Pitt County History
The county was formed in 1760 from Beaufort County, though the legislative act
that created it did not become effective until January 1, 1761. It was named
for William Pitt the Elder, who was then Secretary of State for the Southern
Department and Leader of the House of Commons. William Pitt was an English
statesman and orator, born in London, England. He studied at Oxford University
and in 1731 joined the army. Pitt led the young "Patriot" Whigs and in 1756
became secretary of state, where he was a pro-freedom speaker in British
Pitt County got its name from William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. William Pitt was
an English statesman and orator, born in London, England. Pitt County was
formed in 1760 from Beaufort County, though the legislative act that created
it did not become effective until January 1, 1761. The historic Fleming House
is the current headquarters of the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce,
an organization composed of 1,000+ members. The home’s history is inextricably
linked with East Carolina University, the City of Greenville and all of
Eastern North Carolina. Senator James L. Fleming and wife, Loula, were
the first occupants of the home in 1901. Sen. Fleming’s claim to fame is
undoubtedly his instrumental effort in bringing ECTTC (East Carolina
Teachers Training College) to Greenville. As a matter of fact, the Chamber
is quite proud to have the very desk and chair in which Sen. Fleming sat
and signed the documentation creating our cherished university. Over the
past 100 years ECTTC has evolved into ECU, the state’s third largest
university and the region’s educational and medical hub.
Courts were first held at the home of John Hardy until a courthouse could
be built. The courthouse was built on Hardy's land near Hardy's Chapel.
In 1771 Martinsboro was established, and in 1774 the courthouse was moved
there. In 1787 Martinsboro's name was changed to Greenville, which is still
the county seat.
History of Pitt County's Formation
The Changing Shape of Pitt County, North Carolina: 1761-1895
Bath, the Parent County
Shortly after migration from the Virginia Colony began, Carolina was
divided into three major precincts: Albemarle, Bath, and Old Clarendon.
In time, each precinct/county was divided and sub-divided. A complete
study of North Carolina's county formation can be found elsewhere.
Bath County, which was originally formed in 1696, was the great-grandmother
of Pitt County.
In 1706, one of the sub-divisions of Bath was named "Pamptecough" County,
the grandmother of Pitt. This Indian word was gradually anglicized to
"Pamlico," now the name of the major waterways upon which Pamtecough bordered
(the Pamlico Sound, and the Pamlico River). An even later division ( in 1879)
created the contemporary Pamlico County.
In 1712, another division resulted in, among others, Beaufort County, mother
of Pitt. In North Carolina, this word is pronouced to rhyme with "bow, low,
or slow." In South Carolina, inhabitants of Beaufort town pronouce the same
word to rhyme with "pew, new, or shoe."
The shape of Beaufort County remained more-or-less unchanged for nearly 50
years. The historic map shows that the lands west of the original Beaufort
County (later to include Pitt), were largely unexplored as late as 1729.
John Lawson had begun expeditions up the Pamlico/Tar River in 1703, and was
primarily responsible for the western push. He met his end in the Tuscarora
Indian War of 1711, and migration by the white men was curtailed for several
years afterward. But, eventually the population increased, and the distances
to the court house became inconvenient. At that time, the inhabitants of the
western half of Beaufort County petitioned for division, and Pitt County was
officially formed on Jan. 1, 1761.
The timeline, below, outlines the chronology of the changes.
Timeline Summary: 1696-1895
1696: Bath County established
1705: Pamptecough County created from Bath
1712: Beaufort County formed from Pamtecough
1761: Pitt County created from Beaufort; line between Pitt and Craven left
1764: Dobbs County (no longer extant) line established, annexing part to Pitt
1784: Original Edgecombe and Martin County lines established
1785: Eastern portions of Pitt returned to its parent, Beaufort County
1787: Southern portion annexed from Craven County (Swift Creek area)
1801: Northern portion annexed to Edgecombe County
1805: An adjoining northern portion annexed to Martin County
1818: Craven County line finally decided and drawn
1894: Edgecombe and Martin County lines redrawn (again)
1895: Green County (part of old Dobbs) and Pitt County line drawn
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 655 square
miles (1,700 km2), of which, 652 square miles (1,690 km2) of it is land and
3 square miles (7.8 km2) of it (0.49%) is water.
The county is divided into seventeen townships: Arthur, Ayden, Belvoir,
Bethel, Black Jack, Carolina (Stokes), Chicod, Falkland, Farmville,
Fountain, Greenville, Grifton, Grimesland, Pactolus, Simpson, Swift
Creek, and Winterville.
Martin County, North Carolina - northeast
Beaufort County, North Carolina - east
Craven County, North Carolina - south-southeast
Lenoir County, North Carolina - south-southwest
Greene County, North Carolina - southwest
Wilson County, North Carolina - west
Edgecombe County, North Carolina - northwest
Cities and towns
Pitt County Creeks and Waterways
Just Where is It?
The importance of creek and river geography cannot be overstated. Deeds
often located property by describing proximity to waterways--the "main
highways" of travel and commerce. When the Pitt County Court House burned
in 1858, all the official records, except the deeds , were destroyed.
Therefore, deeds are critically important as the only county records available
for studying Pitt County inhabitants between the years 1761 and 1858.
Derivation of Names
Many of North Carolina's waterways got their names from the Indians who had
lived on the land for generations. Descendants of the Algonquin Tribes, the
Tuscarora Indians had many towns along the ancient courses. Through time,
some of the Indian names were highly anglicized (Contankney to Contentnea),
while others were replaced with different names altogether (Moratock to
Roanoke). Because the earliest deeds refer to the rivers and creeks by their
Indian names, the researcher should learn them.
Interestingly enough, the Taw/Tar River, which flows through Pitt County, is
the same water course as the Pamlico River. The name changes exactly at the
crossing of the river by the contemporary bridge in Washington (Beaufort Co.),
NC. Look, on any map, at the point where the river suddenly narrows, and you
are close to the dividing line between the Pamlico and the Tar.
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