Wilmington, North Carolina is ideally located between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. As a port city attached to a large river system, it’s no wonder Wilmington has a rich history of trade, industry, and politics. From colonization through the World Wars, Wilmington has played a large role in American history.
English colonists first settled in the area in the 1720s. But they didn’t settle on a name for twenty more years. The settlement was first known as “New Carthage,” followed by “New Liverpool,” and then “New Town,” or “Newton” for short. Finally, in 1739 or 1740, the town was incorporated and named for the Earl of Wilmington, Spencer Compton.
In both the Revolutionary and Civil War, Wilmington, North Carolina served as a crucial hub that all sides wanted control over. In 1776, American patriots defeated the British in the nearby Battle of Moores Creek Bridge. The victory ended British authority in North Carolina. Shortly after, North Carolina was the first to vote in favor of American independence.
Despite tumultuous beginnings, Wilmington, North Carolina quickly recovered and continued to prosper. A new rail system completed in 1840 expanded its trade routes and boosted its economy.
During the Civil War, Wilmington, North Carolina was heavily protected by Confederate defenses at Fort Fisher. Knowing the importance of Wilmington as a trade and supply route, the Confederacy fought hard to maintain control. They held control longer than any other Atlantic port city. But ultimately, on January 15, 1865, Fort Fisher fell. With Wilmington under Federal control, the Civil War ended only a few months later.
In the 20th century, Wilmington was surpassed as the largest city in North Carolina but still flourished. Between shipbuilding, trade, commerce, and now tourism, Wilmington, North Carolina has adapted through the years to stay prominent. Today, its rich history is celebrated and honored with many memorials and museums.