The Big Book of the Cape Fear River
by Claude V. Jackson III
Edited by Jack E. Fryer, Jr
400 Years of History … Found!
In 1993 and 1994, the Underwater Archaeology Unit of the N.C. Department of Archives & History joined with the US. Army Corp of Engineers to conduct a historical survey of the Cape Fear River.
The scientist and historians involved were making a concerted effort to locate and identify hundreds of historically relevant sites along North Carolina’s only river with direct access to Atlantic Ocean.
The river’s history is impressive. From the days of the Spanish explorers, to hardy settlers from England, Barbados and New England, to the great planters, shipbuilders, soldiers and civilians whose lives and work forged the Cape Fear’s identity, the roughly thirty-eight mile stretch from Old Inlet to just above Wilmington has seen some of North Carolina’s richest history.
Originally published for use within the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources in 1996, this book is one of the most comprehensive reference books about the lower Cape Fear’s four centuries of great history compiled in modern times.
Paperback: 419 pages
Publisher: Dram Tree Books
P.O Box 7183, Wilmington, NC 28406
Original Publication: 1996
1st Edited edition: 2008
Second Printing: 2014
The Big Book of the Cape Fear River
This is a truly remarkable work, a shining example of tax dollars well spent. I first came across this report on the places where history happened on the Cape Fear River in the office of Mary Strickland at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Southport a few years ago. I was immediately struck by the gold mine of information about the history of the Cape Fear region it encompassed. Plantations, forts, ferries, shipwrecks, lighthouses, explorers, settlements towns, shipyards and more — I decided immediately that I had to have a copy of my own.
Unfortunately, the report was originally intended just for use within the history and historic preservation bodies of the state and federal governments. In fact, only a very few copies of the report were printed in 1996, and not many of those existed any more due to shoddy workmanship at the state prison bindery where they put the report together. Still, in the years since it first appeared, others have seen glimpses of the report and found themselves wanting a copy of their own, just as I did.
I began trying to track down who owned the rights to the report, and eventually the trail led to the Underwater Archaeology Unit of the N .C. Department of Archives & History at Fort Fisher, where director Richard Lawrence found himself fielding gobs of phone calls from people who also wanted to get a copy of the report. Unfortunately, there were none to offer them.
I approached Richard about publishing the report as a commercial book, providing the eager masses of Cape Fear history buffs with a version of the report that would satisfy their cravings and see the original report enhanced with additional maps and photographs, as well as guarantee its longevity for future readers. It took two years to get the necessary permissions, but we finally did get them.
What you are now holding in your hands is the result of an exhaustive search by the State of North Carolina and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to identify every historic site, structure and place on the Cape Fear River, from its mouth at Old Inlet to just above modern Wilmington. It took two years to gather the information and publish the original report. It took twelve more years to see this version, polished up for local history fans and general readers, come into being. I hope you enjoy it, because it is without a doubt one of the best resources available for those interested in the history of the Cape Fear Region of North Carolina.
In this second publicly offered edition, there are some changes from the original incarnation. First and most obviously, there are many more illustrations. We’ve added hundreds of new pictures of the people, places and things discussed in the ext. Hopefully this enhances the great information the book contains. We’ve also added more than fifty historical maps of the Cape Fear region dating from the sixteenth century up through the early to mid-twentieth century – many of them used in compiling the information the book contains – for the same reason.
Finally, there are a few more thanks to be extended. There were difficulties in preparing this book that required extra effort to overcome. The biggest was that the original disks containing the text were either so old no one could find a computer that could open them, or they had been lost outright over the years since the report was first published in 1996.
That meant going back and re-typing every single page of text – a tedious task at best. I have to thank Teresa Bohrer, Ann Wingo, and most of all, Arlene Fryar for their efforts to produce a workable version of the text that I could use to build the book you hold now. Thanks also go out to Beverly Tetterton and the staff of the New Hanover County Public Library for their always superb efforts to help with projects that contribute to the knowledge of the Cape Fear’s wonderful past. As well, Mary Strickland and Jim McKee at the NC. Maritime Museum at Southport contributed help in tracking down many of the images used in the book. Lastly, thanks to Richard Lawrence for his enthusiastic support for the idea of bringing this book out for the general public. Without him it would not exist.
Jack E. Fryar, Jr. 01 May 2008