The Grave of Col. William Rhett

Photo and text by Susan Taylor Block


William Rhett lived from 1666 to 1722. He was a rice planter, South Carolina Assemblyman, Receiver General of the Lords’ Proprietors of Carolina –  and a pirate hunter. From the standpoint of Wilmington, NC, his greatest act was to capture Stede Bonnet who was known as “the Gentleman Pirate” because of his fine education and inherited wealth.  Col. Rhett defeated Bonnet after a fierce battle on the waters of the Cape Fear River. The noisy set-to took place in August of 1718. On December 10th, the courtly thief was hanged in Charleston.

The words handsomely displayed at William Rhett’s grave draw a more complete picture of the man. His burial space is located directly across from the double doors of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Charleston.

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Goose Creek Church

Goose Creek Church and text by Susan Taylor Block)

Two weeks ago, a friend and I had the privilege of visiting St. James Episcopal Church in Goose Creek, South Carolina. The church took years to complete, but opened for services in 1708 – two years after Gov. James Moore I, born 1640, died. The Moore family played a vital part in the life of Goose Creek in its early days. By 1725, several Moore family members had relocated to southeastern North Carolina.

The molded pelican pictured is feeding her young. The image was the symbol of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The SPG was a missionary effort funded somewhat by English government. The image of the pelicans is symbolic of Biblical teachings that compare the acquisition of a spiritual education to the benefits and pleasure of ingesting food.

The five cherubs represent the five continents that were known to be such in Colonial days.  Today, the five angels serve as humbling reminders that there’s always much to be learned.

Goose Creek pulpitlrAbove the elevated pulpit at St. James Church is a heavy wooden disk that was designed to help channel the rector’s voice out towards the audience rather than up towards the ceiling. It would seem that climbing the pulpit stairs to deliver one’s sermon while standing under that heavy load would have been an exercise for the rector’s faith muscle.


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George Evans, a Champion in his Own Right

by Susan Taylor Block

George Evan, 1999. Photo by the author)

George Evan, 1999. (photo by the author)

George Evans, son of artist Minnie Evans and cherished employee to some of Cape Fear’s most illustrious citizens, has died. He lived to be 99, and that virtual century gave him a vantage point most rare. His life spanned segregation to integration; and the change from the wary view of his famous mother’s artwork to the national, even international acclaim for her complex and spiritually sophisticated creations.

One of Mr. Evans earliest memories was of going with his father, Julius Evans, to the African-American resort that was built at Shell Island. He remembered the fun he had there and he recalled the time when it was burned. He remembered when the expansive development we know as Landfall was the property of one man: Pembroke Jones.

In our interviews, he described the gregarious nature of Mr. Jones and the very private nature of the Joneses’ constant companion – Henry Walters. Pembroke Jones sang at the top of his lungs when on carriage rides from Landfall to Airlie – his wife’s property. Mr. Walters carried on soft-spoken conversations with those he entrusted with running the mighty Atlantic Coast Line Railroad after he officially retired.

George Evans could recite the surnames of the Joneses’ most frequent guests: Lincoln Memorial architect Henry Bacon and his family, the Kenans, Sprunts, Rountrees, Bolles, and others. Mr. Evans knew not only their faces. He knew their hearts – from tender to unmalleably tough (though none of the names listed fits this category.) Everything he ever shared with me has been borne out in subsequent research.

George Evans was a deeply spiritual man. His mother’s vision and subsequent decades of work that witnessed to the reality of that vision fell right in line with the teachings he heard at both of the MacCumber Terrace African-American churches: St. Matthews A.M.E. Zion and Pilgrims’ Rest Baptist.I had the privilege of sitting across from him at a service at St. Matthew’s. His face became beatific during prayer.

George Evans learned from his Mother that playing for a human audience alone is not worthwhile. He learned from the Lord’s Prayer that forgiveness is expected. And he lived to reap the benefits promised in the commandment to honor your parents:”That your days may be long in the land….”

The death of George Evans is a benchmark in local history. He will be sorely missed.

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Mr. Upjohn’s Design House

by Susan Taylor Block

"Bird's Eye View of Trinity Church, NY" John Forsyth. E. W. Mimee. 1846

“Bird’s Eye View of Trinity Church, NY” John Forsyth. E. W. Mimee. 1846

English-American Architect Richard Upjohn (1802-1878) envisioned and drew plans for the 1846 Trinity Church building at Broadway and Wall streets in New York City. It is the first example of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States. Like English architects before him, he set out to marry beauty and striking verticality in such a way as to stretch the neck and rouse one’s spiritual imagination.

Mr. Upjohn supervised all elements of the design process. During the eight years it took to build what actually was Trinity’s third building, Upjohn designed and oversaw production of stained glass windows, stone and wood carvings, stenciling projects, and a host of other details. His idea of using red and black patterns within the building spread across the nation.

Frances Palmer, a well-known and early lithographer, worked with Richard Upjohn and many other artistic businesses, including Currier and Ives. She painted the image seen here of Upjohn’s low-lying office from which was birthed the 281’ tall cathedral. The bell, sonorous and no-tech, was rung every workday at 8,12,1, and 5, to alert office and construction workers of the time.

Trinity News. November/December 1979.

Trinity News. November/December 1979.

Living in the city of Wilmington and the state of North Carolina, the story of Trinity Church and Richard Upjohn brings many historic connections to mind. Col. Thomas Wright, born in the Wilmington area in 1761, was a member of the family for whom Wrightsville Beach would later be named. He married a New Yorker named Ann Scott, and their son, Thomas, was baptized at Trinity Church on July 23, 1780. Ann Scott Wright died soon after her son’s baptism. Thomas married again, this time his bride was named Ann Winslow, also from New York. She was a great-great-great grandniece of Gov. Edward Winslow of Massachusetts. Thomas and Ann had two children who died young and were buried at Trinity Church. They were Robert and Catherine “Kitty Ann” Wright. Ann Winslow Wright was buried nearby.

Perhaps it was some connection through the world of Trinity Church that afforded Col. Wright the privilege of delivering a speech of welcome to George Washington, when the President visited Wilmington in 1791.

On the murky side of things, Captain Kidd, who “lent the runner and tackle from his ship for hoisting the stones” of the first Trinity Church building, is rumored to have buried treasure at Money Island, on Wrightsville Sound.

The people ties between Trinity and St. James are many. An outstanding example is the ties of rector Adam Empie with the two churches. Not long before he became rector of Trinity Church, the Rev. John Henry Hobart personally instructed Adam Empie as he prepared for the priesthood, not long before the Rev. Hobart became Bishop Hobart. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Benjamin Moore led Empie’s ordination service. Eventually, Dr. Empie would become the first chaplain to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the president of the College of William and Mary, before retiring to Wilmington. He is remembered for his scholarship, many talents, and for support and care for African Americans.

The two churches have building ties, too. St. James Episcopal Church, a downtown Wilmington landmark, was dedicated in 1839, just as construction began on Trinity Church. The Wilmington People’s Press carried the news. St. James was described as a graceful example of “neat” Gothic Revival church, and Trinity was noted as being “purely and severely Gothic.”

St. James was designed by Philadelphia architect Thomas U. Walter, who designed the current U.S. Capitol dome. In 1876, Mr. Walter would follow Richard Upjohn as president of the American Institute of Architects – an organization Upjohn co-founded. In 1922, Richard Upjohn’s grandson, Hobart Brown Upjohn, designed a two-story parish house with a spire that would compliment the 1839 Walters building.

With George W. Conable, Hobart Upjohn served as architect for a mission of St. James: the 1912 Gothic Revival building that houses Church of the Good Shepherd. Hobart Upjohn also designed Wilmington’s present First Presbyterian Church building – a 1928 Gothic Revival fortress of stone.

Across North Carolina, Richard Upjohn’s magnificent Christ Church in Raleigh and Hobart Upjohn’s beautiful Chapel of the Cross building in Chapel Hill are my two favorites of many more examples of Upjohn artistry and execution. The Upjohns’ work shelters, educates, beautifies, and inspires. Ideas that began as medically trackless pinpoints in the most abstract districts of their minds emerged as concretely as, say, Trinity Church.


Sources: Trinity News, November-December 1979. Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture; Raleigh, 1990. Bill Reaves Collection: New Hanover County Public Library. Leora Hiatt McEachern. History of St. James Parish (1729-1979); Wilmington, 1985. Susan Taylor Block, Temple of our Fathers: St. James Episcopal Church (1729-2004); Wilmington, 2004.


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An Incomplete List of Wrightsville Boats and Captains, 1853 to 1919

Compiled by Susan Taylor Block


The PUZZLE, Edwin Metts's favored yacht. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Brown King and Michael Brown)

The PUZZLE, Edwin Metts’s favored yacht. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Brown King and Michael Brown)

Ripple                           Norwood Giles

Pirate                           Norwood Giles

Benefactor                   Norwood Giles

Glide                            Norwood Giles

Atlanta                         Clayton and Norwood Giles

Princess                        Richard Bradley

La Favorite                  Richard Bradley

Saucy Jack                    Richard Bradley

Hiawatha                     Richard Bradley

Minnehaha                   Richard Bradley

Abevna                        Richard Bradley

Flying Cloud                Daniel Baker

Rob Roy                       Thomas H. Wright

Que Vive                      William A. Wright

Twilight                       William A. Wright

Little Sister                  Pembroke Jones

Idler                             Pembroke Jones

Glide                            Pembroke Jones

Vixen                           Pembroke Jones

Rosa                             Pembroke Jones

Peggoty                       Henry Walters and Frederic Kidder

Clarendon                    Frederic Kidder

Carolina                       Edward Kidder

Columbia                      Talcott Burr

Luola                           James Sprunt

Bubble                         R. B. Cameron

Mary Annie                 Thomas Wright Strange

Carrie                          John Newland Maffitt

Dew Drop                   Alexander MacRae

Frolic                            George Parsley

Rosa                             J. M. Cazaux

Mollie                           William B. Meares

Hermit                         Harriss Northrop

Undine                         George Harriss

Callie                            J. J. Conolly

David K.                      Ernest Willard

Git Thar                       Donald MacRae

Glide                            S. P. Cowan

Lizzie                           George Peck

Question                      Julia Parsley

Phantom                      Leonora Cantwell

Bessie Lee                    Edward Sprunt

Abovna                        R. J. Bernard

Little Girl                     Capt. Gautier

Sue                               Hassell Burgwin

Lillian-Florence             Edward Manning

Eliza Ann                     Henry Bradley

Columbia                      Talcott Burr

Young American          C. D. Ellis

Sprite                           C. H. Conoly

Jennie Q.                      Parker Quince

Twilight                       John Quince

Bessie Lee                    Capt. O. A. Wiggins.

Spray                           Edward Latimer

Fannie                          Capt. I. B. Grainger

Rosa                             J. M. Cazaux

Lizzie                           George Peck

Carolina                       Solomon Morse

Ripple                           George Chadbourn

Flying Cloud                Daniel Baker

Alice Haigh                  William Lippitt

Sand Crab                    C. C. Morse

Fiddler                         Edward Savage

Eleanor                        John and William Giles

Vashti                          R. H. Grant

Vixen                           Herbert Latimer

O.N.                              Ancrum Lord

Calypso                        A. B. Skelding

Bumble Bee                  Henry MacMillan

Mabel                           Edwin A. Metts

Puzzle                          Edwin A. Metts


The Sprite was the smallest.

The Gazette, slowest boat (She “established tardiness.”)

A History of the Carolina Yacht Club, by Louis T. Moore. Carolina Yacht Club Chronicles, by Anne Russell. Perkins Library, Duke University. “Portraits of Members of the Class of 1854, University of North Carolina.” North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill. Southern Historical Collection, UNC, Jane Pope Akers Ridgway, William R. Johnston, curator of the Walters Art Gallery, Lewis Philip Hall, and Eugene Hicks.




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“Miss Mary’s Money”

by Susan Taylor Block

Dr. H. G. Jones, historian and wordsmith, has just published another book: Miss Mary’s Money: Fortune and Misfortune in a North Carolina Plantation Family, 1760-1924. When I first saw the words, “Miss Mary’s Money,” I thought the book might be about Mary Lily Kenan Flagler, but this is another Mary, one who also did much good for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Working with him was David Southern. Dr. Jones, former director of the North Carolina Archives, and of the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was intrigued when he learned of a handsome granite cross monument that sat in the Galloway Ridge woods, near Dr. Jones’ retirement-home residence in Chatham County.

As soon as Dr. Jones learned the departed had a strong tie to the University, he was anything but retired. For the next eight years he pursued the story of Mary Ruffin Smith and Jones Grove. It was a case of tombstone to tome, for the finished work is 224 chocked full pages of facts, with enough research twists and turns to make even a history nut reach for a seat belt. One of many surprises for Jones was that the Galloway Ridge property was the site of a 1792 meeting  of commissioners (including trustee Alfred Moore of Brunswick County) assembled to choose the location of the University of North Carolina.

Bishop Robert Strange of Wilmington plays a part in the story, too. In 1905, soon after being confirmed by Bishop Thomas Atkinson, he began “preaching” and talking with the students as he set out to raise attendance numbers at UNC’s Chapel of the Cross, and to elevate religious education at the University. “Chapel Hill is a most important point for Missionary work among young men,” declared Diocesan delegates who were echoing the Bishop. Three years later, still only eighty of the 790 students – all males – were Episcopalians.

Bishop Robert Strange. (Courtesy of Special Collections, Randall Library, UNCW.)

Bishop Robert Strange. (Courtesy of Special Collections, Randall Library, UNCW.)

The true tale of Mary Ruffin Smith plays a part in some Diocesan duels, but Bishop Strange played a big role in making peace. He helped raise funds in his Diocese, too, with significant contributions coming from St. James Church in Wilmington.

As an aside: It is interesting that both Bishop Strange (1857-1914) and Bishop Thomas Henry Wright (1904-1997), who served as a rector of Chapel of the Cross, descended from Dr. Thomas Henry Wright (1800-1861), an ardent layperson at St. James Church. The Rev. William Mercer Green, who was largely responsible for the building of Chapel of the Cross, was Dr. Wright’s first cousin. Thomas U. Walter, architect for the 1839 St. James Church building, also designed Chapel of the Cross, completed in 1848.

There are many facets to Miss Mary’s Money. The author is to be commended for many reasons, not the least of which is researching folks with names like Smith and Jones.



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The Key of Yellow

by Susan Taylor Block


Pollen, I’m calling

On you to just stay:

Adhere to asphalt,

Windshields and clay.

Leave me to breathe Spring’s

Delectable scents:

Jasmine and lily:

Olfactory mints.

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A Chestnut Tree Grew in Wilmington

by Susan Taylor Block


(All photo rights reserved: Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina – Wilson Library.)


This photo, owned by the University of North Carolina’s “Southern Historical Collection,” features Mary Catherine Lord (on right, with tennis racket), a daughter of rice merchant Frederick James Lord of Wilmington. The image was taken near the “Lazarus Cottage,” a considerable structural dependency that was part of Aaron Lazarus’s property in Wilmington. Mr. Lazarus, one of the earliest directors of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, owned the city block that is bounded today by Third, Grace, Fourth, and Chestnut streets.

The Lord family had roots in antebellum Wilmington, going back to Richard Bradley’s daughter, Elizabeth Bradley, and her marriage in 1792 to John Quince Lord. Their roots in Brunswick County ran deeper though. William E. Lord served for years as Brunswick County’s delegate to the North Carolina House of Commons. His co-delegates included Alfred Moore and Benjamin Smith.

The Lord family became known for their generosity and for their deep involvement with the Episcopal church; contributing funds for the needy and giving monetary gifts, stained glass windows, and the altar rail to St. James Church in Wilmington. Their family pew, labeled “LORD,” on the typical small brass pew plaque of that day, tended to raise visitors’ eyebrows, but it did seem to fit their passionate interest. William Campbell Lord and Dr. Thomas Henry Wright served as co-chairmen of the building committee for the 1839 Gothic Revival building, designed by U. S. Capitol dome architect Thomas U. Walter.


Lord House

The 1773 Wells-Brown-Lord House at 300 South Front Street. (Photo by William Edmund Barrett from Tony P. Wrenn’s book, “Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait.)

At one time, Mr. Lazarus’s residence at 314 Grace Street fronted on Chestnut Street, just north of Wilmington’s City Hall. During Aaron Lazarus’ day, Grace was known as Mulberry Street. These ancient names for Wilmington lanes may have had some botanical basis. Frederick Jones Hill, Frederick James Lord’s great-uncle, purchased the Lazarus property and made extensive and grand changes to the main house.

The woman who is seated on the left is Mary’s sister, Eliza Lord Munds. On June 28, 1890, Mary married Bishop Alfred Watson (1818-1905), who served as bishop from 1884 to 1905. He was the first Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina, an attorney, and an eloquent chronicler of post Civil War days in southeastern N.C. Though Bishop’s Watson’s schedule was dense with duties. and the couple’s ages were disparate, the couple honeymooned for about two months in Europe. When they returned, Bishop Watson resumed his busy schedule of parish visits, sometimes on shipboard. He was remembered for the words he spoke soon after his election as bishop: “The Past is gone past mending. The Future is Ours.”

All rights reserved. University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Randall Library.

Bishop Watson and Mary Lord Watson, about 1891, seated in front of St. James Church’s old rectory (now razed) at 309 Market Street. (All photo rights reserved. University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Special Collections, Randall Library.)


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Retro “Pluggers”

by Susan Taylor Block

“Pluggers” is a cartoon series originated by Jeff MacNelly and continued by Gary Brookins. My father, a quiet people watcher, enjoyed reading it, so I submitted some ideas to Mr. Brookins, hoping to surprise Dad. All were not accepted, but it was great fun to hear the delight in his voice when he would call to let me know one of my Pluggers had made it to print.

It’s an odd-feeling thing to share a short text and a situation, then have an artist put it all together. The immaterial became material – even if each cartoon’s shelf life was just 24 hours long. Hmmm. I can change that:

Pluggers 4


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Eric Norden: Sweden to Harbor Island

by Susan Taylor Block

Eric Norden, in his home on Harbor Island. (Cape Fear Museum)


Eric Norden, a Wilmington photographer bibliophile, surveyor, and title expert was born in 1869, and raised in comfortable style on a Swedish plantation. He moved to America in 1888, first to Wisconsin and then to Minnesota where he earned the designation of civil engineer. In 1896, he came to Wilmington to supervise the installation of a steam plant for the Cape Fear Lumber Company.

By 1900, Norden had developed a keen interest in topography and land titles. He was commissioned by Hugh MacRae, Sr. to help MacRae acquire 40,000 acres of land, upon which the owner planned to place experienced farmers from Europe who could teach residents of southeastern North Carolina better farming methods. MacRae acquired the farmland in New Hanover and several neighboring counties.

Mr. Norden kept an office in the Masonic Building on Front Street in Wilmington from 1909 to 1946. There he worked as a consulting engineer and a land survey and title expert. Over the period of his career, Norden researched titles and surveyed land for timber companies, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, the State Literary Fund, and the State Department of Public Instruction. He was the first person to untangle the title mysteries of Bald Head Island. Eric Norden kept ties with Sweden and prized a commission document he received from King Gustaf of Sweden in 1916.

Norden had a number of hobbies, including the acquisition of antique clock and rare books, and practicing the skill and art of photography.

Early shutterbugs: William B. McKoy, Dr. George Worth, and Eric Norden, about 1910. (Cape Fear Museum)

Early shutterbugs: William B. McKoy, Dr. George Worth, and Eric Norden, about 1910. (Cape Fear Museum)

In 1902, Norden was elected president of Wilmington’s Y.M.C.A. Camera Club. Norden learned to develop his own photographs and did his work at the old Y.M.C.A. building that once stood on the northwest corner of Front and Grace streets in Wilmington. The plates they used were glass.

Years later, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Archives and History wrote: “He spent much time and great care in preparing as gifts beautiful photographs of the coastal country with which he was familiar.”[1]

Dr. George Worth, a medical missionary to China who was supported by James Sprunt, was elected vice president of the camera club during a Sabbatical year. Dr. Worth and Eric Norden are pictured together at Lilliput Plantation on the cover of a book called, Along the Cape Fear.

Having grown up on a successful plantation and having such an interest in land, Norden naturally had affection for the old Brunswick plantations. On May 1, 1917, James Sprunt wrote to Norden’s friend, William Bacon McKoy, saying:

…I thank you for your favor of the 30th of April. I would be glad to be of any assistance to you when you are ready to go to Orton, and I regret that we have just moved up to town for the season, after having lived there for the past five months.

“I think I could arrange to go down with you, Mr. Martin and Mr. Norden, from Orton in a conveyance to the Old Church….

“Kindly let me know the day before you want to go to Orton. I may be able to send you down in my own boat and bring you back in good time in the afternoon.

“Yours faithfully, James Sprunt.[2]

Eric Norden’s rare book collection must have been one of Wilmington’s largest and very finest. It contained a 1614 copy of Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World; an English thesaurus printed in 1554; 72 volumes of Gentleman’s Magazine, from the years 1731 to 1834. Sadly, his house on Harbor Island, at Wrighsville Beach, burned in 1939 and almost all of his books turned to ashes.[3]

A copy of a Swedish book entitiled Fridthjof’s Saga survived, only because Norden had gifted it before the fire. In Mr. Sprunt’s handwriting it is inscribed, “Eric Norden to James Sprunt.”

Eric Norden died on October 25, 1946, at the age of 77. He was survived by his wife, Laura Howell Norden. The couple had no children. Mrs. Norden was a gifted musician and published poet. In 1980, Laura donated 188 of her husband’s photographic images to Cape Fear Museum. She gave them in old glass plate negative form and the museum developed and conserves each one.

Eric Norden took this photo of Greenville Sound from his property on Harbor Island. (Mary Muchison Gornto Collection)

Eric Norden took this photo of Greenville Sound about 1902. (Mary Muchison Gornto Collection)

Laura Howell Norden, crabbing at Harbor Island, about 1912.

Laura Howell Norden, crabbing at Harbor Island, about 1912. (Cape Fear Museum)

[1] “Eric Norden: A Biographical Sketch” by the NC Department of Archives and History.  Dispatch, January 9, 1902.

[2] Alexander Sprunt Collection, Perkins Library, Duke University.

[3] Undated newspaper article by Maude Waddell, containing many details of Mr. Norden’s book collection, Miss Waddell was a descendant of settler Maurice Moore.

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