The North Carolina Visitor Center





Cities and Towns in Wilson County

Click on the towns below to visit their websites

Black Creek
Elm City

History of Wilson County

Old Wilson County Courthouse

Wilson was formed in 1855 from Edgecombe, Nash, Johnston, and Wayne counties. It was named in honor of Louis D. Wilson, many times a member of the Legislature from Edgecombe County, a soldier of the Mexican War who died near Vera Cruz of fever, and a benefactor of the poor of his native county. It is in the east central section of the State and is bounded by Pitt, Greene, Wayne, Johnston, Nash, and Edgecombe counties. The present land area is 371.09 square miles and the 2000 population was 73,811.

The court was ordered to be held at Benjamin Barden's store in Wilson, a village already established, until a courthouse could be built. Commissioners were to acquire a site within one-fourth of a mile of the town of Wilson and erect a courthouse. 

Whether you're looking for Southern hospitality, the east coast's largest antique market, historic homes and sights, one of eastern North Carolina's most popular attractions for kids, superb golfing, or the best plate of pork barbecue, Wilson is the place for you. Wilson is named for General Louis Dicken Wilson (1789-1841) who was a state senator and an early advocate of the public school movement. Incorporated in 1849 as a farm market, Wilson has taken great care to preserve its past. Called one of North Carolina's most beautiful cities, with an abundance of treasures and simple pleasures, Wilson is full of fun, nostalgia, and historic sites, just waiting for your discovery.

When the first English American settlers reached the region that is now Wilson County in the mid-eighteenth century, they began to transform the dense woodland, chopping the trees for naval stores and planting crops that would feed the growing families of the region. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, these settlers had founded churches and stores in a clearing near a hickory grove; this settlement grew into a small town which, despite its size, offered citizens educational, social, and business opportunities unique in the region.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the area had developed to the point that the community of Wilson was chosen as the county seat for the newly established county of Wilson. At this time, the railroad in Wilson County provided access to the port of Wilmington and cultural center of Richmond; the city and county prospered as a trading center at the heart of this vital railroad line.

Following the Civil War, farmers turned from cotton to tobacco, a crop perfectly adapted to the region's sandy soil. Merchants seized the opportunities that the new crop provided, and by the early twentieth century, Wilson had become the world's largest bright leaf tobacco market.

Wilson and Wilson County have continued to grow and prosper. Today, the county's farmland produces crops worth $100 million annually, while the city boasts twenty-two industries that employ over one hundred individuals. More than 8,500 jobs are held in manufacturing facilities in Wilson County. Cultural, social, and educational opportunities for citizens of the region have more than kept pace with the growth of the city and the county; citizens of Wilson and Wilson County take pride in excellent schools, invigorating recreational activities, and rich cultural and artistic experiences. At the center of this history, at the center of all the changes that have occurred here over the past three hundred and fifty years, are the citizens of Wilson and Wilson County, for the history of the region is the history of its people.

American Indians inhabited the area that became Wilson County for centuries before white and black people moved into the Carolinas. Detailed knowledge of their history and way of life is not known, but in the 17th and 18th centuries, Tuscarora Indians lived in the area of eastern North Carolina that would become Wilson and its surrounding counties. Of Iroquois stock, their name meant Hemp Gatherers.

The earliest European settlers in this area arrived about 1740 but they remained few in number. Most came from Virginia, rather than directly from England or the Carolina coast. At the time of the American Revolution the area was still only lightly settled. British troops under General Charles Cornwallis traveled through what would become Wilson County on their trek north from Wilmington to Yorktown during the war.

Wilson County, as established in 1855, measured about thirty miles east to west and twenty miles north to south and contained 373 square miles. It straddled the vague boundary between coastal plain and piedmont. The land was almost level, with slight rolling hills especially to the west and northwest. Streams were narrow and surrounded by swampy land, particularly in the early days. The highest elevation was only 305 feet above sealevel, in the northwestern corner of the county, and the lowest point fifty feet above sealevel in the extreme southeast of the county. Wilson, both the center of the county and its capital, was about 138 feet above sealevel. Tar and turpentine were the principal cash products at the time, with cotton becoming important in the 1860s and tobacco in the 1890s.

The railroad was the real making of Wilson in the nineteenth century. By late 1839, the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad completed the tracks through what would become Wilson County with stops at Bardin's Depot (Black Creek), Toisnot (Wilson), and Joyner's Depot (Elm City). Nine years later, in 1848, Wyatt Moye and Joshua Barnes, both of Edgecombe County, introduce bills in the legislature to "incorporate Toisnot Depot and Hickory Grove, in the County of Edgecombe into a town by the name of Wilson." The town, officially established on January 29, 1849, was named after Louis Dicken Wilson (1789-1847). General Wilson, son of an Edgecombe planter, had been a state Representative for five terms and state Senator for fourteen terms (1820, 1824 to1832, and 1838 to 1846). He organized a company of local volunteers for the Mexican War but died during the war from fever.

Joshua Barnes and his fellow legislators David Williams and George Howard helped incorporated Wilson County six years later from four other counties, Edgecombe, Nash, Wayne, and Johnston. The legislature formally proclaimed Wilson County on 14 February 1855. Wilsonians "had quite a spirited and lively celebration" upon hearing the news. There was a ball with a brass band held on a Thursday night, a party on Friday, and a "Barbecue and public speaking" on Saturday. "A large concourse of ladies and gentlemen from adjoining counties attended."

Elm City is the second largest town in Wilson County. First known as Joyner's Depot, it was chartered as Toisnot in 1873. The railroad changed its name to Elm City, which the town finally accepted in 1913. Stantonsburg, in 1817, became the area's first incorporated town. Other Wilson County towns include Black Creek, incorporated in 1870, Saratoga, chartered in 1873 and again in 1899, Lucama, incorporated in 1889, and Sims, chartered in 1913 and incorporated in 1923.

Wilson County did well out of cotton after the Civil War but there were plenty of cotton counties and cotton farmers throughout the South. In 1890, Wilson opened its first tobacco warehouse and by 1920, Wilson was the World's Greatest Tobacco Market. Hackney Brothers established a thriving carriage manufacturing business by the turn of the century. Black entrepreneurs like Samuel Hynes Vick and Charles L. Darden also did well. Barton College, formerly called Atlantic Christian College, opened in 1902 and presently serves an international student body.

After World War II, Wilson County diversified its economy and is now home to large tire and pharmaceutical manufacturers, an array of smaller manufacturers, antique stores, and other commercial and tourist activities as well as tobacco marketing firms.

- Source: J.D. Lewis - Little River, SC


More Information

As of the census[2] of 2006, there 73,814 people, 28,613 households, and 19,771 families residing in the county. The population density was 199 people per square mile (77/km²). There were 30,729 housing units at an average density of 83 per square mile (32/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 55.83% White, 39.33% Black or African American, 0.27% Native American, 0.42% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 3.21% from other races, and 0.92% from two or more races. 6.04% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 28,613 households out of which 31.90% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.10% were married couples living together, 16.50% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.90% were non-families. 26.40% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.20% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.51 and the average family size was 3.03.

In the county the population was spread out with 25.60% under the age of 18, 9.10% from 18 to 24, 28.80% from 25 to 44, 23.60% from 45 to 64, and 12.90% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 91.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.20 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $33,116, and the median income for a family was $41,551. Males had a median income of $30,364 versus $21,997 for females. The per capita income for the county was $17,102. About 13.80% of families and 18.50% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.70% of those under age 18 and 21.30% of those age 65 or over.

- Source: Wikipedia