Four novels have been written just in the last eight years that elude to the Cape Fear River Region as a place of murder, capitalizing perhaps on recently-stirred memories of the Wilmington Race Riots of 1898 when as many as hundreds (no one knows how many, actually) were either driven from town or murdered and dumped into the river, as Alfred Moore Waddell said, “to choke the Cape Fear River with carcasses.”
Could these events of 1898, when Waddell and his fellow conservative Southern Democrats staged a coup d’etat that overthrew the steadily liberalizing government of Wilmington, have inspired the mystery? Could the efforts since that time to hide the shame of those unsolved murders have caused a historical vacuum? Has recent exposure of those events through historian David Cecelski’s and Timothy Tyson's Democracy Betrayed spawned recent books like Murder on the Cape Fear, by author Ellen Elizabeth Hunter? Perhaps The Cape Fear Murders by Ernest Beasley, Murder Along the Cape Fear: A North Carolina Town in the Twentieth Century by David T. Morgan, or Cape Fear Murders by Wanda Canada owe their genesis in some part to historian LeRae Sykes Umfleet’s A Day of Blood. Shedding light upon the darkness has some consequence, after all. Check out this review of LeRae's book... "Wilmington became a blueprint for how to have a riot and get away with it," she said.
To understand these events requires reflection on the events surrounding 1898, reflection upon the post-Civil War efforts to revamp the history of North Carolina by Confederate “Redeemer” historians. The past, a priceless Rembrandt to real historians, could be painted over in shades of gray that spread the mythical beginnings of the “Lost Cause,” a biased narrative perpetuated through ladies’ associations, war memorials, veneration of war heroes in the Confederate Veteran magazine, and hundreds of books written by pseudo-historians who knew little of the professional historian's craft. Was the priceless truth lost to us forever?
This repainted version of history and its political proponents had proudly stood strong against outside or federal opposition for more than a century. Only recently, thanks to the work of Cecelski and Umfleet and others like them, are we able to take another look with critical eyes upon such events that can offer a better understanding of ourselves and those events within which our recent ancestors were involved. Perhaps we can fight the old rhetoric and damages of the "Lost Cause." Still, even today, in the 21st century, it is not without some trepidation as many of its proponents still roam the state.
North Carolina has been a particular sufferer from this historical malaise... and especially the Lower Cape Fear. This has much to do with the Lower Cape Fear's agricultural and cultural similarity to South Carolina, which I have written about in detail, where we find similar "revision" of the historical data. Many people passing themselves off as "historians" from our recent past actually were not... they may have done a bit to maintain certain knowledge of our state's history, but not without some damaging political bias... perhaps not without destroying some of that history as well.
|Confederate Col. William Lawrence Saunders|
He was from Tarboro, Edgecombe County and he was famous for his work on these records as much as he was infamous for another... quoting from Find-a Grave:
Statesman; Editor; Historian Colonel William Lawrence Saunders served as Secretary of the State of North Carolina during the Reconstruction era (1879-1891). During his tenure, he was arrested in his office in Raleigh and brought before the US Senate for questioning regarding his alleged connection to Ku Klux Klan activities in North Carolina. Saunders was the first person ever to invoke his Fifth Ammendment right to refuse to answer questions that could incriminate him during a US Senate investigation. "I decline to answer" is carved on his tombstone as are the words "For 20 years he exerted more power in North Carolina than any other man" also "Distinguished for wisdom, purity and courage" which is generally understood to be a reference to his years of leadership with the Ku Klux Klan rather than his tenure as NC Secretary of State. Saunders was also on the UNC board of trustees and a co-founder of the Raleigh News and Observer newspaper. He graduated from The University of North Carolina in 1854; in 1922 the building that houses Religious Studies and the Geography department - Saunders Hall- was named after him. Although minority students have staged protests in recent years asking that the name be changed - the University of North Carolina is refusing on the grounds that history cannot be changed; only studied with an eye towards better understanding in the future.
The part that I have highlighted in red will give you an idea of the Southern conservative political nature of the man that somewhat manipulated the history of our state through much of the so-called "progressive" era. The epaulets, the gloves, and the sword in hand from the picture might do the rest to make the point. Nowhere in the past of this individual is there any training in the historical method, yet he is often referred to as an "historian."
|U.S., College Student Lists, 1763-1924 Record for William Laurence Saunders, page 204 in the section for students of UNC|
|Dr. H.G. Jones interview on William L. Saunders in 1973|
|Raleigh News & Observer cartoon depicting the "evils" of "Negro Rule"|
That "riot" may have resulted in as many as 500 deaths, mostly African-Americans and their supporters. The riot was led by at least two ggg-grandsons of Brunswick Town (the Lower Cape Fear's first town) founder Maurice Moore (Alfred Moore Waddell) and his brother, Roger (descendent also named Roger), and former Confederate officers-turned politicians (and often lawyers who styled themselves as "historians").
Alfred Moore Waddell deserves special attention as a lawyer, Confederate soldier, politician, and, yes... an "historian." The North Carolina History Project describes him and his mother's grandfather, Alfred Moore, great-grandson of founder Maurice Moore and Supreme Court Justice:
|Alfred Moore Waddell|
After the war, beginning in 1870, he became a four-term U.S. Congressman under the Conservative-Democratic ticket. Although initially opposed to secession, he yet remained a fervent proponent of "White Rule," along with his mother's cousin, Col. Roger Moore, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan from the Lower Cape Fear. Together, with "Red Shirts" (armed intimidators) from South Carolina, rhetorical support from Raleigh News and Observer editor Josephus Daniels (a later U.S. Secretary of the Navy), and chair of the Conservative Democratic party campaign for 1898 and later 30-year U.S. Senator from NC, Furnifold McClendon Simmons, they ousted the sitting mayor of Wilmington at gunpoint, led the riot that resulted in so many deaths, skewed the 1898 vote in favor of their party, and subsequently, Alfred installed himself as mayor of Wilmington while destroying any idea of liberal NC government to come until the present day. Waddell's opposition to African-Americans in politics was so strong that he was determined to be completely rid of them, as he famously boasted, "if we have to choke the Cape Fear River with carcasses." He was certainly true to his word. From 1898-on, Wilmington blanched white and no one seriously opposed the Southern Democratic conservative party in North Carolina after that... not even the federal government. The old rhetoric of "States' Rights" became an all-too-convenient excuse to ignore the horror and bloodshed of the only coup d'etat in American history.
|1898 Wilmington Race Riot - Pictured is Waddell, E.G. Parmalee, and armed whites. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.|
Of course, Alfred Moore Waddell was never professionally trained as a skeptical historian.
George Davis of Wilmington, former Confederate States Senator from North Carolina and afterward Confederate States Attorney General under President Jefferson Davis was not an historian either. Still, as a politician, he often drew from history to make his polemical points.
George Davis, often called the "Honorable" George Davis, as many lawyers of the day were, famously placed Edward Moseley on a pedestal in a speech given at Wilmington on 26 November, 1879, titled "A Study in Colonial History." On page 21, Davis begins his long praise of Moseley, Moore, and their allied family (one of which was Davis' family as well):
“Of all the men who watched and guided the tottering footsteps of our infant State, there was not one who in intellectual ability, in solid and polite learning, in scholarly cultivation and refinement, in courage and endurance, in high Christian morality, in generous consideration for the welfare of others, in all true merit in fine, which makes a man among men, who could equal Edward Moseley.”
I have written on Edward Moseley's numerous white-collar (and otherwise) crimes (most of which have never previously been examined (thanks, no doubt in part, to Davis' high praise) and for which I have proven beyond a shadow of doubt... at least the white-collar ones), so I will not go into that long list. Suffice it to say that Davis merely elevated a well-known opportunist and literal criminal from North Carolina's past to hero status to serve the purposes of the post-war Confederate agenda. He elevated many criminals, actually, all associated with Moseley in some way. You can search my blog entries for this evidence.
Some background will still be necessary...
Edward Moseley, although not from South Carolina himself (he was from London, England) was a member of the "Family" (also written about by me numerous times), a group of mostly South Carolinian controversials, led by Maurice Moore, the second son of SC governor and Goose Creek Indian slaver, James Moore. Moseley worked for James Moore in South Carolina before coming northward in 1704. The Moores founded Brunswick Town in the Lower Cape Fear and guided many of their fellow residents of Goose Creek to the Lower Cape Fear in North Carolina after South Carolina's truculent behavior toward the Lords Proprietors turned into a royally-refereed battle and their seriously irresponsible economic behavior devalued their currency to 15% of its original face value. These plantationist-merchants found it difficult to conduct their trade in that environment (of their own making of course) and moved to NC for the lower taxes and freer operating restrictions, especially the non-taxed status of their numerous slaves.
Moores had became infamous as slavers, leading raids against Indians to collect captives to trade for African slaves in the Caribbean until the American Revolution made them heroes. Moseley was well associated with the family of Moores since a young man and may have instigated the Tuscarora War to serve the purposes of SC's Goose Creek men and his own purposes as surveyor-general in clearing Indian lands for settlement. He really did not have the people's best interests at heart... whites, blacks, and Indians alike who died in horrific fashion in that war. Davis still elevated Moseley's lackluster reputation after the Civil War to serve the redeemers' purposes.
|Statue of George Davis in Wilmington|
Born near Wilmington, North Carolina, Davis attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was valedictorian of the class of 1838. He subsequently studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1840. Again, not an historian and certainly no authority on historical matters, even those from North Carolina. As a conservative politician and lawyer, however, he was held in the highest esteem, both in Wilmington as well as across the state.
His speech, though a polemical recitation of the heroic deeds of the "saintly" Maurice Moore and Edward Moseley, was published by a local Wilmington publisher, Jackson and Bell, only a few months later. The speech begins with a revisit to the Cary Rebellion (partly instigated by Moseley) as "greatly misinterpreted." Rather, as Davis states, it was a fight against an oppressive government, as he saw the United States at the time, and he endeavored to "undo some of the wrong of the historians." At least, he did not call himself an "historian," only that real historians were part of the government conspiracy that put down such "honorable rebellions" as Cary's... and the South's as well. :)
Davis' speech literally drips with condescension for earlier writers of North Carolina history (who wrote before the Civil War, that is) like Francis Lister Hawks, who found Edward Moseley (Davis' kinsman) a well-educated man, but unscrupulous in his behavior. Hawks was not without sympathy, as any reverend might be, and he believed that Moseley, a fellow lawyer like himself, must have been affected by some unknown force to make him behave so badly. Davis, on the other hand, believes that Hawks was drastically misled and blames part of this upon the place of his birth, in New Bern, at the scene of the Tuscarora war, affected by many of Moseley's questionable actions with John Porter, Thomas Cary, and others.
Actually, Hawks was absolutely correct, although he had an undue sympathy in my opinion, for his fellow lawyer and "devout" Anglican brother-in-Christ, Edward Moseley. Yes, I'm fond of ironic sarcasm... lol.
By the way, as any good "Redeemer" politician of the times and in complete agreement with Davis, William L. Saunders also declared Moseley’s “undying love of free government, and his indomitable maintenance of the rights of the people.” Former Confederate North Carolina would have its "redemption" if it had to elevate every criminal in the state to hero status... even former pirates, treasurers, surveyors-general, and Congressmen! lol
|Capt. Samuel A'Court Ashe|
There's that title of "historian" again... let's examine Ashe's credentials in that department. In David Brown's 1979 biography of Ashe:
"The year 1852 brought him to Rugby Academy at Washington, D.C., where he studied until moving to Oxford Military Academy in Oxford, Md., in 1854. He was by then preparing for the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, which he entered in 1855; he rose to be second in his class. At this time, also, he began a lifelong friendship with Alfred Thayer Mahan, the noted naval theorist. Ashe resigned from the naval academy, however, in 1858, returning to his father's home at Rocky Point. Here he began reading law, first on his own, then under the direction of William Ruffin."
"With the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the opening of the Civil War, Ashe followed his native state, first as an engineer with the unofficial commission of lieutenant. This commission was regularized in January 1862, when he was assigned to Charleston. In June of that year he was commissioned a captain and assigned, as assistant adjutant general, to General William D. Pender."
Correct me if I'm wrong, but a degree in "history" wasn't in that list...
So, this Ashe began as a military dropout, then studied law and dropped that because he was ill-trained for it, then entered the Civil War as an engineer. His biographer, Ronnie Wayne Faulkner, in 1983, told in "Samuel A'Court Ashe: North Carolina Redeemer and Historian, 1840-1938" of his professional difficulties and that he gave these up in 1879 to become a journalist, also a profession for which he suffered. Ironically, Faulkner also called him an "historian." Maybe we should define this term better in the future!
Nowhere in his biography nor any of his background does it say that he studied to be a professional historian, yet, in his twilight years, between 1905 and 1917, he wrote a Biographical History of North Carolina from Colonial Times to the Present, in eight volumes! And, of course, in addition, he was a regular contributor to the Confederate Veteran magazine during 1926–32. He tried so very hard to serve his family of North Carolina conservatives, especially after North Carolina's failures along with the rest of the South in the Civil War. It was then that Ashe became a Southern "Redeemer" through his "historical" writing, as an amateur, of course. Still, as a member of the Ashe family and a politician in "Redeemer"-oriented North Carolina, whose defense of the Ku Klux Klan was infamous, his versions of the past became a standard for many decades. North Carolinians today still call him "historian!"
Ashe's ancestors and family icons were the Lower Cape Fear's cream of the crop. Samuel A'Court Ashe's parents were William Shepperd Ashe of Rocky Point (originally in the Brunswick Settlement and now part of Pender County, named for Confederate General, William Dorsey Pender) and Sarah Ann Green. His ancestry and relatives included well-known NC politicians and lawyers: John Baptiste Ashe, colonial official and original member of the "Family"; John Baptiste Ashe, governor-elect; John Ashe, revolutionary general; Samuel Ashe, judge and governor; William Shepperd Ashe, judge; and Thomas S. Ashe, congressman and supreme court justice. Again, he was also related to the Moores, who founded Brunswick Town in 1725.
The American Revolution tended to erase many former failings...
Those Ashes above who were members of Confederate politic bodies or served the state afterwards, were all staunch conservatives who fought fervently against Lincoln's Republicans, the liberal version, of course. Incidentally, no liberal politicians were elected from North Carolina for 100 years following the Civil War. Many of these conservatives ran unopposed, especially after 1898.
What about Hawks, you may ask... the prime example of a pre-Civil War pseudo-historian. Seems that was all we had back then. lol
|Rev. Francis Lister Hawks|
This was an unusual occurrence in North Carolina historiography because the "Family" couldn't stand the first royal governor, George Burrington... in 1732. He voided certain "Family" land grants to found Brunswick Town's rival of... yes, it was the port town of Wilmington!
After the royal hammer came down on the upstart Moores and their "Family" after 1732, financially destroying their own town of Brunswick, they simply just took over Wilmington. It didn't take much, they were rich and well-connected, after all. As I said, the Revolution helped to erase these minor inconveniences, anyway.
Furthermore, they later resented blacks supported by the liberal party who they saw as taking over their newly usurped town of Wilmington... they took it back at gunpoint in 1898. In their minds, they had won it politically from Burrington and his government faction and it belonged to them and their Family.
Burrington barely survived (three people did not, I might add) and flew back to England quickly in 1734! Still, within North Carolina, Burrington's reputation was smeared by his enemies. The second generation of the Family also used Hugh Williamson's first North Carolina "history" in 1812 to slyly accuse him of being gay and dying in an attempt to purchase gay sex from a prostitute.., yes, I said "gay" and "prostitute." The actual record shows that Burrington was mugged... in 1759, not 1734... and, for his money... not sex! Even the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, William Saunders, waving a copy of Burrington's 1759 will in his hands, couldn't stand for this injustice!
This had been the underhanded work of John Baptiste Ashe Jr. (in association with Williamson) who fought with Williamson during the Revolution and served with him as a U.S. Congressman just before 1812. Every North Carolinian "historian" since then has quoted the reference from Williamson's... or through his work. All, except Hawks.
This is great fun, but let's get back to Hawks, shall we?
Still, looking into Hawks' background reveals even more of a reason that he probably told the truth about our history, in stark contrast to these later Confederate lawyers and "historians."
Hawks married young after finishing college at UNC at the tender age of 17; however, his wife died after only two children were born. In 1829, partly from the heartache, Hawks left his law practice and moved to New York, then Boston as an Episcopalian minister. Although he was involved in many scandals as part of that vocation, which caused him to move from church to church, he never fought in the Civil War, nor did he declare any sympathy for the Confederate "lost cause" after the war. He wrote and polished his "history" of North Carolina from his home in New York and had it published by E. J. Hale and Sons of Fayetteville, NC in 1858. Even still, the history that he told needed no skewing by Confederate rhetoric because the South had not yet lost the war. That would be six years later. Only then did George Davis give him hell for writing what he did about Moseley and for criticising Williamson so heavily.
Every political pseudo-historical detail of the Progressive era in North Carolina focused upon or had its origins in Wilmington and/or the Lower Cape Fear...
Politics spread from that Wilmington epicenter through the entire state and maintained a starkly conservative flavor... with a touch of "White Rule" added for good measure, especially following the re-entrenchment of 1898. No one was ever prosecuted for the numerous deaths in Wilmington that year. We don't even know exactly how many there were. Amazing, isn't it?
I could go on, but I think the point has been well-made and there's no nice way to put this: North Carolina history and politics today is the product of early 18th-century South Carolinian conservative politicians and lawyers, whose descendants skewed our state's true history even before the Civil War, but most especially to fit a Confederate "Lost Cause" agenda after Reconstruction and especially through the staunchly-conservative "Progressive Era." No wonder Rob Christensen called us a "Paradox of Tarheel Politics," an almost split-personality disorder descending from the more liberal Albemarle to the more conservative Cape Fear that eventually settled into a decidedly conservative regime across the entire state, but with minor "wrinkles." Still, "Palmetto" state would probably be more appropriate than "Tarheel."
Be not fooled into thinking that this was a "progressive" or liberal time for the state. Oh, many technical and economic advances were made (those were the wrinkles)... but not socially. The conservative social policies of "Jim Crow" and segregation, refined in the Lower Cape Fear, defined North Carolina for more than a full century and a half until the present day. Understand that this has influenced modern conservatism in our state today, indeed North Carolina's current political ideology is largely based upon this Confederate brand of conservatism... the repeated rhetoric of "States' Rights," for example.
Conflicts with increased liberalization through the internet might help to explain the incomprehensible behavior we see in the so-called "progressive" state today, whose legislature attempts to declare North Carolina a sovereign entity (virtual secession) and proclaim a state religion (direct violation of the 1st amendment), attempting to outlaw abortion decades after Roe v. Wade, legislated inequality, and generally fighting our first African-American president tooth and nail as though he was somehow that different from other Democrats! These efforts appear as acts of desperation and we are not alone in this behavior... it's found all across the traditional South and in many red states out west as well. Confederate "states' rights" rhetoric still runs rampant across the country, supported and substantiated by amateur historians who skew the truth in favor of their ideology rather than use the proper tools of the historical trade to tease out the truth.
As an historian (yes, professionally trained and not planning on any law or political career in the future), I can attest to the many still difficult obstacles placed in our path by conservatives of the Progressive era... no, not the liberal "Democrats" of today, but the highly-conservative Southern-fried variety of Jesse Helms that held our state unchallenged for 150 years! These are the "Republicans" of today, those that Barry Goldwater warned us about, as sure as former Southern Democrat Strom Thurmond of SC or Jesse Helms, who changed conservative colors in the 1970s to help get Ronald Reagan elected. And they're still going strong...
What was the damage?
There are volumes of abstracted letters for John Gray Blount for which letters are "missing." Oh, they can mostly (I think) be located as originals at the archives, but do not appear in the published works of Alice Keith Barnwell from 1958, just after Brown v. Board in 1954. Most historians rely on these volumes as good-faith abstractions from the originals. These "missing" letters generally contain references to miscegenation between whites and blacks and/or mulattoes. Still, many of them may actually be missing from the archives... we would have no way to tell.
This poses another serious question...
Furthermore, how much of the massive archival material at Raleigh has been altered or thrown out for political reasons? The Secretary of State's records were kept in the the secretary's offices as late as the 1980s instead of at the archives, where they should have been. Anyone searching for their ancestor's land grants found it necessary to drive there from the archives to view them, if they could. Why were they kept apart for so long? What was the purpose of keeping these records under guard from the public and why are so many early records spotty and inconsistent? Paper-eating bugs did not get them all!
No real historian uses William L. Saunders' "Prefaces" to each Volume of the NCCR because we all know them to contain misinformation... unless you write a piece like this... about the misinformation. :)
BTW, William L. Saunders (and most Progressive-era "historians") was NOT an historian, you did get that part, right? Despite what most references to him say... real historians care about history and will preserve it despite the politics involved. We don't assume a conclusion and cherry-pick the data that supports it. We leave that to the Southern apologists, Tea Partiers, and Libertarians, among others, who, if they have a degree, probably didn't get it in history. My profession is not an amateur one and I do find the implication that it is rather offensive.
My work on the Lower Cape Fear has been especially difficult because of past "avoidance" of certain historical data that I now have to "tease" out of the records. Wilmington was the NC epicenter of the "Redeemer disturbance" after all. There is virtually no secondary synopses available because... well, that would have to be done previously by Progressive-era historians and/or pseudo-historians! I have to treat them as hostile sources... and, I'm not seriously thinking of quoting from the "venerable" George Davis! lol
What bothers me the most is that papers found in the NCCR very likely have been tampered with prior to publication - certain records left out that did not support the Confederate thesis of the times in which Saunders lived. The damage has been done... some records probably burned or otherwise destroyed.
We have to "redeem" our true history from the Confederate "redeemers" of the past and there's a great effort to do just that. The archives today has done a fabulous job of piecing back together our records from British sources. Just last week, I was amazed at the gobs of new records available there. These should be researched thoroughly and supported with patronage (go and look at them!). The online availability of British sources through the liberalizing internet have made this an unavoidable obstacle to those that would skew our history in the near future. I especially encourage anyone working on genealogy to reconsider the information that you now have and research the details thoroughly again. You may not need a professional degree for this, but... you have professionals when you need them!
I promise that, when I need legal advice, I won't simply assume that I can do law just as well as I do history. That would be a ridiculous assumption... right?
By now, I hope that this article makes most of us aware of the dangers of "practicing history without a license." :) Amateur history should never be discouraged, but temper what you write with the established facts found in the materials of the pros. We get paid to do a good job... so you can benefit. Take advantage! The Cape Fear will not always remain a mystery if we do it right!