Clinton, the county seat of Sampson County, is the largest and oldest city in the county, having been incorporated in 1822. The first European settlers to come to the Sampson County area were Scotch-Irish immigrants from North Ireland around 1740. One of the many Scotch-Irish drawn to the area in search of rich farmland and flowing rivers was John Sampson. Sampson was Duplin County's first Register of Deeds. He served as a Lieutenant Colonel, and then a Lieutenant General in the county's militia and was later the first mayor of Wilmington, North Carolina.
In April of 1784, the North Carolina General Assembly established Sampson County from land taken from neighboring Duplin County. Land from Wayne and New Hanover counties would be annexed later to form the present-day boundaries.
Immigrating with John Sampson was his fifteen-year-old stepson, Richard Clinton. Like his stepfather, Richard Clinton soon distinguished himself in governmental and military service, serving as Duplin County Register of Deeds for ten years, and then in the Provincial Congress held at Hillsborough. In 1776, Richard Clinton organized a company of militia minutemen from upper Duplin and led them as captain in the defense of Wilmington against the British. He was later appointed Colonel of Cavalry and Brigadier General of the Fayetteville District.
Upon the establishment of the state government of North Carolina by the Halifax Constitution of 1776, Richard Clinton served as one of the first members of the House of Commons, representing Duplin County. Clinton continued as a representative of Duplin County until the creation of Sampson County in 1784. Clinton secured the passage of the act creating the new county, and proposed the name "Sampson" in honor of John Sampson, his stepfather and benefactor.
If not for a financial panic in 1819, Clinton would have another name. There was an earlier incorporated town of Clinton in old Rowan County (Now Davie), but it folded in 1822. The town moved immediately to drop the name "Clinton Courthouse" and incorporated under the name of Clinton. The General Assembly appointed five commissioners, James Moseley, Isaac Boykin, Dr. Henry Bizzell, John Beaman, and Alfred Johnson, when they ratified an act in 1852 clarifying procedures for the Town of Clinton. The corporate limits of the town at that time extended a half-mile each way from the courthouse.
The first records of an election were in February 1852 and the first tax rate was $0.50 cents on the $100 valuation of real property. Since that time, the town has become a city and grown to its present-day limits. The early records of the town have been lost due to one or more of the disastrous fires that have swept Clinton. The largest was a Tuesday night, March 2, 1877, that many said could be seen from 10 miles away.