Given that Wilmington was founded in 1739, and that Orange Street is one of the city’s oldest street names, dating back to the early 1700s, it’s most likely named for William of Orange (1650-1702), the Dutch prince who married Princess Mary of England.
In 1688 William and Mary, who were devout Protestants, deposed King James II of England, a Roman Catholic, in what amounted to a bloodless coup. James’ queen, Mary of Modena, had just given birth to a son, and Protestants — the overwhelming majority in England — feared that he would somehow reimpose the Catholic faith on the kingdom. William and Mary then ruled jointly — which is why there’s a College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., which also happens to be named for William — until Mary died of smallpox in 1694; then he ruled England alone, as William III, until his death.
Throughout much of the early 1700s, the English Establishment feared that the Catholic Stuarts would make another play to seize power. (The most famous attempt was the 1745 uprising in Scotland, under the nominal leadership of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” Stuart.) Naming a thoroughfare for William was therefore something of a loyal, patriotic — and very Protestant — move.
Local historian Louis T. Moore noted that many downtown Wilmington streets — including Orange — have the same names as streets in Philadelphia and Liverpool, England. (Before its chartering, Wilmington was referred to as “New Liverpool” in county deeds from 1734 to 1736.) It’s been suggested that some former Philadelphian or former Liverpuddlian might have put forward “Orange” as a street name. Some evidence, however, hints that Liverpool’s Orange Street might have been named after Wilmington’s.
The aftermath of the 1745 uprising, by the way, would send thousands of displaced Scottish Highlanders aboard ships to Wilmington, then up the Cape Fear River to new settlements at Cross Creek and Campbelltown (where modern Fayetteville is today). Some of them — or their sons — would end up fighting at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge on Feb. 27, 1776, in the American Revolution — this time, as loyal subjects of the British crown.
Date posted: June 17, 2009
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