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The Cape Fear River is a long blackwater river in east central North Carolinamarker in the United Statesmarker. It flows into the Atlantic Oceanmarker near Cape Fearmarker, from which it takes its name. The overall water quality of the river is continuously measured and monitored by the Lower Cape Fear River Program and conducted by the UNCW Aquatic Ecology Laboratory, UNCW Benthic Ecology Laboratory, and the UNCW Icthyology and Fish Ecology Laboratory. The Cape Fear Shiner is endemic to the river basin.


In October 1662, the English explorer, William Hilton, Jr. made a three-week reconnaissance of the lower reaches of the Cape Fear River.

"ye 4th Octob. we weighed, and went into ye Haven, where was fathoms water, and in a weeks time, spent with ye indians, and in sounding ye River and ye ship turning up alway against ye wind, we gott up 15. or 16. leagues into ye river; and after in our long boate, half of us went 15. leagues further, till at ye head of ye river we could not tell, which of ye many rivers to take, and so returned to our ship, and as we went and came, we found many faire and deep rivers, all ye way running into this Charles River."

Hilton's report contained favorable comments on the fish, fowl, and wildlife of the region. He noted "vast meddows, besides upland fields," "greatt swamps laden with varieties of great oakes, and other trees of all sorts," and the potential for good growing conditions. Hilton wrote that the Indians were "very poor and silly Creatures," that he had observed fewer than one hundred of them, but that they were "very theevish." He wished "all Englishmen, that know how to improve and use a plentiful Countrey and condition, not to delay to posses it...."

During his 1664 visit, Hilton remained almost two months on the Cape Fear. The explorers spent much of their time on the Northeast Branch which they felt was the main channel. They anchored their ship, Adventure, and rowed the ship's long-boat on trips up several tributaries. The longest of these explorations was four days' travel up-stream and two back down.

As the Hilton party left the Cape Fear they "made a purchase of the river and land of Cape Fair, of Wat Coosa...." They found a warning nearthe mouth of the river left by the New Englanders (of the ill-fated colony earlier that year) which disparaged the country and warned against settlement there. Hilton's report concluded with a rebuttal to that warning:

"we have seen facing both sides of the river and branches of Cape Fear aforesaid, as good land and as well timbered as any we have seen in any other part of the world, sufficient to accommodate thousands of our English nation, and lying commodiously by the said river's side."


It is formed at Haywoodmarker, near the county line between Leemarker and Chathammarker counties, by the confluence of the Deep and Haw rivers just below Jordan Lakemarker. It flows southeast past Lillingtonmarker, Fayettevillemarker, and Elizabethtownmarker, then receives the Black River approximately 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Wilmingtonmarker. At Wilmington, it receives the Northeast Cape Fear River and turns south, widening as an estuary and entering the Atlantic approximately 3 miles (5 km) west of Cape Fear.

During the colonial era, the river provided a principal transportation route to the interior of North Carolina. Today the river is navigable as far as Fayetteville through a series of locks and dams. The estuary of the river furnishes a segment of the route of the Intracoastal Waterway.


  • Cape Fear Memorial Bridge
  • S. Thomas Rhodes Bridge
  • Isabelle Stellings Holmes Bridge
  • Dan Cameron Bridge
  • Parsley Street Bridge

See also


  1. Cape Fear River, The Columbia Gazetteer of North America. Note that despite the gazetteer's claim of the river being the longest entirely within North Carolina, the Neuse River is longer

Sources and external links

Image:Wilmington North Carolina port aerial view.jpg|The port in Wilmington on the Cape Fear River estuaryImage:USACE Lock and Dam 1 Cape Fear River.jpg|Lock and Dam No. 1 on the Cape Fear River in Bladen CountyImage:Mouth of the Cape Fear River.JPG|A cargo ship navigating the mouth of the Cape Fear River at SouthportImage:Cargo Ship at Southport1.JPG|A closeup of a cargo ship passing by Southport

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