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What is Point Peter?

Ben Steelman

Point Peter is the accepted name for the jut of land at the fork where the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear rivers flow together, just north of downtown Wilmington. The name seems to come from Peter Mallet, a local planter and Revolutionary War leader, who received the point in 1777 in a land grant from Roger Moore.

According to historian William S. Powell, the point was a terminal for river traffic to and from Fayetteville and other points on the Cape Fear before the Civil War.

Prior to 1780, the point was known as “Negro Head Point” or “Negroe Head Point.” A Negro Head Point Road once extended northward from the point into what is now Pender County; Highland Scottish forces used this road on their way from Cross Creek to the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in 1776.

The origin of “Negro Head Point” has been lost. Some sources claim that the severed heads of one or more slaves, suspected of plotting a revolt, were placed on poles on the river at this point at the time of the1831 Nat Turner Rebellion in Virginia, as an example to other slaves. The abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld repeated the story in his 1839 book “American Slavery As It Is,” attributing the information to a sister-in-law of Gerrit Smith, who was married to a North Carolinian. The slaves in question had been accused of burning houses and murder, and Weld’s account identified one of the executioners as “Mr. J, the first lawyer in the place.” Records clearly show, however, that “Negro Head Point” was in use decades before 1831.

During colonial times, and as late as the early 1800s, a ferry ran from Wilmington to Point Peter. Historian Alan D, Watson notes that a “Mrs. Bethelly” (her first name lost to history) briefly operated the Negro Head Point ferry around 1759. Negro Head Point Plantation, near the site of Point Peter, was supposed to have produced rice yields of 70 bushels an acre or more.

Somewhat confusingly, miles below Point Peter lies “Peter’s Point” (also known as Merrick’s Point), on the east bank of the Cape Fear River just opposite the Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point. The name appears on maps from the 1740s, predating Point Peter, and can still be found on modern charts.

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