Wilson County was formed in 1855 from portions of Edgecombe, Nash, Wayne and Johnston counties. It was named in honor of Louis D. Wilson, a member of the State Legislature from Edgecombe County and a colonel in the army. Wilson died in Veracruz of fever while serving in the Mexican-American War. He was a well known benefactor of the poor in his native county.
The area that became Wilson County was originally home to the Tuscarora Indians. Settlers from southeastern Virginia eventually began moving south into the Edgecombe area around 1720. The earliest recorded land ownership in what is now Wilson County was dated 1730, when Lewis Conner of Norfolk County, Virginia, patented 10,000 acres on Toisnot Swamp.
Located in the east central part of the state, Wilson County is bounded by Edgecombe, Greene, Johnston, Nash, Pitt and Wayne counties. The first county court was ordered by legislature to be held at Benjamin Barden’s store in the small village of Wilson until a courthouse could be built. After the initial courthouse was completed, additions were made to the building in 1873.
The town of Wilson–home to about 450 citizens in 1855–served as an important intersection of the north, south, east and west railways. Originally a major exporter of cotton, Wilson eventually grew to become the world’s center for the sale and export of Bright Leaf (Virginia) Tobacco. It still remains the largest Bright Leaf Tobacco market in the Western Hemisphere.
The present land area is 374.00 square miles and the population was 81,401 as of 2014. Wilson is still the county seat.
Above: Kinsey Hall at Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College), 1873. Kinsey was the original building on campus. Photo courtesy of Wilson County Public Library.