Let nature's gifts lift your spirit in Martin County. Cast your line for striped bass in the Roanoke River. Watch horses with precision and grace compete at the Sen. Bob Martin Eastern Agricultural Center. Camp on unique platforms in the tributaries and swamps of the Roanoke River Canoe Trail. Birdwatch in the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge. Learn about our heritage and culture at Fort Branch, a Confederate Civil War site, or St. James Place Museum, a restored circa 1910 Primitive Baptist Church. Tour the Asa Biggs House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nature's calling you in Martin County.

Journey to a simpler time and imagine life decades ago as youvisit some of Martin County's oldest places.

English colonists exploring their new homeland first found this spot on the Roanoke River that is now Williamston, the county seat. There was a village here as early as 1730. The first settlers are said to have moved from Bertie County to the south side of the Moratock (now Roanoke) River and located near the ruins of what had been a Tuscarora Indian village. The Tuscarora had left this site long before the white man ever came to the New World.

The locality was known to the Indians as "Squhawky" but it was called "Tar Landing" by the newcomers, as it gradually became the principal shipping point for the tar, pitch, turpentine and other forest products and meat produced in the area.

The settlement prospered and was designated the county seat when Martin County was chartered in March 1774. The new county was formed from parts of Halifax and Tyrrell Counties and was originally named for Josiah Martin, the last Royal Governor of North Carolina.

After the Revolutionary War, the people were about to change the name because of bitterness toward Martin. However, they decided to keep the name in honor of Alexander Martin, a state representative to the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. He was also Governor of North Carolina from 1789 to 1792.

A little more than five years after Martin County was formed, during the Revolutionary War, the county seat became the first incorporated town in the county and was named "Williamston" in the charter granted at a session of the General Assembly held in Halifax during October and November 1779.

There are two versions of how the town got its name. One of them - based largely on hearsay and legend - is that the name was chosen in honor of a poor Irish weaver named "Dick" Williams, who was supposed to have settled in the area around the middle of the 18th Century. It is said he arrived with 75 cents in his pocket, but by hard work and strict economy, he managed to create a substantial fortune and became one of the most influential men in the colony. The other version is that the town was named in honor of Colonel William Williams, scion of a wealthy and distinguished family which owned large plantations in the northwestern part of the county prior to the Revolution.

The name "Williams" is prominently connected with the early history of the county. Colonel Williams' father, also named William Williams, migrated to the United States from Wales in the early 1700s and settled on the south bank of the Roanoke River in the upper end of the county, which at that time was in Edgecombe and was later a part of Halifax before it became Martin.

William Williams II was a delegate to the Hillsborough and Halifax conventions in 1776, was elected colonel of Martin County's militia when it was organized, and continued in that capacity until he was elected the county's first state senator in 1777. He resigned his military commission shortly afterwards and was succeeded as commanding officer of the county's militia by his nephew, Lt. Col. Whitmel Hill.

Williamston's importance as a town and its growth and development immediately before and after its incorporation was largely based on two factors. First was its location on the banks of a navigable river; and second, its designation as the county seat. The Roanoke River enabled ships of considerable size to navigate its waters as far upstream as Williamston before there were any roads other than the few that followed winding Indian trails. Being the seat of county government necessarily brought most of the residents of the county to Williamston at some point, for recording legal documents, for their attendance at court sessions, and for military musters, elections or similar functions. Having a public landing, it was automatically an important shipping point for river freight traffic, both incoming and outgoing. Later the railroad came, resulting in increased commerce by rail and water.

In the 20th century, with the bridging of the Roanoke River at the eastern edge of the city limits in 1922, Williamston became the hub of a system of major highways and roads upon which business and commercial life grew. Along with Williamston, Jamesville (1785) and Hamilton (1804) made up the original "river" towns in Martin County. All there were important shipping and trading centers along the Roanoke River.

 

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