Last time I was out on the coast, I took Belle to Brunswick Town. It’s one of my favorite spots in Brunswick County. I’ve been dozens of times through the years. My Aunt Sandy used to take Ebie and me when we were growing up. The place stuck with me, and I continued to visit into my teen years & adulthood.
The History of Brunswick Town
For a town that existed for a mere 50 years, Brunswick Town has a rich, colorful history. Brunswick was founded in 1726 by Maurice Moore, who named it after George I, King of England and Duke of Brunswick. It was the first permanent colonial settlement on the lower Cape Fear River.
As home to two royal governors, Arthur Dobbs and William Tryon, Brunswick Town served as the unofficial capital of the North Carolina colony. The governors lived in succession at Russellborough plantation on the outskirts of town. Due to their residency, the Governor’s Council often met in the courthouse.
The vibrant port thrived on exported naval stores. Tar, pitch, and turpentine were derived from the nearby longleaf pine forests. These goods were then shipped to England, where they were used for building and maintaining the wooden sailing ships of the Royal Navy.
When the Stamp Acts passed in 1765, local merchants were forced to pay taxes to local representatives of the English Crown. Brunswick revolted by preventing British ships from unloading the stamps, arresting Royal officials, and surrounding Governor Tryon’s home. Their protests forced the resignation of the Comptroller of Customs, William Pennington – and halted stamp tax collection in the Cape Fear region.
Nearly a decade before the renowned Boston Tea Party, Revolutionary sentiments smoldered on North Carolina’s coast. However, the town’s acts of rebellion are probably the reason for its destruction.
Brunswick Town declined due to several factors, including competition with Wilmington’s port and the relocation of political seats. Few people remained in Brunswick in 1776 when redcoats came ashore and burned the town in May.
The ruins became part of Orton Plantation in 1830 when Frederick James Hill paid $4.25 for the port. During the Civil War, Confederates built earthworks and trenches that covered several structures, preserving sections of Brunswick until they were excavated in 1958.
James Laurence Sprunt donated the site to North Carolina in 1952. Sixteen years later, Brunswick Town Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Visiting the Historic Site
Brunswick Town features a visitor’s center, the ruins of St. Phillip’s Church, the foundation of Russellborough, the archeological remains of colonial homes, and the earthen walls of Fort Anderson.
Located at 8884 St. Philip’s Rd. SE in Winnabow, the historic site is open Tuesday-Saturday. They are closed for most major holidays. Admission is free.