Friday, January 22, 2010

Mapmaker and Mariner James Wimble


James Wimble was one child of ten, growing up in Hastings, on England’s southern coast. Sussex genealogical sources detail the loss of his father before the age of ten, his family’s residence on High Street, their association with the mayor, and the interment of his parents at All Saints Churchyard down the street. He likely knew little of the farmer’s trade while living amongst fisherman on the southern coast of Sussex County. Here, he developed a taste for adventure on the sea, perhaps even smuggling, a honorable profession in those days. Leaving Hastings in 1718, he came to America, a wild place full of dangerous obstacles like alligators, sharks, panthers, hurricanes, pirates and Spanish privateers.

Wimble lost no less than seven ships, mostly to the Spanish. The occasional hurricane became a slight annoyance as well. During that adventurous time, he still managed to get married to a weaver’s daughter from Boston and have five children. He also purchased property in New Providence, Boston, and North Carolina. In Boston, he worked as a distiller and a tavern keeper of the Green Dragon, on Union Street.

James Wimble, of course, became known for his map of the Lower Cape Fear Region in 1733, and especially for his final map of 1738, which he dedicated to the Duke of Newcastle, his patron. He purchased 305 acres from John Watson in “Newton,” later Wilmington, for £200. As Nancy McKoy has determined from studying New Hanover County deed records, he made £1,024, over five times his investment. The port town of Wilmington, North Carolina holds the greatest American memorial for James Wimble. As Alan D. Watson, in Wilmington, North Carolina, to 1861 put it, Wimble “no doubt was the prime instigator of the new town.” Wilmington benefitted from James Wimble on many levels, directly through advertisement with his maps and promotion through his trade network, and indirectly through his illustrious reputation in British popular literature of the day.

Londoners would remember him for his exploits as a privateer in the War of Jenkins Ear, in the 1740’s. Many of the British local “rags” describe him as taking prizes of great “burthen” and “rich cargo.” These exciting times for English readers proved less than exuberant for Wimble, however. What we know of him during that time mostly comes from British records. His wife died, he lost an arm to chain shot in 1742, and later, his life while chasing down a Spanish ship through the Florida keys in a ship that he named Revenge. James Wimble certainly deserved some revenge.

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