Old Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson State Historic Site

Location: Wilmington, North Carolina

Webpage: North Carolina State Park

General Description: The town of Brunswick, North Carolina was established in 1725 when Colonel Maurice Moore was granted 1500 acres to establish a colony on the lower Cape Fear River. He, along with his brother Roger Moore, divided over 300 acres of this land into half acre lots to make up the town of Brunswick.  The first lot was sold in 1726 and the town of Brunswick began to grow.  In 1731, Brunswick was made the official Port of Entry for all shipping in the lower Cape Fear area, which meant it controlled all commerce in the region.  The town was owned and operated by Moore and his family, often at odds with the colonial Governors. This came to a head in 1734 when Governor Johnston “encourage” the growth of a new colony just 16 miles upriver, which became Wilmington in 1740.  Even though Governor Johnston moved the courts from Brunswick to Wilmington in 1740, Brunswick continued to proper by being the major port for naval stores from the longleaf pine forests.  Brunswick was also able to entice colonial Governor Dobbs to move to Brunswick in 1758 by giving him a two story mansion named Russellborough which he renamed Castle Dobbs.  When he died in 1758, Governor Tryon bought the property renaming it Castle Tyron, however, New Bern enticed him away from Brunswick with a palatial new home named Tryon Palace.  Brunswick went through a lot of hard times over the years, including a Spanish invasion by two ships in 1748 who came ashore to capture slaves and wreck havoc.  The residents who had fled the town regrouped and led by the Port Collector, William Dry III, retook the town three days later.  The Spanish were driven back to their ships, however, one of the ships caught fire due to a small cannon on shore and sank in the river.  Salvaging the bounty on the ship provided the town with revenue to continue the construction of St. Phillips at Brunswick and St. John in Wilmington.  In February, 1776 the citizens of Brunswick again fled the town when the British landed troops and burned the town.  Some of the homes were rebuilt only to be burned again in 1781.  By 1842 Brunswick was no longer inhabited and it disappeared except for the remains of St. Phillips that still stands today.  In 1862, the Confederates decided to build Fort Anderson on the site of Old Brunswick to aid in the defense of the critical port of Wilmington.  Along with Fort Fisher on the east side of the river, the two forts controlled access to the ports along with a series of torpedoes deployed in the river. The fortifications consisted of two batteries: Battery A along Cape Fear River and Battery B perpendicular to the river extending to the ruins of St. Phillips.  In 1864 it fell to the Union following the capture and Fort Fisher.  The taking of Wilmington by the Union army followed within a few weeks as the Confederate Army retreated.  Today much of Brunswick town that is not under Fort Anderson has been excavated beginning in 1951.  They have discovered numerous artifacts from the Colonial Period when  Brunswick was the shipping center for the lower Cape Fear region.  Some of the foundations from these homes have been left uncovered for visitors to view and enjoy along with the remains for Fort Anderson and St. Phillips church.


1) When we decided to visit the site we came to explore Fort Anderson as we had just been to Fort Fisher earlier in the day.  However, we discovered the history of Old Brunswick which was much more fascinating.  They have done an excellent job in the Visitor Center providing a detailed history of the town and colonial life in a port town, highlighting some of the artifacts found.  The brick remains of St. Phillips were also a surprise since they alone date from the Colonial period and still show signs of their grandeur.  Although Brunswick was a “planned” community, being laid out in half acre lots, it was difficult to envision the layout of the town along the river.  The remaining foundations are only the basements of the original homes and according to the sketches provided of the upper story were only about half of the size of the house.

StPhillips Excavation2 Excavation1

2) Being away from the ocean, Fort Anderson is much better preserved than Fort Fisher.  Nearly all of Battery A and Battery B still exist on the landscape.  Like Fort Fisher, they were constructed by piling sand on top of wooden room for protection and ammunition and do not appear to have weathered much.  The gun emplacements are still obvious in the structure.


3) The excellent museum in the Visitor Center along with the short video about Brunswick and paved walkway around the ruins of both Brunswick and Fort Anderson are an excellent way to spend a couple of hours.  We spent over three hours taking our time exploring the site.  It was well worth the time.  North Carolina should be commended on their efforts and support of all the historic sites we have visited so far.  We look forward to spending more time in the future.


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