The earliest inhabitants of what is now known as Wilson County were Native American people of the Tuscarora tribe. By the early 18th century, most of the tribe had left the area. The remnants of the tribe migrated north to merge with other members of the Iroquoian Confederacy after their defeat in the Tuscarora War of 1716. After this time, both European and African slaves moved into area around 1740. Many of the new settlers were well-to-do planters who produced turpentine and pitch from the vast stands of pine trees. Other inhabitants engaged in subsistence farming, hunting, and gathering.
As the population increased, Wyatt Moye, state senator from Edgecombe County proposed a bill to the state legislature to incorporate a new town near Toisnot Depot and Hickory Grove. This new community in Edgecombe County was to be named Wilson in honor and memory of Louis Dicken Wilson (1789-1847). Wilson was a prominent politician and military officer who died during the Mexican War. He was considered “the most eminent citizen of Edgecombe County.” On 29 January 1849, the town of Wilson was incorporated, with General Joshua Barnes as the first mayor.
Joshua Barnes was noted as the area’s leading and most wealthy citizen and was a vocal advocate for the formation of Wilson County. It also should be noted that it was because of his friendship with Louis Dicken Wilson that the town and county was so named. Barnes served as a general in the state militia but saw no military action. Barnes was also an influential advocate for the establishment of formal education within the area and is historically noted as “the father of Wilson County.” The new county of Wilson was formed six years later, but not without controversy. This proposed county was to absorb parts of Edgecombe, Nash, Wayne, and Johnston counties and was widely opposed by the citizens of those counties.
Today Wilson County continues to thrive with successful companies, a strong public education system, higher education institutions - Barton College and Wilson Community College, excellent highways and transportation venues, small neighborhood towns and a thriving central city of Wilson. Our county leaders want a strong, healthy, and vibrant place for citizens to work, live, play and call home.