Originally named Jerusalem, the town was given its present name in 1888. It served as Southampton County's only town through the 18th century, and was, as it remains, the county seat. This quiet little town was formed in 1791 on the north shore of the Nottoway River on a parcel of ten acres (40,000 m²) beside the courthouse. In 1831, the town became famous as it hosted the trials and subsequent executions of Nat Turner and those involved in the Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion of 1831. At this time, according to a letter written by Solon Borland to the governor of North Carolina, it was but a small hamlet of approximately 175 people, with only three stores, one saddler, one carriage maker, two hotels, two attorneys and two physicians in the town. The town was the boyhood home of Confederate Major General William Mahone, whose father, Fielding Mahone, ran a tavern. General George H. Thomas, "Rock of Chickamauga," and a native of Southampton County, was a Union general and graduate of the United States Military Academy, likely visited his uncle James Rochelle, clerk of court for Southampton County, just three houses away from Mahone's Tavern, home of William Mahone.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 0.9 square miles (2.4 km²), all of it land.
Climate Zone: Humid Subtropical.
Average Annual Temperature = 77 Degrees Fahrenheit.
Summer Temperatures = Highs: 80's-90's with high humidity, heat indexes of 105 or more, Lows: 60's-70's.
Winter Temperatures = Highs: 30's-low 50's with wind chills as low as the 20's and teens occasionally, Lows: 30's-10's with wind chills sometimes down to zero.
Average Rainfall = 44 Inches. Average Snowfall = 7-12 inches.
There were 460 households out of which 33.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.6% were married couples living together, 20.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.6% were non-families. 32.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 2.96.
In the town the population was spread out with 23.1% under the age of 18, 7.6% from 18 to 24, 27.0% from 25 to 44, 23.1% from 45 to 64, and 19.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 93.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.7 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $31,750, and the median income for a family was $43,229. Males had a median income of $34,464 versus $20,714 for females. The per capita income for the town was $18,474. About 19.2% of families and 21.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.6% of those under age 18 and 22.1% of those age 65 or over.