Duplin County (1750)

Written By Jonathan Martin

The county seat of Duplin, Kenansville, was founded in 1852, and it received its name in honor of one of the original founders of the town, James Kenan. Other towns and communities within Duplin include: Calypso, Rose Hill, Warsaw, Beulaville, Magnolia, and Wallace. The Cape Fear River passes through the county; other bodies of water within Duplin include: Muddy Creek, Maxwell Mill Pond, and Picadilly Bay.

Originally a part of New Hanover County, Duplin was annexed and established on April 7, 1750, by the North Carolina General Assembly. Named in honor of a 1740s member of the Board of Trade and Plantations Sir Thomas Hays, Lord Duplin, the county is located in the coastal region of North Carolina. The first Indian groups to live in and around Duplin were the Sioua and Tuscarora. (For an entry on the Tuscarora and a war they had with the colonists, click here). Welsh immigrants were the first to inhabit Duplin in the early eighteenth century, and subsequent groups to migrate to the area were of Swiss, English, and German descent. Henry McCulloch accepted an allotment of over 70,000 acres in 1736, and McCulloch opened his tract to Scot-Irish planters and families who squatted on the Cape Fear and the surrounding tributaries in Duplin.

Sarecta, a town established by McCulloch, became the first town in Duplin in 1787. The Scottish and Swiss formed some of the early communities, and they settled near the Goshen Swamp and Golden Grove; Kenansville grew out of the original settlement at Golden Grove. The state’s first Presbyterians formed the first congregation in 1736, and they were known as the Grove church. Interestingly, the church remains active in Duplin to this very day.

Agriculture has always been vital to Duplin, but the naval store industry was the first economic development in the county. Lasting well into the 1800s, the early tar and pitch industry was sustained by the many pine trees in early Duplin. The Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, constructed in 1840, allowed Duplin to grow in both its population and economy. Today, products such as cotton, corn, tobacco, Christmas trees, cattle products along with industrial products, clothing, frozen food stuffs, and textiles, uphold the county’s economy.

The historical and cultural attractions of Duplin bring numerous visitors and tourists to the area annually. The Kenanville Historic District, the Liberty Hall Plantation, and the Dickson Farm are two historic properties in Duplin, and the William Rand Kenan Memorial Amphitheatre, the Tar Heel Fine Arts Society, and the Cowan Museum are additional cultural attractions in the county. Events held in Duplin include the North Carolina Pickle Festival, the Beach Music festival at the Winery, and the Warsaw Veterans Day Celebration. According to historian William S. Powell, the Warsaw veterans event is the oldest Veterans Day celebration in the nation.

A well-known tourist destination is Duplin Winery. The oldest, operating winery in the Tar Heel State, it was started in the 1960s.