The Rev. Dr. Adam Empie

by Susan Taylor Block

The Rev. Adam Empie, D. D., (1785-1860) was born in Schenectady, N.Y., on September 5, 1785. His father, John Empie, was the grandson of Johannes Empgie, who emigrated from Worms, Germany, during the reign of Queen Ann. Johannes Anglicized his surname soon after his arrival in America. The family of Adam Empie’s mother, Anna Quackenboss, came from Holland. Empie described his parents as “poor,” but strictly and devoutly pious.

Though well acquainted during childhood with Dutch Reform and Presbyterian Church beliefs, Adam warmed to the Protestant Episcopal Church while still a very young man. He worked his way through Union College, located conveniently in his hometown, and would graduate, with honors, in 1807. While at Union, he made warm friendships with famous professors Eliphalet Nott and Benjamin Allen, who both were drawn to his quick mind and unusual powers of interpretation. They encouraged him to enter the priesthood.

Following graduation, Empie lived in Rhinebeck and Hempstead, New York, while preparing for his career. During his post-graduate studies he became close to many high ranking church members such as The Rt. Rev. Dr. Benjamin Moore and John Henry Hobart, rector of Trinity Church on Wall Street and a future bishop of New York. Empie was ordained Deacon in 1809, and then admitted into the priesthood. His ordination service was conducted by Bishop Moore, whose fame would one day be eclipsed by that of his son; Clement Clark Moore, a seminary professor who authored, “T’was the Night Before Christmas.”

Even as Empie’s connections, knowledge and scholarly reputation grew, so did “the thorn in his flesh.” Described as rheumatism, it hit him at a young age and periodically pierced his body with pain. Stoically, he bore the hurt from sometime during adolescence until his death at age 75.

Young Adam Empie’s first assignment was a good one: assistant rector at St. George’s, founded 1702, in Hempstead Long Island — the same church served many years later by the present rector of St. James Church in Wilmington, Ronald G. Abrams. Things went well for Empie at St. George’s, but his pain level increased along with his popularity. He came to believe that moving to a warmer place might bring relief. The timing was fortunate for Wilmington: Members of St. James Parish had begun advertising need of a new rector – and claims of Wilmington’s health giving qualities were part of the bait.

The parish offered $1200 a year; bonuses if the candidate was willing to teach at Wilmington’s Inness Academy, and a summer residence near the water. Most likely, the summer cottage belonged to Judge Joshua Grainger Wright who owned a 300-acre waterfront estate, Mount Lebanon, on breezy Wrightsville Sound. In those days, $1200 was generous pay for a rector. Members, as well as regular visitors like Jewish merchant Aaron Lazarus, sweetened the pot during a campaign to bring a true intellectual into the pulpit at St. James.

Word of job availability may have come through Wall Street’s Trinity Church. Empie’s bond was his sustained friendship with John Henry Hobart. Ties from St. James Parish to New York came mainly through the interrelated Winslow, Wright, and Wilkings families, some of who considered Trinity their second church. They made frequent business trips to New York and had other relatives who resided there. Judge Wright’s eldest son, Thomas, married Ann Winslow, the daughter of revered Anglican rector, Edward Winslow. A few members of all three families made their way early to Fayetteville where, in 1817, they became part of church life at St. John’s Parish.

Wilmingtonian William Wilkings, wrote from New York recommending Adam Empie for the job. “He is a young man of a liberal education and whose manners and moral character will no doubt give general satisfaction.” After months of discussion and at least one trip to Wilmington, Adam Empie began his new job in November of 1811. Comparing a good rector to the candlestick of a church, the new rector ended his inaugural sermon with the words, “(God) has again sent you a guide, an instructor, a comforter, a friend. In the person of his ambassador, He again invites you to his house and to his table, and promises all you can desire, on earth and in Heaven. Oh! That we may all have a realizing sense of the goodness of God!”

Though Empie’s sermons read well on paper, it is obvious that “in person” there was a power in their source and delivery that transcends words. He persuaded casual observers to be baptized: inspired men to become laypersons and ministers; and successfully encouraged so many people to lead lives of quiet devotion that some citizens blamed Empie for turning the town into a boring place. Handsome in his youth, Empie also attracted larger numbers females to services and led them to do charitable work for the city’s poor. Despite being an outspoken abolitionist in a white Southern church, the congregation for the most part delighted in his mental calisthenics and boasted of their bookish young rector.

Despite a grueling work schedule, Empie still had a social life, and if he was looking for a bride, he didn’t have to look far. Indeed, he married the girl next door. On March 24, 1814, when he was 28 years old, Adam Empie wed 15-year-old Ann Eliza Wright. The wedding took place at her family home, the Burgwin-Wright House, just across the street from the church. She was a daughter of Judge Wright and his wife, Susan Bradley Wright, who was raised in a devout Quaker home and who became a strong force for good at St. James Church. Adam and Ann Eliza had spent two summers as neighbors, too, living in close proximity on the Sound.

The announcement of their marriage must have made for interesting news considering the occupation, strident sermons, and courtly manners of the groom, and the tender age of Miss Wright, a genuine Southern belle. The bride’s dowry included several slaves. Empie freed them, but was so good to them that they refused to leave him.

Ann Eliza Empie’s relatives included brother, Dr. Thomas Henry Wright, a dedicated layman who built Mount Lebanon Chapel and co-chaired the building committee for the present St. James Church edifice; and niece, Caroline, who was the mother of Bishop Robert Strange.

Shortly after their wedding, the Empies moved to New York when the groom accepted a new job as first chaplain of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. Colonel Joseph Gardner Swift, who also married a St. James “girl”, Louisa Walker, was largely responsible for Empie’s appointment. Colonel Swift, soon to be General Swift, was one of the two first graduates of West Point. In addition to naming Empie chaplain, he named him treasurer and “professor of ethics.”

The Empies lost their first child, then had another while in New York. They lived with the Swifts in Brooklyn and both families worshipped together at St. Ann’s Church. Though Empie’s commission at West Point lasted until April 1817, he negotiated an early move back to Wilmington where his wife could be reunited with her large flock of relatives. During Empie’s absence, the Rev. Bethel Judd, D. D., of Connecticut served St. James Parish well, then moved to Fayetteville to shepherd St. John’s Church.

The Rev. Mr. Judd was a 1797 graduate of Yale University, and, like Empie, was “strictly evangelical in sentiment.” Dr. Judd spent only the eight cooler months each year in Wilmington. He too came South hoping warmth and sunshine would alleviate his ills, and it did. He soon learned, though, that summer could much too sunny in Wilmington, and so he spent the hotter months at his family home in Norwalk, CT, where he led services at St. Paul’s Parish.

Soon Empie was busy again with many responsibilities including St. James’s generous welfare program. Empie opened his arms to help people of all religions including a Roman Catholic priest, strangers of all sorts and races, the “shoeless,” the hungry, lonely sailors, the elderly who needed someone to chop wood for them, and the dead. During the whole span of Empie’s years as rector, burials in St. James Graveyard were allowed for many strangers, including at least one black, and a few “Romanists.”

Empie excelled at administration, and studied the organization of the Anglican Church in New York State. He pushed for the creation of a diocese, conducted his own census of N. C. Episcopalians, attempted to recruit other erudite ministers for eastern North Carolina, and fought to abolish the practice of creating vestries by public election. He also made changes within the old St. James church building that greatly improved its appearance and functionality. Former Gov. Benjamin Smith, owner of Orton Plantation, made his generous gift of communion silver to the church at this time too, perhaps at Empie’s suggestion.

In an effort to locate traces of old Anglican congregations in North Carolina, Dr. Empie logged many extra hours corresponding and traveling – usually on horseback. He also requested that his friends “up north” send missionaries to the province. “If a sufficient number could be found it is greatly to be wished that the Church could be organized and accede to the ecclesiastical Union that obtains in the other Sections of the U. States,” he said.

On April 24, 1817, Adam Empie realized his diocesan dream. With the assistance of the Rev. Mr. Bethel Judd and the Rev. Dr. Jehu Curtis Clay, he formed the Diocese of North Carolina. Dr. Clay, rector of Christ Church in New Bern, also would serve as rector of Gloria Dei Church in Philadelphia, and authored a book entitled, Annals of the Swedes on the Delaware from their first settlement in 1636. The trio of Empie, Judd, and Clay was a dynamic one in which spiritual zeal, intellect, and superior educations reigned. It is no wonder they could found a Diocese.

During the next ten years, Empie’s second term as rector of St. James, church membership grew so rapidly that side galleries had to be added to accommodate the crowds. Adam Empie created associations to educate the poor and to provide them with Bibles and other books. He added Sunday School and Bible classes to the church calendar and more music to the services. To benefit the entire town, he organized a drive to erect a parochial library.

Wilmington was a sort of happy little nest for Empie and his family, but in 1827, opportunity again trumped comfort. The Empies moved to Williamsburg where he served as rector of Bruton Parish, president of The College of William and Mary, and “professor of belles lettres, logic and ethics.” He was credited with many improvements at the college, but perhaps a friendship that developed there had more ramifications. Adam Empie had long decried the lack of quality technical education in America. His William and Mary protégé, a chemistry professor named William Barton Rogers, left Virginia at Empie’s bidding, to lead a fund raising campaign in Boston for the creation of a technical school. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the result.

While at Bruton Parish, Adam Empie’s ideas on slavery met with great resistance. Some of his parishioners protested bitterly when he invited slaves to be a part of the worship service and turned to the government for help in curbing Empie’s actions. Doggedly, Rev. Empie appealed to the Virginia State Legislature and his actions were upheld. However, his views greatly strained relations.

In 1836, Adam Empie moved to Raleigh where he taught for two years at Episcopal High School. That job ended when he discovered that the school, in his words, “was a speculation upon borrowed capital, and verging to its ruin.” After Empie’s departure, wealthy businessman Duncan Cameron purchased the struggling institution. It still survives: St. Mary’s School.

Dr. Empie’s last parish was in Richmond where he organized St. James Church, named after his beloved post in Wilmington. He created a “Classical School for young men ten years of age or older” that met in the church building. Though his students were usually privileged, Empie never lost sight of the disenfranchised. He encouraged the creation of slave galleries in the existing white churches in Richmond. He also founded a slave mission, on Broad Street, and taught Bible lessons there. His work during this period was rewarded years later when he was named “A Maker of Richmond,” in the 1940s. Today, Richmond’s St. James Church boasts over 2,000 members, and Adam Empie’s favorite Bible verse still graces the entrance and altar: “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only.”

Adam Empie served in Richmond from 1837 until 1853. While there, he lost his wife, whom he sometimes identified simply as “the daughter of Judge Joshua G. Wright.” The widower came home to Wilmington in 1853 because of his health and to “seek repose in the society of his children.” His last years were so painful with “rheumatism” that his family reported that nothing but the power of religion could have sustained him. He spent most of his time in prayer and meditation. At the very end, he lost his ability to speak but could still write in a feeble hand. His last words, written shortly before his death on November 6, 1860, were “To die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

Though Dr. Empie left a large family who still keep the name alive; admirers also named their children Empie. Dr. Empie’s son, Adam. and wife, Virginia Gwathmey, named their first child, Swift Empie, after the warm friendship the rector and the general enjoyed for many years. Today the name, Empie, is most closely associated with a city park, land for which was donated by Dr. Empie’s grandson, Theodore Gwathmey Empie and his wife, Evelyn. Empie Park is a memorial to their only child, Virginia, who died young.





Schaffer Library, Union College; Special Collections, U.N.C.-W; Perkins Library, Duke University; Lower Cape Fear Historical Society; Southern and N.C. Collections, U.N.C.; Trinity College Library; New Hanover County Public Library; N. C. State Archives; Special Collections, U. S. Military Academy; Adam Empie Papers, Manuscripts and Rare Books Department, Swem Library, College of William and Mary; Bruton Parish, St. James Church (Richmond); The Valentine Museum, Richmond History Center; The South Caroliniana Library, U. S. C.; and Columbia University.

Catherine W. Bishir: North Carolina Architecture; E. C. Hicks: Hicks, Ward, Wright, Yonge and 7812 Descendants; James Sprunt: Chronicles of the Lower Cape Fear; Joseph Gardner Swift: The Memoirs of Joseph Gardner Swift; Leora Hiatt McEachern, assisted by Bill Reaves: History of St. James Church, 1729-1979 Wilmington, 1985; Lawrence London and Sarah McCulloh Lemmon: The Episcopal Church in N. C. (1701-1959), Robert Brent Drane: Sketch of St. James’s Parish, Wilmington, NC; and Ellen Davies-Rodgers: The Great Book: Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church, Memphis.

Photograph courtesy of the Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William and Mary.

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Blessed be the Tie That Binds: Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson 

by Susan Taylor Block

Though Wilmington, North Carolina played host to several U. S. Presidents, Woodrow Wilson is the only Commander-in-Chief to have called the port city “home.” His two World War I-era presidential terms are well-documented, but much has been forgotten of his time and influence in Wilmington. Though his residency was brief he absorbed the city’s beauty and romance and established close ties with several Wilmingtonians that he kept throughout his life. Wilson also changed the landscape by steering generous federal funds straight to North Water Street. It was money beautifully spent for the result was the stunning U. S. Custom House, one of Wilmington’s most photogenic landmarks.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the son of Janet Woodrow, and Dr. Joseph R. Wilson who was minister of Wilmington’s First Presbyterian Church from 1874 to 1885. The future president, known then as Tommy, came home in 1874 from Davidson College in an attempt to repair his frail health and to study for his future schooling at Princeton. When he arrived in Wilmington his parents were living temporarily at 401 South Front Street, the home of Elizabeth and Charles Robinson, while a new church manse was being constructed at 317 Orange Street. Tommy lived there for several months, just across the street from the Governor Dudley Mansion.

Tommy Wilson chief interests were science and politics. He read voraciously on both subjects, a cherished activity in itself since he suffered from dyslexia. Tommy took lessons in Greek and Latin from Mrs. Joseph R. Russell of Wilmington, the first person known to have predicted he would be president. Rev. Wilson, a perpetual scholar, also tutored his son. The subjects ranged from religion to secular literature. Dr. Wilson, who was known for the “charm of his English,” groom his son as a wordsmith. These father-son lessons often took place during long leisurely strolls through downtown Wilmington and became a favorite sight to others.

Dr. Joseph Wilson, who would eventually become Professor of Pastoral and Evangelical Theology and Sacred Rhetoric in Columbia Theological Seminary, was known as one of Wilmington’s most learned and eloquent ministers. His powerful intellect and warm personality galvanized his congregation and had long lasting effects through the philanthropy and mission work he encouraged. The power of his personality also made him something of a local celebrity. So naturally Tommy, even more than most “preacher’s kids,” was much-watched.

What locals saw was a bookish, slightly awkward young man who was devoted to his parents and smitten with life on the river — particularly large freighters that steamed up and down the Cape Fear River. Tommy Wilsons’ friends were members of the Bellamy, Kenan, Sprunt, McQueen, Hicks, Hall, Taylor, MacRae and Robinson families. At the time, most of them were members of First Presbyterian, but today the majority are Episcopalians. But Wilson was solidly Presbyterian and, by all accounts, shaped by things he learned and experienced within the 1861 church building at Third and Orange streets where he always accompanied his mother. Designed by noted architect Samuel Sloan who also drew plans for First Baptist Church, the interior of First Presbyterian featured six supporting dark oak pillars and a slave gallery. The building burned on New Year’s Eve, 1925 and was replaced by the Gothic Revival structure that still stands.

Author William Allen White visited Wiilmington in 1926 to interview those who had known Tommy Wilson. “The old people of Third Street remember the young man walking sedately into church on Sunday morning with his mother upon his arm,” said White “He was almost but not quite, an exemplary youth.” Apparently however, Wilson’s only known “sin” in town was mischief. He delighted in telling harmless tales on his father and playing a practical joke or two on his best friends.

However the joke was on Tommy Wilson one day when he rode his brand new bicycle down Nun Street and straight into the Cape Fear River. Wilson either failed to brake or his brakes failed during his steep descent down the block that is now bordered to the north by the Governor Dudley Mansion and Governor’s Landing, and to the north by the Pilot House restaurant. The bicycle was not only the first one in Wilmington, but the entire state. “He rode it with calm indifference to the astonishment caused by the then unique method of locomotion,” said North Carolina newspaperman Josephus Daniels who would serve as Secretary of the Navy during Wilson’s administration. Tales of Wilson pedaling the new-fangled contraption through town inspired a charicature that may have been drawn by architect Kenneth McKenzie Murchison, James Sprunt’s brother-in-law.

Tommy Wilson’s love of water and watercraft made Wilmington a delightful temporary home. He went swimming at the foot of Dock Street and took long walks along the waterfront stopping to interview sailors who were present in droves during those busy times on the Cape Fear River. Cotton exporter James Sprunt, ten years Wilson’s senior, arranged for Tommy to board huge freighters at Champion Compress and return from the cape with river pilots. Wilson wrote short stories while in town that were filled with the colors, sounds, characters, and happenings on the Cape Fear, but sadly he destroyed them all.


Like his mother, Tommy Wilson kept most of his peers at arm’s length, but he did forge a close friendship with John D. Bellamy,Jr., who lived in the Bellamy Mansion at the time. They were both the same age and preparing for collelge. They were mutual fans of several authors, especially Walter Scott. Both men also shared an interest in politics as well. Bellamy would eventually become a U. S. Congressman.

“It was their habit to take books and go out in the pine woods and read — sometimes aloud to one another, sometimes sprawling on their backs, flipping the pages, chasing the story,” wrote author William Allen White who interviewed John D. Bellamy, Jr., in the early 1920s at the Bellamy Mansion. “The young men boated and swam on the Cape Fear River, roved the woods, tramped over the hills, and talked the tall talk of youth.”

Like teenagers today, Wilson and Bellamy spent a lot of time in each others’ houses — and the future president thoroughly enjoyed being in the antebellum Bellamy Mansion at 503 Market Street. The magnolia grandiflora of local architecture, the pillared house has been a landmark for almost 150 years. Today it is a sparsely furnished house museum, but in the 1870s, it was still new by mansion standards — and fully occupied. The interior matched the exterior in grandeur. The parlors were furnished and appointed in fine Victorian pieces, luxurious rugs, gilded Florentine cornices, and velvet draperies. The children’s floor featured its own stage.

More importantly for teenage boys, the Bellamy Mansion included a dandy of a place to hang out: the belvedere. Not only could Tommy and John see the city, they could talk about the Civil War days when the cupola was used as a lookout. Born in 1856, Wilson had seen some horrors of the war as a child, both in Augusta and in reconstruction-era Columbia, SC, a city charred by Gen. William Sherman. John Bellamy refugeed inland with most of his family during the war then returned to the scars occupying Union soldiers left on his home and city.

The Bellamy’s importance to the Wilsons became clear one night in 1875 when Janet Wilson lay near death from typhoid fever. Various women of the church had been serving as private duty nurses in the manse until a that night when the disease seemed to be winning its battle. Tommy went to the Bellamy Mansion and asked if a member of the family could “sit up” with his mother through the night. Miss Ellen Bellamy, John Jr.’s sister, volunteered and she and Tommy nursed Mrs. Wilson until morning. Mrs. Wilson survived typhoid fever, but would die in 1888. It was a hard loss for Tommy Wilson, who was both unusually close to her and so similar in nature. It seems fitting that Wilson would later, in 1914, be the president who would proclaim Mothers’ Day an official national observance.


After Tommy Wilson went to Princeton, then attended law school at the University of Virginia. It was there that he dropped the name Tommy and became Woodrow. Not only was it his beloved mother’s maiden name, but it was catchy. He shared his marketing thoughts with Robert Bridges, “I find I need a trademark… Thomas W. Wilson lacks something. Woodrow Wilson sticks in the mind.” However Wilson honored the name Tommy with Wilmington friends several years later even reintroduced himself to Alexander Sprunt as “Tommy.”

Woodrow’s studies were again interrupted by health problems. He returned to Wilmington for one year where he recuperated and read, then graduated from the University of Virginia Law School in 1881. He practiced law briefly before becoming a teacher and author. He received his PhD in 1885 from Johns Hopkins University. In 1890, he took over the chair of jurisprudence at Princeton University. Twelve years later, in 1902, Wilson was named president of Princeton. A number of Wilmingtonians enrolled in Princeton during Wilson’s time there including J. Laurence Sprunt, Arthur Bluethenthal, Empie Latimer, and Herbert Latimer.

In 1906, during Wilson’s university administration, the Princeton Glee Club visited Wilmington on Christmas Day. They arrived by train shortly after lunch and were kept busy until nearly dawn performing and being entertained by Wilson family friends. Glee Club members stayed at the elegant Orton Hotel on North Front Street, just a short distance from the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Sprunt at 400 South Front Street where they were served “supper.” At 8 pm, the men gave a concert at the Academy of Music (Thalian Hall), then journeyed to Airlie where Mr. and Mrs. Pembroke Jones hosted a lavish ball at her “country home.” Woodrow Wilson, who sang in the Johns Hopkins Glee Club, was not present on that trip, but was a guest in the Sprunt home several times during his Princeton career.


The fascination Tommy Wilson showed for politics while in Wilmington grew throughout his life. So did his knowledge through reading, teaching, and authorship. In 1909, he began his personal political march — one that would put him in history books worldwide. Woodrow Wilson was elected Governor of New Jersey. Then in 1912, he won the Democratic presidential nomination.

The news sent shudders of excitement through Wilmington. James Sprunt immediately offered Wilson Orton Plantation for a brief vacation before he waged his tough campaign against, primarily, William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt.. “It is a tempting idea,” wrote Wilson to Sprunt about the old plantation his father frequented during his years in Wilmington. “Before the letter came, however, we made all our arrangements to go to Bermuda.” When Wilson won the race, most Wilmingtonians cheered and those who had stayed in touch with him through the years didn’t let up.

James Sprunt, at various times British vice-consul and German Consul, never tired of suggesting North Carolinians to Wilson for jobs of political importance, and reminding him of Wilmington’s love for the Wilson family. With fierce loyalty, Sprunt, known for his calm reserve, railed at writers for the New York Herald when they criticized Wilson. Sprunt and Wilson would correspond until at least 1921. In 1919, Woodrow Wilson wrote to Sprunt, “Old time friendships grow dearer rather than dimmer.”

During Wilson’s first term as U. S. President, Wilmington received a spectacular gift from the federal government. The 1916 Custom House on North Water Street is beautiful and grand beyond proportion for a city Wilmington’s size. It’s hard to think President Wilson wasn’t looking out for old friends in Wilmington and honoring the waterfront he learned to love. B. F. Keith, Collector of Customs, spearheaded the project. His successor, Colonel Walker Taylor, a prominent member of First Presbyterian Church, oversaw its completion.

Following Wilson’s death on February 3,1924, a memorial service was held at City Hall. It was orchestrated by the president’s old friends: James Sprunt, B. F. Hall, Henry C. McQueen, John Allan Taylor, John D. Bellamy, Jr. and Hugh MacRae. Before an SRO crowd, John D. Bellamy, Jr. remembered his studious young friend as someone who reveled in the smell of the woods and liked to “loll on the river bank, reading some famous classic.” Others remembered his love of ships and the joy he gleaned from his short trips on the Cape Fear River.

But Wilson’s death was at least as painful to another local: David Bryant, a black man who was beloved butler to Woodrow Wilson’s father and a cherished friend of the President. Bryant was invited to all of Wilson’s inaugurations and visited the president in the White House on other occasions. The President enjoyed reminiscing with Bryant about Dr. and Mrs. Wilson, and the times he spent in Wilmington as a young man.

After Wilson died, Mr. Bryant wrote a consoling letter to his widow in which he mentioned his last meetings with the President. “The President so often referred to the happy days spent at the corner of Fourth and Orange streets and commented on the lovable disposition and charm of Alexander Sprunt and his sons, and of Mr. R. W. Hicks,” wrote Bryant.

Local memorials to President Wilson Woodrow Wilson American Legion huts, now razed. One sat on Chestnut Street behind the former U. S. Post Office, and a World War II era hut sat on Princess Street behind Thalian Hall. Another marker, this one at First Presbyterian Church, commemorated a crepe myrtle tree Janet Woodrow Wilson planted in 1880.


Sources: Mudd Library, Princeton University; Perkins Library, Duke University; author’s interviews with John Hall (1977); First Presbyterian Church archives; Lower Cape Fear Historical Society; New Hanover County Public Library; Josephus Daniels, William Allen White, Louis T. Moore, Tony P. Wrenn.




[Josephus Daniels, The Life of Woodrow Wilson. USA, 1924. Pg. 28.]


Edith Bolling Wilson, married first to Norman Galt, married second, President Woodrow Wilson. She was a native of Wytheville, Virginia, and a descendant of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. Her father was Judge W. H. Bolling, who presided over county court.

“Judge Bolling was one of the witnesses of the execution of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry.

“The Scotch and Irish strains in Woodrow Wilson help to interpret the twenty-eighth President of the United States. The traits of both show for mastery in him and made him the scholar, the reformer, the fighter, full of vigor and full of humor. …

“James Wilson, his grandfather, was the first of the family to come to American. He set sail from County Down, Ireland in 1807. ….

“He found employment on the Aurora, edited by William Duane….”:


“At Columbia (South Carolina), Tommy attended the school taught by Charles Hayward Barnwell. … It was here that Tommy buried himself in Marryat’s and Cooper’s tales of the sea and imbibed the knowledge of ships and sea-lore.” [Daniels, Pg. 40]



William G. McAdoo, Crowded Years: The Reminiscences of William G. McAdoo. Boston and New York, 1931] j



William Allen White, Woodrow Wilson: The Man, His Times, and his Task. Cambridge, 1924.


“…Miss Ida Tarbell, who saw him in February, 1916, at the Daniels Cabinet dinner, writes: ‘White we were at the dinner table I noticed that he was gay. …I suppose I must have said something about its being an anxious time. I remember he said: ‘No one can tell how anxious it is. I never go to bed without realizing that I may be called up by news that will mean that we are at war. Before to-morrow morning we may be at war. It is harder because the reports that come to us must be kept secret. Hasty action, indiscretion, might plunge us into a dangerous situation when a little care would entirely change the face of things.

“…I know I carried away from that dinner a feeling of the tremendous difficulty, of the tremendous threat under which he constantly lived, and of a man that had steeled himself to see it through. It strengthened my confidence in him.” Pg. 290.


“He knew well that his ‘first-class mind’ was not up to its old agility and strength. Miss Ida M. Tarbell, who for ten years had been his good friend and supporter, called once or twice to see him; once to urge him into some sort of literary enterprise – a ‘Primer of Democracy,’ or something of the sort….” Pg. 462.








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The Legend of Money Island

by Susan Taylor Block

Just south of Bradley Creek Point and immediately east of Shandy Hall sits a little isle that looms large in Wrightville’s oral history. It has been both whispered and shouted for centuries that Captain William Kidd buried treasure on Money Island, about 1699. The tale was pervasive at least until the 1840s, and some old-time Wilmingtonians were known to dig expectantly in their inland home gardens even as late as the 1920s. However the tale of Money Island seems to have at least a smidgin of validity. And even if it doesn’t, the legend of Captain Kidd has provided plenty of fun, frolic, and fantasy for those familiar with the story.

Money Island, on Greenville Sound, sits like a mute punctuation mark to the mainland. According to John Bullard, it has changed a lot since he purchased neighboring Shandy Point thirty years ago. “The island was about twice as big when we moved here, and there used to be many trees, including some large ones. But the wave wash from the waterway hurt the trees. Then when hurricanes arrived in the 1990s, they toppled over.”

But considering the digging that’s been done on the candidly named island, it’s a wonder it didn’t wash into oblivion. For, at intervals, both natives and fortune seekers from afar have been shoveling the dirt furiously, searching for jewels, gold, and silver rumored to have been buried there by Captain William Kidd — over 300 years ago.

According to legend, about 1699, Captain Kidd, a Scot, dressed in a pilfered costume, supervised the burial of glittering treasure on the little island that would become known as “Money.” Kidd, a rather elegant pirate, had acquired a small fortune and a good reputation both by marriage and through privateering: the legal brother to piracy. He owned an imposing residence in Manhattan, made friends of at least three governors, and occupied a pew in Wall Street’s Trinity Church, an Anglican body first established by William III, of England — the same monarch who was said to receive a tenth of everything Kidd confiscated. But in time, William Kidd seemed to cross the watery line that divided privateering and piracy, resulting in increased riches but the loss of his base of political support.

Kidd’s fate was sealed when he struck a troublesome sailor over the head with a bucket. The sailor died from the blow and Kidd was labeled a murderer. He began to sail north with a ship full of treasures looted from Spanish colonies. Kidd reportedly buried chests full of precious jewels, gold, and silver as he sailed up the east coast to New York. That way, if exonerated, he stood a chance of recovering at least a portion of his prize. He could also use his treasure maps as barter.

About 1699, Captain Kidd passed the beautiful and uninhabited land of Greenfield Sound and chose a scenic island full of oak and yaupon as one of his branch-banks. He supervised while workmen buried two iron chests full of gold and silver. To mark the spots, they planted saplings over each chest. Captain Kidd paid a shipmate named John Redfield to live across from the little island and guard his treasure until he could return. Redfield buried gold left for his support in three places along Greenfield Sound. Kidd also instructed Redfield to take a portion of one of the chests if he did not return.

A scooner Kidd provided made it possible for Redfield to gather some help from other locations. Together they built several residences, probably at Shandy Hall. Redfield called his own house “Rindout.”

Captain Kidd was arrested in England in 1700 and, despite pleas to former sponsor King William III, was hanged in London, in 1701. Authorities used Kidd as a horrid lesson: The pirate’s body was hung in an iron cage over the Thames River for two years.

In the meantime, Redfield gave up his watch over Money Island and moved to Charleston where, with the spoils of his guardianship, he lived a good life, raised a family, and told his children about the riches Kidd left behind. He even described the stolen Spanish cavalier garb the captain wore as he watched his sailors turning shovels: A cocked hat, with a yellow band and a black plume, a knee-length black velvet coat, blue pants, and shoes with large silver buckles.

African Americans, perhaps former laborers for Redfield who remained on Greenville Sound, may have kept the oral tradition alive in Wilmington while Redfield’s children passed the story quietly to their children. In the 1840s, one of Capt. Redfield’s descendants showed up on Greenfield Sound to dig for treasure. A Greenville Sound boy named Jonathan Gladstone joined in the hunt and later shared his story with Wilmington historian Andrew J. Howell, Jr.

Armed with shovels and axes, the treasure hunters dug dirt and hacked the roots of great trees until they found pieces of one collapsed iron chest. After removing the plates, they used their fingers as “metal detectors,” and found a number of gold coins. The question of what happened to the other buried treasure has never been answered.

Sifting through local pirate lore to find the truths is difficult, too. But we do know that he amassed a genuine fortune. An entire building at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich was bought with a fraction of Kidd’s money. And we also know that Kidd continues to make news. Christine Svenningsen, the widow of a party supply mogul, recently spent $33 million buying up tiny islands in Long Island Sound where Kidd is also rumored to have buried treasure. Though Ms. Svenningsen refuses to divulge her hungry interest in the land known as the Thimble Islands, national newspeople have wondered out loud if she might be readying for a dig.

What is certain locally is that the Legend of Money Island has periodically enriched life at Shandy Hall. One intermittent resident, in particular, made the most of the Kidd’s legend. Dr. George Worth (1867-1936), a Wilmington native who became a medical missionary to China, turned the dark tale into uneasy children’s delight by staging mock treasure hunts by night. Every five years, Dr. Worth went on a year-long furlough from his demanding overseas job and returned to the sound front home of his youth to rest and reacquaint with people and places. His father, a maritime merchant and steamboat builder, amassed a fortune and, along with philanthropist James Sprunt, helped underwrite the cost of the Jiangyin Mission Station, near Shanghai. But before he ever left China, he always wrote a letter home to children of his relatives and friends. With intrigue worthy of tales parents tell their little children about Santa Claus, Dr. Worth created a fantasy that brought a little fright and a lot of joy. His correspondence included a treasure map of his own invention, with claims that it was both newly discovered and guaranteed to lead to hidden jewels and coins if the hunt was executed on a certain night. Of course, Worth timed each hunt to coincide with the full moon.

Two relatives of Dr. Worth, Louise Washburn Boylan, of Wilmington, and Julie Sprunt, of Memphis, remember the hunts well. “He would slip over to the island ahead of time,” said Mrs. Boylan, “and bury lots of dime-store jewelry and worthless coins in the spots that he had already marked on the map. Then he would take us over in a boat after dark.”

Julie Sprunt, who had older brothers, remembers that Dr. Worth even thought up a way to add a more spookiness to the nocturnal adventure. When children were old enough to figure out the spoof, the boys were recruited as “howlers.” As she learned later, Miss Sprunt’s older brothers had been ferried over early to find perches in the trees from which they would screech and howl. So as she was unearthing jewelry and coins, her own siblings were providing an eerie audio backdrop capable of sending chills up the spines of every child on the island. When the youngsters returned to Shandy Hall, they felt they had bravely survived an experience more frightening than Halloween — and one with more interesting plunder.

Dr. Worth always brought plenty of Chinese gifts, including silk worms, home to his family. In the early years, he may have shopped for some Money Island trinkets there as well. In 1920, architect Kenneth M. Murchison, a frequent visitor to Wilmington and Shandy Hall, published a piece of sheet music entitled, “Captain Kidd,” in which Chinese items are a prominent part of the lyrics. Murchison, a gifted musician and a nephew of Mrs. James Sprunt, was related to the Worths through the marriage of Julia Worth to Walter P. Sprunt. Julia and Walter Sprunt owned Shandy Hall and Money Island for many years and today Money Island is still owned by the descendants of Walter Payne Sprunt, Jr. (1914-1983.)

In addition to Murchison’s musical composition, the legend of Money Island and Captain Kidd may have spawned another bit of locally produced art. In 1918, the World Film Corp. filmed a movie in Wilmington. The working title was “Pirate’s Gold,” and one of the stars sent a postcard to California while she was in town. The postcard featured a picture of Pembroke Jones’s “Bungalow,” the Italianate architectural wonder that used to sit at Landfall.

The old house at Shandy Hall, where the Worths and Walter Sprunts lived, still stands today. Dr. and Mrs. James Overton who have worked hard to preserve the ancient elements of the house now own the residence at 2601 Shandy Lane. It is possible that it was built as early as early as 1750 by Joshua Grainger, Jr., a land-rich businessman who ran a shipbuilding business at the foot of Church Street in Wilmington. Grainger could have constructed the original house first as a summer residence, using boat builders as his labor force.

The house contains floors made from halved heart pine logs, hand-chiseled heart pine scaffolding, tree-trunk supports, and four-by-four timbers. Narrow passageways, a few seemingly random levels, and a generally uneven quality give the residence a maritime feel. It is also tempting to wonder if a particle of John Redfield’s house was incorporated into the structure, and if the three famous “little houses” at Shandy Hall were built for the Grainger’s slaves.

Joshua Grainger’s daughter, Ann, married privateer Captain Thomas Wright about 1758. Their youngest son, born in 1768, was Joshua Grainger Wright from whom Wrightsville Beach gained its name. Following the death of Captain Wright in 1771, Ann married Charles Jewkes, a merchant from Portugal who proved to be such a good stepfather to Joshua Grainger Wright that he named the first of his thirteen children Charles Jewkes Wright. Like possibly the Graingers before them, Charles and Ann Grainger Wright Jewkes, operated Shandy Hall as a hotel for mariners and for guests who were simply traveling by water.

And it was actually a houseguest, Wilmington physician Dr. John Eustace, who named Shandy Hall. Dr. Eustace was a great fan of novelist Laurence Sterne (1713-1768). Sterne, an Irishman and Anglican priest, achieved fame in 1759 when his novel of convoluted humor, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. was published. A 2006 movie, based minimally on Sterne’s novel, also used the name in its title: Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.

“Shandy Hall” as a place name could have suggested itself because of a number of reasons: perhaps some humorous idiosyncrasy within the Grainger household – or just the quirky nature of the building itself: A subsequent owner stated it most clearly: “There is not a straight or level line in the house.”

In fact, describing it also as “Shandean,” Dr. Eustace sent the novelist Sterne a gift of an ingeniously crafted two-handled cane crafted in or near Wilmington for the late Gov. Arthur Dobbs. The novelist wrote back on February 9, 1768 thanking Eustace and added what he perceived as particularly Shandean about the cane. “In using the stick, everyone will take the handle which suits his convenience. In Tristram Shandy, the handle is taken which suits the passions, their ignorance or their sensibility.”

A neighboring property, Turtle Hall, got it’s original name, Toby Hall, from Sterne as well. Uncle Toby Shandy was a colorful character in the novel. However Toby Hall, accessed through Shandy Hall, became Turtle Hall, at least by the 1920s when Wilmingtonian Margaret Banck remembers living there as a child.

During the Civil War, the Shandy Hall estate served as a residence for Gen. Whiting and was also the site of many salt works. Yankee ships were known to fire on Shandy Hall and one of the cannon balls remained on the grounds until well into the 20th century. In fact, a cannon ball once passed entirely through a neighboring house. With its front and back door’s open to capture the summer breeze, the ball trailed straight down a central hall and out into the rear garden.

Though many famous people visited Shandy Hall and Money Island, one of the most distinguished was Lincoln Memorial architect Henry Bacon (1866-1924). Bacon was a close friend of the Worths and he loved the place. He did a painting of the house that hung in Shandy Hall until 1950. Bacon also painted an outdoor portrait of an African-American who lived at Shandy. The elderly man was elegant and refined and had been the subject of a locally made daguerreotype, about 1850. As Bacon started to paint, the old man fainted, but recovered quickly without injury. According to Bacon’s niece, Elizabeth F. McKoy, the gentleman thought he had to hold his breath throughout the entire painting process, just as he had while his daguerreotype photo was taken. The present location of either of these valuable Shandy Hall paintings by Bacon is unknown.

Sources, Stories Old and New of the Cape Fear Region, by Louis T. Moore;, Early New Hanover County Records and other writings by Elizabeth F. McKoy; Lawrence Lee Pirate Book Collection, Lower Cape Fear Historical Society; LuAnn Mims; New Hanover County Public Library; A. J. Howell, Jr., Money Island; Beverly Tetterton; Joseph Sheppard; Julie Sprunt, Louise Boylan, Munsett Sprunt Morgan Deanes Gornto, Joe Whitted.

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Dr. David Reid Murchison

by Susan Taylor Block

Dr. David Reid Murchison (1891-1983) was one of Wilmington’s most beloved physicians. Well educated and highly intuitive, he excelled in diagnosing and treating physical maladies; and his faith, personality, and unusual sense of humor helped nurture recoveries and embolden spirits. Dr. Murchison’s practice was centered in Wilmington, where he kept long office hours, followed frequently by house calls. Whether residing at 315 South Third Street, in town, or at Wrightsville Beach, during summers, his phone rang constantly – and he always took the call.

Born in 1891, David Murchison attended local schools, then, at age 16, began pre-med studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He enjoyed a colorful and sometimes mischievous four years at Carolina, where he was known for his physical strength and competitive spirit. In 1916, he graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School, then completed his intern training at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Soon after graduation, he volunteered for duty during World War I. Having only one eye prevented him from military service, so he worked in the Ambulance Corps of the International Red Cross, and served in Brest, France until the war’s end. He returned to Wilmington, where he would reside for the rest of his entire life.

Family Man

 Though not braggadocio, Dr. Murchison was keenly aware of his ancestry and knew it from memory through five generations. The Wilmington Murchisons descend from Kenneth McKenzie Murchison, who came to America from Scotland in 1773. The family tree includes Episcopal Bishop Thomas Atkinson; former Orton Hotel and Orton Plantation owner Kenneth McKenzie Murchison; architect Kenneth M. Murchison, Jr.; merchant David R. Murchison, who built the Neoclassical Revival-style Murchison House at 305 South Third Street; and a large group of Wilmington’s famous cousinhood.

In 1792, (Dr. Kenneth Murchison) of Ross and Cromarty, Scotland, married the daughter of Robert McKenzie of Fairburn, a “lineal representative of the Rory More, by Big Roderick McKenzie to whom these estates had been granted by James V, King of Scotland… She … was born in the old tower of Fairburn, the characteristic Highland fortalice of the Sept, guard of the entrance of one of the glens which open upon the lowlands of the Black Isle.” [2]

Murchisons and McKenzies had been intermarrying prior to this union, and their family tree, like the Moore’s, is dense with many of the same names. It is safe to say though, that the subsequent cousinhood of Kenneth and Barbara McKenzie Murchison’s descendants includes a very distant link to old Ireland. There are even a few Rory O’More Murchisons scattered across the country.

Dr. Kenneth Murchison and wife Barbara McKenzie were the parents of Sir Roderick Murchison, a famed geologist for whom Murchison Falls, in Uganda, Africa, is named. Today, it is known as Murchison Falls National Park. Dr Murchison lived for a lengthy period in Calcutta, India, where he was corporate physician for the East India Company, and private physician for Warren Hastings, Governor-General of India from 1773 until 1784.[3]

[1] Sir Archibald Geikie, Life of Roderick I. Murchison, Bart,; K.C.B.F.R.S.; Sometime Director-General of the Geological Survey of the United Kingdom. Vol. I, 1875. Pgs. 9-10.

[2] Giekie.

[3] History of Politics: British India. “History, Politics,” University of California at Los Angeles.

On April 18, 1917, Dr. Murchison married May McLaughlin Carmichael, of Wilmington. Between 1918 and 1929, five children were born to the Murchisons: David Reid, Jr., Wallace Carmichael, Loulie Atkinson (Eggleston), Joel Williams, and John Reid, II. Despite strict discipline as to behavior and etiquette, streaks of mischief and signature high energy among the children kept things very lively in the Murchison home. Even when the youngsters were relatively quiet, training continued. Elizabeth H. Yow, who was a close friend of young Loulie, reminisced in 1981, “At many a delicious meal which I enjoyed in the happy Murchison household, it was not at all unusual for Dr. Murchison to suddenly bang his fist on the table and say, ‘Hold your shoulders up!’ That is why Murchisons have good posture.”

The family seldom got through a meal without the phone ringing. Usually, the interruption of patient calls was tedious for the children, but on at least one occasion, it was most welcome. John Murchison, the youngest child, recalled, “Suppertime was somewhat formal for us. We four boys even wore jackets at the table. At our most unforgettable meal, we were served eggs and hog brains, a gift from a grateful patient who farmed. Father always insisted we consume every morsel of food before leaving the table, but we children balked at the brains – and somehow enlisted the sympathy of our mother.

“As luck would have it, that morning the phone rang even more than usual. Father would leave the table to answer every call, and that would give Mother just enough time to eat the hog brains from one child’s plate. After a number of phone calls, our plates were empty and Mother’s tummy was full. We never knew what conversation our parents might have had later, but I do know that brains were never served in our house again.”

Doctor of Medicine

Dr. Murchison’s practice spanned 47 years, from 1922 until 1969. He specialized in internal medicine, with a concentration on heart disease and diabetes. From time to time, he bolstered his knowledge with continued education. He trained in electro-cardiology under Dr. Paul White of Boston, “the Father of American academic cardiology,” and studied heart failure and atherosclerosis under the renowned expert Dr. Louis Katz of Chicago. For additional schooling in the treatment of diabetes, he studied at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston – the world’s largest diabetes research center.

Back in Wilmington, David Murchison kept regular hours, seeing patients by appointment at his office in the Masonic Temple at 21 North Front Street. He made hospital calls at James Walker Memorial Hospital, at 10th and Red Cross streets. Typical of the time, a significant percentage of David Murchison’s work was done in patients’ homes, occasionally with trained nurses, family or friends assisting. Most long-term health care took place at home, too, adding a heavy load of house cases in line with his specialties.

Throughout the 1930s, medical fees were small to none because of the Great Depression. Also, income earned by those in the medical profession was not as high by proportion as it is today. Dr. Murchison charged $2.00 to $3.00 for an annual physical at the office. A home visit could run as “high” as $5.00, especially if the location was as far away as, say, Burgaw.

“It was nothing for Wilmington physicians to drive to Burgaw or Wallace, to consult with a local doctor there,” said son John. “These trips normally happened after working hours, or on weekends. I remember many nights when Father drove a distance, then spent the night at the patient’s home if he was worried about their survival. When I was just a boy, I accompanied Father on some of his rural routes, especially if that home offered good homemade country food and desserts.”

In spite of the Murchison’s severe lack of cash during the thirties and forties, all five children enjoyed the best of educations at top prep schools and colleges. Three of the brothers graduated from UNC and the other son graduated from Princeton. Their sister, Loulie, attended St. Mary’s School in Raleigh.

When World War II brought the busy shipyard and Camp Davis Officers’ Training School to southeastern North Carolina, Uncle Sam began paying $5.00 for annual physicals – a fee Dr. Murchison considered overpriced for an office visit. The general public continued to pay, either with cash, or “in kind,” with vegetables and meats. Salt-cured hams were most welcome as currency. Craftsmen sometimes made furniture as payment to local doctors, and some of those pieces are now family heirlooms.

Dr. Murchison was known to customize his bills to the patient’s budget. He charged one destitute man half-price, or one dollar – perhaps having him pay just a little something to save his pride. Then, the doctor walked a block, to the Grocerteria at 125 Market Street, where he quietly set up a system to have food delivered regularly to the poor man’s house – with no mention, ever, of who might be paying the bill.

During the war, Wilmington’s population experienced enormous, but temporary growth. Many homeowners converted a part of their home to rentable apartments or single rooms to accommodate the influx. It was the patriotic thing to do, and the Murchison’s four-bedroom house became home to wives of officers’-in-training who were stationed at Camp Davis, Holly Ridge. Like Holly Ridge, Wilmington became a boomtown, and in-kind payments became more rare.

The example of George E. Kidder’s death provides a window on the community’s regard for David Murchison. During the summer of 1940, Mr. Kidder suffered a heart attack at his Wrightsville Beach cottage. His wife, Frances, loaded him into the car and drove as fast as she could to Wilmington, to Dr. Murchison’s house. She did not call an ambulance, or take him to the emergency room at James Walker Memorial Hospital, because she thought he would have a better chance in the hands of the doctor. As it turned out, it wouldn’t have mattered, considering the state of equipment and technology in those days. Mr. Kidder died immediately after being seated in the Murchison’s living room.

Sometimes Dr. Murchison’s large presence alone seemed to speed healing. Wilmingtonian Annie Royal Saunders hovered near “death’s door” for days in old James Walker Hospital while other doctors tiptoed in and out of her room, speaking only in low whispers. Annie was convinced her death was imminent and certain, until Dr. Murchison strode into her room bellowing, “Well I know my little Annie is better today, because she is looking so pretty.”

Annie recounted this story after her full and rapid recovery, noting that Dr. Murchison’s “brightness and good humor seemed to put new life in her,” and that she “felt a surge of strength flow through her tired body.” Forever after, Annie attributed her recovery to Dr. Murchison’s skill as a physician, his personality, and to his own faith in God as the great healer.

He was famous for dreaming up nicknames for patients, as well as colleagues, family and friends. There is something deeply personal about a special name, spoken by one person alone, and it helped build a bond between doctor and patient. Many patients’ nicknames have been lost, but others survive. Dr. Robert Pigford was “Pumkin,” Miss Rhett (Kate Fox), a close family friend, became “Miss Wretch,” Dr. Graham Barefoot’s wife became “Buttercup,” and Edith Toms, wife of druggist Reid Toms, was “Mrs. Walgreen.” He liked to refer to any of his grown sons as “my little baby,” and he called tall cousin, Laurence Gray Sprunt, “Punkie.” His nickname for himself was, “Le Votre,” or yours; and his own children and grandchildren called him, “Boopa.”

A Merry Heart Doing Good

Dr. Murchison’s unusual and clever sense of humor benefitted himself and those around him. Jo Yocom, son Wallace’s legal secretary said, “My day was always brightened if I talked with him on the phone, or saw him in the office.” Many folks felt the same way.

Dr. Murchison turned the personal tragedy of losing his left eye into a long-running joke that both amused and distracted his friends and family. “The issue of Father’s missing eye was just part of life for us,” said son John. “It caused little interference with his life’s goals. In fact, it distinguished his outgoing and playful character throughout his life.”

His eye problems began with a knife accident during childhood, and worsened when a baseball hit the same eye at age sixteen. His doctors saw no recourse except removal. The glass eye quickly became his favorite prop. At Carolina, he would join in to help break up frequent street fights by handing the eye to a surprised friend for “safekeeping,” then wading into the action. Sometimes, he would suddenly remove it during a poker game and place it on the table, doubtless wrecking his competitors’ concentration. At other times he would set the eye on a bedside table, pointing it towards an unsuspecting sleeper who, upon awaking, would get an eerie jolt when it stared back.

Dr. Murchison was an old and valued customer at Julien K. Taylor’s clothing business, across from the post office on North Front Street. After choosing some clothes to try on, he would take his nice watch off and leave it on the counter. Then he would remove his eye and place it in front of the watch face, to “watch the watch,” before he entered the dressing room.

The manner in which he paid Mr. Taylor is another example of off-beat humor in a 3/4 time town. He remitted payment by hiding his check somewhere in the store. He would place it in a box of socks or collars, or a stack of shirts, and sometimes it would take days to find it. Julien Taylor came to regard him as one of the best stock keepers he ever had. “A lot of stock got straightened out while employees searched for Dr. Murchison’s checks,” he wrote after the doctor’s death, at age 91. “I am sure his humor had a lot to do with his own longevity.”

At the hospital, the doctor would greet grumpy patients by saying, “No better myself, thank you.” He delighted in sending unsuspecting new student nurses in search of a “left-handed thermometer.” And on one occasion, with the patient’s husband present, he said to a woman in great pain, “You look so comfortable and the bed is so large, I think I shall join you and rest awhile.” The husband and wife dissolved in laughter, and the patient’s pain was forgotten for a least a few moments.

During a house call to see Pomeroy Nichols, at 102 North 15th Street, Dr. Murchison hauled a very heavy portable electrocardiogram machine up a flight of stairs to Mr. Nichol’s bedroom. He huffed and puffed all the way up the stairs. Once he reached the bed, he said, “Move over! I’m worse off than you are.”

The late Dr. Charles P. Graham told the story of his aunt, “Miss Katie” Grainger, who was a friend and patient of Dr. Murchison’s. “She was a very proper elderly lady of Victorian vintage and did not hesitate to give advice. ‘Now David,’ she told him, ‘you must be more dignified and tip your hat to me, when you are passing by my porch in your car. Do not greet me waving your hand again.’ So, the very next day he passed by her house, at 813 Market Street. Instead of waving to her with his hand, he stuck his foot out through the car door window and waved it in vigorous greeting.”

Hunting and Fishing

David Murchison was an outdoor sportsman who excelled at hunting and fishing. According to son John, “For such activities, he would leave his glass eye at home and wear a patch. Despite having just one eye, he was a great shot. On one hunting trip, after downing 2 or 3 quail in a row, his partner remarked, ‘Doc, might you get one of those patches for me?'”

With the first signs of spring, Dr. Murchison would hook up his slender, flat-bottomed boat and drive to a large pond, often with George Clark, Sr. The two of them fished together for decades, just as their sons, John Murchison and George Clark, Jr., have today. Dr. Murchison’s favorite pond was created in a swamp by damning up a creek. The trees in the swamp died long ago, but cypress stumps with irregular, rough “fingers”remain, some just below the water’s surface.

About 1956, Dr. Murchison and George Clark were fishing on the pond when a perforated fish-holding (“fish-well”) container that was attached to the bottom of the boat became impaled on a cypress finger. The men tried and tried to paddle their way off it, but the best they could do was to spin around in circles. It was a chilly winter day and there was no one within miles to rescue or even hear them. Wordlessly, Dr. Murchison, who was around 65 at the time, assessed the situation, undressed, and slipped into the frigid water where he lifted the boat off its gnarly anchor. Then he climbed back in, dressed – and kept right on fishing.

A fishing story recounted by the late Thomas H. Wright, former Bishop of East Carolina, further illustrates the doctor’s stamina as a senior citizen:

One day, when Dr. Murchison was well into his seventies, he went fishing with Bishop Wright, Bob Williams, Sr., and Bob Strange at Figure Eight Island, which was uninhabited at the time. Bob Williams, who hosted the group in his 18’ Simmons, dropped Dr. Murchison and Bishop Strange off about mid-point of the island, then he and Bob Strange cruised to the southern end to fish. The bishop and the doctor soon discovered they had left their bait in the boat. They fished with artificial bait for a short time before Dr. Murchison suddenly took off for the southern inlet at a “terrific pace, almost a run.” He returned from his 4-mile walk at the same speed – bearing bait that brought them a “most successful” fishing trip.

Church Life

May and David Murchison found joy in their Christian faith. Both were born into families with deep feelings about spiritual matters, and a practical sense of being “doers of the Word,” with no fanfare. With their children, they drew inspiration at St. John’s Episcopal Church, and were ever present at the 8 o’clock service. They gave rides to many who were without cars, and frequently brought them back to their house for breakfast.

The children were trained by word and by example. “Early on, we received instructions on church giving,” said son John. “Stewardship started with two-sided envelopes, where we were to put our nickel or dime into each designated side and place it in the offering plate during the service. The change from one side went to our own church, and the change from the other went to the Episcopal diocese. Our parents made giving seem a natural and joyful thing to do.” Additional stewardship lessons branched out to the sharing of time and talents.

Dr. Murchison’s simple everyday faith had everything to do with his medical life of servanthood. It makes such good sense of his passion for doing every single thing he could for the benefit of his patients – whether they were rich or poor, and whether it was Christmas Day or just any ordinary day that he sacrificed to minister to them physically and emotionally. Dr. and Mrs. Murchison’s convictions and their manifestations live on in their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

But, even in such a serious matter as religion, there was and is always humor in the Murchison world. Dr. Charles Graham related this closing anecdote: “David Murchison was very grateful to return home after his Red Cross service during World War I. Though usually at St. John’s, he attended St. James Church his first Sunday back. He walked down the aisle to the third row from the front, and before entering the pew he literally dropped to his knees. I thought he fell and jumped up to help him, whereupon my dear wife Jean admonished, ‘You fool, he is genuflecting.'”

Sources: John R. Murchison II; Wallace Murchison, and contributors to his 1981 request for recollections of his father: Katherine R. Fox, Laurence G. Sprunt, Jo Yocom, Kenneth M. Sprunt, Elizabeth H. Yow, Frances Nichols, Edith G. Toms, Julien K. Taylor, Marie B. Moore, the Rt. Rev. Thomas H. Wright, and Dr. Charles P. Graham.

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The Feast of Pirates

by Susan Taylor Block

The Feast of Pirates was celebrated for 3 days every August from 1927 through 1929. As was hoped, it was a tourist boom, one that put Wilmington on the national “festival map.” Promoters actually claimed it would challenge New Orleans’s Mardi Gras. Well, if a celebration built around a religious holiday could turn naughty, how much more so, one based on characters dedicated to plundering, self-indulgence and a system of justice symbolized by a plank.

However, the first couple of years were promising. Would that we could locate film made by two Hollywood studios of the1928 Feast of Pirates with its montage of times, places, and people. At least 28,000 people witnessed the reenactment of George Washington’s 1791 entry into Wilmington, and his acceptance of a heavy ornate Key to the City, a gift from Col. Walker Taylor who purchased the key in Paris.

The proper presidential ceremony was followed closely by the arrival of Blackbeard, an especially nasty pirate. Cannons firing and at least one boat ablaze, the buccaneer and his crew landed at the foot of Market Street, beat back a mock militia and marched to City Hall. There they captured local officials and ordered three days of mindless merriment. As the gruesome flag of piracy was hoisted over City Hall, George and Martha sat in their gilded carriage, grown men dressed in heavy costumes sweltered and young children drew toy swords and tried to affect a buccaneer’s scowl.

To add to the anachronistic confusion, loudspeakers later transmitted live coverage of Alfred Smith’s acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination. Street dances, one of which debuted the a new version of the shag; a 3-ring circus at Lumina; Banks Channel and Cape Fear River flotillas; and contests at the Oceanic Hotel and Lumina rounded out the long weekend. The 1928 Feast gained the attention of our sister state. One jealous South Carolinian wrote to The News-Dispatch: “We have done some investigating and are unable to trace a single first class pirate into your territory. We cannot imagine one bringing his ship up the muddy, marsh lined Cape Fear and making your homely river a place of abode – especially with the bays, inlets and rivers of South Carolina in the offing.”

In the end, it wasn’t our nay-saying rivals that doomed the Feast of Pirates. And it certainly wasn’t the spirit of Captain Kidd of Money Island fame, or Stede Bonnet, the only pirate known to have sailed into the mouth of the Cape Fear. It was just plain ole bottled spirits. Despite the fact that the entire nation was in the clench of Prohibition, people found ways to drink. Denying legal alcohol sales simply fueled bootleggers’ fires, many of which burned in eastern North Carolina. One local notable readied for the Feast by stocking up on whiskey in Williamston, NC, a place said to produce the Chivas Regal of North Carolina moonshine.

During the Feast of Pirates in 1929, excessive alcohol consumption led committee members and embarrassed city officials to consider canceling plans for any future festivals. Though there was little trouble at the beach, downtown Wilmington looked like Mayberry’s Otis and hundreds of his buddies had paid a visit.

“There were people laying down on the curbs at night, drunk as hell,” said 93-year old David Harriss, a Feast of Pirates official, in a 2000 Interview.   “It would have lasted a long time if they could have controlled it, but they couldn’t.” Even if things hadn’t gotten out of hand, the Feast of Pirates might have ended anyway for 2 months after the 1929 festival, the Great Depression raised its own dark flag.

But how did such a dizzying extravaganza occur in Wilmington during the sleepy, no-tech days of the 1920s? The Feast of Pirates actually had a predecessor in 1915 and 1916 known as the Feast of Lanterns. The brainchild of developer Hugh MacRae (1865-1951), this early festival took place mostly at Wrightsville Beach and featured hundreds of lantern decorations, as well as beauty queens who wore crowns made of electric lights. The Feast of Lanterns lighted boat parades were probably Wrightsville Beach’s first flotillas.

MacRae, owner of the Tidewater Power Company, Lumina, the Oceanic Hotel, and the streetcar system, was a genius of promotion and he knew the draw of hundreds of electric lights on a darkened beach. His efforts helped draw 5,000 tourists to the 1916 event. In 1927, Hugh MacRae agreed to pay a lion’s share of the cost after Wilmington drycleaner Pat O’Crowley came up with the idea of the Feast of Pirates. In addition to general finances, MacRae made plans to provide a decorated pirate ship studded with electric lights that would debut in the Feast of Pirates parade before traveling by rail to Lumina where it became a popular exhibit.

Intrepid Wilmington Chamber of Commerce director Louis T. Moore (1885-1961) could hardly have been happier and used his network of press and political contacts across North Carolina to promote the upcoming event. Someone, perhaps a railroad car artist, created a fetching logo that found its way onto badges, banners, and tire covers. Soon a motorcade was on its way across the state and what a sight it must have been as it wound its way along bumpy two-lane roads with costumed swashbucklers often at the wheel.

Bruce B. Cameron, Jr., known best today for his philanthropy, accompanied his father in the motorcade. “I was about ten or eleven years old,” said Cameron during a 2007 interview. “We drove from Wilmington to Lake Lure at Chimney Rock. Lake Lure is a man-made lake and it was a new attraction then. We stayed in a hotel that had just been completed.

“The Feast of Pirates motorcade was a big deal at the time,” Cameron continued. “It consisted of 15 to 20 cars. I remember Mr. W. D. MacMillan also made the trip. It seemed like we had a flat tire about every ten miles. We traveled with three spares in the car. The roads were bad then and there was no bridge over the Pee Dee River so we all took the ferry.

“Louis T. Moore was the main fellow,” said Cameron. He did more for local projects like that than anyone ever has. In addition to running the Chamber of Commerce, he was a historian, writer, and photographer. Mr. Moore was very well known throughout the state. People thought well of him and he generated a lot of support for the Feast of Pirates.”

Back at home, Louis T. Moore engaged clothier and designer Beulah Meier to create elaborate costumes for many of the participants, including brightly colored ballet tu-tus for husband Richard Meier and friend Walter Yopp, a beloved three-hundred pound undertaker who, along with Meier, performed their comedic dance during the Feast of Pirates Rotary Circus at Lumina. Efird’s and Belk-Williams department stores both located in the 200 block of North Front Street, also stocked mass-produced costumes for the feast.

Louis T. Moore’s influence showed most in the historical content of the festivals. Among other things, he orchestrated the detail -laden reenactment of George Washington’s entry into Wilmington, the historic costumes contests, and helped recruit volunteers. Moore also engaged talent and man-hours from the Atlantic Coast Line. Headquartered in Wilmington, the railroad was Wilmington’s largest business.

One of Moore’s fellow history enthusiasts, future author Lewis Philip Hall, worked long hours after the Feast of 1927 to develop a new dance for the next event. Perhaps it was his Wilmington answer to the Charleston, but unlike the Charleston, this dance would endure in diluted form to become the state dance of both North and South Carolina. According to Katherine Meier Cameron, daughter of Beulah and Richard Cameron, Hall invented the shag. “My parents were ballroom dancers and they taught Lewis to dance,” said Cameron. “That winter, he and Julia Seigler (Boatwright) worked on the steps of the new dance but it was Elizabeth Bogan who became his main dance partner once the shag debuted.”

Lewis Hall incorporated existing steps, mostly gleaned from African American dances, into the new craze. But the boogie he introduced was very different from today’s Shag. “The dance Lewis invented was similar but much, much more difficult,” said former professional dancer Katherine Meier. “Also, Lewis’s dance could work with music of almost any tempo – even very fast numbers.” Lewis Hall showed off his favorite dance during the downtown North Third Street dance of 1928, however rain cut that event short. But the following night, Lewis and his buddies danced from midnight until 4 a.m. at Lumina.

The surnames of many of the Feast of Pirates participants are still known to us today. The 1927 pirate crew was commanded by Clarence Dudley Maffitt, son of the famous Civil War blockade running hero, Capt. John Newland Maffitt. Feast of Pirates beauty queens included Emma Bellamy Williamson who would be one of the last private owners of the Bellamy Mansion; Elizabeth Hoggard, daughter of Dr. John T. Hoggard and future wife of David Harriss; and Virginia Bellamy, future bride of Peter Browne Ruffin. Judge John J. Burney served as coachman for George and Martha Washington and New York banker Isaac B. Grainger was a festival director. Dr. H. L. Keith, John Bright Hill, and Wilbur D. Jones rode horseback in colonial dress. Future Episcopal bishop, the Rev. Thomas H. Wright, delivered an invocation for the 1928 Feast. All must have been at least a bit abashed at the way things turned out.

The Feast of Pirates was a success in many ways. It galvanized the city to promote itself with exuberance and delight. The festival introduced thousands of visitors to the wonders of downtown Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach. Word of mouth traveled so fast and far that one New York state resident sent a letter to the Chamber of Commerce requesting a “Feester Parrots” tire cover. Places like Lumina and the Oceanic became annual vacation destinations for many Feast of Pirates “alumni.” And colorful memories were created that are still vivid today.

“I can remember my costume to this day,” said Peggy Moore Perdew, who was a young girl in the late 1920s. “I had a little wooden sword, painted silver. My sister Florence and I had on knee high boots and little black sateen shorts. It was a lot of fun.”

It would be 19 years before Wilmington would launch another powerhouse festival. Though envisioned in 1934, the Depression and World War II froze plans for the N. C. Azalea Festival until 1948, but it is an entirely different story historically. Grand, glorious, and beautiful as it is, it can never match the edgy creative quirkiness of the original Feast of Pirates celebrations. Wilmington’s personalized salute to the Roaring Twenties could only have happened in the context of its time.


Acknowledgments: Author’s interviews with Peggy M. Perdew; Bruce B. Cameron, Jr.; Katherine M. Cameron; John J. Burney; the late David Harriss. McKean Maffitt Collection; Bill Reaves Collection (NHC Public Library); David Lewis; Beverly Tetterton and Joseph Sheppard (New Hanover County Public Library); Sue Miller (Cape Fear Museum).

This article ran in the April 2008 issue of Wrightsville Beach Magazine:

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Sunkissed Memories: Lillian Bellamy Boney

By Susan Taylor Block

Wilmington native Lillian Bellamy Boney has enjoyed over eighty summers at Wrightsville Beach. Her memories range from time spent in a rustic Ocean Avenue cottage to much more comfortable times on South Lumina Avenue. Soft spoken and unassuming, she speaks of herself rarely. So, when she does, it makes you want to pull up a chair and listen carefully.

“My first memories are of the beach,” she said. “I remember how it looked in the old days. At that time, Wrightsville Beach had the most beautiful white sand anywhere. Just to wake up and hear the waves breaking all those summers was wonderful.

“When I was a little girl we lived in a small brown shingle beach cottage that sat on Ocean Avenue, between Charlotte and Raleigh streets. The entire street we lived on is now oceanfront, and the two rows of oceanfront cottages I was so familiar with then are gone today.”

Lillian shared the Ocean Avenue house with her parents, Emmett and Lillian Maxwell Bellamy, and with her sister, Mary. Mr. Bellamy was a distinguished attorney and a grandson of Dr. John D. Bellamy. It was Dr. Bellamy who built the antebellum mansion that sits famously at the intersection of Market Street and Fifth Avenue. As a young woman, Lillian, along with her cousin, Emma Bellamy Williamson Hendren, inherited ownership of the Bellamy Mansion. It was an enviable real estate position that the two women held for 40 years, and their preservation efforts might well have saved the elegant landmark.

Other local residences with which Lillian had intimate ties were her parents’ home at 1419 Rankin Street and the imposing house of her grandfather, Congressman John D. Bellamy, Jr., at 603 Market Street. But at Wrightsville Beach, things were more democratic. In those days, cottages were just that — cottages. “The houses were very simple generally then,” Lillian said. “Now, if you lose a house at the beach, you lose something special, but in those days they weren’t very special.

“Living at Wrightsville was just delightful. We spent the day on the beach and we were freckled and fried all the time. We had no air conditioners then. We slept under mosquito netting at night just in case the ‘no-see-ums’ showed up. No cars were allowed on the beach because there were no roads. It was a little inconvenient, but it was nice and peaceful. We usually moved to Wrightsville by driving over to Harbor Island and parking our car there in a lot run by the folks who owned Shore Acres. Then, porters came along with little wooden wagons to tote our belongings to the beach car. We would get off the beach car just as close to our house as possible so we didn’t have to carry our things too far.”

Lillian and Mary swam in the ocean in front of their cottage, but were taught to be extra cautious. There were no lifeguards in that area at the time and a number of drownings occurred – especially when folks who were used to swimming in lakes and ponds encountered rip currents. The closest lifeguards were at the Oceanic and the Seashore Hotels — and Lumina. Lillian still remembers the name of the Lumina lifeguard who was also a wrestler: Fritz Hanson.

“Our family went to church at Little Chapel on the Boardwalk. It was not where it is now. It was on the south end of the beach between the Blockade Runner and Station One It was a little wooden building and it was jointly maintained by the First Presbyterians and St. James Church. And, hot — oh, it was hot! We all had fans and everybody used them.

“Our kitchen might have been the hottest place of all. Beach living was primitive life during my early childhood. We had a wood cook stove and there was a live fire in it during those sweltering days of summer. I don’t know why our cook didn’t just cry. But, she didn’t, and she served us good things to eat.

“The ice man came everyday. We had an icebox when I was a little girl. It was just a big box with insulation and that was how things were kept cold then. By about 1930, we had our first real refrigerator.

In the 1930s, the beach was a quirkier place. One day, shortly after returning home from the hospital, the Bellamy family’s faithful cook was accused of being a bootlegger and arrested at their cottage. Mr. Bellamy posted bail that same day and the cook returned to work. Juxtaposed was the scene at the neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. George Kidder. The senior Kidders, along with their children, Roddy Kidder and Ann Kidder Beatty, dressed formally for dinner every night. The males wore dinner jackets and the females donned long evening dresses.

Like most every young summer resident, Lillian rode the beach car to Children’s Night at Lumina once a week. “Out of the darkness, the lights at Lumina were dazzling,” Lillian recalled. “On children’s night, we would watch the movies on the screen over the ocean. They were silent movies so we were fairly scornful of them. We didn’t think they were so wonderful because we were just old enough to notice the difference between talkies and the silent movies. But, it was a large big screen out there in the water.

“Then we would go on Saturday nights and watch the pretty older girls like Fonnie Moore (Dunn), Lilly Robertson (Klein), Ann Kidder (Beatty), Alice James (Grainger), Louise Worth (Boylan), Peggy Moore (Perdew), Lossie Taylor (Noell)and Margaret White (Grainger) dance. But, Catherine Meier was the ultimate dancer at Lumina In those years. She would always be down in a corner dancing with a man named Bill Beery who worked at the Atlantic Coast Line. They were so good together. “

As testimony to the slow pace and relaxed sanitation rules of the beach then, Lillian’s pet duck named Pete “went everywhere” with her on the beach. Pete, who had been given to Lillian as an Easter present, enjoyed fishing for small catches at the beach. When Lillian would play the piano, he would ‘quack’ to the music. Pete even waddled along when Lillian and her friends went to Newell’s, a variety store located where Wings sits today. Mrs. Newell didn’t even protest when Pete went inside with Lillian and waited while she ordered ice cream. However, she did show all the children the door when she discovered them reading periodicals for free. “We would all slip over and read funny books and she would always find us,” Lillian recalled.

Pete the Duck’s happy days at Wrightsville Beach came to an early end after he became a little too attached to his young owner. “Pete was protective of me and could get very belligerent when my friends came to see me,” Lillian said. “He would chase them around the yard. Eventually he had to go to live with some other ducks at my grandfather’s little farm over in Brunswick County called Grovely. He disappeared about the same time we had a family Christmastime dinner one year, and I have never eaten duck since.”

Lillian and her childhood friends had plenty of distractions when wealthy Jessie Kenan Wise began building a beach house in their neighborhood. “There, in the depths of the Depression, she built a perfectly enormous cottage. It sat just half a block from where we lived. Everybody was fascinated with it. It was bought by Mrs. Ina McNair Avinger from Laurinburg. The cottage is still there at 9 East Raleigh Street.”

As time passed, the land on Ocean Avenue continued to erode and high tide crept ever nearer the Bellamy’s cottage. Then, in 1934, the famous beach fire that began in the Kitty Cottage, destroyed their summer. Emmett Bellamy rebuilt on the same lot within a few months. Their new cottage featured a flat roof, a rare thing at the beach in those days.

“Our new cottage was strange looking because of that roof,” said Lillian, “but I don’t ever remember it leaking. There was a boardwalk in front of our house and one or two rows of cottages between us, and the ocean. The erosion continued and as the sand receded, the boardwalk seemed to sit up higher and higher. It was probably eight feet off the ground. I remember my mother and father had a party in the middle of the day and served “The Cape Fear Club Punch.” When the guests got ready to leave, two or three of them accidentally leapt off the boardwalk. They didn’t get hurt: They just flew through the air and somehow landed on their feet. They were definitely feeling pretty relaxed.”

Lillian and her young friends entertained themselves by visiting the boardwalk café, Pop Gray’s that sat near the corner of South Lumina Avenue and Causeway Drive. Pop Gray’s was an interesting “hangout” where artist Claude Howell sketched and where Lillian’s uncle, Leeds Barroll, fresh back from residency in Europe, called to servers saying, “Garcon, Garcon.” Prohibition tamed the drink menu so that both adults and young people were served the same beverages.

At Pop Gray’s, Lillian and her friends put into practice dance steps they learned at Lumina. “There was a jukebox there”, said Lillian, “and we teenagers would dance the Big Apple and Little Apple. Bryan Broadfoot and Frances Thornton were two of the best dancers there. There also was a jukebox at the Ocean Terrace Hotel and that is where my parents gave me a dance party when I turned twelve.”

By the time Lillian was sixteen, World War II had changed things on the beach. The Bellamy family kept blackout shades over the windows, stayed in the cottage after six o’clock every evening, and were only allowed a ration of five gallons of gasoline a week. Oil slicks from merchant marine ships sunk by enemy vessels served as reminders of the seriousness of the situation. Lillian traveled from the beach to town most summer days to work as a plane tracker in a secret office at the downtown post office and as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. “The Red Cross even taught us how to deliver babies and change tires,” recalled Lillian. “I’m glad I never had to do either.

“There were some really tense moments though. One night an alarm went off on the beach. The man who lived next door to us suddenly turned on every light in his house — a forbidden thing to do at the time. Just in case enemies were lurking offshore looking for a lighted target, my father climbed up on the flat roof our house and yelled for him to turn his lights off. Almost immediately, patrolmen came to our house with their guns drawn.”

While the war continued, the proverbial sands of time did, too. Eventually the high tide watermark was under the Bellamy House. “My gracious,” Lillian reminisced, “George Clark’s father, our neighbor, began surf fishing from the upstairs porch of his parents’ cottage. That was just the thing he would do in that crisis because he was the ultimate fisherman. For years he had been going out there surfcasting and he would reel in the fish when nobody else could catch any. He just had the magic touch.”

Emmett Bellamy sold the beach house and they moved into his father’s house on the southern end of the beach, about 1947. Mayor Solomon Fishblate built the house, located at 315 South Lumina Avenue, before 1900. Mr. Fishblate built a waterfront house in Wilmington, too, at 318 South Front Street. Both houses still stand.

In 1954, after a courtship of five years, Lillian married architect Leslie N. Boney, Jr. The couple was married at St. James Church on May 8, and the reception was held at the Bellamy Mansion. It was a rare treat for guests because the house was unoccupied and not open for tours at the time. It had not been open since 1946 when Lillian’s Aunt Ellen Bellamy died. Mr. and Mrs. Boney then sailed to Europe for a honeymoon that lasted six weeks. After they returned home, they took up residence at Wrightsville Beach.

“Leslie and I stayed at the beach the fall of 1954. It was the most beautiful fall you can imagine. Then Hurricane Hazel came along October 15.” Hazel caused significant structural damage to the John D. Bellamy cottage, but the Boneys rebuilt the structure. “I still spend summers at the beach – in what’s left of the old house that survived Hurricane Hazel. About 1999, we had to raze a portion of the original house, but we rebuilt using the same windows, doors, and architectural footprint of the old structure. However, we added an extra story to the house. That was all supervised by my husband.”

Leslie N. Boney, Jr. died in 2003 and was eulogized as one of North Carolina’s most celebrated architects and good citizens. Lillian continues to keep a keen interest in various charitable causes including historic preservation and the provision of nursing school scholarships for native Americans. In 2002, a year before Mr. Boney’s death, Leslie and Lillian Boney shared the Ruth Coltrane Cannon Award, North Carolina’s most prestigious preservation award, for their work in the preservation of the Bellamy Mansion, the Burgwin-Wright House, and, in Raleigh, Haywood Hall.

Today, Lillian shares the beach house with her children Emmett Boney Haywood, Mary Boney Denison Clark, and Leslie N. Boney III. Lillian’s grandchildren now make up the fifth generation of Bellamy descendants who have grown to cherish time spent at 315 South Lumina Avenue. “I tell them to seize the moment and really appreciate the house and the land, because a lot of things can change on a beach,” she said with a face full of wisdom and a heart full of memories.

  • This article ran in the August 2009 issue of Wrightsville Beach Magazine:   
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Frederick Jones Hill: Architect of Grace

by Susan Taylor Block
        Frederick Jones Hill, physician, planter, lumber merchant, legislator, university trustee, and architecture aficionado, was born March 15, 1792, at Fairfields, his father’s plantation near Wilmington, North Carolina. Distinguished ancestry assured Dr. Hill’s place in local society, but he earned his reputation statewide as a man of good works. By the time of his death, on March 27, 1861, he was known in Cape Fear as the “Father of Public Schools,” just one of many causes he championed.
         Dr. Hill had a good eye for architectural style and beauty. His contributions ranged from steering to controlling and fully funding the creation or alteration of several distinctive buildings in North Carolina locations such as Wilmington, Pittsboro, and Brunswick County – most notably Orton Plantation. In addition, he was involved in less direct ways with two of the Piedmont’s most famous structures.
         Frederick Hill was a great-great grandson of Gov. James Moore (1650-1706) of South Carolina, and a great-grandson of Roger Moore’s brother, Nathaniel. The Moore family tree is a forest, and Frederick Hill’s name sits in the midst of it. He was genealogically connected, in one way or several, to all branches of “The Family,” a group of powerful and affluent men who were related by blood or marriage. The Family dominated Lower Cape Fear politics and social calendars from 1725 until 1739, when Governor Gabriel Johnston’s preference for Newton (Wilmington) over Brunswick Town mollified their influence. Countless descendants of the Moore and Hill families have peopled the Carolinas ever since.
William Hill, the Grandfather
         Frederick, named for the Hon. Frederick Jones, a Chief Justice of North Carolina, was the son of John Hill and Elizabeth Swann Jones. His paternal grandfather, William Hill (1737-1783) was a Boston native born to John and Elizabeth Maxwell Hill. William first visited Cape Fear to attend the wedding of (Judge) Maurice Moore, King Roger’s nephew. William and Maurice were classmates and close friends at Harvard, and both graduated in the Class of 1756. At Brunswick, William met and fell in love with Margaret, daughter of Nathaniel Moore. They married at Orton Plantation in 1757, and lived in Brunswick Town, and at York, Margaret’s father’s plantation just south of Orton.[1]
         William Hill, a young man of graceful manners and expression, boarded in the home of President Edward Holyoke during his freshman year at Harvard. His host left an impression on William. President Holyoke was a classical scholar and Congregational church minister who began his career as a tutor. William began his own working life in the same manner when he became schoolmaster in Brunswick Town. He probably conducted classes in various homes and at plantations nearby, just as it is known he conducted religious services as a layperson throughout the area. Soon, William quit teaching school to partner in business with neighbor Parker Quince, son of Richard Quince who owned Orton Plantation. In 1764, another neighbor, Governor Arthur Dobbs, gave Hill crown distinction when he appointed him Collector of Duties for the Brunswick port. In 1775, the Hills moved to Wilmington where he monitored Cape Fear River traffic to the city and to the port of Brunswick.[2]
John Hill, the Father
         William and Margaret’s son, John, was born in Brunswick in 1761, and died in 1813. Along with his three illustrious brothers, John lived a rich life, and wore more than one hat. He was a physician, planter, and scholar who built a New England-style town home at 11 South Third Street in Wilmington. Though the structure, known eventually as the Hill-Wright-Wootten House, was razed, it is still known fondly today through vintage photographs. Sadly, there is no known image of Dr. Hill’s plantation, Fairfields, north of Smith’s Creek.
         Fairfields Plantation, known originally as Nesses Creek, was owned by the interrelated Wright family for years before it was sold to Dr. John Hill, who renamed it Fairfields, and built a new house there. Dr. Hill’s wife died at Fairfield and her grave marker has survived. Today, the land is divided between a General Electric plant and property owned by the Hon. and Mrs. James Fox of Wilmington.[3]
Frederick Jones Hill (1792-1861)
         Frederick was born into a picturesque world that provided about as much visual stimulation as was possible in southeastern North Carolina. There were water views and gardens at Fairfields, and from the top floor of his father’s town home, he could down upon the heart of Wilmington. He could see glimpses of the Cape Fear River, the Burgwin-Wright House, and the grand Armand John deRosset house that once sat on the opposite corner of Market Street. It would all have been eye candy for a young man with his sensitivity.
         Young Frederick’s early schooling came probably through the Rev. Mr. William Bingham, who ran a classical school in Wilmington. It was located conveniently for a time at St. James Church, next door to the boy’s residence. At age 13, he began taking courses at the University of North Carolina, then transferred a few years later to the College of Physicians and Surgeons, now Columbia University Medical Center, in New York City. There, he studied obstetrics, physiology, anatomy, herbal and practical medicine, and wrote his thesis on gout. After graduating in 1812, at age 20, he worked at his studied profession only briefly, sharing a practice with Drs. Nathaniel Hill and James Henderson. Despite abandoning medicine, he was recognized throughout the rest of his life for his medical knowledge, and was made the first honorary member of the North Carolina Medical Society.[4]
         When Dr. Hill first returned to Wilmington, doubtless, he lived at 11 South Third Street. The large house seemed to be always filled with blood kin, in-laws, and assorted cousins. Often, they migrated together to various Hill family plantations. At one time or another, the first three generations of the William Hill line owned the following: Forceput, Hailbron, York, Kendal, Hilton, Oakmont, Fairfields, Belmont, and Rocky Road plantations in southeastern North Carolina. In addition, they owned at least four plantations in Pittsboro, North Carolina.[5]
         It was an elegant life and the “Boston Hills” were known in Cape Fear as elegant people. Frederick, through heredity and environment, was no exception. His taste ran to fine, dressy carriages and objects of gold. He spent considerable time traveling and accumulated friends who mirrored not only his taste, but his appetite for good causes.[6]
         Dr. Hill was elected first to the North Carolina Senate in 1835, then re-elected three times. He bonded with several colleagues who were eager to establish and improve public education, and Frederick was one of the most ardent among them. His efforts would earn him the name, “Father of Public Schools in Wilmington,” but his influence was felt throughout the state. Ironically, Dr. Hill, a man who gained such distinction as nurturer to the young, had no children of his own.
         In 1839, the North Carolina Legislature passed a school law of Frederick’s authorship. Subsequently, each county held an election to determine if residents were in favor of public education. The counties that approved it paid a tax of $20, then received $40 from the state. There only were 68 counties in the state at that time, and 61 of them approved Frederick’s plan, which also provided that Superintendent of School positions would be established statewide. In 1840, the state’s first public schools began to emerge. Ironically, back home in Wilmington, things proceeded slowly – at least until General Alexander MacRae was appointed Chairman of the Board of Superintendents. Gen. MacRae, known and respected throughout the county as General of the local militia, moved matters along with military precision.[7]
         School and church interests engaged Dr. Hill in decades of long meetings and outward service. Politics led to be a delegate to the Harrisburg Convention of 1827, at which William Henry Harrison was nominated to run for the presidency. He was a trustee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1835 until 1860; a trustee of the Episcopal School of North Carolina, in Raleigh; and a laity delegate to conventions of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. His work placed him amidst stimulating company and marvelous networks, for the membership rosters of these groups were laced with likeminded state leaders in the fields of scholarship, religion, business, and the arts.[8]
         Banks and budding railroad systems were commercial priorities in those days. Frederick’s bank involvement came primarily through his brother, Dr. John “Bank” Hill, president of the Bank of Cape Fear, and friend Duncan Cameron of the Bank of North Carolina. Frederick was directly associated with the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, forerunner to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. In 1835, he became a founding contributor to the Wilmington and Weldon, then served as a director from 1841 until 1859.[9]
         In matters of personal business, Frederick Jones Hill’s chief occupation and most dominant profile was as owner of Orton Plantation, a 4975-acre tract on the Brunswick banks of the Cape Fear River. He purchased Orton in 1826, 101 years after his great-great uncle, Maurice Moore, established the plantation. The existing residence there was built in 1735 by another of Frederick’s great-great uncles, “King” Roger Moore. Though Dr. Hill spent much time away from the plantation and always had a dwelling place in Wilmington, he considered Orton “home,” and was proud of his position as a representative of Brunswick County.
         William Campbell Lord, Frederick’s brother-in-law, managed the plantation and the Orton mill, or mills, that were created by Roger Moore, about 1735.[10] Mr. Lord, noted as “agent for Orton Mills,” advertised lumber that was, “quality warranted fully equal to the best steam mill. No charge for wharfage.”
         William C. Lord died June 7, 1847, in Chatham County, NC. At some point, his son, Frederick James Lord (1823-1890) began working at Orton. A house he and his wife, Columbia Brown Lord, occupied near the mill burned to the ground in December 1850. A portion of his furnishings were all that survived. Frederick served as Spanish Vice Consul for the port of Wilmington and was a director of the Bank of Cape Fear when the bank held 1.5 million dollars in assets.[11]
         In 1827, soon after purchasing Orton, Dr. Hill felt the first effects of Cape Fear’s quirky weather when Spring storm winds tore the roof off Orton’s “machine and winnowing house, and utterly demolished the barn.” A stronger storm hit Orton in June 1835. It produced thunder, lightning, hailstones over six inches in circumference, and a whirlwind that lifted the roof off of Orton house and carried it a “considerable distance, and very much shattering the body….” Winds also ripped the canvas roof off Brunswick Town’s St. Philip’s Church, already a much beleaguered building. Perhaps, with the storm of 1835, Dr. Hill began to yearn for a house with more fortitude.[12]
         A multitude of trees and easy water access made milling a natural sideline to rice production. In Roger Moore’s day, Orton Mill customers were located chiefly in South Carolina and Barbados, but during Dr. Hill’s ownership, most lumber shipped from Cape Fear was headed to the West Indies. Some of that heart pine stayed close to its birthplace, though – traveling twenty minutes by water, straight to the Wilmington docks.
         During the 28 years of Frederick’s ownership, from 1826 until 1854, much fine Orton lumber would have found its way into Wilmington’s historic architecture. Advertisements in local newspapers document the fact that Dr. Hill sought the city’s business, and family and social connections virtually assured sales to certain building projects, such as St. James Episcopal Church and the Armand deRosset House. Orton manager William Lord was Junior Warden and co-chairman of the building committee that commissioned the beautiful church erected at Third and Market streets, in 1839; and Orton owner Frederick Hill was related to Dr. Armand deRosset, who built the deRosset House (City Club) at 23 South Second Street, in 1841. The list goes on and on, but it is possible that any of Wilmington’s historic plaques bearing dates within the 1826 to 1854 range are nailed to buildings made from Orton’s stately pines.[13]
Frederick Jones Hill and the Changes to Orton House
         According to author James Laurence Sprunt, it was about 1840 when Dr. Hill altered the Orton residence. He added a full story and an attic, then gave it strength and majestic beauty with the addition of four fluted Doric columns.[14] The result was a Greek Revival facade that has now become one of the most photographed and reproduced sights in the American South.
         But what would cause Frederick to make such a change? It is a rare mind that identifies deficiencies and conceptualizes solutions that far surpass the norm. Temple style architecture already had cropped up in commercial buildings, but was used in few residences in North Carolina. Perhaps the building of the State Capitol in Raleigh inspired Dr. Hill. William Nichols, Jr., of the New York architectural firm of Ithiel Town and A. J. Davis, drew the original plans for the capitol that called for columns of the “powerful Doric order of the Parthenon.”[15] Construction began in 1833, and was not completed until 1840. Even before Dr. Hill was elected to the Senate in 1835, he spent time in Raleigh, lobbying for free education. After being elected senator, his time there only increased.
         Dr. Hill’s close friend William Gaston was a New Bern attorney and a powerful political force in advocating adoption of the architectural design that materialized. The building process then became a consuming passion for him, and during that period, he and Dr. Hill were bonded by like interest. In 1835, both were North Carolina representatives to the Constitutional Convention of 1835, and the two of them worked together as longtime outspoken advocates for internal improvements statewide. How exciting it must have been for such artistically sensitive men to watch the great stone structure rise from the ground.
         Architectural historian Catherine Bishir calls the State Capitol, “one of the most beautiful and original neoclassical buildings in America. “[16] By the time it was finished, five different architects were involved and the many changes demanded much budget attention from the North Carolina Senate. Dr. Hill was present for five years’ worth of lengthy discussions.
         The North Carolina Capitol building was finished in 1840, the same year Dr. Hill was said to begin the changes to Orton. Maybe someone who worked on the Capitol also made the changes to Orton. One candidate is the original supervisor, William Drummond, who left during the project early. He then worked for Dr. Hill’s friend, Duncan Cameron, before supervising building construction for the Episcopal School in Raleigh, in 1835. The school project would have been dear to Dr. Hill, because it was a place of education; it bore the name of his denomination of choice; and because of his trusteeship. In addition, his beloved neighbor, old friend, and former rector, the Rev. Dr. Adam Empie, was on his way to Raleigh to supervise the school. As with all the other candidates for Orton’s improvements, proof is lacking: Contractor William Drummond’s whereabouts in 1840 are unknown, but so is the name of the plantation’s 1840 builder.[17]
         Another candidate is Thomas Bragg, Sr., known to do design and build, or alter, homes for several plantation owners in Virginia, and numerous folks in North Carolina – including some of Dr. Hill’s acquaintances. Less likely would be David Paton, the brilliant Scottish architect who added the exquisite crowning touches to the Capitol’s interior. At the very least, Mr. Paton and Dr. Hill had potential for rich conversation. [18]
         Dr. Hill’s association with the firm of Ithiel Town and A. J. Davis during the State Capitol building process continued with the construction of Smith Hall (Playmakers’ Theater), on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill. As a school trustee, Frederick would have followed architect A. J. Davis’s reports with interest. As a lover of architectural beauty, he must have exulted in the finished product.
Other Buildings, Other Questions
         Dr. Hill’s own penchant to build evidenced itself as early as 1831, when he, with brother Nathaniel, gave a quarter of an acre of land, then built a church upon it, in Pittsboro, NC. The brothers hired builders Martin and Wesley Hanks to construct a house of worship that would be church home to them and their two other brothers, Thomas G. and William Henry Hill, while they were in residence in Pittsboro. Like their father and three uncles, each had their own individual Chatham County plantation where they spent a few months of every year. Oddly enough, Frederick’s Pittsboro Plantation was known as “Kentucky.”
         The frame church, named St. Bartholomew’s, went over budget and took two years to build. The cost, carried mostly by Dr. Hill, was $1,158.23. What is most interesting is the style: It is one of North Carolina’s earliest examples of Gothic Revival architecture. There are similarities between St. Bartholomew’s and the St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church building in Hillsborough ‑ not surprising since the Hanks worked on both projects. Also, Dr. Hill, known as the chief force behind the Pittsboro project, had friends who were parishioners of St. Matthew’s.
         St. Bartholomew’s Church is considered a “very faithful advocate of Gothic Revival” style. Stained glass, customized for the space, was made in Boston, then shipped by schooner to Wilmington, and hauled to Pittsboro by wagon.[19] It is possible the same company made some of the original stained glass windows for Dr. Hill’s Wilmington church, St. James Episcopal, built only six years after St. Bartholomew’s.
         Connections and the power of bountiful funds are an inescapable part of this story of questions. As mentioned previously, Dr. Hill’s business associate and brother-in-law, William Campbell Lord, was co-chairman of the building committee in Wilmington, and helped lead the years’ long campaign to raze the first building and create a new one. The other co-chairman, Dr. Thomas Henry Wright, was Dr. Hill’s close neighbor, business associate, and a fellow graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.
         Martin Hanks and contractor Isaac J. Collier built Pittsboro’s Columbus Lodge No. 102, in 1838-1839. Collier went on to build Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill in 1833. Chapel of the Cross was designed by Thomas U. Walter, the same architect responsible for St. James Church in Wilmington, and the U. S. Capitol dome. Could Isaac Collier and Martin Hanks have made the Orton changes?
         A Fayetteville stonecutter, George Lauder, carved the baptismal font for St. Bartholomew Church. Did he also work in Wilmington and Brunswick County. Was he responsible for the baptismal font at St. James Church or the grave marker for Dr. John Hill, brother of Frederick Jones Hill, who died May 9, 1847, and is buried at Orton?
         Another building project also began in Pittsboro in 1831: Construction of the Henry Adolphus London residence. London, a younger son of John London of Wilmington, was related to Dr. Hill, and was associated with him in Wilmington and in Pittsboro, where London was a successful merchant. The Greek Revival facade of London’s new house and Dr. Hill’s Orton bear a striking resemblance.
         Lastly, Frederick altered another house in 1854, the year he sold Orton to Alexander Calizance Miller, husband of his wife’s niece, Annie W. Miller. Frederick paid $14,000 for a residence on Chestnut Street, between Third and Fourth streets. It was built by the late Aaron Lazarus, about 1816, when it was the only house on the block. Since the lot went straight through, Frederick found it convenient to change the entrance from the south-fronting side of Chestnut to the north-facing side of Grace street. He also altered the exterior, creating an Italianate facade. According to architectural historian Tony Wrenn, a center pavilion, three bays wide and one bay deep, apparently served as the new entrance.[20] Today the house is owned by preservationists, Connie and Landon Anderson.
         Frederick Jones Hill died March 26, 1861, and was buried at Oakdale Cemetery the following day. His death was attributed only to “sickness,” but may have been due to yellow fever. He was survived by his wife, virtually invisible to local history, Ann Ivie Hill; numerous nieces and nephews, an adopted son named William E. Boudinot, and numerous close cousins. Dr. Hill bequeathed money to St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church; money to St. James; and funds to support “orphans of North Carolina.”[21]
         Grace is immeasurable. Though much of Frederick Hill’s work is lost in corporate and organizational anonymity, that he had a huge part in elevating quality of living through education is undeniable. His intangible gifts to orphans and many other service and charitable contributions are uncountable. But, two material things stand nobly to his memory: the exquisite beauty of his design changes to Orton Plantation; and the distinctive St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church building. Other important contributions to North Carolina’s landscape may always remain as much a mystery as his very appearance is today.


[1] Hill Collection and Moore Collection, Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear – Family Files. Ida Brooks Kellam, compiler.

[2] Ann Moore Bacon, “William and Margaret Moore Hill of Colonial Brunswick Town.” (HSLCF Bulletin, Volume XXIV, Number 3.) R. Stanton Harvard University Archives. Avery Special Collections Department, New England Historic Genealogical Society.

[3] Block, The Wrights of Wilmington, 1992. Claude V. Jackson, Richard W. Lawrence, and Glenn C. Overton, “A Maritime History and Survey of the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear rivers, Wilmington Harbor, North Carolina.” (Underwater Archaeology Unit, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.)

[4] University of North Carolina Alumni Records. Columbia University Medical Center Alumni Records. Diane Cobb Cashman, The Lonely Road: A History of Physicks and Physicians in the Lower Cape Fear (1735-1976); Medical Society of New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender Counties, 1978.

[5] Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear (HSLCF), Family Files, Plantation Files, and the records of Ida Brooks Kellam..

[6] Interview with Isabel James Lehto, 2000. Historic Wilmington Foundation plaque files, Lazarus House (Connie and Landon Anderson), HSLCF.

[7] James Sprunt, Chronicles of the Cape Fear River (1660-1916) Raleigh, 1916. Archibald Henderson, The Old North State and the New, Vol. II. 1941. “New Hanover County Schools,” N. C. Archives. Jon H. Gerdes, “Education and Schools in Ante Bellum Wilmington.” (Special Collections, New Hanover County Public Library)

[8] Sketches of the History of the University of North Carolina (1789-1889), UNC, 1889. Records of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.

[9] Wilmington and Weldon information contributed by author James Burke.

[10] Bradford J. Wood, This Remote Part of the World. University of South Carolina Press, 2004. Will of King Roger Moore.

[11] New Hanover County North Carolina GENWEB, transcribed by Diane Siniard: Raleigh Register, June 15, 1847. Fayetteville Observer, January 7, 1851. The Daily Journal, September 9, 1851 (New Hanover County Public Library).

[12] Carolina Gazette, May 25, 1827. Charleston Courier, June 29, 1835.

[13] Susan Taylor Block, Temple of our Fathers. Wilmington, 2004.

[14] James Laurence Sprunt, The Story of Orton Plantation. Wilmington, 1958.

[15] Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture. University of North Carolina, 1990.


[16] Bishir, North Carolina Architecture.

[17] J. Marshall Bullock” William S. Drummond.” Architects & Builders: A Biographical Dictionary, 2009.

[18] Bishir, North Carolina Architecture. Catherine W. Bishir, “Thomas Bragg, Sr. & Builders: A Biographical Dictionary, 2009.

[19] Rachel Osborn and Ruth Selden-Sturgill. The Architectural Heritage of Chatham County, North Carolina. Charlotte, 1991.

[20] Tony P. Wrenn, An Architectural and Historical Portrait of Wilmington, NC. Charlottesville, 1984.

[21] Marshall DeLancey Haywood, Lives of the Bishops of North Carolina. Moore-Hill family records.

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