Jones County (1779)

Written By Jonathan Martin

A coastal county established from Craven County in 1779, Jones County was named in honor of Willie Jones. An aristocrat from Halifax, Willie Jones (pronounced Wiley) was a prominent Anti-Federalist in North Carolina during the ratification debate in the state. Jones was influential in the political opposition of the federal constitution, and he had much to with North Carolina’s delay in entering the federal Union. (For a commentary on Willie Jones by Dr. Troy Kickler please click here).

Trenton, originally referred to as Trent Bridge, became the seat of government of Jones County in 1784. The Trent River flows through Jones County, and both the river and county seat are named after the Trent River in England. Other communities in Jones include Pollacksville, Pleasant Hill, and Maysville.

Various forests and bodies of water dot the Jones County landscape. The Great Dover Swamp encompasses much of the northern section of the county while White Oak Pocosin is located in the southern part of Jones. Hoffman Forest, the nation’s largest laboratory forest, encompasses over 78,000 acres in both Jones and Onslow County.

The Tuscarora originally inhabited present Jones County, but German and Swiss settlers came to Jones at the beginning of the 1700s. The Tuscarora War and Cary’s Rebellion engulfed the early residents of the county. Once both conflicts had ended, the economy of Jones County began to grow, especially its agricultural industry. An agricultural center for the early North Carolina colony, Jones thrived due to the Trent River that served as both a trade passageway and water source for area farmers.

Before the Civil War, Jones County had a cash crop economy.  By the 1860s, the county had one of the wealthiest plantation economies in the United States, but the Civil War ended the success of area plantations. Many farms and plantations were destroyed during the war, and farmers in Jones County entered into tenant farming. Today, farmers and foresters continue the agricultural heritage of the county, with tobacco and lumber as the principal products from Jones County.

Furnifold M. Simmons (1854-1930) was a famous native of Jones County, serving in both the U.S. Congress and Senate in the late 1880s and early 1900s. Simmons dominated the Senate for thirty years, managing the Simmons Machine and chairing the Senate Finance Committee during World War I. Senator Simmons had much to do with the creation of both Fort Bragg and the Intracoastal Waterway.

An important historic home in Jones County remains the Shine Home that was constructed around 1815. In 1819, both President James Monroe and the Secretary of War, John Calhoun, spent the night at the Shine House. Several other historic sites in Jones County include the John Franck House, the Foscue Plantation House, and the Lavender-Barrus House.

James Madison and John Calhoun were not the only famous politicians to spend time in Jones County. President George Washington toured the American states more than any other president before the twentieth century, and in 1791, Washington embarked on a tour throughout the South. After leaving a gala in New Bern, President Washington and his party made their way to Trenton and arrived on April 22, 1791. The first president stayed at Shrine tavern while he was in Jones County.