A History of Clinton, North Carolina


In 1784, Sampson County was created from Duplin County. It was named in honor of Colonel John Sampson, who was a member of the Executive Council under Royal Governors Arthur Dobbs, William Tryon, and Josiah Martin from 1762 to 1775. The Act establishing the county directed that the first court be held at the home of James Myland, at which place the justices were to decide where all subsequent courts were to be held until a court house could be erected. Commissioners were named to select a central location, purchase land, and erect the public buildings. At its beginning, the town was called Sampson Court House on the public lands of the county.

The name Sampson Court House did not last long, because on many maps between 1790 and 1800, the name of the town shows up as Clinton Court House, clearly indicating that the name Clinton - named after Richard Clinton, the stepson of John Sampson who the county is named after, and it was Richard Clinton who pressed the NC General Assembly for the new county - had been in use since soon after the new county was formed in 1784.

This also indicates that the Sampson Court House was actually built per the requirements of the initial Act, and fairly soon after the county was formed. Sometime between 1784 and 1790, the new county seat's name began to show up as Clinton Court House on maps and other records. It was not until 1822 when the town dropped the Court House and began to be recognized - officially - as the town of Clinton.


The first settlers came to the area now known as Sampson County around 1740. The Scots and English came to the area by the Cape Fear River while other families moved here from the northern part of the United States. Since Clinton is practically the geographic center of the county, it developed as the major agricultural marketing center.

If there had been no financial panic in 1819, Clinton surely would have had another name. There was an earlier incorporated town of Clinton in old Rowan County (Now Davie), but the town folded in 1822, and the Sampson County town moved to immediately drop the name "Clinton Court House" and was incorporated under the name of Clinton.

By the Act to incorporate the town of Clinton, in Sampson County, and appoint commissioners of the same:

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, that William McKay, Alfred Bradshaw, and Isaiah Thompson, be and are hereby appointed commissioners of the town of Clinton, in Sampson County and they, or a majority of them, are hereby declared to posess full power and authority to adopt such rules and regulations, and pass such by-laws for the prosperity and good government of said town as they may deem expedient, provided same are not inconsistent with the laws and constitution of the said state of the United States."

The first records of an election was in February of 1852. The polls were ordered to be kept open from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m. No one was allowed to vote unless he had previously paid a town tax. Only free white males, 21 years and older, who had lived in Clinton for six months or longer could cast a ballot. The first tax rate was 50 cents on the $100 valuation of real property. The corporate limits of the town at that time extended a half mile each way from the court house.

The General Assembly appointed five commissioners when they ratified the Act clarifying procedures for the town of Clinton. These were James M. Moseley, Isaac Boykin, Dr. Henry A. Bissel, John R. Beaman, and Alfred Johnson.

Nothing was said about a mayor, but the commissioners were instructed that "At their first meeting after their appointment by this Act, and at their first meeting after an election each and every year hereafter, shall appoint one of their own body to act as Intendant of Police."

The duties of the Intendent were defined as practically the same as those of mayor and magistrates, stipulating that he should be allowed a fee of 20 cents for each judgement granted him, 20 cents for each execution, and 10 cents for each subpoena.

A town clerk was appointed from one of the five elected commissioners, who also appointed a town constable and a treasurer, each to hold office for one year. The town constable, in addition to other duties was about the same as a policeman today. He also acted as tax collector and received as his pay some of the total collected.

Since that time the town has grown to its present day limits. The early records of the town have been lost, probably due to one or more of the disastrous fires that have swept Clinton. The largest was a Tuesday night on March 2, 1877, that many said could be seen from ten miles away.

In April of 1911, a meeting to discuss the proposition of establishing a waterworks and a sewage system was held. Mr. Gilbert C. White, a consuting engineer from Durham, NC presented the proposal and the estimated cost was $25,000 for water and $15,000 for sewer. With the groundwork of this meeting, the town later issued bonds to install the waterworks and sewage system. From these beginnings the system had grown into a very modern system that can handle the environmental requirements of most industries. It has a present capacity of 3.5 mgd for water and 5 mgd for sewer.

April 1, 1887 was a most memorable day in Clinton's history, as on that day transportation to and from the outside world was established by the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. The name was changed to the Atlantic Coast Line in 1900. It was on this day that the first passenger train pulled out of Clinton for Warsaw to make connection with the world, from Clinton's veiwpoint. A few citizens of Clinton, desiring to ride on the first train out, boarded at the old Toll House site, the cotton warehouse site on Lisbon Street, and everyone was in a jolly mood because of the fact that all supplies for Clinton merchants could at last be brought in by train instead of by mule and wagon.

One sad note was sounded though as Joe Nolly had, on 29 May 1887, made his last haul from Warsaw, and Bill Russell had brought the last buggy load of mail to the Clinton post office by horse and buggy, the train now taking over all this transporting. The engine was number "94". The enginer was a Mr. Avant, the conductor was Captain Cutts, the fireman was named Mr. Deems, and the station agent was Henry B. Chesnutt, who had taken training from his Uncle Dave Morisey at Warsaw.

The railroad station at that time was located in southern Warsaw, somewhere near where NC 24 now crosses the railroad. This first train left Clinton about 6:30 a.m. and returned about 8:00 p.m. being delayed on the return trip because of being overloaded with eight carloads of fertilizer. On account of this heavy load the train had difficulty making the grade west of Turkey, along the Fasion property. Little "94" had to back up three times and get fresh starts in order to pullover this steep grade. It required an extra cord of wood, $1.75 worth, in the firebox over the grade.

Ferdie Johnson, a passenger on this first train, had now brought back the memory of those day by erecting in his yard in Clinton one of the beautiful bells taken from one of the first engines to pull a train out of Clinton, this bell having been presented to Mr. Johnson by Champ McDavis, president of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and an old boyhood friend of Dippy Club days. Another interesting thing about this bell is the fact that the fat lightwood post supporting it was furnished by Bob Allen Davis, Route 3, Clinton, this post being one of the supports of the original Daughtry Bridge which had been built over Big Coharie near the Joe McPhail homeplace about 150 years ago.

Such interesting relics as this one are fast disappearing. We should not be derelict in such matters, as such memories should be preserved for future generations to learn just how our forefathers handled their affairs.

On a later train trip, an old lady flagged the train and Captain Cutts, in his usual courtlike manner, alighted and offered to assist the lady in boarding the train. She hollered back saying that she did not wish to go to Warsaw, but wanted to sell him a quart of huckleberries. Captain Cutts being much irritated by this interruption in his schedule made the air blue for a few minutes. It was indeed a gala day for all of Sampson County as the first rail communiction was established with the outside world.

Before Clinton got an ice factory in 1920, only grocers and the very well-to-do could afford to have ice shipped in by railway. There was no electrical refrigeration available here at that time, so what did folks do? For generations people had kept their milk cool by putting it in a jar, tying a strong cord just below the jar lid, lowering the jar down part way into the cool water, and tying the cord to a nail on the well curb. Milk clabbers a lot slower at 60 degrees than at 90 degrees, which is often our midday temperature in summer-time.

But all that was about to change in July of 1920 when The Sampson Democrat reported that plans for an ice factory were in the works. They stated that "it is gratifying news that Messrs. J.C., R.H., and H.J. Hubbard are preparing to establish an ice factory in Clinton and have actually ordered the equipment that will be of the 12-ton capacity, but so erected that other units may be added as necessity demands. They had hoped to erect it in the rear of Vance Street but have not yet secured a building permit from the insurance department, which is necessary as they wish to erect a sheet-iron building and only brick is permitted within the fire district. However, Mr. Robert Hubbard informs us that they will assuredly have the plant in operation before the 1920 season is over if the railroad will make prompt delivery."

Clinton, in 1910, became one of the first in a growing number of North Carolina towns to receive electricity. When Carolina Power & Light (CP&L) Company was formed in 1908, the electric industry was still in its infancy. It served almost exclusively trolleys and lighting, and street lighting was for limited periods after dusk and just before dawn. Electric cooking and refrigeration were merly dreams, and electric fans were few. Electric transmission had hardly begun. There was little need for more power at that time, however. Breakdowns were so frequent that old customers complained and new ones were scarce.

But the system grew, reliability and dependability grew with it. Clinton received electric service when the town granted a franchise to C. W. Petty, operating as Sampson Power Company. It became a part of the CP&L system in 1923 when the municipal lighting plants at Clinton and Mount Olive were acquired. Between 1908 and 1926, the CP&L system grew from 100 to 19,800 customers, from 3,975 to 59,960 kilowatts capacity, and from less than 50 over 585 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. By 1926, CP&L embraced a number of adjoining subsidiary properties and extended its sphere of service into South Carolina.

Electric rates in the early years of the industry were generally very high, even though total bills were small because so little electricity was used. The average price in 1913, for instance, was 15 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh). In 1983, a household using 500 kwh per month would pay about 7 cent per kwh, but inflation also must be taken into account. Very early electric systems provided power only during the first half of the night because a light bulb here and there was about the only use made of electricity. Interruptions of electrical service were typically frequent on most systems in those days even during the hours when power was supposed to be available.

With improved dependability and word-of-mouth "advertising" however, the demand for electricity increased steadily, if not rapidly. The undeniable appeal of electric light soon made itself evident. From its formation in 1908 until 1970, CP&L had a history of steadily reducing the price of electric service to its customers. As larger, more efficient plants were put into service and fuel costs remained relatively stable, rates were actually lowered in 27 of the 36 years leading up to 1969 and 1970 when the average residential charge hit bottom at 1.64 cents per kwh. Since that time, the cost has steadily risen due primaily to inflation.


As Sampson C.H., the town was granted a US Post Office on April 1, 1802, and its first Postmaster was Mr. Joshua Knowlton. On February 20, 1824, the US Post Office Department officially changed the town's name to Clinton,with Postmaster Mr. Zachariah Cogdell. It has been in continuous operation ever since.


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