A History of Lumberton, North Carolina

Robeson County, formed in 1787 from Bladen County, is named in honor of Colonel Thomas Robeson, Jr. Colonel Thomas Robeson, Jr. served as one of the leaders in the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Elizabethtown, also known as the battle of Tory Hole. During this battle the Tories in the southeastern part of North Carolina were crushed by the Patriots.

Colonel Thomas Robeson, Jr. lived at Tar Heel. He was the first Colonel/Commandant over the Bladen County Regiment of Militia, from 1775 to 1779. His descendants still occupy some of his original property. Colonel Thomas Robeson's grave was marked by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the early 1900s.

Lumberton, the county seat, was established prior to 1788, contrary to other published information. The Act that incorporated Lumberton in 1788 mentioned that a "town had already been established."

At the time Lumberton was incorporated the section of the Lumber River on which Lumberton is located was known as "Drowning Creek," a name by which portions of the river are still known. The name "Lumberton" was proposed by John Willis. The first Robeson County court house was erected on land which previously part of the "Red Bluff Plantation" which was owned by John Willis.

The official language of Robeson County at that time was Gaelic (?).


The original town of Lumberton began prior to the Revolutionary War as a settlement on the 250-acre plantation owned by John Willis. Known as the founder of Lumberton, Willis in 1787 petitioned the state legislature for a charter granting the town status as the county seat of the newly formed Robeson County. The town's original lots were sold in 1787 and a building owned by Willis was deeded to the county to be used as a court house. Willis went on to represent Robeson County in both the state Senate and state convention that approved the Federal Constitution in 1789.

A 1794 law called for the governance of the town by five directors with power of taxation. Unobligated tax money was designed to support Lumberton Academy which also served as a church.. This academy was first chartered in 1793 and rechartered at three other times.

According to local historians, the main stage coaches from Elizabethtown and Fayetteville met at Lumberton to use the toll bridge across Drowning Creek (Lumber River). The river's high bluff was the launching point for thousands of logs floated down the river to Georgetown. Thus, Lumberton has been a center of economic development for over 210 years.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, railroads replaced waterways and wagon roads as the main source of transporting local agriculture and timber products. The Wilmington to Lumberton line was completed in 1860 as part of the overall Wilmington, Charlotte, and Rutherford Railroad that was finished in 1861.

An 1884 publication notes the town, "one of the prettiest in the state," with a population of 1,200, twenty stores, five churches, saw mills, turpentine distilleries, and four hotels. Land could be purchased for as little as $5 per acre.

The turn of the century saw continued railroad expansion and growth in the tobacco and textile industries. Electric lights replaced kerosene street lamps in 1904. The public library was organized in 1924. The population grew to 4,100 by 1930.

In 1945, the city of Lumberton was chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly. In recent years, its residents have been active in refurbishing the historic area and guiding its new industrial growth. Lumberton was among the finalists for designation as an All-American City in 1995. Home today to a diversified array of internationally owned companies, Lumberton takes pride in its contributions to the cultural and economic history of this area.


Lumberton was granted a US Post Office on January 1, 1796, and its first Postmaster was Mr. John Noyes. It has been in continuous operation ever since.


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