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Harnett County was formed in 1855 from Cumberland County. It was named for Cornelius Harnett (1723-1781), member of the Continental Congress and signer of the Articles of Confederation. In the mid 1720's the first settlers arrived. The Highland "Scots" followed after. Initially the Scots settled in the foot hills. After the defeat by the British of Bonny Prince Charles at Culloden, the Scots came up the Cape Fear River in ever increasing numbers and settled in western Harnett County. The British also settled along the banks of the Cape Fear River in the coastal area, generally from Erwin to Wilmington.

The Scots where viewed as traitors since they assisted the British against the American Patriots due to their vow during the Revolutionary War. One site near Lillington was the scene of a mass execution of Scot "Traitors." One of the last battles of the War Between the States took place at Averasboro near Erwin. General Sherman's army, on its march to the sea, defeated the army of General Hardee and proceeded eastward. In 1965, the centennial celebration of that event was held at the site of the battlefield. The population began to establish itself in urban rather than rural areas after 1880. Lillington, Dunn, Coats, Angier, and Erwin became trading and commercial areas.

Today more than one-fifth of the population resides in towns or villages. Agriculture and agricultural products are the greatest source of income to the county. The preponderance of the population is either engaged directly in agriculture or derives a major portion of its income from the economy created by agricultural pursuits.


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