Clinton, the seat of Sampson County, is named for Richard Clinton, Revolutionary War militia officer and politician. Clinton’s birth and early life remain mysterious, although tradition states that he born in 1741 and was the son of John Sampson and Rachael Clinton, a servant working in the Sampson home. Although impossible to confirm, the story rests on the fact that Sampson left half of his immense wealth to Clinton upon his death in 1762.
Original Date Cast:
Clinton inherited nearly 700 acres of land from Sampson, upon which he built a gristmill and plantation. Aside from being an agriculturalist, Clinton also served as Duplin County justice of the peace during the 1760s. In 1763 he married Penelope Kenan, daughter of Thomas Kenan, an important Duplin County politician and militia leader. The marriage produced nine children.
During the American Revolution, Clinton served as a county delegate to the Third Provincial Congress held at Hillsborough in August and September 1775. The following February he led a company of Duplin County militia in the Moore’s Creek Bridge campaign, but did not fight in the battle. The Fourth Provincial Congress in April 1776 appointed him a commissioner to procure arms and supplies for the state militia. In 1777, the General Assembly appointed Clinton a justice of the peace for Duplin County under the 1776 North Carolina Constitution. As such he was instrumental in the production of the “Oath of Allegiance and Abjuration,” a state pledge required of all public officials. In addition, Clinton served as a county representative in the General Assembly throughout the conflict.
By the summer of 1781, British forces controlled the majority of southeastern North Carolina, including Wilmington. After the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, Cornwallis’s army retreated through the area to the port city. Having refitted his army, Cornwallis decided the capture of Virginia would end the war, and abandoned his intent to conquer the Carolinas. As his army moved north towards Halifax, local loyalists who had been persecuted since 1776 came out of hiding and began attacking Patriots in the area.
On May 11, 1781, Richard Clinton’s brother-in-law, James Kenan, led the Duplin militia in a skirmish against Tories led by Middleton Mobley at Coharie Swamp. That night, the Patriots camped at Clinton’s plantation. Clinton himself led a detachment of Duplin County men later that summer in Griffith Rutherford’s operations directed towards Wilmington. Their work consisted of patrolling for loyalists in Tory neighborhoods along the Cape Fear River.
After the Revolutionary War ended, Clinton maintained a political and military career. After the organization of Sampson County in 1784, Clinton served as the first state senator for the area, a position he held until his death in 1795. He also sat as Sampson County’s delegate to the Hillsborough Constitutional Conventions of 1788 and 1789. In addition, he served as the brigadier general of the Fayetteville District militia from 1787-1790. Clinton died, quite unexpectedly, on January 23, 1795. He was buried on his plantation, a site now occupied by Clinton’s First Methodist Church. In 1983, a granite marker dedicated to Clinton’s memory was erected in the John Sampson cemetery in Clinton.
Patrick O’Kelley, Nothing But Blood and Slaughter: The Revolutionary War in the Carolinas, III, 234, 271
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 388—sketch by Alvaretta K. Register
Oscar Bizzell and Virginia Bizzell, “Footprints of Richard Clinton, 1741-1795,” Huckleberry Historian, X, 1-2
Alveretta K. Register, The Kenan Family (1967)
Sampson County Will Books, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh