Mission Statement:

"To advance through research, education and symposia, an increased public awareness of the Cape Fear region's unique history."


Pender County Born of Reconstruction Politics


Cape Fear Historical Institute Papers

Wright Street in Burgaw, looking Southward


The Creation of Pender County, 16 February, 1875

Current-day Pender county was created out of the northern two-thirds of New Hanover county in 1875, the result of continued political unrest between conservative North Carolinians and the postwar Republican carpetbag regime in the lower Cape Fear region.

After the Conservatives (later Democrats) won control of the

North Carolina General Assembly (from northern Republicans) in 1870, they could not completely return the State to full local control as the Republicans still held the national government; and they retained judicial and executive dominance along with strong representation in the State legislature.

Realizing that the majority black vote ensured continued Republican

control and corruption in the Cape Fear region, the Conservatives determined that reducing New Hanover County’s representation in the legislature was a better strategy. They hoped to control Pender County

and its legislative delegation once the blacks, mostly sharecroppers,

were separated from the domineering Republican

organization in Wilmington.

Burgaw in Late 1800's

The Franklin Township of northern New Hanover (now Pender) had

a large population of freedmen after the war and "most of these had

been organized into the Republican Party by the Yankee carpetbaggers, and were threatening control of New Hanover" (Bizzell). A portion of

this area was ceded to Sampson County in 1870 to address this, and

the rest of the township was given to Sampson County in 1872 thus establishing the current County boundary. As Sampson County had a

small former-slave population and little radical Republican influence,

the addition of Franklin seemed a good move for New Hanover County conservatives.  In Oscar Bizzell's "Heritage of Sampson County,"

the author states that "Dr. Cornelius Tate Murphy (1827-1881) of

Taylors Bridge Township and Clinton (who) represented Sampson in

the State Senate during 1870-1872, and was probably instrumental

in engineering this deal."

On a State level, Conservatives ended Republican excesses and solved

the staggering problem of State finances by repudiating most of the

State debt of $30,000,000, about $13,000,000 of which consisted of

the special tax railroad bonds issued in 1868-1869 during the Republican regime, most of which had been wasted and all of which were generally regarded as fraudulent, unconstitutional, and worthy of repudiation.

Northern Republicans who held power by virtue of the majority black population ruled Wilmington and New Hanover County since the occupation of Wilmington in February 1865. Though the white

population was in the majority before the war, black refugees who

followed Northern armies for food, clothing and medical care after their plantations had been devastated ended up in Wilmington. The Freedmen’s Bureau drew blacks here as well, and Wilmington emerged from the war

a majority black city by virtue of this influx. The city population in 1870 was composed of 5526 white, and 7920 black residents; by 1880, it totaled 8159 white and 13,217 (61%) black with a racially-polarized political environment. The white citizens comprised the vast majority of property holders, yet had little political representation as the black residents voted solidly for Northern Republican office holders, and their rule.


The Reconstruction Period
"After Congress passed the Reconstruction Act, which was one of

the most drastic and tragic ever recorded in the history of this country, crime and riotous living spread its dark pall over this quiet peaceful land. Wilmington the County Seat was crowded with

carpet-baggers, scalawags, and Negroes. Negro constables, Negro deputy sheriffs, Negro health officers and for many years a Negro served as Register of Deeds; also a Negro represented New Hanover in the Legislature. These Negroes and scalawags owned no property and were not interested in much of anything beyond the idea of exploiting the white property owners. The Negroes were very

ignorant and strongly prejudiced against their former masters, and

in no way qualified to take part in government affairs. The so-called scalawag and carpet-bagger occupied the important positions with

the Negroes in the minor places. The white man was, so to speak, disfranchised, and the former leading families were in many

instances practically bankrupt, the great plantations lay idle, neglected, and everything and all business was demoralized.

Poverty stalked the land and New Hanover County, which then comprised the present Pender, found life almost intolerable.

This condition existed until 1898, when a revolution changed the whole aspect and the Reconstructioners faded into discard where

they have since remained, a negligible element. Under such

conditions the Democratic Party inevitably became the party

of “White Supremacy,” the party of decency in government

and honesty in affairs.

To secure control of the County and State government and to regenerate it, became the consuming passion of the Democratic Party.
In those days it was impossible to elect a decent white man—a Democrat—to the Legislature, either from New Hanover or from this section. The thousand voting Negroes in the city of Wilmington piled up
a majority so large that it could hardly be overcome by any

artifice, and so when the County of Pender had been created, the politicians were solely disappointed, for Alfred L. Lloyd, a noted Negro, was promptly sent to the Legislature from the new County of Pender. His majority was a slight one and was soon overcome, and Pender County shortly after became a reliable “White County.”

Since that time Pender has been constant in its loyalty to the Democratic Party, to decency in government, and to honesty

in public affairs.
While this great War Between the States, with its terrible slaughter of life, inflicted a severe blow to this section, Pender has emerged from this period slowly, but substantially, and is fast becoming one of North Carolina's greatest farming sections."

A New County Is Formed:

A bill that would form a new county from the northern two-thirds of New Hanover was introduced in the North Carolina Legislature in January 1875 by John D. Stanford, a Democratic senator from Duplin County. Comprising almost all of New Hanover’s agricultural population, the new county would reduce the former to little more than Wilmington proper “plus an almost uninhabited peninsula.” 

“Stanford introduced the bill because the “petitioners had no representative of their political faith on the Senate floor.” According to Stanford the petitioners desired “to be free from Radical rule and corruption which had…impoverished the county of New Hanover.” They “wanted to be cut loose from the Radical ring of Wilmington.” Even though the Republicans would have a slight majority in the proposed new county, they opposed its creation.” (McDuffie, Politics in Wilmington and New Hanover County, 1865-1900)

The legislative act creating Pender County was ratified on February 16, 1875, and it called for an election to be held on the third Thursday of April, 1875 to elect a Clerk of the Superior Court, a Sheriff, a Treasurer, a Register of Deeds, a Surveyor, five commissioners and a Coroner. All those elected were to "hold office until th 1st Thursday in August 1875 or until their successors shall have been elected."

The act provided that New Hanover County would have two members elected to the House of Representatives and Pender County one member. Both counties were to elect one State senator.

The new county commissioners of Pender were directed by the North Carolina Legislature to convene their first official meeting on the fifth Thursday of April, 1875 at Rocky Point, with the county seat being at the town of Cowan, but an act of 1877 directed that it should be named “Stanford” after the bill’s sponsor.

Robert J. Nixon, Fletcher H. Bell, James Garrison, K. Bryan and John D. Powers were appointed Commissioners for the purpose of confering with New Hanover County commissioners regarding the ratio of New Hanover debt to be asumed by the new county.

The first County Commissioners elected in Pender County were W.H. French, C.H. Manning, A.V. Horrell, Daniel Shaw and Miles Armstrong. The town of South Washington was named as the County Seat after an official vote of April 15, 1875.  The first regular meeting of the commissioners was at South Washington on May 3, 1875.


Commissoners Daniel Shaw and Miles Armstrong

In November 1876 a new Board of Commissioners was elected consisting of Miles Armstrong, Augustus Gemberg, Robert M. Croom, Elijah Tate, and C.M.D. Humphrey.

The County Seat was moved to the town of Burgaw in the spring of 1879, and an act of the General Assembly in 1879 changed the formerly required name ”Stanford” to Burgaw. The community of Burgaw appears on maps as early as 1861, and is named for Burgaw Creek, which appears on the Collett map of 1770. Also, a Burgaw Plantation in the vicinity appears in records of 1764.

The reunions of Southern soldiers who fought in th War Bewteen the States was common in the postwar period, and Pender County hosted its own. Below is a group photograph of an 1896 Reunion held in Burgaw.

The county is named in honor of Edgecombe County native and Confederate General William Dorsey Pender (1834-1863), who died of wounds after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.  General Pender was born near Tarboro and entered West Point as a cadet in July 1850.

Considered one of the most capable officers in the Confederate army, he was only twenty-nine years old when he attained the rank of Major-General and command of a division. General Robert E. Lee's official report on this officer read: "His promise and usefullness as an officer were equalled only by the purity and excellence of his private life."

Major-General William Dorsey Pender

General Pender saw extensive action at the Batle of Seven Days at Richmond, Second Manassas, the Maryland Campaign, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. At Gettysburg he suffered his fourth wound and died near Staunton, Virginia after a leg amputation on July 18, 1863.

General Pender's body as taken to Tarboro and buried in the churchyard

of Calvary Parish. His headstone is inscribed with

"Patriot by Nature, Soldier by Training, Christian by Faith."

Inside the church, a window memorializes Pender with his

favorite quote from St. Paul:

"I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith."

The new county name had been the suggestion of resident

Dr. Elisha Porter, who had served during the war as an army physician under General Pender.

Dr. Elisha Porter



The Formation of the North Carolina Counties, 1663-1943,

D. L. Corbitt, NC Dept. of Archives & History, 1950

North Carolina Gazetteer, William S. Powell
UNC Press, 1980

Wilmington and New Hanover County Politics, 1865-1900,

Jerome McDuffie, Kent State University, 1979

The Heritage of Sampson County, North Carolina, 1784-1984

Oscar M. Bizzell, Editor, SCHS, 1983

Pender County Centennial, 1875-1975

Centennial Booklet Steering Committee, Pender County