The Gullah Geechee People

Excerpts from the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor website

THE PEOPLE

The Gullah Geechee people are the descendants of Central and West Africans who came from different ethnic and social groups.

They were enslaved together on the isolated sea and barrier islands that span what is now designated as the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor – a stretch of the U.S. coastline that extends  from Pender County, North Carolina to St. John’s County, Florida and for 30 miles inland.

The result was an intense interaction among Africans from different language groups in settings where enslaved Africans and their descendants formed the majority.

Over time, they developed the Creole Gullah Geechee language as a means of communicating with each other and they were also able to preserve many African practices in their language, arts, crafts and cuisine.

LANGUAGE

Gullah is a unique Creole language spoken along the Sea Islands and adjacent coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia.  The residents in Georgia are typically referred to as “Geechee.” Gullah language began as a simplified form of communication among people of different languages including European slave traders, slave owners and diverse African ethnic groups. The vocabulary and grammatical roots come from European and African languages.

Gullah Geechee language is the only distinctly African Creole language in the United States and has influenced traditional Southern vocabulary and speech patterns.

ARTS, CRAFTS AND MUSIC

 

Enslaved Africans brought a rich heritage of cultural traditions in art, foodways and music.  ​Arts and crafts are the result of products designed by necessity for activities of subsistence and daily living such as making cast nets for fishing,  basket weaving for agriculture and textile arts for clothing and warmth.

The art of making cast nets for fishing has been passed down by enslaved Africans brought to the southeastern shores of the United States.  Gullah Geechee people continue to use the nets to harvest from the Sea Island waterways, but the tradition is labor intensive and artists are dwindling in numbers as younger generations have lost interest.

African textile traditions that included sewing strips of cloth into larger patterns were combined with European quilting methods and a Creole art form emerged. Quilts with bright colors and designs were originally made for necessity. These traditions also allowed women a  time for social interaction.

Sweetgrass baskets, originally designed for rice production and processing and other domestic uses in Africa, were used for agricultural purposes such as planting and harvesting of coastal crops. Made of bulrush, sweetgrass and split oak, the African art of basket making was significant as a traditionally passed down handicraft practiced by both men and women using similar materials from their homeland.  Baskets also gained recognition for the skill of an artist and uniqueness in style. Even in historic times, baskets were sold to non-Gullah Geechee people and were a source of additional income.

African songs are the foundation for what may be referred to as Gullah music. Deeply rooted in music traditions brought to the Americas by enslaved Africans, the music evolved out of the conditions of slavery that characterized their lives.  The influence and evolution of musical forms that arose out of Gullah music can be heard in many musical genres such as spirituals and gospel music,  ragtime, rhythm and blues, soul, hip hop  and jazz.

FOODWAYS

Food has always played an important role in social traditions in many cultures. Gatherings, celebrations, and religious rituals are often accompanied by food.

The Gullah diet consisted of items available locally such as vegetables, fruits, game, seafood, livestock; items  imported from Europe,  items imported from Africa during the slave trade  (okra, rice, yams, peas, hot peppers, peanuts, sesame “benne” seeds, sorghum and watermelon),  and food introduced by  Native Americans such as corn, squash, tomatoes and berries.  Rice became a staple crop for both Gullah and whites in the southeastern coastal regions.

Although a bounty of food types existed, there was not always a bounty of food available for enslaved Gullah people or their descendants. Making use of available food (or rations), making a little go a long way, supplementing with fish and game, leftovers from butchering and communal stews shared with neighbors were African cultural practices.

African cooking methods and seasonings were applied in the Gullah homes and plantation kitchens.  Because plantation cooks were primarily enslaved women, many of the African cooking traditions were employed along with creatively incorporating foods introduced by European, Spanish and American Indian influence, much of the food today referred to as “Southern” comes from the creativity and labor of enslaved African cooks from the plantations.

 SPIRITUAL EXPRESSION

 

Religion and spirituality have a sustaining role in Gullah family and community life. Enslaved Africans were exposed to Christian religious practices in a number of ways and incorporated elements that were meaningful to them into their African rooted system of beliefs.  These values included belief in a God, community above individuality, respect for  elders, kinship bonds and ancestors; respect for nature, and honoring the continuity of life and the afterlife.

Some plantation owners had regular religious services on the plantation and required slaves to attend. Some plantations had separate services for blacks with black preachers. Plantations frequently had a praise house or small structure where slaves could meet for religious services, but these also had significance in maintaining community cohesion, social structure and conflict resolution.

 

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

 

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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

The Carolina Beach Boardwalk – From the Bill Reeves Files

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.


More articles:   Bill Reaves Files – by Subject.

Federal Point Chronology 1725 – 1994  Compiled By Bill Reaves

President’s Letter – April, 2018

The Breakers Hotel, Part IV
by Elaine Henson

In this Breakers Hotel ad from the Sunday Star News, June 13, 1948 edition, one can see that the building has been stuccoed and painted white giving it a whole new look.  The ad’s photo shows the side of the Breakers that faced the street. It also shows a north wing and south wing with a recessed porch in between.  The lobby and dining room faced the ocean on the other side along with the long porch running the building’s length.  The original 50 bedrooms have been converted to 73 and the manager that year was George Earl Russ.

In late 1951, the Breakers was purchased by Earl Russ and John Crews.  They spent $5,000 in repairs and new furnishings before a fire broke out in the southern wing apartment on January 10, 1952.  The fire mainly affected the southern wing with the main part and northern wing unscathed.

Two years after the fire, Russ and Crews sold the hotel to Lawrence C. Kure and Glenn Tucker.  They had bought the Wilmington Beach Corporation which included the remaining unsold land.

Tucker planned to market the remaining building lots and Kure planned to build a 1,000 foot pier in front of the Breakers to be named the Wilmington Beach Pier.

It was begun in December of 1953 and completed in time for the 1954 summer season. That was the pier’s  only summer.  On October 15, 1954, mighty Hurricane Hazel destroyed the pier and most of the hotel.

What remained was later torn down bringing an end to the Breakers Hotel.

On its footprint today is Sea Colony Condominiums, between the Golden Sands and Pelican Watch.

The pier ruins stayed on for many years and was nicknamed “Stub Pier” by locals.  It was just south of Center Pier which also opened that summer of 1954, and suffered damage in the only Category 4 hurricane to hit our area in all of the Twentieth Century to present.

 

Fisherman’s Steel Pier

Carolina Beach, NC  (1956 – 1977)

Excerpt from North Carolina’s Ocean Fishing Piers by Al Baird

If there was ever a pier that described the disclaimer ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time,’ it would be Fisherman’s Steel Pier on Carolina Beach.

J.R. Bame and his son J.C. Bame, both Carolina Beach businessmen, were approached with the idea to build a steel pier in 1955. The elder Bame, who already owned a hotel and Center Pier, thought it was a good idea.

In Spring of 1955, they began construction on the state’s third steel pier. The price tag was estimated at about $75,000. At the very beginning of construction, Hurricane Connie destroyed half of what had been built, but the pier was operational by 1956.

Angler Jack Wood recalls the location of Fisherman’s Steel Pier as ‘downtown at the boardwalk.’ The entrance was behind the bumper cars and north of the putt-putt. That put it right across the street from Carolina Beach’s largest amusement park, Seashore Park.

“The pier was built on the site of the Fergus cottage, which was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel, and R.C. Fergus would later become part owner. The one-thousand-foot-long pier was an instant attraction, but – as was the case with other steel piers in the state – the metal did not hold up in the salt water.”

“Fisherman’s Steel Pier had an arcade and a grill, but the main feature was the Skyliner chairlift, which lifted sightseers thirty feet into the air and out over the length of the pier. Many old postcards of the pier and the ride can be found online and in antique stores.”

“In the late 1960s, Bame and Fergus sold Fisherman’s Steel Pier to Effie and Howard McGirt from Zebulon, North Carolina, who were looking for something to do during their retirement years at the beach. One common postcard from 1970 shows the McGirts standing in front of the Skyliner ride at the entrance of the pier.”

“The pier lost about 150 feet to a storm in 1969, and by the early 1970’s, the pier was too much upkeep for the McGirt’s, who returned it to Bame and Fergus. Fisherman’s Steel Pier was closed and demolished shortly after.”

 

Federal Point Methodist Church

[Originally published in the July, 1996 FPHPS Newsletter – Sandy Jackson, editor]

[Editor (1996):  The following article on the Federal Point Methodist Church written by Jim Hardie originally appeared in the Wilmington News on February 23, 1956. I wish to thank Mr. Peter Haswell for bringing this article to my attention.]

Situated among the scrub oaks and long-leaf pines in this remote area of New Hanover County is a quaint three-room church which might be the “Mother” Methodist Church in North Carolina. ‘I think it’s considered the “Mother” Methodist Church in the state,’ said V. E. Queen, Methodist district superintendent.

01-FedPtMethodist-ChurchCemetary-Dow-Rd-Sign1There are no records available to confirm, or discredit, Federal Point Methodist Church as being the original Methodist Church in the state. At any rate, the church is definitely more than 112 years old, and may possibly be 162 years old. Some of the valuable old records in the basement of the historic old New Hanover County Courthouse, which date back to the early 1700’s throw some light on the subject, but there are years which slipped by unrecorded, leaving a vast area of unknown which only speculation can fill.

On July 14, 1725, the Commonwealth of North Carolina deeded to Maurice Moore, “500 acres, more or less,” at the southeastern corner of New Hanover County. That 500 acres today takes in Kure Beach and Fort Fisher. Moore acquired the land because as a major in the army, he had led some troops across the Cape Fear River and landed in the vicinity of Sugar Loaf Hill, a few hundred yards north of Federal Point.

Moore expressed the desire to establish a settlement around Sugar Loaf and Federal Point, and did so. At the same time he got the land for a settlement at Federal Point, Major Moore was building a plantation on a overlooking the Cape Fear River, just north of Orton Plantation.

It wasn’t until the spring of 1736 that the 500 acres which Moore had acquired, changed hands. Thomas Merrick took over the vast stretch of sandy wasteland from Moore.

Merrick had two daughters, Dorothy and Sarah. In his will, Merrick directed that all his land be divided equally between his daughters. Dorothy died without marrying, and Sarah was sole heir to the acres of sand, bordered on the south and east by the ocean, on the west by the Cape Fear River, and on the north by a boundary line.

Sarah Merrick married Samuel Ashe, Jr., and in 1788, they sold the southern half of their land to Archibald McLaine, and in 1792, they sold the remaining tract to William Mosely.

Moser didn’t hold onto the 300 acres he bought, very long, because on April 12, 1794, he sold his holdings at Federal Point to Joseph Newton. Some 49 years had passed from the time the state gave 500 acres to Major Maurice Moore, and Joseph Newton bought 300 acres of the same tract.

Federal Point Methodist Church 1935 Foreground - A Hewlett Grave

Federal Point Methodist Church 1935
Foreground – A Hewlett Grave

It was on the 300 acres bought by Joseph Newton that the Federal Point Methodist Church was built. It is entirely possible that a hand-full of people began holding simple worship services on the land of Joseph Newton soon after he bought it. This speculation is strengthened by the knowledge that a settlement existed at Federal Point during that time, and there is reason to believe those settlers were religious. Being far removed from the church facilities afforded by Wilmington, it is reasonable to assume they had their own makeshift services.

They may have congregated at Newton’s home on Sundays, then sometime later built a small meeting place which came to be known as the ‘Meeting House.’  New Hanover historian Louis T. Moore has no records on the Federal Point Methodist Church, but he has some ideas in connection with its beginning.

Moore, a direct descendant of Maurice Moore, the original owner of the land, agrees that a group could have held church meetings at Joseph Newton’s home as early as 1794, “But I doubt it. It is more likely that Federal Point Methodist Church was organized in the early eighteen hundreds, following the arrival of the Rev. William Meredith,” Moore said.

The Rev. Mr. Meredith came to Wilmington in 1797, and is regarded as the first Methodist minister in this area. Grace Methodist Church, which was organized in Wilmington, by the Rev. Mr. Meredith in 1797, is considered by historian Moore, as being the oldest Methodist Church in the state. There is no doubt that the arrival of the Rev. Mr. Meredith in this area the Methodist movement in this section, but there is still the contention that a group was meeting at Joseph Newton’s home before the Rev. Mr. Meredith came.

The early years during which Joseph Newton built his ‘homeplace’ at Federal Point, are shrouded by mystery, and it isn’t until the 1840s that we are able to pick up the chain of recorded events. Edward Newton, Jr., grandson of Joseph Newton, stipulated in his will, drawn January 15, 1844, that his entire 50 acres estate be left to his wife, Euphemia, ‘Except the Meeting House.’

It was on the 50 acres owned by Edward that the old Joseph Newton homeplace stood. However, no mention is made of when the Meeting House was built, or when the people first got together, and started holding religious services. We know that it was sometime between April 12, 1794, when Joseph Newton bought the land, and January 15, 1844, when Edward made reference to the Meeting House in his will.

There is considerable more history to the church, especially the part it played in the War Between the States, when the cannons at nearby Fort Fisher rattled the very foundations the Meeting House stood on, but that is a part of the mystery of its beginning. It is a romantic history indeed, and a history which easily stirs the imagination, and returns our thoughts to those days of yesteryear.

The historic old Federal Point Methodist Church will be abandoned soon because it is located in the area designated as a ‘safety zone’ for the Sunny Point Army Terminal. According to an agreement between the church and the government, the graveyard beside the church can still be used, and the government will provide maintenance for the burial ground.

At the present time, [1956] there are about 30 members of the church, and the pastor is Douglas Nathan Byrd, a ministerial student at High Point College. The present building was erected between 1910-12, and is located some 300 yards northeast of the site of the original Meeting House.

[Additional Resources]

July 1996 Newsletter (pdf) – Federal Point Historic Preservation Society
Newton Homesite and Cemetery
Oral History – Howard Hewett – Federal Point Methodist Episcopal Church

North Carolina & Tobacco

[excerpt from http://www.pbs.org/pov/brightleaves/historical-background/]

Tobacco and tobacco growers put North Carolina on the map.

Since the colonial era, the economy was fueled primarily by agriculture, and for the past century tobacco was North Carolina’s key product. Farming and industry in the state were built around the crop, and two of the four largest cities developed as company towns for the world’s largest tobacco companies.

Ironically, the innovation that led the state to become a tobacco-growing powerhouse came from a slave, a man named Stephen who worked on the farm of Captain Abisha Slade.

While curing a batch of tobacco in a smoky barn, he let the wood fire go out, and quickly restarted it with charcoal. The intense heat cured the tobacco quickly, turning it a vivid yellow. When this “brightleaf” (or flue-cured) tobacco was sold, it proved appealing to smokers, and within a decade, flue-cured tobacco became one of the most common varieties in production. The rapid curing process was also particularly well-suited for tobacco grown in the sandy soil of the coastal plains. Suddenly, farms that were producing other crops turned to tobacco.

North of Durham, a small farmer named Washington Duke opened a small factory on his homestead, producing loose tobacco for rolling cigarettes. Through an intense marketing effort, Duke managed to earn substantial profits from a relatively small output of flue-cured tobacco.

With his son James Buchanan “Buck” Duke, he later moved the business to downtown Durham, close to the tobacco warehouses where small farmers  sold their crops. Duke’s biggest rival was W.T. Blackwell and Company, which marketed a popular “Spanish” blend of tobacco that later gained fame under the trade name Bull Durham.

Smoking began to replace chewing as the preferred means of consuming tobacco, and cigars and cigarettes came to be seen as stylish accessories. In 1880, manufacturers based in North Carolina produced 2 million pre-rolled cigarettes, each of them rolled by hand.

Each of the largest manufacturers sought to mechanize the rolling process, but met with little success until 1884, when Washington and Buck Duke signed an exclusive contract to use a machine designed by James Bonsack. Using Bonsack’s machine, the Dukes were able to produce more cigarettes than all their competitors combined.

Determined to broaden the scope of his business, Buck Duke invested heavily in advertising and promotion, cementing his company’s place as the market leader. By 1890, five firms accounted for 90 percent of the cigarette market. Duke persuaded his rivals to merge, forming the American Tobacco Company, which controlled the majority of the world tobacco trade until it was broken up under a Supreme Court antitrust ruling in 1911.

The five companies that emerged from that reorganization — R.J. Reynolds, American Tobacco, Lorillard, Liggett and Myers and the British-American Tobacco Company — continued to dominate the market for decades.

Growing was still dominated by larger farms, but demand was so great that even small farmers were able to make profits with tobacco. Sharecropping and tenant farming became common among people who owned no land. Large numbers of African-Americans in the eastern part of the state farmed in this manner, paying a portion of each year’s crop as “rent” to large landowners. As late as 1923, nearly half of the state’s farmers were tenants.

During the Great Depression, farmers tried to compensate for lowered prices by producing more tobacco, leading to even lower prices. The federal government responded by providing subsidies for farmers. In 1938, a quota system was instituted, establishing strict limits on how much each farm could produce, and providing government-sponsored price supports.

Farming and manufacturing recovered quickly with the onset of World War II, as soldiers were once again supplied with cigarette rations. Postwar prosperity also boosted demand for cigarettes, which grew until the early 1960s, when concerns about the dangers of smoking became a major public health issue. The US Surgeon General issued a report in 1964 arguing that smoking caused lung cancer and a host of other medical problems.

Over the next four decades, as the number of American smokers declined steadily and restrictions on public smoking increased, the large manufacturers began cutting costs and laying off large numbers of workers and relocating their factories to less expensive areas.

American Tobacco left Durham in 1987, and R.J. Reynolds moved its corporate headquarters away from Winston-Salem in 1989. Both companies made steep cuts at production facilities throughout the 1990s. In 2000, the last cigarette manufacturer, Liggett and Myers, left Durham. The most profitable market for cigarettes in the past decade has been in Asia, and American companies have invested heavily in overseas factories to lower their costs.

As demand for domestically produced tobacco flagged, the federal quotas were also diminished, leading many farmers to cease growing tobacco. The quota system ended in 2005, as part of a $10 billion package to end federal price supports for tobacco growers.

The Tobacco Transition Payment Program (TTPP) provided farmers a series of annual payments, starting in 2005 and continuing until 2014. This program also ended all restrictions on tobacco farmers, but analysts predicted that the majority of growers will cease growing tobacco.

 

Brunswick River Harbored Huge Mothball Fleet

By Ben Steelman
Wilmington StarNews, October 12, 2001

Officially the National Defense Reserve Fleet (and sometimes called “the Ghost Fleet”), the anchored rows of World War II surplus transport vessels, were a presence in Wilmington from 1946 to 1970.

Parked along the Brunswick River, the fleet was described in the press as “the second largest ship graveyard in the world.” (The largest was on the James River near Hampton Roads, Va.)

After World War II, the U.S. Maritime Commission established a “Reserve Fleet Basin” on the Brunswick River to house Liberty ships and other vessels that were no longer needed after demobilization. The first of these vessels, the SS John B. Bryce, arrived at the site on Aug. 12, 1946. Others quickly followed.

During the next few years, ships were moved in and out of the basin; in all, 628 vessels were tied up there at one time or another. The vast majority of these – 542 – were Liberty ships, the mass-produced workhorse freighters like those turned out by the N.C. Shipbuilding Co. in Wilmington. The basin also housed a total of 68 “Victory” ships and 41 vessels of other types, including tankers.

Generally, five of these ships were kept on a high level of readiness, to sail “at a moment’s notice” in the event of a national emergency. The rest were “mothballed,” coated in red-oxide paint, oil and varnish as preservatives to prevent rust.

At its heyday, the U.S. Maritime Administration (which took over the fleet in 1950, after the Maritime Commission was abolished), employed 296 workers on the Brunswick River basin, with a $600,000 payroll.

Many of these were armed guards to prevent theft of the ships’ copper and brass fittings; others were involved in routine maintenance. The ships were lashed and anchored together in groups of five, with each fifth ship moored to pilings driven deep into the river bottom.

Despite these precautions, two of the mothballed freighters broke loose during Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and drifted down the channel, threatening to collide with the U.S. 74 bridge until a tugboat pushed them out-of-the-way.

On Dec. 8, 1958, the SS Edgecomb, a Victory ship, became the last vessel to be tied up at the basin. Beginning in 1958, the government began to sell off older and less fit vessels for scrap, while others were moved to the James River. By 1964, only 152 vessels were left on the Brunswick River, but they remained a formidable sight. “Many motorists stop along the highway to look up the river at them,” said E.W. Thompson, an administrator with the reserve fleet.

By 1968, the total was down to 15 ships. Many were scrapped by Horton Industries in Wilmington; Gilliam Horton, of Horton Iron & Metal, told the Wilmington Morning Star in 1968 that his company could finish off two ships in 90 days.

The last remaining member of the Mothball Fleet, the SS Dwight W. Morrow (named for the father of author Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico) was towed away for scrapping on Feb. 27, 1970.