The Exodus of the Cumberland as Told by “W.”

10 Apr

In 1876 the steamer Cumberland left the Cape Fear and headed down the Atlantic Coast, stopping at various towns and cities along the way.  “W.”, for that is the only name we know him by, recounts the journey from Wilmington, North Carolina to Fernandina, Florida, and later tells of his early days in Florida, with a round-trip between Fernandina and Brunswick, Georgia.


Local Dots.

— It is now stated that Capt. Jas. Smith will go out to Florida in command of the steamer Cumberland, instead of Capt. Albert Worth, as heretofore announced.


[Wilmington Morning Star – Friday, January 14, 1876]



Hath Left Us.

The steamer Cumberland, formerly connected with one of the lines of steamers between this port and Fayetteville, left yesterday after noon for Fernandina, Florida. She is under command of Capt. James C. Smith and is expected to run, in the interest of the owners in this city, between Fernandina and St. Mary’s, on the St. John’s River. Mr. T. G. Smith goes as Engineer and Mr. John H. Marshall as Pilot.


[Wilmington Morning Star – Wednesday, January 19, 1876]









January 30th, 1876 }

MESSRS. EDITORS:–The Steamer Cumberland, under command of Capt. James C. Smith, left her moorings at the wharf in Wilmington on the 19th, and steamed bravely towards old ocean, en route for Fernandina, Fla.

It was deemed a hazardous undertaking for a slight craft like ours to make the venture at this season, and many forebodings from “old salts” and knowing ones followed us out to sea. We started from Wilmington with a stiff breeze, which raged itself into a perfect hurricane before we reached Smithville, compelling us to take refuge at the river wharf at that point. We left Smithville at 12 o’clock at night, and were soon rocking on the broad Atlantic. The winds seemed to lull and the waves to sleep for our especial benefit; a shinning moon rested on the ocean to greet us, and then rose to light us through the wilderness of water, as we glided along smoothly and safely, conveyed by myriads of stars. A run of nine hours, without the slightest accident or apprehension, brought us to the bar at Georgetown.

The muddy waters of the Pee Dee reach far into the sea at this point, beyond the sight of land—a comforting home signal to mill-pond mariners like ourselves. On the trip we coasted as far as eighteen miles from the shore; and, despite the fair weather, several of our Fayetteville party made their acknowledgments to salt water in good style.

We arrived at Georgetown twenty miles from the bar at noon, and waited on the weather until next day. A revenue cutter followed us in, but a squint at our name and humble origin was enough to turn her back without hailing us. Georgetown is a sorry looking place, swarming with lazy, lounging negroes. I saw no signs of trade or traffic, except an old saw-mill; it claims, however, to have a considerable source of business from turpentine. A dingy-looking steamboat, exploring the river as far up as Cheraw, represents its shipping—but it could hardly be otherwise in South Carolina.

From Georgetown we turned back to sea, and took the ocean track for Charleston—seventy miles. A long sandy shoal obliged us to part with the sight of land for fifteen miles, but our path was as smooth and enjoyable as at the start; the vast blue expanse before, behind and around us was undisturbed by a single ripple, a gentle swell being the only reminder of our dangerous experiments. We sighted Charleston early in the afternoon, obtaining a splendid view of the harbor, and passing, besides other interesting points, Sullivan’s Island and Fort Sumter, upon which latter we noticed a number of workmen with carts engaged at some sort of labor—possibly putting it in Spanish condition. Sullivan’s Island is now a group of attractive dwellings , street-cars run the length of the island, and many handsome residences occupy the old camping-ground of our troops during the war. Charleston wears the same old dismal, antiquated look the natives love so well; nothing stirring or fresh helps its appearance, and the pitiless storm that bowed its proud head still broods over its fortunes. Many of the merchants, however, believe that a restoration of the old prosperity is not far distant. I counted about a hundred vessels in port – mostly barques. We spent two days at Charleston and “did” the city to the best of our ability. Charleston is sadly wanting in the one great charm of any city, town or village—that is, pretty women. The few I saw would make a Mormon shudder.

Our inland route commenced at this point. Heading up Cooper river a short distance we entered a small inlet, which gradually narrowed to about the width of the boat, and was crooked enough to paralyze a county surveyor. We circled about in a waste of marshes all day, and finally ploughed through the mud into Stone River—a broad stream which tided us fifteen miles to a safe anchorage thirty miles from Charleston. Here some of the crew went ashore in search of palmetto cabbage, so they said, while the remainder went after crabs and oysters, both of which they found in abundance.

The next day found us navigating the same interminable savannahs, our objective point being Beaufort. We ditched along this course until the retiring tide left us a solid foundation in the mud, where we stuck until we could hear from headquarters outside. It was morning before the tardy and unspeakable relief came; and chunking in our last cord of wood, we steamed into the loyal port of Beaufort. A regiment of dusky voters heralded our approach, and guessed everything about us except ‘pirates.’ What I have said of Georgetown can be said also of Beaufort—only more so; it is so near a counterpart that a description of either town would make a common photograph, except that the latter brags of a custom-house and steam fire-engine. It is also the peaceful abode of Judge Whipple. We made the purchase of ten cords of wood at Beaufort, and gave the town an opportunity to start a bank.

Our inland route continued from this place to Savannah, distant sixty miles. We passed numerous plantations on this part of our journey, which yielded princely revenues to their owners before the war, but which are now nearly abandoned. We were carried on through a number of sounds and inlets with strange names, making Port Royal and Tybee Island on the way. The latter was a naval strategic point during the war—which meant a recruiting station to make Yankee soldiers out of all the niggers in the neighborhood. Port Royal is the present rendezvous of a considerable war fleet; we passed and saluted six or seven armed vessels sand one monitor, with several others in sight. It must mean Cuba or Whipple.

We took the next day to make a fresh start, and crossed into the Savannah River at its mouth, 21 miles from the city. We spent two days at this port, shipping our last supply of wood for the trip. Savannah is a lovely city; situated on a high bluff, it overlooks a wide range of the surrounding country, commanding a most charming view. It has a bustling air of business, in marked contrast with its sister sea-port towns.

Over six hundred thousand bales of cotton were received here the past season. Its shipping interests are far in advance of Charleston. You see the change at once in leaving South Carolina; a spirit of energy and thrift pervades everything in Georgia that has no existence in Carolina. The police in Savannah are distinguished by a grey uniform; they are the most gentlemanly-looking men I ever saw on such duty. The market house here eclipses any like building in the South or even in New York. A number of elegant restaurants constitute its foundation, leaving the second floor for legitimate business. Foreigners form a large part of the the [word typed twice] business element of the place.

The last stretch of our journey—and by far the most interesting, unless I except the outside trip – we made from here. We had no ditches, shoals or mud to encounter; beautiful bays and broad rivers led us the whole way through. The scenery and surroundings were all strikingly different as we approached our destination. Vast flocks of ducks were constantly in sight, while countless sea birds kept us company. We sighted the ocean and heard the thunder of the surf a number of times while passing through the numerous sounds on the route, making us sensible of its indulgence upon our first acquaintance. Darien and Brunswick were on our watery road –both neat and thriving little towns.

At dinner time we entered St. Mary’s Bay, and the Land of Flowers lay before us, its gleaming bench and summer breath bidding us a pleasant welcome. An hour more of our journey, and the lines of the Cumberland were on the wharf at Fernandina.

Altogether the trip has been simply delightful. It is due to the officers of the boat to say that it was in capital hands. The unflagging vigilance of the captain, his discretion and careful foresight, left no room for accident. Capt. J. H. Marshall was our pilot, and we cannot value his services too highly. His knowledge of the coast and all the intricacies of inland navigation was wonderfully perfect; every bearing or current or inlet or landmark at sea, and every river, bay, creek, and harbor seemed to be mapped on his wheel, and to it all was joined an unerring knowledge of the signs of the weather. We had a faithful and efficient ocean chief as engineer, assisted by Mr. Elliott as river chief. In their keeping and management the Cumberland had full trust in her engines, and so declares most gratefully.

And now I will close my communication by subscribing myself. W.


[North Carolina Gazette – Fayetteville – Thursday, February 10, 1876]







Fernandina—The St. Mary’s River—North

Carolina Tourists Fishing and Prospecting-Lemon

Groves and Orange Plantations.



Feb. 38th. }


MESSRS. EDITORS:–Fernandina is an island city, lying directly on the ocean. It is most beautifully located, fronting a broad bay which extends nearly to the bar, and is girdled by a magnificent beach, as firm as a turnpike, with a shining border on all sides as grand a stretch of shimmering sand and dashing wave as earth and ocean ever fashioned, a broad shell-road connecting it with the city, the road being a beautiful avenue of myrtle and orange nearly the whole distance.

The streets of the town are regular, and, except the thoroughfares of business, are adorned with elegant dwellings and cottage-like mansions, all embowered in tropical shrubbery of every description.

A large shipping belongs to the place: hundreds of foreign and New England vessels seek this port for cargoes, and a line of magnificent steamers carry on a traffic with Savannah, New York and other ports North. Its fine harbor and location mark it as the great future outlet and principal sea-port of Florida, while it has railroad communication with all parts of the State.

Fernandina is free from epidemics, and is remarkably healthy; but it suffers from one drawback—negro domination. The St. Mary’s River is the principal channel for the local trade of the place; it is the navigation of this river, together with Brunswick and adjacent points, which makes up the employment of the steamer Cumberland. The St. Mary’s is navigable one hundred and twenty miles from its mouth, and is a wide, deep stream for a long distance, fringed by broad marshes and savannahs, within whose black depths numberless alligators have their haunts, and evince a “shocking tameness.”

Higher up the river we get into a well-settled and finely-timbered country. Numerous saw-mills at different points make up the vast lumber business of this section, and a great number of schooners and larger vessels are constantly loading with the commodity. Every enterprise of this sort appears to be in the hands of Northern men, mostly from Maine and Canada; from the former, especially a great many are now cutting and rafting timber on this stream. If it pays in North Carolina to get oak timber and haul it for miles, and then raft it a long distance to Wilmington, it must be profitable business here, where you find the trees in sight of a landing and a market right to hand. That the business constitutes an immense interest may be gathered from the fact that I have seen rafts on the St. Mary’s more than a mile long, secured by a single chain or rope, and under the management of one man: they seem to be turned loose with the tide, to pilot themselves to their stopping-places.

The trading-points on this river are more numerous than they are on the Cape Fear, and although it is not quite so extensive a field for naval store operations, the opportunities for the business are the finest in the world. Virgin land of the first rank both for timber and turpentine can be purchased at from 40 cents to $1 per acre.

Many interesting signs of the early settlement of the country are to be seen along the banks of the St. Mary’s: there are mill-sites and old fields once owned and cultivated by Spanish inhabitants; a clearly defined road from St. Augustine to King’s Ferry, opened in 1769 by Spanish emigrants, is used at the present time as a mail route; and many Indian mounds can be plainly seen in passing.

The woods everywhere in this section of Florida abound in game, and there is no end to the fish in the creeks and rivers. I have become tired of the sport, owing to the excessive population of the limy tribe.” While agitating the fish subject I will give you an account of an ocean “minnow” caught recently at Fernandina. It was a monster Devil fish, and was estimated by moderate guessers to weigh seven or eight tons. It measured twenty-two feet in width, its length being a trifle less, and it filled a depth of eight or ten feet. Its arms and legs resembled those of the Cuttle fish, and were “too numerous to mention;” possibly it had nothing but arms, as legs are a rare thing in fish, especially mermaids. The monster was killed after a vigorous assault from the whole town. My authority for this fish story is Mr. W. J. Woodward, who was an eye-witness of the capture, and who is very cautious in his statements about fish.

The most interesting feature of Florida to me is the common and exuberant growth of oranges and other fruits. The former appear to be in universal cultivation; hardly can you see a garden or inclosure which fails to contain more or less orange trees. The yield of a fully-matured tree is astonishing; an old grower of the fruit assured me that from four to five thousand oranges were the usual production of a single tree, and you would not think the estimate large were you to see one in full bearing. A more beautiful sight can hardly be conceived than a grove of these trees full of their golden fruit. Not more than one-fifth of the oranges grown in Florida are offered for sale, and the owner of a two-acre orchard can have an independent income. I wonder that the business of orange-growing is not as common and popular as making rosin, for it is certainly a more profitable and engaging vocation: I think I shall be an orange planter—or lemon.

This part of the State does not possess all the tropical features of Florida, being the most northern portion; Jacksonville and Palatka on the St. John’s River seem to possess more attractions for the traveling public. The former place is altogether a Northern town in the character of its population. Our Northern brethren enjoy the idea of having a tropical climate of “our own,” and being independent of Cuba and the Sandwich Islands. It never seems to them that it was ours before the advent of Sherman and negro equality. When they can perfect Northern civilization out here so they say the future of Florida is assured.

But I am spinning my letter out too long though I would like to add a mention of the visit of your two townsmen, Messrs. S. and S., both of whom declare themselves pleased and even delighted with this country. The “Cumberland” took a special cruise for their benefit, making a trip to Brunswick and Stilla rivers in Georgia, and St. Mary’s and other points in Florida thus affording an opportunity for both investment and pleasure. An incident in the excursion to Brunswick was particularly interesting to Mr. S. Our route lay through St. Andrew’s Sound, twenty-five or thirty miles in width; and on our return trip we were unexpectedly confounded in a very dense fog. Our pilot was no less befogged than the rest, and made his reckoning for Liverpool or China instead of Fernandina. At any rate, we found ourselves at a late hour ploughing through the ocean instead of being safe in port. Mr. S. enjoyed the thing hugely at the start; he was enchanted with the scenery, infatuated with the porpoises and ducks, sung “Life on the Ocean Wave,” and smoked his pipe in a frenzy of happiness. The boat was not big enough for his enthusiasm until the stunning fact was announced that we were out at sea and “breakers ahead.” Cheap land in Florida now developed into a fabulous price, if he could only see it; one pine tree; if only in sight, would meet all his speculative views on timber; all grades of rosin were at once reduced to a floating valuation, regardless of quotations. Even the porpoise played circus around the boat unnoticed, and North Carolina grew suddenly into a vision of heaven.

In truth, we were in great peril; enveloped in a fog of midnight blackness, amid unknown breakers ours was not a pleasant situation. It was too much excursion for Mr. S., and he said so. Fortunately, we discovered our danger in time to escape disaster, and, after much tribulation, we recovered our course. Then everyone found out that he wasn’t scared worth shucks, and thought it was funny. I was particularly struck with the sailor-like qualities of Mr. S. after we got on land.

The “Cumberland” contemplates a trip to St. Augustine and other points soon, and I may send you some items if you wish. In the meantime I remain,

Yours, &c.,



Without wishing to discredit any statement of our correspondent, we think it only right to state at a gentleman just from Florida declares that “W.” was known down there as the “North Carolina Fisherman;” that he was always off fishing except at grub and grog times—when he would contrive to be present though known to have been only a few minutes before at least twenty miles off – and the aggregate results of his piscatorial efforts were three small “eats.” He now goes by the soubriquet of “kitty.”

“A gentleman from Florida, “states the dimensions of this “Devil” fish at fifteen feet long and sixteen wide.


[North Carolina Gazette – March 9, 1876]


(excerpt from Fayetteville GAZETTE) – Captain Skinner sold the steamer CUMBERLAND in Savannah; she will probably run between that city and Augusta.

[Wilmington Star – March 31, 1877]


The “Cumberland” would later run upon the Altamaha, Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers, and between Darien and Savannah, Georgia. *See Carlton A. Morrison, Running the River: Poleboats, Steamboats, and Timber Rafts on the Altamaha, Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Ohoopee (St. Simons Island, Ga.: Saltmarsh Press, 2003) for several lengthy newspaper articles regarding the “Cumberland” in Georgia.  If you want to order the book, you might see if Hattie’s Bookstore in Brunswick, Georgia has a copy.  I bought a new, author signed, copy for $20 + tax, last year (2008).  Brunswick, Georgia is just 8 miles across the Causeway, from St. Simons Island, where the author lives.


Stmr. CUMBERLAND advertisement in the Darien Gazette - Nov. 1877

Advertisement in the Darien Gazette - Nov. 1877

NOTES: Capt. W. T. Gibson would later own and run several boats upon the Savannah River, between Savannah and Augusta, Georgia.  Capt. Gibson visited Fayetteville, NC in March of 1896 as a director of the Southern Steamboat Company.  Later that year, in October, the Wilmington Messenger reported the following:

The Steamer Murchison to Go to Savannah

The Savannah Morning News of Monday says:

“It is rumored that the steamer Murchison of Wilmington, N. C., is to be brought to Savannah to take the place of the Katie, which sank and went to pieces recently.  The Murchison has been running on the Cape Fear river for several years.  Her owners are interested in Gibson’s line on the Savannah river.  It is said that the Murchison will be manned by the Katie’s crew, with Capt. Bevill in command.” (End of article.)

In June of 1907, the Wilmington Star reported that Messrs. S. M. King, A. E. Martin and Capt. J. D. Bradshaw (Cape Fear steamboatmen), had bought a controlling interest in the Gibson Steamship Line and would be relocating to Augusta, Georgia.

NOTE: Most of the links listed below are no longer valid.  They were all on a wonderful site created by “Cookie.”  I do not recall her last name, and I fear that she has died, perhaps before I ever first visited the site.  I hope to fish out the images, and maybe even her pages regarding the Worth family and republish them with the caveat that if she wants me to take them off, I certainly will.  But, it was too well written and the multitude of images perfect illustrations. (11/2/2010)

Who is “W”… and Messrs. S. and S.?

At one point, I thought that “W” might be William J. Woodward who was mentioned in the article as witness to the “fish story”. Speaking of yourself in the 3rd person would not be an unheard of literary device.  Before going to Florida, W. J. Woodward had written for a “travel” journal.

W. J. Woodward married Mary Worth, the daughter of Barzailli Gardner Worth and Mary Elizabeth Jessie Carter. He would have been about 33 years old at this time. W. J. Woodward worked for the railroad and his family returned to Wilmington, NC after a few years. According to a US Census, only his daughter Isabelle (born 1877) was born in Florida.

Alfred Vincent Wood, the brother of Dr. Thomas Fanning Wood, would have been about 22 years old at this time. He came to Brunswick, GA to work for Mr. Sprunt, and then took over the naval stores business when Sprunt returned to England.

That the Messrs. S. and S. and W. made a trip to Brunswick, GA from Fernandina aboard the Cumberland seems to fit the picture of this being A. V. Wood and the Messrs. Sprunt.

The Cape Fear River Steamers


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