Wilmington is a port city in and is the county seat of New Hanover County in coastal southeastern North Carolina, United States. The population is 106,476; according to the 2010 Census it is the eighth most populous city in the state. Wilmington is the principal city of the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area, a metropolitan area that includes New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender counties in southeastern North Carolina, which has a population of 263,429 as of the 2012 Census Estimate.
Wilmington was settled by European Americans along the Cape Fear River. Its historic downtown has a one-mile-long Riverwalk, developed as a tourist attraction. It is minutes away from nearby beaches. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Wilmington, North Carolina, one of its 2008 Dozen Distinctive Destinations. City residents live between the river and the ocean, with four nearby beach communities: Fort Fisher, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach all within half-hour drives from downtown Wilmington.
The area had long been inhabited by indigenous peoples; at the time of European encounter, historic Native Americans were tribes belonging to the Algonquian language family. The ethnic European and African history of Wilmington spans more than two and a half centuries. Giovanni da Verrazano is reportedly the first European to observe the area, including the city's present site, in the early 16th century. The first permanent European settlement in the area came in the 1720s when English colonists began settling the area. In 1733, a community was founded on land owned by John Watson on the Cape Fear River, at the confluence of its northwest and northeast branches. The settlement was first called "New Carthage," then "New Liverpool," but gradually took on the name "New Town" or "Newton". Governor Gabriel Johnston soon after established his provincial government there for the North Carolina colony. In 1739 or 1740, the town was incorporated with a new name, Wilmington, in honor of Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington.
Wilmington's commercial importance as a major port afforded it a critical role in opposition to the British in the years leading up to the Revolution. Additionally, the city was home to outspoken political leaders who influenced and led the resistance movement in North Carolina. The foremost of these was Wilmington resident Cornelius Harnett, who served in the General Assembly at the time, where he rallied opposition to the Sugar Act in 1764. When the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act the following year, designed to raise revenue for the Crown with a kind of tax, Wilmington was the site of an elaborate demonstration against it.
The city supports a very active calendar with its showcase theater, Thalian Hall, hosting about 250 events annually. The complex has been in continuous operation since it opened in 1858 and houses three performance venues, the Main Stage, the Grand Ballroom, and the Studio Theater. The Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Arts Center, 120 S. Second Street in historic downtown Wilmington, is a multiuse facility owned by the City of Wilmington and managed by the Thalian Association, the Official Community Theater of North Carolina. Here, five studios are available to nonprofit organizations for theatrical performances, rehearsals, musicals, recitals and art classes. For more than half a century, the Hannah Block Historic USO Building has facilitated the coming together of generations, providing children with programs that challenge them creatively, and enhance the quality of life for residents throughout the region.
The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra was established in 1971 and offers throughout the year a series of five classical performances, and a Free Family Concert. Wilmington is also home to numerous music festivals. One of the largest DIY festivals, the Wilmington Exchange Festival, occurs over a period of 5 days around Memorial Day each year. It is currently in its 13th year.