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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Pender County - Rich in History

Posted February 7, 2008 9:32 a.m. EST
Updated February 7, 2008 9:35 a.m. EST

It contains two of the most mispronounced names in North Carolina: Topsail and Burgaw.

It also boasts some of the Old North State’s richest history.

Our 100 County Tour today takes us just north of Wilmington along the coast.

You could call Pender a county of warriors. Pender sent a stout wave of Patriots to Moore’s Creek to crush the Scottish Highlanders in the Revolutionary War. Pender County also sent 4,000 soldiers to battle in the Civil War including namesake William Pender, the youngest general in the Confederacy.

The colorful history also includes Topsail Beach where pirates used to hide in a  channel and ambush merchant ships in the 1700’s. Finally, merchant ship captains grew wise and avoided plunder by spotting the tops of the pirate sails in the distance. That is how the island and beach took its name.

Did you know that the US Navy took over Topsail Island during World War II in a joint venture with Johns Hopkins University called Operation Bumblebee?
Rockets and launchers were assembled and stored on the sound side of the island in what was the infancy of America’s space program. Remnants of Bumblebee remain on the island today.

Many outsiders over-pronounce Topsail. It should never be TOP SALE. It is simply TOP-sul with the accent on the first syllable.

My question for you is: How do you pronounce the county seat of Pender? Is it BURR-gaw or burr-GAW? I have heard both with people vehemently defending each pronunciation. Let us settle this once and for all. We will let natives decide.

And what about Surf City? Don’t you love that name? I love their motto: “Big enough to be competitive but small enough to be happy.”

By the way, ajstarrn wins the Duke-UNC contest by coming closest to predicting the final score in round one of The Battle of the Blues. Congratulations. Please email me at bleslie@wral.com to pick and claim your prize.