Lenoir County (1791)

Written By Sai Srikanth

Formed in 1791 out of the now extinct Dobbs County, Lenoir County is named for William Lenoir, Speaker of the State Senate, a Revolutionary War hero, and a University of North Carolina trustee. Lenoir County residents supported a state bill suggesting that Kinston (Dobbs County’s county seat) serve as Lenoir’s county seat. For over two centuries, Kinston has remained in that position. Other communities in Lenoir County include Deep Run, Institute, Dawson, Pink Hill, Graingers, and La Grange.


The vibrant history of Lenoir County is a direct reflection of its early foundation. Governor Richard Caswell, the first Governor of North Carolina, was instrumental in introducing the aforementioned bill that incorporated Kinston as the county seat of Lenoir County. After his tenure as governor expired, he settled in Kinston, where his memorial remains. Lenoir County also played a significant role during the Civil War. The CSS Neuse, a Confederate ship that was deliberately sunk by its captain to avoid capture by Union forces, contains over 15,000 nineteenth-century artifacts and is available for tour in Kinston. Furthermore, two Civil War engagements occurred in Lenoir County: the Battle of Kinston, 1862, and the Battle of Wyse Fork, 1865. Most of these sites, along with several others, are listed either on the National Register of Historic Places or deemed a State Historic Site.


Although agriculture dominated Lenoir County’s economy for the first 150 years, North innovation became increasingly popular during the 1950s. The chemical industry was the first to arrive in Lenoir, with DuPont establishing a polyester manufacturing plant there in 1954. Small agro-businesses emerged during the 1980s to mitigate labor costs for farmers. But the 1990s was a turning point for Lenoir, as the county began constructing the Global TransPark (GTP), an integrated business and transportation complex. The county hoped that the park would reel in national investors and ignite the economy, much like the Research Triangle Park has done for Wake, Durham, and Orange counties. There are, however, critics of the GTP, who assert that its incurred too much debt and is heavily relying on state support to stay afloat.  


A multitude of notable persons hail from Lenoir County. Sports stars, including Jerry Stackhouse, Cedric Maxwell, Dwight Clark, Larry Beck, George Shackelford, Tyrone Willingham, Reggie Bullock, and Chris Hatcher. Public servants like Federal Judge Malcolm Howard, lawyer and activist Marion A. Parrot, and sheriff Rickie Pearson, Jr., were all born in Kinston. The small town of La Grange has also produced two notable names: The Corsairs, a popular 1960s doo-wop group, and iconic drug lord Frank Lucas, who’s life was immortalized in the 2007 film, American Gangster.