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The town established on the chosen site was given the name of Salem (from "Shalom" meaning "Peace", after the Canaanite city mentioned in the Book of Genesis) chosen for it by the Moravians' late patron, Count Zinzendorf.On January 6, 1766, the first tree was felled for the building of Salem.

In 1849, the Salem congregation sold land north of Salem to the newly formed Forsyth County for a county seat.The district was re-established after the 1990 United States Census, when North Carolina gained a House seat due to an increase in population. It was drawn in 1992 as one of two minority-majority districts, designed to give African-American voters (who comprised 22% of the state's population at the time) the chance to elect a representative of their choice; Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibited the dilution of voting power of minorities by distributing them among districts so that they could never elect candidates of their choice. The new town was called "the county town" or Salem until 1851 when it was named Winston for a local hero of the Revolutionary War, Joseph Winston.That same year, Thomas Jethro Brown of Davie County rented a former livery stable and established the first tobacco warehouse in Winston.The redrawn map made the 12th a compact district comprising nearly all of Mecklenburg County, except the southeast and a sliver in the northeast.

Due to Charlotte's heavy swing to the Democrats in recent years, the reconfigured 12th is no less Democratic than its predecessor.

It was one of two minority-majority Congressional districts created in the state in the 1990s.

Between 20, there was a small plurality of White Americans in the district according to the 2000 United States Census, although African Americans made up comparable proportion of its voting population.

By the 1880s, there were almost 40 tobacco factories in the town of Winston.

Hanes and Reynolds would compete fiercely for the next 25 years, each absorbing a number of the smaller manufacturers, until Hanes sold out to Reynolds in 1900 to begin a second career in textiles.

He called this area "die Wachau" (Latin form: Wachovia) named after the ancestral estate of Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf.