Brunswick County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



King George I, Duke of Brunswick


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1713 / English/Welsh, Scots-Irish

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

Battles & Skirmishes / Militia

Battles & Skirmishes / Camps & Forts / Troops

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Airports in Brunswick County

Maps of Brunswick County

Books About Brunswick County

Genealogy Sources

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A History of Brunswick County

Orton Plantation - Brunswick County, North Carolina

Brunswick County was named after Brunswick Town, which was established in 1726, long before the county was formed out of New Hanover County in 1764. The name Brunswick comes from King George I, who was the king of England in 1726, and whose family originated in Hanover, Germany and also held title to the Duchy of Brunswick-Luneburg.
Of course, there were Native Americans in what is present-day Brunswick County before the Europeans arrived. In some early references, the local Indians were called the Town Creek Indians, whereas later they were called the Cape Fear Indians. No European ever asked them what they called themselves, but at the end of the Yamassee War in 1716, they were all removed from Brunswick County and placed on a reservation in what is now Williamsburg County, South Carolina.

The first European to explore the coastline of what is now Brunswick County was the English sailor, John Cabot, who sailed along the entire Carolina coastline in 1497, claiming this part of the New World on behalf of England. It was a long time before another Englishman came to this area.

In the early 1500s, several Spanish explorers sailed along the coast of Brunswick County, North Carolina, but none stopped here or even bothered to set foot on Brunswick soil. Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quejo were sent to explore the coastline in 1521, and Lucas Vasques de Allyon may have sailed along Brunswick County in 1526 while contemplating where to establish his settlement of San Miguel - which ended up being located at what is present-day Georgetown, South Carolina, a little more than forty miles to the south.

It was not until 1662 when the next Englishman made his way to Brunswick County. William Hilton, Jr. and his crew made their way down the Atlantic coastline from Massachussetts to explore the Cape Fear River, and upon their return Hilton prepared a very positive report on the area. It did not take long before a small group of New Englanders found their way to Brunswick County.

In 1663, this small group of New Englanders purchased thirty-two square miles of land along Town Creek, in Brunswick County, from the local Indians - the Cape Fear Indians - but, they did not particularly like the area and left within two or three months, returning to their homes in New England.

In 1664, Sir John Yeamans of Barbados brought a second group to essentially the same location and established the first town in the new colony - Charles Town. This was six years before the second Charles Town that was established along the Ashley River in present-day South Carolina. The Barbadians built a thriving settlement that peaked out at around 800 souls in 1666. In 1667, things deteriorated rapidly. The colonists were running out of supplies and then they were hit by a gigantic hurricane in August that wiped out the entire settlement. The disgusted colonists gave up and found their way up to the Albemarle region and some even as far north as Virginia - apparently, they walked.

This failure set the Cape Fear region back by more than fifty years. From 1667 to 1720, the Lords Proprietors focused their attention on the two primary settlements in the province - the Albemarle region and the Charles Town (South Carolina) region. Interestingly, in 1666, before the demise of the first Charles Town of Brunswick County in 1667, a pamphlet was published in England extolling the virtues of the Cape Fear region.

Click Here to read the earliest "marketing campaign" ever for Brunswick County and the surrounding area.

In May of 1713, Barren Island (Bald Head) was granted to Landgrave Thomas Smith II, and in 1724 Governor George Burrington began to distribute land along the Cape Fear for colonization. Many of the new settlers came from South Carolina because of the lower taxes in North Carolina. Soon, immigrants were coming directly from the British Isles to the Cape Fear because it was a deep-water port, the only one in North Carolina.

Maurice Moore (son of South Carolina Governor James Moore) founded Brunswick Town using his grant on the west bank of the river, and by June of 1726, a map of the town was filed with the Secretary of the Province. The next year a ferry was in operation to cross the Cape Fear River to the east bank, which was not yet settled.

A letter of Governor Burrington, dated 1733, says he sent out Indian Guides and some of his men to mark a road to the middle of this province from Virginia to the Cape Fear River and to discover and view the land lying in those parts until then unknown to the English.

When New Hanover Precinct (county) was created by the colonial General Assembly in 1729, the northern coastal boundary was about six miles above the present New River Inlet, and the southern boundary at the disputed border with South Carolina.

Many people understood the boundary line between North and South Carolina to be about thirty miles southwest of the Cape Fear River, but the Colonial Records in 1729 designated the border as the "main branch of a large river falling into the ocean at Cape Fear..." In the early 1700s ,the Cape Fear River below the fork was called the Thoroughfare and the Brunswick River was called the Northwest Branch of the Cape Fear River.

From 1729 until Wilmington was established and named in 1740, Brunswick Town was the county seat of New Hanover County. When Brunswick County was created in 1764, Brunswick Town became the county seat of Brunswick County - the only town in North Carolina to serve as county seat for two different counties.

In 1725, settlement of Brunswick County began in earnest. Grants were dated June 3, 1725, with lands received by Maurice Moore, Samuel Swann, Charles Harrison, and Eleazar Allen. Maurice Moore transferred many acres to his brother, Roger Moore, who developed what is now called Orton Plantation. Brunswick Town was started in 1726 by Maurice Moore, but it didn't really take off until around 1731. Meanwhile, plantations sprang up all along the western bank of the Cape Fear River and Town Creek.

In April of 1733, James Wimble began selling lots in a town he called New Carthage, on the east side of the Cape Fear River. Soon, it was called New Liverpool, New Town, or Newton to distinguish it from the older Brunswick Town. Newton was incorporated as the town of Wilmington on February 25, 1740 and designated the new county seat for New Hanover County. This infuriated the settlers on the west side of the Cape Fear River, and they began a decades long campaign to secede from New Hanover County.

In 1741, all lands west of the Cape Fear River were incorporated into a new parish called St. Philip's, thinking this would appease the locals. It did not. For the next twenty years, the Brunswick Town folks and others on the west side of the Cape Fear River pursued their independence. Finally, on March 9, 1764 Brunswick County was officially established out of part of New Hanover County.

Brunswick Town was the first county seat of the newly formed Brunswick County. It remained so until 1779, well after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. The British ransacked Brunswick Town in 1776 and literally burned it to the ground. It was never rebuilt and Brunswick Town began to slowly die away. By the early 1800s, it was all but abandoned.

In 1779, the county seat was located at Lockwood's Folly and a temporary court house was established at the mouth of the Lockwood Folly River on the south/west bank. In 1784, the court house was situated more inland at the primary bridge across the Lockwood Folly River and a new town was established, named Walkersburgh, which included the court house, a jail, and several homes as well as a tavern. But, the town never really materialized.

In 1792, the town of Smithville was established at the mouth of the Cape Fear River on the west bank in Brunswick County. In 1808, the Brunswick county seat was moved to Smithville, where it remained for 169 years. In 1887, Smithville was renamed to Southport, and was becoming a thriving port town.

Brunswick County was divided into several districts since inception, but in 1812 these were stabilized into six: Northwest, Town Creek, Smithville, Shallotte, Lockwood Folly, and Waccamaw - all of which are current townships.

From the earliest settlement in Brunswick Town in 1725 to the late 1860s, towns began to spring up around Brunswick County. Walkersburgh on the Lockwood Folly River sprang up, became the county seat, then faded into oblivion.

In the earliest reference in 1734, a traveler crossed the Shallot River on Simmon's Ferry, with a settlement near the ferry called Shallotte. By 1807, a bridge spanned the Shallot River where the ferry once was. By the 1830s, what was named Lockwood Folly for a brief period of time was now called Shallotte, the river was now called the Shallotte River, and a post office was established there in 1837. Shallotte was incorporated in 1899. Recent findings of old maps of this area indicates that the Shallot River was so named as early as 1733 (on Edward Moseley's map) - so, the name of Shallotte probably goes back well before the 1730s. Trivia - the first name for Shallotte was actually Lockwood Folly - twice. Recent U.S. Postal Records research have uncovered this information - Lockwood Folly was granted its first Post Office on February 21, 1837. On December 13, 1837 the U.S. Post Office Department accepted an application for changing the name to Shallotte. This PO was active until December 29, 1858, apparently when it closed down. Interestingly, a second town named Lockwood Folly was granted a new Post Office on September 4, 1857 - clearly while the first Shallotte Post Office was in operations and therefore a second location and second town (hamlet, burg, whatever you want to call it). This second Lockwood Folly town was soon renamed to Shallotte on April 26, 1859 - almost four months after the first Shallotte PO was closed down. Ergo - we now have "Old Shallotte" and the current Shallotte. In researching the old maps, one can clearly find these two virtually shown where we know of them today.

In the early 1800s, roads were constructed from Wilmington to Shallotte and on to Georgetown, South Carolina, an important naval stores area. These roads were mostly sand and nearly impassable. Therefore, river trade was the easiest way. A trading post was established in the 1820s well up the Lockwood Folly River, at the road between Wilmington and Shallotte. This trading post was originally called the "Old Georgetown Way," even shortened to "Old G.W.," but locals finally named it Supply in the late 1860s.

The town of Bolivia was established in the 1890s and was incorporated in 1911. In 1977, the county seat was moved from Southport to Bolivia because Bolivia was closer to the center of the county and could provide better service to the population. This was accomplished by a public referendum that certainly brought about a lot of tension within the county at that time.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the U.S. Intracoastal Waterway in the 1930s. Upon completion of this several "barrier islands" became attractive properties immediately after World War II. Development began in earnest in the 1950s, with the boom beginning in the 1960s. Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Sunset Beach, Long Beach, Yaupon Beach, and Caswell Beach have all been incorporated since the 1950s, and are tremendous vacation attractions today.

Further inland, other small towns sprang up. Exum came into being. Ash was home to Waccamaw High School until all schools were consolidated in 1973. Longwood, Grissettown, and Thomasboro came along in the southern part of the county. As did Calabash (home of world famous seafood) and Hickman's Crossroads. On the northern end of the county, Maco, Bishop, Bellville, and Winnabow grew into towns. While, in the middle of the county remains the ever-present Green Swamp, the largest swamp in North Carolina.

Boiling Springs Lakes was started in the 1960s, and is a favorite golfing community near Southport.

Brunswick Town, first established in 1726 and made a borough town under English law in 1754, was established as the first county seat for Brunswick County when it was enacted in 1764. Brunswick Town was ransacked by the British during the American Revolution and literally burned to the ground - never to be rebuilt. The townsfolk had plenty of notice that the British were coming, so there were no loss of life or loss of many personal affects - just the loss of mostly empty homes. A few survived the burning and were lived in until around 1820, when they too were finally abandoned.

In 1779, a court house was authorized to be temporarily located on the plantation of John Bell at the mouth of the Lockwood Folly River, while the permanent court house was to be constructed further inland at the bridge across the Lockwood Folly River. In 1784, Walkersburgh, named in honor of John Walker on whose land this more permanent court house was situated, was established. Provisions were made in the act for this court house and other public buildings to be established in Walkersburgh, located near present-day Supply.

It is doubtful that the Act was entirely put into effect because in 1808 another Act was passed authorizing the removal of the court house from Lockwood Folly to Smithville. Smithville was established in 1792 and named after Benjamin Smith, Governor of North Carolina 1810-1811.

In 1879, an effort to move the court house failed. In 1887, Smithville was renamed to Southport. Southport served as the county seat until 1977, when the county seat was moved to Bolivia, following a public referendum on the subject. Bolivia has been the county seat of Brunswick County since 1977.

Click Here for an early map showing the known Plantations along the Cape Fear River between 1725 and 1760.
Click Here for a more recent version of the above-referenced map showing the known Plantations along the Cape Fear River.
Click Here for an early map showing the Cape Fear River area in 1749.
Click Here for an early layout / plan of Fort Johnston as of 1767.
Click Here for an early map showing the Cape Fear River area in 1781, when Lt. General Cornwallis occupied this area.
Click Here for an early map showing Frying Pan Shoals and surrounding area in the 1780s.

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