John Willis historical marker

John Willis (I-38)

Founder of Lumberton, captain in Revolution, later brigadier general; member of legislature, conventions of 1788, '89. Plantation was here.

Location: Pine Street, Cedar Street, and Godwin Avenue in Lumberton
County: Robeson
Original Date Cast: 1953

John Willis’s parents settled on Saddletree Swamp in what was at that time the western part of Bladen County in 1753. Willis was born in 1756, making him one of the first native-born sons of the area that today is Robeson County. He served first as a captain in the Revolution, but after the war achieved the rank of colonel and general. In the postwar period he began acquiring large tracts near his family’s holdings, becoming the largest landowner in the area. As an influential landowner, he played a key role in the establishment of Robeson County in 1787.

Once the new county had been created, Willis was one of seven residents responsible for choosing a site for the county seat. The commission chose a parcel of land owned by Willis on the east bluffs of the Lumber River. In August 1787, Willis donated 170-acres of his 500-acre Red Bluff Plantation to be used as the county seat. He named the area Lumberton for the nearby Lumber River. The town of Lumberton received official recognition from the legislature on November 3, 1788. It was not until 1852 that the town was incorporated into a municipality.

The “father of Lumberton” went on to represent Robeson County as a state senator in 1787, 1788, 1789, 1791, and 1798. He served in the House in 1794 and 1795 and at the state convention of 1789 where North Carolina ratified the Constitution and became the twelfth state. Willis married Asenath Barnes of Natchez, Mississippi, in 1779; they had eight children. He died in Natchez on April 22, 1802.

Daughters of the American Revolution, Mississippi Daughters and Their Ancestors (1979)
Diane E. Lea and Claudia P. Roberts, An Architectural and Historical Survey, Central Lumberton, North Carolina (1980)
Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina (1898-1914)
William S. Powell, North Carolina Gazetteer (1968)

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