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Chartered in 1873, Whiteville, North Carolina is named for James B. White, who owned over two thousand acres of land, including a plantation named Marsh Castle. Whiteville’s beginnings, however, date back to 1733. The town was originally part of a 640 acre tract inherited by attorney John Burgin and his wife, Margaret. In 1754 John Burgin served as secretary to Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs, and in 1766, as treasurer of the colony.
After the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the Whiteville area’s population grew. In 1808, to accommodate new settlers, Columbus County was created out of parts of Bladen and Brunswick counties. The site of the Columbus County Courthouse was chosen and given to Columbus County by James B. White, who became the county’s first state senator.
The area also witnessed the Civil War. Residents reported hearing the siege of Fort Fisher in 1865. Also that year, General William Sherman and his army allegedly passed through Whiteville; tales of looting and destruction have been handed down for generations.
As the South slowly rebuilt after the Civil War, so too did Whiteville and Columbus County. Whiteville had long been an agricultural community, but better roads and communications in the early twentieth century helped Whiteville to develop into a town. By 1930 Whiteville had a business district with practically every type of merchandise store. Whiteville, however, remained a center for farming in North Carolina; its three main crops were tobacco, strawberries, and peanuts. With four highways leading into town, farmers could ship crops throughout the state. Between 1920 and 1930, Whiteville’s population increased by over thirty-percent. Today, with a population of over 5,000, Whiteville is the largest town in Columbus County and serves as the county seat.
John Burgin served as Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs's (above) secretary. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries.
During the Civil War, Union General William T. Sherman and his army reportedly passed through Whiteville. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.