Formation of Wilson County

The formation of Wilson County was not a task that was accomplished by a single group of men, but rather by many people over a long period of time.

The extremely poor conditions of roads made travel to county seats difficult. The lack of bridges made crossing of streams possible only by fording or by ferries. Fording in periods of high water could be hazardous. Attendance at court for jury duty, legal affairs, and musters was a burden. This burden was borne by more and more people as the population increased.

The earliest attempt to form a new county in what is now Wilson County occurred in the 1787 General Assembly ("attempt" is defined here as the introduction into the General Assembly of a bill to form a county).

1787 : The journal of the House of Commons for Thursday, November 29, 1787 , shows that Mr. William Sheppard, of Dobbs, presented a petition and a bill for dividing the counties of Dobbs, Wayne and Edgecombe and erecting a new (unnamed) county. The bill was sent to the Senate.

The journal of the Senate for the same day shows that Mr. Benjamin Sheppard, of Dobbs, introduced the same bill into the Senate. The bill was read and rejected. The petition was signed by 189 persons.

A second petition reading somewhat differently accompanied the first and had 65 signatures.

(See LP-77 N.C. Department of Archives and History and microfilm C328. 1. N87 in the Carolina Collection. UNC Library)

1805 : In December 1804, a petition was circulated among the inhabitants of the counties of Wayne, Edgecombe, Nash, and Johnston for the formation of a new county. The petition contained 609 signatures.

Note that Dobbs County does not appear among the petitioning counties. Dobbs has, by this time, been divided and renamed. Also note that Nash and Johnston Counties have been added.

The journal of the House of Commons for November 30, 1805 shows that Mr. Matthew C. Whitaker, the representative from Halifax County , presented the bill and petition to erect a new county to be named " Jefferson ." The bill was read the first time and rejected.

(See LP-213 N.C. Department of Archives and History and microfilm NCA.1.a:b, Reel 7)

1813 : In a broadside issued by Mr. Farmer in 1852 he mentions an attempt to form a new county "nearly 40 years ago, viz 1813." A search of the journals of the Senate and the House of Commons for the years 1811 through 1815, inclusive, brought no evidence of this attempt. It is possible that a petition was circulated but not introduced as a bill in the General Assembly.

1828 : The journal of the Senate for December 1, 1828 shows that Mr. Willis Boddie, the Senator from Nash County , presented a petition for the erection of a new county. The petition contained 409 signatures.

On December 10, 1828 , Mr. Emanuel Shober, the Senator from Stokes, reported that the Committee of Propositions and Grievances resolved that the prayer of the petitioners "be not allowed." Mr. Richard Spaight, the Senator from Craven, moved that the report and the resolution be laid on the table. No evidence was found that it was ever recalled.

No journal entry was found concerning a counter-petition from the citizens of Nash County that no part of their county be taken. There were 108 signatures in the counter-petition.

(See LP-427 and microfilm MC A.1. a: b reel)

1829 : The effort in the 1829 session of the North Carolina General Assembly to form a county approximately the same as the present Wilson County was characterized by some unusual political maneuvering.

It was on Saturday the 28 th of November 1829 that Mr. Gabriel Sherard, the Senator from Wayne, "presented a petition of sundry citizens of the counties of Wayne, Edgecombe, Nash and Johnston, praying the erection of a new county out of a part of the said counties of Wayne, Edgecombe, Nash, and Johnston. On motion of Mr. Sherard, ordered that the said petition be laid upon the table. Mr. Sherard also gave notice that he should move an amendment to the bill, proposing to erect out of apart of the counties of Burke and Buncombe a separate and distinct county, so as to provide for the erection of a new county out of the aforesaid counties of Wayne, Edgecombe, Nash and Johnston in compliance with the prayer of the petitioners."

On December 8, 1829 , Mr. Allen from the select committee to whom was recommitted the bill to erect out of a part of the counties of Burk and Buncombe a separate and distance county together with the amendment proposed thereto, made a report thereon; which was read, and on motion of Mr. Sherard ordered that the said report, together with the bill accompanying the same be laid upon the table.

The select committee of which Mr. Allen was a member removed the amendment added by Mr. Sherard. The bill without the amendment was indefinitely postponed.

A search of the boxes of Legislative Papers for this session of the General Assembly failed to produce the petitions from the citizens of the four counties nor was a copy of the bill nor any committee reports found.

(The Journal of the Senate for the 1830 session of the General Assembly show that on Friday the 29 th of November 1830, Mr. Sherard presented the same documents as used in the 1829 session.)

See the "Tarboro Free Press" microfilm: Tar FB&S-2.
See the " Raleigh Register" microfilm: RaRRsw-7
See the originals of the Journals of the Senate and the House of Commons or see microfilm: NC A.1.a:b Reel No. 8

1830 : On Friday, November 26, 1830 , the Journal of the Senate shows that Mr. Gabriel Sherard, the Senator from Wayne, "presented the petition of sundry citizens of the counties of Wayne, Edgecombe, Nash and Johnston, praying the erection of a new county out of parts of the aforesaid counties which, on motion of Mr. Sherard, was ordered to be referred to the select committee to which it referred the bill to erect out of a part of the counties of Burke and Buncombe a separate and distinct county, together with the documents and papers on file in the Clerk's office which were presented on the same subject at the last session."

The Journal of the Senate for December 21, 1830, shows that "on motion of Mr. David Newland, the Senator from Burke, ordered that the committee of the whole House be discharged from the further consideration of the bill to erect out of a portion of the counties of Burke and Buncombe, a separate and distinct county by the name of Yancey; and the bill being read the second time, Mr. Sherard moved to amend the bill by adding a new section, proposing to erect a county out of portions of the counties of Wayne, Johnston, Edgecombe, and Nash, by the name of "Spaight"; which amendment was not agreed to - ayes 27, noes 35. The ayes and noes being demanded by Mr. Sherard were listed.

On January 5, 1831 , Mr. Sherard asked for and received permission to withdraw from the files of the Senate the petition of sundry citizens of the four counties praying the erection of a new county presented at the session by a memorial, to establish a new county, by the name of Wilson .

Mr. Dancy who had introduced the bill called it up and on his motion it was ordered to lie on the table.

The journal of the House of Commons for January 18, 1849 , reads "the bill to establish a new county by the name of Wilson was now read the second time.

"Mr. Brodgen moved to amend the bill by adding to the first part thereof the following proveso: "Provided a majority of the qualified voters for members of the Counties of Edgecombe, Nash and Wayne respectively shall vote in favor of the new county of Wilson, at an election to be held according to the provisions of an act to be passed supplemental to this act." Whereupon Mr. Paine moved to amend the amendment by striking out the words "Counties of Edgecombe, Nash and Wayne respectively, shall vote in favor of the, and by adding thereto, the words shall vote in favor of said County of Wilson'. Pending the consideration of which amendment a motion was made by Mr. Griggs, that the bill, with the amendments, be indefinitely postponed, which motion passed in the affirmative- yeas 57, nays 42."

The memorial was signed by 700 persons.

(For the bill and petition see LP 639 in the Department of Archived. For the journals see the published records)

1850 : In the November 20, 1850 , issue of the Standard of Raleigh , N.C. there was a notice: "Applications will be made to the next Legislature of North Carolina to get an act passed to form a new county by the name of Wilson out of portions of the counties of Edgecombe, Nash, Johnston and Wayne." The notice was signed "Many Citizens."

On December 4, 1850 , Mr. Joshua Barnes, the member of the House of Commons from Edgecombe, introduced a bill accompanied by a memorial, to lay off and establish a county, by the name of Wilson .

The journal of the Senate for January 23, 1851 , records that the engrossed bill was received from the House, read the first time and passed. On January 25, 1851 , the bill was called up for its second reading. Mr. William Thompson of Johnston , offered an amendment. Mr. John H. Drake, of Nash offered a proviso to the amendment. The proviso and the amendment were defeated. Mr. Thompson then moved that the bill be indefinitely postponed, which motion was carried.

(For the bill and the petition see LP-650 in the Department of Archived and History. For the journals see the published records.)

1852 : An ad ran in the September 15, 1852 , issue of the Raleigh Standard reading the same as the ad in 1850.

On December 1, 1852 Mr. W. Ellis the member from Edgecombe was granted leave and introduced a bill to establish "a county by the name of Weldon (Sic) which was read the first time and passed and referred to the committee on Propositions and Grievances."

(The Raleigh and Tarboro papers properly reported the county name as Wilson .)

On December 6, 1852 , Mr. Norfleet of Edgecombe, presented instructions from 813 voters of the County of Edgecombe , against the new county. Which motion was laid on the table.

On December 24, 1852 , after some maneuvering, the bill was indefinitely postponed by a vote of 39 to 37.

To the bill was attached a map. It was the first, and only, time a map was presented showing the outline of the County of Wilson . It is essentially the same as finally adopted in 1854/55. Oddly the boundaries as outlined in the 1852 bill read clockwise, while those adopted at the next session of the General Assembly read counter-clockwise.

At the 1852 session Mr. John W. Farmer of Edgecombe, Mr. Henderson H. Williams, of Nash, Mr. Robert Cox, of Wayne, and Mr. Daniel Hokett, of Johnston, had a lengthy broadside , supporting the new county, printed a copy laid on the desk of each member of Assembly.

Mr. J.M. Taylor, of Nash, had an equally lengthy rely printed and also laid on the desk of each member.

(The bill, the amendment, and the map can be found in LP-682.
The memorials were withdrawn for use in 1854. For the journals see the published records.)

1854 : Edgecombe County was the only one of the four counties involved in the formation of Wilson County that had a newspaper, copies of which are still available. Since almost 50% of Wilson County was formed from Edgecombe we are fortunate to have had such good coverage.

The summer of 1854 was filled with electioneering. The Southerner of Tarboro did not print the speeches of the candidates but did print several "letters-to-the-editor." Two friends of the "new county," Joshua Barnes and David Williams were overwhelmingly elected.

On December 4, 1854 , Mr. Joshua Barnes of Edgecombe, introduced a bill to establish a new county by the name of Wilson , which was read the first time, passed, and referred to the Committee on Propositions and Grievances. On December 6, 1854 , Mr. Barnes presented a memorial to establish a new county by the name of Wilson .

The petition contained 873 signatures.

The petition of citizens of Edgecombe County against the new county had 813 signatures.

The journal of the House of Commons for Dec. 12, 1854 records that "Mr. Barnes, from the Committee of Propositions and Grievances to whom was referred a bill to establish a new county by the name of Wilson , reported a substitute therefore; which was read the first time and passed.

The bill read as follows:

"A Bill to lay off and establish a County by the name of Wilson ." Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same - That a County by the name of Wilson, shall be and the same is hereby laid off and established out of portions of Edgecombe, Nash, Johnston, and Wayne Counties, in the following bounds. Beginning at a lightwood stake in the Pitt County line; thence a direct line to Pender's Mill; thence to a direct line to Town Creek at the mouth of Col. David Williams' Mill branch; thence up said Mill branch to the Mill; thence a direct line by William Adams, Serr. To the Nash line (thence a direct line to William M. William's bridge across Toisnot Swamp; thence with the Smithfield road to Turkey Creek bridge; thence with said road to Mockasin; thence down the various courses of said creek to the mouth of Turkey Creek); thence a direct line to the Red Hill (Henry Horn's old place); thence a direct line to the Wayne County line at the Juniper Swamp; thence the Wayne and Johnston line north to a point in a direct line from the Red Hill to Ruffin's Bridge; thence a direct line to Ruffin's Bridge, diverging North at the house of Jacob Hooks, so as to leave the dwelling house of said Hooks in the County of Wayne; thence from said Ruffin's Bridge down Contentnea Creek to the Greene County line' thence the Greene County line to the beginning and the said county shall be, and is hereby invested with all the rights, privileges and immunities of the other counties in this State."

Quite a bit of legislation action took place on January 23, 1855 . The House Journal for that day reads:

"On motion by Mr. J. Barnes, the bill to establish the county of Wilson was taken up and read the second time.

The bill then passed its second reading - yeas 72 nays 23. The rule being suspended the bill was read the third time, passed, and was ordered to be engrossed.

The journal of the Senate for January 27, 18555 records that "The engrossed bill to lay off and establish a county by the name of Wilson, was read the first time, passed, and referred to the Committee of Propositions and Grievances."

On February 1, 1855 the Committee of Propositions and Grievances reported the bill to the Senate with amendments. They recommended an amendment by striking out all after the words "Nash line and inserting in lieu thereof the following. "Thence a straight line to Turkey Creek Bridge near Bridger's old place, thence with the road to Moccasin Creek Bridge, thence down said creek to the junction of Moccasin and Turkey Creek," and with this amendment they recommend passage of the bill.

The journal of the Senate for February 2, 1855 reads as follows: "The engrossed bill - was read the second time; the amendment proposed by the committee amended on motion by Mr. Drake, and adopted as amended. The bill passed its second reading 30 to 4 . The rule being suspended the bill was read the third time and passed. The bill was sent back to the House of Commons for concurrence in the amendment.

The journal of the House for February 6, 1855 shows that the House did concur in the amendments and so informed the Senate.

A supplemental bill setting up the government of the county was quickly passed

The bill establishing the county was ratified on February 13, 1855 and became Chapter 12 of the Public Laws of North Carolina, 1854/55. The supplemental bill was ratified February 14, 1855 and became Chapter 13 of the same laws.

The news was received in Wilson with great joy and was properly celebrated.

On Monday, April 23, 1855 , the first Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions was convened and organized. Wilson County was now a full-fledged county!

Abstracted, with permission, from The Formation of Wilson County

By J.M. Daniel, Jr.