Cape Fear Stories

Cape Fear Stories explores the region's rich and complex history.

It starts by examining how Native Americans lived in the Cape Fear. See a selection of ancient arrowheads, stone tools, and pottery sherds that help us understand how life changed for the Native American population during the thousands of years they lived here before white colonists permanently settled in the region.

When colonists came to the Cape Fear, they encountered a new environment, one dominated by the longleaf pine forest. Europeans enslaved African Americans throughout the colonial period. Enslaved peoples' work in the vast piney woods helped make Wilmington a center of the naval stores business for almost two centuries.

Slavery also helped make Wilmington a commercial and population hub in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cape Fear Stories helps us imagine the commercial life of the city. Peer into a colonial era store, and learn about how Wilmington was connected to Europe, the Caribbean, and other coastal American cities.

Learn about the American Revolution and antebellum New Hanover County. Wilmington became the largest city in North Carolina in the 1830s; see how it thrived as a port city, and became an early adopter of railroad technology. Discover how the Civil War affected the region, and learn about the Fall of Fort Fisher, which marked the beginning of the end of the Civil War in our area.

See how schools, businesses, and the city itself flourished in the generation after Emancipation. Then reflect on how those advances came to a halt when a statewide White Supremacy campaign undid many of the gains of Reconstruction. Learn what happened in the months and days before the election of November 1898, and see how violence shaped our community, affecting the course of the 20th century in big and small ways.

In the final gallery of our Cape Fear Stories exhibit, explore how life changed in the 20th century. Learn about how medicine, leisure, work, and technology have all changed dramatically since 1900. Examine the rise of public education and the struggle to desegregate the schools. See some of the ways legally-sanctioned racial segregation shaped life in the region, and meet a few of the people who made New Hanover County home over the years.