In Wilmington, NC, we are no strangers to television shows. After all, we have long been the home to “One Tree Hill”, “Dawsons Creek”, “Revolution”, and now DC’s “Swamp Thing” – all under the name of another city. But this year, Wilmington is actually the setting of a very popular television series – Starz’s “Outlander”, which is based on the series of books by Diana Gabaldon and developed by Ronald D. Moore. Sadly, filming doesn’t actually take place in Wilmington, but local fans can still enjoy the feeling that they have one foot in Jamie and Claire’s world.
During the first 3 seasons, “Outlander” was set in the Scottish Highlands. It follows the story of Claire Randall, a World War II nurse who in 1945 is accidentally sent back in time to 1743. In the past, she find herself in the middle of the Jacobite rising. As she struggles to get herself back to the gateway to the future, she falls for Jamie Fraser, a Scottish warrior.
In season 4, the story shifts to the Americas. Jamie has family in North Carolina and what was a main port at the time? Wilmington, NC. So, Jamie and Claire enter North Carolina through Wilmington and travel up the Cape Fear Rive to River Run before finally settling in the mountains in fictitious “Fraser’s Ridge”. Meanwhile, in the future, Claire’s daughter learns of her and Jamie’s coming deaths, and does everything she can to save them. The deaths were reported in The Wilmington Gazette. This newspaper is an anachronism – something created for the story – as the newspapers in 1769 were the N.C. Gazette and The Cape Fear Mercury. The Wilmington Gazette was created sometime around 1801 and was printed through 1815.
The set designers imagine Wilmington, NC, as close-built Colonial style structures, some with balconies and covered porches. This feels wholly different from what we now experience as we walk through our Historic Downtown, as few structures from the 1700s remain. But it does have the ambience expected of a typical Colonial settlement, one with a touch of raw danger due to the port (and, perhaps, our area’s pirate history?).
As a fan of “Outlander”, it’s been fun seeing multiple episodes take place in Wilmington. It truly is like stepping back in time. I imagine Gabaldon and the television writers have taken some liberties with the story. After all, there is no clear record of George Washington visiting Wilmington (as he does in the show) prior to his Southern Tour in 1791, but could it have happened? Maybe. Bah. Let’s not dig too deep, shall we. That takes all the fun out of it.
Are you an “Outlander” fan? What do you think of the series’ fictitious move to North Carolina?
If you’re a North Carolina “Outlander” fan, check out Outlander North Carolina. The owner, Beth, writes about the series, as well as historic moments and sites in North Carolina that relate to the story. She’s also helming A Fraser’s Ridge Homecoming in Ferguson, NC, in October 2019. Experience North Carolina as Jamie and Claire did!
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