The Formation and Naming of Edgecombe County
On May 16, 1732 Royal Governor George Burrington, with the consent of his Council, granted the petition of the growing population within a large area south of the Roanoke River to an upper branch of the Northeast Cape Fear River for a new governmental precinct with representation in the Colonial Assembly. The Governor decreed this to be the new Edgecombe Precinct, named after Richard Edgcumbe, Lord of the English Treasury. Although this type of action had been taken in the past by Royal Governors, the Colonial Assembly refused to accept the new governmental unit, primarily due to the large size of the precinct and the potential for its representation to shift the political balance of the Colony.
After several years of political debate and defeated Legislative Acts, an agreement was finally reached, and the new precinct was officially created by the Colonial Assembly in 1741. The year in which the actual “County” of Edgecombe was created is not as clear, as the current boundaries within Edgecombe Precinct began to shift almost immediately after it was created, as smaller, more easily governed areas started to petition and were approved as separate counties, such as Granville County in 1746, Halifax County in 1758, Franklin County in 1776 and Nash County in 1777.
Edgecombe County, with the boundaries as known today, finally came about when Wilson County was created in 1855, taking a large portion of the southwestern corner of Edgecombe, and just after the Civil War in 1871 when the boundary between Edgecombe and Nash Counties was shifted easterly to the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad line. Another very minor and final shift occurred in 1883.
Richard Edgcumbe, for whom the precinct and county were named, was born in 1680 and died in 1758. He became the first Baron of Mount Edgcumbe in 1742. He lived at his Mount Edgcumbe estate in Cornwall, England, and never came to the Colony of North Carolina. Why and when the spelling of the county name was changed from Edgcumbe to Edgecombe is not known.
The original Baron Richard Edgcumbe portrait is part of the Mount Edgcumbe Collection of Cornwall, England. For more information about Edgecombe County history, visit the Edgecombe County Memorial Library's website.