Federal Point History through Artifacts from the Cape Fear Museum

by Nancy Gadzuk

Jan Davidson, Historian at the Cape Fear Museum, was the featured speaker at the May 21, 2018 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society.

Jan talked about the history of Federal Point and Fort Fisher as depicted by some of the artifacts housed at the Cape Fear Museum.

Pictures of these early artifacts included a number of different styles of Civil War Confederate flags as well as General Whiting’s uniform and sword: Whiting switched sides and joined the Confederacy, taking the time to re-carve and alter the “U.S.” on his sword handle to read “C.S.” for the Confederate States.

She talked about the evolution of the four phases of Fort Fisher: as a battle site, a memorial site, a World War II site, and a state historic site.

As a state historic site, the 150th anniversary and re-enactment of the Battle for Fort Fisher in 2015 acknowledged sacrifices on both sides while focusing on the notion that there was “glory enough for all” in this attack. By focusing on glory, the real issues could be glossed over: that slavery was a real cause of the war and that slaves did not have happy lives.

Many of the artifacts Jan shared from more recent times overlapped or duplicated the excellent collection of beach memorabilia that Elaine Henson has shared with the History Center. The Museum even houses a urinal from Carolina Beach’s Ocean Plaza. (Leslie Bright would be able to speak to the origin of that donation.)

To me, the most interesting part of Jan’s presentation was her account of the transformation of the Cape Fear Museum over time. The Cape Fear Museum is the oldest history museum in North Carolina. It was founded in 1898 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to venerate and honor the Confederacy, and operated out of one room in the Light Infantry’s building.

Until the 1930’s, the museum moved all around Wilmington and even found its collection stored in Raleigh for a while when it couldn’t find a home in Wilmington. When the museum re-opened in the 1930’s, it took a much broader historical focus than it had in 1898. In the 1970’s, the focus broadened again to incorporate the region’s history, science, arts, and cultures to tell more balanced and inclusive stories about the area. This broader focus is reflected in its current name, the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science.

The majority of its collections are in storage as there is not room to display everything. This led to a discussion of Project Grace, a potential collaborative effort between New Hanover County, the public library, Cape Fear Museum, and private investors.

Through this project, the Museum would evolve yet again and become part of a cultural-commercial hub in downtown Wilmington, where the main library is located now. How Project Grace shakes out and shapes up is still to be determined and it will be interesting to follow its progress as it moves forward.

Sharing our histories and stories involves not only looking backward, but looking forward—and being willing and able to change with the times. There was much to learn from Jan’s presentation on how an institution can do that well.

 

July Meeting – Andrew Duppstadt on Pirates, Privateers, and Commerce Raiders

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, July 16, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

This month our speaker is Andrew Duppstadt who will speak on “North Carolina’s Naval Raiders, 1700-1865.”

Throughout much of North Carolina’s early history, naval raiding was practiced by pirates, privateers, blockade runners, and commerce raiders. Though often overshadowed by other colonies or states, the Old North State was home to some of the most prolific naval raiders during their prospective periods of history.

This program examines some of the men who undertook the practice of naval raiding, which brought them relative levels of fame during their time.

Andrew is the Program Development and Training Officer, and Historic Weapons Program Coordinator for North Carolina Division of State Historic Sites, North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. He has a BA and MA in history from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  He is the Assistant Curator of Education for the North Carolina Division of State Historic Sites.  He also serves as an Adjunct Instructor of History at Coastal Carolina Community College and Craven Community College.

 

President’s Letter – July, 2018

By Elaine Henson

Boardwalk, Part III

By 1940 the Boardwalk was truly the Carolina Beach town center.

Not only were there hotels, eateries, bingo parlors, arcades, bath houses, the pavilion, a movie theater, bowling alley, amusements and other summer businesses, but also, essential services that were open year round. Beach residents shopped for groceries at the boardwalk A & P and spirits at the ABC store.

City Hall was located there along with the police station and the fire department.  At one time, the grammar school was on one side of City Hall separated by a sheet from those who conducted the town’s business.

In this Louis T. Moore photo from the NHCPL collection, the back of the pavilion is on the left with a new fire station and fire truck on the right.  Behind the fire station is City Hall.

But, all that was to change. In the early hours of September 19, 1940, a fire in the pavilion was discovered by CB Police Officer Mosely on his nightly rounds.

The pavilion, near the northern end of the boardwalk and Harper Avenue,  was described in a Wilmington Morning Star article as  “Old, unpainted, dried and fattened for the kill by 30 odd summers in the sun, the structure exploded with uncontrolled furry before police Officer Mosley, who discovered the fire, could turn in an alarm.”  A fierce wind blew the fire in both directions but mainly toward the south. It swept down two blocks of the Boardwalk destroying everything in its path ending at the Bame Hotel.

The Bame was located just south of the present day boardwalk gazebo area on the vacant lot where some of the summer rides are located. So, the fire covered the area between today’s Hampton Inn and Marriott Hotel.

 

This photo from the boardwalk looking west shows some of the devastation caused by the fire.  In the left background is the blue building that faces Cape Fear Boulevard in front of the Gazebo.  Photo from the collection of the late Bob and Fran Doetsch.

Undaunted by their losses, the business owners vowed to rebuild in time for the 1941 summer season and they did.  Having accomplished that, Carolina Beach was billed as “The South’s Miracle Beach” on post cards published after the fire and rebuilt.

 

Next month:  Boardwalk, Part IV

 

Historic Boardwalk Tour

Coming this Summer!

Guided Tours

Historic Carolina Beach Boardwalk

10 am every Tuesday!

June 19, 2018 – August 7, 2018

40 minute walking tour

Meet on:  the Boardwalk at the foot of Harper Ave. just south of the new Hampton Inn

Park at: the Municipal Parking lot across from the Town Marina, as close as you can get to the Hampton Inn. Donation requested: $5.00 per person.

Star-News Article on the Boardwalk Tour

Otway Burns

Otway Burns (1775-1850)

Written by Andrew Duppstadt

Born in 1775, on a plantation near Swansboro, Otway Burns had the sea in his veins at an early age.  As an adult, he made and lost his fortune on or near the waters of eastern North Carolina.  He became famous for his daring exploits as a privateer and later as an independent-thinking politician.  He died destitute and virtually unknown, however.

As a young man, Burns partnered with Edward Pasteur, a New Bern physician, planter, and politician, in several entrepreneurial endeavors.  Before the War of 1812, he and Pasteur had started a coastal trading business.  When war came, the two tried their hands at privateering, a lucrative wartime business; with Letters of Marque from the government, privateers captured and burned or condemned commercial ships from enemy nations without punishment.  In New York for $8,000, the two Tar Heels purchased Snap Dragon and commissioned it a privateer on August 27, 1812.  Burns and Pasteur sold shares in their privateering venture to investors in New Bern, Tarboro, and Edenton.

The Snap Dragon became one of the more famous privateers in the history of the United States. The ship measured 85.5 feet long, 22.5 feet wide, and had a draft slightly less than 9 feet. Typically an 80 to 100-man crew had six to eight guns and an assortment of small arms at their disposal. Burns conducted three cruises in the Caribbean and off of the coasts of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and North Carolina.  Burns captured approximately 300 sailors and 42 vessels with a total value of $4 million.  Yet the meteoric rise to fame came at a terrible, personal cost.  His wife left him, taking his only son, Owen.  Five years passed before father and son reunited.

After the war, Burns remarried, built a home in Beaufort, and started shipbuilding and masonry businesses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In 1818 he built one of the state’s first steamboats, Prometheus.  The boat churned on the Cape Fear River between Wilmington and Smithville (now Southport).  Burns was also co-owner of a brick kiln that produced bricks for the construction of Fort Macon.   Burns also owned eleven slaves and a 340-acre plantation on the North River in Carteret County.

In 1821, Burns began his political career.  That year Carteret County citizens elected Burns to the state House of Commons.  Burns served seven terms in the House and four in the Senate.

The Democratic legislator worked to improve the status of free blacks and lift restrictions on free blacks entering the state.  Although a slaveholder, Burns supported education for slaves and free blacks, and although from eastern North Carolina, he supported measures to assist the western region.

The end of Burns political career coincided with his financial ruin and another personal tragedy.  The country experienced an economic depression during the late 1830s.  His resources overextended in financing business ventures, Burns sold most of his property to pay debts.

His political connections worked to his advantage, however, for he secured an appointment as keeper of the Brant Island Shoal Light Boat near Portsmouth.  His second wife died in 1839.  He remarried in 1842 and outlived his third wife.  He retired to the home of John L. Hunter of Portsmouth, where he died on October 25, 1850.  He is buried in Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground beside his second wife.

 

 

Johnston Blakley

Johnston Blakely (1781-1814)

Written by Andrew Duppstadt

Although the most successful American naval officer of the War of 1812, Blakely never enjoyed the fame that he had for so long desired.  It was posthumous.

Born to Scots-Irish parents in 1781, in Seaford, County Down, Ireland, Blakeley immigrated with his family to Charleston, South Carolina in 1783.  Following the death of his mother and younger brother, he and his father, John, moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where his father became a merchant.  In 1790, Edward Jones, John Blakely’s friend, a successful attorney, and the state’s Solicitor General, started rearing the young Blakely as a foster son and sent him to a Long Island, New York academy.  Six years later, Blakely returned to Wilmington after his father’s death.

Determined to make his foster son an attorney, Jones enrolled the young man in the fledgling University of North Carolina.  There he performed exceptionally well.  His academic career was cut short, when financial support vanished in a 1799 Wilmington fire that destroyed the student’s uninsured warehouses.  Refusing to accept a loan from Jones, Blakeley asked instead that Jones secure him a midshipman’s commission in the Navy.  It was delivered on February 5, 1800.

Blakely embarked on his maritime career by sailing in 1800 on the USS President under commander Thomas Truxton and afterward on the USS John Adams under John Rodgers.  His service was spent mainly in the Mediterranean.   By 1806, the Navy, however, had been reduced in size.  Left with no assignment, Blakely helped man a merchant vessel.  At last, Blakeley was commissioned a lieutenant in January, 1807 and returned to the Navy by 1808.  In 1811, he was given command of the brig USS Enterprise that was stationed at various ports, including Charleston, South Carolina, New Orleans, Louisiana,  St. Mary’s, Georgia, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The United States called on Blakely’s maritime skill during the War of 1812.  After capturing one prize in the fall of 1813, Blakeley was ordered to Newburyport, Massachusetts to oversee construction of a new sloop, Wasp.  Designed as a commerce raider, Wasp was rated at 509 tons and eighteen guns with a 173-man crew.  After marrying Anne Hoope, daughter of a New York merchant, Blakely left port on May 1, 1814, at the helm of the newly commissioned Wasp.  Blakeley captured his first prize on June 2.  Within the following month four more prizes were captured and burned.

The fame that had thus far eluded Blakeley became his on June 28, 1814.   Having already spotted, chased, and closed in on the Royal Navy’s HMS Reindeer, a heated battle commenced that day.  Blakeley’s guns overpowered and reduced the British vessel to a drifting hulk.  Also damaged, Blakely sailed to L’Orient, France, to offload prisoners and seek repairs.  En route, with his boat operating at less than 100-percent, the commander still captured two more prizes.

The Wasp was back at sea by August 27, and Blakeley set course for Gibraltar.  He continued cruising successfully throughout the fall, even winning a battle over the HMS Avon.  As news of Blakeley’s success filtered back to the United States in October and early November, he became a hero, and Congress promoted him to Captain on November 24.

Meanwhile, the Wasp’s return was long overdue, and rumors swirled concerning the ship’s fate.  The British never made claims to sinking the ship, but the Wasp vanished somewhere on the Atlantic.  The last confirmed sighting was by a Swedish crew on the Adonis.  They saw the Wasp on October 9, 1814, some 225 miles southwest of Madeira.

While he was on the seas fighting during the War of 1812, he was most likely unaware that his wife was pregnant with their daughter.  She was born in January 1815.  Both the federal and state governments compensated Blakeley’s family, with $900 in back pay, $8,100 in prize money, and a $50-per-month pension until she remarried.  Blakeley’s daughter, Maria, continued to receive the pension until 1830, and the North Carolina legislature even paid for Maria’s education.  In the end, she received $8,000 from the state and a silver tea service in lieu of her late father’s sword.

 

Society Notes – July, 2018

Elections for 2018-2019 Officers and Board
–  We Vote at the July Meeting

President:           Elaine Henson
Vice President: Juanita Winner
Secretary:
Treasurer:          Eddie Capel

Board for 2018-2020:
Steve Arthur, Jimmy Bartley, Barry Nelder, Cheri McNeill, Leslie Bright


Society Notes – July, 2018

By Darlene Bright, History Center Director

  • Welcome to new members Kathy Gwinn of Carolina Beach and Melinda and Glenn Miller of Carolina Beach.
  • The History Center recorded 96 visitors in June. We had 25 at the June Potluck.
  • The History Center was used for meetings held by the Got-Em-On Live Bait Fishing Club
  • Darlene is in the process of training our new treasurer, Eddie Capel and preparing a  budget   for 2018-2019.