Friday, March 28, 2014

Happy Birthday Brunswick County

Happy Birthday Brunswick County!
3/17/2014 8:30:00 AM by Amanda Hutcheson
On March 9, 1764, the Governor of North Carolina signed the legislative act that created Brunswick County out of parts of New Hanover and Bladen counties, naming the new county after the Town of Brunswick, itself named in honor of King George I, the Duke of Brunswick and Lunenberg. Brunswick County is 250 years old this month.

The 1764 legislative act was not the first attempt to create a new county. It wasn't even the second. According to Lawrence Lee's book "The History of Brunswick County North Carolina," the first attempt to create a new county named Brunswick from land west of the Cape Fear River came in a failed bill in 1740. Following that failed bill, the area west of the Cape Fear River was created as a separate parish named St. Philips, and several years later, "permission was given to send an elected representative to the General Assembly."

The Ruins of St. Philips Episcopal Church

"Still, the desire for a new county did not die," Lee's book reads. "In 1760 a bill to incorporate that part of New Hanover west of the Cape Fear as a separate county was defeated, as were similar bills in 1761 and 1762. According to the opponents of the measure, most of whom were in Wilmington, the size and population of the proposed new county was not sufficient. Nevertheless, success finally came on March 9, 1764."

They certainly didn't lack for effort.

A few short years later, Brunswick County would play an important role in the lead up to the American Revolution. The 1765 Stamp Act required that stamps of specific amounts be placed on all ship clearance papers and legal papers, amongst other requirements. But when the act took effect, the stamps had not arrived in North Carolina.

Wooden Bridge Across Shallotte River

In January of 1766, three ships entered the Cape Fear River without properly stamped papers, and were seized. "Seven other ships appeared off the mouth of the river, but escaped the same fate by fleeing elsewhere. Without vessels to carry them away, local naval stores were soon clogging the wharves, and the anger of the people was growing. It finally exploded, and the specific issue was the manner of prosecuting the three vessels that had been seized."

But efforts to prosecute the ships for violating the Stamp Act were themselves delayed by the Stamp Act. "The attorney-general of North Carolina ruled that the impending trials could not be held locally because of the lack of stamps which the Stamp Act required for the authentication of the trial papers. The prosecutions would have to be held in far-away Halifax, Nova Scotia."

Brunswick County Court House at Southport

Following the decision to move the trials, nearly one thousand upset residents organized as the "Sons of Liberty" and marched to the governor's residence, informing the governor that they would not permit the enforcement of the Stamp Act. 150 armed men, believing the captain who had seized the ships was in the governor's house, surrounded it and placed the governor under a form of house arrest. The men left after learning that the captain was in fact in Brunswick Town. The ships were later released, and the residents assured that the Port of Brunswick would remain open.

Writing of protests in Boston eight years later, Lee wrote, "Compared to the affair at Brunswick Town in 1765, when men confronted the royal governor face to face, the incident at Boston was hardly a noble deed. Yet the earlier incident has been all but forgotten, while the other has achieved enduring fame as the Boston Tea Party."

After the Revolutionary War and through the early 1800s, there were many plantations and farms in Brunswick County, including rice farms. Other residents lived in the pine forests, some as turpentine farmers. Smithville (known today as Southport) was the only town, and many river pilots lived there.

The Glass Window Schoolhouse Near Supply

Many of the plantation owners did not stay on their plantations in the summer, but many from other areas, especially Wilmington, came to stay in Smithville during the summer months. "The Smithville of that time was quiet and serene, and the friendly spirit that prevailed between the summer and winter people made it a pleasant place. By modern standards, the amusements were simple and innocent. For the older folk, there was satisfaction to be found in the rocking chairs and cool breezes and conversation - perhaps gentle gossip - as well as in the never-ending supplies of fresh fish and oysters. If desired, sailing and fishing and hunting in season were also available. The younger set, however, sought and found a more active life. One of the most popular pastimes was dancing."

But there were parts of life in Smithville that would not seem so foreign to today's Brunswick County residents. A 4th of July celebration was held every year in the town. "It was an occasion of patriotism and merriment, and perhaps the highlight of the day was the banquet generally held and attended by the prominent men from throughout the county. The feast was always closed with a series of toasts." A list of toasts offered at the July 4, 1805 celebration include, in the following order: July 4th, the President of the United States, the Governor of North Carolina, the North Carolina legislature, George Washington, the flag of the United States, the United States Army and Navy, "That the expedition of the United States against the Tripolitans may succeed," "The pine trees, the staple commodity of North Carolina," Smithville founder and promoter Joshua Potts, "The recovery of General Smith and the population of Smithville," "May the wounds received in virtuous causes be speedily healed," "The Land we live in," "May political divisions cease," "The memory of the brave Patriots who fell in the cause of liberty," and "The Fair Sex."

Map from the North Carolina Collection, UNC Library, Chapel Hill, NC

All photos and excerpts from "The History of Brunswick County North Carolina" by Lawrence Lee, Copyright © by Brunswick County


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