Harnett County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



Cornelius Harnett


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1720s / English/Welsh, Scots-Irish

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

Battles & Skirmishes

Coming Later

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Airports in Harnett County

Maps of Harnett County

Books About Harnett County

Genealogy Sources

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A History of Harnett County

Old Harnett County Court House (1897-2003)

Harnett County was formed in 1855 from Cumberland County. It was named in honor of Cornelius Harnett, an eminent Revolutionary War Patriot, President of the Provincial Council, President of the Council of Safety, delegate to the Continental Congress, and author of much of the Halifax Resolves of April 12, 1776. It is in the eastern-central section of the state and is bounded by Chatham, Cumberland, Hoke, Moore, Lee, Wake, Johnston, and Sampson counties. The present land area is 595.01 square miles and the 2010 population was 114,678.

The courts were ordered to be held at Summerville until a court house was erected unless otherwise directed by a majority of the justices of the peace. It also named commissioners to locate the geographical center of the county, acquire the land, lay out a town, and erect the public buildings. The town was called Toomer in honor of John D. Toomer of Cumberland, a judge of the superior and of the supreme court. Many people became dissatisfied with the location, and in 1859 an Act was passed to allow the voters to decide whether Toomer should remain the county seat or to select a new location. If a new site was selected, it should be called Lillington. Lillington was named in honor of John Alexander Lillington, a Brigadier General of North Carolina Militia during the American Revolution. It has been the county seat ever since. 

The county became a political entity in 1855, and was formed from Cumberland County. It was named for the Revolutionary War Patriot, Cornelius Harnett, delegate to the Continental Congress. The first settlers came in the mid 1720s, and were followed by the Highland Scots. The Scots settled in the foothills rather than in the rich alluvial soil area of the coastal plains. After the defeat by the British of Bonny Prince Charles at Culloden, the Scots came up the Cape Fear River in ever-increasing numbers and settled in western Harnett County. The British also settled along the banks of the Cape Fear River in the coastal area, generally from Erwin to Wilmington.

One of the last battles of the Civil War took place at Averasboro near Erwin. General William T. Sherman's army, after its march to the sea, defeated the army of General William J. Hardee, and proceeded eastward into North Carolina. The centennial celebration of that event was held at the site of the battlefield in 1965.

Only after 1880, did the population begin to establish itself in urban rather than rural areas. Lillington, Dunn, Coats, Angier, and Erwin became trading and commercial areas. Today more than one-fifth of the population resides in towns or villages. Agriculture and agricultural products are the greatest source of income to the county. The preponderance of the population is either engaged directly in agriculture or derives a major portion of its income from the economy created by agricultural pursuits.

Harnett County is now moving into the industrial development phase. Community planning is being undertaken on an unprecedented scale and new leadership is emerging which holds promise of broadening the county's economic base. The western and southwestern portion of Harnett County could easily become the playground of east-central Carolina. The terrain, the geological character and its proximity to large and growing metropolitan areas place this portion in an excellent competitive position. History is made by people, and the people of Harnett County accept the challenge that tomorrow shall hold unlimited opportunity.

© 2021 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved