Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

New list of old towns

Posted April 26, 2010 10:36 a.m. EDT
Updated April 26, 2010 11:04 a.m. EDT

We have breaking news on a very old topic. What are the 10 oldest towns in N.C.? There have been lots of lists over the years. Today we get the official list from the state.

Research historian Ansley Herring Wegner of the N.C. Office of Archives and History compiled the list. Ansley gleaned her information from colonial and state documents including General Assembly session records. She based her rankings on the dates when the legislature authorized communities to lay out their towns. This is a bit different than incorporation dates. Here's how Ansley explains it:

"The incorporations had to be approved by the royal council and that was only done 7 times in the colonial era. I don’t like to use the term incorporate for that reason — I like to stick with ‘legislative action’ which covers 'authorized to be laid out’ and established.'"

There's never been an argument about the oldest town. Bath was born in 1705 along the Pamlico River. The N.C. Gazetteer lists New Bern as the second oldest town. But Wegner says Edenton beat New Bern by one year according to records kept in the General Assembly.

Here are the 10 oldest towns that still exist in N.C.: (1) Bath (2) Edenton (3) New Bern (4) Beaufort (5) Wilmington (6) Halifax (7) Hertford (8) Nixonton (9) Hillsborough and (10) Tarboro.

Here are the 10 oldest towns, including those that are “municipally defunct,” as researcher Wegner puts it so eloquently:

(1) Bath (2) Edenton (3) New Bern (4) Beaufort (5) Carteret (6) Woodstock (7) Wilmington (8) Johnston (9) Brunswick and (10) Hawns

You’ve probably never heard of Carteret other than the county by that name. The town of Carteret was located on Roanoke Island but it never managed to flourish. Woodstock was located in Hyde County but also never thrived. Johnston in Onslow County was laid out in 1741, but a hurricane wiped out the community in 1752. Brunswick along the Cape Fear River also faded from existence. Hawns was chartered in 1749 but apparently never took shape.

Congratulations to Coopers mom for winning Friday’s contest by getting eight out of ten towns!