The Black River Steamboat named DELTA (1885-1896)

by Fred C. Kerr

Part 1

I first heard this story from my father, Algernon Hubbard KERR, Jr., himself one of the last (4th generation) members of the KERR Family of Black River. He was the first Genealogy Director of the KERR Family Association of North America, a job he held for 10 years from 1986 until his death in 1996. He never was able to finish documenting the history of the KERR Family of Black River, which included initial information about the Black River Steamboat named Delta. I am trying to complete and expand his work.


This is the story of Delta and her owner, John D. KERR, Sr. (referred to throughout this article as JDK) – who was my great-grandfather. It was the only riverboat explosion on Black River (Angley, 1983; Johnson, 1977; US Dept of Interior National Park Service, 1986). It is also the only steamer that was built in Delta, NC.

John Daniel Kerr, Sr. (1847-1922)

This image of JDK is courtesy of the State Archives, North Carolina Office of Archives and History. It shows JDK at age 18 as a Captain, Company D, Seventy Second (72nd) Regiment Junior Reserves during Civil War.

JDK was a second-generation native of the KERR Family of Black River. He had a colorful and active life. He was a Confederate Civil War Captain, landowner and farmer, businessman/merchant (operating a corn mill, saw mill, and flour mill as well as a turpentine distillery in Delta, NC). He was also a practicing attorney, a steamship captain and a church Deacon (Branson, 1890). He was the youngest Confederate Army Captain ever – having been “…elected as captain of Company B, Seventh Battalion N.C. Junior Reserves in June 1864 at age 18. (Coffey, 2011)

Delta (also known as Delta Landing) was located approximately 60 ½ (river) miles above Wilmington, NC (Angley, 1983; Johnson, 1977, p. 155).

In 1885, JDK (identified as “a prominent citizen of the Black River valley”) was active in efforts to get improvements in navigability of the Black River. To demonstrate the volume of trade occurring on the Black River, he told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a letter that $720,000/year or more (over $18.6 million in 2015 dollars) of products were being transported down the Black River to market. In the letter, he said he thought the value of products being transported would double if navigability of the river were improved (making “transportation certain”). These products consisted of naval stores, building materials, cotton, and food (chickens, eggs, beef, pork) (United States Army Corps of Engineers, 1885, p. 1151 and 1153).

Figure 1 - John D. KERR, Sr.’s estimate of total yearly commerce on Black River in 1885

Figure 1 – John D. KERR, Sr.’s estimate of total yearly commerce on Black River in 1885

Southeastern North Carolina in the Late 1800s

Rivers were an extremely important part of southeastern North Carolina’s commerce up through the late 1800s. During this timeframe, the main industry in southeastern North Carolina was production of naval stores (pine-resin based products such as tar, turpentine, and rosin – used in building and maintaining ships). Tar and pitch were used to prevent decay of sails and ropes, and to keep the body of boats from leaking. Turpentine was combined with alcohol as a source of lighting. Long-leaf pine trees were plentiful in North Carolina’s coastal plain. The abundance of pine trees in the area at that time and demand for timber and turpentine made for a profitable business. In fact, “…North Carolina led the world in the production of naval store products from about 1720 until 1870. Sampson County led all other counties many of those years. Fortunes were made in the bountiful long leaf pine forest…” (Wrench, 1999).

In 1850, Sampson County, NC had 51 tar and turpentine manufactories (manufacturing plants), and 2 turpentine distilleries in Sampson County, NC (Baldwin & Thomas, 1852, p. 1039) – all located in close proximity to Black River.

To make money, naval stores had to be delivered to market at Wilmington, NC. There was a distinct need for effective river transportation. This proved an increasing challenge. Rivers had long provided (early 1700s – mid 1800s) the only method to get goods to market, yet only flats or pole boats (with limited capacity) could navigate the upper parts of the Black River which was quite crooked and shallow. Cargo-carrying capacity improved by 1865 when advances in steam technology allowed steam engines to be put into shallow-draft boats.



The Steamer Delta was built for John D. KERR in 1885 at Delta, North Carolina. Delta (also known as Delta Landing) was located approximately 60 ½ (river) miles above Wilmington, NC (Angley, 1983; Johnson, 1977, p. 155).

The registered description of the Delta said she was 86.64 gross tons, 48.95 net tons, 82.4 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 3 feet deep (North Carolina Archives, 2006). Delta bore registration number 157170.

Available records (the 1886-1891 editions of Merchant Vessels of the United States) describe Delta propulsion system in two ways. From 1885 to 1889 they state she was a side-wheeler, and from 1889 -1892 they state she was a stern-wheeler. Family legend, supported by an article in the Wilmington Weekly Star Newspaper (1887b), says it was a stern-wheeler. This will become important at the end of these articles when attempting to explain apparent conflicting information regarding the number of vessels that JDK operated in his life.

Steamboats operating on North Carolina rivers were typically “…80 to 120 feet long, with a 12 to 15 foot beam. They were constructed without ribs, using instead side planking fastened by bolts. They were powered by 50- to 100-horsepower steam engines, and the majority were stern-wheelers, since they maneuvered better in the crooked and narrow rivers of North Carolina than did side-wheelers” (Barfield & Norris, 2006, p. 1). Since the Delta’s specifications were typical compared to other steamboats in this period of North Carolina’s history, it is reasonable to assume the Delta was built in a similar manner, including being a stern-wheeler.

The Delta was one of four “light draught steamboats” (including the Excelsior, the Susie, and the Lisbon) operating with regular trips carrying freight between Wilmington and points on Black River. Delta was operated by Captain A. L. HUBBARD (Staff Reporter, 1886a, 1886c). Family legend tells us JDK did operate the boat, but that Captain HUBBARD was most frequently at the wheel. When JDK sold the boat, he was fully licensed as a Master i.

To date, no pictures of the Delta have been found. To understand what the Delta may have looked like, it is helpful to compare it with other steamers of the time. Since the Lisbon was identified as one of three other steamers that were similar in draught to Delta, it is likely she had a similar appearance and construction. Below is a photograph of the Lisbon.

Figure 2 - Steamer Lisbon (shown above) was similar to Steamer <u>Delta</u> (from, and also in Johnson, 1977, pp. 84)

Figure 2 – Steamer Lisbon (shown above) was similar to Steamer Delta (from, and also in Johnson, 1977, pp. 84)


Family legend tells a story of the Howe Brothers who tried to enforce a monopoly on Black River traffic by placing a boom across the river, forcing boats to pay a toll to pass. This occurred at Howe’s Bluff on the Black River – located above Point Caswell. When the Delta was denied passage, JDK took the case to court and he won. Each of the Howes got about 20 days in jail. They appealed, but the record is blank regarding the outcome of the appeal. The boom left the river at this point in time (Johnson, 1977, pp. 80-81).

The North Carolina General Assembly granted the Black River Navigation Company (BRNC) exclusive navigation rights to the Big Coharie and the Black River – provided the company undertake projects to improve public navigation for a five year period. The company did not do this, and therefore forfeit its exclusive navigation rights. The NC General Assembly repealed the BRNC charter on March 7, 1887. Charles and William Howe were former officers of the Black River Navigation Company and claimed to hold the company’s charter. They attempted to levy a toll on all steamboats passing upstream by their landing at Howes Bluff – but no one would pay. They then erected a boom across the river so that steamboats could not pass. JDK protested this action and brought charges against them for interfering with the free navigation of a public stream (a misdemeanor). The Howes were put in jail for 20 days on February 16, 1886 in Wilmington and the boom was removed (Angley, 1983, pp. 23-24; Staff Reporter, 1886b).

Tuesday, April 19, 1887 at 2:30am – Steamer Delta’s boiler explodes

The Delta’s boiler explosion was the only riverboat explosion on the Black River (Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co, 1887, p. 87; US Dept of Interior National Park Service, 1986, p. 21). It was a very devastating explosion that caused loss of life, significant injuries, and significant damage to the boat and its cargo. Newspapers around the United States carried the stories about the explosion and its aftermath – and most of what we know about the boiler explosion comes from newspaper articles originating from Wilmington, NC.

Figure 3 - One of many newspaper headlines about the explosion

Figure 3 – One of many newspaper headlines about the explosion

The explosion occurred at 2:30am on April 19, 1887. Delta was headed upriver towards Delta, N.C. The location was described as between 3 or 4 miles above Point Caswell at Patrick’s Landing (Hart, 1994). Other reports describe a similar location but call it Franklin Landing or Sherman’s Landing. Johnson reports the explosion as occurring about 3 miles north of Point Caswell “…in the one-half mile Thoroughfare about one-half mile below present Longview” (Long View) (Johnson, 1977, p. 108). Long View is 3 (river) miles above Point Caswell (Johnson, 1977, p. 155). Point Caswell is located approximately 24 (river) miles from Delta Landing and 36 (river) miles from Wilmington, NC (Johnson, 1977), therefore, the explosion occurred about 20 (river) miles from Delta (about 39-40 miles above Wilmington).

Figure 4 – US Geographical Survey (USGS) map of Point Caswell, NC area

Figure 4 – US Geographical Survey (USGS) map of Point Caswell, NC area

Family legend tells that the Delta’s boiler exploded when JDK was headed upstream on the Black River. He was in a great hurry and was running the boat as fast as it would go. This same story is recounted in the National Register of Historic Places Nomination for Sampson County (US Dept of Interior National Park Service, 1986, p. 21) and in the CoastWatch Magazine (Hart, 1994). Just 50 minutes prior to the explosion, A.W. Kelly (the Point Caswell bridge tender) was awakened when he heard Delta’s captain say “I’m going to be at the Delta (Landing) by daybreak or I’ll blow her to hell” (Johnson, 1977, pp. 100, 108).

Reports of the explosion provided varying, and often conflicting, descriptions of the Delta. For example, one report described the boat as a small stern-wheel steamer that had been recently overhauled including new engines, and was considered in good order. It was said to be worth about $2,000.00 (over $52,210 in 2015 dollars) (Staff Reporter, 1887b). In contrast, another report said “She was a nondescript craft, an ordinary scow, into which an engine and boiler had been placed.” (Staff Reporter, 1887c, p. 125) ii.

The Delta was towing two flats loaded with approximately $400.00 worth (over $10,440 in 2015 dollars) of cargo (hardware, bacon, corn, meal, flour and general merchandise). It was slow going upriver due to a freshet (flood resulting from a heavy rainfall) (Johnson, 1977, p. 108).

Family legend tells us that the boiler was blown through the boat, stem to stern. Published reports of the explosion characterize the boat as “almost completely wrecked” (Staff Reporter, 1887a), or “…totally wrecked…” (Staff Reporter, 1887b).

Family legend tells us several people were hurt – but does not mention any deaths. Newspaper reports identify that 8 people were injured, and 2 were killed.

What is known about the explosion

This is what is known about the passengers and crew (Hart, 1994; Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co, 1887, p. 87; Staff Reporter, 1887a, 1887b, 1887c). One article is considered especially noteworthy because it contained information quoted from a letter about the explosion written by Captain C. P. Moore of the steamer Enterprise who wrote that he had been called “…to aid the suffering crew of the steamer Delta”. In addition to identifying the damage, injuries, and fatalities, he noted that it was fortunate the water was only about four feet deep. If it had been deeper, many people would have drowned (Staff Reporter, 1887a).


Two people were killed – one immediately and one who died the following day.

  1. Lloyd Spearman iii, a colored fireman, was killed instantly. His body was had been blown into the swamp a significant distance from the explosion (distances reported varied from 40 feet to 40 yards, and Captain Moore’s report said it was 60 yards) from the explosion. Local legend said that a part of his shirt remained in a nearby cypress tree after the explosion.
  2. Kelly Newkirk, a colored deck hand, had been standing on the bow of the boat. He was blown about eighty yards into the swamp, but was found alive. Captain Moore’s report said he had been badly scalded, and that he died the following day.


  1. JDK (the owner and master of the boat). His injuries were variously identified as being scalded (not seriously), or having a broken arm or leg, or being seriously bruised on his legs. Captain Moore’s report said his right leg was broken and his head bruised. Family legend reports it was a broken leg (or arm), and offers as evidence a limp that was evident for life. It also says that the Captain proved to be a bad patient for his physician brother, Dr. Charles Stevens KERR. A later newspaper article (1887d) said JDK was recovering from a broken leg.
  2. Frank Andrews iv (also listed as F. J. Anders and Franklin Anders), a colored boat hand, was either scalded seriously or sustained a serious shoulder injury. Captain Moore’s report said his left arm was broken and his hands had been badly bruised.
  3. Carolina Newkirk, colored, was severely scalded. Her relationship, if any, to Kelly Newkirk, is unknown.
  4. Augustus “Gus” Moore, the colored pilot, had been blown into the air. He was struck in the head by a barrel of flour, but was not seriously injured.
  5. An unidentified person was seriously scalded in the face.

Captain Moore reported that none of the wounded persons were conscious of what had happened and none could account for the cause of the accident. The wounded were taken to Mr. William Sherman’s house (at Point Caswell) and attended to by Doctors Thompson and KERR , and later they went back to Delta, North Carolina, to recover (Staff Reporter, 1887a).

Uninjured Persons:

  1. Sam Robinsonvi, colored, the Delta’s Engineer (Staff Reporter, 1887e)
  2. French Johnson and Stephen Cromartie – both were riding on the flats that the Delta was towing. They were credited with saving the wounded.

While the wounded were unable to provide information about the accident, there is no mention of what the persons who were not injured might have said (or remembered).

Family legend reports that there was an investigation of the explosion, and the crew was charged with several errors. The Captain was charged with carrying passengers without a proper license to do so. Master HUBBARD was charged with having no license, and the Engineer was faulted for tampering with the safety valve. JDK (an attorney) defended the crew, and family legend reports they all apparently got off without being charged.

To date, no investigative reports regarding the boiler explosion have been located.

Arrests and Trials

Angley’s report states:

“it was subsequently alledged [sic] in criminal proceedings that the Delta had been carrying passengers without a license, that her captain was unlicensed, and that the valve on her boiler had been weighted down to prevent the excape [sic] of excess steam. The resulting trial, however, produced no convictions upon these charges.”(Angley, 1983, p. 52)

The Delta’s Engineer, Sam Robinson, was arrested on July 14, 1877 for “weighting the safety valve of the boiler, thereby causing an explosion and loss of life”. He was held in lieu of $300.00 bail (over $7,832 in 2015 dollars) pending appearance in US District Court on October 31, 1877. Arrest warrants were also issued for Capt. A.L. HUBBARD (charged with “running a boat without a captain’s license”) and JDK (charged with “allowing the boat to carry passengers without having a license therefor”) (Staff Reporter, 1887e.

Trial was held on “…for the majority of the day…” on November 3, 1887 in U.S. District Court, Wilmington, NC regarding alleged violations of the steamboat inspection laws involved in the Delta’s explosion. Sam Robinson (“carrying more steam than permitted by license”), Capt. A. L. HUBBARD (“running the boat without a licensed engineer”), JDK (“acting as master of the steamer without license”, and for “carrying passengers without license”), and Stephen Cromartie (“acting as engineer of the boat without license”) were all found not guilty. They were defended by Mr. Edward W. KERR (JDK’s oldest brother) and Mr. H. McClammy (Staff Reporter, 1887f).

Family legend also reports that the boat was sold after the explosion and continued operating under its new owner. JDK sold Delta’s wreckage to Captain Herbert WARD (from Point Caswell), who repaired it and installed a new boiler (Johnson, 1977, p. 83). He continued to operate it for several more years (Angley, 1983, p. 33; Johnson, 1977, pp. 83, 108-109). Two local citizens remembered that Delta’s boiler remained in the swamp until approximately 1942 when it was salvaged for scrap metal (Hart, 1994, p. 15; Johnson, 1977, pp. 108-109).

July 1888
A steamer named Delta, piloted by Capt. SHERMAN, participated (with numerous other boats) in a Marine Parade in Wilmington, NC (Staff Reporter, 1888a, 1888b)vii.

Limited information is available about the Delta after July, 1888. According to Johnson, there were over 100 steamboats operating on the Cape Fear and its tributaries (including the Black River), but only one of them was named Delta (Johnson, 1977, pp. 141-152).

1888 – 1896

The US Army Corps of Engineers’ 1896 Report to Congress reported that that the steamer Delta continued to be used until it finally sank “…several years…” before 1896. The US snagging steamer H. G. Wright removed the sunken wreckage of the Delta between April 22-25, 1896 from a location about 10 miles above the mouth of the Black River. The operation cost $108.00 (over $2,819 in 2015 dollars) (United States Army Corps of Engineers, 1885, p. 1144)viii.

Part 2

Part 1 of this story introduced the Black River steamboat Delta, its owners and crew. The Delta was built in 1885 for my great-grandfather, John Daniel KERR, Sr. (referred to from now on as JDK). They made history when the Delta’s boiler with two fatalities exploded in April, 1887. It was the only steamboat boiler explosion on the Black River.

This part of the story continues this fascinating and colorful tale – adding stories of other captains, fights, shootings, investigations, courtroom drama, floods, daring steamboat maneuvers, and captures of rattlesnakes and alligators.

JDK owned a turpentine distillery and a cooperage in Delta, NC. Building the Delta must have been a business decision for him, since it was important to get his products to market in Wilmington. The Delta began operation in December, 1885. Her primary captain was Algernon Lee Hubbard, Sr. (known as “Allie”) Allie was the brother of JDK’s second wife Susan Elizabeth Hubbard. When he was 17 years old, he was living on the Kerr family farm and working as farm superintendent in 1880.

At the time of her explosion in 1887, Delta was worth about $2,000 (over $51,000 in 2014 dollars). JDK sold her in December, 1888, for $1,550. This amount is over $39,000 in CY 2014 dollars.

Delta’s boiler explosion was investigated by USSIS and charges were filed against crew members, including JDK. Charges primarily concerned the explosion itself, but also included offenses such as carrying passengers without license which occurred on dates prior to the explosion. The most serious charge was felony Manslaughter against Sam Robinson, the Delta’s engineer (which carried a sentence of confinement at hard labor for up to 10 years). Trials related to these charges were held in US District Court (Wilmington, NC) during November, 1887. Charges leading to the November, 1887 court trials were filed by the USSIS as violations of USSIS laws. This strongly indicates that the USSIS investigated the circumstances of the explosion, and their findings indicated culpability of master and crew.

The Delta’s boiler explosion in April 1887 was the start of a change in how she was used and also in who owned her. Prior to the explosion, Delta was used primarily for cargo (naval stores), and was owned by a single individual (JDK). In addition to transporting cargo, JDK also used the Delta for transportation on his law practice business trips to Wilmington. Following the explosion, Delta began handling passengers and conducting excursions in addition to carrying cargo (naval stores), and was later purchased by a company which operated other steamers on Black River.

Because USSIS laws required them, it is likely that the Delta and her crew were inspected and licensed. No record has yet been found in government files or in newspaper accounts of this prior to the explosion. After the explosion, however, newspapers began to record that USSIS inspectors examined Delta and her crew, such as one on or before February 4, 1888.
JDK retained ownership of the Delta for about 20 months (between mid-1887 and February, 1888) while it was repaired/rebuilt after the explosion. When it began operating again, it had different captains.

About July 31, 1888, it was briefly commanded by a person named “Capt. Charlie Morse” when it was used for an excursion. It is likely that the Captain’s name was a typo and the person referred to was Capt. Charlie (C. P.) Moore, Jr. The following day (August 1, 1888) a Capt. Moore delivered 4 casks spirits turpentine, 39 barrels of tar, and country produce to consignees in Wilmington.

Another trial was held during May 1889 in Admiralty Court, Wilmington, NC. A crew member, C. P. Moore, sued the Delta and its owners for $164 in unpaid seaman’s wages (though the amount sounds small, it is equivalent to over $4,300 in today’s dollars). The suit was filed in November 1888, and the trial was held the following May.

On December 8, 1888, the US District Court ordered the steamboat Delta and all her machinery seized and held when the case was filed (“C.P. Moore vs. Steamboat Delta and John D. Kerr,”.

Interestingly, the Delta was first advertised for sale on behalf of JDK in early November, 1888, which was just at the time C. P. Moore’s suit for unpaid wages was filed. Its sale occurred shortly afterwards (on December 5, 1888).

Part 1 of this story reported that Capt. Herbert E. Ward purchased the Delta in 1887 or 1888. Additional research now reveals that Mr. W. J. Hollingsworth (representing a group of owners operating as the Black River Line) bought the boat for $1,550 (over $39,000 in 2014 dollars) on December 5, 1888. He planned for Delta to be operated with other steamboats (such as the steamer Enterprise) carrying cargo and passengers on the Black River. Capt. Ward worked as captain of the Delta for the Black River Line between 1889 and 1891. During this time, Delta was “…a passenger and freight boat…between Wilmington and Mill Creek, about ten miles above Point Caswell”.

Delta’s legacy lived on, well past its sinking, in the stories of the people who had operated her. Capt. Ward was a very colorful character. While he was in charge of the Delta, Capt. Ward met and overcame many challenges. This is a good example of one:

“…the water in Black River has been very high. Yesterday it was within four feet of the sills of the bridge across the river at Point Caswell. The rise there was about twelve feet…the crops about Point Caswell have suffered severely in the lowlands on the river and in Caintuck but on higher lands they are very fine…It is difficult to get the freight intended for the steamer, on account of the high water. Yesterday, Capt. Ward ran his boat one hundred yards out of the course of the river, right into the woods, to take on some freight. He says he felt as old Father Noah probably did when he was looking for the top of Mt. Ararat….”. The article continued, saying that Delta’s crew members had killed “…an enormous rattlesnake…” that was “…seven feet long and about six inches in diameter in the thickest part…”.

Capt. Ward was frequently involved in fights and even once, a shooting. In August, 1890, he shot Loftin Collins, a colored man who had assaulted him. The shooting resulted from a disagreement between them (Collins had placed a number of barrels of naval stores on the wharf at Point Caswell, and then refused to remove them when told to do so by Capt. Ward). Collins first refused to remove the barrels, then began throwing rocks/bricks (called brickbats in the article) at Capt. Ward, who defended himself by shooting Collins. Capt. Ward’s (ball) shot grazed Collins’ left arm. Apparently Collins pressed charges against Capt. Ward for shooting him, and then left Point Caswell by train for Wilmington. Capt. Ward traveled to Wilmington onboard the Delta, and after arriving there was arrested for assault and battery with a deadly weapon. He offered to post bail, but was refused, and jailed. Later, he was taken to Burgaw, NC where he alleged the shooting was self-defense, posted bail, and was then released. He returned to Wilmington, boarded the Delta, and departed for Point Caswell.

The fascinating part of this story is that Collins actually boarded the Delta to return to Point Caswell, but left the boat immediately upon learning Capt. Ward was onboard. Newspapers later reported that Capt. Ward planned to sue the county for false and arbitrary imprisonment based on the fact he wanted to pay bail but wasn’t allowed to – but no record could be found indicating whether or not this actually occurred. In September, 1890, both Capt. Ward and Collins were found guilty in Pender County Superior Court at Burgaw, NC, and each of them were fined $25 (over $670 in 2014 dollars).
W.J. Hollingsworth advertised the Delta for sale in October, 1890. It is unclear if the vessel was actually sold, but there were newspaper articles describing it in operation as late as December 1, 1891.

The Delta ended up in the possession of Point Caswell Steamboat Company which replaced it with the steamer W.T. Daggett which had been built in Wilmington during 1892. Capt. Ward owned two-thirds interest in the W.T. Daggett. Capt. Ward stopped using the Delta stopped being used in 1891 by Capt. Ward (who brought another replacement boat to Wilmington that had been built near Point Caswell). There is evidence that Delta continued operation under command of Capt. Sherman past 1891, perhaps as far as the mid-1890s. It is possible that Capt. Sherman bought the Delta, or operated it for someone, but this is not clear now.

While in charge of the Daggett, Capt. Ward shot and brought a large alligator to Wilmington where it was put on display. The newspaper account tells the story:

“Capt. Herbert Ward, of the steamer Daggett, brought in another alligator yesterday—a big fellow, measuring over eleven feet in length. The monster was shot and killed from the deck of the steamboat by Capt. Ward on Town creek. It was carried on a dray from the boat to Front street market house, where it can be seen to-day by all who wish to look at it.”
In 1895, Capt. Ward also captained the steamer E. A. Hawes for the Cape Fear and People’s Steamboat Company.

By 1903, a newspaper article reported that Capt. Ward had retired and was categorized as a “…prosperous merchant…” living in Rooks, North Carolina (1903). Yet, on August 5, 1905, Capt. Ward again found himself in trouble for his actions. On that date, a USSIS inquiry charged him with offenses he allegedly committed during the month of July, 1905, when he had worked as an engineer on 3 vessels – the steamers Compton and Wilmington, and the tug boat Alexander Jones.

He was charged him with Drunkenness While on Duty, Going to Sea in Capacity of Marine Engineer Without Proper Papers and Insubordination. While on the steamers Compton and Wilmington, he was found drunk – or sick – but was lying motionless in the engine room “…in a fainting condition…”, and thought to be drunk or sick. Capt. Ward later alleged that he had been sick during this time.

Then, while working as an engineer on the tug boat Alexander Jones, he “…had some trouble with a Negro…” who then got off the boat at “…the fisheries…”, and Capt. Ward took his pistol and went after him – but was persuaded to stay on the boat by others. He then started the engines and the boat went about 100 yards on its course, then stopped the engines, and refused to allow the boat to proceed any further. At that point, he demanded to be let off the boat or have the boat proceed to Wilmington. He had his pistol in his hand at that time (he said he was not threatening the captain – he had held the pistol to show the captain what he intended to do to the Negro when he caught up with him). He finally restarted the engines after the tugboat captain asked a friend of his to persuade him. He admitted not having a current engineer’s license, but said he had one which had expired which he’d sent for renewal.

Until later, in 1906, newspapers reported that Capt. Ward and Mr. T. J. Gore were involved in a fistfight at the corner of Water and Dock streets in Wilmington. Neither was hurt in the fight, and both were separated by friends. The fight resulted from a “…business difference of several months standing…”.

In 1907 (as master of the Black River steamer A.J. Johnson) Capt. Ward was involved in a “lively scrap” on the (Wilmington?) wharf with a person identified as “…Arch Marine, the well-known diver…”. Both were taken to the police station where Marine was locked up and Capt. Ward was released on his recognizance.

Parting note: a Wilmington newspaper article written in memory of JDK at the time of his death on October 4, 1922, said that he had operated 2 steamboats on the Black River. To date, no evidence of a second steamboat has been found. This, coupled with the fact that there has been only one steamer ever recorded with the name Delta on Black River, suggests another possible scenario. The second boat mentioned in the newspaper article might be a completely rebuilt vessel named Delta….No other information has yet been found to resolve this question.


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U.S. Government. (1880). 1880 U.S. Census, Franklin Township, Sampson County, State of North Carolina. (Page 18, Supervisor’s District 3, Enumeration District (ED) 190, Dwelling 153, Family 154, regarding Lloyd Spearman). ANCESTRY.COM Retrieved from ancestry link.

United States Army Corps of Engineers. (1885). Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers to the Secretary of War (Vol. Appendix M – Report of Captain Bixby). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

US Dept of Interior National Park Service. (1986). Sampson County Multiple Resource Nomination (NC-037-Sampson-163) National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form (pp. 1-75). Washington, DC.

Wrench, K. (1999). Sampson County (Images of America: North Carolina): Arcadia Publishing.

i At this time, there is no information on whether JDK possessed a Master’s License to operate a steamboat or any other type of boat.

ii The derogatory description of DELTA in the New York NY Herald Newspaper is contradicted by the description of the craft provided by the North Carolina Archives.

iii The following information has been found about Lloyd SPEARMAN: The 1880 US Federal Census for Franklin Township, Sampson County, North Carolina (1880) listed a Lloyd SPEARMAN as a married Black Male (whose occupation was “Turpentine Laborer”) living with the family of Robert SEAVEY, a Black Male. SPEARMAN’s relationship to the family was listed as “Son-in-Law”. SEAVEY’s 18-year old daughter, Ada, was listed as Ada SPEARMAN – she was also listed as being married. As no other SPEARMAN names were listed in that household during this census, it is likely that Ada was married to Lloyd. The marriage was indicated as occurring in 1880, the year of the Census.

iv The 1880 US Federal Census for Franklin Township, Sampson County, NC (enumerated June 10, 1880) lists a black male named “Frank ANDERS” as a 21 year-old “Turpentine Laborer”. This entry appears on the same page as the entry for John Daniel KERR, Sr.

v Doctor Thompson was likely Dr. William Isaiah Thompson, and Doctor KERR was likely Dr. Charles Stevens KERR (brother of JDK) (Carter, 1957).

vi The 1870 US Federal Census for Franklin Township, New Hanover County, NC (enumerated August 2, 1870) listed a black male named Samuel ROBINSON as a 16 year-old “Farm Laborer”.

vii Both articles from the Wilmington Morning Star are quoted from the blog (identified above) by Bill Gibson.

viii A photograph of the General H.G. Wright is found at