Wilson County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



Louis Dicken Wilson


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1740s / Settlers of Edgecombe County

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

Battles & Skirmishes


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Airports in Wilson County

Maps of Wilson County

Books About Wilson County

Genealogy Sources

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A History of Wilson County

Old Wilson County Court House

Wilson County was formed in 1855 from Edgecombe, Nash, Johnston, and Wayne counties. It was named in honor of Louis Dicken Wilson, many times a member of the North Carolina legislature from Edgecombe County from 1814 to 1846, an officer of the Mexican-American War who died near Vera Cruz of fever, and a benefactor of the poor of his native county. It is in the east-central section of the state and is bounded by Pitt, Greene, Wayne, Johnston, Nash, and Edgecombe counties. The present land area is 371.09 square miles and the 2010 population was 81,234.

The court was ordered to be held at Benjamin Barden's store in Wilson, a village already established, until a court house could be built. Commissioners were to acquire a site within one-fourth of a mile of the existing town of Wilson and erect a court house. Wilson has been the county seat ever since.

Whether you're looking for Southern hospitality, the east coast's largest antique market, historic homes and sights, one of eastern North Carolina's most popular attractions for kids, superb golfing, or the best plate of pork barbecue, Wilson is the place for you. Wilson is named for General Louis Dicken Wilson (1789-1841) who was a state Senator and an early advocate of the public school movement. Incorporated in 1849 as a farm market, Wilson has taken great care to preserve its past. Called one of North Carolina's most beautiful cities, with an abundance of treasures and simple pleasures, the town of Wilson is full of fun, nostalgia, and historic sites, just waiting for your discovery.

When the first English American settlers reached the region that is now Wilson County in the mid-eighteenth century, they began to transform the dense woodland, chopping the trees for naval stores and planting crops that would feed the growing families of the region. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, these settlers had founded churches and stores in a clearing near a hickory grove; this settlement grew into a small town which, despite its size, offered citizens educational, social, and business opportunities unique in the region.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the area had developed to the point that the existing community of Wilson was chosen as the county seat for the newly established county of Wilson. At this time, the railroad in Wilson County provided access to the port of Wilmington and cultural center of Richmond; the city and county prospered as a trading center at the heart of this vital railroad line.

Following the American Civil War, farmers turned from cotton to tobacco, a crop perfectly adapted to the region's sandy soil. Merchants seized the opportunities that the new crop provided, and by the early twentieth century, Wilson had become the world's largest bright leaf tobacco market.

Wilson and Wilson County have continued to grow and prosper. Today, the county's farmland produces crops worth $100 million annually, while the city boasts twenty-two industries that employ over one hundred individuals. More than 8,500 jobs are held in manufacturing facilities in Wilson County. Cultural, social, and educational opportunities for citizens of the region have more than kept pace with the growth of the city and the county; citizens of Wilson and Wilson County take pride in excellent schools, invigorating recreational activities, and rich cultural and artistic experiences. At the center of this history, at the center of all the changes that have occurred here over the past three hundred and fifty years, are the citizens of Wilson and Wilson County, for the history of the region is the history of its people.

American Indians inhabited the area that became Wilson County for centuries before white and black people moved into the Carolinas. Detailed knowledge of their history and way of life is not known, but in the 17th and 18th centuries, Tuscarora Indians lived in the area of eastern North Carolina that would become Wilson and its surrounding counties. Of Iroquois stock, their name meant Hemp Gatherers.

The earliest European settlers in this area arrived about 1740 but they remained few in number. Most came from Virginia, rather than directly from England or the Carolina coast. At the time of the American Revolution the area was still only lightly settled. British troops under Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis traveled through what would become Wilson County on their trek north from Wilmington to Yorktown, Virginia during the war.

Wilson County, as established in 1855, measured about thirty miles east to west and twenty miles north to south and contained 373 square miles. It straddled the vague boundary between coastal plain and piedmont. The land was almost level, with slight rolling hills especially to the west and northwest. Streams were narrow and surrounded by swampy land, particularly in the early days. The highest elevation is only 305 feet above sea level, in the northwestern corner of the county, and the lowest point fifty feet above sea level in the extreme southeast of the county. Wilson, both the center of the county and its capital, is about 138 feet above sea level. Tar and turpentine were the principal cash products at the time, with cotton becoming important in the 1860s and tobacco in the 1890s.

The railroad was the real making of Wilson in the nineteenth century. By late 1839, the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad completed the tracks through what would become Wilson County with stops at Bardin's Depot (Black Creek), Toisnot (Wilson), and Joyner's Depot (Elm City). Nine years later, in 1848, Wyatt Moye and Joshua Barnes, both of Edgecombe County, introduce bills in the legislature to "incorporate Toisnot Depot and Hickory Grove, in the County of Edgecombe into a town by the name of Wilson." The town, officially established on January 29, 1849, was named after Louis Dicken Wilson (1789-1847). General Wilson, son of an Edgecombe planter, had been a state Representative for five terms and state Senator for fourteen terms (1820, 1824 to1832, and 1838 to 1846). He organized a company of local volunteers for the Mexican-American War but died during the war from fever.

Joshua Barnes and his fellow legislators, David Williams and George Howard, helped to incorporate Wilson County six years later from four other counties, Edgecombe, Nash, Wayne, and Johnston. The legislature formally proclaimed Wilson County on February 14, 1855. Wilsonians "had quite a spirited and lively celebration" upon hearing the news. There was a ball with a brass band held on a Thursday night, a party on Friday, and a "Barbecue and public speaking" on Saturday. "A large concourse of ladies and gentlemen from adjoining counties attended."

Elm City is the second largest town in Wilson County. First known as Joyner's Depot, it was chartered as Toisnot in 1873. The railroad changed its name to Elm City, which the town finally accepted in 1913. Stantonsburg, in 1817, became the area's first incorporated town. Other Wilson County towns include Black Creek, incorporated in 1870, Saratoga, chartered in 1873 and again in 1899, Lucama, incorporated in 1889, and Sims, chartered in 1913 and incorporated in 1923.

Wilson County did well out of cotton after the Civil War but there were plenty of cotton counties and cotton farmers throughout the South. In 1890, Wilson opened its first tobacco warehouse and by 1920, Wilson was the World's Greatest Tobacco Market. Hackney Brothers established a thriving carriage manufacturing business by the turn of the century. Black entrepreneurs like Samuel Hynes Vick and Charles L. Darden also did well. Barton College, formerly called Atlantic Christian College, opened in 1902 and presently serves an international student body.

After World War II, Wilson County diversified its economy and is now home to large tire and pharmaceutical manufacturers, an array of smaller manufacturers, antique stores, and other commercial and tourist activities as well as tobacco marketing firms.

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