The first white settlers came to White County between 1807 and 1809. The first settlements were near the Little Wabash River and Big Prairie, one of the numerous prairies in the county.
These families–Hanna, Land, Hay, Williams, Calvert, Ratcliff, Holderby, Robinson, Stewart, among others–typically had spent time in the Carolinas, Kentucky or Tennessee before moving into Illinois, and were of Scotch-Irish descent. Many came through the land office at Shawneetown, which was a port for flatboats which traveled the Ohio River.
White County was organized from Gallatin County in 1815, and was named after Captain Leonard White, a Gallatin County legislator who is credited with the idea of extending the Illinois-Wisconsin border a few miles north of the southern tip of Lake Michigan. The first courthouse was in the cabin of John Craw.
Grayville was one of the early settlements, located at the mouth of Bonpas Creek and the (Big) Wabash River, and settled by the Gray family around 1810. Bonpas is a French word meaning “good bay” and early French keel boatmen tied their boats at the mouth of Bonpas Creek in the spring to escape high water or floating ice. Bonpas was once considered navigable, and boats went north as far as east of West Salem, Pinhook and Bennington. The named was changed to Bellmont Precinct in 1881. Grayville was named after James Gray, one of the earliest settlers, born in Virginia, but came from Kentucky and platted the town. Gray owned a large tract of land extending up into Wabash County. His brother, Thomas Gray, settled in Bonpas, pronounced “bum-paw”, named after the creek which empties into the Wabash River at the foot of Mill Street in Grayville. His settlement here was the first in this part of the country, and his brother James was then living at Carmi where he settled in 1816. Afterwards James settled at and purchased a large tract of land at the mouth of the Bonpas.
Agriculture was the primary industry of White County until the summer of 1939, when oil was discovered in the Storms and Stinson fields in the Wabash River Bottoms. The population of Carmi doubled within two years, from 2,700 to 5,400, with corresponding increases at Crossville and Grayville–in 1940 it was said one could walk between these two towns by simply walking from rig to rig. Many of these workers migrated from previous oil booms in Texas and Oklahoma.
In addition to oil and agriculture, industries in the Grayville area include auto parts manufacturing, plastics, a convenience store distribution center, and underground coal mining.