Princeville, North Carolina
Princeville is a town in Edgecombe County in North Carolina. It is the oldest town incorporated in the United States. The town was established by freed slaves after the Civil War. Incorporation took place in 1885. The 2010 census lists the town population as 2,082.
Princeville originated in 1865 as a resettlement community for ex-slaves. When the Civil War ended Union troops occupied the area around Tarboro. Many of the former slaves in surrounding counties left their plantations. They went to the Federals’ encampment seeking freedom and protection.
The ex-slaves congregated around the Union troops. The troops camped on the south side of the Tar River below Tarboro. A sizable number of freed men and women remained encamped at the site after the troops had departed. They called their new village Freedom Hill or Liberty Hill. This name was from a nearby hill. It was where northern soldiers had addressed the former slaves. The soldiers told them that the Union victory in the war had made them free.
The freed slaves who remained on the river soon erected makeshift shelters. White landowners made no effort to evict them from the land. The land was so swampy that it was otherwise useless. There is some evidence that the “squatters” were encouraged to remain at the site. This was to keep their distance from the white community in Tarboro. In the 1870s the landowners began selling lots to blacks. One of the buyers was Turner Prince (1843-1912). He was a carpenter. The community was renamed in his honor upon its incorporation in 1885.
Princeville’s economy grew rapidly during the transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. Black-owned businesses flourished. However, the rise of white supremacy groups threatened the town’s continued peaceful existence.
These white supremacy groups began calling and protesting for the town’s dissolution. Thanks to the well-established residents who resisted their intimidation, today the town remains a very cohesive and diverse community.
Princeville’s countryside landscape faces continual environmental threats that are both immediate and ongoing. Climate change threatens to increase the impact and seriousness of local floods. This can potentially result in tragic losses to both property and population. This goes well beyond the existing social and economic challenges already facing Princeville as a small rural town.
Every year, from June to November, is considered flood season and with good reason, given its history. Evidence suggests the threat will grow as hurricanes become more frequent and intense. The capacity of the community to rebuild continually is also uncertain. The cultural landscape is undefined and under-acknowledged. It puts its long-term fate in doubt.
Princeville experienced severe flooding in September 1999. This was by the Cape Verde-type Hurricane Floyd. This led to many public and private relief efforts. In 2006 the restoration of Princeville was ongoing.
In October 2016 the Category 5 Atlantic Hurricane Matthew hit the town.
Defining the cultural landscape is difficult. This is because it depends on individual and collective memory in rebuilding heritage. This has become part of Princeville’s cultural lifeways. There is a lack of definition and recognition by mainstream historical organizations. It reflects a larger challenge that has loomed over the town’s landscape since its founding. The failure of public and private institutions to acknowledge the history of Princeville.
Princeville is governed by a Mayor and Board of Commissioners. The board has 4 members. The current Mayor is Bobbie Jones. Other administrative officers include;
1. Town Manager
The town manager handles the town’s daily operations. The current town manager is Glenda L. Knight.
2. Town Clerk
The town clerk serves as the custodian of official documents. He or she responds to all queries on public records documentation. The clerk also receives requests from citizens and staff.
3. Public Works Director
The public works director handles providing oversight in the various entities. These are planning, organizing and directing of community ground services. The office manages streets, construction and property maintenance.
4. Financial Director
The Financial Director is responsible for the fiscal affairs of the town.
5. Town Attorney
The town attorney serves as the town’s Chief Legal Advisor for the town.
In July 2012, the State Treasurer’s Office took control of the books. Princeville was financially strapped at the time. This was only the fifth time the state has taken over for a local municipality since the 1930s. It has happened twice in Princeville. The state also assumed control of its books in 1997.
Princeville Museum and Welcome Center
Princeville Museum and Welcome Center is a gorgeous building with its astounding hardwood floors, twin rooms, and kitchen. The facilities are available to rent for conferences and meetings. There is the restored schoolhouse that once housed Princeville Grade School. Its interpretive displays bring the town’s rich history to life.
The Princeville Museum serves as a bridge to the region’s historic past. It shows the cultural landscape of the first town chartered by African Americans. The restored schoolhouse hosts visitors and community events.
The town has many services that help it run smoothly. Some of the daily involvements include;
1. Edgecombe County Water and Sewer
2. Chamber of Commerce
3. Edgecombe – Martin County Electric Corporation
4. Cable Television Service
5. Postal Service
6. Auto License Plates
7. Driver’s License
8. Tar River Times
9. Voter Registration
10. Telephone Service – CenturyLink
In the past, Princeville was disregarded. This has led to widespread continuous failures to protect its history and artifacts. Princeville lacks the critical mass of historic structures to enable traditional preservation measures. There is funding and protective measures that would go with it. Princeville’s remaining elements are at risk from future floods and economic issues. Elements that may disappear include structures and distinct landscape features. It is critical for Princeville to find another means of recognition. The town needs to raise visibility. It also needs to mobilize support for its unique and irreplaceable cultural landscape