William Bartram (who were great scientists but lousy businessmen) and the Bartram's cousin, who gave his name to White Lake. Also forgotten were three local ladies, whose true roles in the Revolution are often forgotten.
The river also saw its share of history on the water-as the War Between the States was winding down, the Confederate States Navy sank a warship in 1865, near where two brothers founded a cable ferry a century ago. While most of the evidence of the Chickamauga has long since disappeared, the Elwell Ferry is still an important part of the Kelly and Carver's Creek communities.
Sometimes the county's history has been tragic and bloody. The brutal murder of a young mother near Bladenboro brought unwanted national attention to Bladen in the early part of the 20th century, and hundreds of residents turned out for what would be the next to last public hanging in Bladen County. Oddly, the last hanging was almost a non-event.