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The county was formed in 1764 but was settled many years before. Many natives descend from those early pioneers, who were Scottish, Irish, English and French. The first county seat was Brunswick Town on the west bank of the Cape Fear River near present-day Southport. It was founded by Maurice Moore, son of Governor James Moore. In 1779 the county seat was moved to Lockwood Folly and in 1808 to Smithville (Southport), where it remained for 167 years before it was moved to its present location in Bolivia.
As the region has grown, newcomers have brought with them diversity in language, culture and religion that is reflected in increasing use of the Spanish language and restaurants boasting Italian and Asian cuisine and Jamaican specialties along with traditional seafood dishes. Worshipers can choose from interdenominational services on the beach strand, Buddhist ceremonies at their temple in the community of Supply or traditional observances at numerous Protestant and Catholic churches. Novant Health, New Hanover Regional Medical Center and Dosher Memorial Hospital as well as many specialty groups that have full-service facilities in the county.