In 1759, the General Assembly of North Carolina passed an Act to establish three tobacco inspection warehouses in what was then Dobbs County. It was at the site of one of these warehouses, located along the banks of the Neuse River, that "Kingston" was originally established in 1762. The community was named for King George III of England. In 1784, following the end of the Revolutionary War, the people of Kingston requested that the letter "g" be dropped.

Kinston was incorporated in 1826. By 1885, Kinston was home to a number of merchants, three carriage factories, a harness factory, two turpentine distilleries, gristmills, sawmills, and several doctors and lawyers.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century brought new life to the Lenoir County area and launched an era of progress which continues to this day. Tremendous strides have been and continue to be made in transportation, agriculture, industry, education, medicine, public services and religion.

When good transportation became vital to the future of the area Lenoir County built one of the finest road systems in the state. When the cotton economy declined, Lenoir County farmers grew a new crop, tobacco, and became the "World's Foremost Tobacco Center." When industry was needed, they built their own factories and mills.

Lenoir County was created in 1791 from the old Dobbs County. It was named for William Lenoir, a hero of the battle of Kings Mountain. Kinston was established in 1762, when it was still Dobbs County. It became the county seat of Dobbs in 1764, and when Lenoir County was formed in 1791, Kinston became the county seat of Lenoir County. 
US Brigadier General John G. Foster, named commander of the Department of North Carolina when US Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside was ordered to Virginia in July, led an expedition in December to destroy a major railroad bridge over the Neuse River at Goldsboro. On December 11, 1862, his 10,000 infantrymen and 640 cavalrymen headed out of New Bern toward the intersection at Goldsboro of the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad with the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. 

CSA Brigadier General Nathan G. "Shanks" Evans's Brigade of 2,014 men attempted to stop the Union advance at Kinston, on the north bank of the Neuse River. On December 13, the Confederates were outflanked at Southwest Creek and fell back to woodlands two miles from the Kinston bridge across the Neuse River where they dug rifle pits.

On December 14, Evans let the Federals advance to within seventy-five yards of his line and then fired. In the confusion Foster's batteries fired on Federal troops. Foster finally turned the Confederate left, forcing Evans to retreat across the bridge to the north side of the Neuse River and west toward Goldsboro. The Confederates burned the bridge before all their troops had crossed, leaving 400 who became Federal prisoners. When Foster's force got across the river, they captured and looted Kinston.

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