(Editor’s note: This article is from the May 18, 1940 issue of the Raleigh News & Observer, and is reprinted with permission)
Sampson County, the home of the famed Sampson Blues (huckleberries), had its beginnings in 1784, when it was carved out of Duplin County by legislative enactment and named in honor of Colonel John Sampson, who, as an earlier and prominent resident of Wilmington and New Hanover County, had organized a company of militia and driven invading Spanish Buccaneers from the mouth of the Cape Fear River in 1748. He also served the Royal Governor as one of five members of the Colony’s Council of Safety.
The dividing line of the new county began where Doctor’s Creek emptied into Big Rock Fish and ran a northern line to the county of Wayne, which formed the eastern border of Sampson; and the western border was the run of South River. The northern border was the road leading from Averasboro to Waynesboro, the latter the county seat of Wayne County.
The county seat of the new county of Sampson was located at a crossroads where the road from New Bern to Fayetteville intersected the road from Elizabethtown to Smithfield. The first courthouse was built on a five-acre tract donated by General Richard Clinton, for whom the county seat was named. The original courthouse was built of logs.
Court of Pleas
Early days in Sampson found justice meted out by a County Court of Pleas, which was created in the year of the county’s founding. Colonel Sampson was chairman of the court and under his direction the county was soon divided in seven precincts or townships, with a former military leader in charge of each and under him a constable.
The first court had jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases, rendered decrees in divorce proceedings and granted letters of naturalization to foreigners. The first session of court was held at the residence of one Silas Myhand and met there until the erection of the courthouse in 1785. The county court held sway until it was succeeded by the board of commissioners. However, business sites were sold off the original five-acre Courthouse Square until it had shrunk to one acre.
The courthouse formed the nucleus of the town of Clinton and soon people moved in from all sections of the county, laid off streets, built homes, stores, and churches. Fraternal organizations were formed, with the Masons and Odd fellows taking a leading part in the civic life of the little town. Clinton had its official beginning in 1822 by an act of the NC Legislature, with a later amendment in 1852 that clarified local authority and incorporated a cemetery.
The old courthouse gave way to a more commodious structure. The lower part was of brick pillars, with two stories of wooden construction used for the courthouse. The first of the floors was for the offices, while the second floor was used as the court room and was reached by two sets of outside stairs. In 1904 a handsome brick structure was erected at a cost of $30,000, and it served until it was remodeled and added to at a cost of $100,000 in 1939.
From its inception Sampson County has been purely agricultural. In the pre-Civil War days it was even more so than now. The turpentine and timber business comprised the only industry of those days. There were no railroad facilities and few public roads, but the numerous local streams afforded transportation for commerce. Shortly before the Civil War, plank roads were built and allowed operation of stages and mail service.
The first railroad was built in 1887 when a branch was run from Warsaw to Clinton. Later the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railroad built a 41-mile line from Autryville to Ivanhoe.
The people who settled in the county were of English, Scottish, and Irish origin and the early settlements were mostly in those areas near the rivers and streams; hence the land arks are now found along the Coharies and the Black River. A group of 31 families migrated to Sampson from Connecticut and formed a valuable asset to the population of the section.
With the development of a more thickly populated settlement the people of Sampson turned their eyes toward providing means for education their young. The first known school was organized about 1830 and was known as the Graves Female Institute, which numbered among its students the young women of Sampson and adjoining counties. There was also a school for boys operated by Mrs. McLeod and Mrs. Grady. Both schools were long-lived, surviving until the days of the free schools. There were several outstanding schools within the county. At Ivanhoe there was the Johnson Academy, and at Ingold, Mrs. Wright’s Private School on the Coharie. Then there was the Salem School founded by Professor Royal, which later became to be known as Pineland College. There are also well-directed academies at Newton Grove and Piney Green.
Sampson was and still is a great county for religion. Even in its early days the county was dotted with county churches with the Methodists and the Baptists, in its various divisions being the most abundant. Presbyterians and Episcopalians soon organized churches. There has since that time been established a great Catholic school at Newton Grove where there a great number of families of that faith. Chapels are maintained at other places in the county.
William Rufus King was probably the county’s most celebrated native son. It was he who was elected vice-president of the United States with Franklin Pierce in 1852. He was the second son of William King and Margaret Devane. He read law for two years in the office of Judge Duffy of Fayetteville. His father was one of the county’s outstanding citizens and often represented the county in both branches of the General Assembly, and was a delegate to the State convention which ratified the federal Constitution at Fayetteville in 1789. Another distinguished son was Gabriel Holmes. He served North Carolina as Governor and was later elected to Congress. His son, Theophilus Holmes, graduated from West Point in 1828 as a classmate and close friend to Jefferson Davis, who went on to become President of the Confederate States of America. In 1861, Holmes joined the Confederacy and as a Lieutenant General, was the highest-ranking officer from his native state.
Famous descendants of these two men in the persons of Senators Key Pittman and John Holmes Overton are still carrying on the traditions of their forbearers.
The county also boats the names of Marion Butler, who was elected to the US Senate, John E. Fowler, who represented the district in Congress, and the present Congressman, Graham A. Barden.
Sampson County lies in southeastern North Carolina, the western boundary being about 15 miles from Fayetteville. The county has an area of 950 square miles, or 608,000 acres. The topography is gently rolling although many flat areas occur. The elevation above sea level ranges from about 65 feet to 200 feet. The drainage is complete over a large part of the county, but there are considerable swampy areas along the streams and other low-lying sections in which drainage is very poor.
The county is fairly uniformly settled, the southern part being more sparsely settled than the rest. The population was 36,000 in 1920 and about 40,000 in 1930. With the exception of the northern part, the county has good railroad facilities. Improved public roads lead in nearly all directions. The mean annual temperature is 61.5 degrees and the average growing season is 219 days.
Agriculture began in the county about 1745 and was confined to the second-bottom soils in the southern part. The upland soils were farmed after the Civil War.
Agriculture at the present consists of the production of corn, cotton, and tobacco as the important cash crops.
Truck crops have grown in recent years to a place of importance. Garden peas, potatoes, onions, bell peppers and sweet corn are raised in abundance. At Clinton, a large green corn market is located, and at Turkey is found the largest pepper market in the world. Clinton also has a large cotton market.
The county is the home to the famous Sampson Blues, or huckleberries. This delicious fruit has become a favorite all along the Atlantic seaboard. In the past decade there has been a trend toward cultivating the huckleberry and already many acres have been dedicated to their culture. However, the cost of transplanting the otherwise seemingly hardy bushes is too high for the average farmer and consequently their culture is restricted to a few who could spare the money for this purpose. Too, only one type of soil would grow huckleberries.
The forests of Sampson supply timber for the county’s numerous sawmills. Hundreds of acres of swampland provide the hardwood, while in the uplands, there are great stands of pines, both long-leaf and short-leaf varieties. The streams of Sampson abound in game fish, drawing both local citizens and visitors to get back to nature and try their luck.
Clinton, the county seat, has a population of about 3,000, which would be a gain over the total of 2,712 in 1930. Other incorporated towns include Roseboro, with a population of about 1,000 and home to the county’s only cotton mill; Salemburg, home of Edwards Military Academy and Pineland College; Garland, Turkey, Newton Grove, and Autryville. Ingold and Harrells Store are towns in size but are not incorporated.
Since the advent of the New Deal, Sampson County has been blessed with a great program of rural electrification. One great cooperative has built over 500 miles of lines, much of which is in Sampson County. In other sections the power companies have built the rural lines themselves, so that now there is hardly a section of the county that does not have a power line.
Sampson, being strictly agricultural, has paid much attention to the farmers and farm women of the future. There are currently thirteen 4-H clubs and a score of home demonstration clubs. In the clubs the farm women sponsor projects for the betterment of the school children in their communities, such as providing free lunches for the needy or equipping school kitchens to allow them to prepare hot lunches for the whole student body.
The government of Sampson County is of the commissioner type. There are three members of the board and they attend to the affairs of the county. In their monthly meetings they listen to the voice of the people. The two major political parties are about evenly divided in Sampson, and many are of the opinion that this division is responsible for the particularly fine governmental officers elected in Sampson.
There are 69 schools in Sampson County and in Clinton there are three schools. Enrollment in 1940 will reach over 11,000. A combined faculty of 340 teachers gives instruction. The school children are transported in 82 buses. Three new schools are part of the county’s school system: Roseboro, Plain View, and Salemburg.
The county has provided quarters for the Public Library in the new courthouse. Operation of the library is made possible through appropriations from the town of Clinton and the county, as well as WPA aid and money received through memberships.