By 1713 European settlers, who came from surrounding counties, neighboring states, and even from New England, had crossed the White Oak River into present-day Onslow County. It is difficult to determine from the incomplete records of the time, but it appears that the first permanent settlers in the area around Camp Lejeune were the three Dexter brothers from Massachusetts who recorded land grants beginning in 1713 at Bear Creek, Brown's Island, and Mittam's (later Town) Creek.
Although the New River was used as the major transportation and commercial trade route, it presented the early settlers with many navigational problems. The inlet bar of the New River was extremely shallow, prohibiting large ships from entering the mouth of the river. Portions of the inlet contained shifting channels and an interwoven series of oyster rocks (accumulated beds of oyster shells) extending almost 600 yards down the primary channel beyond the inlet and into the open ocean. As a result of these limitations, only a few small, slow-growing settlements developed.