A large tract of land between the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear River in what is now Pender County, the Welsh Tract was one of the first regions to be settled in Southeastern North Carolina.
The name comes from the fact that a large number of the first settlers were Welshmen — or more likely, second- and third-generation settlers, whose forebears had immigrated from Wales to Pennsylvania in the 1680s.
Instead of migrating as a group, the settlers seem to have picked up their land grants separately. Among these was Hugh Meredith, a former printer for Benjamin Franklin in Philadephia, who headed south to join relatives. Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette included detailed accounts of the settlement — probably written by Meredith, in its numbers 129 and 130, appearing in April and May 1731. The big draw appears to have been generous bounties from the British Parliament to those willing to go into the naval stores industry (tar, pitch and turpentine). Certainly, the region had plenty of pine trees that could be tapped for naval stores.
In 1731, David Evans received a patent for two 640-acre tracts in what was then the New Hanover Precinct, located on either side of Washington Creek, not far from the west bank of the Northeast Cape Fear. By 1732, Evans was apparently settled on his property, as he was appointed a justice of the peace.
The tract appears as the “Welch Settlement” on the Moseley map of 1733. In 1735, the Rev. Hugh McAden, a Presbyterian minister, reported visiting the Welsh Tract and preaching to the settlers there. In 1737, court minutes described the tract as extending from Burgo (Burgaw) Creek and the Widow Moore’s Creek to the boundaries of the precinct. New Hanover County court records would proceed to note the appointment of constables, tax collectors and overseers of roads for the Welsh tract for the next 40 years. A 1738 map noted two Welsh settlements, one in modern-day Duplin County on the Northeast Cape Fear River and one in Pender County on the Cape Fear.
In 1740. Malatiah Hamilton laid out South Washington (later Watha) on Washington Creek as a trading center for the Welsh tract. The settlement seems to have eclipsed the nearby settlement of Exeter. In 1769, Fred. Gregg was granted permission to build a grist mill in the Welsh Tract.
Not all the Welsh Tract settlers were Pennsylvania Welsh; the Bloodworth family moved there from Virginia, and Timothy Bloodworth (1736-1814), the future Patriot leader, Anti-Federalist and U.S. senator, was apparently born in the tract. According to historian William S. Powell, the name “Welsh Tract” continued in use until the American Revolution, by which time the original Welsh strain was diluted, and the community lost its distinctive identity.
In 1948, a North Carolina state highway historical marker honoring the Welsh Tract was erected along U.S. 117 north of Burgaw.
Date posted: September 30, 2009