The USS Nantucket

31 Jul

USS Nantucket (Monitor Class)During the Spanish-American War (1898), the Civil War era, “Monitor” Class Battleship manned by Wilmingtonians and her Commander was George L. Morton.  His second in command was H. H. McIlhenny.  The vessel and her crew were sent to prepare for war near Beaufort, SC.  But, before she could enter into battle the Spanish-American War was over.  She was decommissioned and her crew returned to Wilmington, NC by train.  Someone once said that her crew had killed more of the enemy upon the steps of the Orton Hotel than aboard the battleship;-)  Spanish American War Navy 1898 Wilmington, NC (PDF)


USS Nantucket - Officers & Crew, Port Royal, SC 1898

USS Nantucket – Officers & Crew, Port Royal, SC 1898

I include the U.S.S. Nantucket as a Cape Fear Steamer because she was steam powered, and that George L. Morton was a distant relative.  In fact, my research regarding the paddlewheel steamers upon the Cape Fear was an indirect result of genealogical research that I had done on family members in the Wilmington, NC area.  While looking through old microfilm of Wilmington newspapers, I came across the article for the Great Fire of Wilmington (February 1886).  I read of the Steamer Bladen, and this piqued my interest in what a paddlewheel steamer might have been like on the Cape Fear river.


I had already done a great deal of research on George L. Morton and his brother-in-law, Jesse Wilder.  Both had been successful turpentine distillers.  Their business, originally at the corner of Brunswick and Nutt Streets, approximately where the current Wilmington Convention Center is now located.  Jesse Wilder had for a few years moved, with his wife Fannie, to Brunswick, GA and had a successful turpentine distillery there also, but after her unexpected death while visiting relatives in Wilmington, he returned to Wilmington shortly thereafter.  She is buried in the Mount Lebanon Church Cemetery next to Airlie Gardens.  Her grave marker is made of zinc.  Jesse is buried in Bellevue Cemetery near his father and the George L. Morton family plots.

While Jesse Wilder was in Brunswick, GA, George L. Morton had briefly partnered with B. F. Hall in the turpentine distilling business, but had parted amicably.  Benjamin Franklin Hall had then partnered with Oscar Pearsall, their business headquartered approximately at Brunswick & Nutt Streets.

Hall & Pearsall - WaterLand Depot Letterhead

Hall & Pearsall – WaterLand Depot Letterhead

Geo. L. Morton Co. - Nov. 1893

Geo. L. Morton Co. – Nov. 1893

Hall & Pearsall Receipt Letterhead

Hall & Pearsall Receipt Letterhead

Hall & Pearsall WaterLand Depot Postcard

Hall & Pearsall WaterLand Depot Postcard

NOTE:  During the Wilmington Race Riots, a “rapid fire” gun was mounted on a horse drawn wagon and moved about town.  I do not have proof of the following, but because of the timing of events (USS Nantucket decommissioned at end of Spanish-American War, Wilmington Race Riots), that the “rapid fire” weapon was probably one that had been aboard the battleship, and those using it had probably learned how during their training for war.

Geo. L. Morton was to lead the 1888 Wilmington Marine Parade because he owned the smallest steam vessel, the Vertner.

After his turpentine business, Geo. L. Morton worked for the Galena-Signal Oil Company eventually becoming a regional executive.  He had his own train car and moved his family to Atlanta, GA.  H. H. McIlhenny, his second in command aboard the U.S.S. Nantucket, became his assistant and was with him until the time of Geo. L.’s death in 1930.

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