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Journal of a Lady of Quality
Appendices: - VI. Wilmington


THE beginnings of Wilmington are to be found in John Watson's grant of 640 acres, Michael Higgins's and Joshua Grainger's purchase of fifty of these acres, and James Wimble's purchase of the remainder at the forks of the Cape Year about 1733 (Wilmington Town Records, pp. 3-4). There were altogether seven grants upon which the modern Wilmington rests and at first separate names seem to have been given by the grantees to some of their particular tracts. The earliest settlement was called New Liverpool, probably because of Liverpool merchants, Dunbiben, Jenkins, Blundell, and Marsden, for example, who resided there, but in 1733 the name "New Carthage" appears, which was probably nothing more than a paper name for the James Wimble tract lying in the southern section (Register's Office, Conveyances, AB, 6; C, 196-196A). Later the whole area was called New Town or Newton. This name is met with as early as March, 1735, but New Liverpool continued in occasional use until toward the end of 1736. In 1740, the name Wilmington, already in use for four years, was formally adopted out of compliment to Spencer Compton, Viscount Pevensey arid Earl of Wilmington, Governor Johnston's patron, and the village of Newton become the town of Wilmington.

John Watson, Joshua Grainger, Michael Higgins ("innholder," "victualer," "tavern keeper," and "merchant," as he is variously called), and James Wimble ("mariner, late of Newton, now of Boston," 1737) were the chief owners of the land on which Wilmington now stands, and in April, 1733, they joined in laying out the town after a plan similar to that of Brunswick. Half-acre lots were sold on condition that the purchaser build "a tenementable house," 16 by 12, within two years after date of sale and pay a quit-rent. Before the end of 1736, Market Street, Front Street, Dock Street, Mulberry Street, Chestnut Street, Red Cross Street, King Street, Queen Street, and Nun [ns] Street were already in existence. Settlers came from England, Scotland, New England, Brunswick, the Albemarle, and the Channel Islands, and the town grew rapidly. The inhabitants were mostly mariners, artisans, merchants, innkeepers, with a physician or two and a clergyman. Unlike Brunswick it had at first few residents who combined the pleasures of town and country and who possessed, in addition to their houses in town, plantations along the banks of the Cape Fear. Though in 1765 it contained less than eight hundred people, it had been for some years dubbed "our metropolis" (South Carolina Gazette, Sept. 23, 1748), and before Miss Schaw's arrival had become the leading town in the province.

Wilmington's rapid advance to this position of prominence was due less to Governor Johnston's efforts than to the natural advantages of its location. Brunswick was too near the mouth of the river and as a port was too open to the sea. The Situation exposed it to storm and the attacks of pirates and rendered it dangerous as a mooring ground for rafts of lumber and lighters of naval stores which were the leading staples of that part of the province. It had no adequate back-country as an area of supply, was not readily accessible from the north, for the river at that point was too wide for easy and rapid ferriage, and in general was too remote from the other main thoroughfares of the province. Wilmington, on the other hand, had a secure and sheltered harbor, of fresh water free from the sea- worms which destroyed ships lying in salt water, was readily reached from other ports of the province, and fitted in admirably with the demands of the postal system, which after 1740 was extended southward from Virginia. Peter du Bois wrote of it in 1757, "I have not yet had time to take a minute survey of this town, but from what 1 have yet seen it has greatly the preference in my esteem to New Bern. I confess the spot on which its built is not so level nor of so good a soil, but the regularity of the streets are [sic] equal to those of Philadelp[hi]a and the buildings in general very good. Many of brick, two and three stores high with double piazas, wch make a good appeara[nce]" (Hayes Collection).

Wilmington was a town under commissioners elected by the freeholders until 1760, when by royal charter under the provincial seal, dated Brunswick, February 25, 1760, and signed Arthur Dobbs (Borough Records, pp. 92-97, and at the end), it was erected into a borough. Town government and borough government continued side by side, the liberties and precincts of the latter including Eagles Island and an area stretching two and a half miles on all sides from the court house. It was given the usual powers of a borough—a mayor's Court, markets, fairs, and a court of piepowder. Its government consisted of a mayor, a recorder, and eleven aldermen, and these with the freeholders constituted the Common Council, which made by-laws. The earliest mayors (each dubbed "His Worshipful") were John Sampson, Frederick Gregg, Caleb Mason (who declined the office), and Moses John DeRosset; the earliest recorders were Marmaduke Jones and William Hooper, the latter a graduate of Harvard. In 1766 Cornelius Harnett was chosen to represent the borough in the provincial assembly (ib., pp. 99, 103, 107, 127, 128).

'Flie "regularity" of which Du Bois speaks was due to design. There appear to have been three consecutive plans for laying out the town that of Higgins ci al., already mentioned; that of Michael Higginbotham ("late of Newton, mariner," 1737) ; and that of Jeremiah Vail, who in 1743 was employed to resurvey the town and draft a plan. This plan, mentioned in the Wilmington Act of November 30, 1745 (N. C. Slate Records, XXIII, 234-237), was accepted as official by a final Wilmington Act of 1754 (ib., XXV, 237-263), and, with slight changes and allowances for increase of territory, remains the official plan for the present city.

The town was built on uneven ground, rising from the lowest level at the river end of Market Street, where were the wharves and the town house (under which was the town market), east and south to lands higher than they are today, constituting in the main the residence districts. The "hills," as Miss Schaw calls them, were the elevatioris toward Third or Broad Street, in one direction, and the "Boundary," now Wooster Street, in the other. There were few houses beyond these points, which lay in a sense outside the town proper. Even Third Street is represented on Sauthier's plan of 1769 as little more than a country road, but in the five or six years before Miss Schaw's arrival, it had become a residence street. Near the Market Street corner, on the east side, was Mrs. Heron's house, with piazza, brick cellar, and steps on the street; across Market Street, below the jail, were the houses and lots of Duncan and Dry, and farther down, the house of George Parker. Dr. Tucker occupied a shop on Front Street; Dr. Cobham's house, with piazza and steps, was between Princess and Chestnut streets; and the house in which Rutherfurd lived until he removed to "Bowland" may have been that lying west of William Dry's, "above the Market Flouse," which he transferred to Ancrum & Schaw in 1768 and finally gave up to Murray of Philiphaugh in 1772 (Register's Office, Conveyances, F, ii). The matter is, however, rendered uncertain by the fact that he and his wife sold some Wilmington property before buying "Bowland" (lb., E, i), and this property may have included their dwelling house.

Wilmington had at this time a public whipping post, a ducking stool, a burying ground which lay to the rear of Mrs. Heron's property on Third Street, and two water engines or fire engines with hose, the first of which was bought by Captain Benjamin Heron in 1756 through his brother in England (Alexander Duncan serving as keeper in 1759, for which two of his family were exempted from working on the streets); and the second purchased in Philadelphia by Ancrum & Schaw in 1772 (Wilmington Town Records, pp. 34, 41, 56, 64, 68, 73, 159, 163, 179).


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