UFO caused ‘sensation among all classes’ in Wilmington

On this day in 1897: Wilmington is visited by what may be the state’s first UFO. According to the Wilmington Messenger, which headlined its account, “Was It an Air Ship?” hundreds of citizens spotted the “remarkable . . . brilliantly lighted” object as it floated above the city, creating “a sensation among all classes of people.”


Scotswoman sniffs at ‘worst washers of linen I ever saw’

“The Scotswoman Janet Schaw took a dim… view of Southern laundry practices. Staying with her brother and sister-in-law [in Wilmington] in 1775, she praised North Carolina soap, made from ‘the finest ashes in the world’ (although she observed that rather than make soap for themselves, many housewives made do with an inferior-quality Irish soap ‘at a monstrous price’).

“But laundresses were another matter entirely. ‘They are the worst washers of linen I ever saw,’ Schaw declared, attributing the mediocre results to mixing different colors and fabrics ‘promiscuously’ into a single kettle and neglecting to ‘blue’ white garments (a process that counteracted yellowing) or make use of the sun’s rays…. She was impressed by neither the boiling technique nor the ‘Negro wench turn[ing] them over with a stick.’ ”

— From “Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America” by Kathleen M. Brown (2009)


Freedmen’s Bureau more valued than Union army

“To the very end of Reconstruction, blacks would insist that ‘those who freed them shall protect that freedom.’ The strength of their commitment to this principle, and to the [Freedmen’s] Bureau as an embodiment of the nation’s responsibility, became clear in 1866 when President Johnson sent generals John Steedman and Joseph S. Fullerton on an inspection tour of the South. Johnson hoped to elicit enough complaints to discredit the agency, but in city after city, blacks rallied to the Bureau’s support….

“In Wilmington, North Carolina, 800 blacks crowded into the Brick Church to voice support. ‘If the Freedman Bureau was removed,’ one speaker insisted, ‘a colored man would have better sense than to speak a word in behalf of the colored man’s rights, for fear of his life.’

“Somewhat taken aback, General Steedman asked the assemblage if the army or the Freedman’s Bureau had to be withdrawn, which they would prefer to have remain in the South. From all parts of the church came the reply, ‘The Bureau.'”

— From “Reconstruction, America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877” by Eric Foner (2002)

By 1869 the role of the Freedmen’s Bureau had been greatly diminished, and it was closed in 1872. 

Pastor’s complaint: ‘They want a gad-about gossip’

On this day in 1882: Presbyterian minister Joseph Wilson, father of Woodrow Wilson, laments in a letter to his son the demands of his latest flock:

“My work here in Wilmington seems to be done, and I think I see evidences amongst the people that some of them think so too. Yet I never preached so well . The fault they find with me is as to visiting. They want a gad-about gossip.”

‘Never mind — if it was bad, Sherman did it!’

“According to William Surface of the Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville, North Carolina, ‘It became a badge of honor for some Southerners to have an ancestor whose house was burned by Sherman’s troops.’

“Betty McCain, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, exemplified this mindset while testifying [in 1994] before the North Carolina Historical Commission in opposition to a proposed memorial to Sherman’s troops at Bentonville Battleground.

“She declared that her foremother fought off Sherman’s men with a broom three different times, when they tried to burn down her house near Wilmington. With no McCain ancestors to stop them, Sherman’s men did burn the warehouses in Wilmington, McCain claimed, as part of their swath of destruction across the state.

“Apparently McCain did not know that Confederates set the Wilmington warehouses ablaze before pulling out of the town, to deny materiel to the Union. Nor did she know that Sherman’s men never came within a hundred miles of Wilmington! Never mind — if it happened in North Carolina and was bad, Sherman did it !”

— From “Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong” by James W. Loewen (2007)


‘No more Sam Ervin, no more Sam Ervin over me….’

“At some points, marchers moved silently…. At other points, the march was a parade, with rhythmic singing and chanting….

“A group of 82 people from Wilmington, North Carolina, dressed in black jackets and hoods, strolled down Constitution Avenue, mocking the segregationist senator from South Carolina [sic] with a variation of ‘Oh Freedom’:

No more Sam Ervin

No more Sam Ervin over me

And before I’ll be a slave

I’ll be buried in my grave

And go home to my Lord and be free

— From “Nobody Turn Me Around: A People’s History of the 1963 March on Washington” by Charles Euchner (2010)


For 2,000 freed slaves, only disease and death awaited

“When the military abandoned the freedpeople in the final months of the war at a Union camp in North Carolina, sickness and disease escalated; the military left no personnel or medical assistance for unemployed former slaves. According to the chief surgeon in North Carolina, General Sherman sent about 10,000 freedpeople ‘down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington’ and established a camp for them at Fort Anderson on Cape Fear. However, sickness plagued this camp. The several doctors present could not prevent the rampant spread of disease….

“An estimated 2,000 freedpeople died at Fort Anderson between March 17 and May 31, 1865 — an average of 30 ex-slaves a day….

“Who counted the dead? Was it the shocking discovery of their bodies or the questions of where they would be buried that led to this estimate? Since there was not, as the [camp’s] chief surgeon asserted, a hospital to care for them or even a mechanism to report on their sickness, there likely was no infrastructure in place to bury them. Why would here be? Their migration to Cape Fear resulted only from Sherman’s order, not from any formal plan for the emancipation of 4 million people.”

— From “Sick From Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction” by Jim Downs (2012)


View from Union blockade: ‘Adventure! Bah!’

“One sailor stationed off Wilmington, North Carolina, explained in his diary how adventurous blockade duty really was:

” ‘I told her [his mother] she could get a fair idea of our ‘adventures’ if she would go on the roof of the house, on a hot summer day, and talk to half a dozen hotel hallboys, who are generally far more intelligent and agreeable than the average “acting officer.” Then descend to the attic and drink some tepid water, full of iron rust. Then go on the roof  again and repeat the “adventurous process” at intervals, until she is tired out and go bed, with every thing shut down tight, so as not to show a light.

” ‘Adventure! Bah! The blockade is the wrong place for it.’ ”

— From “Fateful Lightning: A New History of the the Civil War and Reconstruction” by Allen C. Guelzo (2012)


Wilmington 1775: Join resistance or suffer consequences

“In Wilmington, North Carolina, [in 1775] a committee [of insurgents] went door to door for signatures to a new loyalty oath. According to its own minutes, the committee gave holdouts six days to reconsider before it published their names and ordered fellow-citizens to shun and boycott them — a stern but legal measure.

“In the journal of a visiting Englishwoman, however, [was] found another version. In downtown Wilmington one day, the woman saw a number of her American friends on the street: ‘I stopped to speak to them, but they with one voice begged me for heaven’s sake to get off the street, making me observe they were prisoners . . . and that in all human probability some scene would be acted very unfit for me to witness.’

“Probably, they expected a punishment like tarring and feathering, which would be more humiliating if a woman they knew was watching.

“Militiamen said the Englishwoman’s friends were free to go if they signed the loyalty oath. She waited in a house nearby while her friends held out, and sometime after two in the morning they were released.”

— From a review of  “American Insurgents, American Patriots” by T.H. Breen in The New Yorker, Dec. 20, 2010


Yellow fever struck hard on N.C. coast

“With few exceptions the [Civil War] years passed without significant outbreaks. [One] epidemic, carried in by blockade runners, struck Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1862, taking almost 450 lives…An 1863 yellow fever attack on the Union army at New Bern was the worst; 700 soldiers lost their lives.”

— From “Yellow Jack: How Yellow Fever Ravaged America and Walter Reed Discovered Its Deadly Secrets” (2005) by John R. Pierce and Jim Writer