When we think of the American Revolution we tend to think of cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, but the first armed rebellion against British taxation happened right here in Southeastern North Carolina in what was known as Brunswick Town.
The location alone is amazing – wooden walkways wind amongst ruins of the pre-Revolutionary town which lie side by side with the remains of a Civil War-era Confederate fortification originally called Fort St. Philip’s (later renamed Fort Anderson).
All of this is located along a virtually undeveloped area along the Cape Fear River offering some of the most beautiful views of the river seen through ancient live Oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. A great place to spend the day and have a picnic on the grounds.
The town of Brunswick was settled by merchants coming from Barbados by way of Goose Creek SC in 1726 by Maurice Moore whose descendants later built Orton Plantation next to the town.
The port became a bustling shipping area for exporting tar, pitch, and turpentine. These products, derived from the resin of the longleaf pine, were known collectively as naval stores. This “sticky gold” was essential for building and maintaining the great wooden sailing ships of the Royal Navy and the merchant fleet that sailed the oceans between Europe, its American colonies, and the islands of the Caribbean.
In 1748 the town was attacked by Spanish invaders who were eventually driven off by 80 brave men many of which were African slaves.
In 1765, eight years before the Boston Tea Party, the residents challenged the Crown’s authority to distribute hated tax stamps halting the collection of the tax along the Cape Fear.
Brunswick was the seat of two Royal Governors until Brunswick’s decline which resulted from several factors, including the growth of Wilmington and the relocation of the royal governor to New Bern in 1770.
Few people remained in Brunswick in the spring of 1776 when British redcoats were put ashore from the Royal Navy ship Cruizer. Some reports indicate that much of the town was burned during this raid. By the end of the Revolutionary War families and merchants had moved to other locations, and the ruins and land became part of Orton Plantation in 1842. After being was razed by British troops in 1776 Brunswick was never rebuilt.
A New Purpose
Then, during the Civil War, Ft. Anderson was constructed atop the old village site. Colonial foundations dot the present-day tour trail, which crosses the earthworks of the Confederate fort. This serene riverside setting, colonial and Civil War history, and colorful exhibits will be long remembered by visitors.
In 1861 the Confederate States of America decided to build a large fort at the site as part of the river defense of Wilmington. The Cape Fear was an essential route for supplies moving by rail from Wilmington to Petersburg and Richmond for General Lee’s army.
The Confederate army used manual labor to construct the large sand fortification originally called Fort St. Philip’s. There were two batteries, each with five cannons overlooking the shipping channel and providing protection to blockade runners.
In February 1865, following the fall of Fort Fisher at the mouth of the river, Union forces repositioned to attack Fort Anderson. Federals attacked from the land and river. After three days of fighting, the Confederates evacuated the fort at night. Union gunboats started firing at first light, unaware Federal soldiers were breaching the walls of the fort. The infantry frantically waved sheets and blankets to stop the deadly fire from their own forces. There was a one-day fight north of the site at Town Creek before the Federals occupied Wilmington on George Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1865.
The Site Today
In the lobby is a colorful mural created by Claude Howell and Catherine Hendricksen depicting a scene from a Spanish attack on the town in 1748.
A cannon on display was recovered from the river in 1986 and is believed to be from the Spanish ship Fortuna, which blew up in the river as the townspeople regained control of the port.
The remains of homes, businesses, and other buildings bear witness to the story of Brunswick. Along with artifacts from the Civil War and the imposing mounds of Fort Anderson, this site offers a unique look at two fascinating periods of American history.
“For there are deeds that should not pass away, And names that must not wither.” – plaque in St. Philip’s Church