Robeson County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



Thomas Robeson, Jr.


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1730s / Settlers of Bladen County

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

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Significant Education Events

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Battles & Skirmishes


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Airports in Robeson County

Maps of Robeson County

Books About Robeson County

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A History of Robeson County

Pembroke State College - 1960

Robeson County was formed out of Bladen County in 1787. It was named in honor of Colonel Thomas Robeson, Jr., commandant of the Bladen County Regiment of Militia during the American Revoluion. The court house was constructed on land which formerly belonged to John Willis. A lottery was used to dispose of the lots and to establish a town. In 1788, Lumberton was established and has been the county seat ever since.
Robeson County, formed in 1787 from Bladen County, is named in honor of Colonel Thomas Robeson, Jr. Colonel Robeson served as one of the North Carolina Militia leaders in the Revolutionary War and led local Patriots at the Battle of Elizabethtown (aka Tory Hole) in present-day Bladen County, North Carolina. During this battle the Loyalists (aka Tories) in the southeastern part of North Carolina were essentially crushed by the Patriots.

Colonel Robeson lived at Tar Heel. His descendants still occupy some of his original property. His grave was marked by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the early 1900s.

Lumberton, the county seat, was established contrary to other published information prior to 1788. 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 the "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.

Those who settled from the Scottish Highlands in the early 1730s found the local American Indians, descendants of the Tuscarora, Cherokee, Cheraw, and remnants of other tribes already speaking English when they arrived. They also found a group of both freed and runaway slaves living in the area.

Today, Robeson County is home to the Tuscarora and Lumbee Tribes. According to the 2000 Census, Robeson County has the ninth largest population of American Indians in the United States. 

First settled before the American Revolution by Islam Pittman from South Carolina, Ashpole, Fairmont's original name, was attributed to the abundance of ash trees in the nearby swamp. Its early economy was influenced by the lumber resources and later, railroad expansion. The church was a strong influence in the area with the Ashpole Presbyterian Church established in 1791. Prior to the that, the church building had served as a school and meeting house for all denominations until 1787 when the Methodists organized their own church. Ashpole Institute was founded here by Rev. Stinson Ivey in the nineteenth century.

Ashpole became a stop on the Southeastern Railroad line in 1898 and the town's first lots were sold. Incorporated as Union City in 1899 as a meeting point for the railroad and the tobacco market, the town did not retain this name. It was instead renamed Ashpole until 1907 when the current town name, Fairmont, was adopted.

Commercial growth of the town expanded in this century. One general store and a blacksmith shop were noted in 1879, by 1930, thirty general stores and a variety of other enterprises had been established.

Fairmont's twentieth-century growth has been associated with the tobacco industry. Today, truck farming and the textile industry are expanding as part of the economic development of this area. Fairmont has several medical facilities, specializing in general medical and dialysis.

Incorporated by the General Assembly in 1891, the town of Lumber Bridge residents take pride in its cultural and civic history. Believed to date from 1776, the original land grant was part of the holdings of Levey Glass. The town's name comes from the hand-hewn bridge over the Little Marsh Swamp.

The Lumber Bridge Light Infantry Company, today housed in Parkton, was first chartered in 1747 and remains the oldest North Carolina military company and the second oldest guard in the nation still in active service. Known since the Civil War as the "Scotch Tigers" to honor the fore bearers of this area, the unit has also served in the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II. Many present Guard members are Vietnam and Desert Storm Veterans. The "Scotch Tigers" National Guard has frequently assisted storm victims, most recently being deployed in response to Hurricane Fran.

The town was also home to the first eastern North Carolina high school which was accredited in 1907. Known for its strong college preparatory program, the school was phased out in 1931 due to a declining town population.

The May 20, 1909 Robesonian highlights the importance of truck farming of vegetables and cotton to this area.

Lumber Bridge experienced a loss of jobs and labor force that faced many communities during the depression and war years of the 1930s and 1940s. However, an upbeat climate is evidenced today by the new industries that have located here.

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 in South Carolina. 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, Charlotte & Rutherford Railroad was completed to Lumberton in 1860.

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.

The first settlers in this area settled along the Shoe Hill Creek and Lumber River in the late 1700s. Incorporated in 1874 as Shoe Hill (from the Gaelic "S", the shape of the nearby creek), Maxton also held the names of Tilden (after an 1876 Democratic candidate for US President) and Quhele (Gaelic for "narrow part of a stream"). The name was changed back to Shoe Hill in 1881 and finally to Maxton in 1887. Maxton was chosen to honor the Scottish settlers to the area.

Floral College was founded in 1841 by John Gilchrist, Jr. and was closed in 1878. It was the first woman's college in the state to confer degrees. The remaining building of the college has been moved to the grounds of Centre Presbyterian Church.

Maxtonians of Note:

Birthplace of Angus W. McLean, Governor of North Carolina, 1924-1928. He went on to serve in the U.S. Senate until his death in 1935.

Malcom McLean, founder of McLean Trucking and SeaLand, Inc. He was named "Man of the Century" by the International Maritime Hall of Fame.

Alice Russell Micheaux, concert soloist and movie actress - her credits include: The Betrayal (1948), God's Step Children (1938), Murder in Harlem (1935), and The Broken Violin (1927).

Town facilities include the Gilbert Patterson Memorial Public Library and the Maxton Family Resources Center. The Maxton Historical Society operates a museum of local history, which is open on Sunday afternoons.

Parkton was settled about 1884 and named Piney Forest. A one-room schoolhouse, Piney Forest Academy, was renamed Parkton Institute in 1891. The name Parkton may originate from the name of a railroad engineer who mapped the area adjacent to the first tracks. Another theory is that the town was named for the nearby parking area used by the railroad travelers. The depot, originally on the west side of the tracks, has been preserved by the Parkton Historical Society, through an arrangement with the Atlantic Coastline Railroad. Ten daily trains stopped in Parkton in the years preceding the use of the automobile for mass transportation. Incorporated in 1901, Parkton boasted only one general store at that time, McMillan and Hughes.
Settled in 1789 and incorporated in in 1895, the town site of Pembroke was first called Campbell's Mills. The town developed around businesses that served the Lumbee Indian population that resided in this area prior to the American Revolution. Earlier known as Scuffletown, the town's name derives from a principle stockholder in the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, Pembroke Jones. The town's corporate limits as surveyed and mapped, were based on the intersection of two railway lines.

Under an 1885 law, twelve school districts were established providing elementary education for the Lumbees. In 1887, a state-funded school, the Croatan Normal School, was begun with minimal funding to train teachers for the newly established schools.

By 1928, the school offered high school and normal school courses and in 1940 awarded its first four-year degrees. In 1941, the name of the school was changed to Pembroke State College for Indians and shortened to Pembroke State College, in 1949. University status was granted in 1969, and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke became part of the sixteen-campus state university system, in 1972.

Contributions to Pembroke have long been associated with the cultural and political history of the Lumbees. Pembroke University houses the Indian Cultural Center that has engaged in research and preservation of the Native American culture of this area.

Steeped in traditions traced from the Scottish Highlanders, Red Springs was founded in 1775 by Hector McNeill on a tract granted by King George III and signed by North Carolina Royal Governor Josiah Martin. The town's name originated from the red pigment found in the local mineral springs. The medicinal value of the springs made Red Springs a center of population both as a health resort and a hub for agricultural, industrial, and educational activities. In 1852, Malcolm McNeill, the grandson of Hector McNeill, built a hotel which was replaced by the Townsend Hotel in 1891. The Lumber Bridge military company took part in the festive July 4th opening of McNeill's Hotel.

Incorporated in 1887, Red Springs has long been associated with education. In 1852, a frame school building was built near the hotel. For nearly forty years it was the site of religious meetings, dances, and school. The North Carolina Military Academy opened in 1899 and attracted male students until 1908.

In 1896, Red Springs Seminary opened as a female seminary. It was renamed Flora McDonald College in 1914 to honor the Scottish heroine who had helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the Stuart uprising in Scotland. Today the building, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, houses Flora McDonald Academy, as K-12 college-preparatory private school.

The annual Flora McDonald Highland Games and Gathering of Clans is held in October. Dancing, pipe band competition, and traditional games attract many visitors to the two-day event.

Cotton, soybean, tobacco, and lumber production have long been associated with the economic progress of this community. Textiles and agribusiness form a sold foundation for industrial expansion.

The railroad contributed to the establishment of Rowland. When the railway was extended to this area from Florence, SC in 1888, the people from Plainview established Rowland, naming it for Colonel Alfred Rowland, a Confederate officer. Its first general store was owned by R. S. Bond. A post office opened in 1888 and the town was incorporated in 1889.

The railway depot, built in 1890 and remodeled in 1925, now houses the McMurray-McKeller Museum that includes period furnishings and displays of railroad and other historic memorabilia.

Nearby historic sites include the Ashpole Presbyterian Church, organized in 1796, Providence A.M.E. Zion Methodist Church founded in 1885, and the grave site of Robert Adair, a famous early resident. Dr. Adair, author, soldier, and explorer, wrote "History of American Indians," published in 1775.

From its population of seventy-two in 1890, the town grew to 999 in 1940 and adopted the motto, "The town of a thousand friends." It was home to the county's first public library, established in 1903 by local residents, each donating one book to its collection, housed in the office of the local dentist, Dr. C. H. Lennon.

Known as a farming community amid rich, productive farmland, Rowland's residents take pride in the agricultural heritage.

St. Pauls dates back to 1799 when the St. Pauls Presbyterian Church was built on land donated by William Davis. During the early 1800s only four buildings comprised the town: the church, the post office, a livery stable, and Davis' home. The first community and businesses grew up around the sixteen-mile post on the stage road from Fayetteville to Lumberton, where coaches changed horses at Davis' livery stable.

The town's growth resulted in the establishment of an academy, Robeson Institute, in 1845. A 1925 paper reports that "It was a mixed school (gender), but was taught by competent teachers." In 1885, the academy burned and was never rebuilt. A new school, combined with the Masonic Lodge, was built in 1886.

The textile industry flourished during the early part of the twentieth century with the building of three cotton mills by 1920. The worldwide depression of the 1930s contributed to the selling of the mills in 1943 to Burlington Mills Corporation. The textile industry continues to be a leading contributor to the area's economy.

The railroad industry contributed much to the history of St. Pauls. The Virginia & Carolina Southern Railroad, connecting St. Pauls with Lumberton and Elizabethtown and branching with the Atlantic Coast Line at Hope Mills, was built 1907-1910 by the Atlantic Improvement Company. This influenced the surveying and sale of home lots and establishment of the business section next to the railway station.

The town was incorporated in 1909, the same year of the town's first telephone line. An electric power line came to St. Pauls in 1912. Both of these local companies were bought in the 1920s by companies offering statewide service.

In 1923, St. Pauls was described as a "rosebud of nature's beauty" with its three cotton mills, flour mill, bank newspaper, lumber company, ice company, three doctors, three lawyers, and "nice wide streets with plans to pave."

Today, the area surrounding St. Pauls is known for its diversified farming and improving economic base.

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