Captain Wilkinson’s Young Widow

08 Apr
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On the 6th of July, 1826, John Wilkinson married Ann McKenzie, the daughter of John McKenzie, in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  They quickly had two sons, the first being John McKenzie, and the second being James Archibald.

The Thursday afternoon edition of the Carolina Observer, of October 23rd, 1828 reported the following, “DIED,  In Chesterville, S. C., on the 9th inst. of a kick from a horse, Mr. JOHN WILKINSON, lately a resident of this town. By this sudden stroke of Divine Providence, an affectionate wife is bereaved of a devoted husband, and two small children of a kind father. He was fully sensible from the reception of his mortal hurt, that he could not survive but a short time. He spoke, being in his senses to the close of life, with composure of his future prospects of happiness. He had been for several years a regular communicant in the church. May this unexpected loss be abundantly sanctified and blessed to all the bereaved!–[Communicated.]”

Reported in the North Carolina Journal of  the 15th of April, 1829 was this notice, “Married, On Tuesday evening, the 7th inst. At the residence of Mrs. Martha Newberry, in this county, by the Rev. Benjamin Hoskins, Mr. Augustus J. Erambert, of Fayetteville, to Miss Martha Newberry, daughter of the late Isaac Newberry, Esq.”

A. J. Erambert Advertisement in the Fayetteville Observer of the 24th of February, 1844.

Note: Andrew J. Howell (Sr.) was a young clerk, living in the household of Mr. A. J. Erambert in Wilmington, NC at the time of the 1850 US Census.  He was born in October, 1828.  Rev. A. J. Howell (Jr.) was a noted Wilmington historian.

Steamer Southerner Ad.

Steamer Southerner Ad.

The Fayetteville Observer, of Tuesday, April 27, 1852 copied the following from the Wilmington Journal, ” New Steamboat. – We notice at our wharves this morning a new stern-wheel steamer, of light draft, called “Southerner,” but built at Fayetteville for the Henrietta Steamboat Company, and intended to run on the Cape Fear River between that town and Wilmington.  She is 112 feet long, 17 ½ feet wide, has 3 feet depth of hold, and has berths for thirty passengers, and with her light draft and great power in proportion to size, (40 horse) she will no doubt be chiefly employed as a passenger boat.  She is quite creditable to our Fayetteville friends.”

John M. Wilkinson, the eldest son of the widow, Mrs. Ann Wilkinson, died at his mother’s home six days before his younger brother, James’ 24th birthday, in July 1852.

Five months later, on the 22nd of December, 1852, Miss Emily J. Erambert, the daughter of Mr. A. J. and Martha Erambert, of Wilmington, NC, was married to Mr. James A. Wilkinson by the Rev. Mr. Munds.  A month later, on January 21, 1853, Mrs. Emily Wilkinson celebrated her 18th birthday.

The Fayetteville Observer of the 25th of January, 1853 ran the following notice:

Steamboats at Auction. ON THURSDAY the 10th of February next, will be sold at Public Auction, at the Market House in the Town of Fayetteville, at 12 o’clock M., all the STEAM and TOW BOATS belonging to the “Henrietta Steamboat Company.” Viz: The Steamers Evergreen and Southerner and tow Boats Henry Clay, Ben Rush, Lady of the Lake, Averasborough, and
Chapel Hill.  Terms – Three, six, nine and twelve month’s credit for approved Notes. Sale positive.  J. H. COOK, President.”


     A most distressing accident occurred on Friday morning about 1 o’clock, on the Cape Fear River, a few miles above Elizabethtown.  The Captain of the steamer Southerner, Mr. James Wilkinson, recently of this place, but during the last few weeks a resident of Wilmington, was missed from his post, and from several circumstances was believed to have fallen overboard.  The course of the boat was immediately reversed, and every effort made to discover him  but without success.  It is believed that Capt. W. Was going from the deck to the engine room at the time of the accident, and that he slipped on some ice which lay in his way, that he caught at the iron rod which is placed there as a support for the hand, but that it gave way and he was in consequence precipitated into the river.  It was intensely cold, and though Capt. W. was a powerful and hardy man, it could scarcely have been possible for him to save himself by swimming.  No clue calculated to lead to the discovery of the body has yet been found.

     Capt. Wilkinson was a generous and amiable young man, his age being about 25.  He was but a few weeks ago united in marriage with a young lady of Wilmington.  The anguish which his untimely death will produce in the hearts of his many warm friends, and particularly those who are bound to him by ties far stronger than those of mere friendship, will be almost beyond consolation.

     A large party of gentlemen proceeded down the river on Friday morning in the steamer Southerner for the purpose of recovering the remains of Capt. W.

[The North Carolinian —  Saturday, January 29, 1853]

The Fayetteville Observer of Tuesday, February 1, 1853 ran this article, “MELANCHOLY CASUALTY. – We regret to learn, that on Thursday night last, Capt. James Wilkinson, of this town, was lost from the Steamer Southerner, of which he was the Captain, whilst on the way up the river, about 2 miles above Elizabeth Town.  Passing along the boat’s guards, he is supposed to have slipped upon the ice which had formed there, and plunged into the river.—  The boat was immediately stopped, and every effort made to rescue him, but he was neither seen nor heard, probably having passed under the boat, or been struck by the wheel.  The night was intensely cold.

What adds to the sadness of this calamity, is the fact that he had been married only a few weeks ago; and further, that he was the only surviving child of his widowed mother.”

A few days later the North Carolinian printed this, ” It was reported in this place on Thursday that the body of Capt Wilkinson had been found; but it appears to have been a mistake. The body has not yet been recovered.”

THE subscribers having purchased the Steamers Evergreen and Southerner and Tow Boats, lately the property of the Henrietta Steamboat Company, are now prepared to forward with despatch, between Wilmington and Fayetteville, all freights or goods entrusted to them.
[The Fayetteville Observer, Tuesday, February 15, 1853]

NOTE:  When I first heard Alison Krauss’ “Away Down the River” I immediately thought of “Capt. Wilkinson’s Young Widow” and can’t help but “tear up” when I listen to it. (Lyrics | Song Link)

Almost two months after Capt. Wilkinson’s accident, the Fayetteville Observer printed that, “The body of Capt. James Wilkinson of this place, who was lost overboard from the Steamer Southerner, which he commanded, on the night of the 27th January last, was found in the river on Monday night last, taken on board the Steamer Chatham, Capt. Evans, and arrived here yesterday morning.  It was consigned to the grave yesterday afternoon, attended by the Independent Company, of which he was a member, and a large concourse of friends of himself and his family.
We understand, that notwithstanding the long period since his death, the body was but little defaced, and that in his pocket were found his money, notes, and papers, (including a note written to his young wife just before starting from Wilmington, which something prevented his sending,) all in a good state of preservation

A day later, on the 25th of March, 1853, the Wilmington Journal wrote, “BODY FOUND.—The body of Capt. James Wilkinson; late of the Steamer Southerner, was found last Monday, about 20 miles above this place in the Cape Fear River.  The body was identified from the clothes and papers found upon it.  His pocket book contained about $100, and a note of $100—and other papers, which were but slightly defaced.  Capt. Wilkinson was lost on the night of the 27th January last, from off the Steamer Southerner which boat he commanded at the time, and was running between this place and Fayetteville.”

Five months later, in August, 1853, the North Carolinian ran this report regarding the steamer Chatham, “STEAMBOAT BLOWN UP.
On Saturday evening last our citizens were startled by the announcement that the Steamer Chatham, on her downward trip, about thirty miles below this place, had met with a serious accident by the explosion of her boiler.
We understand the explosion was caused by allowing the water to get too low in the boiler and then pumping in cold water while it was in a heated state.
The boiler was bursted all to pieces, throwing the smoke-stack a considerable distance on land and shattering the boat so badly that it sunk in six or eight feet water.  Capt. Evans was knocked into the River and narrowly escaped drowning, the Boat floating over him.  It was reported that his arm was broken, but we learn that his injuries are not as serious as at first supposed.
A free man of color, named Dick, from Newbern, who acted as fireman, was killed.
A negro man by the name of Fred, belonging to Mrs. Martin of Moore county, we understand was seriously injured.
The Chatham, never having complied with the steamboat law, did not carry passengers.  Her freight consisted of Spirits Turpentine, Sheeting, and Printing Paper from the Mill of David Murphy, Esq.  We suppose it will nearly all be saved in a damaged state.
The Boat, we believe, was owned by the Cape Fear Company, and was only insured against fire

On the 10th of February, 1856, Miss Virginia Erambert, the eldest child of Mr. Augustus J. and Martha Erambert married Mr. Archibald M. Carter of Fayetteville, NC.  Twelve days later, on February 22nd, Miss Sarah Frances “Sallie” Skinner, daughter of Capt. Samuel Skinner, of Richmond, Virginia, married Mr. Louis B. Erambert, Virginia’s and Emily’s brother.

In May of 1857, the widow, Mrs. Emily J. Wilkinson, married Capt. Samuel Wallace Skinner, son of Capt. Samuel Skinner of Richmond, Virginia.

James Archibald Wilkinson grave marker in Cross Creek Cemetery, Fayetteville, NC.

The Cape Fear River Steamers

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Posted by on April 8, 2009 in Uncategorized


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