Season 2: Cape Fear Legends & Lore

This season will use “Stories Old and New of the Cape Fear Region,” Louis T. Moore’s famous tome of local legends as a guide to myth-bust some Colonial-era lore that is still shared throughout the Cape Fear. Tales this season include the “tunnels” underneath Wilmington, the origin of the Burgwin-Wright’s longtime nickname as the Cornwallis House andthe iconic history of the Dram Tree.

Episode 1: Prologue

For the new season of "Burgwin-Wright Presents...," we are cracking open the chapters of Louis T. Moore's "Stories Old and New of the Cape Fear Region" for a season titled "Cape Fear Legends & Lore." First published in 1956, the seminal local history book is a collection of legends and traditions that have defined the Cape Fear region since the Colonial period. Each episode this season, we will revisit a chapter in Moore's book to examine what's fact and what's fiction.

Before you start the new season, we wanted to introduce our listeners to Louis and why his dogged work to preserve local history inspired this season in this special Prologue episode.

Episode 2 - Wilmington in the Time of Cornwallis

The new season, "Burgwin-Wright Presents... Cape Fear Legends & Lore," begins with a story right in our backyard – the myth of Cornwallis Headquarters in Wilmington.

During the American Revolution, did Lord Cornwallis, commander of the British army, stay at the Burgwin-Wright House will he was in Wilmington in 1781? The house has been known for centuries as "Cornwallis Headquarters," but is it true? We explore the fact and fiction of the legend with guest Bert Dunkerly, historian and author of such books as "Redcoats on the Cape Fear."

Episode 3 - A John Canoe Christmas

What did Christmas look like for the enslaved people of Colonial Wilmington? While no holiday celebration was guaranteed, the port city's streets were often a stage granted to enslaved communities for a display of their culture known as John Kuners or John Canoe.

With the help of special guest Dr. Tara White, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, this episode looks at why slave owners allowed these traditions to take place and how the enslaved used them to assert their individuality and power within an institution that didn’t give them much of either. In the episode, we explore why the holidays were a time of negotiation between slave and enslaver, and how the John Canoe celebrations became so associated with Wilmington.

Episode 4 - What Lies Beneath Wilmington

Have you heard of the tunnels underneath Wilmington, where pirates supposedly smuggled their treasure and slaves escaped on the Underground Railroad?

Perhaps the most enduring legend in Wilmington's history is ripe with salacious and fictitious stories, the passages under the city have a far more practical and not-so-flashy origin. On this week's episode, we dispel some of the legends that wind through the tunnels and ponder why they are so popular (and potentially dangerous) centuries later. Joining the episode is Jon Schleier, executive director of the Public Archaeology Corps, which excavated one of the passages named Rock Spring in 2017.


Episode 5 - The Old Dram Tree

When it comes to icons of the Cape Fear, few stand as sturdy as the Old Dram Tree. Although it has long since been lost to progress, the story of the Dram Tree is one that charts the entire developed history of the Wilmington area.

The bald cypress tree served as a "a grim sentinel," as it has been called, for mariners traveling the Cape Fear River all the way back to the pre-Colonial period. But how did it get its name and what happened to it? This episode, we are joined by Jack Fryar, a local historian and publisher of Dram Tree Books, to talk about the facts and fate of the Old Dram Tree.

Episode 6 - A Duel of Passion

In Colonial America, a duel at ten paces could defend something the law couldn't – a man's honor. But history doesn't look fondly on those who chose to serve justice with a bullet.

Especially in the case of two young men in the British Navy in 1765, who fought a vicious and bloody duel at Brunswick Town over a woman – during a moment of growing unrest for the Cape Fear. Joining the episode to talk about the Simpson/Whitehurst duel is Jim McKee, the manager of Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site in Winnabow.

Episode 7 - The Midnight Ride of Polly Slocumb

The Battle of Moores Creek Bridge is a storied moment in American history, but many people learn about the lesser-known battle through the heroic feat of a woman who didn’t fight in it. Polly Slocumb is said to have rode her horse into the night of February 26, 1776 to save her husband from dying in battle after dreaming of his demise.

Her legend is iconic, but it’s also littered with details that don’t line up with fact. Who was Polly Slocumb and can we chase down her legend 200 years later? Joining the episode is Dr. Chris E. Fonvielle Jr, a local historian and author of books such as “More Curious Tales from Old Wilmington and the Lower Cape Fear,” which features a chapter on Polly’s story.

Episode 8 - A Colonial Con Artist

Do you think you could spot a con artist in the Colonial era? It might have been harder than you think in the days before lightning-fast technology.

In 1771, Sarah Wilson was certainly counting on the lack of communication when she impersonated a member of King George III's family in the American Colonies. She traveled through Wilmington and New Bern in her march south, scamming unsuspecting colonists who jumped at the surprise opportunity to host royalty. But what do we really know about this Colonial con woman? And how did her scheme fall apart?

Joining the episode is Matt Arthur, a former staff member at Tryon Palace in New Bern and currently the professional development manager with the American Association for State and Local History.

Episode 9 - The Timeless Tune of Thalian Hall

Wilmington is known for many things, but perhaps one of its most unique features is its historic performing arts center that doubles as city hall.

The harmonious convergence of entertainment and government inside an iconic building has been among the Cape Fear's most impressive traits over the past century and a half. But how did it happen? And how is it all connected to what some say is the oldest theater association in the United States?

Joining the episode is Travis Gilbert, the executive director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation and a member of The Board of Trustees for Thalian Hall.

Episode 10 - The Mystery of the Suicide Club

Have you ever heard of the Suicide Club in Colonial Wilmington?

If you haven't, you aren't alone. According to Louis T. Moore, the strange and grim story would have sent shockwaves through a young Wilmington. But the strange tradition also reveals the intricacies of the culture of religion at the heart of the American Colonies.

Joining the episode is Dr. Jamie Brummitt, an associate professor of philosophy and American religion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.