Tarboro History

Tarboro was established by the North Carolina Colonial Legislature in 1760. The town served the area as an important Colonial river port and thriving trade center until the Civil War.

History of Tarboro
Although it is generally agreed that the area around Tarboro was settled by 1733, Mosley's map of that year shows only Tuscarora Indians. In early days, the area was widely known as "Tawboro,” a name attributed to "Taw,” the Indian word for "river of health.” Tarrburg, as the town was called on maps of 1770-75, was chartered November 30, 1760 as Tarborough by the General Assembly. In September of the same year, Joseph and Ester Howell deeded 150 acres of their property to the Reverend James Moir, Lawrence Toole (a merchant), Captains Aquilla Sugg and Elisha Battle, and Benjamin Hart, Esquire, for five shillings and one peppercorn. As commissioners, these men were to lay out a town with lots of not more than 1/2 acre and streets not wider than 80 feet, with 12 lots and a 50-acre "common" set aside for public use. Lots were to be sold for two pounds, with the proceeds to be turned over to the Howells; however, full payment was not received for all of the 109 lots sold, and some were not sold for the 40 shillings price.

After Halifax County was divided out of Edgecombe County in 1758-1759, the original county seat of Enfield remained in Halifax County. Edgecombe County needed a new county seat. Tarboro officially became the county seat in 1764. For four years the county government met in Redman's Field. The North Carolina State Legislature met here once in 1787 and again in 1987. President George Washington is known to have slept in Tarboro during a visit on his 1791 Southern tour, and is noted to have said of our town that “it was the best salute you could have from a single cannon.”

According to the book, Edgecombe County: Twelve North Carolina Counties in 1810-1811, by Dr Jeremiah Battle, a descendant of Revolutionary War soldier Elisha Battle, the following is an 1810 account of the town on pages 82-83:

“Tarboro, the only town in the county, is handsomely situated on the south-west bank of Tar river, just above the mouth of Hendrick's Creek, in lat. 35 deg. 45 min. It is forty-eight miles west by north from Washington, thirty-six south of Halifax, eighty-three northwest of Newbern, and sixty-eight east of Raleigh. It was laid off into lots in the year 1760. The streets are seventy-two feet wide, and cross each other at right angles, leaving squares of two acres each. These squares being divided into half acre lots, makes every lot front or face two streets.

“There are about fifty private houses in it; and generally from fifteen to twenty stores, a church, a jail, two warehouses, and a large Court House, which in the year 1785 was used for the sitting of the State Legislature. There are several good springs adjacent to the town, but for culinary purposes almost every person or family has a well; and some of these wells afford good water the greater part of the year. This place affords good encouragement to all industrious persons, particularly merchants of almost every description. Sixty or seventy merchants have had full employment here at one time. But such of them as have emigrated to this place have too soon found themselves in prosperous situations, and have betaken themselves to idleness and dissipation.

“Merchants generally do well here, and there has scarcely been an instance of failing in the place. There are a few well built private houses, some of which have lately been finished. The style of building is as it is in the county, generally plain and cheap. The jail and one of the store houses are of brick.

“Adjacent to the town is the county seat of General Thomas Blount, where he has lately built a very good house, the best that is in the county. This is a beautiful eminence overlooking the town. An extensive green surrounds the house, back of which is a tract of twenty or thirty acres of rich swamp land, well ditched and drained, and is in a high state of cultivation.”

Other interesting facts noted by Dr. Battle in Edgecombe County: Twelve North Carolina Counties in 1810-1811:

“In April 1798 a Tornado passed thro the county, & thro Tarboro, which levelled trees & houses as it passed. In Tarboro several houses & chimnies were blown down. Posts were dislodged & blown many yards from their places.” (pp. 82-83)
“There has lately been erected at Tarboro a Turpentine Distillery. 2 stills are employed; each working from 15 to 20 Barrels.” (p. 85)
“In Tarboro many children are afflicted with that disorder so well known in the large cities by the name of Cholera Infantum. Why this disorder is so prevalent in a small town like this, & so little known in the country; while bilious complaints among adults are somewhat more common in the country than in town, is difficult to determine; unless it may be ascribed to the difference that is observable in the diet & management of children in town, & those raised in the country, which is certainly very great.” (p. 94)