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Nash County (1777)

A county located on the border between the coastal and piedmont sections of the state, Nash County has long been heralded as a leading agricultural county in the state of North Carolina. The county is ranked 8th in the state, for most of the land is solely used for farming. Farmers in the area produce cucumbers, tobacco, corn, sweet potatoes, soybeans, cotton, and livestock. An important textile mill, the Rocky Mount Mill, was located in Nash County, and it was the second of its kind in North Carolina. In regards to Nash County’s manufacturing industry, businesses in the region produce goods such as apparel, pharmaceuticals, diesel engines, and electronic fuel control systems.

General Francis Nash (1742-1777) was born in Hillsborough and his name is attached to both the county and the seat of government. During the Revolutionary War, General Nash, serving under George Washington at the Battle of Germantown, died in combat. The state of North Carolina formed the county shortly after Nash’s death in 1777 and decided to name the new area after the heroic general. In the late eighteenth century, migrants started to settle Nashville, the county seat, and in 1815, the town was incorporated into the county.

Besides Nashville, Nash County holds several other communities and important natural rivers and creeks. Sharpsburg, Rocky Mount, and Whitakers are three townships that Nash shares with bordering counties. Additionally, Bailey, Stanhope, Momeyer, Spring Hope, and Castalia are other communities within Nash County. The Tar River, the Moccasin, Swift, and Deer Branch Creeks, and White Oak Swamp are some tributaries and bodies of water within the region.

Nash County is the host home to a university, several historical and cultural sites, and it hosts annual events and festivals. The China American Tobacco Company Factory started production in the early twentieth century, and the first Hardee’s Restaurant opened in Nash in 1960. That same year, North Carolina Wesleyan College, a Methodist liberal arts university started accepting students into the first student body.  The Outdoor Art Show, the Spring Hope Pumpkin Festival, the Nashville Blooming Festival, and the Freedom Celebration are important events held in Nash each year. Other important cultural establishments include the Tank Theatre, the Country Doctor Museum, the Playhouse Community Theatre, and the Nash County Historical Association.

Some important natives and residents of Nash County include Harold D. Cooley and Jim Thorpe. Jim Thorpe (1886-1953) was one of the greatest Indian athletes of all time, and he started his baseball career with the Rocky Mount Railroaders in 1909 in Nash County. Harold D. Cooley (1897-1974), a native of Nashville, chaired the Agriculture Committee (click here for an article on the New Deal in NC) during President Roosevelt’s tenure. In reference to the Marshall Plan, he was quoted: “Bread and butter rather than bullets and bayonets are the most powerful weapons in our arsenal.”

In 1836, P.T. Barnum visited Nash County, and it became the first recorded place of his famous circus. However, the “World’s Greatest Showman” did not impress residents with his circus, but with a sermon. On November 13, 1836, after a Sunday service at the Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, Barnum spoke to a group of three hundred on the “duties and privileges of man.”


“Nash County.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).

“The History of Nash County.” Nash County Government website., (accessed November 9, 2011).

“Jim Thorpe; P.T. Barnum; Harold D. Cooley.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources., (accessed November 9, 2011).

By Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project

See Also:

Related Categories: Counties
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Timeline: 1776-1835 , 1836-1865 , 1866-1915 , 1916-1945 , 1946-1990 , 1990-present
Region: Coastal Plain , Piedmont Plateau

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