The Mother County
"In God We Trust"
|Named for||Martin Bladen|
|• Total||887 sq mi (2,300 km2)|
|• Land||874 sq mi (2,260 km2)|
|• Water||13 sq mi (30 km2) 1.4%|
| • Estimate |
|• Density||33.9/sq mi (13.1/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC−5 (Eastern)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−4 (EDT)|
Bladen County (//) is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2020 census, the population was 29,606. Its county seat is Elizabethtown. The county was created in 1734 as Bladen Precinct and gained county status in 1739.
Bladen County was formed in 1734 as Bladen Precinct of Bath County, from New Hanover Precinct. It was named for Martin Bladen, a member of the Board of Trade. With the abolition of Bath County in 1739, all of its constituent precincts became counties.
Bladen's original residents included the Waccamaw people.
Bladen County began as a vast territory, with indefinite northern and western boundaries. Reductions in its extent began in 1750, when its western part became Anson County. In 1754, the northern part of what was left of Bladen County became Cumberland County. In 1764, the southern part of what remained of Bladen County was combined with part of New Hanover County to form Brunswick County. In 1787, the western part of the now much smaller county became Robeson County. Finally, in 1808, the southern part of Bladen County was combined with part of Brunswick County to form Columbus County. Bladen County is considered the "mother county" of North Carolina because of the 100 counties in North Carolina, 55 of them at one point belonged to Bladen County.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 887 square miles (2,300 km2), of which 874 square miles (2,260 km2) is land and 13 square miles (34 km2) (1.4%) is water. It is the fourth-largest county in North Carolina by land area.
As of the 2020 United States census, there were 29,606 people residing in the county. Racially, 54.4 percent of residents identified as white, 32.3 percent identified as black, 2.7 percent as Native American, and 6.1 percent as other categories. Ethnically, 20.7 percent identified as Hispanic or Latino.
Between 2010 and 2020, Bladen County experienced a population decline of 15.9 percent, losing 5,584 residents.
Bladen County is a member of the Lumber River Council of Governments, a regional planning board representing five counties.
It lies within the bounds of North Carolina's 15th Prosecutorial District, the 13A Superior Court District, and the 13th District Court District.
|Historical presidential election returns|
Following the 2018 United States Midterm Elections, an investigation was opened into accusations of an absentee ballot fraud scheme directed by McCrae Dowless in Bladen County, within North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. Accusations were based around the Republican Primary election, in which Mark Harris defeated incumbent Robert Pittenger, and around the general election, in which Harris initially appeared to defeat Democrat Dan McCready. As of December 2018[update], the investigation is currently ongoing. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, Democrat, said it was possible over 1,000 ballots had been destroyed. According to District Attorney Jon David, Republican, the county has a "troubled history of political groups exploiting the use of absentee ballots." The scandal brought national media attention to Bladen.
As of 2022, Bladen County is home to about 22,000 registered voters, comprising about 9,700 registered Democrats, about 5,100 Republicans, and about 7,000 unaffiliated voters.
Bladen County is served by a single hospital, Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, based in Elizabethtown. According to the 2022 County Health Rankings produced by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Bladen County ranked 85th in health outcomes of North Carolina's 100 counties, an improvement of 10 ranks over the previous five years. Per the ranking, 26 percent of adults say they are in poor or fair health, the average life expectancy is 75 years, and 16 percent of people under the age of 65 lack health insurance. It has one primary care physician per 4,670 residents.
Agriculture constitutes a major part of Bladen County's economy. Smithfield Foods operates a pork processing facility north of the town of Tar Heel, the largest such plant in the world. It employs 5,800 workers, making it the county's largest employer. The county is the largest producer of blueberries in the state. Area farmers also grow soybeans, peanuts, corn, wheat, and cotton. The county suffers from a large poverty rate and is one of the most economically distressed counties in the state. According to census figures, about 70 percent of working people in Bladen are employed outside the county.
The population ranking of the following table is based on the 2022 estimate of Bladen County.
† county seat
|Rank||City/Town/etc.||Municipal type||Population (2022 estimate)|