A coastal county annexed from Chowan, Bertie, and Northampton, Hertford County was established in 1759. Como, Ahoskie, Murfreesboro, Harrellsville, and the county seat of Winton are towns and communities within Hertford. The county was established by a General Assembly act, and the county received its name in honor of the marquis of Hertford, England, Francis Seymour Conway. The Chowan River, which passes the town of Winton, serves as an important fishing and freshwater source in Hertford County.
The soil and natural water resources of Hertford County sustained its early inhabitants. Three separate tribes called modern-day Hertford home before the arrival of English settlers. The Tuscarora, Chowanoac, and Meherrin all lived in the region. The Meherrin, although original inhabitants of southern Virginia, moved to settlements near the Chowan River in the 1730s several years of the Tuscarora War. Today, the Meherrin Tribe of Hertford County is recognized by the State of North Carolina, with more than 700 tribal members residing around Winton near the Meherrin River.
Early settlers from both the Roanoke and Jamestown colonies traversed Hertford County in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Many English farmers were attracted by the region’s farmland, and the Chowan River supplied water and became a trade route for settlers. Before the colony of North Carolina was formed, the British government referred to modern-day Hertford County as the Parish of St. Barnabas.
During the Civil War, the town of Winton was burnt and decimated by Union forces on February 20, 1862. Eight gunboats attacked the meager Confederate defense in Winton on February 19th, and the next day, Confederate soldiers fled the town. As part of one of the first amphibious assaults in American military history, both Union army and navy soldiers burnt Confederate buildings throughout Winton. Most of the town was destroyed including the county courthouse, and Winton became the first town in North Carolina burnt and destroyed by Union soldiers.
The agricultural sector has remained the primary industry in Hertford County. Farms produce crops ranging from tobacco to peanuts to soybeans. In the 1950s several measures were implemented for Hertford to transition into a manufacturing based economy. However, according to historian William S. Powell, agriculture continued to reign supreme even through the beginning of the twenty-first century.
John H. Wheeler (1806-1882), born in Murfreesboro to a merchant, served as president of the U.S. Mint in Charlotte after his appointment to the position through President Andrew Jackson. In 1854, Wheeler became the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, and he would become president of UNC-Chapel Hill’s historical society upon his retirement from politics.
John Wheeler Moore (1833-1906) was born at Mulberry Grove in Hertford County, and his contributions to North Carolina history included a history on schools in the state, a memoir sketch of Hertford County, and a complete roster of all North Carolina soldiers who served in the Civil War.
Another historical figure born in Murfreesboro was the prominent inventor Richard J. Gatling (1818-1903). Gatling invented the precursor to today’s machine gun in the 1860s after the start of the Civil War. Colt’s Armory Company bought the patent for the Gatling gun in 1870, and Richard Gatling continued inventing plows and other agricultural creations until his death in 1903.
“Hertford County; Meherrin Indians; Burning of Winton.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
“History and Location.” Hertford County government website. http://www.hertfordcountync.gov/?page_id=2682, (accessed November 30, 2011).
“John H. Wheeler; Richard J. Gatling; John Wheeler Moore.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. (accessed November 30, 2011).