Sampson County (1784)

Written By Jonathan Martin

John Sampson, a Scotch-Irish planter who had settled in Duplin County in the mid-1770s, and his step-son Richard Clinton, influenced the formation of Sampson County. Both men served in the Duplin County militia and at respective times as the Register of Deeds. Sampson passed his public duties to Clinton, and in 1776, Richard became the representative for Duplin County in the N.C. House of Commons. In 1784, Clinton sponsored a bill that sought to create a new county in the state, and the legislature granted the request. Clinton, in honor of his stepfather, named the county “Sampson.”  Several years later, the county seat was established in 1852, and it took the name Clinton, in honor of the other founding father of Sampson County.

A coastal county, Sampson County’s original natives were the Coharie, and the European immigrants that followed them were the Welsh, English, and Scotch-Irish. In 1745, Henry McCulloch, a London merchant who was awarded a large land grant from the British king, allowed numerous settlers from Northern Ireland to inhabit and develop the early colony. Years later, northern immigrants from New Jersey and Massachusetts traveled and settled in Sampson County.

Clinton is the county seat of Sampson County, and other townships in the area include Suttontown, Elliott, Tomahawk, Garland, Newton Grove, Turkey, Harrells, Parkersburg, and Keener. Some physical traits and rivers in Sampson County are the Mingo and Starling Swamps, Warrens Pond, the Black River, Dismal Bay, and the Turkey and Wild Cat Creeks.

The county hosts various cultural events and commemorations. The Hollerin’ Contest is the most popular festival in Sampson. Held at Spivey’s Corner since the late 1960s, the annual Hollerin’ Contest commemorates hollering. Described by historian William S. Powell as an art that “before the the telephone, was an essential means of communicating for people in the rural areas of North Carolina.” The Hollerin’ Contest brings nearly 3,000 tourists to Sampson County every June, and the festival’s primary motive is to keep hollering alive in North Carolina and to raise money for the Volunteer Fire Department for Spivey’s Corner. Other events include the Sweet Potato Festival, the Fireman’s Day Parade and Festival, and the Rotary Fair and Parade.

Some important historic places and sites in Sampson County include the Archibald Monk House (ca. 1824), the Graves-Stuart House (ca. 1840s), Thirteen Oaks (1902), and the Clinton Depot and Freight Station (ca. 1920). In addition to these historic landmarks, the Sampson County History Museum, the Community Theatre Group, and the Dr. Victor R. Small Cultural Arts Center remain important cultural establishments in Sampson County.

An important gun factory that supplied North Carolina and Continental troops during the Revolutionary War was located in Sampson County. Commissioned in April 1776, the NC legislature allotted 1,000 pounds for the new factory, and the government ordered the factory to charge colonists no more than five pounds for one musket. Although the Tory militia ransacked the gun factory, the site constructed one hundred muskets, six smoothbore guns, and three rifles before ceasing production. During the Revolution, several factories like the one in Sampson County were formed in other towns, such as Edenton, Halifax, and Hillsborough.

Sampson County has been the birthplace to various politicians, soldiers, and other important North Carolinians. William R. King (1786-1853), perhaps Sampson’s most prominent native, became Ambassador to England and France, and King served as Vice President of the United States for a brief time until his death in 1853. Other natives include Micajah Autry, who fought at the Alamo with Davy Crockett, and Theophilus Homes, a North Carolina General who served in the Civil War. Homes earned the distinction as the highest ranking officer from North Carolina who served in the Confederate Army.