Carved from Brunswick in 1780, the county was probably named for Revolutionary War hero General Nathanael Greene. Bounded by the North Carolina line on the south, the Nottoway River to the north, and the Meherrin River on the southeast, the county is bisected by the Meherrin as it meanders along its path and passes through the county seat, Emporia, now an independent city. Much of the land beside the Meherrin and its southern tributaries is swampy. With the perhaps not-surprising prevalence of absentee landlords, the low-lying county was slow to be settled and most of its early land grants were small. The first settlers were English, Scots, Welsh, and the enslaved African American population. From its early days, the county has had almost twice as many blacks as whites. On his journey through the county in 1791, George Washington noted, “From Petersburg to Hallifax [ sic] (in sight of the Road) are but few good houses, with small appearance of wealth” (Benson J. Lossing, ed., The Diary of George Washington, from 1789 to 1791). The county is still sparsely populated and economically struggling. The growing of peanuts, cotton, and soybeans, the raising of chickens, food processing, and work in the waning woodworking and textile industries keep the economy slipping along.
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