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Early History

Page history last edited by Shamella Cromartie 14 years, 3 months ago

The history of settlement on the Cape Fear River before the Revolutionary War begins with the Tuscarora and Croatans.  The Tuscarora league had at least three tribal constituents and large settlements. The Croatans, chiefly in Robeson County, are traditionally descendants of the “Lost Colony” and Cherokee.


John A. Oates gives four reasons for the late European settlement of the Cape Fear in his book The Story of Fayetteville (Oates, John A.  The Story of Fayetteville.  Charlotte: Dowd Press, 1950.): the uninviting coast, pirates who controlled the mouth of the river, the Cape Fear Indians, and the absence of a land grant office.


Oates goes on to say the Carolina situation changed after 1700.  The white settler brought gunpowder, liquor, and disease.  Consequently, the Tuscaroras moved further north, smaller tribes were destroyed or absorbed, and the Cheraws and Catawbas moved further west to join the Cherokees in the western part of North Carolina.  These movements of Indians eliminated one of the barriers to white settlement.


The immigrants into the Cape Fear region were English, Scotch, German, and African.  The first European settlers on the Cape Fear were Highland Scotch.  After the Scotch Uprising of 1715, many immigrants from Scotland came to the New World up the Cape Fear into Bladen County, which was formed from New Hanover County in 1734.  In 1739 Colonel McAlister brought 350 Scotchmen in one group.  Again in 1749, another large group of 500 arrived with Neal McNeal and settled in Bladen, Anson, and what is now Cumberland County.


Civil and religious liberty and economic conditions were the causes behind nearly all the major settlements along the Cape Fear River.  These settlers were not hampered by competition with other settlements because the town of Fayetteville provided an outlet for trade.  Thus Fayetteville was established as a trade center for all North Carolina because the Cape Fear was navigable into the heart of the state.  Settlements along the river between Fayetteville and Wilmington played an important role in the development of the region.  Bladen County benefitted and grew from the trade and traffic along the river.


The period from the time of the first settlers along the upper river to the steamboat days, was undoubtedly one of transportation by barge and lighters which were propelled by the use of long poles up the river and the downward trip was dependent upon the current for propulsion.


Prior to the erection of the lock and dam at King’s Bluff in Bladen County, 34 miles above Wilmington, the tide undoubtedly extended for considerable distance up the river as the average fall was only two inches to the mile.  The boatmen of the that day timed their departure from Wilmington with the incoming tide.


In the 1800’s, fleets of small sailing vessels came into Wilmington.  They were know as “Corn Crackers”.  They brought corn in large quantities for distribution in the interior of the state, through Fayetteville.


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