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Exploration and colonization of the Cape Fear area was a slow, haphazard affair. One hundred years after the establishment of Jamestown, Virginia, there still wasn't any activity to speak of in this part of North Carolina. It seems that even most of the area's friendly Indians had died out by the early 18th Century, probably as a result of European diseases. About the only people who made use of the place were the pirates who infested North Carolina waters.
Some did see potential in the area. As early as 1524, Giovani de Verrazzano returned a favorable report of the area to the King of France. Several attempts at settlement were made by the English and Spanish, but all ended in failure. Not till 1726 was a town established.
Wilmington Facts:

The town was called Brunswick. Located on the west bank of the Cape Fear near the ocean, it suffered a number of misfortunes before disappearing about the time of the Revolution.
For several decades before the disappearance of Brunswick, there was real contention between towns for primacy on the Cape Fear. Sometime in the late 1720's, a village called Newton was laid out 20 miles upriver from Brunswick. Amid political wrangling, the town was incorporated in 1739 as Wilmington, in honor of the Governor's patron, Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington. It's been estimated that, at the time of incorporation, Wilmington had 30-35 houses. Not much my modern standards, but enough to make it an important settlement in a sparsely inhabited colony.
Pine trees were the engine driving settlement of the Cape Fear. At the time, the area had one of the largest accessible stands in the world. From them came tar, pitch, and turpentine; products necessary to keep wooden ships afloat. Britain, with the world's largest navy, had a huge appetite for the so called maritime stores. As a result, the region flourished. By 1768, more naval stores cleared the Cape Fear than any other port in the British Empire.
Events soon turned less favorable for the British and their navy.
In 1765 the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act. It was a tax that required all manner of papers, public and private, to have a seal affixed to them. Establishing the American tradition of resistance to the government, the colonies protested. On the Cape Fear the protests were particularly colorful. A November issue of the North Carolina Gazette reported on some of the activities:


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