A History of New Bern, North Carolina

Founded in 1710 at the confluence of the Trent and Neuse rivers, New Bern was settled by Swiss and German adventurers led by Baron Christoph von Graffenried from Bern, Switzerland in what is present-day Craven County.

New Bern is the second oldest town in the state. Royal Governor William Tryon made this seaport his colonial capitol and residence, Tryon Palace, which was completed in 1770.

A major port and trading center in the 1800's, New Bern was captured and occupied by the Union Army after a fierce battle on March 14, 1862.

Craven County Court House - New Bern, NC (2009)

New Bern, the second oldest city in North Carolina, was settled in 1710 by German Palatine and Swiss colonists led by Baron Christoph von Graffenreid. He purchased the land from the Tuscarora Indians who had a small settlement here known as Chattawka, which meant "where the fish are taken out."

As a point of interest, the oldest water elm tree in the U.S. still stands in the historic section of downtown, and under that tree the treaty with the Indians was signed. Named for the city of Bern Switzerland, the town was located on the triangle of land where the Trent and Neuse Rivers meet... the "Union Point."

The original settlers suffered with the climate, a lack of provisions, diseases, and Indian problems. The colony was almost wiped out in a few years after settlement when the Tuscarora Indians, a local tribe who dominated the native populations in North Carolina, attacked unexpectedly, murdering men women and children. They were defeated with assistance from South Carolina and the colony eventually began to prosper.

The Royal Governor William Tryon, saw the need for a permanent capital in the growing colony and selected New Bern as the site. Tryon Palace, first colonial and state capitol building of North Carolina was designed by the English architect, John Hawks. The palace was completed in 1770.

It was a political center during the American Revolution, the then Royal Governor Josiah Martin fled the capitol for safety in 1775, and the port sheltered many privateers during that war. Even before the Revolutionary War, New Bern was known and visited by the pirates who terrorized the Carolina shoreline.

Nearby Beaufort has one of Blackbeard's houses, "Hammock House," where purportedly his men and/or a wife stayed on shore leave. Blackbeard's famous ship "Queen Anne's Revenge" was discovered in the shallow waters off the Beaufort County coast.

After the American Revolution, New Bern became wealthy and developed a rich cultural life. In fact, at one time New Bern was called "the Athens of the South." The Tryon Palace was the capital of the independent state of North Carolina for a very short time.

It is a town of many firsts: The first school to be chartered in North Carolina, first Roman Catholic church, and the first Jewish synagogue in North Carolina. Renowned in the South were the Masonic Temple and the Athens Theater, both still very active in the town.

Union forces captured New Bern early in the Civil War on March 14, 1862. The officers occupied the larger homes in the town, and the town was filled with Union troops for the rest of the War. For this reason, there was less damage to New Bern than to many small Southern towns.

New Bern Jail - March 1864

Click Here for information on the two (2) known "Street Railways" that operated in New Bern from 1895 to 1928.
Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of "New Bern Directory 1907-1908," published in 1907.
As Newbern, the town was granted a U.S. Post Office on June 1, 1790, and its first Postmaster was Mr. Francois X. Martin. The Postal Department identified the town as Newbern until 1877, when it was changed to New Berne. It was renamed back to Newbern in 1892. It was given its current spelling - New Bern - in 1918. It has been in continuous operation ever since.
Click Here to view a 2018 map of the town of New Bern provided by the NCDOT.

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