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.
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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.
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.
The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, June 18, 6:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.
In lieu of our usual program, we will enjoy our annual summer potluck. Please bring a favorite dish to share with the group. This is always a wonderful time to visit with old friends, but also a great time to introduce new people. PLEASE bring a friend or neighbor who might be interested in joining.
Don’t forget we start one hour earlier, at 6:30 pm.
By the 1920s the boardwalk at Carolina Beach stretched along the strand north of Harper Avenue South to Cape Fear Boulevard connecting to bath houses, concessions and other businesses. The pavilion, called casino in this post card, remained the centerpiece of beach activity located just a few feet south of Harper. The boardwalk connected it to the Ocean View Hotel built in 1929. The Ocean View is left of center in this photograph with the pavilion on the right.
By 1925 the town was incorporated with Robert Plummer as the first mayor. His home and general store were on Cape Fear Boulevard bordering the boardwalk and across from the Greystone Hotel built in 1916. The wooden Bame Hotel was built in 1930 next door to the Greystone.
In the 30s the boardwalks were replaced and extended as a post-Depression project by the WPA.
The three story Bame Hotel and Greystone, with its roof top dance floor, are seen on the right on the postcard below of Cape Fear Boulevard. Plummer’s Store, which also served as an early post office, is across the street behind the pavilion. West of Plummer’s is an early miniature golf course. Both sides of Cape Fear are lined with boardwalks.
August 28, 1893: During the hurricane there was a high tide at Carolina Beach. It broke over the beach into the sound and washed up the boardwalk in front of the cottages. Some of the fences were blown down, but no other damage was done. Capt. Harper brought his steamer WILMINGTON to the beach to be in readiness to take the people off. They found everything quiet and no one alarmed. Residents in the cottages situated for a mile along the beach preferred to stay in their cottages. Many of the beach visitors wanted the opportunity to see the ocean in all its grandeur, with the wild waves lashing the beach, throwing the surf high in the air. WILM. STAR, 8-29-1893.
November 10, 1936: Believed to be the first in North Carolina, an application for the establishment of a highway emergency Red Cross first aid station at Carolina Beach was forwarded to the national headquarters of the American Red Cross. The station was to be located, after approval, on the boardwalk at Carolina Beach in the town hall. The site had been inspected by Red Cross representatives and found satisfactory. The workers who were to administer first aid at the station had just completed a 15-hour course under J. N. Thomas, a Red Cross trained instructor. WILM. NEWS, 11-9-1936.
August 2, 1940: A four-bout amateur boxing card was to be presented at the Carolina Club on the boardwalk at Carolina Beach. The main match was between Tiny Taylor, 218 pounds of Wilmington, Golden Gloves champion of southeastern United States, and Huck Liles, the ―Pride of Raleigh. In the semi-finals engagement, John Johnson, 185 pounds, of Raleigh, will battle Fred Barnhill, of Wilmington, the local Golden Gloves light-heavyweight champion. E. E. Taylor was the promoter of the card. WILM. STAR, 8-2-1940.
June 6, 1941: Carolina Beach opened tonight for the new season. Aside from the new, $500,000 midway and business district, hundreds of new cottages and guest houses had been built during the winter and spring. The famous midway was more varied this year than previously. There were more rides, more concessions, larger stores, longer and wider boardwalks, more benches, public drinking fountains, and a bathing strand which was one-third wider than last year. The life guards added more men and the latest equipment obtainable, and they had enlarged the limits of the restricted bathing area. Carolina Beach was being called ―The Nation’s Miracle Beach. Untrue rumors were being spread that the beach was now filled with soldiers and defense workers and visitors were being discouraged from visiting the beach. WILM. STAR, 6-6-1941.
Summer, 1943: Carolina Beach (Related by Chicken Hicks) ―Carolina Beach was just like a state fair 24 hours a day. There were at least eight jump joints that were just a dance floor and a juke box. They offered rhythm and blues. Running along the ocean front in the town’s center was a wooden boardwalk, raised 3 to 10 feet above the sand. It was flanked by two rows of one and two-story rooming houses and cottages filled with vacationers. Service men from nearby bases swarmed the boardwalk, vendors sold beer, hot dogs, surf mats and towels, and children frolicked at the water‘s edge. Navy ducks shuttled people back and forth to fishing boats anchored offshore. Every morning loud-speakers blared out Glenn Miller‘s ―Sunrise Serenade. A corner café was open 24 hours per day.
There was ―fas’ dancin’ (what came to be called the shag) in every nook and cranny on the boardwalk. Carolina Beach was where the majority of people came to dance. An arcade was known as Danceland. The Green Lantern, which sold beer and rented surf mats during the day, also had a juke box. Nickels clanked in the nickelodeons and leather soles shuffled and slid across the sandy floors in special open-air juke joints, called ―sugar-bowls, as the surf pounded the background rhythm.
One of the oldest buildings, built in 1946, was ―smack dab in the middle of the boardwalk. It housed the ―Milk Pail restaurant, the Tijuana Inn and a swimmer‘s bath-house on the first floor. Upstairs was the Ocean Plaza Ballroom renowned for its big bands. With a 5,000-square-foot floor, the Ocean Plaza was the largest dance hall on the beach, holding 500 people, elbow to elbow. Large French double-door windows opened up for the ocean breezes. Here you could catch Jack Teagarden play trombone and watch the dancers, called jitterbugs.
The boardwalk at Carolina Beach teamed with service men. After World War II, fights broke out between the jealous service men and the jitterbugs, who were often called beach bums. There were fights with the Army, the paratroopers and the Marines.
Across from the Ocean Plaza was a club called The Roof one year and Bop City another. Jimmy Cavello’s Combo was the house band in 1948. Some of the best records used in the jukeboxes came from the black beach at Sea Breeze. The forbidden black jive music jumped the Jim Crow rope. Some of the popular records were Joe Liggins’ I’ve Got a Right To Cry, Paul Williams’ The Hucklebuck, Buddy Johnson’s Fine Brown Frame, Wynonie Harris’ Good Rockin’ Tonight, Erskine Hawkins’ Tippin’ In, Lucky Millinder’s Big Fat Mama and Count Basie’s One O’Clock Boogie. On the south end of the boardwalk, past Batson’s Jump Joint, was the Sugar Bowl No. 2, an open-air oceanfront dance floor, 70-by-30 feet, bounded by railings. THE STATE – JULY, 1994
September 8, 1943: Carolina Beach was boasting about its community clinic located in the back room of the old city hall on the boardwalk. Through the courtesy of Mrs. Homer Wysong, widow of the late Dr. Homer Wysong, this first aid station was equipped. The staff included three registered nurses and three Red Cross graduates and three volunteers. Mrs. Hannah Block of Wilmington and Carolina Beach worked hard to get this clinic started. She had the clinic room painted snow white. A course of Red Cross first aid was to be offered on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 7 p.m. for five weeks. WILM. NEWS, 9-9-1943.
June 16: “The Faces of Fort Fisher” – The stories of Fort Fisher detail the struggle for the Fort. But just as important are the stories of the people who populated the fort and its two battles. Join us as Dr. Chris Fonvielle discusses the people who lived, worked, fought, and died at Fort Fisher. Copies of his books will be on sale and can be signed by the author.
June 23 : “The WASP Program and Fort Fisher” – During World War II, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, were the first women trained to fly our military’s front line arsenal. In July 1943, the first 25 specially selected women arrived at the Camp Davis Army Air Field with orders to provide targets for the Anti-Aircraft training happening in the area. Join us as Assistant Site Manager, John Moseley, presents this unique story and its connection to Fort Fisher’s Antiaircraft Firing Point.
June 30: “The Roots of Colonial Resistance to Stamp Act and the Road to Revolution” – Parliament’s Stamp Act of 1765 focused colonial resistance to Great Britain’s attempts to impose new taxes on the colonies without the consent of colonial legislatures. The rise of colonial resistance was also based on fiscal policy leading to an attempt to arrest British officials in Brunswick Town and placed Governor Tryon under a short house arrest. Join us as Fort Fisher Interpreter, Rick Morrison, a retired US Navy Captain, discusses this unique facet in our local history.
July 7: “The Silent Sentinels” – We pass them all the time. They dot our State’s roads, parks and cemeteries. John Winecoff, of the North Carolina Military History Society, has spent years documenting all the military memorials in North Carolina’s 100 counties. They are the silent witnesses to the sacrifices of our men and women in over 243 years of our country’s history.
July 14: “At the Mercy of the Angel of Death: The 1862 Wilmington Yellow Fever Epidemic” – During the Civil War, the mosquito carried a dark and deadly secret. Learn how this little bug and its pathological comrades waged their own biological warfare upon unsuspecting soldiers and citizens. Shannon Walker, Interpreter at Brunswick Town Fort Anderson State Historic Site, will be here to discuss this insect and the deadly Civil War medical issues it brought.
July 21: “General Lee’s Immortals” – During the Civil War, North Carolina fielded numerous infantry, artillery, and cavalry units. One of those units was the Brach-Lane Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia. The unit formed in 1861 and fought from the Seven Days’ battle to the final surrender at Appomattox. Join historian and author, Michael C. Hardy, and explore this history of one of North Carolina’s storied units in the Civil War.
July 28: “Welcoming Sherman: Wilmington and the Cape Fear” – With the fall of Wilmington, Federal forces were able to use the Cape Fear River as a much needed supply base. Mr. Wade Sokolosky, a retired career army officer, will discuss the US Navy and Army’s use of the Cape Fear River to support Sherman’s troops in Fayetteville. Copies of his book on the Battle of Wyes Fork will be on sale and can be signed by the author.
August 4: “A Post-War Confederate Sailor: Finding H.S. Lebby, Blockade Runner and Privateer” – Sailors’ Snug Harbor, New York, a retirement home for the purpose of caring for ‘worn out and decrepit sailors,” opened its doors in 1833 on Staten Island to all seamen from all countries. Henry Sterling (H. S.) Lebby noted on his application he had worked on merchant vessels for the US. And yet, it is clear from records in South Carolina, H.S. Lebby was not the man he claimed to be. Who is Captain Lebby and why is he in New York living out his last years at Sailors’ Snug Harbor?