Sex and the Civil War

By Doug Coleman

[Reprinted with permission from: The Old Town Crier, December 1, 2014]

L.P. Hartley once wrote: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” And so it is with the Civil War and American sexual morality during the 1860’s. Things we outlaw, they tolerated. Things we tolerate, they regarded as monstrous crimes.

Start with the notion that Americans in the Victorian age were prudes. Not so, unless one is willing to overlook the large families of that age. Domestic terrorist John Brown managed to sire twenty children before Virginia broke his neck on the gallows for trying to start a national slave revolt.

Thomas P. Lowery relates in his The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War an incident occurring in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a few days before Gettysburg. It seems a North Carolina regiment captured a good supply of Yankee whiskey and were soon helping themselves to it. One of the Tar Heels reported “some of the Pennsylvania women, hearing the noise of the revel and the music, dared to come near us. Soon they had formed the center of attention and joined in the spirit of the doings. After much whiskey and dancing, they shed most of their garments and offered us their bottoms. Each took on dozens of us, squealing in delight. For me it was hard come, easy go.” “With malice towards none, with charity for all”, our friendly Pennsylvanians rattle the stereotype of Victorian prudishness…

Civil War soldiers, or at least the Yankees, had pornography and dirty books. We know this because the Federal provost marshal complained what a chore it was to have to burn the mountains of the stuff his postmasters intercepted. So, pornography was forbidden, but, apparently, it was okay to have the government go through your mail. We have all heard of bullets stopped by Bibles, but at least one soldier claimed to have been saved by a dirty novel concealed on his person.

Prostitution was more or less legal in Alexandria. The 1860 census reflects that Alexandria had seven “soiled doves” and two bawdy houses. Not surprisingly, business boomed in Alexandria once the war was on, our city being described as “a perfect Sodom” with perhaps 75 brothels and 2500 prostitutes. The Federal authorities tolerated the sex trade and, generally, speaking those arrested at bawdy houses were arrested as AWOL or for drunk and disorderly conduct, not for patronizing the girls.   In Richmond, on the other hand, humorless First Families of Virginia (FFVs) consistently cracked down on disorderly houses, at least according to the Dispatch.

When the army moved, the prostitutes moved with them. In 1863, these “camp followers” were given the nickname “Hooker’s Division”, ostensibly after the lifestyle of General Joseph Hooker, who had a reputation for keeping his headquarters well-stocked with whiskey and entertaining women. Actually Hooker was not a big drinker, nor was he much of a womanizer. Similarly, the commonly held belief that “hookers” take their name from General Hooker is probably mistaken, as the term was already in use at least as early as 1845.

If Hooker had kept mistresses, he would not have been out of the mainstream. Confederate general Jubal Early allegedly kept two white mistresses having four children each, plus a mulatto child with a black woman. Custer is alleged to have had an ongoing relationship with his mulatto cook, an escaped slave who was pushed over a cliff in Custer’s carriage when captured by Confederates. Custer’s letters between him and Mrs. Custer were also captured and raised Confederate eyebrows, being described as “vulgar beyond all conversation and even those from his wife would make any honest woman blush for her sex.” Even McClellan was alleged to have lived with a young mistress for the duration of his command. However, one doubts this story, at least for the time when he was in Alexandria headquartered at the Seminary, as an engraving pictures him in front of Cazenove family’s Stuartland with his wife and children in the background.

Occasionally, ordinary soldiers would share their tents with their wives. In the Confederacy, Keith Blalock signed up with “Sam” Blalock, a good-looking sixteen year old boy, actually his wife Melinda. Melinda fought three engagements before she was wounded and found out by the regimental surgeon. Upon discharge from the Confederate army, they continued to soldier on together as Union partisans. In the Army of the Potomac, Kady Brownell and Mary Tepe joined their husband’s regiment as vivandieres, enduring all of the hardships of campaigning and both being wounded in combat.

The predictable drawback of all this sex was venereal disease, mostly syphilis and gonorrhea. Among the white troops, 73,382 cases of syphilis were reported and 109,397 cases of gonorrhea, giving a total of 82 cases of venereal disease annually per thousand men. Among the colored troops syphilis had an annual rate of 33.8 cases and gonorrheal infections 43.9 cases per thousand. The cures were scary enough to encourage chastity. For syphilis, first-line therapy was to cauterize the chancre with a caustic chemical. Secondary therapy might involve highly toxic mercury infusions, hence, the phrase “a night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury.” For gonorrhea, treatment consisted of urethral injections of nitrate of silver, sugar of lead or sulphate of zinc. Amazingly, in an era before penicillin, these therapies appear to have worked much of the time. Rudimentary condoms, made from sheep intestines called “skins” and secured with a little pink ribbon, were available, but it is anybody’s guess how much protection they afforded to disease.

The Union’s hospital service certainly appreciated the relationship between prostitution and venereal disease and took pragmatic steps to get ahead of the problem. One of these steps was to license working girls, the license being conditioned upon periodic examination by a physician. The other, hand in hand with the first, was to establish hospitals to take out of circulation and treat prostitutes found to be infected. The attached photo depicts such a hospital. And in fact these measures were effective, with Yankee “casualties” dropping off dramatically where instituted. As for the women, their lives were nasty, brutish and short. One physician following a group of prostitutes noted that their life expectancy was only about four years once they entered the trade, alcohol and disease being major risks.  On the deviant side, rape appears to have been relatively rare, with 335 court martials being recorded. When found out, it often resulted in a hanging. A soldier who had raped a free black woman was hanged at Fort Ellsworth before all of the units camped around Alexandria so that everyone understood this. Twenty-two other soldiers were executed for rape over the course of the war.

Homosexuality was not much of an issue. There are not many recorded, probably because sodomy was regarded as an unspeakable crime. Though some reenactors a few years back “reenacted” a firing squad for two soldiers dressed in pink uniforms for “conduct unbecoming”, in fact there is no record of any soldier on either side being executed for the offense of homosexuality, or for that matter being disciplined for the offense. However, a handful of sailors were thrown out of the navy. Military law did not specifically outlaw sodomy until 1921. But we should not infer from this that homosexuality was previously accepted along the lines of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Keep in mind that at the time of the Revolution sodomy was punishable by death in all thirteen colonies. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson proposed a more lenient penal code under which homosexuals would be castrated and lesbians would have their noses pierced with half-inch holes; Jefferson’s proposal was rejected and sodomy remained a capital crime until 1831.

As recently as World War II, the usual sentence for sodomy in the United States Army was 85 years. William Manchester in his 1979 autobiographical, Goodbye, Darkness, describes the sensibilities of young marines in the 1940’s: “Youth is more sophisticated today, but in our innocence we knew almost nothing about homosexuality. We had never heard of lesbians, and while we were aware that male homosexuals existed – they were regarded as degenerates and called “sex perverts,” or simply “perverts” – most of us, to our knowledge, never encountered one.” The attitude of the farm boys who fought in World War II is probably pretty close to that of the farm boys who fought in the Civil War.

But plaster saints these soldiers were not.


Sources: Thomas P. Lowry, The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War

Thomas P. Lowry, Sexual Misbehavior in the Civil War; 

William Manchester, Goodbye, Darkness; Treatment of Venereal Disease in the Civil War,

Doug Coleman is an attorney and amateur historian in Alexandria; comments and corrections are welcome at dcoleman@coleman-lawyers.com.

‘American Routes’ Sea Breeze Beach

Seabreeze Resort

Each week, American Routes brings you the songs and stories that describe both the community origins of our music, musicians and cultures — the “roots”— and the many directions they take over time — the “routes.”

This week (July 19 – 26, 2017), we travel to Sea Breeze Beach in North Carolina.

In the late 19th century African American beach communities emerged along the East Coast as havens for black vacationers excluded from white beaches.

Sea Breeze provided summertime leisure to African Americans throughout the Jim Crow era and became one of the few integrated places where blacks and whites could hang out, hear music, and dance together.

Nick Spitzer talks to Elder Alfred Mitchell and Brenda Freeman about their summer memories of Sea Breeze before white developers claimed ownership of the beach.

Enjoy the full program (11:22) at americanroutes.org.

 

 

National History Day, 2017

National History Day®

Have you ever heard of it?

I hadn’t either, until about a year ago.  But the chance to meet young people who LOVE history and are engaged in the process of historical research intrigued me so I volunteered to judge at the regional level here in Wilmington.

As a volunteer judge, I reported to the Cape Fear Museum not quite sure what I had gotten myself into, but the short training session and some handouts made me familiar enough with the goals of the program to ease my worries.  We hear a lot about how little history kids get in school today, but the crowd of high schoolers at the Cape Fear Museum blew me away. Bright and knowledgeable, sophisticated and earnest, a building full of them renewed my faith in the next generation of historians.

I was assigned to judge individual documentaries. Each student had produced an up to 10 minute video using this year’s theme, “Taking a Stand in History.” Some were good, and some were okay, but our winning choice just blew me away!  A poised and articulate young woman presented her documentary on how, in the 1960s, Coach Dean Smith took a stand and helped integrate the UNC system and college basketball country-wide, something I knew nothing about. As we talked to her after we watched her film we discovered she is headed to UNC next fall to a program that combines History and Communications into a five year undergraduate and graduate program. Frankly, she’s ready for PBS or CNN now.

Because the competition is so large, the middle schoolers were at the Bellamy Mansion so I didn’t get to see any of them here at the regional. But, I’d volunteered to be a judge at the state competition as well and was assigned the middle school level documentaries in Raleigh.

What a day! The top three regional winners in each category; paper, exhibit, documentary, website, and performance, had qualified for the state level where the competition intensifies.

The North Carolina Museum of History and the State Archives Building were literally mobbed with young people and parents from all across the state. There must have been close to fifty judges to cover all the categories. I may be slightly prejudiced but the halls had the energy and feeling of a sports championship! I just loved seeing kids so totally engaged in history.

Among the documentaries I judged at the State level were ones on Bernie Sanders, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther, Edward Snowden, Alexander Hamilton, and our first choice Kay Lahusen, an early gay rights activist. Remember these kids were middle schoolers. They can do stuff with digital media and video editing software I can only begin to comprehend.  I so wanted to stop them and say, “Teach me how to do that!”

The top three winners in each category and age level advance to the national competition in College Park, Maryland in early June where they will join the 3,000 winners across the country to compete for top prizes.

Last year Jordyn Williams from Greenville, NC won a full four year scholarship to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Her topic: “Exploring Plants and Society: The Life-Altering Encounters of Dr. Percy L. Julian.”

What I learned: It is cool to be a “history nerd” in today’s schools and colleges.  And that makes me relieved that there will be a new generation of historians to study history so we don’t make the same mistakes all over again.

– Rebecca Taylor

 Would you like to be a judge?  They are always looking for people for the regional here in Wilmington in late March.  I’d be glad to hook you up with the local coordinator. All it takes is a short (less than an hour) training and about ½ a day of your time on the day of the competition.

 

Hurricane Hazel – October 15, 1954

whale of a beachBy: Betty Jo Dingler

[Betty Jo’s daughter, Susan, submitted this essay to the History Center.  If you have any family stories or essays, we would LOVE  to have them to add to our Oral History Collection.]

.

My family and I remember Hurricane Hazel well.  A severe hurricane had not hit the North Carolina coast since the early 1940’s.  We had a lot of close calls, but they always veered away or managed to miss us.  In October, 1954, when we heard that a hurricane named “Hazel” was headed toward the southern US Coast, no one seemed too concerned – it would turn and go north or out to sea, or so we thought.  How very wrong we were.

Meteorologists did not have the technology for tracking hurricanes in 1954 as we have now in 1995.  Radio and newspapers hazelwere our main source of information.  There were only a few tv’s.  Our local tv station had recently opened and was only on the air about six hours a day.  Not everyone had a phone or car either.

On October 14, 1954, when it was determined that the hurricane was fast approaching the southeastern NC coast, volunteers went door to door notifying residents to evacuate immediately or seek safe shelter.

Herman and I lived at 235 Atlanta Avenue, across from the lake and only three blocks from the ocean.  Mama and Daddy’s house was at Fourth and Columbia Avenue, also near the lake.  Delores and Tiny lived across the street from us.  Shirley and Jerry lived in an apartment on Raleigh Avenue.  We were all affected in a great way.

hazel-cb-boardwalk-with-landmarkMama had stopped by our house about 7 PM to tell us she heard on their tv that the hurricane was headed directly toward us and that people should start to seek safe shelter.  Herman just laughed and said he wasn’t worried about it, it would probably miss us, as usual.

The wind and rain wasn’t too bad so we went to bed at our usual time.  We were awakened about midnight by a volunteer fireman telling us that the hurricane was fast approaching us and residents were urged to evacuate immediately.  We dressed very quickly and left with the fireman, we did not have a car.  There was no time to pack anything.

I was worried about Mama and Daddy, but I was told they had been notified and were leaving.  Mama told me later about stopping by our house to get us and the first thing she noticed when she went in was Herman’s pajamas beside the bed where he had stepped out of them rather hurriedly.  She always got a chuckle out of that. I was taken to stay with Herman’s mother on Wilson Avenue.  He joined the other volunteers in alerting people to evacuate.  I slept very little that night.  I could not believe winds could be that strong, but that little house remained intact during the entire storm.

The hurricane struck on high tide and full moon.  The winds were up to 140 miles per hour, but the water caused the greatest hazel11-half-house-cut-in-two-at-cbdamage.  When I looked out the window the next morning, the water from the yacht basin was half way up Wilson Avenue.

Shirley and a lot of others were staying in the Baptist church not far away.  She said the first floor or basement was completely under water.

We were able to see the flames from a house that burned down to the water because firemen were unable to get to it due to the deep water. The draw bridge across Snow’s Cut became stuck about 2 AM.  No one was able to leave the area then.  People took shelter then wherever they could find a safe place.

The ocean cut an inlet across Highway 421 to the lake.  The sea water went as far back as Fifth Street, one block beyond the school.  A lot of people had taken refuge in the school.  They had to get on the stage in the auditorium when the water came inside.

Some people also stayed on the third floor of Bame’s Hotel.  They probably thought it was the safest shelter they could find.  They were not able to see much that happened until daybreak.  The power and phones were out and few people had transistor radios.  We did not know what was happening or how bad it really was until it was over.

Mama, Daddy, Delores, Peggy and Brenda had stayed at the train station in Wilmington.  Almost everyone was able to get back to the beach soon after the storm had passed.  Herman and I went to check on our house late in the afternoon.  The water was still waist deep in our yard.

Our house was built six feet off the ground on pilings.  The water line inside had been three feet deep.  The doors had blown open and furniture was turned over.  Some of our things had been washed out of the house.  The first thing I noticed after we climbed inside was our two cats and our dog, “Bullet,” on the sofa that had turned over.  I’m sure they could have told a horrifying tale had they been able to talk.

hazel8-homes-teeters-on-beachThe house and everything in it was a wreck, but at least it was still there.  So many houses had washed away completely.  Three houses had been swept into the lake and remained there until they were torn down.  When we left, with a few muddy clothes and possessions, we each took a cat.

When we got outside in deep water both cats went berserk, got away from us and took off swimming.  I really did cry then.  Herman was laughing and kept saying “Look at ‘em swim, look at ‘em swim”.  They came back a few days later after the water went down. “Bullet” didn’t present any problem getting him to the car.

Delores and Tiny’s house, across the street, had washed back off the foundation about six feet and was sitting rather lop-sided.  (The only two pictures of Hurricane Hazel’s destruction.)  Mama and Daddy’s house had 18 inches of water inside but no major damage.  The picture albums were kept on the bottom shelf of the closet and most of the pictures were ruined.

That is one reason these few pictures on our early years are so precious.  The entire beach was devastated.  It was the worst sight I have ever seen.  It would take an entire book to describe it.  As I think on it, I am amazed that there were no casualties or serious injuries.  Everyone always had a great respect for hurricanes after “Hazel”.

I was six months pregnant with Toni at the time and our few baby clothes were completely ruined.  A bassinet and a crib had washed up on our yard and we didn’t have either.  Most people, including us, received aid from the Red Cross. The clean-up, repairing and rebuilding took a long, long time, but, eventually, everything got back to normal.

That was the first of many hurricanes that I rode out during the fifties and sixties.

The Fort Fisher Hermit

[Originally published in the May, 1995 – FPHPS Monthly Newsletter]

Mr. Harry Warren, guest speaker at the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society April, [1995] meeting, received the undivided attention of those attending the meeting on Monday, April 17th.

The topic by Mr. Warren, who is assistant director of the Cape Fear Museum, Wilmington, was one of interest to everyone in attendance. He supported his presentation by displaying slides on a screen as he told history of the Fort Fisher Hermit.

Ft Fisher Hermit

Fort Fisher Hermit

At the beginning of his presentation he concentrated on the flowering foods, and seafood available in the Fort Fisher area, displaying them on the screen. “Needless to say, Robert E. Harrill, the Fort Fisher Hermit, knew about these flowering food plants and seafood before he moved in at the World War II bunker near Fort Fisher,” Mr. Warren said.

Robert E. Harrill was born in Shelby, North Carolina on Ground Hog Day, February 2, 1893.

His mother and two brothers died in the early 1900’s with typhoid fever. “His father remarried and his step-mother was-very dominating and strict. His childhood was cut short and he grew up in an atmosphere of family violence. He often sought solitude into the woods or into nearby streams, rivers, and lakes for solitude and refuge,” Mr. Warren stated.

He presented two slides, one showing the Hermit before he came to Fort Fisher and another picture of him, a young man standing with members of his literary club. “Some people say he was a well-educated man, however, there is no evidence of his attending college. He did receive a good basic education. He attended Boiling Springs High School and later returned to the school, when it became Gardner-Webb Jr. College, to study ministry,” Warren said.

In 1913, Robert Harrill married Katie Hamrick. The couple had five children, four sons and a daughter who died shortly after birth.

His family and other people thought Robert was disturbed. They felt his problem was caused by the abuse he suffered as a child. The problems caused the family to break up in the 1930’s. Katie took her four sons to Pennsylvania to live and Robert made a living peddling trinkets and making jewelry such as ID bracelets.

“It is said that on one occasion he was involuntarily committed to a state hospital for observation. It was there that he found a brochure about Dr. William Marcus Taylor and the Taylor School of Bio-Psychology. He read the material and felt that he had found the answers to many of his problems.” He met Dr. Taylor when he got out of the hospital and began studying in his correspondence school for a degree in Bio-Psychology.

Fort Fisher Hermit - boatWhen he became 62, he came to Fort Fisher and settled into the World War II bunker which was to become his home for 17 years. He became one of the biggest tourists attractions on the island as his fame grew.

“He made like he didn’t like the popularity and made the statement how was he going to be a hermit when all those people kept coming to see him. However, he painted ‘The Fort Fisher Hermit” on a pillar to the entrance of the road to the bunker,” Warren told the group.

The Fort Fisher Hermit passed away, some say by natural causes, others suspect foul play, in June 1972. He was buried in a cemetery in Shelby and later moved to the Federal Point Cemetery on Dow Road, Carolina Beach. “He came home,” Warren said, in closing his presentation.

[Editor’s Note: Information was provided by Sheila S. Davis, Features Editor for the Island Gazette.]


[Additional resources]

The Fort Fisher Hermit – FPHPS web page with links and YouTube video

 

Book: The Reluctant Hermit of Fort Fisher
by:   Fred Pickler and Daniel Ray Norris
“Our desire is that this book will shed light on his “unsolved” murder case and provide insight into what drove Robert E. Harrill to endure life as a hermit. Most importantly, we want to keep the memory of the Fort Fisher Hermit alive for future generations to ponder and respect.”

May, 1995 (pdf) – FPHPS Newsletter

 

Seabreeze – A History Part 2 – Carolina Beach and Shell Island

by Rebecca Taylormap cropped

Because Sea Breeze was a leisure site, it has deep meaning for residents and former business owners, as well as for people who patronized it. The old resort has a remarkably wide constituency. All over North Carolina I have encountered people who have vivid and fond memories of Sea Breeze.”  – Jennifer Edwards, 2003

Through the last part of  the nineteenth century there was considerable cooperation between the Seabreeze and Carolina Beach communities.

  • From the August 15, 1891 Wilmington Messenger we find: “Professor Edward Jewell, the good-looking young aeronaut, left the earth in his balloon at 6 pm and was borne upward into the boundless space on the horizontal bar attached to his big canvas balloon inflated with hot air. He went up to 5,000 feet and came down in the ocean about one mile from shore. About 1,800 people, men and women, old and young, and many children had collected to witness the spectacle.
Seabreeze Resort

Seabreeze Resort

Bruce and Roland Freeman, with five men each,went to Jewell’s rescue with their whale boats. Professor Jewell, when about six feet from the water, sprang into the surf and against the tide and through the breakers swam one mile to the shore, as reckoned by the Freemans. The boats brought in the balloon and all was well.”

  • “Ellis Freeman, the well-known caterer, was prepared to furnish Myrtle Grove oysters at Carolina Beach. He was making a specialty of roasts. – Truelove’s Sauce, new delicious and appetizing.”
  • “It has been learned that Roland Freeman, one of the heirs to the Freeman estate, colored, which owns considerable quantities of land near Carolina Beach had practically closed negotiations for the sale of 250 acres of land owned by the estate and that he had also agreed to give options on a like amount of territory. The home of Roland Freeman was near the beach.”
  • “Real Estate Transfer – J. N. Freeman and wife transfer to A. W. Pate, trustee, for the Wilmington & Carolina Beach Railway, for $1 and other considerations, a 100-foot right-of-way through their lands in Federal Point Township.”
  • “On March 11, 1887, W. L. Smith Jr. bought a strip of land comprised of 24 acres for the amount of $6650. These acres were between the head of Myrtle Grove Sound and the ocean beach as recorded in New Hanover County Deed Book YYY, Page 578.”   Today, this land is located in the heart of the business district of the Town of Carolina Beach.

 

Shell Island Resort/Wrightsville Beach

In 1924, as Seabreeze was just beginning to flourish, Thomas H. Wright and Charles B. Parmele began to promote the Shell postcard of suitsIsland Beach Development Company. With an investment capital of $500,000 they planned to make Shell Island “a Negro Atlantic City.” A small island just north of Wrightsville Beach, it lasted only three summers before it mysteriously burned to the ground.

Shell Island Resort was destroyed by fire about 1926 and was not rebuilt. In the 1930’s Wrightsville Beach began enforcing ordinances that prohibited blacks from bathing on but one extreme northern section of the beach. They were also prohibited from wearing bathing suits and walking on the boardwalks in front of private white cottages.

Earlier attempts by blacks to develop resorts in the Wrightsville Beach area in 1883, 1902, 1904, and 1920 were either short-lived or never developed. In 1993 E. F. Martin took a ten-year lease on the Jim Hewlett place, at Greenville Sound, for a natural park and resort for the black community. Called Atlanta Park.

Bruce Freeman (one of Robert Bruce Freeman, Sr.’s grandsons) remembered that by 1929, after Shell Island burned, building had really begun at Seabreeze, and the resort was drawing crowds numbering thousands. Spending free time among one’s peers, away from the scrutiny of whites, is an implicit message emerging from oral histories of the people speaking about the early days of Seabreeze.

 

Seabreeze – A History Part I – The Freeman Family

Seabreeze drawing - CB Images of America

by Rebecca Taylormap cropped

Because Sea Breeze was a leisure site, it has deep meaning for residents and former business owners, as well as for people who patronized it. The old resort has a remarkably wide constituency. All over North Carolina I have encountered people who have vivid and fond memories of Sea Breeze.”  – Jennifer Edwards, 2003

We’ll probably never know why Alexander (b. 1788 d. cir. 1855) and Charity (b. 1798 – d. 1873) Freeman chose to relocate from Bladen County to the headwaters of Myrtle Grove Sound in the 1840s but they appear in the 1840 New Hanover County Census in the “Lower Black River District” (probably in what is now Bladen County) of New Hanover County in a household of 7. Listed in the 1830 & 1840 censuses as “free colored persons,” the family has always proudly claimed a family lineage that includes significant Native American heredity.

By the 1850 census Alexander, a fisherman, Charity, a 52 year old woman, Robert B.,an 18 year old laborer, and Archie,an 11 year old are listed as a household in Federal Point Township.  Clearly the family thrived in the quiet backwater with two large plantations, Sedgeley Abbey and Gander Hall, as their closest neighbors. Deed records show that in 1855 Alexander bought approximately 99 acres of land at the head of Myrtle Grove Sound.  By the time of his death, believed to be sometime in the mid-1850s, his oldest son, Robert Bruce, inherited an estate that included 180 acres “situated on the south side of cedar drain and adjacent to the land of Thomas Williams and Henry Davis.”

In the 1860 Census of Federal Point Robert Bruce Freeman (b. 1832 – d. 1901) is listed as a fisherman and the value of his real estate is listed at $100.00.  In 1857 Robert Bruce married Catherine Davis (b. 1837) probably a relative of the nearby Davis family. By 1870 their family had grown to include Archie (b. 1857 – d. 1930), and Robert Bruce Jr. (b. 1859 – d. 1944), as well as Catherine (b. 1863), Daniel (b. 1867), and  Roland (b. 1869). Their last son, Ellis, was born in 1875.

By the 1870 census almost half of the population of Federal Point Township was listed as black or mulatto and Robert Bruce and Catherine were clearly leaders of their community. In December 1870 Robert Bruce was appointed to the School Committee of Federal Point. By the mid 1870s he had donated land to build a school for “the colored children of Federal Point.” The school opened in 1877, and had 34 students led by teacher Charles M. Epps.

In January 1876 Robert Bruce purchased almost 2,500 acres of land including the old Sedgeley Abbey and Gander Hall plantations with land running between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River, becoming one of the largest land holders in New Hanover County.

Robert Bruce donated 10 acres of land along the river (taken from the former Gander Hall Plantation) to St. Stephens AME church in Wilmington to use as a campground – the beginning of the concept of using the sandy waterfront land as an escape for African-American city dwellers.

In 1887 the Wilmington Star noted that “Chief Justice” Freeman opened a law dispensary at Carolina Beach, and he was prepared to issue ―writs at living prices. Special attention given to mandamuses, quo warrants, scieri facieses, capiases and respondum, etc. The blind goddess always on hand with scales in good condition.”

It is clear that Robert Bruce Freeman was considered a “significant” citizen of the Lower Cape Fear. He is listed as serving on the Criminal Court Grand Jury in Wilmington in local newspapers including October, 1879;  February, 1884; and January, 1888.

Catherine died, sometime in the 1870s and in 1888 Robert Bruce married his second wife, Lena (Lizzy) Davis (b. 1871 – d. 1944) and added four additional children to the family; Roscoe, Dorotha, Benjamin, and Tahlia.  Robert Bruce died in 1901 and was buried in a family cemetery. At his death his land was parceled into tracts, designed to be self-supporting waterfront properties.

The Freeman Heirs

In July 1902, Robert Bruce Freeman Jr. appeared in the New Hanover County Clerk of Court’s Office bearing his father’s will for probate.  The surviving children (all sons) from Robert Bruce’s first marriage inherited most of the Old Homestead. Robert Bruce, Jr., Archie, Rowland, Nathan, and Ellis received fifty-seven acres each.  Dulcia, the widow of Robert and Catherine’s son, Daniel Freeman, was granted lifetime rights to Fifty-seven acres of the Old Homestead. Thereafter the property was to be divided equally between Daniel and Duclia’s children, Ida and Hattie. Lena was also given fifty-seven acres of the Old Homestead. Lena’s children were to “share and share alike” with Catherine’s children in all the lands outside of the Old Homestead while Lena’s children were not included in the Old Homestead division.”

Unfortunately, the vagueness of the bequest to Lena’s children would haunt the family into the 21st Century.  As early as 1914 “the court appointed a board of commissioners to determine the boundaries for each tract. They decided that the tracts would run west to east, from the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean. This gave each heir access to the river, sound, ocean, and soil suitable for cultivation.

After Robert Bruce Jr.’s death, Ellis Freeman, youngest son by his first marriage, took over management of the family lands. “He obtained a $50,000 government permit to sell yellow granite, and created a profitable business carrying people out on the ocean fishing.”

Fishing – A Way of LifeFishing Boat Breakers - CB

The Freemans fished the Intracoastal Waterway with family using casting nets, taking homemade poles into the sound, or sitting on a pier, waiting patiently with baited hook. Somebody had to harvest clams to make those well-known fritters, and kids joined adults in hauling the mollusks.

The Freeman family was legendary for its fishing prowess and had a ‘spot’ that was all its own near Fort Fisher. Other fishing boats respected the Freemans’ territorial rights and did not compete near Fort Fisher. The family owned one motor and three boats, so it was not uncommon to see them string at least two boats together with a rope.

Customers, both black and white, looked forward to the Freemans’ return with the catch of the day.

The Freeman brothers cast wide nets to catch their bait, typically shad, menhaden, pogie, herring. Throughout the day, the Freemans strung up their catch on sea oats, and at the end of the day they would charge 25 cents per string. Kids looking forward to a good meal would watch for the Freeman boats and swim out to help pull them ashore.

Memories of Seabreeze – Part 2

The Other Side of the 50’s     (Part 1)

by Assata Shakur

Excerpted from: Assata: An Autobiography, Lawrence Hill Books, 1987

Born JoAnne Deborah Byron, Assata Shakur is the granddaughter of Frank and Lulu Freeman Hill. She was born in Jamaica, NY. When she was 3, the family moved back to Wilmington, North Carolina. In a number of places she uses alternate spelling and capitalization as quoted here.

“We were, however, visited by real, life ghosts. They were the phantoms of the parking lot. It seems that the white citizens of Wilmington and Carolina Beach were not at all happy that my grandparents dared to build on the land and to start a ‘colored’ business. We were too close for their comfort. So they would visit us from time to time to express their disapproval. I don’t know for a fact that they were card-carrying members of the Klan, but, judging from their behavior, I think they were. But then, of course, they weren’t wearing their sheets. They could’ve just been red-blooded amerikan boys out for some good clean fun. The parking lot was made of dirt, and cars spinning around on it at breakneck speed would ruin it in no time. Two or three of them would ride around the parking lot, spinning and skidding, while they shouted curses and racist insults. One time they fired guns in the air. I remember seeing them and hearing them out there and wondering what they were gonna do next. More than once i saw my grandfather go to where he kept his gun and carry it quietly to where he had been sitting. Somehow this made me more afraid, because i knew that he, too, thought they were scary.NHCPL #1

“When we were on the beach we shopped at Carolina Beach. It had an amusement park, but of course, Black people were not permitted to go in. Every time we passed it i looked at the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel and the little cars and airplanes and my heart would just long to ride them. But my favorite forbidden ride had little boats in a pool of water, and every time i passed them i felt frustrated and deprived. Of course, persistent creature that i am, i always asked to be taken on the rides, knowing full well what the answer would be. One summer my mother and sister and I were walking down the boardwalk. My mother was spending part of her summer helping my grandparents in the business. As soon as we neared the rides, I wasn’t into my usual act. I continued, ad nauseam, until my mother, grinning, said. ‘All right now, I’m gonna try to get us in. When we get over there, I don’t want to hear one word out of you. Just let me do the talking. And if they ask you anything, don’t answer. Okay? Okay!’

“My mother went over to the ticket booth and began talking. I didn’t understand a word she was saying. The lady at the ticket window kept telling my mother that she couldn’t sell her any tickets. My mother kept talking, very fast, and waving her hands. The manager came over and told my mother she couldn’t buy any tickets and that we couldn’t go into the park. My mother kept talking and waving her hands and soon she was screaming this fording language. I didn’t know if she was speaking a play language or a real one. Several other men came over. They talked to my mother. She continued. After the men went to one side and had a conference, they returned and told the ticket seller to give my mother the tickets.

“I couldn’t believe it. All at once we were laughing and giggling and riding the rides. All the white people were staring at us, but we didn’t care. We were busy having a ball. When I got into one of those little boats, my mother practically had to drag me out. I was in my glory. When we finished the rides we went to the Dairy Queen for ice cream. We sang and laughed all the way home.

“When we got home my mother explained that she had been speaking Spanish and had told the managers that she was from a Spanish country and that if he didn’t let us in she would call the embassy and the United Nations and I don’t know who all else. We laughed and talked about it for days. But it was a lesson I never forgot. Anybody, no matter who they were, could come right off the boat and get more rights and respect than amerikan-born Blacks.”

From the President: December, 2015

From: Elaine Henson

Last month one of our FPHPS Facebook readers, John McMains, asked about the origin of calling our area “Pleasure Island.” We found a reference to the name in the Bill Reaves Files that led us to the July, 1983 issue of Scene Magazine and an article called Carolina Beach: Past and Present.

 “The name Pleasure Island was adopted in 1972 by the founders of the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce and it includes both Carolina Beach and Kure Beach, Hanby Beach, Federal Point, Fort Fisher and Wilmington Beach…..”

(Photo courtesy of the Hugh Morton Collection, Wilson Library, UNC)

(Photo courtesy of the Hugh Morton Collection, Wilson Library, UNC)

 

Please note that a Chamber of Commerce at Carolina Beach had been in operation for quite a while before 1972. It was headquartered behind the Municipal Building that faced Canal Drive and across from the Yacht Basin in a small white concrete block building. It can be seen in this Hugh Morton photo from October, 1954 during Hurricane Hazel.

The Whale of a Beach float was Carolina Beach’s entry in the Azalea Festival parade in April of 1955. The float had been parked at the Chamber building and had survived Hazel.

In the 1955 Azalea Festival parade, local girls in bathing suits rode atop the float. To confirm that the beach had recovered from the devastating category 4 hurricane, they added the wording “More Alive in 55”.

 

History of the Federal Point Lighthouses

By Sandy Jackson

[Originally published in the March, 1995 FPHPS Newsletter]

In 1814 the US. Congress authorized the construction of a beacon at Federal Point. Two years later, on September 15, Robert Cochran, collector of customs at Wilmington and superintendent of the lighthouse on Bald Head, reached an agreement with Benjamin Jacobs of the town of Wilmington, for the construction of the new beacon. Jacobs agreed that he would build a beacon on Federal Point above New Inlet before the end of the year. The beacon, defined simply as a small lighthouse, stood on a stone or brick foundation laid approximately three feet under the ground.

Federal Point Light

Federal Point Light

The conical brick beacon rose forty feet in height to the base of the lantern. At its base it measured six feet across with walls three feet thick. Wooden shingles covered the top of the three-floored beacon. Ladders connected each of the floors.

Little is known of the type lantern used except that it was a fixed 1 light. A door entered the beacon, while only a single window was placed near the top of the structure.

The entire exterior of the brick beacon was plastered and painted white. By the spring of 1817 Robert Cochran certified that Benjamin Jacobs had successfully completed the task of building the lighthouse and it was ready for service. For his task Jacobs received the sum of thirteen hundred dollars.

The beacon warned mariners of the hazards at New Inlet until the night of April 13, 1836, when flames engulfed and totally destroyed it.

In 1837, Henry Stowell of Hingham, Massachusetts reconstructed the Federal Point lighthouse. It operated until Confederate forces put it out of use in 1861.

This new tower was constructed of hard brick in a rounded form 30 feet above the surface of the ground. The diameter of the base measured 18 feet, while the top was 9 feet. An arched deck of soap stone 11 feet in diameter, four inches thick, and the joints filled with lead, topped the brick I tower. Entrance to the lantern was made through a scuttle sealed by an iron and copper scuttle door.

The wrought iron lantern was built in an octagonal form and contained eleven patent lamps and reflectors. The brick tower contained a door six feet by three feet, and three windows. The tower and woodwork were painted white, except for the dome that was painted black. Adjacent to the lighthouse a one-story dwelling house 34 feet by 20 feet was built of hard brick and contained a chimney at either end. The following year a cistern was added to the complex.

The Third Federal Poin Lighthouse

The Third Federal Point Lighthouse

A third lighthouse was put into service after the war and used until the closing of New Inlet in 1880.

On August 23, 1881, although no longer in use, fire destroyed this lighthouse. At that time a Mr. Taylor, the former keeper, and his family still occupied the lighthouse located less than a mile from Fort Fisher.

 

Bibliography

Stick, David. “North Carolina Lighthouses“. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1980.

US. Lighthouse Service Records, United States Coast Guard, Washington DC.

Wilmington (North Carolina) Advertiser, April 22, 1836

Wilmington (North Carolina) Star, August 24, 1881.


 [Additional resources]

Lighthouses of the Lower Cape Fear River

Federal Point Lighthouse Foundation Uncovered! (2009)

March, 1995 Newsletter (pdf) – FPHPS