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

Early History by Lucy Greene

Carolina . Herman Moll .1729
Detail of Carolina . Moll . Showing "Weetock River"
(Images were not included in this history.)

 Early History by Lucy Greene

Founded in the early 1700's, it existed under the names of Week's Wharf, Bogue and for several years as New Town before it was named in honor of Samuel Swann, Speaker of the Colonial Assembly and official representative of Onslow in the Assembly.

Its honored citizen “was a surveyor by trade and a lawyer of surpassing ability and eloquence,” it is related. He was the editor of Swann's Revival or “Yellow Jacket” and a nephew of Edward Moseley and an uncle of John Ashe.

Although Swann lived in New Hanover County, he represented Onslow in the Assembly for 24 years (1738-1762) and for 22 years was speaker of the House. He is also reported to have been the first surveyor to have crossed the great Dismal Swamp while engaged in locating the dividing line between this state and Virginia.

In 1783, after his retirement, an act was passed by the Assembly of North Carolina officially changing the name of the community to “Swansboro” and at the same time a bill to establish a school there was also passed by that august body.

The White Oak River, on whose banks the community stands, has played a large role not only in the development of Swansboro, but also in the development of both Onslow and Carteret counties whose banks it washes.

It served as a highway of travel and transportation for 200 years before the coming of the railroad and highway transportation, although its entire length from its source in the center of the White Oak Pocosin in northern Onslow County to Bogue Inlet, where it makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean is a mere 50 miles.

Before the coming of the white settlers, Indian settlements were established on each side of the river and the wrath of Hurricane Hazel in 1954 bared the skeleton of one of these early Indian inhabitants on a bed of shells on an island in the White Oak, near Swansboro. Other evidence of their existence there is found in old deeds indicating they had permanent homes. Indian fields, Indian Creek in lower Jones County and Indian Camp Branch, a tributary of Starkey's Creek in Onslow County, are believed to have been part of their large settlement. At Cedar Point, on the east side of the river, are deep beds of shells where the Indians apparently opened oysters and clams for generations, perhaps for centuries.

These tribes along the White Oak joined the Tuscaroras in the massacre of the settlers along the Trent and Neuse Rivers in 1711, and in 1713, when the white settlers began to arrive, they fled their homes.

During these next few years the settlements along White Oak River were under the control of Carteret County. In 1728 a squabble as to the location of roads to be laid out along both sides of the river was taken to Carteret Court and a commission named to settle the differences.

The commission included 12 of the most prominent men of the settlement: Richard Pitts, John Roberts, Samuel Jones, Thomas Houston, John Gillet, Nichols Hunter, Richard Williamson, David Barry, Alexander Grant, Peter Starkey, Robert Harris and Edmond Lowell.

But roads along the White Oak River were not enough for the people on the west side, where Swansboro is now located, and they petitioned for a county of their own. On November 23, 1731, Governor Burrington granted their request and the new county was named in honor of Arthur Onslow, who for more than 31 years was speaker in the House of Commons in the British Parliament.

The new boundary line gave Onslow the entire White Oak River and strong objection was made by Carteret County against it. Thus in the 1735 session of Assembly the dividing line was moved to the center of the river, where it has since remained.

By the outbreak of the Revolutionary War the White Oak section was showing evidence of considerable wealth and industry. The odor of pine tar clung to the wharves where it went forth, together with turpentine and resin from the mighty pine forests, to all corners of the world. Hides, pickled beef and pork were also exported from Bogue Sound but turpentine was one of the earliest mentioned products to bring prosperity to the settlement, being mentioned in county minutes in 1734. Turpentine and tar making continued for over 100 years as one of the chief sources of revenue in the area.

The census of 1860 listed 60 turpentine stills in Onslow and inspectors appointed by the Colonial Assembly for important landings and shipping points regularly checked the wharves at Swansboro to see to it that only properly cured and casked commodities were shipped.

John Starkey was Colonel of the regiment and a great leader in the White Oak Community. Unfortunately he was also a thorn in the flesh of Governor Dobbs in the role of a popular leader in the Assembly and the governor removed him from his militia office in retaliation. He was succeeded as colonel by Stephen Lee.

After the outbreak of the Revolution, White Oak River men did their part in the armies of the Revolution. There were no active Tories on the river and an effort was made to keep the exports and imports moving from the wharves at Swansboro. Beef and pork were salted near the mouth of the river for the American armies.

Following the war the district took on increased activity. River and maritime traffic increased. Naval stores continued to be the prime exports, along with lumber and staves. Later cotton also was loaded at the little “city-by-the-sea.”

The War of 1812-14 had no effect on the river traffic, according to historians, but Onslowans and descendants of some of the White Oak settlers are wont to glory in fact that their forebears formed the crew of the hardy privateer Otway Burns of Queens Creek, who caused considerable discomfort for British shipping.

At the turn of the century Swansboro had been made a port of entry and an admiralty judge and collector of customs appointed. The post office was also established there, in April 1799 and A. Carmalt was the first postmaster. The office was discontinued October 31, 1845, while William P. Ferrand was postmaster, but reestablished February 5, 1846, when Charles H. Barnum was named postmaster.

At the outbreak of the Civil War one of the show-places of the area was Palo Alto Plantation, owned by David W. Sanders, and the entire plantation was given over to the raising of cotton. During a raid by Federal troops the place was overrun by soldiers, the house and barns plundered and the slaves driven off. Today the house stands as a memorial to the cotton era in this area.

Capture of Fort Macon in April, 1862, by Federal troops increased the military activity along the Swansboro bank of the White Oak River with the river forming a natural barrier for the Federal troops coming into Carteret County after the battle of New Bern. But it brought a halt to river traffic and its attendant industries.

Federal troops made a stamping ground for the next three years of the western part of Carteret County and made frequent forays to dislodge the Johnnies from their position along the west side of the river but without success.

The burning of the bridge at Cedar Point slowed the onslaught of the Yankees for when they attempted boat crossings they were met by strong opposition. At no time did Federal troops in any number effect a crossing here and to reach the rear of the Confederates at Swansboro, Federal troops were obliged to work their way along the river road to Maysville.

No battles of any consequence took place during these years but many a proud Confederate son and daughter recalls stories of scouting and cavalry parties that sent the Yanks on many a useless march between their camps and the river.

The years have brought many changes but river traffic continues, though today it is largely that of fishermen, while pleasure resorts have taken the place of Indian oyster roasts.

Ye Old Brick Store
William P. Ferrand was Postmaster at Swansboro [until 1845. He graduated at the University of North Carolina and became one of the biggest operators in turpentine and naval stores. He built the old brick store about 1843 and operated his business there. The brick for the walls were brought from England; the foundations were made of rock which had been used by vessels for ballast. He is buried over in Carteret, across from Swansboro.

The next Postmaster was Charles H. Barnum who came to Swansboro about 1845. He came from Bethel, Connecticut and was a kinsman of P. T. Barnum, the showman. (Their [great] grandfathers were brothers.) He married Alice Hargett of Onslow, she being a granddaughter of Daniel Ambrose. Barnum and his wife are buried on the Hammock. 

Some tall tales are told about the old store during and following the Civil War. At one time during the war there were seven steamers lying at anchor off the shore. Eben Piner of Carteret, who piloted the steamers there, came ashore with some of the captains from the ships, up to the brick store which was the gathering place where the populace came to get all the news. Billy Russell, too young to be in the war, was asked by Piner, “Where is Major?” Major, who was Billy's brother, was a Lieutenant in Company I. Billy told him he was away at war, but if he was here he would beat H. out of you. Major was said to be the strongest man in the county.

While here the Yankees plundered the town, stealing hogs, chickens and anything else they could carry away in their arms.

Ornaments in the Hargett house which held back the window drapes were unscrewed and taken, all but one. They killed a calf in back of the Gibson house, which stood where the Bank now is, and dragged it through the house, on out the front door. Mrs. Emmaline Bell pleaded and begged so hard for them not to take her pony that they yielded after being shamed by her.

The Barnum home that stood where the Dave Wade home is now was plundered and all the jewelry taken. Puss, the daughter of Charles and Alice Hargett Barnum, had a beautiful calico pony and when they heard that the Yankees were coming, had him curry combed backwards with mud to make him ugly so they wouldn't take him. They didn't take him.

This 1959 paper by Lucy Greene was published in 
The Commonwealth of Onslow by Joseph Parsons Brown 
Owen G. Dunn Company . New Bern, NC . 1960