A History Of Topsail Island

Topsail Island is a barrier island north of Wilmington that offers some of the most scenic and least populated beaches along coastal North Carolina. With its maritime forests and wide beaches with cooling ocean breezes, Topsail Island, measuring 26 miles long and 500 to 1,500 feet wide, has a charm not often encountered in other areas.

Geographically, Topsail is the next barrier island of any size north of Wrightsville Beach. It lies off the shore of both Pender and Onslow counties south of Jacksonville. The island is split between the two counties, with the northern half, which includes the town of North Topsail Beach, in Onslow County, and the southern half, which includes the towns of Surf City and Topsail Beach, in Pender County.

Island history dates back to prehistoric times, but the first written records of the island are from the 1500s when early explorers described the abundant seafood beds. Not much was written about the island for some time after that, but according to legend, two prominent pirates, Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet, buried treasure hereabouts, and visitors with metal detectors keep looking for it.

Why The Name?

How did Topsail Island get its name? Legend has it that many moons ago, pirates used to hang out in the sound between the island and the mainland. When they spied a likely prospect to plunder, they’d race out and do their pirate thing to the hapless merchant ship. Eventually the merchantmen figured this out, so when they saw the top sails of a ship behind the island, they figured it was a pirate. Whether that helped them to avoid the pirates or not, who knows? But it’s a cool legend. By the way, only visitors pronounce the name Top-sail; it’s properly Top’sl.

These days, very few pirates are lurking behind the island, which makes for considerably less piracy. On the other hand, the island itself has become a much more jolly place, what with civilization and development having made the island a far more pleasant place to live and visit.

Greater Topsail Chamber

The Greater Topsail Island Chamber of Commerce is located located on the Causeway before the Surf City swing bridge. The staff is happy to provide visitors with whatever information they might need to make their visit to Topsail Island a pleasurable one.