Captain Jefferson Davis Robeson

07 Mar

Newspaper articles regarding Capt. Jeff D. Robeson:

— Capt. W. A. Robeson, for many years the popular commander of the Wave, has bought that fine steamer from the Express Steamboat Company, and will hereafter run her on his own account.  Messrs. G. W. Williams & Co. will be the Wilmington agents.  “Sandy” is one of the “institutions” of the Cape Fear river, and he has the best wishes of a host of friends.  Long may he Wave.

[? – January 6, 1882]

THE STEAMER WAVE.—In common with their numerous other friends, we regret to hear of Capt. W. A. Robeson’s and his brother’s loss by the sinking of their steamer near Wilmington last week. But we were glad to hear that it is thought the larger part of the cargo is saved, and that the boat can be raised without great expense. The reported drowning of the colored cook, Ned Beebe, is a sad feature of the accident.

From the Wilmington Review of Monday evening we learn later particulars of the disaster, as follows:

The steamer Wave, Capt. Robinson, capsized in the Cape Fear at Wanet’s Landing, at 5 o’clock yesterday morning, while on her way from Fayetteville to this city, and three of those on board were drowned. The circumstances were as follows:

In coming round a curve in the river, near that place, the speed of the boat caused her to careen so that her outside guard was under the water. This caused the cargo, which consisted of between 400 and 500 barrels of rosin and spirits of turpentine, to ship to that side, the weight of which capsized the boat. Those drowned were Empie Hill, a passenger, Lucy Brewington, colored, a passenger, and Ned Beebe, colored, cook. The accident happened at an hour when all the passengers and those of the crew not employed were asleep in their berths, and all those came very near being lost. The other passengers were Messrs. Edward Lilly and E. D. Burkhimer of this city, Mr. Buchanan, of Charles-ton, S. C. and Miss Shepherd, aged about 14 years. Mr. Lilly was badly bruised and was saved with considerable difficulty. Messrs. Buchanan and Burkhimer came very near drowning and were saved only by super-human efforts. Miss Shepherd was in eminent peril, but she maintained the most perfect composure and coolness throughout the trying ordeal through which she was compelled to pass with an almost inevitable death staring her in the face. The door of her stateroom was locked and it was some time, and not until the water had reached above her waist, before she was rescued by the determined efforts of Capt. Robeson. After the accident Capt. Robeson started and walked to this city, reaching here at about 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon, and gave the first intelligence of the disaster. The steamtug Wm. Nyce was immediately sent to the scene and returned about 10 o’clock that night with the passengers. The dredging boat was sent up this morning to render such assistance in raising the Wave and securing the cargo as may be necessary.

[Fayetteville Observer – Thursday, June 5, 1884.]



  — The body of Mr. Empie Hill, one of the victims of the Wave disaster, was found Wednesday night just below Turkey Point, and that of Ned Bebee has also bee recovered, having been found about half a mile from Wanut Landing.

The steamer is now afloat and it is expected to get her entirely clear by this evening.  Her wheel is now about a foot out of water.

[Wilmington Star – June 7, 1884]



The Steamer Wave Upsets on the River and Three Persons are Drowned—Narrow Escape of Others—The Steamer Nyce Goes to the Rescue—The Survivors Brought to this City.

     On Sunday our community was startled by the announcement of the intelligence that the steamer Wave, of the Express Steamboat Company’s line, had met with a terrible disaster and that three persons were drowned; which number, by common report, was afterwards erroneously augmented to four.  The news of the accident was brought by Capt. Robeson, Mr. Nick Carr and Mr. Bryant Watson, who left the steamer at the point where she went down.  The steamer Wm. Nyce got up steam and started about 5 o’clock for the scene of the disaster, arriving there the same evening about 8 o’clock, when the survivors were taken on board, with the exception of Capt. Jeff. Robeson and two deck hands, and brought them to this city.  We first interviewed Mr. Carr, and subsequently talked with Mr. H. D. Burkhimer, from whom we obtained the following particulars.

The steamer was rounding a sharp curve or point in the river, about twenty-two miles above this city, at or near John Wanut’s Landing, about half past 5 o’clock on Sunday morning, just as the sun had commenced rising, when she keeled over too far on one side, and the water began to pour in over her guards, when the freight, consisting of barrels of naval stores, boxes, crates, etc., was shifted from the starboard to the port side, which had the effect to turn her over.  She rested on one side, with the upper part about two feet above the water, and the lower part apparently on the bottom, for a few minutes, when, being relieved of the greater part of the cargo, she gradually uprighted and settled down in about twenty feet of water, having one hundred casks of spirits of turpentine in her hold.  In the meantime the stancheons had broken loose between the cabin and the main deck, and the former, with hurricane deck and pilot house attached, left the hull and settled down on the boiler and part of cargo of rosin at the side of the boat, a portion of the hurricane deck being out of the water.  The passengers were mostly in their berths when the alarm was given.  They consisted of Messrs. E. Lilly, N. Carr and H. D. Burkhimer and Miss Katie Shepherd, of this city.  Mr. J. A. Buchanan, of South Carolina, Mr. Empie Hill, of Bladen, Mr. Bryant Watson, of Fayetteville, and Lucy Brewington, colored, of Fayetteville.  The passengers got out as best they could, Mr. Lilly and Mr. Burkhimer both having some difficulty in getting their doors open.  Mr. Burkhimer also got his hands badly cut in trying to escape by a window and when he finally succeeded in getting out by the door the water was up to his waist.  Miss Shepherd was rescued from her berth by Capt. Jeff. Robeson and placed in a position of safety on the hurricane deck.  Mr. Burkhimer, upon reaching the deck, thinking the boat was about to go to pieces, jumped overboard, and himself, Mr. Buchanan and the colored steward were carried away from the boat about one hundred yards and landed among a parcel of rubbish, where they remained until Capt. Robeson sent a boat and took them off and put them ashore; Mr. Burkhimer sustaining himself with a spirits cask under one arm and a plank under the other and Mr. Buchanan clinging to a piece of the engine house.  Mr. Burkhimer says that Mr. Hill was some distance lower down the river and he heard his call three times for help after which he threw up his hands and sank.  The fireman, when he awoke, was completely submerged by the water.  Mr. Lilly, who had jumped overboard in the first excitement and confusion, was assisted upon the hurricane deck by Capt. Robeson and others.  As soon as possible the survivors were all landed on the shore and repaired to the residence of Mr. John Wanut, by whom they were very kindly treated.  It was ascertained that Mr. Empie Hill, aged about 25 years, a nephew of the late Adam Empie, of this city; Ned. Beebe, the colored cook, aged about 50, and Lucy Brewington, colored, of Fayetteville, aged about 30, were drowned.  It is a wonder, considering the number and quantity of barrels, boxes, rubbish, etc., that was drifting about, and among which many of the men were at one time struggling, that more lives were not lost.  There was very little excitement among the crew and passengers, and the coolness displayed by all, and especially by Capt. Jeff. Robeson, was one reason why so many were saved.

Among the few articles saved from the wreck were two boxes of eggs, and these served to help out in furnishing the large number with dinner and supper.

In the meantime Capt. Robeson, Mr. Carr and Mr. Bryant Watson had started for the railroad station at Northwest, a distance of about five or six miles, hoping to meet the train on the Carolina Central road, but reached there about ten minutes too late.  They then started to walk to Wilmington and reached there about 12 o’clock, when they dispatched the steamer Nyce to the assistance of their shipwrecked friends and comrades, and she returned about 10 o’clock Sunday night with all of the passengers and crew except those named as staying by the wreck.  Yesterday the dredging boat was sent up to see what help could be rendered.  At last accounts the cargo of naval stores, or a portion of it, was drifting off.

Mr. Lilly, who was quite badly bruised, lost his valise, pocket book containing about $50 and a gold watch chain.  Miss Shepherd’s trunk drifted off, but was picked up by persons on a raft and was taken off by the steamer Nyce as she came up Sunday evening.  Mr. Burkhimer was considerably bruised and cut by glass, and got a sprained ankle.

This is the first accident of a serious nature that has happened on our river for a long time.

The following is a list of the officers and crew of the Wave:  Capt. W. A. Robeson, master; Capt. Jeff Robeson, engineer; Dallis Austin, assistant engineer; Ned Beebe, cook; Sam Williams, steward; Horace Williams, fireman; Sam Dunn, Charles McIntire, John Smith and two others, deck hands; Archie White, 1st pilot; Wm. Roberts, 2nd pilot.

Archie White, colored, one of the pilots, was active in picking up those in the water and displayed much zeal and courage.

[The Wilmington Weekly Star – June 7, 1884]



  — The body of Mr. Empie Hill, one of the victims of the Wave disaster, was found Wednesday night just below Turkey Point, and that of Ned Bebee has also been recovered, having been found about half a mile from Wanut Landing.

The steamer is now afloat and it is expected to get her entirely clear by this evening.  Her wheel is now about a foot out of water.

[The Wilmington Star – June 7, 1884]

Steamer Wave at Wilmington.

The Steamer Wave which met with such a severe accident two weeks ago on her down trip from this point to Wilmington, has been raised, and towed into the latter place where she will be pumped out and the necessary repairs added.  The Wave is one of the smartest little boats that ever plied the upper Cape Fear.  Her speed was never surpassed.  Her owners deserve great credit for the enterprise, they have displayed in raising and getting her to Wilmington.  The dispatch with which this result was accomplished was truly wonderful.  We shall soon expect to hear her whistle at this wharf.

[The Sun – Fayetteville, N.C. – Tuesday, June 17, 1884]

— Capt. Jeff Robinson and his carpenters came down on the steamer D. Murchison, yesterday, for the purpose of making necessary repairs upon the steamer Wave, which will be hauled up on Capt. Skinner’s marine railway to-day.

[Wilmington Star – June 19, 1884]

The pilot boat GRACIE and the schooner MARY WHEELER are on the ways at Capt. Skinner’s shipyard, for overhauling, and painting.  Repairs to the hull of the steamer WAVE have been finished and she is now afloat, with carpenters busily engaged putting on the upper deck.  The WAVE, by the way, was the first vessel taken out of the water on the marine railway after the completion of the work of reconstruction that had been in progress at the yard for about three months.  During that time the railway was rebuilt from its foundation throughout, with new irons and cradles, and is now complete and substantial in every particular.  A new house has been built over the engines and boilers, and other improvements have been made.  We noticed a large lighter being built at the yard for the steamer BLADEN.

[Wilmington Weekly Star – August 1, 1884]



— The river is very low and the water is still falling. So steamboatmen report.

— The steamer Lisbon has been thoroughly overhauled, enlarged and improved and started out on her first trip yesterday.

— The steamer Wave, which met with a serious disaster up the river some months ago, which necessitated extensive repairs, has now commenced her regular trips again having arrived here from Fayetteville yesterday morning, and left on the return trip at 3 p. m. The Wave has been remodeled in a measure, being lighter and more roomy than before. The gentlemen’s cabin and dining room have been completed and workmen are now engaged in putting up the ladies’ cabin.

She draws less water than before the accident and is believed to be a stronger and better boat in every way. The engine room is open, in accordance with the custom of steamers on many other rivers, instead of being inclosed as heretofore, and will remain so all summer, or as long as the weather will permit. The boat is being thoroughly repainted and will present a handsome appearance when completed. She is commanded by Capt. Jeff Robeson.

River Improvements.

Under the supervision of the engineers in charge of the upper Cape Fear river improvements, the work of building a jetty at Fayetteville is now in progress, and when completed, will prove a great advantage in the matter of navigation, as boats can then go up to the wharf without any trouble or detention whatever. Heretofore the boats have often experienced much difficulty on account of the low water on the shoals there.

[Wilmington Morning Star – Friday, August 29, 1884.]



  — Capt. S. W. Skinner went up the river yesterday on the steamer Excelsior, with two steam pumps and a gang of hands for the purpose of raising and floating the steamer Wave, sunk at Whitehall.  From Capt. Jeff Robinson, who came down for assistance, we learn that the Wave lies close in shore, with the freight deck out of water.

[The Wilmington Star – December 4, 1884]

— The steamer Wave arrived here early yesterday morning, and was hauled up on Capt. Skinner’s marine railway for repairs to her hull, etc.

[The Wilmington Star – December 7, 1884]

NOTE:  Although repaired, and her boiler inspected, it might be surmised that the boiler had been weakened due to these repeated events.  A steam filled boiler would experience extreme changes when being submersed in the much cooler river water. 

Steamer Wave Explodes Her Boiler and Sinks.


Yesterday afternoon shortly after 3 o’clock, a heavy explosion shook the offices and other buildings about the wharfs and created widespread alarm for a few moments, as no one knew what to make of it. Some thought the deadly dynamite had begun its work in their midst. There were some, however, who were witnesses to the sad cause of the terrible concussion, and soon it was known that the steamer Wave, on the line between this city and Fayetteville, had exploded her boiler and almost immediately sunk. She was lying at the time of the accident near Mr. A. A. Willard’s wharf, on the west side of the river, nearly opposite Messrs. Worth & Worth’s wharf, and soon tugs, yawls and other small craft were taking excited crowds to the scene of the disaster. Crowds also lined the wharves and eagerly awaited tidings from the wreck, and as one and another of the boats would return to this side of the river the persons on board would be quickly interviewed.

First along it was reported that all hands on board had gone down with the boat, but later information places the loss of life at only three. They were Neill Jessup, a stevedore; Jim Stedman, an employee; and Kitty Harvey, the cook—all colored. The injured were Perry Cotton, pilot, and Dave McPherson, a deck hand—both colored. They were both badly scalded; both of them were taken to the Marine Hospital. All the killed and wounded were residents of Fayetteville, except Cotton, who is said to live here at present.

Mr. J. D. L. Smith, engineer of the boat, says he had just come from the boiler, and was sitting in the engine room when the explosion occurred. He says there was plenty of water in the boiler and not too much steam, the pressure being only eighty pounds. He saw the three persons drown whose names are given. A boy named Turner had one of his ears blown off, and received several gashes about the head. The flue of the boiler was found after the accident on top of a warehouse several hundred feet distant.

The boat was taking on fertilizers and there were about four hundred and fifty bags on board, which all went down with the wreck. The bags had been wheeled across a flat to the boat, and at the time of the accident the flat was being loaded.

Mr. J. G Wright, shipping clerk for Messrs. G. W. Williams & Co., was on the boat, and he and the engineer sprang on the flat. Mr. Wright was slightly hurt. Mr. Smith had to feel his way out of the room, which was quickly filled with a dense smoke.

Part of the boiler in its upward flight struck the top mast of the schooner Nellie Potter, lying close to the boat, and broke it off. The smoke stack was blown to atoms. The furniture went down with the boat, but a good deal of it was subsequently fished out. The boat went down in almost one minute after the explosion. Several persons jumped into the river besides those that were drowned.

Mr. L. B. Love, assistant engineer, got jammed between the cabin of the boat and a schooner and made a narrow escape from being carried down with the wreck. One of his hands was pretty badly bruised.

At the time of the accident Capt. Jeff Robeson was on this side of the river, attending to some business.

The boat is a complete wreck, the hull, it is thought, being broken in twain. She was owned principally by Capts. W. A. and J. D. Robeson, but Smith, the engineer also owned an interest in her. She was valued at from $8,000 to $10,000, and was insured for $5,000. Much sympathy is felt among the many friends of the owners on account of their loss, and much regret is felt at the loss of live. {LIFE?}

Mr. Robert Sweet, of Mr. Willard’s establishment, was on the boat at the time and was blown into the water, from which he was rescued, as he could not swim.

The schooners Nellie Potter and Alice Hearn were in the immediate vicinity of the boat and Capt. Pennswell, of the former, says he was badly shaken up. He rushed from the cabin as soon as he thought safety would admit of it and saw the three persons  drown—Wilmington Star.

[The Fayetteville Observer – Thursday, March 12, 1885.]

Capt. T. J. Green has sold his interest in the steamer Bladen, and we are informed will retire altogether from the river, devoting his whole time hereafter to other business pursuits. Capt. Jeff D. Robeson will succeed Capt. Green in command of the Bladen.

[Wilmington Morning Star – Saturday, January 23, 1886 Vol. XXXVII No. 103]

The Steamer Bladen.

We learn that Capt. Jeff. D. Robeson, popular young river captain, is to take command of the steamer Bladen, Capt. T. J. Green designing to retire from the boating business and devote himself to other pursuits.  Whatever field Capt. Green may choose for his labors, he will doubtless find as many friends as he has on the Cape Fear, where he has been known and esteemed for so many years.

[Fayetteville Observer – Thursday, January 28, 1886]

The Burning of the Bladen.

The loss of the steamer Bladen, briefly mentioned in the account of the fire at Wilmington on Sunday morning last, was caused by fire which occurred when the steamer was within 150 yards of her wharf. The most strenuous efforts immediately became necessary to save the lives of the passengers and crew, as the flames increased with fearful rapidity, and the Bladen was run in at the shed of the New York steamers, where the passengers were with difficulty landed in safety from small boats, but with the loss of all their baggage.

The Bladen was a stern-wheel steamer of wooden hull, remodeled in the spring of 1885, was fitted up for both passengers and freight, and had a capacity of about 800 barrels of rosin.  She was owned by the “Bladen Steamboat Company,” and Messrs. A. E. Rankin & Co. were the agents at Fayetteville.  She was built at a cost of $9,000, and was insured for $5,500, with $2,500 on cargo.  A lot of 112 bales of cotton shipped by Mr. R. M. Nimocks to Messrs. Sprunt & Son, Wilmington, was protected by a floating policy.  Capt. R. H. Tomlinson had recently been made commander of the Bladen, and at the time of its burning both he and Capt. Jeff. D. Robinson were on board.

The passengers on board the Bladen, were Messrs. Robt. Lee, of Wilmington, A. J. Harmon, of Bladen county, Dodson, a commercial traveler, Mrs. Thos. Hundley and child, of Fayetteville, Miss Erambert, of Richmond, Va., and one or two others whose names were not learned.

We learn that Miss Erambert was for a few moments in great danger, her hair being singed and clothing scorched before she could be rescued from the boat.”

[Fayetteville Observer and Gazette – February 25, 1886]

Incorporating the Louisa Steamboat Company (The State of Georgia – September 21, 1891)

The steamer LOUISA was built for Capt. R. C. Henry (originally from NC and years later re-interred at a family cemetery in Burgaw, NC).  Capt. Henry’s wife’s name was Louisa.

Several North Carolina businessmen/boatmen came together to organize this Georgia company.  J. D. & M. E. Robeson were listed as Georgia residents.  (I have not yet found who M. E. Robeson was.  Probably an older brother of J. D. & W. A. “Sandy” Robeson.)  I see that J. D. Robeson married a Georgia girl in 1891 and they had a daughter the next year.


J. D. Robeson was an engineer when the WAVE capsized killing at least one in 1884.  In March 1885, he was her captain, but not aboard her when her boiler exploded sinking her and killing several persons across from the Wilmington, NC waterfront.


Jeff D. Robeson was supposed to become the new captain of the steamer BLADEN when retiring captain T. J. Green retired in Jan./Feb. 1886, but on the day of the Great Fire of Wilmington, NC 02/26/1886, he is a mate aboard the BLADEN, and R. H. Thomlinson is her captain.

NOTES:  Found “Jefferson Davis Robeson” grave here.  I see an M. E. Robeson listed down in this general area, which I am thinking might be a brother (older).  W. A. Robeson was an older brother (buried in Fayetteville, NC).  M. E., J. D. and W. A. Robeson were all involved in the creation of the Louisa Steamboat Company in Georgia in 1891.  The LOUISA was to run between Dublin and Red Bluff, GA.  **I can only hope that through some more research, I might find that “Andy and Nan Marie” were related, but probably not;-).  **It finally dawned on me that the M. E. Robeson was Martha “Mattie” E. Dorminy Robeson, the wife of Capt. Jeff D. Robeson.  It just didn’t occur to me that one of the owners could be a woman.

Birth: Apr. 15, 1860

Death: Jul. 2, 1923


Evergreen Cemetery


Ben Hill County

Georgia, USA

Plot: s-1

Created by: D.J. Thompson

Record added: Jan 29, 2009

Find A Grave Memorial# 33373752




Captain J. D. Roberson (Robeson), well-known citizen and prominently connected in this and Irwin County, died at the home of Mr. D. R. Henderson, his brother-in-law, at Ocilla yesterday, following an illness of several years. His death however; at this time coming as a severe shock to his many friends.

For many years Captain Roberson was in charge of one of the boats that plied up and down the Ocmulgee river during which time he was married to Miss Mattie Dorminy, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. G. Dorminy, during the past several years he has made his home in Asheville, N. C.

His trip to South Georgia was to include a visit to his relatives in this vicinity as well as a business trip to Bainbridge, from which place he moved to Asheville.

Funeral services were conducted at Ocilla this afternoon.

[ THE FITZGERALD HERALD Tuesday July 3, 1923 ]



The death of Captain J. D. Roberson (Robeson) late of Asheville, N.C., occurred rather suddenly on Monday afternoon at the home of his brother-in-law Mr. D. R. Henderson in Ocilla whose family he was visiting in company with his wife and grandchildren. He was slightly ailing from Friday but no serious outcome was apprehended until the last few hours.

Captain Roberson was sixty-three years of age and until a stroke of paralysis he suffered ten years ago, had been a particularly hale and hearty man of large physique and most commanding appearance. He followed the calling of a steamboat captain for many years and was plying on the Ocmulgee River at the time he married his wife who was Miss Mattie Dorminey (Dorminy) at that time making her home with her parents the late Mr. and Mrs. Dorminey on their plantation on the river.

After marriage the couple resided in Dublin, at Bainbridge and at Quincey Fla. One daughter Mrs. Mary Eliza Correy with her two children Martha and Billie have been living with them for several years in Asheville, N. C. where they all moved in the interest of Mrs. Correy’s health. She is their only child. In January 1922 Mr. A. D. Corry, their son-in-law died in Quincey (Quincy), Fla. where his business interests had kept him most of the time. This shock and loss gave Mrs. Correy a great setback in her health and at the present time it was not thought prudent for her to come to her father’s funeral.

Mr. Roberson was the only survivor of his immediate parental family at the time of his death. His youth was spent in and about Tarhill (Tarheel) and Fayettesville, (Fayetteville) N. C.

The funeral services were conducted in Ocilla with his former Bainbridge friend, Rev. Whitley Langston officiating. Rev. Langston who was a near neighbor and a good friend of Captain Roberson for two years in Bainbridge paid a splendid tribute to the noble qualities of Mr. Roberson’s character and his superior mental gifts and business ability. He set forth the commendable traits that were in evidence as a husband, a father, a citizen and a church member. In none had he been found wanting. His message was of particular cheer and comfort to the bereaved widow.

The services were attended by the large connection and friends of his wife’s people the Dorminey’s Interment was made in Evergreen Cemetery where Mrs. Roberson’s parents are buried.


Leave a comment

Posted by on March 7, 2014 in The Boats, The Captains


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: