History of Wilmington, NC

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“As pleasant and delectable to behold, as is possible to imagine…" is how Giovanni da Verrazano described Wilmington and the surrounding Cape Fear region to the French King Francis I after he reportedly became the first European to explore the region back in 1524.

Wilmington is a charming port city situated in the southeastern part of North Carolina. This city is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear river. Although the city is not totally based on tourism it still turns out to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire region as a result of the perfect blend of the natural and social elements – great geo-physical location, a moderate climate all the year through with clearly distinguishable four seasons, the historic preservation district, annual festive seasons such as the Azalea festival and the Riverfest and numerous lush green golf courses. If you think that is all Wilmington has in offer for you, think again. Have you taken into account the Wrightsville beach close by? Wrightsville beach is a Mecca for the enthusiasts who enjoy the thrill of beach activities such as surfing, sailing, or even sunbathing; not to mention the exotic sea-foods.

As has been mentioned earlier, the known history of this region dates back to the early half of the 16th century when Giovanni da Verrazano reportedly became the first European explorer to catch a glimpse of this wonder-filled piece of land. There are evidences of settlement in Wilmington and the nearby region during the 17th century but the first ever European settlements in the region was not before the early 18th century when the English settled permanently during the 1720s. It was in the year 1739 that the city of Wilmington came to be founded.

During its initial years as a new city, Wilmington found most of its first generation settlers to come from the regions of Barbados and South Carolina. With this came the custom of slavery when salve labors were used by the landowners with the intention of exploiting the natural bounties of the land.

With the turn of the century, as industrialization started making its presence felt, the vast forest reserves started being exploited. A good part of the 18th century and the entire 19th century marked considerable industrial growth in this region that heavily relied on forestry. Both prior to and immediately after the American Revolution, the lumber industry and the naval stores were instrumental in fuelling the economy of Wilmington.

By the time the turbulent days of the American Civil War surfaced, Wilmington was already a major port city on the Atlantic Ocean. This port was strategically very important as it served as the entry point for the bulk of supplies of the Confederate States of America during the civil war. This port was instrumental for trading the indigenous tobacco and cotton in lieu of the foreign goods such as clothing, munitions, as well as foodstuffs. In the year 1862, a ship brought sailors infected with yellow fever that soon spread all across the region. This resulted in a sort of paralysis of the otherwise thriving port city.

With the fall of Norfolk, Virginia in the year 1862, Wilmington became more important and turned out to be the main port for the Confederate States. All along the seashore of the Atlantic, the defense of Wilmington was rare to be surpassed by any other fortification. Federal occupation of Wilmington was in no way, a cake-walk, courtesy of the presence of Fort Fischer.

It was in the year 1865 that Wilmington was ultimately captured by the forces of the Union. The incident took place only after the port closed after Fort Fischer’s fall. Three small scale engagements near the Cape Fear region form the crux of the Battle of Wilmington that saw the Confederate Forces under the guidance of Gen. Braxton Bragg abandon the city. The first troops of the Federation soon entered the city under Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox. For the remaining part of the War, this city remained under the control of the Union.

The most vital moment in the history of Wilmington however remains to be the “Coup D’Etat and the Massacre of 1898”. Previously known as “The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898”, this single stroke of history left the politics of entire North Carolina like never before. This event was, for decades, labeled as a riot by many historians. Today it is considered a coup d’etat, and is the only of its kind in the history of entire America. The infamous Wilmington Massacre was planned meticulously and its suddenness took all by surprise and before people realized what exactly was going on, the white supremacists illegally seized all power from the elected governmental body.

Wilmington used to be a black dominated area and the Republican Party was quite popular with the inhabitants. These infamous events were monitored by the white supremacists so that the Democratic Party could re-establish its hold in the region. The massacre saw more than one hundred blacks killed openly in the streets of Wilmington. No governmental body intervened to stop these atrocities from happening. These events and those that surfaced as a consequence transformed the entire political as well as social scenario of Wilmington as well as entire North Carolina.

The two World Wars resulted in a boost in the shipbuilding industry as well as other aspects of the port city of Wilmington. The North Carolina Shipbuilding Company became quite prominent during the 1940s. The State Port Authority was approved in 1945 and ever since then has remained a major factor in the region’s economy. For the last few decades there have also been significant corporate ventures in Wilmington. Corning and General Electric are two of the major corporate giants in the region today.

Interstate 40 opened in 1990. In no time tourism grew as one of the thriving industries for the entire region and earned Wilmington the distinction of being one of the fastest developing American cities during the 1990s. The current population of Wilmington is just over 82,000 and it has become a very popular with Hollywood. Many TV shows are filmed in Wilmington and over 180 movies have been filmed there. It consistently gets high marks as one of the best cities to live in. Today, this place is a dream tourist destination for thousands per year from all around the globe.


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  History of Wilmington, North Carolina