By 1940, 41 percent of Onslow County's farms were operated through tenancy. Large farm tracts disappeared, broken into smaller farms, with only lumber companies holding large-acreage tracts. Into the 1920s a few small family-owned sawmills, such as Henderson's Mill, operated in Onslow County.
The region's boat-building enterprises were also an important part of the economy. Pleasure boats, as well as working boats, were constructed in the county. In 1941 most Onslow County residents were descendants of eighteenth century settler families or former slaves (27 percent of the population was of African-American descent). They were mostly engaged in subsistence farming and manufacturing; however, Onslow County's quiet lifestyle would shortly and suddenly be transformed by a world war.