A Brief History of Robeson County
By Blake Tyner
The history of Robeson County reaches farther back than its creation in 1787 and reflects the rich history of North Carolina. Carved out of the rich farmlands on the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, Robeson County is North Carolina's largest county at 948 square miles. Indeed, it has been called "The State of Robeson" not only because of its size but also because of the fierce independence and self-reliance of its people. Robeson County is named for Colonel Thomas Robeson, hero of the Revolutionary War Battle of Elizabethtown and proponent of creation of the county. Robeson County was literally a "Child of the Revolution" and was carved from Bladen County following the Revolutionary War. The residents of the area that was to become Robeson felt that their center of government needed to be closer, and that the huge county of Bladen was simply too unwieldy. The courthouse was erected on land which formerly belonged to John Willis. A lottery was used to dispose of the lots and to establish the town. In 1788, Lumberton was established and is the county seat. Even then, they sought the self-determination that is embodied in the spirit behind the county's nickname "State of Robeson."
The county is truly tri-racial. It combines in a rich heritage the Native American Lumbee tribe (largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi), the African American community, and many descendants of the numerous Scottish settlers who arrived before and during the Revolution. Situated in the verdant southeastern section of North Carolina, Robeson is bisected by Interstate 95, and is located near Fayetteville and Fort Bragg, the country's largest military installation.
The county is bordered by Cumberland County (northeast), Bladen County (east), Columbus County (southeast), Dillon County, SC (southwest), Marlboro County, SC (west), Scotland County (northwest), Hoke County (northwest). The towns include Fairmont, Lumber Bridge, Lumberton, Marietta, Maxton, McDonald, Orrum, Parkton, Pembroke, Red Springs, Rennert, Rex, Rowland, and St. Pauls.
Robeson County’s native son, Angus Wilton McLean, is the only person from the county to be elected North Carolina Governor. Angus Wilton McLean was born in Robeson County on 20 April 1870 to Archibald and Carolina Amanda Purcell McLean. In 1892 he received his law degree from the University of North Carolina and in 1892 he began practice in Lumberton. . He began to practice law with kinsman, Thomas A. McNeill, and was named Chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Executive Committee. McLean continued to practice law and in 1917 was elected President of the North Carolina Bar.
McLean married Margaret Jones French on 14 April 1904 and had three children. Served as director of the U. S. War Finance Corporation and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. In 1925 McLean was elected governor of NC. He undertook to expand the powers of the executive branch. With the new power to direct the state finances, he could reduce legislative appropriations, cut salaries, and appoint commissions. He brought all the state agencies under one budget process supervised by the Governor's Office. Other than in the area of finances, Governor McLean was instrumental in getting a Department of Conservation and Development established to oversee natural and industrial resources. McLean's administration was recognized for giving North Carolina a "prudent business administration" approach and for re-establishing the credit of the State.
McLean organized many of the Robeson County’s business such as the National Bank of Lumberton in 1897, which later became Southern National Bank; the Lumberton and Dresden Cotton Mills; and the Virginia & Carolina Southern Railroad. Governor Angus Wilton McLean was claimed by death on 20 June 1935.
Blake Tyner is the author of multiple books on Robeson County history.