Historians have speculated that the earliest European contact with the Native Americans living in what is now Onslow County may have occurred during the 1524 exploratory voyage of Giovanni da Verrazzano (Loftfield and Littleton 1981:19). It has also been speculated that the Walter Raleigh and John White expeditions of the 1580s may have included exploration of present-day Onslow County. Following the failure of the Raleigh settlements and the subsequent establishment of the first permanent English colony in Jamestown, in Virginia in 1607, European settlement began to trickle into North Carolina. By the end of the 17th century, settlements had appeared on the coast but Europeans did not begin to expand into the hinterlands until after the Tuscarora War (1711-1712) (Watson 1995:2-3).
The land now encompassing Onslow County had been a part of several different counties prior to its formation in 1731. The county was formed out of Carteret and New Hanover Precincts, both of which were once part of the larger Bath County which was established in 1696 (Watson 1995:3-4). Onslow County was named in honor of a distinguished English politician, Sir Arthur Onslow, who had never actually visited the area or owned land there (Onslow County Historical Society 1983:1).