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Saturday, May 18, 2024

There is history buried in Belville’s Riverwalk Park

Military, plantation sites are in town-owned property and waiting for rediscovery

The remnants of an outbuilding of the Buchoi Plantation in Belville Riverwalk Park. The ruins of the buildings are on display in the midst of the park’s nature trail. (Carl Blankenship/Port City Daily)

BELVILLE — Belville’s Riverwalk Park is the pride of the town and it is sitting on top of significant American history.

A small piece is evident with some minor inspection. Walking about 100 yards back into the park’s nature trail, visitors find a small collection of ruins. The foundations and bricks are the remnants of out buildings constructed by slaves on the Buchoi Plantation.

READ MORE: Belville expects new Riverwalk improvements to start this summer

The early American operation was, for a time, under the purview of Alfred Moore, a slave and plantation owner. Moore was also as a revolutionary and after the war ended in 1784 Moore went on to become a state politician, North Carolina Attorney General, one of the founders of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and one of the nation’s first supreme court justices.

The town had the ruins in the woods dated to ensure they are period correct. Their discovery was recent, coinciding with the town reclaiming the park from Brunswick County and building trails in 2014.

Belville Mayor Mike Allen, an Army veteran and military history buff, said it surprises people to learn a figure of Moore’s significance was from Belville. The mayor believes the foundation of Moore’s home is buried somewhere in the quaint, developed portion of the park visitors see when they enter. It is dominated by parking, lawn space, playgrounds and a small farmers market.

Pinpointing its exact location is part of a new push on Allen’s park to locate, preserve and highlight some of the historical relics of the town. The town knows there was more early American activity in the immediate area from the handful of relics found, including a piece of pottery discovered by former state archaeologist Mark Wilde-Ramsing in 2019. The piece was dated between 1790 and 1840.

Beyond the presence of the plantation, there are significant pieces of military history in the town’s park. There were two documented skirmishes between the Patriots and Loyalists during the Revolution, according to historian J.D. Lewis’s Carolana, an online compendium of the revolution and early America in the Carolinas.

The first was a Nov. 14, 1781 battle that took place at the Buchoi Plantation. Patriot troops under the command of Joseph Graham launched a surprise attack on a group of 100 Loyalists, killing 12 and wounding about 30. The next day, four or five Patriots, under the command of Griffith Rutherford, were killed in an exchange with British troops in the same area.

Allen noted the park area borders the former Belville plantation as well. Its military significance stems from the fact the original crossing to Wilmington was located in Belville.

Lewis’ documentation is based on journal entries at the time, but there is physical evidence. In 2016 at the park, UNCW and N.C. State performed the first archaeological excavation of a rice plantation in the region. They found a pre-Civil War bullet, porcelain, brick and plaster fragments.

Meanwhile, on the wooded northern part of the park property, where the town plans to extend the park’s trails this summer, there is a piece of military history created 80 years after the battles at Moore’s plantation. Owen Gidlow, of the civil engineering firm WithersRavenel, recently discovered mounds in the woods he believes were built by Confederates.

He informed the town board of commissioners about the discovery on Monday, as an aside to presenting a depth survey his firm completed on the section of the Brunswick River that runs next to the park space. Gidlow, a serial hire for the town for the past 17 years, found the mounds during a boundary survey of the property.

“I’m going to get Gidlow to take these maps and see if we can pinpoint the actual location,” Allen said, adding the goal is to give research teams a lead on where they are looking.

Allen told Port City Daily the town will need to get the mounds dated and inspected by archaeologists, but indicated Gidlow is likely correct. He said there is documentation of Confederate defenses along the N.C. Route 133, which was an old wagon trail long before it was the main thoroughfare for the town. One of those defenses was a gun encampment built to overlook the Brunswick River.

The mayor’s goals are to confirm the Confederate site is authentic, find the exact location of Moore’s home and the skirmishes near it. To do that, he hopes to get the state interested in the site and plans to contact UNCW about performing more work there on Monday.

The new interest is happening as a result of the recent discoveries and because it is a passion project for Allen. A Brunswick County native and amateur historian, he said he wants to preserve the history on the property and turn it into a new point of pride for the park.

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