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The town of Swannsborough, on the White Oak River in Onslow County, was established on the site of a former Indian village. Though white settlement began as early as 1730, it was not until 1771 that lots were sold and a village began to emerge. The 1783 General Assembly legally established the town and named it for Samuel Swann, an Onslow representative and former Speaker of the North Carolina House of Commons. With a steady increase in shipping, aided by the export of naval stores, the town became an important economic and cultural center for the county. In the wake of the American Revolution, the importance of shipping in Onslow merited the attention of the state legislature. The 1786 General Assembly designated the town as the center of newly created Port Swannsborough, a district that included New River and Bogue Inlets, with a customs office in the town itself.
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Though incoming maritime trade was light compared to other ports in the state, the establishment of Port Swannsborough spawned the rise of an important shipbuilding industry in the town in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The most famous shipbuilder was Capt. Otway Burns, a successful privateer in the War of 1812, who built the Prometheus in 1818 on the Swannsborough waterfront. The Prometheus was the first steamboat constructed in North Carolina. Activity through the port also brought the county's leading merchants to Swannsborough.
On the eve of the Civil War, the port town experienced its greatest era of prosperity. The hardships of that conflict, however, dealt a tragic blow to the town and to Onslow County, one from which the area was slow to recover. Emerging from the Reconstruction era, Swannsborough engaged in a moderately successful lumber industry in the late nineteenth century. In time the town formally adopted present shortened name of Swansboro. The town’s next era of real economic prosperity did not come until the 1940s, when nearby Camp Lejeune and Camp Davis were established.
Joseph Parsons Brown, The Commonwealth of Onslow: A Brief History (1960)
Alan D. Watson, Onslow County: A Brief History (1995)