On February 20, 1885, 22 years after Emancipation, freedmen in Edgecombe County incorporated Princeville, the state’s first town founded by African Americans.
Its claim to first in the nation is rivaled only by Eatonville, Florida. Along with James City in Craven County and Roanoke Island in Dare County, the community was among the state’s three resettlement colonies for former slaves.
At the close of the Civil War, Union troops occupied the Tarboro area. Formerly enslaved people from surrounding counties left their plantations and flocked to the Federal encampment seeking freedom and protection. The future faced by the mostly illiterate, unskilled and penniless freedmen was uncertain and bleak.
Adopting the name Freedom Hill from a nearby knoll from which Northern soldiers addressed the refugees, the community’s first families camped alongside the river and erected crude shanties. White landowners made no effort to evict them from the land, it being so swampy as to be otherwise useless.
In the 1870s the land did change hands and residents began acquiring lots. One of the buyers was Turner Prince, a carpenter for whom the community was renamed upon its incorporation.
National attention was drawn to Princeville in September 1999 when flooding associated with Hurricane Floyd devastated the area.
Image from State Archives.