Old Brunswick County Jail
Southport is home to many
historic structures, including
the old jail which is now open
to the public.
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Southport Area Historic Sites, North Carolina
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Southport Area Historic Sites, North Carolina
Southport, North Carolina
The historic and charming city of Southport looks out
over North Carolina's famed Cape Fear RIver.
Southport traces its origin to Colonial days.
Pirates and Privateers
Even before the first settlers
arrived, the Southport area
was the haunt of infamous
pirates like Blackbeard and
Stede Bonnet.
Old Smithville Cemetery
Used as a burial place as far
back as the 1700s, the old
cemetery traces the history of
North Carolina Maritime
Museum in Southport
The museum traces the
maritime history of the
community and the lower
Cape Fear River and is an
outstanding place to learn
about the history of the area.
Southport, North Carolina - Historic Sites & Points of Interest
Historic City of the Cape Fear
Overlooking the beautiful Cape Fear River,
the historic city of Southport stands almost
within hearing of the breaker's of North
Carolina's fabled Atlantic Coast.

The charming old Southern city served as the
setting for the movie "Crimes of the Heart," in
which it doubled as an Old South town in
Mississippi. Several other movies have also
been filmed in the picturesque community
that traces its roots to before the American

As late as 1745, the British had built no forts
to defend the Cape Fear region from enemy
attack. Things changed that year when work
began on Fort Johnston, an important post
that served both to defend settlements up the
river and as a quarantine station for ships
and sailors coming into port. A community of
fishermen, pilots and traders slowly grew
around the fort, marking the earliest days of
what is now known as Southport.

To the shock of North Carolina's Royal
Governor, the Cape Fear region proved to be
in strong support of the independence
movement that swept through the American
colonies following the Battles of Lexington
and Concord in Massachusetts. Forced to
take refuge on a warship in the Cape Fear
River during the earliest days of the American
Revolution, Governor Josiah Martin watched
as a band of patriots raided and burned Fort
Johnston. The action, which took place on
July 18, 1775, was one of the earliest of the
Revolutionary War.

The destruction of Fort Johnston, however,
did not mark the end of Southport. Because
of the twisting and dangerous channel of the
Cape Fear, the need for river pilots was great
and this created a need for a permanent
community. In 1792, the town of Smithville
was incorporated at today's Southport.

Named for
Governor Benjamin Smith, a hero
of the American Revolution, the town was
named the county seat of Brunswick County,
an honor it would retain until 1975.

The town survived the War of 1812 and in
1816 the U.S. Army completed work on a new
Fort Johnston that would serve to protect the
lower Cape Fear for the next 20 years. It was
eventually replaced by
Fort Caswell on Oak
Island, but Smithville continued to thrive.

After President Abraham Lincoln refused to
order the evacuation of Fort Sumter in South
Carolina, prompting Confederate forces to
bombard the fort into submission, Governor
John W. Ellis ordered state forces to occupy
Fort Johnston and nearby Fort Caswell. This
marked the beginning of the city's history as
a major port for blockade runners making
their way into and out of the mouth of the
Cape Fear River.
Confederate engineers quickly turned the
lower Cape Fear into one of the most heavily
fortified areas in the South. Fort Fisher was
built on Federal (Confederate) Point and
strong forts and batteries went up around
Smithville, on Baldhead Island and up and
down the lower river.

These kept Union invaders out of the Cape
Fear River until Fort Fisher fell to a massive
land and sea attack on January 15, 1865.
The battle effectively closed the lower river
and led to the evacuation of Fort Caswell,
Smithville (Southport) and most of the other
defenses in the area.

Smithville rebounded after the war and its
name was changed to Southport in 1887. It
lost the title of county seat in 1975, but
retained its beautiful historic charm and
appeal. By the 1980s, the city had emerged
as a popular setting for filmmakers. It also is
noted as the hometown of famed author
Robert Ruark.

Southport today is a beautiful coast city that is
a major attraction for visitors on its own, but
is also known as the gateway to Bald Head
Island and the lower coast of North Carolina.
Photos by Heather LaBone
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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