New Bern being the exception, the other oldest towns were first occupied by a few scattered settlers on patented or un-patented acreage.
A town was “born” when legislative action, by an “Act of the General Assembly,” officially approved a town be “laid out” or “established”—thus “founding,” “appointing” and naming the town.
Incorporations had to be approved by the Royal Council (Lords Proprietors) which was done only seven times during the colonial period. Perhaps this is one reason New Bern and Beaufort were incorporated in 1723 during the same session of the General Assembly.
1. 1705 BATH – On March 2, 1705, David Perkins received a patent from Governor Thomas Cary for one hundred and sixty acres of land on Old Town Creek adjoining the land of William Barrow. Six days later, on March 8, 1705, a portion of this grant was incorporated as the township of Bath by the General Assembly. (Herbert R. Paschal Jr., State and Colonial Records)
2. 1710 NEW BERN – The largest and most significant settlement in the Neuse-Trent area was made in 1710 by a colony of Palatines from southwestern Germany, some Swiss, and a few English at a place selected and laid out by John Lawson. The 1710 colony was a result of the promotional activity of a Swiss land company, George Ritter and Company, headed by Baron Christoph von Graffenried and Franz Louis Michel. (William Powell and Colonia Records)
3. 1712 EDENTON – In his research in the Edenton courthouse, Charles L. Paul found a deed for two lots dated August 12, 1714. "According to that deed dated August 12, 1714, for two lots in what later became Edenton, the procedure that led to the establishment of that town started in November, 1712, when the Assembly passed an act entitled 'an Act to Promote ye building a Court House…ye Assembly in, at ye fork of Queen Ann's Creek...in Chowan Precinct...' Among other things, this act empowered Nathaniel Chevin and Thomas Peterson to lay out and sell one-half acre lots to such person 'as shall be willing to build at the afsd fork of Queen Ann's Creek...'" (Charles L. Paul)
4. 1713 BEAUFORT – Though patented by Neuse River resident Farnifold Green in 1707, “Sometime prior to the fall of 1713, permission had been obtained from the Lords Proprietors to lay out a town by the name of Beaufort at this site. On October 2, 1713, then owner of the patent, Robert Turner had Deputy Surveyor Richard Graves, lay out the town. A plat was made of the town by Graves and recorded in the office of the secretary of the colony. Streets were named and lots were offered for sale. Allotments were provided for a church, a town-house, and a market place. "On that date, October 2, 1713, Beaufort came into existence.” (Charles L. Paul and Colonial Records)
5. 1740 WILMINGTON - In 1733 William Gray surveyed the “intended town.” From 1734 to 1736 it was called “New Liverpool” in the county deeds, though by March 1735, in legislation and in gubernatorial directives, it was referred to as “New Town” or “Newton.” During 1736, as early as May, “Newton” began to replace “New Liverpool” in the local records; by the final months of that year, “Newton” was used almost exclusively. That term received general approbation in 1737 from a new plan “of the town of Newton…” Monday the 25th of Febry 1739/40–Recd from the upper House the bill for an Act for erecting the Village of Newton in New Hanover County into a Town & Township by the Name of Wilmington… (Alan Watson and Colonial Records)