We assessed determinants and consequences of multistage dispersal on spatial recruitment of the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, within the Croatan, Albemarle, Pamlico Estuarine System (CAPES), North Carolina, U.S.A. Large-scale sampling of early juvenile crabs over 4 years indicated that spatial abundance patterns were size-dependent and resulted from primary post-larval dispersal (pre-settlement) and secondary juvenile dispersal (early post-settlement). In general, primary dispersal led to high abundances within more seaward habitats, whereas secondary dispersal (which was relatively consistent) expanded the distribution of juveniles, potentially increasing the estuarine nursery capacity. There were strong relationships between juvenile crab density and specific wind characteristics; however, these patterns were spatially explicit. Various physical processes (e.g., seasonal wind events, timing and magnitude of tropical cyclones) interacted to influence dispersal during multiple stages and determined crab recruitment patterns. Our results suggest that the nursery value of different habitats is highly dependent on the dispersal potential (primary and secondary dispersal) to and from these areas, which is largely determined by the relative position of habitats within the estuarine landscape.