north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     Although many merchants in Wilmington’s booming maritime industry remained fiercely loyal to England throughout the Revolution, a historical marker near the old courthouse site reminds residents and tourists that Wilmington was, at times, a hotbed of resistance. As England was having difficulty maintaining order in the colonies, Parliament turned to economic measures such as the Stamp Act of 1765. The law placed a tax on most forms of paper in the colonies, including newspapers, letters, pamphlets, and wills. While the tax was intended to defray costs incurred from stationing British troops in the colonies at critical sites such as Boston, the imposition of the stamp tax drove many colonies to the brink of rebellion.     

     A collective shudder raced throughout the colonies at the news of Parliament’s approval of the Stamp Act. On October 19, 1765, angry mobs collected in the streets and alleys of Wilmington to burn the likeness of “a certain honorable gentleman,” most likely the state tax collector, William Houston. Although the crowd dispersed without incident after the protest, on November 16, 1765, an angry mob assembled once again and marched to the house where Houston was known to stay (as Houston lived in Duplin County), and demanded he renounce his royal duties as tax collector. He readily agreed, stating “he should be very sorry to execute any Office disagreeable to the People of the Province,” and, with that, the crowd escorted Houston to the courthouse where he officially resigned his position. Afterwards, the crowd placed him in a chair and paraded him around the courthouse in wild celebration, later returning to his residence in town to continue the revelry.

     The old courthouse was also the meeting place of the Wilmington Council of Safety. Comprised of community representatives, the councils planned a new administrative network to replace the colonial system, once independence was realized. Governed by patriot Cornelius Harnett (1723-1781), the meetings in eastern North Carolina convened at the old courthouse in Wilmington where members planned a new state government, one first recognized in the Halifax Resolves of 1776.

William L. Saunders, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, VII (1890)
Samuel A. Ashe, History of North Carolina, I, (1908)
Lawrence Lee, The Lower Cape Fear in Colonial Days (1965)
Donald R. Lemmon and Ida B. Kellam, eds., The Wilmington Town Book, 1743-1778 (1973)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources