This small quaint seaport has roots back to April 7, 1730 when Isaac and Jonathan Green Sr. purchased from Ebenezer Harker "a certain plantation and track of land containing by estimation 441 acres situate lying and being in ye Carterett in ye county of province of aforsaid being ye west side of ye mouth off White Oak River." By 1771 Theophilus Weeks started a town on his plantation, laying out a plat and selling lots. Formerly known as Bogue, Week's Point, The Wharf and New Town, the town was officially designated by the North Carolina General Assembly on May 6, 1783. Above photo (from North Carolina State Archives) courtesy Jack Dudley, as included in Swansboro - A Pictorial Tribute

OTWAY BURNS - Shipbuilder and Privateer

A Brief Biographical Sketch of the Life and Exploits of Captain Otway Burns, Jr. 1785-1850

Captain Otway Burns was born on the west side of the mouth of Queen's Creek (near Swansboro, NC) in 1785. The son of Otway, Sr., and Lisanah Burns, he evidently took to the sea at an early age and soon earned the reputation of a most skillful navigator. Like his father and his grandfather before him, Otway, Jr., was deeply involved in maritime activity at Swansboro. In 1809 Burns married Joanna Grant, daughter of Colonel Reuben Grant, a Swansboro merchant. Owen Burns, the only child of Capt. Otway Burns, was born to this union in 1810, the same year that Burns bought Lot 6 in Swansboro.

At the time that Burns bought Lot 6, it contained a dwelling house on the portion lying between Front and Water streets, and Capt. Burns and his young wife may have resided for a time on that lot. After the War of 1812 and the death of Joanna, about 1813 Burns moved to Beaufort, opened a shipyard, married Jane Hall and built a house on Front Street; here he resided for 22 years.  
It was his role in the War of 1812 that won Burns his fame and made him Onslow County's most famous native son and the most important figure ever associated with the maritime history of Swansboro. Prior to the War of 1812, Burns was a sailing master operating out of Swansboro, Beaufort, and New Bern, and plying the coastwise trade with such northern ports as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Portland. When the War of 1812 broke out, Burns came to the aid of his country by operating a privateer vessel to prey on British ships and commerce.
by Jim Goodwin
Photograph by Philip Howard - Village Craftsmen of Ocracoke

In partnership with Col. Edward Pasteur and the other owners of the SNAP DRAGON, most of whom were of New Bern, Burns carried the privateer schooner on three of the most successful voyages ever made by an American privateer. His extraordinary bravery, ingenuity, skill, and heroic exploits made Captain Otway Burns a legend in his own time and North Carolina's most famous naval hero of the War of 1812. Throughout the war the United States had only a token and woefully ineffective navy. The country was forced to rely on the help of private-armed vessels like the SNAP DRAGON, whose entrance into the war was applauded as a great act of patriotism. When our "Second War of Independence" was over, Burns had captured not only a staggering number of enemy vessels and valuable cargoes but had captured the esteem and admiration of his fellow countrymen.

Following the war, the enterprising Captain Burns returned to his old trade of shipbuilding and eventually at Beaufort tried his hand at storekeeping, salt making, brick making, and investing in the Clubfoot and Harlowe Creek Canal Company. A Democrat in politics, Burns represented Carteret County in the General Assembly from 1821 through 1835. In the latter year, however, Burns' sense of fairness cost him his political future. The eastern counties controlled the legislature because the western counties were not granted fair representation in the General Assembly. When the Assembly in 1835 voted on the matter of calling a special state constitutional convention to consider, among other things, increasing the representation of the western counties, Burns maintained that the westerners should be entitled to fair representation and therefore voted in favor of calling the special convention. His eastern constituents never forgave Burns for casting the deciding vote in favor of the special convention, with the result that Burns was never re-elected to the Assembly. But one of the western counties -Yancey County-named its county seat Burnsville in honor of Captain Burns and in gratitude for his fairness as a statesman.

In 1836, President Andrew Jackson, himself a hero of the War of 1812, appointed Burns keeper of the Brant Shoals Light-House at Portsmouth. Burns died at Portsmouth on October 25, 1850. He is buried in the Old Burying Ground in Beaufort.

Today Swansboro's most famous son has two NC towns named in his honor - Burnsville in Yancey County, and Otway in Carteret County. And as of May 6,1983, North Carolina has two statues of Captain Otway Burns - one at Burnsville atop the mountains, and one at Swansboro in sight of the sea.

Otway Burns' Beaufort shipyard was know for quality and workmanship of the vessels that were built there. His most well-known ship was Prometheus, one of the first steam ships to sail in North Carolina. 

His shipyard in Beaufort also built Snap Dragon,a personal vessel for himself, named perhaps out of admiration and affection for former SNAP DRAGON; this small fast ship used two masts and a “center-board” steering control, believed to be the first of its kind built. This innovation introduced by Burns gave way to a new medium in ship building for his state. This is an example of just one of the little known contributions that Captain Otway Burns gave to the State of North Carolina.

Otway Burns built two large vessels--the Warrior in 1823 and the Henry in 1831. These vessels were used to carry cargo from North Carolina to various ports, to include as far away as South Africa and the West Indies. After building the last of the two Brigs, little is known about additional construction at the shipyard. - Jack Robinson

In the late 1820s, Burns competed with Dr. James Manney in supplying brick for building Ft. Macon. After Jane’s death, he married another Jane - Jane Smith of Smyrna, N.C. in 1842 and moved to Portsmouth. He died there and was brought by sharpie to Beaufort for burial. The Old Burying Ground cannon monument was erected by Burns' descendants. The unveiling took place July 24, 1901. Chief Justice Walter Clark was orator. The cannon had been used as a marker to indicate the dividing line between Old & New Town; a new marker was erected in place of the cannon – evidently by the Burns family; May 5, 1901--"...Harry C. Fardy of Baltimore writes me he has forwarded the monument to Beaufort, N.C. to mark the spot where the cannon had been before placing it on the granite or marble tomb of Capt. Otway Burns, my grandfather."  

Old Burying Ground - Beaufort, North Carolina
From the Collier Cobbs photo album, circa 1898, courtesy of the North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Images and information from : Yancey County, NC (much contributed by Romie Burns, great grandson of Captain Otway Burns) and author/historian Jack Robinson