Warren County (1779)

Written By Jonathan Martin

When Warren County was founded, it was still home to several Native American tribes, particularly the Haliwa, Tuscarora, and Saponi.  The Trading Path extended from middle North Carolina into what is now Petersburg, Virginia. Indians traded furs with Virginians, and the path passed the present town of Norlina in Warren County. However, by the beginning of the 1700s, large numbers of English settlers caused native tribes to move away from present-day Warren County. Today, the Haliwa-Saponi tribe earned state acknowledgement in the late 1970s, and Warren County remains a home to many of these Native Americans.

During the early growth of Warren County, agriculture and spring health spas helped bolster the population and economy of the region. Both tobacco and cotton plantations thrived in Warren County, and much of the county’s wealth continued into middle of the nineteenth century. By the end of the Civil War, however, the plantation economy in Warren had dwindled away. Several hot springs, in particular Shocco Springs, attracted tourists and wealthy northerners to the area during the winter months. From 1815 until 1875, Shocco Springs was a vacation spot for tourists across the eastern seaboard. Annie Carter Lee (1839-1862), the daughter of Robert E. Lee, lived at the White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia resort during the Civil War, but she later died of typhoid fever and was buried in Warren County.

In addition to agriculture, the political realm of Warren County produced several state and national leaders of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Perhaps the most renowned politician was Nathaniel Macon (1758-1837).  Macon was an “Old Republican,” who served as both Speaker of the US House of Representatives and a US Senator.  William Miller (1783-1825) and James Turner (1766-1824) were other Warren County natives.  Both served as North Carolina governors.

Before the Civil War, a numerous group of free blacks lived in Warren County, and during Reconstruction the black community gained political power. Warren County native John A. Hyman (1840-1891) was the first North Carolina black man to serve in Congress, and he was elected in 1874. Despite the attempt to establish a black majority in Warren County, the county’s economy never experienced growth. Yet, by the end of World War II, the black community sought equal rights. Ella Baker and Floyd B. McKissick were two leaders that led the civil rights movement in Warren County during the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, tourists visit Warren County to see its historic sites and its two lakes, Lake Gaston and Kerr Lake. The Warrenton Historic District has several nineteenth-century homes, earning a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. North Carolinians and Virginians who boat and fish visit Lake Gaston and Kerr Lake during the summer time. Both lakes extend into Warren County and they were both man-made; John H. Kerr proposed a bill to create Kerr Lake in the 1940s and the lake is named in honor of the Congressman.

Once a part of the now-extinct Bute County, the Piedmont county of Warren was established by the North Carolina legislature in 1779. The county is named after Dr. Joseph Warren, a Patriot physician who died during the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the seat of government in the county, Warrenton, is also named in honor of Dr. Warren. Other towns and communities located in Warren County include Arcola, Macon, Inez, Manson, Norlina, Wise, Liberia, and Littleton. The town of Littleton extends into the neighboring county of Halifax.