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Robeson County
Robeson County Courthouse in Lumberton
Robeson County Courthouse in Lumberton
Official seal 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.
Country  United States
State  North Carolina
Founded 1787
Named for Colonel Thomas Robeson
Seat Lumberton
Largest city Lumberton
 • Total 951 sq mi (2,460 km2)
 • Land 949 sq mi (2,460 km2)
 • Water 1.8 sq mi (5 km2)  0.2%%
 • Estimate 
 • Density 122.6/sq mi (47.3/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 7th

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. Its county seat is Lumberton. 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.

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

Since 2008, Robeson County has been identified as among the 10% of United States counties that are majority-minority; 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.

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. The public system was otherwise racially segregated into blacks (mostly freedmen's children) and whites.


The Lumber River as seen from the boat launch at Princess Ann near Orrum.
Williams Groc
A railroad crossing and old general store in Rex
St. Pauls view1
A view of St. Pauls

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."

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.

After colonial contact, European-made items, such as kaolin tobacco pipes, were traded by the Spanish, French, and English to Native American peoples of the coastal region. The coastal peoples traded with those further inland. Remnants of European goods have been dated prior to permanent European settlements along the Lumber River.

Colonial era

Early written sources specific to the Robeson County region are few for the post-contact period of European colonization. In 1725, surveyors for the Wineau factory charted a village of Waccamaw Indians on the Lumber River, a few miles west of where Pembroke has developed. In 1773, a North Carolina Governor Arthur Dobbs proclamation related to 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.

Bladen County encompassed a portion of what is today Robeson County. English colonials named the river "Drowning Creek". After the violent upheavals of the Yamasee War of 1715-1717, and the Tuscarora War of 1711-1715, families of Algonquian Waccamaw left South Carolina Colony in 1718. They may have established a village west of present-day Pembroke, North Carolina by 1725. The Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora migrated north as a tribe, settling in New York and becoming the sixth nation of the Iroquois Confederacy.

The anthropologist John R. Swanton of the Smithsonian Institution tried to identify the origin of the ethnic group known as Croatan 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. Some of his theories have been superseded by more recent evidence. This ethnic group now identifies as the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and has state recognition.

The Lumbee oral tradition says that they developed from Native American descendants, including refugees of other tribes, such as Tuscarora. They emerged as a people in the early 19th century through a process of ethnogenesis.

Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, many migrants from Virginia entered the frontier area. By the late eighteenth century, settlement patterns shifted. The name of the region's river was changed. After the American Revolution, the state used a lottery to dispose of lots with which to establish Lumberton. The town was incorporated in 1788, and John Willis proposed the name "Lumberton", after the important lumber and naval stores industry. This dominated the otherwise agricultural economy of Robeson County throughout the nineteenth century.

Lumberton developed at a section known throughout that century as "Drowning Creek," a term still used for the headwater portions of the river. The first Robeson County courthouse was erected on land which formed a part of the Red Bluff Plantation, owned by Lumberton founder John Willis. Robeson County's post office was established in 1794. In 1809, the state legislature renamed Drowning Creek as the Lumber River, after the area's major industry.

In the 1790-1810 censuses, descendants of these families were classified as both white (European American) and free people of color, which included people of African and Native American descent, as well as African-European. The settlers held few slaves.

Late 20th-century researchers have traced 80 percent of the free people of color in North Carolina listed in those two decades of censuses to African American families who were free in Virginia in colonial times. Based on court records, land deeds, indentures and other material, Paul Heinegg found that the free people of color (mixed-race) were descended mostly from white women (which is what gave them free status so early) and men who were African or African American in unions of the colonial years. In addition, some African male slaves had been freed in Virginia as early as the mid-17th century. Together with free white women, they founded free families of several generations before migrating to other areas. In the early years of the southern colonies, working-class whites and Africans lived and worked closely together, marrying and forming unions. Many free people of color migrated to frontier areas to gain relief from the racial strictures of the coastal plantation areas.

In the nineteenth century, other settlers often referred to mixed-race people as Indian, Portuguese or Arab, in attempts to classify them to account for physical differences from northern Europeans. These people sometimes identified as Indian to escape the racial segregation associated with descendants of Africans. Some may have descended from Atlantic Creoles, men of mixed African-Portuguese ancestry identified by the historian Ira Berlin as part of the charter generation of slaves, but most were descendants of English white women and African men in the British colonies. Some likely intermarried with remnants of Indian tribes who remained in the area. Names on early land deeds and other historic documents in Robeson County correspond to many of the families of free people of color, including ancestors of contemporary Lumbee. Settlements included Prospect and Red Banks.

Nineteenth century

By the beginning of the American Civil War, many remnant Native Americans in the Upper South struggled to survive and their status continued to decline. Since 1790, Native Americans in the southern states were enumerated as "free persons of color" on the local and federal census, included with free African Americans.

By 1835, in the wake of Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion of 1831, North Carolina like other southern states reduced the rights of free people of color. Out of fear of slave rebellion aided by free blacks, the legislature withdrew the rights of free people of color to vote, serve on juries, own and use firearms, and learn to read and write. During the 1830s, the federal government forced Indian Removal, relocating the Cherokee and other of the Five Civilized Tribes of the lower Southeast to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. Native Americans who stayed in the Southeast tended to live in frontier and marginal areas to avoid white supervision.

Civil War


North Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861. A major yellow fever epidemic in 1862 killed 10 percent of the Cape Fear region's population. Most white men of military age had either enlisted with the Confederacy or fled the region. The Confederate Army conscripted African-American slaves as workers to build a system of forts to defend Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, North Carolina. Such conscription affected the free people of color of Robeson County, too.

Robeson County's home guard, which included county magistrates, clergymen, and lawyers, who mainly represented the interests of the planter class (large slaveholders were exempted from participation in the army), had raided the farmstead of Allen Lowrie, Henry Berry Lowrie's father. In the confrontation, they killed Allen and another son William. Henry Lowrie swore revenge.

Late in the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman and his army began to push their way toward Robeson County as they headed north. After hearing of the Union Army's burning of Columbia, South Carolina on February 17, 1865, residents of Robeson County worried about the troops' advance. Washington Chaffin, a Methodist minister in Lumberton speculated in his diary about how the county might be treated by Sherman and his Yankees. Chaffin noted that Henry Berry Lowrie and his gang were "doing much mischief in this country." Lowrie's gang had "torn up and destroyed" white homesteads. In the late stages of the war, gangs and insurgents carried out private feuds.

During the next seven years, Henry Lowrie led a group of free people of color, poor whites and blacks in one of many postwar insurgent movements during years of social disruption. He campaigned against the white elite. His activities made him a folk hero to many of the poorer folk.

Twentieth century

Until late in the 20th century, Robeson County was a center of Ku Klux Klan activity and support in North Carolina. On January 18, 1958, armed Lumbee chased off an estimated 50 Klansmen and supporters led by grand wizard James W. "Catfish" Cole at the town of Maxton in the Battle of Hayes Pond.


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. It is the largest county in North Carolina by land area, but not by total area, that title going to Dare County.

Robeson County is bordered by the state of South Carolina, and the North Carolina counties of Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Hoke, and Scotland.

The topography is mostly level to undulating coastal plain, largely made up of sandhills and coastal dunes with elevations above mean sea level that vary from 60 feet in the extreme southeastern portion of the county to 250 feet in the north, to the west of Parkton, North Carolina. Moreover, numerous swamps that generally flow in a northwest to southeast course, characterize the area and eventually drain into the Lumber River. The highest density of swamps is in that part of the county that is most populated by the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, a state recognized tribe.

Major highways

  • I-95
  • I-74
  • US 74
  • US 301
  • US 501
  • NC 20
  • NC 41
  • NC 71
  • NC 72
  • NC 83
  • NC 130
  • NC 211
  • NC 710
  • NC 711
  • NC 904

Adjacent counties


Historical population
Census Pop.
1790 5,343
1800 6,839 28.0%
1810 7,528 10.1%
1820 8,204 9.0%
1830 9,433 15.0%
1840 10,370 9.9%
1850 12,826 23.7%
1860 15,489 20.8%
1870 16,262 5.0%
1880 23,880 46.8%
1890 31,483 31.8%
1900 40,371 28.2%
1910 51,945 28.7%
1920 54,674 5.3%
1930 66,512 21.7%
1940 76,860 15.6%
1950 87,769 14.2%
1960 89,102 1.5%
1970 84,842 −4.8%
1980 101,610 19.8%
1990 105,179 3.5%
2000 123,339 17.3%
2010 134,168 8.8%
Est. 2021 116,328 −13.3%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790–1960 1900–1990
1990–2000 2010–2019

2020 census

Robeson County racial composition
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%

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

As of the census 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).

Native Americans

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.


There were 43,677 households, out of which 37.00% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.60% were married couples living together, 20.60% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.70% were non-families. 22.70% of all households were made up of individuals, and 8.30% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.75 and the average family size was 3.20.

In the county, the population was spread out, with 29.00% under the age of 18, 10.60% from 18 to 24, 29.30% from 25 to 44, 21.10% from 45 to 64, and 10.00% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32 years. For every 100 females there were 94.70 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.20 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $28,202, and the median income for a family was $32,514. Males had a median income of $26,646 versus $20,599 for females. The per capita income for the county was $13,224. About 19.60% of families and 28.20% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.00% of those under age 18 and 25.30% of those age 65 or over. It is ranked as North Carolina's poorest county. Industrial, technological and professional jobs are lacking in the area.


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




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

Census-designated places

Parkton photo 2
The abandoned corner grocery in downtown Parkton.

Unincorporated communities


Public Schools of Robeson County operates public schools.

Notable people

  • John Beard, a former Los Angeles television news anchor who grew up in St. Pauls.
  • Chris Chavis , professional wrestler better known as "Tatanka" and "The War Eagle"; he is a member of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
  • Vonta Leach, born in Lumberton and raised in Rowland, is a former [NFL) player.
  • Sean Locklear, born in Lumberton, is a former starting offensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL.
  • Henry Berry Lowrie, referred to as part-Tuscarora, was a cultural hero of the Lumbee of North Carolina, who led insurgents against the planter elite during the Reconstruction era.
  • James McCallum, 1806–1889, Representative from Tennessee in the Confederate Congress, 1864–65, Grandmaster of the Tennessee Masons, and mayor
  • Mike McIntyre served as the U.S. representative of North Carolina's 7th congressional district from 1997 to 2015. He was born and raised in Lumberton and practiced law with offices in both Lumberton and Maxton prior to his election to Congress.
  • Angus McLean – Governor of North Carolina 1924–1928
  • Malcom McLean, entrepreneur from Maxton, often called "the father of containerization".
  • Joseph Mitchell, journalist for The New Yorker.
  • Margaret Marley Modlin, surrealist painter, sculptor and photographer, spent most of her adult life in Spain.
  • Kelvin Sampson, men's basketball coach of the Houston Cougars at the University of Houston
  • Afeni Shakur, mother of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, was an early member of the Black Panther Party.
  • Stacy Layne Matthews, American drag performer, was a contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race in 2011.

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