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 Conservatives (later Democrats) won control of the

North Carolina General Assembly (from northern Republicans)

in 1870, they could not return the State to full local

control as the Republicans still held the national government;

but they retained judicial and executive dominance along with

strong representation in the State legislature.

Realizing that the black vote ensured Republican

control and corruption in the Cape Fear region, Conservatives

determined that reducing New Hanover County representation

in the State legislature was a better strategy. They hoped to

control Pender County and its legislative delegation once the

blacks, mostly sharecroppers, were separated from the Republican

political 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 had been organized into the Republican Party by carpetbaggers (northern

political opportunists) and threatening control of New Hanover"

county governance. (Bizzell).

To address this concern, a portion of Franklin Tonwship was ceded to

adjacent Sampson County in 1870 - and the remainder given

in 1872 thus establishing the current County boundary.

As Sampson County had a small former-slave population and little

Republican influence, the removal of Franklin seemed a good move

for New Hanover County conservatives. Oscar Bizzell's

"Heritage of Sampson County," mentions "Dr. Cornelius Tate

Murphy (1827-1881) of Taylors Bridge Township and Clinton [who] represented Sampson in the State Senate during 1870-1872 and

probably instrumental in engineering this deal."

On the State level, Conservative victory brought an end to Republican

excesses in finances by repudiating most of the $30,000,000 State

debt, of which about $13,000,000 consisted of special tax railroad

bonds issued in 1868-1869. Most of this money had been wasted

and the bonds regarded as fraudulent, unconstitutional

and needing repudiation.

The Republicans in Wilmington were former US Army officers and

political opportunists from the north after the city's capture in February 1865. Though a majority white population before the war, the city

became majority black after the arrival of many refugees left homeless

in the path of Sherman's destruction of plantations. The new

Freedmen’s Bureau drew black refugees here as well.

The city population in 1860 consisted of 5200 white, and 575 free

black residents, plus 4300 black slaves. The changes above brought

the population in 1870 to 5526 white, and 7920 black residents.

By the year 1880, the city population was 8159 white and 13,217

(61%) black in an increasingly 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 Republican office holders. This was the racial and political climate which led to the 1898 bloodshed in Wilmington.

(The following period document is offered for perspective)



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 & State government and to regenerate it, was the consuming passion of the Democratic
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 thousands of voting Negroes in the city of Wilmington piled up a majority so large that it could hardly be overcome by any artifice, so when the County of Pender had been created the politicians were solely disappointed.

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."

The New County of Pender Is Formed:

The bill to 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, 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 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 the War Between

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

Major-General William Dorsey Pender (1834-1863). Born near

Tarboro he entered West Point as a cadet in July 1850 and rose to the rank of major-general by age 29. Considered one of the most capable officers in Lee's army, the latter wrote of him: "His promise and

usefulness as an officer were equalled only by the purity and excellence

of his private life." Severely wounded at Gettysburg in July 1863,

he died shortly after.

Major-General William Dorsey Pender

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