New Bern, North Carolina, (population 26,468) sits at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, only 35 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. German and Swiss colonists led by Baron Christoph von Graffenreid settled the city in 1710. New Bern served as the colonial capital from 1766 to 1788, and the New Bern Academy, the first public school in North Carolina, was established there in 1766.
New Bern became a leading port and mercantile center from the mid 18th to the early 19th centuries. Much of the city’s African American culture and history dates from this time, as its bustling port offered many opportunities for free blacks as seamen, stevedores, and peddlers. In 1860, free blacks accounted for 13 percent of New Bern’s population, more than any other town in North Carolina.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a thriving lumber industry dominated New Bern’s economy. Today the city has an active business community, with public administration one of its largest employment sectors.
One of the highlights of a visit to New Bern is a visit to the home of the royal governor, Tryon Palace. Only the stable and one basement wall are original, but the structure and furnishings were reconstructed in the 1950s based on historic plans, maps, and letters. The 13-acre historic site and garden complex also includes the John Wright Stanly House (circa 1783), the Robert Hay House (circa 1805), the New Bern Academy (circa 1809), and the George W. Dixon House (circa 1826).
New Bern also showcases its history in the Firemen’s Museum and the Birthplace of Pepsi-Cola Museum. The city offers a series of historic walking tours highlighting African American heritage, historic homes, historic churches and cemeteries, and the Civil War. This tour features the Battle of New Bern Battlefield, now being restored. More than 150 homes and buildings in New Bern are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Each October, the city hosts the New Bern Mumfest, which features food, music, dance, local crafts, and a boat show and heritage boatbuilding event.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2007.