New Bern NC History
Elizabeth I granted a charter to Sir Walter Raleigh for land in
present-day North Carolina. Raleigh established two colonies on the coast in
the late 1580s, both eventually ending in failure. It was the second American territory
located on Roanoke Island that the British attempted to colonize. The first English child born in the
United States was Virginia Dare. She was was born on Roanoke Island August
Roanoke Island is located in the Croatan Sound which is in
northeastern North Carolina. John White, the settlements leader, and
grandfather of Virginia Dare, returned to England to
purchase much needed supplies for the Colony. Due to an impending attack of
England by Spain he was unable to return for nearly 3 years. When he finally returned the colony
had vanished. The Lost Colony remains one of the great
mysteries of American history and is unsolved to this day.
A "Carolina Charter" was issued by King Charles II after he
was restored to the throne in 1660 granting his loyal supporters and
drinking buddies, The Lords Proprietor, wide areas of land in the New World.
The Carolina Charter spread from Virginia to the Spanish border of Florida.
The name Carolina came from "Carolus,"the Latin word for Charles.
William, Earl of Craven, was one of the original Lords Proprietor,
and Craven County bears his name.
Early settlement of Eastern North Carolina
The first Europeans to explore and inhabit the New Bern
south as early as 1690 from Virginia and the Albemarle region of North Eastern N.C. Although few in numbers, they managed to survive in the areas now known as
Pamlico County, Carteret County, and Craven County. They were undoubtedly
rugged individuals who able to survive by utilizing the local rivers for
transportation and fishing. Hunting the
bountiful deer and other game native to the area provided early settlers
with much needed food.
John Lawson- Adventurer-Naturalist
John Lawson, pictured above, was a
English explorer, naturalist, and writer. He was instrumental in the
exploration and eventual settlement of New Bern, NC.
In 1700, a London botanist and pharmacist, James Petiver, published a notice
seeking someone to collect American specimens for him, and Lawson
volunteered to do this without charge. Lawson proved to be an unusually keen
naturalist. Thirty of the specimens that Lawson sent back to Petiver still
survive in the Sloane collection at the British Museum.
On May 1, 1700, Lawson was granted free passage on a ship headed for New
York. In August he set sail for Charles Town (now Charleston, S.C.). On Dec.
28th he led a small expedition that consisted of five Englishmen and 4
native American Indians on a 550 mile journey that ended on 24 Feb.,1701 at
the Pamlico River in North Carolina. Lawson took many detailed notes describing the wildlife,
vegetation, and the many different Indian Tribes he met along the way. His journey ended
near the mouth of the Pamlico River, just north of New Bern, where he
decided to settle and work as a land surveyor.
After remaining briefly along
the Pamlico, Lawson built a house on some high ground near a creek, still
known as Lawson Creek, about half a mile from the Indian town of Chattoka,
now know as New Bern. Chattoka means "where the fish are taken out".
In 1705 he was appointed deputy surveyor for the Lords Proprietor of
In 1709 Lawson returned to London to oversee
the publication of a book he had written about his
adventures in Carolina. The
book, A New Voyage to Carolina, was widely published and read throughout Europe
resulting in many Europeans becoming interested in the land
known as Carolina. He also was instrumental in helping Von Graffenreid organize a group of
Palatine Germans and Swiss to settle in Carolina. Lawson returned
to the new world with Von Graffinreid in 1710 and settled in
the area now known as New Bern.
In September, 1711 Lawson and Christopher
von Graffenreid were captured by
Tuscarora Indians while exploring the Neuse River. They
released Von Graffenreid but tortured and killed Lawson.
Shortly thereafter, tensions between Indians and settlers
erupted into a bloody conflict known as the Tuscarora War.
Christoph Von Graffenreid(1661-1743) was born
in the canton of Bern Switzerland. Von Graffenreid studied at
the Universities of Heidelberg and Leyden. When he was 41 years he
became acquainted with the explorer-adventurer Franz Ludwig Michel
who persuaded him to join and invest in the Georg Ritter Company, a
venture that proposed to mine American silver deposits and to settle
indigent Swiss in America. Graffenried's
influence appears to have overshadowed that of Ritter and under his
leadership the company broadened its plans to settle the colonists
in the Province of Carolina and to include among the settler's
many of the distressed victims of the War of the Spanish Succession,
the "poor Palatines" whom the English had transported from the
devastated Rhineland to refugee camps on the Thames River. For more
information on the incredible Palatines,
The Ritter company purchased from the Lords Proprietors nearly 19,000
acres of land on the Neuse and Trent rivers. Graffenreid departed England in 1710 with
150 Swiss passengers and 650 Palatines. Among the passengers was
John Lawson who had promised to show them the way to land that would
be suited to begin their new colony. On the way over they were
attacked by French pirate's who stole many of their needed supplies.
Many of the Palatines died of disease crossing the ocean. The new
settlement called New Bern was hampered from the start due to poor planning,
inadequate capital, yellow fever and dubious leadership. Graffenreid ran into
financial problems and was forced to sell most of his land to Col.
Thomas Pollock, a wealthy landowner and future Governor of North Carolina
September of 1711 Tuscarora Indians, fed up with the treatment they had
received from the white men attacked the settlement and destroyed
crops, houses, and livestock and killed sixty some English settlers and as
many Swiss and Palatines. The attacks continued and eventually forced the
colonist to abandon the site at New Bern and build a fortified settlement
about 20 miles west of New Bern. Col. John Barnwell of South Carolina was
ordered to lead a small army of soldiers and friendly
Indians to the aid of the colonist. Together he and later Col. James Moore
managed to defeat the Tuscaroras and forced many of them to leave and
relocate to New York. Unfortunately, a neighboring tribe, the Coree,
continued attacking New Bern until 1718. The continued attacks eventually
forced most of the settlers to abandon New Bern and the area remained virtually
uninhabited until the late 1720's.
Colonial New Bern
Col. Pollock, having purchased most of Graffinreid's land
holdings in 1711 including all of New Bern, started selling lots in New Bern in 1720. Settlers slowly
started to move back into town. At this time the only parts of North
Carolina that were populated to any degree were the coastal regions, primarily to the
south around the Cape Fear River (Wilmington) and to the north around the Albemarle Sound. New
Bern being centrally located between the two larger regions, became one of
meeting places for the colonial assembly in 1737.
In 1754 Governor Dobbs
established his residence in New Bern and all sessions of the assembly were
held in New Bern during his 4 year stay. This acted as a stimulus for trade
and commerce and a boom in building. Governor Dobbs moved to Wilmington
after 4 years and with him moved the assembly.
The Colonial Assembly passed an act
in 1749 to appoint a public printer. James Davis came down from Virginia to
take the job. In 1751, Davis began printing the North Carolina Gazette, the
first newspaper to be printed in the colony. The presence of the newspaper
did much to enhance the reputation of New Bern as a growing town, and Davis
argued frequently that New Bern should be declared the capital of the
The year 1765 proved to be an important one for New Bern.
Governor Dobbs died, and his replacement Governor William Tryon, found New
Bern to be conveniently located and had legislation
passed that year declaring New Bern to be the permanent capital of the
Money was appropriated for the construction of combined capital and
governors mansion. Started in 1767 and completed in 1770 this building was
one of the finest structures in all of the colonies. New Bern was quickly
becoming an important port and trade center. The bulk of the trade activity
was directed towards exporting the various natural resources of the region,
including timber, navel stores, and agriculture.
New Bern during the Revolutionary War
Although not actively involved in the Revolutionary War the
town did make a contribution by way of local privateers whose vessels
raided and harassed British ships throughout the Carolina waterways. The
British quietly took New Bern in 1781 but spared it from any major damage.
Mercantile Prosperity (1790-1840)
After the revolution, New Bern was
developed a rich cultural life. In fact, at one time New Bern was
called " The Athens of the South. " Even though the capital was moved
to Raleigh in 1792 it did not curb the growth in New Bern. By 1800 New Bern was by far the largest town in North
Carolina. Growth continued during the first two decades of the
nineteenth century but at a slower pace than was experienced in the
past four decades. Commerce and growth in New Bern came to an abrupt halt around
Trading activity was diminishing as commercial ships started
experiencing difficulty passing through Ocracoke Inlet and the
Pamlico Sound on their journey to New Bern. As a result, by 1840,
Wilmington, with its deeper waterways and recently completed
railroad to Raleigh, had become the state's primarily port.
The Antebellum Years(1840-1862)
The years 1840-1849 brought about a gradual
improvement to New Bern's struggling
economy. The nation's growing appetite for the area's principle
products which included turpentine, navel stores, and lumber, led to
a resurgence in wealth and population.
In the 1850's a plan to link New Bern and Morehead City to
the rest of the state by rail was implemented. The addition of rail transportation increased
industrial growth which continued until the Civil War intervened.
The Civil War years
Because the Battle of New Bern took place several miles away
across the Trent River the town was spared from any major damage. Union
soldiers took up residence in the nicer homes as most of the well to do in
New Bern had
fled before the fighting began.
Click here for more info on the
battle of New Bern. The battle which began March 14, 1862 and only lasted about 4 hours. The
green Rebel forces, out manned 3 to 1
were up against battle tested Yankee's that had superior weapons. Despite
several attempts to retake New Bern, it remained occupied during the rest of
Click here to learn
about the freed Negro's during this period.
The Reconstruction years-(1865-1900)
Compared to many southern towns New Bern fared quite well
during the war. The continuous occupation by the Union troops keep order in
place and enabled the town to recover after the war ended much quicker than many
other towns that suffered both physical and economic damaged.
1870's the lumber industry was quickly becoming New Bern's economic engine.
By 1890 the large breadth of forest land, combined with the Neuse and Trent
Rivers, which were being used for transportation of the logs, enabled New Bern to
become the largest lumber center in North Carolina and one of the largest in
all of the South. During this time as many as 16 lumber mills were running
and employing hundreds of New Bernian's. The competitive nature of the
lumber barons, the abundance of lumber and craftsmen, led to the creation of
some of the finest homes in the south, many of which are still in existence.
The lumber boom was to last until the 1920's. One by one the lumber mills
went out of business and today only Weyerhaeuser and a few other local
businesses manufacture lumber
in the area.
New Bern Today
Today New Bern is a very happening little town. With an
abundance of history, water, golf courses, favorable tax rates,
and a mild climate, retires from all over the nation are moving to the area.
Many of the historic homes and buildings in the downtown
area have been rehabilitated. The many retirees bring
with them special skills in music, arts, theater and
their contributions to the many non profits in the area
Above is a picture of the New Bern
Convention Center. The Neuse and Trent River converge in
downtown and form the widest river in the USA.
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