Craven County was named in honor of William, Earl of Craven, who lived from 1606 to 1697. His death preceded the establishment of Craven County, and he never had the pleasure of visiting the county that carries his name. The official Craven County seal was designed and adopted in 1981, using the coat of arms of the earl, which is also the coat of arms of his nephew, William, Lord Craven, who succeeded him as Lord Proprietor of Carolina.
Craven County, originally included as a precinct of Bath County, was established in its present form in 1712. New Bern became its county seat in 1722 and was also the capital of the colony and first state capital until 1794. Because of its location, situated between the Albemarle and Cape Fear, Craven County grew in size and importance during the mid-18th century because of the significance of its county seat as a river port. As Craven County moved into the 19th century, it continued to flourish as the developing railroad system served to further New Bern’s commercial dominance, wealth and cultural sophistication. These influences were also felt in the nearby communities.
During the Civil War, there was significant activity in Craven County, and remains of battlegrounds can still be found.
The 20th century brought the military into Craven County, with the establishment of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. This development translated into new prosperity for the area as well as greater diversity. Over the years, as military personnel retired, many chose to settle in Craven County. In the last few decades of the 20th century, Craven County became a preferred retirement destination for legions representing every region of the country, who find its climate, quality of life, cost of living and amenities to be quite desirable.