Everyone knows that Charleston (originally called Charles Town) is in South Carolina right? However, that settlement wasn’t started until 1670 – North Carolina’s Charles Town predates that by almost a decade!
In 1662 Englishman William Hilton, exploring on behalf of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, spent considerable time in Carolina, trading with the Cape Fear Indians and establishing friendly relations.
Hilton’s travels ranged far to the south (where Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, is named for him) and deep into the interior of Carolina.
He reached the Cape Fear River in August 1662, calling it “Charles River.”
The following year Hilton returned to the area, just ahead of a group of settlers from New England who had been persuaded by Hilton’s first voyage. John Vassall, representing a group of planters from Barbados, also brought settlers to Clarendon County, as the Brunswick area was originally called.
Vassall’s group established Charles Town on the west bank of the Cape Fear about twenty miles inland, near the mouth of Town Creek (or “Indian River,” as Hilton had called it).
This first “Charles Town” in the Carolinas was settled almost a decade before the city of that name far to the south!
The European population of the Lower Cape Fear area grew to more than 800 people within two years. But by 1667, however, the colonists had become
The harshness of the wilderness and conflicts with the local Indians made life difficult for them. Pirates were also a constant threat.
To top it off, the Lords Proprietors closed their Carolina land office and the Europeans deserted their holdings in Clarendon County.
Edward Moseley’s “A New and Correct Map of the Province of North Carolina,” 1733, shows “Port Brunswick or Cape Fear Harbour” as part of Clarendon County. Courtesy Joyner Library, East Carolina University.
Other Early Settlers
For the next half a century, during which time Carolina came to be divided into North and South sections, there was little effort by the English to reestablish a colony in the Lower Cape Fear region.
In 1714 Thomas James received a grant of 1,000 acres on the western side of the Cape Fear River and settled there, but a year later he and his family were found murdered by natives.
Genealogical records indicate that around 1724 a Jacob Johnson and his wife, Ann, lived in the area briefly but illegally, without the right of a land grant from the Lords Proprietors.
The earliest legal grant on record in the area conveys Barren Island (later Smith Island; now Bald Head Island) and most of present-day Southport to Landgrave Thomas Smith, a wealthy planter from South Carolina, on May 8, 1713.
Concerted efforts to rid the coast of pirates, combined with the defeat of hostile natives during the Tuscarora Wars and improvement in provincial governance, again made the Lower Cape Fear safe for exploration and colonization.
Settlement resumed in earnest after Gov. George Burrington made land grants in June 1725 to Eleazer Allen, Charles Harrison, Maurice Moore, and Samuel Swann.
George, Prince Elector of Hanover and Duke of Brunswick, succeeded to the English throne upon the death of Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart line, none of whose eighteen children had survived to adulthood.
King George I, as he became, spoke almost no English— but the title of his dukedom lives on in the name of North Carolina’s southernmost county.
The excerpt you are reading is from the book “Tales of the Silver Coast” by author and illustrator Miller Pope and author Jacqueline DeGroot.