Columbus County
Columbus County Courthouse, Whiteville
Flag of Columbus County
Official seal of Columbus County
"We are ready to grow with you."
Map of North Carolina highlighting Columbus County
Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 34°16′N 78°40′W / 34.26°N 78.67°W / 34.26; -78.67
Country United States
State North Carolina
Named forChristopher Columbus
Largest cityWhiteville
 • Total954 sq mi (2,470 km2)
 • Land937 sq mi (2,430 km2)
 • Water16 sq mi (40 km2)  1.7%
 • Estimate 
 • Density58.8/sq mi (22.7/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district7th

Columbus County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina, on its southeastern border. Its county seat is Whiteville.[1] The 2020 census showed a loss of 12.9% of the population from that of 2010. As of the 2020 census, the population is 50,623.[2] This included inmate prison population of approximately 2500.[3]


Early history

The area comprising Columbus County was originally inhabited by the Waccamaw people. Historically, the "eastern Siouans" had territories extending through the area of Columbus County prior to any European exploration or settlement in the 16th century.

English colonial settlement in what was known as Carolina did not increase until the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Following epidemics of new infectious diseases, to which indigenous peoples were exposed in trading and other contact, the Waccamaw and other Native Americans often suffered disruption and fatalities when caught between larger tribes and colonists in the Tuscarora and Yamasee wars. Afterward most of the Tuscarora people migrated north, joining other Iroquoian-speaking peoples of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy in New York State by 1722. At that point the leaders declared their migration ended and the tribe officially relocated to that area.

The Waccamaw Siouan ancestors retreated for safety to an area of Green Swamp near Lake Waccamaw.[4] Throughout the 19th century, the Waccamaw Siouan were seldom mentioned in the historical record. If descendants intermarried with whites and/or African Americans, their children were assumed to lose their Indian status, although they were often reared in Indian culture. Since North Carolina was a slave society, whites classified anyone with visible African features as slaves and blacks first.

Colonial settlement

As America was colonized by the British, the area encompassing Columbus County was first organized part of the Bath Precinct of North Carolina, established by the British Crown in 1696. In 1729 a southern portion was split off by the General Assembly to create New Hanover County, and five years later Bladen was formed out of part of New Hanover. In 1764 Brunswick County was formed out of Bladen and New Hanover. Throughout this time the area was largely forested and had few white settlers, though the General Assembly established two roads through the area in 1764. William Bartram, a botanist from Pennsylvania, journeyed to Lake Waccamaw to study the flora and fauna of the region in the 1730s, creating the first detailed written account of the area.[5] At least two skirmishes of the American Revolutionary War were fought on Columbus soil: one near Pireway and another at Brown Marsh.[6]


Columbus County was created by the General Assembly on December 15, 1808, to make it easier for local residents to conduct official business without having to travel to the seat of Brunswick County.[6] Columbus was formed from parts of Bladen and Brunswick counties and named in honor of Christopher Columbus.[7] The county's borders were modified several times by legislative act between 1809 and 1821.[8] In 1810, a community was platted on land owned by James B. White for the purpose of creating a county seat.[7] It was originally known as White's Crossing before being incorporated as Whiteville in 1832.[9] The first courthouse and jail, made of wood, were built there in 1809.[6]


Farmers loading strawberries onto rail cars in Chadbourn c. 1907
Farmers loading strawberries onto rail cars in Chadbourn c. 1907

At the time of its creation, Columbus County was sparsely populated.[10] A new brick courthouse and jail were erected in 1852.[6] The construction of a railroad along the Bladen-Columbus border in the 1860s spurred growth. The laying of the Wilmington, Columbia and Augusta Railroad later in the decade connected Whiteville with Wilmington and supported the development of strong lumber and naval stores industries.[10] Most white men in the county fought during the American Civil War, while most free blacks and mulattoes were exempted from service. The county was spared direct fighting, but the war demands stressed the local labor and food markets, and severe rains in 1863 diminished grain yields. Most residents resorted to trade via the barter system. After Wilmington fell to Union troops in February 1865, Union marauders sacked Whiteville.[11] In 1877 part of Brunswick County was annexed to Columbus.[12]

In the post-Reconstruction period, after white Democrats regained dominance in politics, they emphasized white supremacy and classified all non-whites as black. For instance, Native Americans could not attend schools for white children. Toward the end of the century, the U.S. Census recorded common Waccamaw surnames among individuals in the small isolated communities of this area.[13]

Tobacco was introduced as a crop in Columbus in 1896, and that year a tobacco warehouse was established in Fair Bluff. It remained a marginal crop until 1914, and at the conclusion of World War I overtook cotton as the county's major cash crop.[14] The county's first bank was opened in 1903.[15] Strawberries were introduced at Chadbourn in 1895, and by 1907 Chadbourn had become one of the leading strawberry producers in the world.[16] Another courthouse and jail were built in 1914.[6]


From January 1979 through December 1982,[17] State and Federal investigators conducted Operation NC Gateway, an investigation into the activities of several elected officials in Brunswick and Columbus counties. Law enforcement seized 37 million dollars of illegal drugs, and arrested several leading citizens in the area. The scandal was labeled "COLCOR" in the press, shorthand for Columbus Corruption.[18] The federal investigation culminated in federal convictions of former Brunswick County Sheriff Herman Strong and former Shallotte Police Chief Hoyal Varnum Jr., among other government officials.[19] The 1983 street value of the narcotics in Strong and his co-conspirators’ criminal enterprise was $180 million.[20][21]

COLCOR's success was largely due to the deep undercover work by FBI Special Agent Robert Drdak. His testimony to the Grand Jury led to the arrest of a long list of prominent Brunswick and Columbus County citizens. In addition, former U.S. Attorney, Samuel Currin, was the force behind operations ColCor and Operation Gateway. The special investigative grand jury in Brunswick County indicted 22 persons,[20] and 35 were indicted in Columbus County.[17] Among those indicted were:[17][22][23]

Economic stagnation

The manufacturing sector in Columbus County began a decline in the 1990s. Between 1999 and 2014, the county lost about 2,000 manufacturing jobs. The number of local farmers also declined.[27] The county was heavily impacted by Hurricane Florence in 2018.[28]


Interactive map of Columbus County

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 954 square miles (2,470 km2), of which 937 square miles (2,430 km2) is land and 16 square miles (41 km2) (1.7%) is water.[29] It is the third-largest county in North Carolina by land area. There are several large lakes within the county, including Lake Tabor and Lake Waccamaw.

One of the most significant geographic features is the Green Swamp, a 15,907-acre area in the north-eastern portion of the county. Highway 211 passes alongside it. The swamp contains several unique and endangered species, such as the venus flytrap. The area contains the Brown Marsh Swamp, and has a remnant of the giant longleaf pine forest that once stretched across the Southeast from Virginia to Texas.[30]

State and local protected areas

Major water bodies

Adjacent counties

Major highways

Major infrastructure


Historical population
Census Pop.
2021 (est.)50,092[31]−1.0%
U.S. Decennial Census[32]
1790-1960[33] 1900-1990[34]
1990-2000[35] 2010-2013[36]

2020 Census

Columbus County racial composition[38]
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 30,019 59.3%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 14,503 28.65%
Native American 1,670 3.3%
Asian 156 0.31%
Pacific Islander 10 0.02%
Other/Mixed 1,652 3.26%
Hispanic or Latino 2,613 5.16%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 50,623 people, 21,580 households, and 14,243 families residing in the county. The population of the two prisons are included in this total

2010 Census

As of the 2010 census, the population was 58,098.[36] Columbus County led the state in opioid pills per person from 2006 to 2012 averaging 113.5 pills per person per year.[39]


In 2005 62.3% of the county population was White, 31.1% of the population was African-American, and 3.2% of the population was Native American. According to the 2010 census, 1,025 people in Columbus County self-identify as Waccamaw Siouan.[40] 2.8% of the population was Latino.

There were 21,308 households, out of which 31.50% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.80% were married couples living together, 15.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.40% were non-families. 26.50% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.70% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.50 and the average family size was 3.01.

In the county, the population was spread out, with 25.70% under the age of 18, 8.70% from 18 to 24, 27.40% from 25 to 44, 24.40% from 45 to 64, and 13.80% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 92.60 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.40 males.


The 2003 median income for a household in the county was $27,659, and the median income for a family was a little more than $33,800. Males had a median income of $28,494 versus $19,867 for females. The per capita income for the county was $14,415. About 17.60% of families and 20.30% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.00% of those under age 18 and 25.50% of those age 65 or over.

2000 Census

As of the census[41] of 2000, there were 54,749 people, 21,308 households, and 15,043 families residing in the county. The population density was 58/sq mi (23/km2). As of 2004, there were 24,668 housing units at an average density of 26/sq mi (10/km2). The racial makeup for the county was 68.9% White, 23.1% Black or African American, 5.1% Native American, 0.2% Asian, 4.7% from other races, and 0.6% from two or more races. 2.7% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

Government and politics


Columbus County is governed by a seven-member Board of Commissioners.[42] The county is represented in the North Carolina Senate in district 8 and in the North Carolina House of Representatives in district 46.[43] The county is a member of the regional Cape Fear Council of Governments, where it participates in area planning on a variety of issues.[44]

Judicial system and law enforcement

Columbus County lies within the bounds of the 15th Prosecutorial District, the 13A Superior Court District, and the 13th District Court District.[45] The Columbus County Sheriff's Office provides law enforcement services for the county as well as operating the Columbus County Detention Center.[46] There are two state prisons in the county, one at Tabor City, the Tabor City Correctional Institution, and one at Brunswick.[47]

In 2022 Sheriff Jody Greene was re-elected to office after resigning a couple weeks prior due to allegations of obstructing justice and racism.[48] District Attorney Jon David plans to file a new petition for his removal from office. Currently an investigation regarding him and The Columbus County Sheriff Office's actions is being carried out by North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.[49] He would late resign from office for the second time in January 2023.[50]


Throughout much of the 2000s, the Columbus County electorate regularly supported Republican presidential candidates and Democratic local and state candidates. Following the election of Democrat Barack Obama as U.S. president in 2008, Republicans' performance in local races markedly improved.[42] As of 2022, the county hosts about 36,200 registered voters, comprising about 15,344 registered Democrats, 10,100 registered Republicans and 10,700 unaffiliated.[43] Despite Democrats' registration advantage, only one unopposed Democrat was elected to a county office in the 2022 local general elections.[52]


The economy of Columbus County centers on agriculture and manufacturing. Columbus farmers produce crops such as pecans and peanuts, along with soybeans, potatoes, and corn. Cattle, poultry, and catfish are other agricultural products in the county. Factories in the region produce textiles, tools, and plywood. Household products such as doors, furniture, and windows are also manufactured in Columbus.[53] The county hosts two industrial parks and shares a third with Brunswick County.[54]

Carolina Southern stopped railroad service to the county in 2012, and efforts to restore service have proven difficult.[55] However, as of July 2014, positive developments were reported to return railroad service to the area, which was considered integral to spur economic development.[56]

in July 2014, Carolina Southern agreed to begin the process of allowing the counties of Horry County, South Carolina, Marion, South Carolina and Columbus County, NC to assume control of the area rail lines. The goal was to repair the railroad tracks and bridges through local governments and then to find a buyer to re-establish service to the area.[57] A public hearing on the matter was held on October 6, 2014.[58] During that meeting, the Columbus County Commissioners voted to support the initiative to restart rail service with a 10-year grant for the program. Some of the commissioners may not have revealed that they will benefit from the re-establishment of rail service.[59] The Horry County Council in October 2014 also voted to provide funding to reestablish railroad service to the area.[60] Although originally it was thought service could be restored as early as spring 2015,[61] however, the sale of the railroad was not completed until August, 2015 to R.J. Corman Railroad.[62][63] A new target date of February 2016 was announced, as millions of dollars are expected to be spent repairing the rail lines that have been idle since 2011.[64]


Columbus is one of the few counties in North Carolina that has two public school systems: one for the county, which mostly serves rural areas, and one for the city of Whiteville. Both are led by elected school boards.[52] The county government maintains a system of six libraries.[65] The county also hosts Southeastern Community College.[66]


Columbus County is served by a single hospital, Columbus Regional Healthcare System, based in Whiteville.[67] According to the 2022 County Health Rankings produced by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Columbus County ranked 91st in health outcomes of North Carolina's 100 counties, an improvement over recent years, as it was ranked last from 2010 to 2015. Per the ranking, 26 percent of adults say they are in poor or fair health, the average life expectancy is 74 years, and 17 percent of people under the age of 65 lack health insurance.[68]



Map of Columbus County, North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels
Map of Columbus County, North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels



Census-designated places

Unincorporated areas

See also


  1. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  2. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Columbus County, North Carolina". Retrieved April 19, 2022.
  3. ^ "Columbus leaders react to disappointing census results". The News Reporter. August 17, 2021. Retrieved August 14, 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ William S. Powell, Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 1170.
  5. ^ Rogers 1946, p. 12.
  6. ^ a b c d e Rogers 1946, p. 13.
  7. ^ a b Corbitt 2000, p. 71.
  8. ^ Corbitt 2000, p. 72.
  9. ^ Powell 1976, p. 532.
  10. ^ a b Justesen 2012, pp. 4–5.
  11. ^ Justesen 2012, p. 12.
  12. ^ Corbitt 2000, p. 73.
  13. ^ Powell, Encyclopedia of North Carolina, 1170.
  14. ^ Rogers 1946, pp. 14–15.
  15. ^ Rogers 1946, p. 14.
  16. ^ Rogers 1946, p. 16.
  17. ^ a b c "Operation N.C. Gateway stings Brunswick's former sheriff in early 80s |". Retrieved August 24, 2019.
  18. ^ "COLCOR REDUX". Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  19. ^ "Operation N.C. Gateway stings Brunswick's former sheriff in early 80s". Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  20. ^ a b c d "Under investigation: A tale of three decades -". Archived from the original on March 7, 2018. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  21. ^ "Crimes of the Cape Fear: FBI 'Colcor' sting uncovered hotbed of corruption in Southeastern North Carolina".
  22. ^ a b "COLCOR REDUX". CRIME REPORT. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  23. ^ a b AP (June 21, 1983). "GRAND JURY INDICTS LIEUT. GOV. GREEN OF NORTH CAROLINA". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  24. ^ Then, Scott Nunn Back. "1982: FBI arrests Waccamaw police chief, 20 others". Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  25. ^ "Political Grudges Are Nothing New". October 11, 2013. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  26. ^ "Timeline of R.C. Soles' career". Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  27. ^ Voorheis, Mike (November 2, 2014). "Once a place of hope, Chadbourn in poverty's grip after jobs lost". StarNews Online. Retrieved January 12, 2023.
  28. ^ Martin, Edward (October 1, 2019). "Columbus County claws its way back from Florence's strike". Business North Carolina. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  29. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Archived from the original on January 12, 2015. Retrieved January 13, 2015.
  30. ^ "Green Swamp Preserve". The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved August 15, 2022.
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  32. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 13, 2015.
  33. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved January 13, 2015.
  34. ^ Forstall, Richard L., ed. (March 27, 1995). "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 13, 2015.
  35. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. April 2, 2001. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 27, 2010. Retrieved January 13, 2015.
  36. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  37. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Columbus County, North Carolina". Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  38. ^ "Explore Census Data". Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  39. ^ "Columbus led state in opioid pills per person; Unsealed data reveals 'virtual road map to the opioid epidemic'". The News Reporter. July 30, 2019. Retrieved August 24, 2019.
  40. ^ Commission on Indian Affairs, North Carolina Department of Administration. (2010). "Total Population by Tribe by County in North Carolina." "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 2, 2015. Retrieved April 1, 2015.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  41. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  42. ^ a b Nagem, Sarah (November 3, 2022). "Shift to the GOP clouds local races in this rural NC county – especially for sheriff". Border Belt Independent. Retrieved November 7, 2022.
  43. ^ a b Nagem, Sarah (April 20, 2022). "Columbus County voters will go to the polls in May. Here are some primary races to watch". Border Belt Independent. Retrieved July 21, 2022.
  44. ^ "Home". Cape Fear Council of Governments. Retrieved November 7, 2022.
  45. ^ "Columbus County". North Carolina Judicial Branch. Retrieved January 12, 2023.
  46. ^ CCSO. "Columbus County Sheriff's Office - Dedicated To Serve". Columbus County Sheriff's Office. Retrieved November 7, 2022.
  47. ^ "North Carolina Division of Prisons". Archived from the original on March 4, 2018. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  48. ^ McAdams, Ann. "Sheriff: "I'm sick of these Black bastards.... Every Black that I know, you need to fire him..."". Retrieved November 13, 2022.
  49. ^ Solon, Zach. "District Attorney plans to file new petition to remove Columbus County sheriff-elect". Retrieved November 13, 2022.
  50. ^ Staff, WECT. "Columbus County Sheriff resigns for the second time; District Attorney holds news conference on the announcement". Retrieved January 14, 2023.
  51. ^ Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  52. ^ a b Schofield, Ivey (November 18, 2022). "Push to elect Black candidates to Columbus County school boards was rejected by voters". Border Belt Independent. Retrieved November 19, 2022.
  53. ^ Martin, Jonathan. "Columbus County (1808)". North Carolina History Project. John Locke Foundation. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  54. ^ Schofield, Ivey (June 1, 2021). "Workforce is key to capitalizing on agribusiness and population growth in Columbus". Border Belt Independent. Retrieved January 12, 2023.
  55. ^ Jones, Steve. "STB filing: Railroad revenue not important in reaching a decision | Business". Archived from the original on April 16, 2014. Retrieved April 22, 2014.
  56. ^ "Tabor-Loris Tribune – July 16, 2014". Archived from the original on July 27, 2014. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  57. ^ "Local news". The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, SC. Archived from the original on July 28, 2014. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  58. ^ "Tabor-Loris Tribune – September 17, 2014". Archived from the original on October 12, 2014. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  59. ^ Justin Smith (October 7, 2014). "Commissioner could benefit from railroad receiving county incentives". WECT TV6. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  60. ^ "CONWAY: Horry County Council approves $1.8 m commitment to help purchase Carolina Southern Railroad | Local News |". Archived from the original on October 13, 2014. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  61. ^ "Carolina Southern could roll again by next spring | Business |". Archived from the original on October 16, 2014. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  62. ^ "Home | R. J. Corman Railroad Group". Retrieved August 15, 2022.
  63. ^ "The News Reporter | Henderson: Railroad to create 30 new local jobs | Local. News. Now". Archived from the original on September 10, 2015. Retrieved November 4, 2015.
  64. ^ "Done Deal: Railroad that serves Columbus County changes hands". Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  65. ^ "Branch Locations, Contact Information and Hours". Columbus County Public Library System. Retrieved December 6, 2022.
  66. ^ Schofield, Ivey (August 17, 2022). "Rural NC community college graduates first class of psychiatric technicians". Border Belt Independent. Retrieved December 6, 2022.
  67. ^ Nagem, Sarah (November 16, 2022). "How safe are the hospitals in North Carolina's Border Belt? New grades released". Border Belt Independent. Retrieved November 28, 2022.
  68. ^ Nagem, Sarah (May 9, 2022). "The fight for better health (and health care) in rural North Carolina". Border Belt Independent. Retrieved November 28, 2022.
  69. ^ "NCDA&CS Veterinary Division Animal Welfare Section Civil Penalties and Other Legal Issues". Retrieved March 15, 2018.

Works cited

Coordinates: 34°16′N 78°40′W / 34.26°N 78.67°W / 34.26; -78.67