A History of the Historic Preservation Commission
During the United States Bicentennial in 1976, citizens across the country sought to save, protect and document some of their heritage. Local residents realized the volume of significant late 18th and early 19th century architecture in Wilson and decided to do their part to save, protect and document these structures and promote their preservation.
On May 27, 1976, the Wilson City Council established the Wilson Historic Properties Commission, whose duty was to safeguard the heritage of the City of Wilson by “protecting or preserving any property therein that embodies important elements of its cultural, social, economic, political or architectural history”. Furthermore, the Historic Properties Commission was to “promote the conservation and use of such property for the education, pleasure and enrichments of the residents of the City of Wilson and the State as a whole”. On June 17, 1976, members were appointed to serve on the Commission: Chairman Edward E. Fulford, John G. Ashe, Jr., Wortley Herring Forbes, Nancy Gray Watson, Frances W. Griggs and Marion W. Moore.
After thorough research and documentation, the first 6 structures were designated as historic properties on June 16, 1977. They included: the General Joshua Barnes Home (ca. 1844); Olzie Whitehead Williams Home (ca. 1860); Moses Rountree Home (1869); James Rountree Home (ca. 1892); London’s Church (1895) and Branch Bank (1903).
In July of 1988 the City of Wilson adopted an Historic Districts ordinance and established the Historic Districts Commission to oversee changes in local historic districts; the Old Wilson and West Nash historic districts were designated as local historic districts in August. At the request of the property owners, another ordinance was adopted designating Broad-Kenan as a local district in June 1997.
In order to consolidate the efforts of the commissions, whose roles were identical but whose jurisdictions different, the Historic Properties and Historic Districts Commissions were merged to become the Wilson Historic Preservation Commission in 2002. The same year, Wilson County withdrew from the Preservation program. The Commission currently oversees changes to approximately 740 local district and landmark properties.
Architects and Major Contributors
Harry Barton – Greensboro , NC. Born 1876 in Philadelphia , PA. Educated in Philadelphia public schools, Williamson School , Temple College , and received his architectural training at George Washington University . After graduation took special coursework in architectural design at the Beaux Art Institute of Design. Connected with outstanding architectural firms in Philadelphia and Washington , D.C. Married Rachel S. Phillips of Ivyland , PA. Moved to Greensboro in 1912. Designed County Court Houses for Cumberland, Johnson, Guilford, Surry and Alamance counties, municipal buildings at Greensboro, High Point and Reidsville, the Church of the Covenant, Greensboro; College Place Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Asheboro; Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Lutheran Church and First Presbyterian Church, High Point; some buildings on campus of the NC College for Women; high school buildings at Lexington, High Pint; Pomona and Bessemer; the residences of Mrs. E Sternberger, Sigmund Sternberger, J.W. Galloway, Greensboro; W.W. Graves, Wilson ; S.H. Tomlinson, High Point; YMCA and YWCA Greensboro, Greensboro Daily News Building, Myers Department Store, Cone Export Building, Piedmont Building, and Morris-Neese Furniture Building. He was a member of the American Institutes of Architects and a member of the State Board of Architectural Examination and Registration.
Benton & Benton – Partnership of Charles C. Benton and Frank Warthall Benton 1915 – 1935. Designed Fire Station No. 1, Rocky Mount , the Bank of Farmville, Farmville, the Selma Graded School, Selma .
Benton & Moore – C.C. Benton and Wilson architect Solon Balias Moore formed a partnership which lasted from about 1910 to 1915. Together the designed the Gold Professional Building (1910), the Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home (1913 a.k.a. Mercy Hospital ), and the Woodard-Herring Hospital, Wilson; and the Van Dyke Furniture Co. in Greenville, NC.
Benton & Stout – The 1908 Rocky Mount city directory indicates and association between C.C. Benton and John C. Stout. Stout came to Wilson c. 1904, and move to Rocky Mount c.1906. No documented buildings from this partnership.
Benton, C.C. & Son – Partnership of C.C. Benton, Sr. and his son, Henry 1935-1960. Ca. 1940 his other son, C.C. Benton, Jr. joined the firm. Henry was trained as a civil engineer, and C.C., Jr. was an architect. The firm did a great deal of work in the Western part of the state, especially around Statesville . They also did many theatres, including one in Charleston , SC and one in Greenville, NC. Offices were maintained in South Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia as well as in Wilson . Prominent buildings designed by the firm were: School for the Deaf, Morganton; State Hospital , Morganton; School of North Wilkesboro ; the First Presbyterian Church , Sunday School Wing of St. Timothy’s Church , Christian Church , and the homes of Dr. Simon, Bobby Kirkland and Dick Barnes , Wilson . During this period, (’35-’60) C.C. Benton, Sr. designed the former library and Harper Hall at Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College ). His taste for colonial style architecture gave him his nickname “Charles Colonial Benton.” The partnership was dissolved in 1960 upon the death of C.C. Benton, Sr., and C.C., Jr. and John Ashe continued to practice in Wilson until 1967. John Ashe continued to practice in Wilson through 1981 (and beyond?). Unfortunately, few Benton buildings are documented because after the dissolution of the firm, most of the original plans and blueprints were stored at Stephenson Millwork of Wilson, which experienced a fire and all plans were lost.
Benton, Charles Collins – B. Wilson 1888; educated at MIT ca. 1902. First listed as an architect in Wilson in the 1907 Business Directory. Married Mary Powell 1911. Died 1960. Little of his early design work in Wilson is documented, although it is thought that he had something to do with the building of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church (1906) on North Goldsboro Street . He also renovated the Godwin House (ca. 1900) and converted it into the Benton Apartments ca. 1940 on Green Street.
Benton, Frank Warthall – Brother of C.C. Benton. Went into partnership with his brother in the firm of Benton & Benton 1915 – 1935. After 1935 Frank continued designing in his own right. He was the designer of many local WPA projects, including the Recreation Center Bath Houses (1938), Wilson County Public Library (1938), Wilson Municipal Building (1938). He died 1960 or 1960.
Fred A. Bishop – Richmond, Virginia. Active ca. 1924. Designed the Wilson County Court House.
R.L. Blaylock – Active ca. 1902 – ca. 1906.
William Bogart – Goldsboro. Active c.1860. Advertised in the Wilson Ledger in 1860.
H.T. Crittenden – Active ca. 1916 – ca. 1920. Designed Colonial Apartments (1918) , Dildy & Agnew Hardware Store, W.R. Bryan House (1917).
CC Davis and Otis Asbury – Richmond , Virginia . Active c. 1919. Designed the 1919 addition to the Imperial Tobacco Co., Wilson.
Robert H. Diehl – Active ca. 1922(?) Draftsman of SB Moore ca. 1922 – 1925. Designed Dr. Bodie Clark House, 607 Raleigh Road , (1936).
A.M. Griffin – Wilmington . Active ca. 1924. Designed Atlantic Coast Line Passenger and Freight Station.
Charles Hartge – Raleigh . Active in Wilson ca. 1900. Designed First United Methodist Church , Wilson (1900 – destroyed by fire 1986). Good Shepherd Church (1899) Pittman Auditorium (1907), Raleigh; Wakelon School (1908) Zebulon.
Charles C. Hartmann – Greensboro . Born in Brooklyn , NY ; moved to Greensboro in 1917. Active in Wilson ca. 1927. Designed First Union National Bank , Wilson; Jefferson Standard Life, Bank & Trust Co., Central Fire Station, Gate City Building, Daily Record Building, Greensboro; YMCA, High Point; Highsmith Memorial Hospital, National Bank, Fayetteville; Bank of North Wilkesboro; Alamance Hotel, Burlington; Hotel Hickory, Hickory.
Thomas B. Herman – Draftsman of the firm Benton & Benton ca. 1922 – 1928. Active ca. 1922 – 1956. Designed Carolina Telephone and Telegraph Building , Needham B. Herring House, Everett Blake House, James T. McGraw House, John Dillard House, W.T. Lamm House.
James Raleigh Hughes – Greensboro . Active in Wilson ca. 1925. Designed N.M. Schaum House, W. Johnston King House.
Lind & Murdoch – Baltimore , MD. Active in Wilson ca. 1859. Designed Wilson Collegiate Institute.
Oswald Lipscomb – Born in 1826 in Virginia . Moved to Wilson in 1849. In the same year he married Penelope Rountree, daughter of Lewis Rountree of Wilson . Had one son, James Lipscomb who was associated with the Wilson Cotton Mill. After the death of his first wife, he married in 1869 Sarah Barnes, daughter of Edwin Barnes of Wilson. Entered into a business partnership with his brother-in-law JT Barnes in 1874. In that year they purchased a lot on Pine street near Lee Street where they built a sash and blind factory. By 1884 a planning mill had also been built for the partnership. In the late 1880s Lipscomb sold his interests to his brother-in-law because of failing health., and he died February 4, 1891.
Designed the Billy Winstead House (said to have been moved to the NE corner of Lee and Tarboro Streets); the Albert Farmer House (constructed on Goldsboro St, now demolished); the Dred Ruffin House (on the Stantonsburg-Snow Hill Road in Greene County); the James Davis House , at 600 West Nash Street; the George Blount House , constructed on the site of the Branch Banking a& Trust Company’s main office, now demolished; the Moses Rountree House, constructed on West Nash Street, but now moved to Rountree Street; the J.T. Barnes House, constructed on the corner of West Nash and Jackson Streets, now demolished; the Alpheus Branch House, constructed on the corner of West Nash Street and Park Avenue, the Frank Barnes House, constructed on the corner of West Nash and Rountree Streets (demolished); the George D. Green House; and his own house, still standing on the corner of Pine and Vance Streets.
James A. McGeady – Draftsman for the firm of Benton & Benton ca. 1925. Active ca. 1925 – 1948, listed as a civil engineer in 1928. Designed the Albert Thomas House , 513 W Vance Street (1937); the Joseph Farris House , 514 W Vance Street (1934); and his own house at 1308 W. Nash Street.
Solon Balias Moore – Born May 17, 1872 in Waco , NC ( Cleveland County ), son of dentist S.T. Moore. He married Shelby Shives, but they were divorced c. 1905. He lived in Gastonia from ca. 1900 – 1905, and in the latter year he moved to Wilson with his daughter Myrtle. They lived with relatives John and Sarah Moore from 1905 until 1907 when the relatives moved away. He is listed in the 1908 Wilson directory as a foreman. Family tradition has it that he worked as a carpenter and studied architecture at night. He went in to partnership with Wilson architect Charles, C. Benton c. 1910, and this partnership endured until ca. 1915. He married Flossie Davis of Wilson in 1913. When the partnership broke up with Benton , he established his own office, and was a successful and prolific designer of all types of buildings in Wilson and the surrounding area until 1930, when he died at the age of fifty-seven. The list of pall bearers at his funeral included many of Wilson ‘s leading citizens, as well as contractors Will and Rob Wilkins, JB. Batton, WM Jones of Wilson DJ Rose of Rocky Mount , and Sam Winstead of Wilson.
Designed the Carroll Building, the Davis Building, the Terminal Inn, the Smith Warehouse, the Dr. L.V. Grady House, the H.W. Abbitt House, the I. Leroy Darden House, the Robert C. Hutcherson House, the AL Lancaster House, the John L Wiggins House, the Claude V. Garner House, the S.H. Anderson House, the A.N. Daniel House, the Ben T. Smith House, the B. Vance Forbes House, the T.J. Foote House, the G. Erick Bell House, the C.F. Harriss House, the Marshall Ferrell House, the Hewland Branch House, the Mosley Hussey House, the E.L. Tarkenton House, the L.D. Knott House, the C.W. Stokes House, the J.A. Clark House, the H.B. Culbreth House, the M.P. Churchwell House, the Samuel Agnew House, Winstead School, Maplewood Cemetery Gates and his own home at 1402 W. Gold Street.
Berewell Riddick – Suffolk , Virginia . Active in Wilson ca. 1915 – ca. 1920. Designed the Dr. Oscar Hooks House and the E.K. Wright House.
EA Sherman – Active in Wilson ca. 1860. Advertised in the Wilson Ledger 12/13/1860: “EA Sherman would respectfully announce to the citizens of Wilson and vicinity that he has taken up residence in Wilson for the purpose of devoting his entire attention to contracting for and erecting of buildings of all kinds. Having had eighteen years experience in business and being assisted by Mr. E.G. Lind of Baltimore, an accomplished and thorough architect, he considers himself competent to meet all the demands of the public. See Lind & Murdoch.
John Christie Stout – Born in Randolph County December 19, 1860, the son of Peter and Mary Wrightsman Stout. He studied architecture under Thomas A. Klutz in. In 1883 he married Hattie Cornelia Jordan in Fayetteville . He practiced architecture and acted as a building contractor in Wilmington, NC in the 1890s. He is first mentioned in the local papers there in 1891, and is listed in Branson’s North Carolina Business Directory in 1896 and 1897 as a builder. IN 1897 he formed a partnership with Thad F. Tyler of Wilmington . The duration of this partnership is unknown, however Stout probably moved to Wilson c. 1904. Tyler died in 1910 in Wilmington . Stout moved to Rocky Mount in 1906 and in the 1908 City Directory he is listed as a partner of Charles C. Benton of Wilson . The duration of this partnership is also unknown. After his move to Rocky Mount he devoted himself almost exclusively to architectural design work, and he died in Rocky Mount on November 24, 1921.
Designed and/or built, YMCA (1891), F. Rheinstein Store (1891), Robert C. Merritt House (1899), Atlantic National Bank Building, WJ Toomer House (1899), SF Craig House (1899) ZW Whitehead House (1899), Wilmington; First National Bank Building, Municipal Building, Southern Cotton Seed Oil Plant, TJ Hackney House, JC Braswell House, DD Cuthrell House, FS Spruill House, Captain John D. Bulluck, Jr. House, Issac Levy House, EW Smith House, HE Crews House, EL Daughtridge House, James Pl Bunn House, George L Parker House, Mr. MF Daughtridge House, Dr. GL Wimberly House, Capt, WH Horn House, Dr. CF Smithson House, Dr. JP Whitehead House, Dr. Louis Gorham House, James Keel House, Philips Building, Rocky Mount; Dr. Julian Baker House, Mrs. James Pender House, TH Gatlin House, JJ Green House, Dr. Cliff Whitehead House, Tarboro; John H Small House, BB Nicholson House, JD Grimes House, HS Ward House, Capt. George T. Leach House, Washington; Methodist College Building (1907), Maxton; Nash County Court House, Nashville; S.A. Woodard House, E.A. Darden House, B.F. Lane House, Capt. T.W. Tilghman House, and the Annex to the Wilson Sanitorium, Wilson.
James A. Wetmore – Washington DC. Active in Wilson ca. 1927. Designed the US Post Office and Court House.
Wheeler & Runge – Charlotte. Active in Wilson ca. 1902. Designed Wilson Graded School (now known as the Margaret Hearne Elementary School).
Charles Wilson – Columbia, SC. Active in Wilson ca. 1922 – ca. 1923. Designed Charles L. Coon High School (1922) , Darden School (1923), addition to Winstead School (1923).
Little is known of the prehistory of Wilson County. While limited archaeological work has been performed here, there does not exist an extensive survey of the kind required for a regional settlement system analysis. Nevertheless, recent data generated from this and other regions of the state (e.g. Coe 1964, Phelps 1976; Quinn and Gardner 1979; Rappleye and Gardner 1979; Dorwin and Gheesling 1977; Gardner 1978 can be used to post-date a general cultural sequence and chronology for the prehistoric occupation of Wilson County . Quinn and Gardner (1979) have constructed a tentative predictive model for the county:
Prehistoric archeological sites can be expected to date from the Early Archaic through the Woodland . The bulk of the sites will date from the Middle Archaic. Both base camps and transient camps will be found. Base camps should occur in association with major swampy areas such as are found on Toisnot Swamp and Little Contentnea Creek. Base camps are also more likely to be found near stream junctions. Sites will be invariably located on well drained elevated areas near streams of varying orders, although base camps will be in association with higher order streams. Most base camps can be expected to date from the late Early and the Middle Archaic. Late Archaic and Woodland period base camps and/or villages will be in association with major rivers such as the Tar and Neuse or for some minimal distance up tributary streams. Transient camps of all time periods will be in a number of locations adjacent to streams of varying order but invariably fairly close to these streams and on well drained lands.
The earliest inhabitants of the region were probably members of the Paleo-Indian or “Big-Game Hunting Tradition.” Phelps assigns a date range of 15,000 to 8,000 B.C. to this tradition though the earliest date of human occupation in North Carolina is not yet known. However, it seems probable that Paleo-Indian populations were in the area by at least 10,000 B.C. This time frame coincides with the waning years of the Pleistocene glaciation, a period in which climactic and biotic conditions were much different than those of today. Phelps characterizes the period as having a cold climate, fir-spruce climax forests, and the presence of now-extinct mega fauna.
Although relatively little is known about the Paleo-Indian Period in the North Carolina coastal plain, it is generally believed that small bands subsisted by hunting the large Pleistocene mammals which roamed the area (Perkinson 1971, 1973, Gardner 1979). Most notable of these potential food resources were the mammoth and mastodon. While no direct evidence of the exploitation of these animals by man has yet been found in the east, incontrovertible evidence of these hunting patterns has been found in the Plains and Southwest regions of the United States (Willey 19636; Jennings 1974). This has led many archaeologists to assume a similar adaptation existed in the east, and that it is but a matter of time until the important discovery is made.
The Paleo-Indians of North Carolina likely supplemented their protein diet with plant foods collected in the immediate vicinity of their transient camps. In fact, plant foods were probably a more important dietary source than animal protein (Lee and Devore 1968).
Following the close of the Pleistocene, there was a readjustment of climate and biotic zones which led to the adaptation of the native population to the changed environmental conditions. This period, commonly called the Archaic, extends from the close of the Paleo-Indian Period to approximately 1,000 B.C. and may be roughly divided into three sub-periods. The Early Archaic (8000 to 5000 B.C.) marks a shift in subsistence base from the hunting of Pleistocene mammals to one adapted to the exploitation of presently existing plant and animal species. Emphasis upon the hunting of smaller animal forms is reflected in the Hardaway, Palmer, and Kirk project tile pints which characterize this period.
During the Middle Archaic (5000-2000 B.C.) population size began to increase appreciably. A more diversified tool inventory indicates that an expanded assortment of plant and animal foods were incorporated into the subsistence regime. Settlement patterns are not well understood but probably included limited activity sites associated with a more substantial base camp. Ground stone artifacts appear in this period, accompanied by Guilford , Halifax , Stanly and Morrow Mountain projectile point types.
Increasingly efficient use of forest resources ( Caldwell 1958) and those of other ecozones is documented in the variety of stone tools of the Late Archaic (2000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.). These tools include Savannah River and Gary type projectile points, grooved axes, and polished weights for the atlatl , or spear thrower. The atlatl, used in combination with the shaped handle or spear grip, increased momentum and accuracy of spear throwing through improved balance and increased mass. A variety of wood-procuring and wood-processing tools, such as axes and adzes, suggest that larger tracts of forest were being cleared to accommodate a growing population or perhaps a change in hunting practices.
The close of the Archaic and the beginning of the Early Woodland Period (1000 B.C. to 300 B.C.) is evidenced by utilization of a yet broader assortment of wild plants, foods, and the beginning of horticulture in the eastern United States . Settlement patterns change from frequently shifting base camps and limited-use sites to more stable villages and hamlets for which horticulture was increasingly important. Permanence of settlement and storage needs are reflected in development or adoption of ceramics. Pottery vessels of this and the following Middle Woodland Period may have fabric-cord-impressed or plain surfaces and are tempered with particles of crushed rock. Diagnostic lithics are not known, but may be smaller, crude versions of the Late Archaic stemmed projectile points and knives.
During the Middle Woodland (300 B.C. to A.D. 1000) dependence upon horticulture continues to increase, as reflected in a parallel increase in population and village size, and expanded diversity in artifact categories. Habitation sites are permanent and may become fortified late in the period. The ceramic technology is little changed with tempering material and surface treatment remaining basically the same as in the Early Woodland Period. Large, unnotched triangular points such as the Badin type were used in hunting or warfare and serve to demark the Middle Woodland Period.
The Late Woodland Period (A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1700) is characterized by the development of horticulture as the major subsistence strategy. Palisaded villages often housed populations of considerable size until the decline of the aboriginal population following contact with European-borne diseases and warfare. Diagnostic materials are small to medium sized triangular projectile points (Yadkin, Clements) and ceramics with temper of either grit or shell. With the advent of shell tempering, which appears fairly late, there is little change in surface treatment. It was during this late period that the British began their efforts to colonize the area.
While most data available for the prehistory of Wilson County indicate occupation primarily during the Archaic Period, it must be recognized that this reflects the limits of our knowledge concerning the area rather than the actual occupational history of the county. Some occupation during the Woodland Period is suggested by the presence of fabric-impressed shards from one site and the information reported by Phelps and Hilliard (1976) for another.
Archeologists have found evidence that this area was inhabited as far back as 10,000 years ago. No detailed study of these inhabitants has been made, so very little is known of whom they were and from where they came.
At the time of the first European contact, this area was inhabited by the Tuscarora Indians. Early maps of this area show the Indian village of “TOSNEOC.” Archeologists making impact surveys have found the remains of several hunting camps.
Settlers leaving the overworked fields of Virginia moved generally southwestward into the lands of North Carolina . Europeans moved generally up the rivers and smaller streams into the Tuscarora held territory. The relationship between the newcomers and the Indians degenerated in a few years from friendship to open hostility and then to war.
In September 1711 the Tuscarora attacked the towns of Bath and New Bern and outlying homes, killing over 135 people and capturing others. At the request of North Carolina , South Carolina sent armed forces that finally defeated the Indians at Fort Nohoroco on Contentnea Creek in what is now Greene County . The Indians moved north leaving the area open for settlement.
The earliest settlement in the nearby area was at the confluence of Town Creek with the Tar River at Old Sparta in 1720. Shortly following there was a settlement up the Tar River at Tarborough.
The earliest recorded land ownership in what is now Wilson County was in 1730 when Lewis Conner of Norfolk County , Virginia patented 10,000 acres on Toisnot Swamp . The present day landfill site is part of this almost 4 miles square tract.
Other early landowners are listed in Early Landowners of Wilson County by Hugh B. Johnston. Included in these families is the Thomas family from whom Mr. Johnston descends. He lives on land that the family has owned and lived on for over 240 years.
The population grew as immigrants moved in along the waterways of Contentnea and Toisnot. Landings were established along Contentnea as far up as Cobbs Mill (now called Wiggins Mill). Inspection stations were established at several of these landings to be certain that the farm products and naval stores were of proper quality to be shipped to points downstream. Merchants and individuals used the landings as points at which to receive the materials not produced locally.
The earliest agriculture was, of course, subsistence farming. Probably the crops were the same products, beans, peas, corn, pumpkins and squash as grown by the Indians. The money crop was tobacco until the Revolution. It then changed to cotton.
The earliest industries were the grist mills and saw mills, the turpentine distilleries and other facilities for the production of naval stores.
By 1808, Capt. Thomas White had established a store on the present Tarboro Street near a community that forty years later became the town of Wilson . By 1814, Willie Stanton was selling lots in the town of Stantonsburg , a town incorporated in 1817. In 1839, the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad was built through those parts of Edgecombe and Wayne County that are now Wilson County establishing Bardin’s Depot (now Black Creek), Toisnot (now Wilson) and Joyner’s (now Elm city). In the latter part of the 19 th century other communities developed along the railroad.
In 1851, the plank road from Greenville to Wilson was built. For a brief period it added to Wilson ‘s economy. Shortly after the War Between the States, it had deteriorated so much that it was abandoned. Today, with improvement in the curves and some moving of rights-of-way, it is U.S. 264.
In 1906, the Raleigh and Pamlico Sound Railroad was Built. Building the railroad (now a part of the Southern System) revitalized the town of Stantonsburg and led to its rechartering, and the layout of the down of Evansdale (which ultimately did not materialize).
Wilson has always been noted as an education center, its first academy was chartered before the town or county. Wilson was in the forefront of the public school system and the graded school system. Under Charles L. Coon the consolidated school system became a reality. Today the merged school system with the updating of all the schools keeps Wilson a leader in education.
The medical profession and the legal profession have contributed to Wilson ‘s standing and growth. All departments of the city and the county have contributed fully to make Wilson “The Town To Tie To”, and ”Wilson : Where Worth Wins.”
The First Inhabitants
The first inhabitants in what is now Wilson County arrived here approximately 10,000 years ago. These people were the descendants of the people that had migrated from Asia 10,000 years before, and who became American Indians. They were primarily hunters who traveled in small groups from one place to another, wherever the animals they hunted led them.
These early hunters lived and hunted in North Carolina for about 5,000 years, then began to develop new ways of getting food and making tools. At this time, they began to fish and dig fresh water clams in the numerous streams in Eastern North Carolina . They ate such foods as berries and acorns, roots and bark, which were ground on flat stones with a round rock held in their hand.
Because they were hunters and gatherers of native foods, they rarely stayed in one place for very long. Numerous camp sites have been located along the steams in Eastern North Carolina.
As time passed, these small groups banded together into tribes and formed more permanent villages and began the first farming.
The Wilson County area became part of the lands of the Tuscarora Nation of Indians. The Tuscaroras claimed the land between the Tar River and the Neuse River , from the Pamlico Sound to near Raleigh.
One of the major Indian Villages was located in Wilson County at the confluence of Buck Branch and Toisnot Swamp. This village was called Tosneot.
The Tuscaroras were friendly with the early colonists in the seventeenth century and for the first part of the eighteenth century, and acted as traders between the colonists and the Siouan Indians to the west.
As more settlers moved inland and trading problems began to occur, unrest among the Tuscaroras developed and a secret attack on the settlers along the Neuse River was planned to take place on September 22, 1711 . A few days before that date, John Lawson, an English surveyor, was taken prisoner by the Tuscaroras and executed at the village of Catecna near Grifton in Pitt County . The ensuing war lasted nearly three years and cost the lives of several hundred settlers and thousands of Indians.
Years later, the remaining Tuscaroras left the area and moved to New York State to live [ (among the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederation)) ] with the Iroquois Indians , who were distant relatives.
The area that was to become Wilson County began permanent settlement approximately twenty years after the Tuscarora attack.
By Marion Moore
Often, the names of early settlers are determined from records of their ownership of land; however, all settlers were not landowners, and all landowners were not residents. The earliest record of landownership in what is now Wilson County , is a grant dated April 9, 1730 , issued to Lewis Conner of Norfolk County , Virginia . Later, this tract was bequeathed to Lewis Conner’s two sons, and sold by his surviving son to David Meade of Nansemond County , Virginia . In 1774, Andrew Meade, heir of David Meade, sold the tract to Jonathan Tart. No evidence has been discovered to show that any of the Conners or Meades ever visited their holdings.
John Thomas patented 300 acres on Toisnot and White Oak swamps on March 6, 1740/41 , and lived there. Thus he became the earliest recorded settler.
Francis Rountree patented a tract on Contentnea Creek in 1739, that may or may not have been in this area. However, on March 30, 1741 , he entered 400 acres in Edgecombe County south of Contentnea Creek; and on March 9, 1743 , he entered 100 acres south of Contentnea Creek “it being the place whereon he now lives.”
Many other grants were issued for land in what is now Wilson County , and some not only gave the name of the patentee, but also the names of the owners of adjoining land. Here is a list of some early landowners, taken from a preliminary view of the earliest ownership of land in wilson county by Hugh Buckner Johnston:
Lewis Conner, 1730; John Jackson, 1739; John Thomas, 1740; Richard Sessoms, 1740; Godfrey Lee, 1740; Francis Rountree, 1741; William Cotton, 1741; Richard Braswell, 1741; John Taylor, 1742; Rowland Williams, 1742; Leonard Langston, 1743; William Bently, 1743; Tarlo Oquin, 1743; Samuel Peacock, 1743; Simon Daniel, 1744; Thomas Ivey, 1744; Joshua Lamm, 1744; Joseph Skipper, 1745; Solomon Alston, 1745; William Moore, 1745; John Stevens, 1748; Thomas Horne, 1749; and Peter Barbaree, 1750.
General Louis Dicken Wilson
Louis Dicken Wilson (May 12, 1789-August 12,1847), was a son of William Wilson and wife Elizabeth Dicken, the owners of a good plantation south of Tar River in Edgecombe County . After receiving a modest education at the local Academy, Wilson went to the Town of Washington in 1807 and worked in a counting house while apparently reading law. He returned to Tarboro after a few years and qualified as a Notary Public on May 28, 1812, and as a Justice of the Peace on February 24, 1817.
He became an apprentice of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons at Concord Lodge, No. 58 on March 16, 1813, and a Master Mason on July 20. He served as Secretary December 21, 1813-December 29, 1814, and as Junior Warden December 23, 1817-November 23, 1819. He was elected Senior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge on December 19, 1818, and Junior Grand Warden on December 19, 1825. He became the fourteenth Grand Master of Masons in North Carolina on December 15, 1827, and was succeeded by Richard Dobbs Spaight on December 19, 1830 . His last recorded Masonic office was Grand Lecturer, December 15, 1833-December 27, 1837.
Wilson represented Edgecombe County in the General Assembly of North Carolina 1814-1819, collected the Tarboro taxes 1819-1829, and served as a State Senator in 1820 and from 1824 to 1832. He attended the Free Trade Convention at Philadelphia on September 30, 1827 , and on December 19 was elected Brigadier-General of the 5 th North Carolina Brigade, a post that he appears to have held as late as 1846. He was one of the two delegates from Edgecombe County to the famous Constitutional Convention of June 4-July 11, 1835, and later that year was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
In 1829, Wilson gave his first support to the infant public school movement, even advocating the education of free blacks. On January 4, 1831 ; he and Elder Joshua Lawrence were among the incorporators of the Hickory Grove Academy , and on September 30, he bought as his permanent home the handsome former residence of Congressman Thomas Blount. Erected in 1810, this building still ornaments the City of Tarboro . In 1838, he was elected a member of the Board of Trustees of The University of North Carolina, and in 1844, the State Senate placed him on its Committee of Education and also on the Literary Fund Committee.
Returning to the Senate in 1838, he represented Edgecombe County continuously until December 12, 1846 , when he requested a leave of absence in order to support the patriotic honor of North Carolina by his personal participation in the War with Mexico (he served as Speaker at the 1842-43 session). Wilson left Raleigh for the last time on January 1, 1847, and returned to his native county where he was on January 5 elected Captain of Company A, First Edgecombe Volunteer Regiment, which was the first to offer its services to Governor William A. Graham. The volunteers met the next day at Toisnot Depot (now the City of Wilson ) “to partake of a barbecue dinner and arrange plans prior to their departure.”
Captain Wilson’s Company arrived at Fort Johnson near Wilmington on January 8, for their mustering into the United States Army and a brief preparation before embarking from Smithville for Mexico in the schooner E.S. POWELL on February 22. He and several other officers had meanwhile returned to Tarboro to participate in a splendid dinner at Pender’s Hotel on January 9, and the huge celebration on January 18, at which a beautiful silken banner provided by several patriotic ladies was received with an appropriate speech by Captain Wilson. It was not until March 6, that the Edgecombe County Companies A and E arrived at Brazos, from which they proceeded the next day to San Francisco on the Rio Grande.
On March 3, 1847 , President James K. Polk offered to Captain Wilson the post of Colonel of the 12 th Regiment of the United States Infantry, which the latter accepted at Washington City on April 9. It was expected that his command of 850 would leave Vera Cruz and proceed towards Mexico City on August 7, as the guard with a train of supplies for General Winfield Scott’s Army; but Colonel Wilson had been stricken six days earlier with the dreaded yellow fever and died on August 12, 1847. The military funeral and burial were held the following day, but his leaden casket was shipped subsequently to Edgecombe County . An appropriate oration was pronounced at Tarboro on May 22, 1850 , upon the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of the monument erected to his memory. Since November 1, 1904 , both his casket from the neglected rural graveyard and the monument from the old Court House lawn have remained united on the Tarboro Town Common.
Although Colonel Wilson never married and left no known descendants, he merits the remembrance and the appreciation of posterity, not only because of the numerous public services already recited, but also because of his then-immense bequest of $40,000 to Edgecombe County for the future benefit of its public poor people. It should be mentioned in passing that about $12,000 were properly utilized, $10,000 lost by unsound investments, and $18,000 enjoyed by certain officials during the period of Southern Reconstruction.
It is gratifying to remember that the Town of Wilson was incorporated and named in his memory on January 29, 1849 , followed by Wilson County on February 13, 1855.
Hugh Buckner Johnston
Formation of the Town of Wilson
By a deed dated December 29, 1802, and recorded in February of 1804, John Dew, Arthur Dew, William Dew, Benjamin Farmer, Barnes Simms and Jesse Barnes, the heirs of Arthur Dew, sold to the “Baptist Society” one acre of land “lying and being in the County of Edgecombe” on the “public road from Tarborough to Smithfield.” Most researchers consider this deed to be the starting point for the Town of Wilson.
On this plot of land, the Toisnot Primitive Baptist Church built a church building and moved its congregation from its location on the Thomas Farm (on Highway 42) to the new site. The approximate location of the new site was the area between present-day Barnes Street and Kenan Street on Tarboro Street in Wilson . In this neighborhood and along the Tarboro-Smithfield road, a small community called Hickory Grove developed.
The second major event influencing the formation of the town was the coming of the railroad. In 1836, the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad Company began building a railroad to run from Wilmington to Weldon. The railroad reached what is now Wilson in mid 1839, and a station which the railroad named “Toisnot” was located where Barnes Street crosses the railroad line. About mid-October, 1839, passenger service started between Toisnot and Wilmington . By Christmas Eve, 1839, passenger service to Rocky Mount was inaugurated. In March, 1840, service began over the entire line from Wilmington to Weldon, and Toisnot had both north and south service.
A small community called Toisnot grew around the depot and along a road which joined Toisnot and Hickory Grove. The Mayo map of 1872 shows this as Barnes Street and shows that it terminated at the Tarboro-Smithfield road, now Tarboro Street . Both businesses and residences were built along the two roads.
James D. Barnes built a store at the crossing. Later this store served as the post office and Mr. Barnes served as the first postmaster. The road was given his name and is now Barnes Street.
The journal of the Senate of the 1848-49 session of the North Carolina General Assembly shows that on December 20, 1848 , Mr. Wyatt Moye, Senator for Edgecombe County , introduced a bill in the Senate to “incorporate Toisnot Depot and Hickory Grove in the County of Edgecombe into a town by the name of Wilson .” The bill passed its third reading on December 26, and was sent to the House of Commons where it was read for the first time on December 28. It was read the third time, passed and ordered enrolled on January 26, 1849 . The bill was ratified on January 29, 1849.
General Joshua Barnes, John W. Farmer, James D. Barnes, Jonathan D. Rountree and Arthur Farmer were named as the first commissioners.
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.
Wilson County Agriculture
Agriculture in Wilson County began developing when settlers came from the Chesapeake Bay area and Isle of Wight County in Virginia . They came along Contentnea Creek and set up homes within three or four miles of Wilson . Francis Roundtree owned two large tracts of land on Contentnea Creek in 1739. Land patents were issued for most of Wilson County lands during the 1740’s. According to information gathered by former County Extension Chairman W.D. Lewis, several clearing had been made along the lower half of Contentnea Creek, Toisnot Swamp and Town Creek by the 1760’s. The fields of that day were studded with stumps and trees. Open range law existed, and cattle and hogs were put into the open woods to fend for themselves.
After the Revolutionary War, settlers of English and Irish descent continued immigration from Virginia . They quickly established plantation sized holdings in the more level areas of the eastern and southwestern parts of the county. Later, immigrants of poor means came into the more rolling areas of the western side of the county. This can be seen as the small owners outnumber the tenants west of Wilson , while the opposite is true on the east side.
Until 1880, the tar and turpentine industry was the main source of cash. The agriculture of the early day settlers was a subsistence type, growing corn, cotton, rice, wheat, home gardening, hogs, sheep, and cattle.
Corn has always been the leading subsistence crop in the county. Cotton became an important cash crop immediately after 1865. On September 2, 1890 , the first market sale of tobacco was made at Wilson . From that time, the tobacco acreage increased very rapidly. The minor subsistence crops from 1879 to 1909 were oats, wheat, cow, peas, hay and sweet potatoes. With the exception of wheat, the acreage of all these crops increased considerably between 1879 and 1909.
The census reports that in 1919, corn yielded an average of 24 bushels to the acre. This corn was fed mostly to hogs and work animals. The crop was grown in all parts of the county. Cotton, which is next to corn in acreage, yielded an average of 8 / 10 bale to the acre in 1919. This crop was generally grown over the county. Tobacco was third in point of acreage. The census of 1920 reports that in 1919 the average yield was 752 pounds to the acre. This crop was also grown in all parts of the county. According to the 1920 census, there were 16,000 apple trees, 8,000 pear trees, 750 peach trees, 562 cherry trees, and 1,200 grape vines in the county.
The livestock industry was of comparatively slight importance. The estimate of animals sold and slaughtered in 1919 was $775,000.00, or about 5% of the total value o all agricultural products. A large number of mules, horses, and milk cows were shipped in annually and resold at the local stables. Several dairies, which supplied the town of Wilson with milk, were in the vicinity. The dairy cows were Holstein and Jersey , or grades of these breeds. The 1920 census reported the value of dairy products, excluding those used at home at $38,909.00. Practically every farmer had one cow and from one to four hogs. Poultry and eggs for home consumption were produced on almost all farms. A few were sold or traded at the local stores. The value of poultry and eggs in 1919 was #298,000.00. The total value of all agricultural products in 1919 was $298,000.00, of which $13,675,000.00 was the approximate value of tobacco and cotton.
Less than 20% of the 1790 population were slaves, meaning that the plantation system never became as strong as it was in Edgecombe, Pitt and Wayne counties. The proportion of blacks grew to around 40% during the Civil War. Cotton became an important cash crop immediately after the Civil War and reigned until World War I. Soon, about 40% of the cultivated lands were in cotton. Elm City boasted of being the second largest cotton market on the Atlantic Coastline Railroad. Wilson was also a large cotton market. Between 1880 and 1920 there was big cotton production around here, according to county historian Hugh Johnston. However, little by little, the production of tobacco pushed out the production of cotton after 1920. Tobacco was the main dollar crop. At one time, there was more than 20,000 acres of cotton grown in the county. Then the boll weevil struck in the late 20’s. The grey beetle’s larvae caused rotting of plants when they hatched in immature bolls of cotton. Wilson County agent Bill Adams wrote in 1929 that farmers would be forced to discontinue growing cotton.
Modern technology came, bringing machines for planting, cultivating, and harvesting. Chemicals came: fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and defoliants. But the boll weevil stayed, and yields continued at about a half a bale per acre. Acreages of cotton began dropping from 43,804 in 1925, to 14,663 in 1945, to 10,695 in 1955, to 6,853 in 1965. Cotton acreage fell to only 67 acres in 1975. Since then cotton has grown in a small way. Total for 1983 was 249 acres.
The census of 1920 shows 77.5% of the county in farms, with the remainder in wooded areas. The forest is found mainly in the swamp areas on slopes approaching the streams. The trees are prevailing pine with some sweet gum and hardwood on the uplands, and gum, sweet gum, and a few pines in the swamp. Some of the forest was being cut for lumber, but most of it was reserved for future growth, for firewood supply for country homes, and for use in making tobacco sticks or fuel for curing tobacco.
In 1920, the average value of all farm property was $7,000 per farm. Of this amount, 75% represented land, 14% buildings, 3.6% implements, and 6.7% domestic animals. The farm homes were, as a rule, substantial and nicely planted. Many of the tenant homes were small. The bars were sufficiently large to house the work animals and feed. The tobacco barns were constructed mostly of logs or planks. Barbed wire was used for fences. Many of the farms were worked with one horse implements, including breaking plows, spiked tooth harrows, and walking cultivators. Both horses and mules were used as work animals, but the mules predominated.
In 1919, 75% of the total area of the county was in farms, which averaged 41 acres in size. The average acres of improved land to the farm was 22 acres. The farms ranged in size from about 10 acres to about 100 acres. There were some holdings which ranged in size from about 1,000 to about 2,000 acres in size. The larger farms were commonly divided into smaller tracts and sub-let to tenants.
In 1920, the population of the county was 36,813, of which 26,201 were rural. The average density of the rural population was 70.2 persons to the square mile. The rural sections were fairly evenly populated.
The average assessed value of land in 1920 was $127.18 an acre. The selling price, however, ranged from $100.00 to as much as $500.00 per acre. Good, average land brought about $150.00 an acre. The price of the pocosson land was dependent usually on the value of the standing timber.
Farm values continued to increase until about 1980, when the peak in farm prices was seen. Since that time, there has been a gradual decline in prices of farmland in Wilson County . In 1940, there were 2001,000 acres in farms in the county with an average size of 49 acres. In 1983, there were 143,496 acres in farms in the county with an average size of 158 acres. Crop yields in 1940 for corn were 22 bushels to the acre. That year there were 40,000 acres of corn grown. By 1980, the average yield in the county had risen to 66 bushels, with 36,100 acres planted that year. Tobacco acreage in 1940 was 29,167 acres. The average yield per acre was 1,001 pounds per acre. This had also risen in 1983, to an average yield per acre of 2,285 pounds with 9,730 acres being planted in the county. Soybean and wheat yields continued to increase over the years. During these four decades, there was a continued increase in the use of fertilizer and chemicals such as herbicides, insecticides, fumigants, and defoliants. All of this was part of the modern area in farming.
Tractors first began to appear on the farm in Wilson County in the late 30’s. The number of tractors increased over the decades. Combines, corn pickers, pick-up hay balers and other modern types of farming equipment came on the scene in the early 50’s in large numbers. That also was the same time that farms began to decline in number and increase in size as the man in agriculture could utilize larger acreages with fewer laborers through the use of modern day technology. Electricity came into the county some time in the early 40’s. This helped to make life on the farms much easier and also increased the use of automatic milkers, small electric motors, and other electrical labor saving devices.