Between North Carolina and Delaware, it is a story of two Wilmington
| Wilmington StarNews
Since the presidential election gripped the nation earlier this month, Wilmington has been the name on every newscaster’s lips.
But it’s not the one you’re thinking.
President-elect Joe Biden has begun his transition to the White House out of his current house in Wilmington, Delaware. But for many of the residents of Wilmington, North Carolina, hearing the name so casually thrown around on cable news and in newspapers has likely been a bit jarring.
After all, Wilmington of the South didn’t get a visit from the president-elect during the 2020 campaign, but it did get plenty of attention from outgoing President Donald Trump and his surrogates. Only vice president-elect Kamala Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, visited Wilmington before Election Day to stump for the Democrats.
Beyond its political ties to the man who will be the 46th President of the United States, what do you really know about the other Wilmington to the north?
With nearly 500 miles between, the Wilmingtons of Delaware and North Carolina are two of four cities with that name in the U.S., along with seven other towns.
Despite their geographic divide, there are more commonalities that bind these two cities through history than differences that separate them – and it all begins with their namesake.
Both were named for Spencer Compton, the 1st Earl of Wilmington and the prime minister of Great Britain under King George II in the 1740s.
Each sits along a winding river – the Cape Fear River here and the Christina River there – that has been critical to their state’s development going back centuries.
For years, these similarities and others were the cause of a persistent confusion between the Wilmingtons, with the local Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau fielding numerous calls from misguided vacationers.
“We do get calls occasionally, but not nearly as frequently as we used to,” said bureau spokeswoman Connie Nelson. “As our brand (as a city) has changed and become recognizable over the past decade, we have fewer of those calls, but people still get that confused.”
With one city above the Mason-Dixon Line and one below it, the two Wilmingtons – each now pushing 300 years old – have certainly come of age in different ways.
As the next president of the United States continues to put the name Wilmington on the map for the rest of the country, let’s look at how the Wilmington of Delaware compares to the Wilmington of North Carolina.
What they mean to their states:
Delaware (DE): Wilmington is the largest and populous city in Delaware, even though the capital is Dover. It has, however, developed into a mecca for the banking and credit card industries, making it the financial center of Delaware with state headquarters for banks like PNC Bank, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase (think of it as the Charlotte of Delaware).
North Carolina (NC): Wilmington was once the state’s largest city (a title it held during and after the Civil War), but has since become one of its most desired and historical destinations with the distinction of being the state’s film and television production capital.
DE: Wilmington is built on the foundation of Fort Christina, the first Swedish settlement in North America established in 1638. The town was incorporated in 1731.
NC: This city was incorporated in 1739 as an early political and financial rival for Brunswick Town, the region’s first permanent settlement. It would quickly become the center of commerce and the most valuable port in the North Carolina colony.
Population (2019 U.S. Census estimates):
DE: 17.19 sq. miles
NC: 52.97 sq. miles
DE: New Castle County (most populous of state’s three counties)
NC: New Hanover County (ninth most populous of state’s 100 counties)
DE: Mayor and council (13 council members)
NC: Mayor and council (6 council members)
DE: “Corporate Capital of the World”
NC: “The Port City”
DE: President-elect Joe Biden moved to Wilmington in the 1950s as a teenager and went on represent the state in the U.S. Senate before becoming vice president and now president-elect. He remains a Wilmington resident.
NC: Woodrow Wilson lived in Wilmington from 1874 to 1882 while his father served as the minister of First Presbyterian Church. Wilson was born in Virginia.
Declaration of Independence signers:
DE: Caesar Rodney was a founding father of America and one of three Delaware signers of Declaration of Independence. in 1776, he famously rode 70 miles to Philadelphia to cast a tie-breaking vote to declare independence from England. But the defining Delawaran politician of the Revolutionary War was also a sizable slave owner, a lasting legacy that has followed him all the way to 2020 when his famous almost-century-old statue in Wilmington’s landmark Rodney Square was taken down in June.
NC: William Hooper was a local lawyer and Patriot leader when the Revolutionary War. Quickly, he was appointed to the Continental Congress where he would become one of three North Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence. He never received a statue in Wilmington (he has one at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro), but he does have a state highway historic marker on Third Street near the site of his former home.
Local area code:
Average annual snowfall:
DE: 20.2 inches
NC: 1.6 inches
Histories of racial violence:
DE: Wilmington has seen two historic events described as racial riots. The first happened in 1919, after two officers were shot while trying to arrest three African-American suspects in a robbery. In response, a mob of 300 white men tried to lynch the trio but failed and turned their attention to assaulting the Black community, killing one. Then in April 1968, in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, violence between Black and white residents broke out. No deaths were reported, but injuries and damage led to the governor deploying the National Guard.
NC: The most consequential moment in Wilmington’s history is the 1898 Wilmington Massacre, when a mob of armed white supremacists backed by the Democratic Party intimidated and then killed members of the Black community in the streets before violently overthrowing the local government. The violence happened after a years-long white supremacist campaign aimed at stopping the city’s growing diversity and progress for the Black community. It is the nation’s only successful coup d’état. In 1971, a group of nine Black men and a woman became known as the Wilmington Ten, after they were arrested and wrongly convicted for arson and conspiracy. At the time, Wilmington’s race relations were tense after King’s assassination. The 10 served a decade in jail before being released.
DE: The du Pont family is the closest thing Wilmington, Delaware has to royalty, with sprawling mansions and their name on countless institutions and buildings around the city. But it is their business endeavors that really contributed to the city’s history, dating back to the 1802 launch of the DuPont Company, first started as a producer of gunpowder and, later on, chemicals. DuPont is still headquartered in Wilmington.
NC: This Wilmington may not claim any members of the du Pont family, but it does have a recent connection to their business. A spinoff of DuPont was The Chemours Company, which made headlines in 2017 when it was discovered – and first reported by the StarNews – the company was dumping a chemical called “GenX” into the Cape Fear River from its plant in Fayetteville.
DE: First opened in 1923, the international deepwater Port of Wilmington was initially owned by the city but later sold to the state. The city also has strong lineage of shipbuilding going back to the 1700s, particularly during World War II.
NC: This Wilmington’s own history as the home of the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company during World War II transitioned directly into the creation of the Port of Wilmington as the state’s deepwater port, which today sits just south of downtown Wilmington.
In popular culture:
DE: This Wilmington does not have an established film industry, but has been represented on screen in films like “Fight Club” (1999) and TV shows “Criminal Minds” and “Bones” – though none shot locally.
NC: Often called “Hollywood East,” the Wilmington film industry is among its most notable industries, having produced films like “Iron Man 3,” “Halloween Kills,” “Blue Velvet” and “The Conjuring,” and TV shows like “One Tree Hill,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Sleepy Hollow” and “Under the Dome.”
Revolutionary War battles:
DE: The Battle of Brandywine Creek was the longest battle of the war (11 hours) when it unfolded on Sept. 11, 1777 and ended as a British victory. This didn’t actually happen in Wilmington, but in Pennsylvania. However, it is often associated with the area because the mouth of Brandywine Creek is on the Christina River in Wilmington.
NC: Conversely, the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge was a lightning fast clash (about 15 minutes long) between North Carolina militias of Patriots and Loyalists on Feb. 27, 1776. It was a major early win of the Patriots and blocked access to the southern colonies for the British for three years. Similarly, this didn’t happen specifically in Wilmington, but rather present-day Pender County. Still, the battle and its consequences are heavily associated with the area.
DE: State of Delaware
NC: New Hanover Regional Medical Center
DE: Bearfight FC of Wilmington (soccer), Wilmington Blue Rocks (minor league baseball)
NC: Wilmington Sharks (baseball, Coastal Plain League), Wilmington Hammerheads (former soccer team disbanded in 2017)
Historic yellow fever outbreak:
DE: When yellow fever reached Wilmington in the fall of 1798, it had already ravaged Philadelphia and people fleeing it likely carried it with them into town. Around 30 people are said to have died.
NC: The disease arrived onboard a blockade runner named Kate carrying Confederate supplies in August 1862 and plunged the city into its worst outbreak in history at the worst time, as much of the resources were out of town supporting the war effort. The three-month scourge of fever cost Wilmington at least 654 lives, many buried in a public burial ground in Oakdale Cemetery.
More fun facts:
- The main U.S. Post Office buildings in both Wilmingtons were built in 1937.
- Both Wilmingtons have historic riverfronts that have become focal points of their economic and cultural efforts.
- While Wilmington, NC sits just east of I-95, the north-south interstate runs straight through its Delaware counterpart.
Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at 910-343-2327 or Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com.