Cape Fear Navigation Company – 1871 Fraud Case

21 Apr

The Cape Fear Navigation Company was started in the 18th Century, prior to the arrival of the first steamboats, to keep the Cape Fear river, between Wilmington and Fayetteville, NC, free of obstructions and navigable.  Tolls on all freights were to be charged to the boats and companies plying the river, and if not paid, the vessels and all equipment could be legally seized by the CFN Co.

It might be arguable that at various times, the CFN Co. existed in name only, as regards actual work being done on the river to remove obstructions, etc.  It is because of this that the paying of tolls were sometimes disputed.

“Cape Fear Navigation Company”, from the Report of the Commission to Investigate CHARGES OF FRAUD AND CORRUPTION, Under Act of Assembly, Session 1871-’72 (CFNC approx. pp. 3-99)

The article, regarding the “Cape Fear Navigation Company,” is about 100 pages, with reports and observations from many of the more prominent individuals in the Cape Fear river steamboat trade of that time, including: T. S. Lutterloh, R. M. Orrell, J. D. Williams, B. G. Worth, F. W. Kerchner, John M. Rose, A. H. Slocomb, W. N. Tillinghast, Jonathan Worth, A. P. Hurt, James O. Barry, S. W. Skinner  and others — Cape Fear Steamboat Company, Express Steamboat Company, and the People’s Line.  Commentaries in the depositions include insights into steamer river life.

The State of North Carolina, owning a majority of the shares of stock in the company, decided to sell it’s shares.  The Cape Fear Steamboat Co. & the Express Steamboat Co., at the time, owed a large sum of unpaid tolls to the CFN Co., which were in dispute.  The owners of these companies shrewdly decided, if possible, it would be cheaper to buy a controlling interest in the CFN Co., which they did, and then “write off” what they owed.  This they did, and as an afterthought, the State was pressed to determine if anything illegal had occurred.

Not only were the two steamboat companies able to write off their unpaid tolls, but they now had a controlling interest in the CFN Co., which ten years later, was bought out by the Federal Government at a price of $10,000.

NOTE: As an aside, you might read the Melancholy Occurrence, regarding Mr. Lutterloh’s son’s death in 1868.  R. M. Orrell’s testimony to the Fraud Committee, states that he and Mr. Lutterloh were trying to approach the State, in September of 1869, regarding the purchase of the Cape Fear Navigation Company stock.  Mr. Lutterloh was called away on “melancholy” business, and Orrell waited until Mr. Lutterloh could once again join him in the business proposition.  *I wonder if the references to Mr. Lutterloh’s “melancholy” occurence are actually the same event, but that the year referenced by Mr. Orrell was incorrect.

—–We regret to learn that Mrs. Morgiana C. Hurt, wife of Capt. A. P. Hurt, of the steamer Gov. Worth, died in Fayetteville on Monday last, aged 50 years.  Mrs. H. was a daughter of the late Henry Erambert, of Fayetteville.

[Wilmington Star – May 6, 1870]

— The venerable Capt. Hurt has retired from the command of the Gov. Worth, with the intention, we learn, of permanently abandoning active life upon the Cape Fear.  He is succeeded in command of the above steamer by Capt. Albert H. Worth.  Capt. Hurt, we hear it stated, will hereafter devote his attention to the work of improving the navigation of the river, which is being carried on under the auspices of the Cape Fear Navigation Company.

[ ? – May 28, 1870]

NOTE: It was prophetic that in Capt. Hurt’s testimony, he mentioned several places along the river which because of low water, made it very difficult for steamers to “get over”.  In August of 1871, the boiler of the steamer R. E. Lee exploded as she was attempting to get over at Thames (Timms) Shoals.  NOTE: The section of the Cape Fear River adjoining Jambbas Ranch off Tabor Church Road, is approximately the location of Thames Shoals.

THE CAPE FEAR NAVIGATION COMPANY (mp3) now represented by and chiefly owned by two steamboat companies, is operating in our river and making thorough improvements. Some 10 or 20 hands and three large flats or lighters, with axes, chains, saws, hooks, &c., have been actively at work for two or three months. They cut out stumps, logs, snags and obstructions, and remove threes projecting across or into the river from the banks. Large logs and pieces of timber sunk to the bottom, also trees with roots or limbs are carried down in freshets, and when the changing channel shifts or washes out for itself a new course, these timbers become exposed, perhaps across the new channel, or, one end by some means may become elevated with the other embedded in the sand and thus present dangerous snags and obstructions. Our river being lined with forests, and as vast quantities of timber are transported by it to market, the work of keeping navigation open in a changing sandy channel is no easy task.

The Navigation Company have been able to do but little to the river for several years, and every boat has had to “paddle its own canoe,” and no tolls have been collected recently. Many years ago this company was chartered with a number of individual stockholders, while the State was the largest stock holder. The State gave its interest to the Literary Board. Since the war the Literary Board sold its interest to the Express Steamboat Company and the Cape Fear Steamboat Company.  These companies have bought also individual stock, so they now have a large majority of the stock. These two companies by authority of the charter of the Navigation Company are at work, and their designed improvements are nearly completed.

The Company will now charge tolls on all boats on the river. Boats not owning interest in the Navigation Company may dispute the payment of tolls, and claim a lapse or forfeiture of charter for non-performance of conditions. But the rights secured by special charter are not easily denied, and positive proof and much direct damage, and perhaps a perversion of the charter, will probably be necessary to show cause for forfeiture of the charger. The river has been navigated all the while, and perhaps not much damage has actually resulted to boats. The present representatives of the Navigation Company have done work and entitled themselves to get pay for it, and thus keep the charter in full effect. So the only question, it seems, would be whether their predecessors had kept the charter in full effect.

But legislation can yet be amended and enlarged on the subject.-Any how, tolls or no tolls, monopolies or what else, we hope a responsible party will have the duty of keeping the river in good navigable order. All logs, obstructions from land slides, &c., have been removed for a distance of 15 miles from Fayetteville, and from there the most dangerous snags, timbers, &c., are out, down to a few miles below Elisabethtown.

The workmen are there now, and will move on with the work until the high winter water will stop them. It is thought the entire work can be finished up thoroughly during the low water season next summer. It is intended to erect jettees or low side-dams at a few shallow or shoaly places, and thus increase or collect more volume of water in the main channel. Piling, of long plank or poles, driven in a line edge to edge, or else rock piled up, serve as the dams. In removal of logs, as at present, they are pulled up so as to be cut or sawed, and then put singly or in small piles on the ground at the water’s edge, and long stakes are driven firmly in the ground on each side of the log with the tops of the stakes crossing or lapping over them. Holes are bored through stake and log and both pinned together. This is necessary to keep logs from floating back into the river, and it is less expensive than to carry them far out on land. Capt. A P Hurt was first in charge of this work, but he has decided to quit river life, is disposing of his boat interest and preparing for other business, and Capt Jack Evans is now carrying on the Navigation work. The cost of material, tools and implements for the work was about $6,000, besides the expense of 10 to 20 hands, and the constant purchase and repair of tools, &c.

[The Eagle – Thursday, October 6, 1870]

THE RIVER FREE.-The Cape Fear Navigation Company received a few days ago from the U. S. Government a check for $10,000, the sum named in the act of the U. S. Congress, to be paid the company for the surrender of their rights in the C. F. River.  The deed of surrender has been signed, sealed and delivered, and the river is now free to all navigators and all craft from a dug-out of the size of a horse trough to the Great Eastern.  We are glad that the job is over.  The next thing is to increase the depth of water, which practical men say can be done.  It is not probable that any thing will be done in that direction until the season of low water, which may be expected during next summer.

[Fayetteville Examiner – Thursday, December 1, 1881]

The Cape Fear River Steamers

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