wilmington 1740

Though laid out as early as 1733, in 1740 the Assembly in New Bern passed “an Act to erect a Village called Newtown on Cape Fear River into a township by the name of Wilmington.”
In 1709 John Lawson noted failed 1764/65 Charles Town [i1]
“The first attempt to plant a settlement on Cape Fear River was made without success by some New England adventurers in 1660. Four years later a party of royalist refugees from Barbados established a colony near the mouth of the river, where, in 1665, they were joined by other Barbadians under Sir John Yeamans who had been appointed governor.

"The settlement [Charles Town], which contained a population of about 800 and extended for several miles up the river, was erected into the county of Clarendon. Its prospects were not good and Governor Yeamans soon abandoned it, returned to Barbados, and later joined the colony which the Lords Proprietors had planted on the Ashley and Cooper rivers of which he was appointed governor. The Lords Proprietors, who directed all their energies toward building up the rival settlement to the southward, took but little interest in the Cape Fear colony, and the settlers, after suffering many hardships, abandoned it in 1667.

"After the failure of the Clarendon colony, the Cape Fear region fell into disrepute and nearly fifty years passed before a permanent settlement was planted there. Four causes contributing to this delay were the character of the coast at the mouth of the river, the pirates who sought refuge there in large numbers, the hostility of the Cape Fear Indians, and the closing of the Carolina land-office by the Lords Proprietors.
Detail from Moseley's 1733 Map [i2]
"In 1712, the Lords Proprietors resolved that no more grants should be issued in North Carolina, but such sales of land only as were made at their office in London were to be good; and two years later, the governor and Council ordered that no surveys should be made within twenty miles of the Cape Fear River. But there were men in North Carolina who were not willing that a group of wealthy landowners beyond the sea should prevent their clearing and settling this inviting region, and about the year 1723 the ring of their axes began to break the long silence of the Cape Fear. 

"They laid off their claims, cleared their fields, and built their cabins with utter disregard of the formalities of law. When Governor Burrington saw that they were determined to take up lands without either acquiring titles or paying rents, he decided that the interests of the Lords Proprietors would be served by his giving the one and receiving the other. At his suggestion, therefore, the Assembly petitioned the governor and Council to reopen the land office in Carolina, and the governor and Council finding officially what they already knew personally that 'sundry persons are already seated on the vacant lands for which purchase money has not been paid nor any rents,' granted the Assembly's prayer.
 St. Philip's Church (1741) Ruins
Brunswick Town [i3]
“Good titles thus assured settlers were not wanting. Conspicuous among the leaders, were Governor Burrington and Col. Maurice Moore. Burrington's claims to this credit were repeatedly asserted by himself and acknowledged by contemporaries who bore him no love. The grand jury of the province, in 1731, bore testimony to the ‘very great expense and personal trouble’ with which he 'laid the foundation' of the Cape Fear settlement; while the General Assembly, in an address to the king declared that his ‘indefatigable industry and the hardships he underwent in carrying on the settlement of the Cape Fear deserve our thankful remembrance.’ Such testimony to His Sacred Majesty was doubtless very flattering and duly appreciated, but Burrington evidently expected something more substantial, for he complained more than once that the only reward he ever received for his losses and hardships ‘was the thanks of a House of Burgesses.’ 

"The first permanent settlement on the Cape Fear was made by Maurice Moore, who, while on his campaign against the Yamassee Indians in 1715, had been attracted by the fertility of the lower Cape Fear region and determined to lead a settlement there. This plan he carried into execution sometime prior to the year 1725, accompanied by his brothers, Nathaniel and Roger Moore.
Sauthier's Map of Brunswick 1769 [i4]
“Besides the Moores, conspicuous among the early settlers of the Cape Fear were the Moseleys, the Howes, the Porters, the Lillingtons, the Ashes, the Harnetts, and others whose names are closely identified with the history of North Carolina. Of them, Mr. Davis says: ‘They were no needy adventurers, driven by necessity—no unlettered boors, ill at ease in the haunts of civilization, and seeking their proper sphere amidst the barbarism of the savages. They were gentlemen of birth and education, bred in the refinements of polished society, and bringing with them ample fortunes, gentle manners, and cultivated minds. Most of them united by the ties of blood, and all by those of friendship, they came as one household, sufficient unto themselves, and reared their family altars in love and peace.' 

"After these leaders had cleared the way, they were joined by numerous other families from the Albemarle, from Barbados, and other islands of the West Indies, from New England, from South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and from Europe.

Detail - 1747 Map by Emanuel Bowen [i5] 
“The oldest grant for land on the Cape Fear now extant, is one to Maurice Moore for 1,500 acres on the west bank of the river, dated June 3, 1725. From this grant Maurice Moore, in 1725, laid off, fourteen miles above the mouth of the river, a tract of 320 acres as a site for a town, and his brother Roger, ‘to make the said town more regular, added another parcel of land.’ 

"To encourage the growth of the town, Maurice Moore donated sites for a church and graveyard, a courthouse, a market-house and other public buildings, and a commons ‘for the use of the inhabitants-of the town.’ The town was laid off into building lots of one-half acre each to be sold only to those who would agree to erect on their lots, substantial houses. Moore then made a bid for royal favor by naming his town Brunswick in honor of the reigning family. But the career of Brunswick did not commend it to the favor of crowned heads or their representatives; it never became more than a frontier village, and in the course of a few years, during which, however, it played an important part in the history of the province, it yielded with no good grace to a younger and more vigorous rival sixteen miles farther up the river, which was named in honor of Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington.

Mitchell-Anderson House circa 1738 
...see image notes [i6]
“The settlement grew rapidly. Writing from the Cape Fear in 1734, Governor Johnston said: ‘The inhabitants of the southern part of this government, particularly of the two branches of this large river, are a very sober and industrious set of people and have made an amazing progress in their improvement since their first settlement, which was about eight years ago.’ 

"Large tracts of forest land had been converted into beautiful meadows and cultivated plantations; comfortable, if not elegant, houses dotted the river banks; and two towns had sprung into existence. The forest offered tribute to the lumberman and turpentine distiller; a number of saw mills had been erected while some of the planters were employing their slaves chiefly in ‘making tar and pitch.’ A brisk trade in lumber, naval stores, and farm products had been established with the other colonies, the West Indies, and even with the mother country, and before the close of the decade the governor was able to declare that the Cape Fear had become ‘the place of the greatest trade in the whole province.’ The collector's books at Brunswick showed that during the year 1734 forty-two vessels cleared from that port. At that time the population of the Cape Fear settlement numbered about 1,200; by 1740 it had increased to 3,000.

Burgwin-Wright House circa 1770  
...see image note [i7]
“Life on the Cape Fear was seen at its best not in the towns but on the estates of the planters scattered along the banks of the river and its branches. In the immediate vicinity of Brunswick the most celebrated were, Orton, the finest colonial residence now standing in North Carolina, where lived and reigned ‘Old King’ Roger Moore, ‘the chief gentleman in all Cape Fear;’ Kendal, the home of ‘Old King’ Roger's son, George, whose wives, ‘with remarkable fidelity and amazing fortitude, presented him every spring with a new baby, until the number reached twenty-eight;’ and Lilliput, adjoining Kendal, first the residence of Chief Justice Eleazer Allen, and later of Sir Thomas Frankland, the great-grandson of Oliver Cromwell. 

"Farther up the river came then and later a succession of celebrated plantations. Forty miles above Brunswick on the east bank of North East River stood Lillington Hall, the home of Alexander Lillington, who led the Cape Fear militia at Moore's Creek Bridge in 1776. On the opposite bank were Stag Park, the Cape Fear estate of Governor Burrington; the Neck and Green Hill, the residences of Governor Samuel Ashe and General John Ashe; Moseley Hall, where lived Sampson Moseley, afterwards a delegate to the famous Halifax convention of 1776; and Rocky Point, the estate of Maurice Moore, described by an English visitor in 1734 as ‘the finest place in all Cape Fear.’ 

"Across the river farther down came a series of places, the most historic of which were Castle Haynes, owned by Hugh Waddell, who is buried there, and the Hermitage, owned by John Burgwin, for many years clerk of the Council and private secretary to the governor, which was one of the most celebrated homes in the Cape Fear country for a hundred years. ‘The great majority of these residences were wooden structures, some of them being large, with wide halls and piazzas, but without any pretence to architectural beauty, and some being one story buildings, spread out over a considerable space.’ A few were of brick, but none of stone, as there was no building stone within a hundred miles; but all, whether of brick or wood, were comfortable and the seats of unbounded hospitality.’
The Road from Orton Plantation to Brunswick Town . Louis T. Moore [i8]
“Perhaps the best picture of the Cape Fear settlement at the close of its first decade is a pamphlet written and published in London by an English visitor who arrived at Orton in the afternoon of June 16, 1734. After four pleasant days with ‘Old King’ Roger, his party set out on their trip up the river under the guidance of Nathaniel Moore. The first day's trip carried them past ‘several pretty plantations on both sides’ of the river, which they found ‘wonderfully pleasant’ and the following morning brought them ‘to a beautiful plantation, belonging to Captain Gabriel, who is a great merchant there, where were two ships, two sloops, and a brigantine, loading with lumber.’ The night was agreeably passed at ‘another plantation belonging to Mr. Roger Moore, called Blue Banks, where he is going to build another very large brick house.’ 
“King” Roger Moore’s grave in the burial ground at Orton Plantation . Louis T. Moore [i9]
"The visitors were astonished at the fertility of the soil. ‘I am credibly informed,’ declared their chronicler, ‘they have very commonly four-score bushels of corn on an acre of their overflowed land. I must confess I saw the finest corn growing there that I ever saw in my life, as likewise wheat and hemp.’ That night, they ‘met with good entertainment’ at the home of Captain Gibbs, whose plantation adjoined Blue Banks; and the next day dined with Jehu Davis, whose house was ‘built after the Dutch fashion, and made to front both ways, on the river and on the land.’ The visitors were delighted with the ‘beautiful avenue cut through the woods for above two miles, which is a great addition to the house.’ They left Davis's house in the afternoon and the same evening reached Nathaniel Moore's plantation, which was ‘a very pleasant place on a bluff upwards of sixty feet high.’ Three days after their arrival, ‘there came a sloop of one hundred tons, and upwards, from South Carolina, to be laden with corn, which is sixty miles at least from the bar. There are people settled at least forty miles higher up,’ that is, in what is now Cumberland County.
DuBois-Boatwright House circa 1760 
...see image note [i10]
“The visitor's last experience in the Cape Fear section was such a one as was calculated to leave with him a bitter prejudice against the country and its people, but fortunately his mind, recalling the hospitality which he had just been enjoying, rose superior to such a feeling. Reaching Brunswick about eight o'clock in the morning of August 11th, on his departure from the colony, he says: ‘I set out from thence about nine, and about four miles from thence met my landlord of Lockwood Folly, who was in hopes I would stay at his house that night. About two I arrived there with much difficulty, it being a very hot day and myself very faint and weak, when I called for a dram, and to my great sorrow found not one drop of rum, sugar or lime juice in the house (a pretty place to stay all night indeed) …which made me resolve never to trust the country again on a long journey.’

“Returning to Brunswick from his trip up the river, the English visitor ‘lay that first night at Newtown, in a small hut.’ With this slight mention he dismisses the place from his narrative, but had he returned twenty years later he would doubtless have given it as much as a paragraph in a revised edition. Today a visitor describing the Cape Fear section might possibly mention Brunswick for its historic interest, but Newtown, though masquerading under another name, would form the burden of his story. The former, in spite of its name, was not popular with the royal governors who threw their influence to the latter, and the rise of Newtown was followed by the decline of Brunswick.”1  

“’…in the first session of the General Assembly following his arrival in 1731 he [Governor Burrington] called for legislation to create a town along the Cape Fear River. The response from the General Assembly was a message, signed by Edward Moseley, speaker of the lower house, stating, 'there is a Town already Established on the Cape Fear River called Brunswick.’
Gabriel Johnston Bookplate [i11]
“Replacing Burrington as royal governor was Gabriel Johnston, who arrived in North Carolina late in 1734…Johnston bought land adjoining a proposed new community close to the forks of Cape Fear River, as well as lots within the development…the incipient town of Wilmington emerged in 1733 from land owned by John Watson. He, with James Wimble, Michael Higgins, and Joshua Grainger, Sr., planned a town on the east bank of the Cape Fear River just below the confluence of the Northeast and Northwest branches. Watson received a royal warrant for 640 acres at that site, and his name appeared at that point on a map drawn by Edward Moseley and dated 1733. However, on April 16 of that year, James Wimble, who had acquired three hundred acres of the Watson tract, produced another map of North Carolina which substituted ‘New Carthage town’ for that of ‘Watson.’

“Joining Watson and Wimble in the enterprise were Michael Higgins and Joshua Grainger, Sr. Soon after Wimble’s purchase, Watson sold fifty acres north of and adjoining Wimble’s land to Higgins, listed as a merchant and tavernkeeper, and to Grainger, a merchant. 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 (October–December) of that year, ‘Newton’ was used almost exclusively. That term received general approbation in 1737 from a new plan 'of the town of Newton...'" 2 

“Newtown was laid off just below the confluence of the two branches of Cape Fear River. It consisted originally of two cross streets called Front and Market, names which they still bear, while the town itself for lack of a better name was called Newtown. From the first, Brunswick regarded Newtown as an upstart to be suppressed rather than encouraged. Rivalry originating in commercial competition was soon intensified by a struggle for political supremacy. The chief factor in this struggle was Gabriel Johnston, who, in 1734, succeeded George Burrington as governor. The new governor became one of the most ardent champions of Newtown and used not only his personal influence but also his official authority to make it the social, commercial and political center of the rapidly growing province. Encouraged by his favor, Newtown in March, 1735, petitioned the governor and Council for a charter, but the prayer was refused because it required an act of the Assembly to incorporate a town. To the Assembly, therefore, Newtown appealed and as a compliment to the governor asked for incorporation under the name of Wilmington, in honor of Johnston's friend and patron, Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington, afterwards prime minister of England.
Plantations of Lower 
Cape Fear 1725-1760 [i12]
“The granting of this petition meant death to all the hopes of Brunswick. By it, Brunswick would be compelled to surrender to Wilmington the courthouse and jail, the county court, the offices of the county officials, the office of the collector of the port, and the election of assemblymen, vestrymen and other public officials. Brunswick, therefore, stoutly opposed the pretentious of Wilmington and kept up a bitter struggle against them for four years. The end came in the Assembly of February of 1739. Apparently no contest was made in the lower house, for Brunswick evidently looked to the Council for victory. The Council was composed of eight members, four of whom were certainly of the Brunswick party. Accordingly, when the Wilmington bill came before the Council, four voted for and four against it. Then to the consternation of the Brunswickers, the president declared that as president he had the right to break the tie which his vote as a member had made, and in face of violent opposition, cast his vote a second time in the affirmative. The Brunswick party entered vigorous protests, but they availed nothing with the governor, who, in the presence of both houses of the Assembly, gave his assent to the bill.
Plantations of the Lower Cape Fear 
Contemporary Copy [13]

“Brunswick did not accept defeat gracefully, nor did Wilmington bear the honors of victory magnanimously. The feelings aroused by the long struggle and the manner in which it was finally brought to a close strained their commercial and political relations and embittered their social and religious intercourse for many years.”3 

Saturday October 2d 1736/37An Act for establishing and confirming a Town in New Hanover Precinct by the name of Wilmington at a place now called Newton; and for erecting a Court House and holding a Court there, the first time and passed.4 

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 &c
 

Order’d the same be Engross’d
His Excellcy the Govr sent a Message to this House commanding their immediate Attendance
Mr Speaker with the House waited on his Excellcy the Govr & presented the following Acts Vizt   An Act prescribing the method of proving Book debts, An Act for appointing a Treasurer for the several Counties therein mentioned, An Act for Erecting the Village called Newton in New Hanover County into a Town & Township by the Name of Wilmington & for Regulating & ascertaining the Bounds thereof which were read three times in open Assembly and compared:

To which his Excellency assented & ordered the great Seal of the Province to be affixed thereto; Then his Excellcy was pleased to Order this House to Return and proceed on further Business.5 

1769 Sauthier Plan of Wilmington [i14]
Newbern the 3rd March 1739/40
Our Assembly which met here on the fifth of Febry is just now prorogued. They behaved with decency and parted in very good humour (a thing not very common here) after passing some Laws. At present I shall only take notice of one which is an Act to erect a Village called Newtown on Cape Fear River into a township by the name of Wilmington  The situation of this town is mighty convenient being at the meeting of the two great Branches of Cape Fear River, its Road capable of receiving Vessels of great burthen and extremely safe in the most violent storms and there is a most easy access to it from the remotest heads of the River by the smallest Vessels. I always looked upon the want of a Town with a Convenient Port as one of the greatest Obstacles to the Improvement of the Trade of this Country and the polishing its Inhabitants. I hope this impediment is now removed, and don’t despair in a few years to prevail on the Assembly to build offices and other places fitt for the dispatch of Publick business, the want of which has been a great clog to all affairs ever since I came here. GAB: JOHNSTON 6 


R.D.W. Conner [i15]
Footnotes:
1 R.D.W. Connor (Secretary North Carolina Historical Commission), History of North Carolina, Volume I, Lewis Publishing Company, 1919.
2 Alan D. Watson, Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861, Mcfarland & Co. Inc., 2003.
3 Connor
4 Saunders, Colonial Records, Volume IV.
5 Saunders, Colonial Records
6 Saunders, Colonial Records



Images:
i1 John Lawson, 1709. To His Excellency William Lord Palatine; The most Noble Henry Duke of Beaufort; The Right Honoble. Iohn, Lord Carteret; The Honoble Maurice Ashley, Esq., Sr. John Colleton Baronet; Iohn Danson, Esq; And the rest of the True and Absolute Lords Proprietors of Carolina in America. This Map is Humbly Dedicated by Ion. Lawson Surveyor General of North Carolina. North Carolina Maps, North Carolina State Archives, North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill, NC, USA.

i2 Port Brunswick, Inset from Moseley's 1733 map, North Carolina Office of Archives and History.

i3 Ruins of St. Philip's Church, Brunswick Town, 1754, wikipedia.org

i4 Sauthier, Brunswick Town, created 1769. North Carolina Maps, North Carolina State Archives, North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill, NC, USA.

i5 A New and Accurate Map of the Province of North and South Carolina, Georgia, etc., Emanuel Bowen, 1747. William Patterson Cumming Map Collection, North Carolina Maps, North Carolina State Archives, North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill, NC, USA.

i6 Mitchell-Anderson House circa 1738 - Oldest surviving structure in Wilmington, Georgian style house built for Edward Mitchell (d. 1744), native of Charleston, SC, carpenter and planter. Purchased in 1828 by Thomas F. Davis (1778-1846), Clerk of New Hanover County Court. Inherited in 1860 by Margaret Anderson Davis (1814-1889), sister of Dr. Edwin A. Anderson (1816-1894), physician and Confederate Army surgeon, who resided here as early as 1850. Remained in family until 1911. Operated as boarding house until 1963 when saved for preservation by Thomas H. Wright, Jr. (1918-1993), president of Wright Chemical Corporation; and wife, Elizabeth Labouisse (1933- ), Founders of Historic Wilmington Foundation, Inc.

i7 Samuel Johnston Bookplate, "Five Royal Governors of North Carolina, 1729-1775" by Blackwell P. Robinson. 

i8 Burgwin-Wright House circa 1770, Louis Orr etching. Using the old jail as the foundation, the Burgwin-Wright House was built in 1770 by John Burgwin, planter, merchant, and treasurer of the colony of Carolina.  In 1781, "the most considerable house in town" was occupied by Lord Cornwallis as his headquarters shortly before his defeat and surrender at Yorktown, Virginia.  In 1799, Joshua Grainger Wright purchased the house for 3500 Spanish milled dollars. BurgwinWrightHouse.com.

i9 The Road from Orton Plantation to Brunswick Town, by photographer Louis T. Moore. Image courtesy LouisTMoore.com.

i10 “King” Roger Moore’s grave in the burial ground at Orton Plantation, Louis T. Moore. (Roger Moore 1654-1751 was the brother of Maurice Moore, son of Charleston, S.C. James Moore. Image courtesy LouisTMoore.com.

i11 DuBois-Boatwright House circa 1760 - Built by John DuBois, merchant and town alderman in 1760. Remained in family until 1842. Inherited by Mrs. Lucy Wright Wooster in 1844. Her descendants, the Boatwrights, continue to own the property. Courtesy BoatwrightGenealogy.com 

i12 Plantations of the Lower Cape Fear 1725-1760, "Drawn by H. de W. Rapalje 12-4-09, Southern Map Co., Wilmington, N.C." At bottom left: "Drawn Especially for Waddell's History of New Hanover County," 1916, North Carolina State Archives.

i13 Plantations of the Lower Cape Fear, contemporary copy, waywelivednc.com.

i14 Sauthier Plan of Wilmington, 1769, North Carolina Maps, North Carolina State Archives, North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill, NC, USA.

i15 R.D.W. Connor, History of North Carolina, Vol. I title page.