W. Stuart Morgan, III

The Commerce of a Southern Port: New Bern, North Carolina, 1783 to 1812.

(Under the direction of William N. Still, Jr.) Department of History, November 1985.

This thesis examines the commerce of New Bern between the end of the American Revolution and the beginning of the War of 1812. During that period, New Bern traded with many American and West Indian ports, several European ports, and the Bermuda Islands.

New Bern was the most important settlement in the Neuse/Trent area when the town was settled in 1710. However, between that year and 1783 many rules, regulations and laws were passed that helped make New Bern one of North Carolina's three most important ports. The North Carolina General Assembly passed a series of acts in 1739 to aid navigation between New Bern and Ocracoke Inlet, and six years later ordered road commissioners to open and maintain landings, which facilitated trade with many farms and plantations that surrounded New Bern. The town's location between Edenton and Wilmington, and its large population also led to its designation as the capital of North Carolina between 1765 and 1791; that encouraged the construction of inns, taverns, and public buildings.

The commerce of the New Bern area increased so much by 1764 that a law was passed to establish and regulate a market-place in the open space under the town's courthouse and surrounding grounds. By 1775, a network of roads also permitted carts, wagons and other vehicles to transport goods more easily to and from the town's waterfront. In addition, a number of water-powered mills operated within twenty-five miles of New Bern.

After the Revolution, North Carolina passed laws to appoint officials associated with maritime commerce, to improve navigation in the state's waterways, and to regulate shipping. The United States Congress adopted a system of discriminating duties that encouraged the building of ships and transportation of cargoes aboard American-built vessels; such measures assisted New Bern's commerce, and the town's small but important shipbuilding industry. Great Britain and France engaged in almost constant warfare between 1793 and 1812. During that period, New Bern, like many other American ports, engaged in prosperous trade.

New Bern's early attempts to improve its commerce by digging a canal between the Neuse River and Beaufort during the late 1790s were unsuccessful. But North Carolina and the federal government made other attempts to improve navigation conditions in the state around the beginning of the nineteenth century. A Description of Occacock Inlet was also published in 1795 to aid ship captains sailing through Ocracoke Inlet. The commercial activity of New Bern dramatically increased by the War of 1812. Extensive rules, regulations, and ordinances were passed in 1811 to deal with increased commerce traffic at New Bern, and to control the storage and marketing of goods there. By 1812, shipping lists identified more ships entering and clearing the North Carolina port than ever before. In addition, the number of wharves along New Bern's waterfront nearly quadrupled between 1769 and 1812, indicating the growing importance that maritime commerce played in the lives of New Bern's residents.