The End of Brunswick Town
A number of factors contributed to the decline and final end of Brunswick Town. One of these factors was disease in the area. According to one historian:
Lack of knowledge and unsanitary conditions contributed to the many early deaths of the colonial period. Those who lived in Brunswick were subject to agues (violent fevers alternating with chills, usually malarial), pleurises (inflammation causing painful, difficult breathing), and bilious complaints (resulting from ailment of bile or liver). Nearby swamps were breeding grounds for the anopheles mosquito that carries malaria. With ships coming into port from other places, it is certain some of the sailors carried diseases. There were occasional epidemics. Henry Johnston wrote in October, 1770, ‘A Terrible Fever Has made Sad Havock in this part of the country. Scarce a Family but wears mourning for one or more of Its Branches.’ In 1777 there was a sickness called a plague that killed two well-known brothers (Judge Maurice Moore and General James Moore who was home in between battles) the same day.1
This circumstance was undoubtedly a factor leading many families to move away from Brunswick.
Another problem for Brunswick Town were the weather conditions. Because Brunswick was closer to the ocean than its sister city of Wilmington, the latter was able to better withstand the hurricanes and stormy weather that constantly plagued the area. In 1761, a hurricane ripped through Brunswick so severe that “many houses were thrown down, and all the vessels, except one, in Cape Fear River driven on shore.”2 If the nasty weather was not enough of a problem on its own, it also shifted more and more dependence on trade away from Brunswick and toward Wilmington. Its growing influence caused a number of Brunswick residents to defect to the more prosperous town upriver.
This mass exodus to Wilmington was accelerated during the Revolutionary War in 1775, when rumors flew that the British were docked at Fort Johnston and intended to burn first Brunswick and then Wilmington.3
Then came the final blow in February 1776. The Virginia Gazette reported an affidavit written by a William Rawdon [Raddon] noted that British officers
intended that night to go up to the town of Brunswick, with about 100 sailors, to set the town on fire in front, station their men on the back of the town, and destroy man, woman and child, that escaped from the flames; but the reason they did not put their design in execution was that a British vessel went aground and by the time it was freed (the British officer learned) that the inhabitants had left the town, and therefore it was no use to burn it.4
Read the account here: Virginia Gazette. “Raddon’s” is the second entry in the first column.
The British eventually burned Brunswick on two more occasions, once more in 1776 and once in 1781, and occupied a number of abandoned plantations along the Cape Fear River, including Kendall, nearby.
Despite the destruction early on in the war, Brunswick was alternately used as a meeting place of both American patriots and British and Tories, as well as an embarkation point for British ships and troops. Brunswick had also been chosen as the location where the Scottish Highlanders were to meet with Gov. Josiah Martin and the British army led by Gen. Henry Clinton and Gen. Charles Cornwallis in February 1776. This plan fell through due to the Patriot victory at Moores Creek Bridge on Feb. 27, 1776. According to archaeological findings, two or three houses were built upon the ruins of Brunswick following the Revolution, and a number of objects belonging to families living within those newer houses were found.5 In 1804, Methodist missionary Francis Asbury visited the town and stated ‘demolished houses, and the noble walls of a brick church: there remain but four houses entire.’ Archaeology confirmed that statement when they found five ruins with late 18th and early 19th century artifacts.6 In 1842, when Brunswick was no longer inhabited, the colonial site was sold to Dr. Frederick Hill for $4.25 by the State of North Carolina, making the land part of Hill’s Orton Plantation.7 There the ruined town sat, until it became the stage for yet another important event in the history of both North Carolina and the American nation.
1. Pedlow, The Story of Brunswick Town, 30.
2. Saunders, The Colonial Records of North Carolina, v. VI, 605, in South, Colonial Brunswick, 85.
3. South, Colonial Brunswick, 88.
4. Virginia Gazette, March 22, 1776, in Pedlow, The Story of Brunswick Town, 52-53.
5. South, Colonial Brunswick, 89.
6. Brunswick Town Tour Script, 27.
7. Pedlow, The Story of Brunswick Town, 65.
Jackson, Claude V.; Fryar, Jack E., Jr., Ed. The Big Book of the Cape Fear River. Wilmington, NC: Dram Tree Books, 2008.
Johnston, Peter R. Poorest of the Thirteen: North Carolina and the Southern Department in the American Revolution. Haverford, PA: Infinity Publishing, 2001.
Lossing Benson J.; Fryar, Jack E., Jr., Ed. Lossing’s Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution in the Carolinas & Georgia. Wilmington, NC: Dram Tree Books, 2004.
Price, William S., Jr. Not a Conquered People: Two Carolinians View Parliamentary Taxation. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1975.
Russell, David Lee. The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2000.