Daily Bible Verse

Topsail Island, A Short History

Local folklore claims the name, Topsail (pronounced Tops’ul), dates back to the 1700s when pirate ships roamed the coastal waters. The pirates hid their ships in the channel behind the island and waited for passing merchant ships loaded with goods. Eventually the merchants became aware of this hiding place and began to watch for the tops of the pirates' sails peeking above the oak trees on the island — hence the name Topsail Island. There are those who believe the famous pirate Blackbeard buried a treasure of gold on Topsail Island. In the mid 1900's, there was an effort to find the treasure in when a group of treasure hunters came to Topsail Island in search of Blackbeard's gold. The treasure hunters employed several locals and dug a huge hole on the island that would become known as the "Gold Hole." But in the middle of the night after several months of digging, the treasure hunters disappeared. Did they run out of money? Or did they find the treasure in the "Gold Hole" and leave the workers empty handed? No one really knows, but I prefer to believe that the treasure is still buried somewhere on this wonderful island.

There are three towns on the 26 mile long Topsail Island: North Topsail Beach, Surf City and Topsail Beach. There are about 3500 year round residents, but the population swells to ten times that during the summer months. Many of the locals live by a standard referred to as "Topsail Time." A state of mind that can infect even the most dedicated worker or employee, when time seems to stand still, your problems just fade away with the sounds of the splashing, churning surf and the exquisite beauty of this place. Donna and I were not born here at Topsail Beach, but we got here as quick as we could !!!! We love this island. 

Surf City Shipwreck – The William H. Sumner

September, 7 1919. The Willian H. Sumner, was a phosphate trade ship from Puerto Rico, and was sailing north heading to its homeport in New York City. At this time, it was usual to see three masted schooners sailing the carolina coast off Topsail Island, but what was not normal for them to be shouting distance from the coast.

The story goes that the young 25 year old captain on his first voyage in command had sailed too close to the shore while the currents and winds had died preventing him from sailing back offshore again. That is how the story went when told by first mate Charles Lacey anyways.

When the currents and winds left the schooner stranded near present day New Topsail Inlet, the ship drew closer to the dangerous shoals . .shoals that would rip the bottom out of a 165 foot schooner as she “grounded” on them.

This much is verified, the Sumner ran “aground” that September evening on the shoals in New Topsail Inlet (present day south end of Topsail Island). As the ship was pulverized on the shoals, the first mate made his way to present day Hampstead, where he promptly telegraphed the owners of the ships fate. It also seems that upon his arrival, the young captain was found in a pool of blood, a victim to gunshots, apparently self inflicted over the despair of losing the vessel on his maiden voyage.

By Tuesday, the ship had broken apart on the shoals, the captains body recovered and the jury appointed by the Pender County coroner was unwilling to accept the Captain’s suicide.

It seems that the wounds on the Captain were quite curious, the right lobe of his ear was shot off and a bullet had hit him in between the temples . . .with no gunpowder marks on his face indicating point blank range from the pistol shot or suicide. Adding to the speculation, the ships log only noted “ship beached, anchor dropped” and the letters the captain had recently wrote were of cheerful tone.

The speculation is that the crew had asked the Captain to detour to pick up supplies and the Captain wishing to head northward to port would not. The crew then allegedly mutinied the captain and to their fear, ran aground at Topsail Inlet. Now the crew was sure to be discovered as a mutiny crew and actions had to be taken. We can see the actions that may have been taken clearly now, stage a suicide and move on.

After several trials, the jury still could not decide and the first mate was set free to head to “Alabama on the first thing that smokes”.

Today, depending on the tide and winds, just south of the Surf Condos in Surf City, one can find the remains of the broken schooner with the murder mystery history. One of the broken up parts of the ship has found Surf City, 15 miles to the north, as its resting place buried in the sand to show itself once or twice each year.

Thanks to Chris Rackley of Lewis Realty Associates, Inc. for the above history of our Island.

Chris Rackley 910.328.5211- Lewis Realty Associates, Inc.- Topsail Island Real Estate, Topsail Island MLS and Topsail Island Vacation Rentals – We Know Topsail Island . . .We have Been Here Over Forty Five Years! Serving real estate needs in Topsail Island, Surf City, Topsail Beach, Sneads Ferry, Holly Ridge & Hampstead. Our assortment of Topsail Island Vacation & Long Term Rental properties will fulfill your needs whether staying on the coast for a week or a lifetime.