Local historians claim the Revolutionary War would have broken out here instead of Boston if the Southerners hadn't been quite so laid back. Well, compared to those hot-headed Bostonians.
In 1765 Wilmington was in fact spoiling for a fight. In opposition to the Stamp Act, 500 men—the Sons of Liberty—gathered near the waterfront to burn Lord Bute in effigy and force the stamp collector to resign. When the British ship showed up to collect its due, the Southerners merely loitered, in streets, public houses and on the docks, waiting around to see what would happen. As opposed to throwing a bunch of tea in the harbor.
And yet the first skirmish of the Revolutionary War happened near here, in the form of some preliminary gun play in rural Pender County, at a site now owned and operated by the National Park Service as Moores Creek National Battlefield.
On this hallowed ground, February 27, 1776, a small group of British loyalists (mostly Highland Scots) shouted, "King George and Broadswords!" and rushed over a partially dismantled bridge toward what they hoped would be an even smaller group of patriots. They were sadly mistaken. Finding themselves severely outmanned and outgunned, the loyalists—those that survived—surrendered all their horses, wagons, weapons and British sterling over the next few days of wholesale slaughter.
The incident put the British on notice that their exploitation of the Carolina colony was no longer viewed in a favorable light, and that come July 4, 1776, this would be one of 13 colonies standing shoulder to shoulder to march into the fray. North Carolina was, in fact, the first state to vote for independence.
The park today consists of 88 acres of history and nature, with remnants of the colonial road traveled by the clashing forces, an old bridge from the same time frame, and a seven-mile trail with wayside exhibits. It has a visitors center, lighted troop movement maps, a film and a picnic area.
The battle is commemorated annually during the last full weekend of February, with encampments, weapon demonstrations, colonial and military music, and a wreath-laying ceremony. On summer weekends ranger walks and talks are conducted, and special guided group tours may be arranged by calling 910-283-5591.