The supreme courts of justice system, in effect briefly from 1755 to 1759, served as the immediate predecessor and the pattern on which the district superior courts system was based. Under the supreme courts of justice, the colony of North Carolina was divided into five districts--each with its own independent court. The following towns served as the seats of the court districts: Edenton, Enfield, New Bern, Salisbury, and Wilmington. Each supreme court of justice was independent and had the same jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters in their respective districts.

Duties of the district superior courts also included the power of probate for deeds and wills. Under the new system, all the districts' seats remained the same--except that Enfield had been replaced by Halifax when the latter became the county seat of Halifax County in 1758. A sixth district was added in 1767 with its seat at the town of Hillsborough.

The district superior court system collapsed in November of 1772 when the court law expired, and the royal government refused to permit another to be passed. During 1773, 1774, 1775, and 1777, serious crimes were tried in special courts of oyer and terminer. While this special criminal system remained in effect, civil suits involving more than a monetary value of fifty pounds sterling could not be heard and remained on the dockets without action.

Following the adoption of North Carolina's first state constitution in 1776, the General Assembly assumed responsibility for the design of the new state's judiciary system. The court law enacted by the 1777 General Assembly reinstated provisions of the 1767 court law; and when the special criminal courts came to an end in 1778, the General Assembly reestablished the old superior court districts. However, the General Assembly introduced several changes in the duties and jurisdictions of the district superior courts, including the following: power of probate for deeds and wills was no longer vested in the district superior courts; jurisdiction over equity matters; and exclusive jurisdiction over civil suits involving a monetary value of one hundred rather than fifty pounds sterling was reserved for the district superior courts. Thereafter, additional districts were created as needed: Morgan (1782); Washington (1784); Davidson (1785); Fayetteville (1787); and Mero (1788). Beginning in the 1780s, legislative enactments variably referred to these courts as district courts, superior courts of law and equity, or the superior courts of law and courts of equity.

After the cession of the western territory (Tennessee) to the federal government in 1789, the district superior court system underwent various changes. The courts and records of the three western districts (Washington, Davidson, and Mero) were transferred to the custody of the federal government and eventually to the state of Tennessee. Also, North Carolina's remaining eight districts were divided geographically into the Western Riding District, composed of Fayetteville, Hillsborough, Morgan, and Salisbury districts, and the Eastern Riding District consisting of Edenton, Halifax, New Bern, and Wilmington districts. Under provisions of an 1806 law, the district superior courts were closed and replaced by superior courts erected in every county seat in the state.