smithfield NC

Smithfield, North Carolina, or the Town of Smithfield, is located southeast of Raleigh, NC in Johnston County. Smithfield was established May 9, 1777 and was Johnston County’s first town and second county seat. Before Smithfield was established, the area was originally known as Johnston County Courthouse. And before this, the area was known as Smith’s Ferry because of the ferry operation on the Neuse River.

The early precolonial inhabitants of the Johnston County area were the Tuscarora Indians. The Tuscarora were an Iroquoian-speaking native tribe. John Lawson (December 27, 1674 – September 16, 1711) an early explorer of the colonial Carolinas backcountry wrote of his encounters with the Tuscarora Indians. He published his expeditions’ journal, A New Voyage to Carolina, in 1709.

Lawson recorded in his journal the encounter with the Tuscarora Indians and specially noted their aggressive nature. He noted in great detail the Tuscarora custom of cutting half of both feet off of Indians who had been taken prisoner in battle. To quote a passage from A New Voyage to Carolina, “By this cruel Method, the Indian Captive is hinder’d from making his Escape, for he can neither run fast or go any where, but his Feet are more easily traced and discover’d.” Another telling quote of Lawson’s observations, “The Indians are very revengeful, and never forget an Injury done, till they have receiv’d Satisfaction.”

Lawson, in September 1711, was taken prisoner by the Tuscarora. The Tuscarora Indians ritualistically tortured John Lawson to death. The Tuscarora War (September 10, 1711 – February 11, 1715) was a result of murderous acts like what was committed against John Lawson and other colonial settlers. The Tuscarora Indians were eventually defeated by the colonist. In the aftermath the surviving Tuscarora escaped to New York where they became the sixth nation in the Iroquois confederation. The Tuscarora remaining alive in North Carolina were confined to a reservation in Bertie County. Many of these reservation-confined Tuscarora Indians eventually migrated to New York to join the sixth nation. Many historians consider the Tuscarora War the bloodiest conflict in colonial North Carolina.

In 1746, Johnston County was created from the northwestern part of Craven County. The county was named in honor of North Carolina’s 2nd and 6th Royal Governor Gabriel Johnson (1699 – 1752). He was the longest serving North Carolina Royal Governor (1734 – 1752), serving for eighteen years and only ended with his death while in office. Considered by many historical scholars, and many people during his lifetime, to be one of the best Royal Governors to have served. Upon his initial appointment and arrival in North Carolina as governor he was distressed by what he discovered. He found the general lawlessness, the lacking educational systems, and the moral laxities unacceptable and set forth to reform these matters. Possibly the most disturbing to Johnston was the oppression of the poor within the states. This sympathy may be  representative of his humble birth in Scotland, and his humble parentage, being the son of the minister of the Church of Scotland.

Johnston working tirelessly against the many forces of the status quo in North Carolina and back in England, he achieved much for the citizenry.  He was instrumental in the first colonial print shop being established in New Bern in 1749 by James Davis, to print the new laws, legal papers, and colonial currency. Davis, on August 9, 1751 began publishing the North-Carolina Gazette, the first newspaper published in North Carolina. Johnston was instrumental in having forts constructed along the coast and waterways for protection from foreign incursions, primarily Spanish and pirate incursions.   

   

Probably Johnston’s most notable and long-lasting contribution to the state of North Carolina was encouraging immigration and expanding westward further into the backcountry. Being Scottish, Johnston probably especially encouraged his fellow Scots to settle the Cape Fear region in heavy numbers. His immigration and westward expansion policy tripled the population within the state in his eighteen years in office. Along with the population increase, his leadership and policies led to more wealth and development of resources for that population. Along with Johnston County, Fort Johnston located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, was named in his honor. 

Smithfield being Johnston County’s first town has a great deal of history. The town of Smithfield was created by resolution of the North Carolina General Assembly on April 23, 1777. This resolution describes the future town of Smithfield as “a Town on the lands of John Smith on the North side of the Neuse River, in Johnston County where the Courthouse and other public buildings now stand … be chartered.” So, Smithfield was named for John Smith the original owner of the land, and not the English explorer John Smith who helped found Jamestown, Virginia, and who had died almost 150 years before the founding. The Smithfield John Smith was an early settler to the area and had accumulated significant land holdings.   

The original reason people came to the area that would become Smithfield is Smith’s Ferry on the Neuse River. The Neuse River Ferry Landing dates to 1759 when John Smith petitioned the colonial government to allow him to operate a ferry on the river. His petition was to put landings on both sides of the river that cut through his land and operate a ferry between the landings. While Smith had his ferry operation, this landing also served as an inland shipping port. This port became a shipping point for downriver to New Bern, NC. In New Bern, these products could be shipped domestically or exported internationally. Tobacco, cotton, and timber were typical of what would be shipped at Smith’s Ferry. Smith’s ferry operation and the surrounding area would become known as Smith’s Ferry.

Smith’s son, John Smith, Jr. in 1762 purchased the ferry operation and 228 acres of surrounding land from his father. In 1771, the new Johnston County Court House was constructed in close proximity to the ferry operations. John Smith, Jr, and his wife built a home on top of a small rise commanding a view of the ferry operation and Neuse River, in that same year. The Smiths turned this home into a public house, which was a tavern and inn. The Smith’s public house served ferry travelers, and those visiting the new courthouse. Soon the name Smith’s Ferry that was being used for the area was replaced by Johnston County Court House.

When Smithfield was chartered in 1777 by the General Assembly, as part of the arrangement John Smith, Jr. provided 100 acres for the new town and 50 acres for a “commons” along the Neuse River.  Smithfield was originally laid out in a 100-acre grid pattern. An aerial view from Google Earth, looking at Front Street, the street that parallels the Neuse River, going back in a southeastern direction, the roughly 5-acre square city blocks are easily identifiable today. 

The 50 acres for a “commons” along the river established in the original town charter was not turned into a public park or for public use until 197 years later in 1972. A nature trail was constructed in 1972 called the Neuse River Nature Trail. Through the years it has been improved and expanded and is called The Neuse Riverwalk. Today, the town has a park along the Riverwalk called the Smithfield Town Commons. There are also other attractions along the Riverwalk and within a short walk, the Neuse Little Theatre and the Neuse Amphitheatre. In 2009, the Riverwalk became part of the Buffalo Creek Greenway. This makes the Riverwalk part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  

Because of a number of factors Johnston County and Smithfield did not change after the founding of the town. Roads and river transportation were not up to the levels found in other areas of the state. The Neuse River was difficult to navigate and river commerce did not develop. Smithfield also lost out when the North Carolina Railroad line passed north of the town in 1856.

Another factor that led to lower economic development was the limitations on agriculture. The very rural, undeveloped nature of the county lent itself to small subsistence farming and nothing on the scale of farming found in other more developed areas. 

Smith’s Ferry operation was eventually replaced by a bridge. This bridge was destroyed by fire in 1865 during the American Civil War by Confederate troops in attempts to slow the advance of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union troops. J. Bryant Alford was hired to reconstruct the bridge after the war. Alford, being a free black person during the time of slavery, was Johnston County’s first African American businessman. He operated a sawmill, cotton gin, and a general store. The new bridge he constructed was in use up until the early part of the 20th century.

Smithfield did not experience an economic boom until 1882. In that year, the North Carolina Midland Railroad acquired control of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad. A rail line was finally running literally down Market Street, through the business district of the town. This allowed businesses direct access to importing and exporting goods from all over the state, nation, and world. 

The rail line was moved from Market Street in 1886, and lines were laid east of Smithfield. The town was experiencing an economic downturn in 1888. A fire in 1889 for the most part, destroyed the business district. While most businesses began to rebuild soon after the fire, this was another economic blow to the small town. 

The cultivation of the bright leaf tobacco led to the beginning of another economic boom. The year was 1898 and the need for tobacco warehouses began to develop. The first warehouse company, the Banner Warehouse, in Smithfield was formed in 1898. In 1900, the Farmers’ Warehouse and Riverside Warehouse were built. The tobacco market that developed from all this tobacco growing was the largest economic boom seen in Smithfield. This economic boom continued into the 1970s when tobacco production and consumption declined.  

Economic development in Smithfield has transformed in the last twenty years. From being primarily tobacco agriculturally based at the beginning of the 20th century to Smithfield becoming a bedroom community for Raleigh and the Research Triangle. As indicated by the U.S. Census population numbers below, the Smithfield area has had steady and consistent population growth.   

The U.S. Census Population Calculations:

Historical population

Census Pop. %±

1850 329 —

1870 415 —

1880 485 16.9%

1890 550 13.4%

1900 764 38.9%

1910 1,347 76.3%

1920 1,895 40.7%

1930 2,543 34.2%

1940 3,678 44.6%

1950 5,574 51.5%

1960 6,117 9.7%

1970 6,677 9.2%

1980 7,288 9.2%

1990 7,540 3.5%

2000 11,510 52.7%

2010 10,966 −4.7%

2019 (est.) 12,985 [3] 18.4%

Highway & Roads 

U.S. Interstate 95 passes south of Smithfield.

Bus. U.S. 70 and U.S. 70 are easily accessible from Smithfield.

U.S. Interstate 40 passes 12 miles to the west of Smithfield.

From Smithfield to Raleigh, NC (35 Miles), Durham, NC (59 Miles), Chapel Hill, NC (62 Miles), Research Triangle Park (49 Miles) Charlotte, NC (172 Miles), Wilmington, NC (113 Miles), and Washington, DC (276 Miles). 

From Smithfield commercial air service is most convenient to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU). The following airlines currently serve Raleigh-Durham: Air Canada Express, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, American Eagle, Delta Air Lines, Delta Connection, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, and United Express. 

Smithfield is home to The Ava Gardner Museum. The museum honors the legacy of one of Hollywood’s most beautiful leading ladies of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Gardner was in 67 films from 1941 to 1986 and was nominated for an Academy Award. Gardner was born and raised in Johnston County. She passed away in London in 1990 and was brought home to Smithfield to be buried. 

Ava Gardner Festival is held in May each year.

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smithfield nc

Smithfield, NC

Smithfield, North Carolina, or the Town of Smithfield, is located southeast of Raleigh, NC in Johnston County. Smithfield was established May 9, 1777 and was Johnston County’s first town and second county seat. Before Smithfield was established, the area was originally known as Johnston County Courthouse. And before this, the area was known as Smith’s Ferry because of the ferry operation on the Neuse River.

The early precolonial inhabitants of the Johnston County area were the Tuscarora Indians. The Tuscarora were an Iroquoian-speaking native tribe. John Lawson (December 27, 1674 – September 16, 1711) an early explorer of the colonial Carolinas backcountry wrote of his encounters with the Tuscarora Indians. He published his expeditions’ journal, A New Voyage to Carolina, in 1709.

Lawson recorded in his journal the encounter with the Tuscarora Indians and specially noted their aggressive nature. He noted in great detail the Tuscarora custom of cutting half of both feet off of Indians who had been taken prisoner in battle. To quote a passage from A New Voyage to Carolina, “By this cruel Method, the Indian Captive is hinder’d from making his Escape, for he can neither run fast or go any where, but his Feet are more easily traced and discover’d.” Another telling quote of Lawson’s observations, “The Indians are very revengeful, and never forget an Injury done, till they have receiv’d Satisfaction.”

Lawson, in September 1711, was taken prisoner by the Tuscarora. The Tuscarora Indians ritualistically tortured John Lawson to death. The Tuscarora War (September 10, 1711 – February 11, 1715) was a result of murderous acts like what was committed against John Lawson and other colonial settlers. The Tuscarora Indians were eventually defeated by the colonist. In the aftermath the surviving Tuscarora escaped to New York where they became the sixth nation in the Iroquois confederation. The Tuscarora remaining alive in North Carolina were confined to a reservation in Bertie County. Many of these reservation-confined Tuscarora Indians eventually migrated to New York to join the sixth nation. Many historians consider the Tuscarora War the bloodiest conflict in colonial North Carolina.

In 1746, Johnston County was created from the northwestern part of Craven County. The county was named in honor of North Carolina’s 2nd and 6th Royal Governor Gabriel Johnson (1699 – 1752). He was the longest serving North Carolina Royal Governor (1734 – 1752), serving for eighteen years and only ended with his death while in office. Considered by many historical scholars, and many people during his lifetime, to be one of the best Royal Governors to have served. Upon his initial appointment and arrival in North Carolina as governor he was distressed by what he discovered. He found the general lawlessness, the lacking educational systems, and the moral laxities unacceptable and set forth to reform these matters. Possibly the most disturbing to Johnston was the oppression of the poor within the states. This sympathy may be  representative of his humble birth in Scotland, and his humble parentage, being the son of the minister of the Church of Scotland.

Johnston working tirelessly against the many forces of the status quo in North Carolina and back in England, he achieved much for the citizenry.  He was instrumental in the first colonial print shop being established in New Bern in 1749 by James Davis, to print the new laws, legal papers, and colonial currency. Davis, on August 9, 1751 began publishing the North-Carolina Gazette, the first newspaper published in North Carolina. Johnston was instrumental in having forts constructed along the coast and waterways for protection from foreign incursions, primarily Spanish and pirate incursions.   

   

Probably Johnston’s most notable and long-lasting contribution to the state of North Carolina was encouraging immigration and expanding westward further into the backcountry. Being Scottish, Johnston probably especially encouraged his fellow Scots to settle the Cape Fear region in heavy numbers. His immigration and westward expansion policy tripled the population within the state in his eighteen years in office. Along with the population increase, his leadership and policies led to more wealth and development of resources for that population. Along with Johnston County, Fort Johnston located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, was named in his honor. 

Smithfield being Johnston County’s first town has a great deal of history. The town of Smithfield was created by resolution of the North Carolina General Assembly on April 23, 1777. This resolution describes the future town of Smithfield as “a Town on the lands of John Smith on the North side of the Neuse River, in Johnston County where the Courthouse and other public buildings now stand … be chartered.” So, Smithfield was named for John Smith the original owner of the land, and not the English explorer John Smith who helped found Jamestown, Virginia, and who had died almost 150 years before the founding. The Smithfield John Smith was an early settler to the area and had accumulated significant land holdings.   

The original reason people came to the area that would become Smithfield is Smith’s Ferry on the Neuse River. The Neuse River Ferry Landing dates to 1759 when John Smith petitioned the colonial government to allow him to operate a ferry on the river. His petition was to put landings on both sides of the river that cut through his land and operate a ferry between the landings. While Smith had his ferry operation, this landing also served as an inland shipping port. This port became a shipping point for downriver to New Bern, NC. In New Bern, these products could be shipped domestically or exported internationally. Tobacco, cotton, and timber were typical of what would be shipped at Smith’s Ferry. Smith’s ferry operation and the surrounding area would become known as Smith’s Ferry.

Smith’s son, John Smith, Jr. in 1762 purchased the ferry operation and 228 acres of surrounding land from his father. In 1771, the new Johnston County Court House was constructed in close proximity to the ferry operations. John Smith, Jr, and his wife built a home on top of a small rise commanding a view of the ferry operation and Neuse River, in that same year. The Smiths turned this home into a public house, which was a tavern and inn. The Smith’s public house served ferry travelers, and those visiting the new courthouse. Soon the name Smith’s Ferry that was being used for the area was replaced by Johnston County Court House.

When Smithfield was chartered in 1777 by the General Assembly, as part of the arrangement John Smith, Jr. provided 100 acres for the new town and 50 acres for a “commons” along the Neuse River.  Smithfield was originally laid out in a 100-acre grid pattern. An aerial view from Google Earth, looking at Front Street, the street that parallels the Neuse River, going back in a southeastern direction, the roughly 5-acre square city blocks are easily identifiable today. 

The 50 acres for a “commons” along the river established in the original town charter was not turned into a public park or for public use until 197 years later in 1972. A nature trail was constructed in 1972 called the Neuse River Nature Trail. Through the years it has been improved and expanded and is called The Neuse Riverwalk. Today, the town has a park along the Riverwalk called the Smithfield Town Commons. There are also other attractions along the Riverwalk and within a short walk, the Neuse Little Theatre and the Neuse Amphitheatre. In 2009, the Riverwalk became part of the Buffalo Creek Greenway. This makes the Riverwalk part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  

Because of a number of factors Johnston County and Smithfield did not change after the founding of the town. Roads and river transportation were not up to the levels found in other areas of the state. The Neuse River was difficult to navigate and river commerce did not develop. Smithfield also lost out when the North Carolina Railroad line passed north of the town in 1856.

Another factor that led to lower economic development was the limitations on agriculture. The very rural, undeveloped nature of the county lent itself to small subsistence farming and nothing on the scale of farming found in other more developed areas. 

Smith’s Ferry operation was eventually replaced by a bridge. This bridge was destroyed by fire in 1865 during the American Civil War by Confederate troops in attempts to slow the advance of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union troops. J. Bryant Alford was hired to reconstruct the bridge after the war. Alford, being a free black person during the time of slavery, was Johnston County’s first African American businessman. He operated a sawmill, cotton gin, and a general store. The new bridge he constructed was in use up until the early part of the 20th century.

Smithfield did not experience an economic boom until 1882. In that year, the North Carolina Midland Railroad acquired control of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad. A rail line was finally running literally down Market Street, through the business district of the town. This allowed businesses direct access to importing and exporting goods from all over the state, nation, and world. 

The rail line was moved from Market Street in 1886, and lines were laid east of Smithfield. The town was experiencing an economic downturn in 1888. A fire in 1889 for the most part, destroyed the business district. While most businesses began to rebuild soon after the fire, this was another economic blow to the small town. 

The cultivation of the bright leaf tobacco led to the beginning of another economic boom. The year was 1898 and the need for tobacco warehouses began to develop. The first warehouse company, the Banner Warehouse, in Smithfield was formed in 1898. In 1900, the Farmers’ Warehouse and Riverside Warehouse were built. The tobacco market that developed from all this tobacco growing was the largest economic boom seen in Smithfield. This economic boom continued into the 1970s when tobacco production and consumption declined.  

Economic development in Smithfield has transformed in the last twenty years. From being primarily tobacco agriculturally based at the beginning of the 20th century to Smithfield becoming a bedroom community for Raleigh and the Research Triangle. As indicated by the U.S. Census population numbers below, the Smithfield area has had steady and consistent population growth.   

The U.S. Census Population Calculations:

Historical population

Census Pop. %±

1850 329 —

1870 415 —

1880 485 16.9%

1890 550 13.4%

1900 764 38.9%

1910 1,347 76.3%

1920 1,895 40.7%

1930 2,543 34.2%

1940 3,678 44.6%

1950 5,574 51.5%

1960 6,117 9.7%

1970 6,677 9.2%

1980 7,288 9.2%

1990 7,540 3.5%

2000 11,510 52.7%

2010 10,966 −4.7%

2019 (est.) 12,985 [3] 18.4%

Highway & Roads 

U.S. Interstate 95 passes south of Smithfield.

Bus. U.S. 70 and U.S. 70 are easily accessible from Smithfield.

U.S. Interstate 40 passes 12 miles to the west of Smithfield.

From Smithfield to Raleigh, NC (35 Miles), Durham, NC (59 Miles), Chapel Hill, NC (62 Miles), Research Triangle Park (49 Miles) Charlotte, NC (172 Miles), Wilmington, NC (113 Miles), and Washington, DC (276 Miles). 

From Smithfield commercial air service is most convenient to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU). The following airlines currently serve Raleigh-Durham: Air Canada Express, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, American Eagle, Delta Air Lines, Delta Connection, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, and United Express. 

Smithfield is home to The Ava Gardner Museum. The museum honors the legacy of one of Hollywood’s most beautiful leading ladies of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Gardner was in 67 films from 1941 to 1986 and was nominated for an Academy Award. Gardner was born and raised in Johnston County. She passed away in London in 1990 and was brought home to Smithfield to be buried. 

Ava Gardner Festival is held in May each year.

Need Association Management?

Contact Us