Mission Statement:

"To advance through research, education and symposia, an increased public awareness of the Cape Fear region's unique history."

Distinguished Wilmington Visitors

Cape Fear Historical Institute Papers

The city of Wilmington was honored by the visit of many

distinguished Americans in the early days of the republic, and

well into the 19th century. If one were to walk one or two

blocks in any direction from the intersection of Front and

Market Streets, they would find themselves walking on or

near the same paths tread by Washington, Monroe, Calhoun,

Henry Clay, Webster, Alexander Stephens, Jefferson Davis,

Bragg, Beauregard and many more.




George Washington:
It was during George Washington’s Southern Tour on

April 24, 1791 that he came to Wilmington and was escorted

into town by the Wilmington's Light Horse Guards. After spending

the previous night at Robert Sage's Inn on the New Bern Road

just south of today's Holly Ridge, Washington' party was met

by the Guards at Rouse's Tavern, about eight miles north of

town (today's Ogden) on the New Bern Road. This was the

site of a skirmish between about 18 patriots under Major

James Love and about 65 British soldiers under Major

James Craig in March 1781. All but a small boy escaped

from that battle, with Craig victorious.

Washington’s visit “was a grand occasion for Wilmington.

The artillery boomed forth a greeting of many guns, and great demonstrations of welcome for the general were offered by

the citizens. On the next day…there was a procession about

the town, and a great dinner was served in honor of the

distinguished guest. In the evening the town was illuminated

by bonfires, and a brilliant ball was given, at which the dames

and young ladies, with the gentlemen of the town, were

present in their choicest costumes.” This “brilliant ball”

was given at Assembly Hall, then on Front Street between

Orange and Ann Streets.

General Washington was the guest at the residence of

Mrs. John Quince on the southeast corner of Front and

Dock Streets (now gone), "which that lady put at his service, it

being one of the best in the town. The next day he was entertained

at a large dinner by the gentlemen of the town, during which

there was more artillery firing, and at night a general

illumination and a grand ball (Bellamy)."

The day after Washington departed Wilmington, escorted by

the Light Horse Company for many miles, to continue his

Southern Tour. As the Boundary House at the

North Carolina-South Carolina line had fallen into disuse for

public lodging, Washington was the guest of Mr. William Gause, Jr.

at his home in Brunswick County on 27 April. The The Gause

home was just to the south of today’s Ocean Isle Beach bridge.

Washington then continued his tour into South Carolina

passing through present-day Myrtle Beach and spending

the night of 28 April with Revolutionary War surgeon

Dr. Henry Collins Flagg and wife, Rachel Moore Allston

Flagg, at Brookgreen Plantation, near Murrells Inlet.

Washington left Brookgreen at 6AM on the morning of

29 April to breakfast at Clifton Plantation near Georgetown.



General Benjamin Smith:
Wilmington became the home of General Benjamin Smith

in the early 1800’s, a Revolutionary War leader and owner of

Belvedere plantation in Brunswick County, and earlier owner of Orton plantation. Smith spent much of his time in Wilmington at his home

on Dock Street near the northwest corner of Second Street, later

the residence of Dr. John D. Bellamy.

General Smith represented Brunswick County

in the General Assembly, and served as Major General of State

Militia from 1794-1810, when he became

governor of North Carolina.

James Monroe:

President James Monroe and then-Secretary of War

John C. Calhoun came to Wilmington on 12 April 1819 after

being met by the Wilmington Light Horse volunteers

commanded by Col. Thomas Cowan at Scott’s Hill,

about 12 miles north of town. They entered town on the

New Bern Road, the town boundary then being Fifth Street,

thence up Front Street to the Wilmington Hotel

and the Grand Reception. One of the toasts drunk at dinner

was “prosperity to the commerce of the Cape Fear.”

The reception included a river tour down to Smithville and

back aboard the steamer Prometheus. Both the President

and Secretary examined the salt works on the sound at

Wrightsville, and dining with citizens

at the Wilmington Hotel.

The Steamship Prometheus on the Cape Fear River

The President was the guest of Robert Cochrane at his

Second Street home between Chestnut and Mulberry.

Secretary of War Calhoun and his wife lodged as guests

of Dr. A.J. DeRossett at their home on the corner

of Third and Market Streets.



Henry Clay
Henry Clay made a visit to Wilmington supposedly in the interest

of his presidential campaign, delivering a speech from the balcony

of Captain Samuel Potter’s new home at 211 Market Street on

April 12th, 1844, after being introduced by Governor William Dudley. “The wide street, for a considerable distance on each hand, was

one dense mass of human beings…Never was such a scene,

or anything approaching it, witnessed in Wilmington,”

wrote James Sprunt.

A public banquet was later given in his honor in the front yard

of John Walker’s home on Princess Street, immediately in the

rear of the Potter residence. It was here that Alexander H.

Stephens of Georgia, later Vice President of the American

Confederacy, delivered an address to the assembly. The Potter

house stood on Market Street, midway between Front

and Second Streets.

Clay was also entertained at the residence of former governor

Edward Dudley at 400 South Front Street; and thanked the

welcoming crowds at General Owen's front porch on Front Street

beneath a white "Henry Clay" banner with gold lettering. While

here, Clay lodged at the residence of Mrs. Joseph Hill at the

corner of Front and Dock Streets, where

Washington was entertained in 1791.

Clay departed for Raleigh where he on April 17 "expressed for

publication the opinion that [Texas] annexation would invite war

with Mexico, and on other grounds that it was inexpedient to admit

Texas into the Union. [He] declared annexation was not

demanded “by any popular expression of public opinion.”


Daniel Webster
In May, 1847, Daniel Webster and his family were guests at the

home of Governor Dudley. They were greeted by a large reception committee which traveled to Rocky Point to meet him and offer the courtesies of the town. Webster was reportedly very impressed with

the elaborate entertainment provided by Governor Dudley, and

many Wilmington citizens called on him while here.

It is said that the governor introduced him to his favorite dish,

tripe, which Webster had never eaten before, but with which he

was very much pleased. A Colonel McIlhenny, a frequent guest

of Governor Dudley, said he was much impressed by the great

size of Webster’s head, and his fancy for the governor’s Madeira.

After drinking all of the dining room supply, Mr. Webster laid an affectionate hand upon the colonel’s shoulder and said, “Young

man, show me where the governor keeps that wine.”

When Webster departed Wilmington, he left by steamer for Charleston, leaving a very vivid impression upon the town and its people.

A later owner of the same home, James Sprunt, hosted

President William H. Taft on November 9, 1909.



James K. Polk
President James K. Polk, a native North Carolinian, visited

Wilmington on his way home to Tennessee, just after his retirement

on March 7th, 1849. The town was decorated in his honor, and

upon his arrival was greeted with the ringing of bells and firing of

cannon. There was a grand public reception in the Masonic Hall

on Market Street, “where ladies and gentlemen of the town were

presented to him.”

Mr. Polk was also entertained at the now-famous house on the

southeast corner of Front and Dock Streets, the owner at this

time being Mrs. F.J. Swann. Polk left Wilmington by steamer

enroute to Charleston, and less than three months later had

died at his Tennessee home.



John C. Calhoun
When John C. Calhoun died in Washington on March 31, 1850,

the citizens of Wilmington were greatly stirred as that statesman

was regarded as the greatest defender of the Constitution and the

republic. The funeral party left Richmond April 23rd and passed

through Petersburg on the way to Wilmington. On April 24th, 1850,

the remains of Calhoun passed through this city on the way to

his final resting place in Charleston.

"The remains of the noble statesman left Washington on April 22,

from the eastern front of the capitol building for the wharf on

the Potomac where the steamer "Baltimore" was awaiting the

procession. The body was escorted to South Carolina by the

two sons of the deceased, the committee from Charleston,

the Senate escort composed of Senators James M. Mason

of Virginia; D.S. Dickinson of New York; J.H. Clark of

Rhode Island; Jefferson Davis of Mississippi; A.C. Dodge

of Iowa; John Berrien of Georgia; and others of distinction.

The steamer shrouded in mourning bore the funeral party

down the Potomac by Alexandria where flags on public

buildings were flying a half-mast, and on by "Mount Vernon"

to Acqui Creek landing where a special train was waiting to

take the procession through Fredericksburg and on to Richmond. 

The funeral party left Richmond the next morning and passed

through Petersburg on the way to Wilmington, North Carolina,

to board the waiting steamer "Nina," which was to take them

to Charleston, South Carolina.

Wilmington sent a committee of prominent citizens to meet

the funeral train and escort the procession through the city.

Businessmen were requested to close their stores,

suspend all operations of business and to meet at the depot at

twelve o'clock.

There the procession was formed under the direction of the

Chief Marshal and served as an escort for the funeral party to

the foot of Market Street where the vessel for Charleston was

anchored. Twenty men from Wilmington and the officials of the

Wilmington and [Weldon] Railroad accompanied the party to

Charleston. Throughout the line of travel conveyences were

provided without charge; all who composed the escort

were always received as guests; free passage for the

whole party was tendered by the Wilmington and

[Weldon] Railroad and also the Steamship Company."

(John C. Calhoun, The Man, Harriet Cook)


Millard Fillmore
President Millard Fillmore was in Wilmington on the 12th of

May 1854, staying at Mr. Holmes’s hotel at the corner of

Market and Front Streets.


Edward Everett
In the spring of 1859, the great Massachusetts orator

Edward Everett visited Wilmington. At Thalian Hall on April 12th,

he delivered his address “The Character of Washington,” a plea

for the continuation of the fraternal union of States, and to raise

funds for the Ladies Mount Vernon Association. Everett had

served in both the United States House of Representatives

and the Senate, as governor of Massachusetts, as

Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore, and president

of Harvard University. He was the vice presidential

candidate on the Constitutional Union ticket

in 1860 with John Bell.

Mr. Everett was introduced by George Davis, noted

Wilmington attorney and later Attorney General in President

Jefferson Davis’s cabinet. It was said that Everett mentioned

that at Wilmington alone, "he was introduced by an orator who

surpassed himself." The receipts from the lecture totaled nearly

$1100. Mr. Everett congratulated Wilmington for this unusual

generosity, and of his visit he later wrote: "Its population...

is intelligent, enterprising and rather more

than harmonious among themselves."

Everett as keynote speaker delivered a two-hour address

at Gettysburg in November 1863 after which Lincoln gave

his short address. Though the words of Lincoln's speech are

well known, Everett and William Seward "expressed their

disappointment and there was no applause." John Nicolay,

Lincoln's secretary said the later printed version of Lincoln's

speech "was revised" from the spoken version (Hudson).


Alexander H. Stephens

As mentioned above, Georgian Alexander H. Stephens

acompanied Henry Clay to Wilmington during the latter's visit in

April 1844. Both enjoyed a public banquet in the front yard

of John Walker’s home on Princess Street. Here Mr. Stephens

delivered an oration to assembled Wilmington

dignitaries and citizens.

Stephens returned to Wilmington in July 1861 as vice

president of the American Confederacy. A visiting soldier

of South Carolina's Edisto Rifles noted at that time: "To a casual

observer he would appear as a little insignificant individual, but upon

a close study of his face, one could not fail to be impressed with his masterful features. He had the finest eyes I ever saw."


Jefferson Davis

Previously mentioned, Jefferson Davis first passed through

Wilmington while accompanying the remains of John C. Calhoun

to Charleston. He would again visit the City as President in

May 1861 enroute from Montgomery, Alabama, the first capital

of the American Confederacy, to the new

capital in Richmond, Virginia.

Near the end of a 2750-mile inspection tour of Southern defenses

against invasion, President Davis arrived Wilmington from

Charlotte on January 4, 1863. While here, he addressed citizens

and assembled troops with an appeal for civilized warfare in

response to reports of Northern atrocities, stating:

“Soldiers, I charge you always to be kind to prisoners.

Fight the enemy with all the power God has given you, but

when he shall surrender remember that you are (gentlemen)

and treat him with courtesy and kindness. Never be humble

to the haughty, and never be haughty to the humble.”

He arrived in Richmond the following day.

In February 1863, Davis "dispatched his nephew and personal

aide Lieutenant John Taylor Wood to inspect the defenses of Wilmington" in response to the strengthening of the

Northern blockading fleet off the coast.

Davis later visited Wilmington on November 5, 1863 after being

escorted to the city by a delegation of citizens who met him in

Florence, South Carolina the day before. He arrived early in the

morning of the 5th and was received as a guest of General

William H.C. Whiting at his residence on the north side of

Market Street between Front and Second Streets. Upon his

reaching town, he was greeted with a salute from

Southerland’s Battery. President Davis was here to inspect

the defensive works for the protection of

the port of Wilmington.

At nine o’clock he appeared on the balcony of General Whiting’s

residence in response to the cheers of the assembled resdients.

After an introduction by William A. Wright of the Wilmington

bar, he delivered an address and complimented the town as

“the ancient and honored town of Wilmington,” stating that

he had given to Wilmington one of the best soldiers in the

army, General Whiting. He appealed to the people to stand

up for the Confederate cause and do their fullest duty,

giving them assurance of ultimate and glorious success.

After delivering his address, the streets

were made quiet and the President retired to his

quarters for some much needed rest.

Later in the day a regiment of soldiers were marched to Front

and Princess Streets where the President addressed them from

the Princess Street entrance of the Bank of the State of

North Carolina. The soldiers were under the command

of Colonel Edward D. Hall. The bands were playing, the horses

of the officers were prancing, and the whole scene

was inspiring to lovers of military display.

Accompanied by General Whiting the following day, the

President left Market Street Dock for the boat journey to

the tip of Federal Point below Fort Fisher, and rode on

horseback to the Mound Battery. Davis enjoyed the commanding

view from atop the towering battery as he surveyed the earthen

fortress flowing northward from the Mound.

Colonel William Lamb recorded:

“As soon as he reached the top, the sea-face guns

being manned for the purpose, gave him the Presidential

salute of twenty-one guns. We doubt whether many of

the forts in the South could claim the distinction

of having fired such a salute."

After returning to the city, Davis boarded the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad cars and departed for Richmond.


General P.G.T. Beauregard:

In April 1864, Confederate authorities deemed it necessary to

strengthen the forces defending Richmond and northern

North Carolina, and General Pierre G.T. Beauregard was

summoned from the defenses of Charleston. On April 21, 1864

he passed through Wilmington with alarge force on the way

to his new district command to the south and east

of Richmond. General Beauregard also stayed in Wilmington

while conducting an inspection tour of Cape Fear defenses

in early September 1864 at General Robert E. Lee's order,

and requested by Cape Fear District commander,

General William H. C. Whiting.



The Book of Wilmington, A. J. Howell, Wilmington Printing Co., 1930

Admiral of the Amazon, David Werlich, University of Virginia, 1990
Lee and His Generals, Captain W. P. Snow, Gramercy Books, 1867/1996
Bloodstains, Volume 3, Howard Ray White, HRW Books, 2007

Diary of Nicholas W. Schenck, UNC Special Collections

The Wilmington Campaign, Chris Fonvielle, Savas, 1997

Chronicles of the Cape Fear, James Sprunt, Broadfoot Publ'g, 1916/1992 This Remote Part of the World, Wood, USC, 2004

     Two Presidents, Tom Hudson, Naylor Company, 1973                        War Sketch of the Edisot Rifles, Izlar, State Company, 1914