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Cape Fear History & Heritage

The State and Local History Collection houses materials which relate to North Carolina, with a concentration on Southeastern North Carolina. This is a non-circulating collection.

Cape Fear History & Heritage

Special Collections and Archives of NHCPL

We focus on the heritage and history of the people, places, culture, and natural environment of the Cape Fear region, the City of Wilmington, and the great state of North Carolina. 

  • Housed in the North Carolina Room, much of the Collection has been handed down through several former public and private libraries dating back to the Cape Fear Library of 1760.

  • Although emphasis has been placed on collecting information about Southeastern North Carolina, the collection includes materials from across the State.

  • Visitors may now use our new ScanPro 3000 microfilm machine to view film and create PDF's of desired articles.

  • Materials in the North Carolina Room are for research only and may not be checked out.
  • Ink pens are not permitted; however we have pencils available for your use upon request.
  • Food, drink, or business solicitation is not permitted.
  • All backpacks, briefcases, large purses, and other large bags must be placed in a locker
  • The use of laptops is permitted.
  • The use of digital cameras is permitted though we ask you to please turn off the flash.
  • Please limit cell phone usage and remember to be courteous to others if you do need to be on your phone.
  • The backroom is open, but please take books to the reading room tables for use.
  • Please leave books on the cart at the front desk and we will reshelve for you.
  • The computers in the North Carolina room are setup for family and local history only.  The computer lab on the first floor provides access for email and other services.

We appreciate your understanding and for helping us preserve this rare and special collection.

Visiting Special Collections & Archives

  • Requests from citizens of New Hanover County are taken first. Others are answered in the order received.
  • The cost for simple research is 15 cents per photocopy, plus postage.
  • Extensive research requires a trip to the library. Before your visit, please contact us so we can anticipate your needs and be sure staff is available.
  • All research must be done in the NC Room, state & local materials cannot be checked out.
  • A copy machine (15 cents) and a microfilm printer (25 cents) are available to make copies.
  • Some materials are too rare/fragile to be copied. Materials within locked cases require ID for access.
  • Pencils must be used when working in the NC Room.

From the Collection: Buried in Rum, The Tragedy of the Martin Family


Photograph from the Louis T. Moore Photograph Collection

Silas Homer Martin was a prominent antebellum businessman in the lumber trade along with partner George Kidder.  Silas Martin's eldest son John Slater Martin was employed as sailor.  On a journey to the Caribbean Sea, John allowed a younger sister Nancy Adams Martin, nicknamed “Nance” to come along. 

Three months into the voyage Nance fell ill and died from consumption (tuberculosis) in Cardenas, Cuba at the young age of 24.  John brought his sister's body home stored in a cask of liquor, usually thought to be rum, to help keep it preserved from decomposition in the tropical heat.  Nance's body was not removed from the cask and the entire cask was bured in Oakdale Cemetery on June 2, 1857.  The small cross that looks like a tree trunk marks the spot where Nance's rum casket was interred.

Three months after Nance’s death, John once more put out to sea on September 10, 1857 with a load of lumber.  Caught by what is now believed to have been a Category 2 hurricane, John Martin is believed to have been swept overboard by the storm.  The boat was found floating adrift in November 1857 with no survivors.  John's body was never found.

The obelisk in the background of the shot above is the Martin family plot and is inscribed with John's name and the words, "Lost at Sea, September 1857".

Special thanks to Oakdale Cemetery Superintendent Eric Kozen.

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Main Library & Law Library 201 Chestnut Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-6301 • Hours M-T 9-8 W-Th 9-6 Fri-Sat 9-5 Sun 1-5 (NC Room Closed)
Northeast Regional Library 1241 Military Cutoff Road • Wilmington, NC 28405 • Phone 910-798-6371 • Hours M-T 9-8 W-Th 9-6 Fri-Sat 9-5 Sun 1-5
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