A History of Greenville, North Carolina

Greenville, North Carolina was founded in 1771 as Martinborough, and named after the Royal Governor Josiah Martin. In 1774, the town was moved to its present location on the south bank of the Tar River, three miles west of its original site. In 1786, the name was changed to Greenesville in honor of Major General Nathanael Greene, the Revolutionary War hero; it was later shortened to Greenville and is the county seat of Pitt County.

During Greenville’s early years, the Tar River was a navigable waterway; and by the 1860s there were several established riverboat lines transporting passengers and goods. Cotton was the leading agricultural crop, and Greenville became a major cotton export center. Before the turn of the century, however, tobacco surpassed cotton and became the leading money crop. Greenville became one of the state’s leading tobacco marketing and warehouse centers.

For over a century, Greenville was recognized only for being an important tobacco market and the home of a small state-supported college. By the mid 1960s, a new image began to evolve. The small college, East Carolina Teachers College, had become the third largest state-supported college, and enrollment approached 8,000 students - twice the 1960 enrollment figure. In 1967, it became East Carolina University (ECU). The ECU Medical School admitted its first four-year class in 1977. At the turn of the 21st century, enrollment at ECU has topped the 18,000 mark.

Greenville’s current economic development began in 1968 when Burroughs Wellcome, a major pharmaceutical research and manufacturing firm, chose Greenville as its home. The site is now owned by DSM Catalytica Pharmaceuticals and employs approximately 1,400 people. The city and Pitt County have also become home to many other major industries and businesses including Rubbermaid, NACCO Materials Handling Group, Grady White Boats, and ASMO. This has added to Greenville’s population and the economic growth of the city.

Today, Greenville is a major industrial and economic center for eastern North Carolina— a center for education, industry, medicine, and culture. The city covers over 26.6 square miles and has a population of more than 60,000 (as of the 2000 Census).


According to the Depression Era WPA book entitled, "North Carolina - A Guide to the Old North State" within the Federal Writers Project named the American Guide Series, first published in 1939 by the University of North Carolina Press - the small village of Logtown (3 miles from Greenville) "before 1788 was known as Martinborough and was the site of the first Pitt County court house. The county was formed in 1760 and named for William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. A tablet on a boulder marks the site of the court house. Behind the site is part of the first brick road built through the red clay to enable slaves to roll brandy barrels up the hill."

Apparently, the village of Logtown in Pitt County was still standing at the time of that book's writing in 1939, but I have never found it on any available maps.


Greenville was granted a US Post Office on January 1, 1795, and its first Postmaster was Mr. Grove Wright. It has been in continuous operation ever since.


© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved