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The earliest inhabitants of Southampton County were Native Americans, Nottoway and Meherrin tribes, who settled mainly along the rivers that now bear their names. As more and more settlers came to the area, the Native Americans dispersed and those remaining were collected in reservations. Currently, many descendents of the Nottoway tribe live in Southampton County today.
In 1831, the County was the scene of the infamous Southampton Insurrection. Nat Turner, a slave lay minister who felt he had been called by God to help lead the black people from bondage, led the slave uprising, beginning at his master's home. 58 men, women and children were killed by the insurrectionists, who were dispersed by the local militia. Turner was eventually captured and hanged. The revolt and its aftermath are said to be a major contributing factor to the Civil War and to the abolishment of slavery.
Peanuts and soybeans serve as the chief cash crops. Advances in technology, particularly enhanced mechanization, resulted in increased agricultural production and a blossoming reputation for Southampton peanuts, hams, and watermelons.
Southampton County's three navigable rivers–Meherrin, Nottoway and Blackwater–offer visitors a variety of water sports. The state maintains five public boat landings in the County.
White tail deer are so plentiful that Southampton County ranks within the top ten in deer harvest in the state. Other popular game include dove, quail and turkey.
St. Regis Paper Company came to Franklin in 1954 and Hercules Chemical Company in 1955. In 1961, the Boykins Narrow Fabric Corporation began construction of its facility within the town of Boykins. And in 1956, Union Bag and Paper merged with Camp Manufacturing Company, to form Union Camp.