Robeson County, North Carolina

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Robeson County
Robeson County Courthouse and Confededrate Monument in Lumberton
Robeson County Courthouse and Confededrate Monument in Lumberton
Flag of Robeson County
Official seal of Robeson County
Official logo of Robeson County
Map of North Carolina highlighting Robeson County
Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 34°38′N 79°07′W / 34.64°N 79.11°W / 34.64; -79.11
Country United States
State North Carolina
Named forThomas Robeson
Largest cityLumberton
 • Total951 sq mi (2,460 km2)
 • Land949 sq mi (2,460 km2)
 • Water1.8 sq mi (5 km2)  0.2%
 • Estimate 
 • Density122.6/sq mi (47.3/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district7th

Robeson County is a county in the southern part of the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2020 census, the population was 116,530.[1] Its county seat is Lumberton.[2] The county was formed in 1787 from part of Bladen County. It was named in honor of Col. Thomas Robeson of Tar Heel, a hero of the Revolutionary War.[3]

Robeson County comprises the Lumberton, NC Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is included in the Fayetteville–Lumberton–Laurinburg, NC Combined Statistical Area.[4]

Since 2008, Robeson County has been identified as among the 10% of United States counties that are majority-minority;[5] its combined population of American Indian, African American and Hispanic residents constitute more than 68 percent of the total. Members of the state-recognized Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, make up most of the 38 percent of the population who identify as Native American.[6]

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is located in the county. It developed from a normal school established here in the late 19th century for the training of teachers of students classified as Indian, from mixed-race families who had been free before the Civil War. In the late 1880s, local state legislator Hamilton McMillan gained state authorization for separate schools for this population, which he theorized were descended from Croatan Indians.[7] The public system was otherwise racially segregated into blacks (mostly freedmen's children) and whites.


Early history[edit]

Archaeological excavation performed in Robeson County reveals widespread, continuous occupation of the region by various cultures of indigenous peoples since the end of the last ice age. They had camps and settlements near the Lumber River for its water, transportation, fish and related wildlife resources. Local excavations reveal that Native American peoples made stone tools, using materials brought to present-day Robeson County from the Carolina Piedmont. The large amounts of ancient pottery found at some Robeson County sites have been dated to the early Archaic Woodland period. Materials show that local settlements were part of an extensive Native American trade network with other regions. Portions of the river basin show that Robeson County was a "zone of cultural interactions."[8]

Swamps, streams, and artesian wells provided an excellent supply of water for Native peoples. Fish were plentiful, and the region's lush vegetation included numerous food crops. "Carolina bays" continue to dot the landscape. Numerous 10,000-year-old Clovis points found along their banks indicate indigenous peoples used these depressions as campsites.

Colonial era[edit]

The Lumber River as seen from the boat launch at Princess Ann near Orrum.

Early written sources specific to the territory of Robeson County region are few for the post-contact period of European colonization until the later 18th century and after.

Governor Arthur Dobbs related a report from his agent, Col. Rutherford, head of a Bladen County militia, that a "mixed crew" of 50 families were living along Drowning Creek. They were referred to as "mullatos," generally meaning people of African and European descent.[9]

The anthropologist John R. Swanton of the Smithsonian Institution tried to identify the origin of the ethnic group known as Lumbee Indians since the late 19th century. Swanton posited that the multi-racial people were the descendants of Siouan-speaking peoples, of which the most prominent in the area were the Cheraw and Keyauwee.[10]

The Indian-descent people in the Lumber River valley eventually coalesced into a series of farming communities collectively dubbed "Scuffletown" by whites but known by its own inhabitants as "the Settlement".[11] The date of Scuffletown's formation is unknown[12] as was its actual location. Some scholars believe it was in the vicinity of the later town of Pembroke while others place it at Moss Neck. Historians Adolph Dial and David K. Eliades believed that it was a mobile community. Others still believe the name applied broadly to any concentration of Indians in the area.[13] Culturally, the Scuffletonians were similar to other Europeans in their dress and style of homes. They were Protestant Christians and spoke English,[14] though they spoke an "older form" which set them apart from later settlers.[15] The original Scuffletonians were joined by some whites and blacks in the mid-1700s, including some escaped slaves.[11]

The area eventually comprising Robeson County was not heavily settled by whites until about 10 years before the American Revolution, when Highland Scots moved into the area. They formed a separate community from the Scuffletonians. The immigrants encompassed a range of class distinctions, from literate and aristocratic English-speaking families to poorer Scottish Gaelic-speakers, many of whom were indentured servants. The latter were called "Buckskins" due to their reputation for wearing pants made of deer leather.[16] Gaelic remained spoken in the area as late as the 1860s.[17] Despite the increase in settlement, population levels in the Lumber River valley remained low for many years, as swamps and thick vegetation divided arable land and made transportation difficult.[18] The production of timber and naval stores formed a key part of the area's early economy, with logs being floated down the river for sale in Georgetown, South Carolina in the late 1700s.[19]


Robeson County was formed in 1787 as a split of Bladen County. It was named for Thomas Robeson, a colonel during the Revolutionary War.[20] General John Willis, owner of the Red Banks plantation, lobbied to have the county's new seat of government located on his land. The site, to be known as Lumberton, was chosen due to its central location in the county, proximity to a reliable ford of the Lumber River, and as it was where several roads intersected. The first county courthouse was a wooden residence sold by Willis and moved into place after land was cleared. The first U.S. Post Office was established in the county by 1796 in Lumberton.[21] Much of the county's geography was not officially understood by surveyors until the early 1800s.[22]


Wealthy white planters held the best land in Robeson County, and often outcompeted smallholding Indian and white farmers due to the aid of slave labor, creating stark class divisions.[23] In 1835 a new Constitution of North Carolina was ratified, which restricted the ability of "free persons of color" and "free persons of mixed blood" to vote and bear arms.[24] While having previously enjoyed the same political rights as white people, the Indians were disenfranchised by the new constitution.[25] White farmers in Robeson County also sought ways to obtain Indians' land or labor. According to Indian oral tradition, the "tied mule" incidents were emblematic of this. In these scenarios, a farmer would tie his mule on an Indian's land and release some of his cattle there, before bringing local authorities to the scene to accuse the Indian landowner of theft. Doubtful of a fair trial in the courts, an Indian would settle with the farmer by either offering him a portion of land or free labor.[26] By the 1860s, many Indians were landless.[27] The legal discrimination and exploitative practices heightened racial tensions in the area.[28][29]

In 1848 a new county courthouse was constructed to replace the original building.[30] In 1860, the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford Railroad was laid through the county as its first railway.[31] By April 1861, the line reached the town of Shoe Heel—later known as Maxton.[32]

Civil War[edit]

North Carolina seceded from the United States in 1861 and joined the Confederate States of America to fight in the American Civil War.[33] Many Indians and Buckskin whites were unenthusiastic about the war;[34] most local supporters of the Confederate cause were wealthy or well-educated.[35] Some Indian men enlisted in the Confederate States Army, though it unknown whether they were accepted as recognized Indians or passed as white.[36] Major white slaveholders were exempted from service, as were those wealthy enough to pay for surrogates to serve in their place.[37] In 1863, Confederate authorities began conscripting the Indians and other free persons of color for labor along the coast, especially at Fort Fisher.[29][38] The Indians were usually tasked to either construct batteries or grind salt. Most found the work dangerous and monotonous, and the conditions at the labor camps poor. Many consequently fled into the swamps of Robeson County to avoid conscription. Though some Indians still sought to serve in the army during this time, by late 1863 most had concluded that the Confederacy was an oppressive regime. This change in attitudes was brought on by their contact with Union prisoner-of-war escapees from the Florence Stockade, 60 miles (97 km) away in South Carolina. Indians became increasingly willing to help the Union soldiers escape and avoid recapture.[36]

As time progressed some of the swamp deserters—including Indians, blacks, and Union soldiers—formed bands to raid and steal from area farms, though this was mostly out of a desire to survive and had little to do with challenging the Confederacy.[39] The Indians' aid to the Union escapees and their attempts to dodge labor conscription drew the attention of the Confederate Home Guard, a paramilitary force tasked with maintaining law and order in the South during the war.[40] In early March 1965, Union troops led by General William Tecumseh Sherman entered North Carolina.[41] The Union escapees left to join them, and the bands became predominantly Indian.[42] Union forces entered Lumberton on March 9, burning two bridges and a depot.[43] They also foraged off of the goods of locals, seizing draft animals, cattle, and crops.[44] The bulk of Confederate forces surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia shortly thereafter.[45] On May 15, slaves in Robeson were declared emancipated.[46]

Reconstruction and Lowry War[edit]

In 1864, during the latter stages of the Civil War, Confederate postmaster James P. Barnes accused some sons of Allen Lowry, a prominent Indian farmer, of stealing two of his hogs and butchering them to feed Union escapees. He ordered the Lowry family to stay off his land under threat of being shot.[47] In December, Barnes was ambushed and shot as he made his way to work. Shortly before he succumbed to his wounds he accused William and Henry Berry Lowry, two sons of Allen, of committing the attack.[48] The following January, Confederate Home Guard officer James Brantly Harris was ambushed and shot following his involvement in the deaths of three Lowrys.[49] Fearing Harris' death would lead to retaliation from the Home Guard, local Indians began preparing for violence. Short on food and weapons, they began stealing from white-owned farms and plantations.[41] Supplies intended for the guard was stolen from the courthouse in Lumberton.[50]

White citizens were infuriated by the decline in law and order, and the Home Guard suspected that the Lowry family was largely responsible.[41] On March 3, 1865, a Home Guard detachment arrested Allen Lowry and several others.[51] Following an impromptu tribunal, the guardsmen executed Allen and his son William for allegedly possessing stolen goods.[52] The Home Guard was briefly disrupted by the incursion of Sherman's troops several days later, but thereafter resumed investigating the Lowry family.[53] These events initiated the Lowry War,[54] a conflict which dominated Robeson County throughout the Reconstruction period.[55]

The situation in Robeson County briefly calmed with the Union victory, as locals focused on rebuilding their livelihoods.[56] The region suffered an economic downturn brought on by an agricultural depression and the destruction of the turpentine industry by Union troops.[57] Local government in Robeson mostly continued as it had during the war, with rich white men of prominence dominating public offices, especially the justices of the peace who constituted the county court.[58] The Home Guard was formally dissolved but was replaced by a similar institution, the Police Guard.[59]

In December the Police Guard arrested Henry Berry Lowry at his wedding and held him on charges of murdering Barnes.[60] He shortly thereafter escaped custody and avoided the authorities by hiding in swamps with a group of associates which became known as the Lowry Gang.[61] Although a somewhat fluid band at times numbering 20–30 men,[62] the gang usually operated with six to eight men.[63][64] The principle members were mostly relatives of Lowry, though the gang also included two blacks and a poor white.[54] They usually stayed in improvised shelters in Back Swamp, a ten-mile long stretch of sparsely-traveled land near Allen Lowry's homestead.[65] Throughout 1866 and 1867 the gang conducted raids "in retaliation" for previous wrongs inflicted upon them, but no people were killed.[66]

Following the passage of federal Reconstruction Acts in 1867 and the ratification of a new state constitution in North Carolina in 1868, nonwhites in the Robeson, both black freedmen and Indians, were re-enfranchised.[67][54] The Republican Party won a majority of the vote in elections in Robeson, displacing Conservative planter families who had dominated county affairs.[67] The party relied on the electoral support of black freedmen, Indians, and poor Buckskin whites.[68] Republican officials were reluctant to take any action concerning the lawlessness in Robeson, since prosecuting former Home Guardsmen for their extrajudicial killings would harm their law and order campaign, while targeting the Lowry Gang would split their local base of support.[69] Despite this, the new Republican Governor of North Carolina, William Woods Holden issued a declaration of outlawry against Lowry and some of his associates, dividing the local Republican Party and threatening their hold on county politics.[70]

In an attempt to broker a solution, local Republicans convinced Lowry to surrender himself to be tried in the postwar court system, but he shortly thereafter escaped.[71] The Lowry Gang then killed Reuben King, the former sheriff of the county, during a robbery in January 1869,[71] ending all attempts by Reconstruction authorities to negotiate a settlement.[72] The gang continued its raids, and as a result federal troops were dispatched to assist the local authorities.[73] In February 1872, the Lowry Gang committed their largest heist, stealing two safes from downtown Lumberton. Shortly thereafter, Henry Berry Lowry disappeared.[74] Over the next two years bounty hunters tracked down the remaining gang members, and the war ended when the last active one was killed in February 1874.[75]

End of Reconstruction and establishment of racial segregation[edit]

First Croatan Normal School building in Pates

With the end of Reconstruction in 1875,[76] Democrats reasserted their dominance over politics in the South, but Republicans remained competitive in North Carolina and the Indian population in Robeson continued to support them.[77] Though Republicans still made up the majority of registered voters in Robeson, disagreements caused by the Lowry War prevented them from solidifying local control.[78] The Indians also resisted being treated the same as blacks under the new socio-political hierarchy, who were relegated to a subordinate position.[79] Hamilton McMillan, a Robesonian member of the North Carolina House of Representatives and a Democrat, sought to switch the Indians' allegiance to solidify his party's control over the state.[77] He convinced the General Assembly to formally recognize the Indians as "Croatoans"—arguing that they descended from English settlers of the Lost Colony who mixed with Croatan Indians.[80]

In 1887, McMillan convinced the legislature to appropriate money for the establishment of a Croatan Normal School to train teachers who could staff new Indian schools. As a result, most Robeson Indians began to vote for Democrats, and their voting rights were preserved when blacks were disenfranchised by constitutional amendment in 1900.[80] This distinction birthed a system of tripartite segregation which was unique in the American South, though whites generally regarded both the Indians and blacks as "colored".[81] Indians and blacks nevertheless maintained separate identities.[82] Some other county facilities were separated for "Whites", "Negroes", and "Indians",[83] including the courthouse in Lumberton.[84] Under this racial hierarchy, whites constituted the dominant racial caste and blacks were socially subordinated, while the Indians formed a middle caste and, though retaining more privileges than blacks, were still subject to discrimination.[85] In 1913 the General Assembly reclassified the Indians as Cherokees.[86]

20th century[edit]

At the turn of the 20th century, farmers in Robeson County began rapidly adopting tobacco as a regular crop. Many tobacco warehouses were built, and the town of Fairmont became the county's primary market town for the crop.[87] The county's first cotton mill opened in 1900.[88] In 1909 the county's third courthouse was constructed. It remained in use until 1969.[30] Bouts of typhoid, hookworm, smallpox, and a high infant mortality rate led Robeson's government to organize the first county-level public health department in the United States in 1912.[89] Following the passage of a state drainage law in 1909, many swamps in the county were drained to increase usable farmland and improve transportation. Work on drainage canals was completed in 1915.[90][91]

The Great Depression led to a severe decline in tobacco prices.[92] During the depression, local farmers in 1938 formed a mutual-aid cooperative, known as the Red Banks Mutual Association. They made a 99-year lease on a large plot of land, which they farmed together through the association until 1968. Historian Ryan K. Anderson explored this association for its contributions not only to members' survival during the Depression, but its influence in building stability and networks within the community.[93]

As in other southern states, local Ku Klux Klan chapters persisted in North Carolina into the late 20th century. In early 1958 they called for a gathering in Maxton, intended to intimidate the Lumbee and other people of color. On January 18, 1958, armed Lumbee responded by gathering many more men and they chased off an estimated 50 Klansmen and supporters led by grand wizard James W. "Catfish" Cole in what became known as the Battle of Hayes Pond, after the site of the action.[94]

Pembroke State College racially integrated in the 1950s and 1960s.[95] After 1965, the rate of black and Native American voter registration substantially increased. By 1968, black and Native voters outnumbered whites.[96] In 1970 the federal government ordered the county school board to integrate its institutions. The board responded by dissolving special Native American districts and consolidating Native students with black and white schools. This did not affect most white students in the county, who were largely served by independent municipal school districts.[97] Feeling a loss of control over their traditional schools, many Lumbees and Tuscaroras protested integration and resisted the assignment of black staff and white and black students to their institutions.[98]

In early 1973, dozens of buildings in the county, most of them owned by whites, were set ablaze. In March, Old Main, a historic building on Pembroke State's campus which had symbolic importance to the Native American community, was burned.[99] In 1974, a federal court ruled that the "double voting" system used by the county school board, whereby both county residents and municipal residents could vote for board members—despite the latter not being served by the county school system, was unconstitutional.[100] The municipal systems were merged with the county system in 1988.[101]

In 1974 the county courthouse was demolished.[102] It was replaced with a new structure in 1976.[103][104]

Robeson County became one of the top moonshine-producing counties in North Carolina in the 20th century. The prevalence of poverty enticed many Robesonians to sell moonshine to supplement their incomes, and the large number of isolated swamps and woods offered many places where stills could be concealed.[105] Many Lumbees and Tuscaroras produced moonshine into the 1970s.[106] The trade of marijuana eventually supplanted moonshine before being overtaken by cocaine trafficking in the 1980s, which was enabled by the county's midway location between Miami and New York City along Interstate 95.[107][108] The drug trade was fueled by worsening economic prospects in the region which began with the 1970s energy crisis and increased living costs. By the mid-1980s, local agriculture was in decline;[109] reliance on mechanised agriculture and the consolidation of smallholding farms into larger corporate operations led to the loss of work for many farmers and their laborers.[110] Newer manufacturing jobs did not provide sufficient employment and stability to residents to makeup for the shift. Over a quarter of county residents lived below the poverty threshold, over half of most adults over the age of 25 lacked a high school diploma, and the local unemployment rate was higher than the state average.[109]

Native Americans and blacks suffered disproportionately from the lack of prosperity, and many Native Americans partook in the drug trade.[111] Narcotics-related activities led to murders and stoked social unrest, political tensions, and police corruption.[107] Robeson's homicide rate grew to four times worse than the national average[112] and the county had the highest numbers of drug-related arrests in the state in 1985 and 1986.[113] In February 1988, two Tuscarora held the staff of the county newspaper, The Robesonian, hostage to protest local corruption.[114] The county's reputation among North Carolinians suffered as a result of these events.[115][116] Political action motivated by discontent led to an increasing number of blacks and Native Americans to run for office.[117] The county lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in the 1990s and 2000s.[22]

21st century[edit]

Flooding in Lumberton from Hurricane Matthew, 2016

In 2002, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation opened an inquiry into corruption allegations in the Robeson County Sheriff's Office. Their subsequent Operation Tarnished Badge became the largest police corruption investigation in state history, and led to 22 officers, including Sheriff Glenn Maynor, being convicted for various crimes.[118]

In 2016, the county was impacted by Hurricane Matthew, leading to record flooding in Lumberton. In 2018, the county was struck by Hurricane Florence, which broke the record.[90]

In the 2020 Presidential Election, Donald Trump held a rally in Robeson County to shore up support among Native Americans.[119]


Interactive map of Robeson County

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 951 square miles (2,460 km2), of which 949 square miles (2,460 km2) is land and 1.8 square miles (4.7 km2) (0.2%) is water.[120] It is the largest county in North Carolina by area.[121] Owing to its large size, the county was historically sometimes to referred to informally as the "State of Robeson".[122][123]

Robeson County is bordered by the state of South Carolina, and the North Carolina counties of Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Hoke, and Scotland.[20] It is one of the state's ten counties within the Sandhills region, characterized by sandy and fertile soil.[124] The county hosts many pocosins,[125] bald cypress forests,[22] Carolina bays, creeks,[126] and 50 swamps.[90] The swamps feed into the Lumber River, which flows eastward from the northwest corner of the county to the southeast corner.[127]

State and local protected areas[edit]

Major highways[edit]

Major infrastructure[edit]


Historical population
Census Pop.
2021 (est.)116,328[129]−0.2%
U.S. Decennial Census[130]
1790–1960[131] 1900–1990[132]
1990–2000[133] 2010–2019[134]

2020 census[edit]

Robeson County racial composition[136]
Race Num. Perc.
White (non-Hispanic) 29,159 25.02%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 26,218 22.5%
Native American 43,536 37.36%
Asian 897 0.77%
Pacific Islander 63 0.05%
Other/Mixed 4,900 4.2%
Hispanic or Latino 11,757 10.09%
Map of census tracts in Robeson county by racial plurality, per the 2020 US Census

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 116,530 people, 46,272 households, and 30,034 families residing in the county.

2010 census[edit]

As of the census[137] of 2010, there were 134,168 people. In 2000 there were 43,677 households, and 32,015 families residing in the county. The population density was 130 people per square mile (50/km2). There were 47,779 housing units at an average density of 50 per square mile (19/km2).

2000 census[edit]

As of 2000, the racial makeup of the county was:

In 2005 38.5% of the population identified as Native American, likely mostly associated with the state-recognized Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, which is prominent in the county. Some 29.1% of the county population was non-Hispanic whites. 24.3% of the population identified as African American. 7.4% of the population identified as Latino.

Pembroke is the tribal headquarters of the Lumbee Tribe.

Native Americans[edit]

The Lumbees of North Carolina, a state-recognized tribe, constitutes more than one-half the state of North Carolina's indigenous population of 101,000. With a population of 58,443 (reflecting a 34.5% increase from the 1980 population of 43,465 members), the Lumbee reside primarily in Robeson, Hoke, Cumberland, and Scotland counties. In Robeson County, people identifying as Native Americans number 46,869 out of a total county population of 123,339. Most identify as Lumbee. The Lumbees make up 38.02%, comprising the largest ethnic group in the county. The Lumbees are the amalgamation of various Siouan, Algonquian, and Iroquoian speaking tribes.

The Lumbee comprise the largest non-federally recognized tribe east of the Mississippi River, and the ninth largest non-federally recognized tribe in the United States. Several majority-Lumbee communities are located within Robeson County.[138]

Law and government[edit]


Robeson County is run by a commission–manager government. The county commission comprises eight members elected from single-member districts in four-year staggered terms. Presided over by a chairman elected by the commissioners from among their members for a one-year term, the commission has legislative and policy-making authority over county government. The commissioners appoint a county manager who holds executive authority over county administration and implements the decisions of the commission. The manager appoints directors of county government departments.[139] The county government supplies emergency services, social services, public health services, recreation, and economic development in its jurisdiction. It also maintains a water system and landfill.[140] The county government is funded by a local property tax.[141]

Robeson County is a member of the Lumber River Council of Governments, a regional planning board representing five counties.[142] The county also has its own Soil and Water Conservation District led by an elected supervisor.[143] Robeson encompasses 14 incorporated municipalities.[144]

Robeson County is located in North Carolina's 7th congressional district[145] the North Carolina Senate's 24th District, and the North Carolina House of Representatives' 47th District.[143] Robeson is one of the four counties within the jurisdiction of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.[146] As of 2022, it hosts about 70,400 registered voters, comprising about 36,500 registered Democrats, 12,300 registered Republicans and 21,300 unaffiliated.[145]


Politically, Robeson County has historically been dominated by the Democratic Party. A majority of Robesonians voted for Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon in 1972, but then voted for Democratic presidential candidates in the next nine elections.[147] The local Republican Party grew in the early 21st century, fueled by prevailing religious conservatism in the county and discontent with the loss of manufacturing jobs. Many of the Democrats who remained with their party were conservative.[148] Democrats continued to win state and local races by large margins in the 2000s but their margins of victory in presidential and congressional races decreased. In 2016 and 2020, county voters favored Republican Donald Trump, who won over majorities of white and Lumbee voters by championing socially conservative issues, criticizing free trade agreements, and declaring his support for full federal recognition of the Lumbee Tribe.[149] The area also began increasingly voting for Republican state and local candidates,[150] with Robesonians in 2016 electing their first Republican state senator since Reconstruction.[149] In 2020, Republicans won most races in the county.[151][152]

United States presidential election results for Robeson County, North Carolina[153][154]
Year Republican Democratic Third party
No.  % No.  % No.  %
2020 27,806 59.01% 19,020 40.37% 292 0.62%
2016 20,762 50.82% 19,016 46.54% 1,080 2.64%
2012 17,510 40.77% 24,988 58.18% 448 1.04%
2008 17,433 42.69% 23,058 56.47% 343 0.84%
2004 15,909 46.97% 17,868 52.75% 94 0.28%
2000 11,721 39.40% 17,834 59.95% 192 0.65%
1996 8,146 29.44% 17,361 62.74% 2,164 7.82%
1992 7,777 25.52% 19,378 63.59% 3,319 10.89%
1988 9,908 36.70% 16,988 62.92% 104 0.39%
1984 12,947 45.76% 15,257 53.93% 87 0.31%
1980 6,982 27.89% 17,618 70.39% 430 1.72%
1976 4,907 19.09% 20,695 80.53% 97 0.38%
1972 11,362 59.99% 7,391 39.02% 188 0.99%
1968 4,526 23.55% 8,248 42.92% 6,441 33.52%
1964 3,591 20.65% 13,796 79.35% 0 0.00%
1960 3,580 23.55% 11,623 76.45% 0 0.00%
1956 2,785 20.94% 10,516 79.06% 0 0.00%
1952 4,127 30.71% 9,311 69.29% 0 0.00%
1948 1,036 11.34% 7,056 77.26% 1,041 11.40%
1944 1,118 13.32% 7,278 86.68% 0 0.00%
1940 931 9.14% 9,251 90.86% 0 0.00%
1936 732 6.65% 10,280 93.35% 0 0.00%
1932 783 9.01% 7,860 90.48% 44 0.51%
1928 2,767 36.91% 4,730 63.09% 0 0.00%
1924 314 7.15% 4,064 92.53% 14 0.32%
1920 2,220 26.42% 6,183 73.58% 0 0.00%
1916 1,453 33.43% 2,894 66.57% 0 0.00%
1912 154 4.38% 2,706 76.88% 660 18.75%
1908 1,300 32.52% 2,698 67.48% 0 0.00%
1904 982 30.10% 2,274 69.71% 6 0.18%
1900 1,144 25.86% 3,280 74.14% 0 0.00%
1896 2,429 41.25% 3,457 58.70% 3 0.05%
1892 1,117 26.15% 2,312 54.13% 842 19.71%
1888 1,970 40.29% 2,879 58.88% 41 0.84%
1884 2,278 47.65% 2,503 52.35% 0 0.00%
1880 1,960 46.72% 2,235 53.28% 0 0.00%


The Public Schools of Robeson County (PSRC) operates public schools in the area.[155] As of 2022, the system operates 36 schools and serves about 23,000 students.[156] The county's per-pupil spending rate is lowest of all of North Carolina's counties, and county students suffer from lower test scores and subject proficiency rates than the state averages.[155] The state classifies the PSRC as a low-performing district.[157] The county hosts two post-secondary institutions: the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Robeson Community College.[158] County government also runs seven libraries.[159]


Robeson County was largely reliant on the textile and tobacco industries throughout much of the 20th century.[160] Agriculture predominated in employment in 1960, and the county earned the second-highest agriculture related revenue among all Southern counties, though its per-capita income remained low. By 1970 agriculture had been overtaken by manufacturing, and the completion of Interstate 95 within several years accelerated industrialization. By 1990 fewer than 2,300 Robesonians worked in agriculture, and manufacturing accounted for a third of the county's employment.[116] The tobacco and manufacturing sectors rapidly declined in the 1990s and 2000s, with manufacturing especially adversely impacted by several national free trade agreements.[160][116] The Robeson County Office of Economic Development determined that the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement led to the closure of 32 manufacturing facilities and the loss of over 6,000 jobs between 1995 and 2005.[161]

Tobacco is still grown in the county, as are corn, soybeans, sorghum, peanuts, and cotton.[162] Some local landowners raise pine trees and sell them as timber.[90] In recent years commercial activity has grown along the Interstate 95 corridor.[162] Chicken processing, pork processing, and the pellet fuel industry have supplanted much of the former textile industry.[90] The significant presence such high-pollution industries in the county has led some residents to describe the area as a sacrifice zone.[22] Manufacturing, health care, and retail are the largest-employing sectors in Robeson County.[163][164] Over 26 percent of local residents are impoverished, double the statewide rate.[165]


Robeson is pronounced by local residents as "RAH-bih-sun"[166] or "ROB-uh-son".[167] Outsiders sometimes pronounce it as "ROW-bih-sun".[166] In line with the predominantly tri-ethnic nature of the county, whites, blacks, and Native Americans generally operate as three different sociocultural entities.[168] Members of each group generally express dialectal differences in their speech.[169] The collard sandwich—consisting of fried cornbread, collard greens, and fatback—is a popular dish among the Lumbee people in the county.[170] Numerous small communities in the county are culturally insular owing to their lack of contact with people from outside the county.[171] Most towns host their own annual festivals.[159] The Lumbee Homecoming, a festival for Lumbee tribal members, is held annually in late June and early July and often brings thousands of Lumbees as well as tourists to the county.[172][173] Fishing and hunting have long been popular activities in the county, both as means of acquiring food and as sports.[174] Many in the county are religious, and religion is a key part of local public life.[175][176]


Map of Robeson County, North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels




Robeson County townships include:[177]

  • Alfordsville
  • Back Swamp
  • Barnesville
  • Britts
  • Burnt Swamp
  • East Howellsville
  • Gaddy
  • Parkton
  • Philadelphus
  • Raft Swamp
  • Rennert
  • Saddletree
  • Shannon
  • Smiths
  • Smyrna
  • Sterlings
  • Thompson
  • Tolarsville
  • Union
  • West Howellsville
  • Whitehouse
  • Wishart

Census-designated places[edit]

The abandoned corner grocery in downtown Parkton.

Unincorporated communities[edit]

Notable people[edit]

People born in Robeson County:

See also[edit]



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Works cited[edit]

Other sources[edit]

  • Chaffin, Washington Sandford. "February 25 – March 1, 1865", in Diary. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Archives.
  • Glatthaar, Joseph T. The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman's Troops in the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns. New York: New York University Press, 1985.
  • Gorman, John C. "Recollections." Thomas A. Norment affidavit, December 8, 1865. Superior Court of North Carolina Records: Criminal action papers concerning Henry Berry Lowry, Robeson County, 1862–1865.
  • Gragg, Rod. Confederate Goliath: The Battle of Fort Fisher. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
  • Hauptman, Lawrence M. "River Pilots and Swamp Guerillas: Pamunkee and Lumbee Unionists." In Between Two Fires: American Indians in the Civil War. New York: Free Press, 1995.
  • McKinnon, Henry A. Jr. Historical Sketches of Robeson County. N.P.: Historic Robeson, Inc., 2001.
  • "North Carolina: Indian raid." Newsweek 51 (Jan 27, 1958): 27.
  • Swanton, John R. "Probable Identity of the 'Croatan' Indians." [National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. MS 4126].
  • Taukchiray, Wesley D., "American Indian References in the South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Royal South Carolina Gazette, South Carolina Gazette and Public Advertiser, and State Gazette of South Carolina, 1766–1792", South Carolina Historical Magazine 100 (Oct. 1999), pp. 319–27.
  • U.S. Bureau of the Census. The First Census of the U.S.: 1790. Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States: North Carolina. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1908.
  • U.S. Bureau of the Census. We the People:
  • E. Stanly Godbold Jr. and Mattie U. Russell, "Confederate Colonel And Cherokee Chief: The Life Of William Holland Thomas", University of Tennessee Press, 1990

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°38′N 79°07′W / 34.64°N 79.11°W / 34.64; -79.11