Brunswick Town, Southport, and Oak Island in a Day: Part 1

Archaeological find from Native Americans found on the site during the excavation of Brunswick Town.

I’m an ambitious traveler. Rest? Eh, plenty of time for that later. I love nothing more than to jam in as many sites, sounds, food and adventure in one trip as possible. Day trips are no exception. In the South, we’re fortunate to have a myriad of weather conditions throughout the winter. Love it cold? We’ve got you covered. Prefer it warm? We’ve got that too. Sometimes it makes for a bit of confusion, especially for the birds and blooms, and for figuring out what to wear, but it’s oh-so wonderful to break up the cold with spring-like temperatures in winter.

So what do you get when you’re off work, it’s 70 degrees, and sunny? A road trip of course!

The remains of St. Philip’s Church in Brunswick Town, NC.

Brunswick Town

First up on the day tripping journey was old Brunswick Town along the Cape Fear River. This place is old. Older than acid washed, pegged jeans with Keds and layered slouch socks. Old as in pre-Revolutionary War old.

Primitive tools, as well as replicas of tools, made by native Cape Fear Indians.

Well before colonists founded Brunswick Town, native tribes inhabited the area. Eventually, colonists arrived on the scene and began constructing the town. As with many North Carolina towns in this British colony, Brunswick was named after the royal family, in this case it was named after the birthplace of George I, the King of England.

A vital shipping port, Brunswick grew to prominence due to products called naval stores, or naval products made from pine sap. This was a huge industry resulting from the abundance of long leaf pines found in North Carolina and much of the south.

Common items left by colonists and found during excavations on the site.

Brunswick Town was a major port on the Cape Fear until it was destroyed by the British in 1776. The townspeople never rebuilt the town after it was leveled during the Revolutionary War.

Today it is easy to catch some rays while the gentle breezes wash over you. You can almost imagine what the street and homes looked like as you stroll past old foundations towards the river.

St. Philip’s Anglican Church, which was destroyed by the British in 1776, remains on the site today.

While the town was not reconstructed, a fort was eventually built during the Civil War on top of the old town. Today, the remnants of Brunswick Town includes foundations of old houses and large earthen mounds constructed for defense of Fort Anderson.

The fort was constructed as part of the defense of the Cape Fear and the important Confederate town of Wilmington further up the river. Large cannons provided cover for Confederate blockade runners, which were essential for supplying the Confederacy.

A cannon and munitions are on display in the Visitor Center.

The Union Army attacked Fort Fisher in February 1865, and then turned its sites on Fort Anderson. Ironically, the Confederate soldiers stationed there escaped under the cover of darkness and Union Naval forces ended up firing on Union land forces attacking the fort by land.

In a short time thereafter, the Union took the City of Wilmington.

I wish I could remember what the was a replica of…I think it was the office of the port master.

In the mid 20th century, archeologists began excavating the site of these two important times in US history. When you arrive at the visitor center the first thing that greets you is the partial structure of St. Philip’s Anglican Church and large cannons perched in front of the earthen berms of Fort Anderson. Large trees covered in Spanish moss sway gently in the breeze.

A memorial to Colonel Maurice Moore, founder of the town of Brunswick, in St. Philip’s Anglican Church.

Although small, the visitor center covers the entire history of the site from early native Americans to the fall of Fort Anderson. Historical objects fill the display cases and tell the story of this old town. A large, colorful mural by Claude Howell and his assistant Catherine Hendrickson greets you as you walk in the center. The mosaic, made from small, vibrant glass tiles, portrays the Spanish attack on Brunswick Town in 1748. Also on display with the mosaic mural is a large cannon recovered from the Cape Fear.

Mosaic in the Brunswick Town Visitor Center: Spanish Attack on Brunswick by Claude Howell

The Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson North Carolina Historic Site is free to the public. The visitor center is skillfully done and very informative. I should have taken notes! There are many beautiful artifacts on display, each giving you a little slice of North Carolina history dating back centuries. Although it’s free, please consider a donation to the site to help offset costs for maintenance and to keep this site open to the public.

Up next: Brunswick Town, Southport, and Oak Island in a Day: Part 2. Stay tuned!