(Editor’s note:This 16-part Historical Society piece was written by James Reynolds in 1991 and has now been edited and submitted by Joel W. Rose.)
The following is a compilation of anecdotes, experiences, and stories of local history pertaining mostly to Clinton and Sampson County by James Ingram Reynolds, son of Julian Thomas and Ida Harris Reynolds, who was born on Sampson Street at the intersection of East Lee St. on Aug. 31, 1906. These accounts related to me by learned persons in whom I have the utmost confidence in their honesty and integrity are combined with my own personal knowledge and are recorded in compliance with numerous requests and with the hope that it will be interesting and beneficial to present as well as future generations.
One of the people that I’ve called upon in the past was Mr. Ferdinand Badger Johnson (1876-1968), who had a vast storehouse of historical knowledge about Clinton. He died in the same room and the same house in which he was born at 320 West Main St. in Clinton, and he lived to be a nonagenarian. Others were Judge Henry Faison, Dr. O. L. Parker, and also my beloved mother who was a school teacher and was born in 1869. Some of the following accounts will be humorous, not so intended by me, but because they are supposed to be actual facts.
Sampson County was named in militia General John Sampson’s honor, who immigrated to the colony from Ireland in 1736, with his foster son, Richard Clinton, who was then a lad of about 15 years. Both father and son were destined to play an important role in the history of Sampson County. Both Sampson and Duplin Counties, as we know them today, were until 1749 a part of New Hanover County. In 1749, Duplin was carved out of New Hanover. In 1784, Duplin was split down the middle. With that western half, the new county of Sampson was formed.
John Sampson was a man of high attainment, and soon after his arrival into Wilmington he took a leading role in the life of the colony. In the 1740s, he served as the Sheriff of New Hanover County. In 1748, during the Spanish Alarm, three Spanish ships carrying buccaneers captured Brunswick Town and threatened the entire area. Sampson formed a company of militia that repelled the invaders, sinking two of their ships while the third escaped to sea. In 1749, as a member of the General Assembly, he pushed for the creation of a new county and Duplin was formed. He served as its first Register of Deeds and was given the responsibility of surveying the new county. In 1754, he was named Lieutenant Colonel and in 1758, Lieutenant General of the Duplin militia. Still maintaining a residence in Wilmington, he married a local girl, Ann Walker sometime around 1760. Their home was situated overlooking the Cape Fear River, in the same location as where the Wilmington Hilton now sits. It was at this time that John Sampson was elected as the first mayor of Wilmington. Though Wilmington never served as the capital of North Carolina, it was easily the commercial, cultural, and social center of the state, and John Sampson was one its’ most prominent citizens.
In 1762, as he sought to develop Duplin region for new settlement, he built one of the first planation homes in the area, calling it Sampson Hall. The original house was located in an area just beyond Raleigh Road. Some of the old hand-made bricks that were part of the foundation can still be found. Sampson’s body, along with his wife and a nephew, James Sampson, and also General John Ashe, are buried in a small cemetery just off Pineview Road. The Sampson Historical Society has recently made efforts to preserve the cemetery and build a walkway leading across the branch to allow visitors access.
Where Colonel Richard Clinton received his education is not known, but he was a gentleman of distinction. In 1761, he was given 507 acres by John Sampson (most of which now serves as the center of town). In 1763, Richard married Penelope Kenan, daughter of Thomas Kenan and brother to militia General James Kenan. In 1775, he represented Duplin in the Provincial Congress held in Hillsborough, which approved the famous resolution which had been adopted in Philadelphia. Richard organized a company of Militia Minutemen from upper Duplin and as Captain of the company, took a leading role in the defense of Wilmington against the British. After the Revolution, another military honor conferred upon Clinton was the rank of Brigadier General. After the creation of the new state government, Richard was one of the first members of the House of Commons and he continued as a Representative from Duplin until 1784, when he finally secured the passage of the act that created a new county and proposed the name “Sampson” in honor of John Sampson, his stepfather and benefactor. The poor health of John Sampson may have expedited the matter.
On June 2, 1784 the General Assembly authorized that Duplin County be divided, thus creating Sampson County. The act establishing the county directed that the first court be held at a central location where the justices would decide where subsequent courts would be held until a courthouse could be erected. The home of James Myhand was selected as the first meeting place. The Myhand home, known as Myhand’s Tavern, stood in the vicinity of today’s Fox Lake subdivision on Highway 24, near the crest of the hill. At that time, Myhand’s Bridge spanning the Great Coharie was an important local landmark.
The first day of Sampson County Court was held June 21, 1784. The new commissioners were named and charged with the responsibility of selecting a central location for the new courthouse, purchase land, and erect buildings.
As listed in the Sampson County’s first court minutes, the land for the new county seat was purchased from Richard Clinton. The purchase price was five acres for five shillings and included most of the lots now bordering the square on which the courthouse stands. Four of the five acres were laid off in lots and sold to help offset building expenses. Construction for the new courthouse began. Court for the September and December quarters was held at the home of Richard Clinton. His home stood a few hundred feet from the center of town, about where the First United Methodist Church on Sampson Street stands today. John Sampson died in late 1784 but lived long enough to see the new county named in his honor. The new village was called “Sampson Courthouse.”
Richard Clinton died in 1795 and is thought to be buried under that part of the church known as the Education Building. Richard and Penelope had ten children, five sons and five daughters, and their families are legion among prominent families within the state.
Over time, the community became known as Clinton Courthouse. Eventually it was shortened to Clinton and was incorporated by the General Assembly in 1818. Because of some issues with the original incorporation laws, it was reincorporated in 1852.
Also recorded and handed down information indicates that the very first known local store was located near the John Sampson plantation. It was built by a Mr. Rhodes on today’s Pugh Road, near the old Jim Pugh place, and close to where the American Legion Hut now stands. Back in those days it was known as Rhodes Crossroads. This is the point where the stagecoach line from Raleigh to Wilmington and another from Fayetteville to New Bern crossed.