Pre-Colonial through Revolutionary Cape Fear
Story by Lois Carol Wheatley. Photo by Lynn Seldon.
Back when incredibly large and extremely frightening creatures roamed the earth, the Giant Ground Sloth staked its claim to this geographic vicinity. A reconstructed skeleton of this massive creature guards the entrance of the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science on downtown Market Street, terrorizing small children with its hulking stature and menacing stance. This fellow is the first known inhabitant of Wilmington, believed to have lived up to maybe 1.5 million years ago just off Randall Parkway—not far from the mall.
When humans moved in, they were no better than the sloths about writing things down. So we don't know much about the Cape Fear Indians, except that they were possibly Sioux and that one of their encampments is still a campground, Carolina Beach State Park. A single Indian who, it is believed, may have been miffed about an earlier transaction involving a basket of acorns, allegedly ambushed William Hilton's expedition of 1662 along the banks of the Cape Fear River. That incident gave rise to tensions that mounted to a fevered pitch over the next half century.
The Indian name for this area was Chicora and one of their villages, Necoes, was on the far side of the river, 20 miles north of the mouth of the Cape Fear River in Brunswick County. A colonial census in 1715 recorded 206 citizens.
During that same year, Maurice Moore, one of the founders of Brunswick Town, was leading yet another expedition when he learned of an alleged ambush plot. Very cleverly he sidestepped the trap, tracked down the perpetrators and wiped out the whole tribe. At least that's one version of the story. It's a little hard to believe he cut down one widely dispersed, generally nomadic tribe with one single but extremely harsh blow.
Some believe what little was left of the Indians went the way of the sloths, disappearing mysteriously, perhaps migrating to other regions, and possibly dying of the diseases the white settlers brought ashore. Which could cast a whole new light on what killed the sloths. But let's move on to the stuff that actually has been written down and leave the guessing around to the professionals.