Pender County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



William Dorsey Pender


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1730s / English/Welsh, Scots-Irish

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

Battles & Skirmishes

Camps & Forts

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Airports in Pender County

Maps of Pender County

Books About Pender County

Genealogy Sources

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A History of Pender County

Pender County was formed in 1875 from New Hanover County. It was named in honor of Major General William Dorsey Pender of Edgecombe County, a Confederate officer who was killed at the battle of Gettysburg. It is in the southeastern section of the state and is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and New Hanover, Brunswick, Columbus, Bladen, Sampson, Duplin, and Onslow counties. The present land area is 870.67 square miles and the 2010 population was 52,217.

The county commissioners were ordered to hold their first meeting at Rocky Point. The Act provided for the establishment of the town of Cowan as the county seat. In 1877, an Act was passed repealing that section of the law relative to the town, and another law was enacted whereby the qualified voters were to vote on the question of moving the county seat to South Washington or any other place which the majority of the voters designated. Whatever place was selected, the town should be called Stanford. In 1879, Stanford was changed to Burgaw, which was by that law incorporated. It has been the county seat ever since. 

The first explorers to see what is now called Pender County coasted onshore in 1524. They reported on the numerous varieties of game, particularly wild turkeys, found in the area. A century later in 1663, the Barbados commissioners, in attempting to settle the Lower Cape Fear, explored the northeast branch of the Cape Fear River. Those early commissioners named the community "Rocky Point," the name which it retains today.

Although settled by 1725, the county itself was not formed from New Hanover until 150 years later. While the Moores opened up the area to the south at Brunswick Town, the Lord Proprietors laid out a tract to the north for Welsh settlers. They came seeking good bottom land and tidal river transportation. Brisk commercial success followed and large plantations were built during this period of prosperity.

The people of Pender County were ardent Patriots during the American Revolution and it was here, at the battle of Moore's Creek Bridge, that they defeated the Scottish Highlanders under Brigadier General Donald McDonald.

In the War Between the States, this area sent nearly 4,000 troops to battle and gave the Confederacy its youngest general, William Dorsey Pender, for whom the county was named.

Still a part of New Hanover County after the war, Pender County's prosperous plantation system was swept away during the Reconstruction years. However, it was out of Reconstruction politics that the county was born, in 1875. Wilmington, overrun with carpetbaggers, was under corrupt rule. By popular vote, and despite strong Republican opposition, the county was created with the city of Watha as the first county seat. Burgaw, the present county seat was chartered in 1879 and received its name from a local tribe of Indians.

Pender County is located in southeastern North Carolina and encompasses approximately 875 square miles. Burgaw is approximately 100 miles southeast of Raleigh, the state capital, on a section of Interstate 40 which opened in 1991 connecting Raleigh and the port of Wilmington, which lies twenty-six miles to the south of Burgaw. The county is a combination of primarily rural inland areas and resort-vacation areas along the coast and on the Atlantic barrier islands.

The county is a large coastal county in the Cape Fear Region (comprised of Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover, and Pender Counties) of southeastern North Carolina. It is bounded on the north by Duplin County, on the west by Sampson and Bladen Counties, on the south by Columbus, Brunswick and New Hanover Counties, and on the east by Onslow County and the Atlantic Ocean. Approximately fifteen miles of the county fronts on the Atlantic Ocean. The elevation of Pender County ranges from sealevel to 110 feet above, and the topography is level to gently rolling, with dominantly flat upland areas. The coastal corridor is traversed by the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway and a coastal habitat playground.

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