"To advance through research, education and symposia, an increased public awareness of the Cape Fear region's unique history."
Captain John Newland Maffitt
Died in Wilmington, North Carolina”
(This paper was originally written by James Sprunt of Wilmington, and
published on August 2, 1896 in the Southern Historical Society Papers. The following transcription is courtesy of Robert Maffitt, descendant of
Captain John Newland Maffitt)
"Among that devoted band of United States Navy officers whose
home and kindred were in the South at the outbreak of the war,
and who resigned their commissions rather than aid in subjugating their native State, there were none braver nor truer than our own Captain John N. Maffitt, who, yielding to necessity, severed the
strong ties of a service under the old flag in which he had long distinguished himself, and relinquished not only a conspicuous
position directly in the line of speedy promotion to the rank of admiral, but sacrificed at the same time his entire fortune, which
was invested in the North, and which was confiscated shortly afterward by the Federal Government.
I give the following brief sketch prepared by the accomplished
Mrs. J. N. Maffitt, at the time of her distinguished husband's death, who is now writing a more extended memoir of his career.
'The Life and Services of John Newland Maffitt')
Captain John Newland Maffitt
John Newland Maffitt was born at sea on the 22d of February, 1819.
His parents were Rev. John Newland Maffitt and Ann Carnicke, his wife. Rev. Mr. Maffitt, having determined to emigrate to America, left Ireland with his wife and family late in January or early in February, and landed
in New York on the 21st of April, 1819, his son having been born on the passage. Their first home was in Connecticut. When John was about five years old, his uncle, Dr. William Maffitt, who had accompanied them to America, visited his brother, Rev. Mr. Maffitt, and finding him in
straitened circumstances, begged to adopt their son, and on the consent
of his parents, Dr. Maffitt brought his nephew to Fayetteville, N. C.
Reverend John Newland Maffitt
Some years were passed in this happy home of his boyhood, when his uncle determined to send him to school at White Plains, N. Y. As a little stripling, he started by the old-time stage-coach, with his ticket tacked to his jacket, and on his arrival much curiosity was shown to see the little boy who had come alone from his distant southern home. He remained at this school, under Professor Swinburn, until he was thirteen years old, when
his father's friends obtained for him a commission as midshipman in
the United States Navy.
His first orders were to the St. Louis, then at Pensacola Navy Yard.
His second sea orders were to the Constitution, the flagship of the squadron, commanded by Commodore Elliott, then fitting out for the Mediterranean. This cruise lasted three years and six months, and it was during that time that most of the incidents related in the Nautilers took place. Having been appointed aide to Commodore Elliott, the young midshipman had many advantages not otherwise obtainable. He was
next ordered to the frigate Macedonian as past midshipman, and it was while in port at Pensacola, Fla., that he had his first experience of "yellow jack," and came near losing his life. His first independent command was
the Gallatin. He commanded also the brig Dolphin and several others.
He was engaged, under Professor Bache, for some years on the coast survey, and was of great service to the professor, which the latter was
not slow to acknowledge. Much of their work was in the harbors of Nantucket, Charleston, Wilmington, and Savannah. A channel in the
harbor of Charleston still bears his name. In one of the numerous
published sketches this tribute is paid to him:
A SPLENDID OFFICER
"He was always considered one of the best officers and most high-toned gentlemen of the old service. For some years he was
connected with the coast survey, and Professor Bache, the head of
the department, declared that if Maffitt was taken from him he
could not supply his place in all the navy." He added: "He is not
only a thorough seaman and game to the backbone, but a man of superior intellect, a humorist of rare excellence, and one of the most delightful companions. There is no position in his profession which Maffitt is not capable of filling with honor and distinction."
This was his acknowledged position when the war began. His last command while in the service of the United States, was the Crusader.
He was very successful in capturing slavers. In January, 1860, while in command of the Crusader, and also acting as paymaster of the vessel,
he was ordered by the Secretary of the Navy to proceed to Mobile,
and there cash a check on the collector of the port for prize money due
the officers and crew. The city being agitated at the time by the Ordinance of Secession, just passed by the State of Alabama, he was forced to put
his vessel in a defensive position, and soon retired to the port of Habana. Here, failing to negotiate with the bank of Habana for the funds requisite
for the necessities of the vessel, he advanced from his private funds the money needed to work the steamer to New York, where he was ordered.
He turned the steamer over to the proper authorities and went to Washington to settle his accounts. His cash accounts received no
attention, though for several months he was a constant applicant for settlement. A trying position was his, as his wife was dead, and his
children had no kinsfolk, save in North Carolina; if he remained in the
navy his property, which was all in the North, would be secured to him.
All that appealed to his interests lay there. Love of his profession was entwined with every fiber of his being. On the other hand, he would have been compelled to fight against his people---perhaps fire upon the very home that had sheltered him, and was then-sheltering his defenseless children. One night a friend informed him that his name was down for
arrest the next day. His affections drew him South. His resignation having been accepted, he felt free to leave and cast his fortunes with his people.
During the earlier part of the war he commanded the celebrated Confederate corvette Florida, and the ram Albemarle, rendering most valuable service to the Confederacy. Afterwards he was in command of
the blockade-runners Lillian, Owl, and other vessels engaged in bringing supplies and munitions of war for the South. At the close of the war, his property confiscated and he an exile, he applied for a command in the English merchant service, and was given the command of a fine steamer, running between Liverpool and Rio Janeiro. She was subsequently sold
to the Brazilian Government and used as an army transport. While conveying several hundred soldiers to the scene of action, small-pox
broke out among them, and as the well refused to nurse the sick, or
bury the dead, those duties devolved upon Captain Maffitt, and a fearful time he had--" sickening to the last degree," he described it--and the soldiers were mutinous and without discipline. He retained command of
this steamer for eighteen months, when, at the urgent entreaty of his
family, he resigned the command and came home.
He soon after purchased a small farm near Wilmington, where he resided for nearly eighteen years. In July, 1885, he moved to Wilmington.
For a year or two his health had been failing, but he determined to make
a brave effort to retrieve his fortunes and provide for his young family.
The disappointment of that hope was too great a shock for his feeble frame; the thought that he could no longer provide for his loved ones
broke his heart. After an illness of more than three months, he died on
the 15th of May, 1886, in the sixty-eighth year of his age.
During Maffitt’s prewar service in the mid-1850’s at Smithville
(now Southport), he was the chief promoter of social enterprises
as well as commander of the US Coast & Geodetic Survey
unit at the nouth of the Cape Fear. The principal social event
“was the formation of a troupe of private theatricals, the company comprising nearly all the officers and civilians being engaged
in the survey together with all the society people of Smithville
who felt themselves competent to appear upon the stage.”
It was said that the gregarious Captain Maffitt was the most
brilliant star of the shows, and with him was Captain Charles
P. Bolles, who would eventually marry Eliza Walker of
Wilmington, daughter of Major Jack Walker.
Captain Maffitt’s first marriage was in Mobile, Alabama to
Mary Florence Murrell of Virginia, the sister of Colonel Joseph
Murrell of Mobile. Two children were born: Mary Florence
(Florie) in February 1842 at Mobile and Eugene Anderson in
November 1844 at Baltimore.
This marriage ended for undetermined reasons.
Eugene A. Maffitt was also said to be born in Georgia, and
appointed from that State. He was a Master’s mate in 1861,
Acting Midshipman on 16 November 1861; and Midshipman,
Provisional CS Navy on 2 June, 1864. He served on the
Savannah Station, 1861-1862; participated in the battle of
Port Royal, 7 November 1861. He served on the
CSS Alabama 1862-1864; participating in the
engagement with the USS Kearsarge off Cherbourg, France,
19 June 1864. He was captured on a British steamer at Portland,
Maine on 6 December, 1864 and imprisoned at Fort Warren –
released 10 January, 1866.
Captain Maffitt married second, at Charleston, South Carolina
on 3 August, 1852, Mrs. Carolina Laurens Read, the widow of
Lt. James W. Read, and they had: John Laurences, born in
1853 at Smithville, NC, and Colden Rhind, named for an old
navy friend, in Virginia. His second wife died in 1859.
of Wilmington. She was the daughter of commission merchant
Alfred Martin who owned the two-story Second Empire home at
412 Market Street. Captain and Mrs. Maffitt lived in this
home after their marriage, and it was sold in 1889 after the
death of Mr. Martin. Three children were born of this
marriage, Mary Read, Clarence Dudley, and Robert Strange.
Alfred Martin House at 412 Market Street
Maffitt purchased a 212-acre farm on Greenville Sound which
he named “The Moorings.” It bordered on Bradley’s Creek
(formerly Lee’s Creek), and much of this land off today's Greenville
Loop Road was lost during the dredging of the Intracoastal
Waterway. It is said that the farm contained “fifty-one cleared
acres, a seven room house, a separate kitchen and other
outbuildings, and five springs. A railroad ran through the
property, enhancing its value as a truck farm.”
“Nautilus; or Cruising under Canvas"
and various magazine articles. Maffitt died of Bright’s Disease
on 15 May 1886, and is buried at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington.
Lt. J. Pembroke Jones, who commanded the ironclad CSS Raleigh
on the Cape Fear River, said of Maffitt: “He was the warmest
hearted and most generous friend and the most congenial
companion I ever knew. He was always the life of the mess,
full of fun and tender sympathy for all around him. He was
born a sailor and a splendid officer, and I have never
Clarence Dudley Maffitt established a ships chandlery at the
corner of Water and Princess Streets, now a vacant lot and formerly
the parking lot of the demolished Wachovia Bank. Clarence portrayed
his father in full naval regalia at the 1927 at the “Feast of the Pirates”
event in Wilmington.
Clarence Maffit portrays his famed father in the
Pageant of the Lower Cape Fear in 1921, held at the
Governor Dudley Mansion in Wilmington.
Captain Maffitt's Memorial Day Address, 1879"
(The following address by Captain Maffitt 14 years after the
War Between the States ended provides valuable insights into his
view of the war and the drive for independence for the American South. It is ironic that before the war Maffitt as a US Navy
Captain was a relentless foe of slavers that still plied the coast
of Africa and brought human cargoes to the western
hemisphere. Those slavers were very often New England
ships, still being caught in the late 1850's. Ed.)
"The Lost Cause"
The Effort to Regain It---Address of Captain John Newland Maffitt. Published in the New York Times, May 13, 1879
Captain John N. Maffitt delivered the address at the Confederate
Memorial Day services in Wilmington, N.C. on Friday. The following extract will show the kind of talk most applauded in the South:
"The late Emperor of France, in an informal interview with one of our quasi-representatives, in expressing this feeling, remarked that, if the Confederate States would guarantee the prospective freedom of her
slaves, the paramount obstacle to her recognition would be removed.
A three years' desperate struggle against the inexhaustible advantages possessed by the North had demonstrated that our resources were
rapidly becoming depleted.
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was staring us in the face, clearly enunciating what we had to expect in the event of being defeated by
the overwhelming power of the North. Unprepared for the unexpected resort to arms, we were necessarily dependent on the workshops of Europe for the prosecution of the war, and our choice, like that of the Captain of a ship in a storm, was between two evils---the loss of a part
of our cargo or the sacrifice of our whole ship of State.
Could this question have been submitted to the people of the South---
in view of the countless sacrifices they had already made for the cause---
I cannot but think their consent would have been obtained.
The recognition and friendly aid of France in the darkest hour of the
Revolution secured the independence of the united Colonies at
Yorktown. Had we secured the recognition and aid of either of these
great powers, success would have crowned our efforts and enabled
us to obtain an honorable and satisfactory peace. Failing in this,
the Confederacy had no choice but to carry on the war to the last extremity. Overcome by superior numbers, she at least died with
her harness on, and fought like a nation that deserved to be free.
The day is approaching when an unprejudiced historian, with the
devoted perseverance of a St. Jerome, will produce for the world's information and admiration a faithful record of our gigantic struggle,
in which link after link, now buried, will start into life, until the illuminated whole shall put to shame our defamers. Then will be illustrated, beyond
a peradventure, our paucity of numbers against multitudinous armies---
the poverty of a Government sustained by ragged and half-starved
troops, whose splendid loyalty never wavered, and whose courage embraced the extreme point of martial daring.
The cause defended was that of self-government and constitutional liberty. Statesmen have grasped the fundamental principles which, from the mere attrition of our armies, fell with their standard, and in the legislative halls
of our country they are making a glorious effort for the preservation of
the heritage bequeathed to us in 1787. The cry from the North was the "Union! The Union!"---but they manifested naught save contempt for the Constitution that sealed and sanctified that Union.
Beginning with contempt, they would end with an utter disregard for its teachings, and if permitted, would entirely subvert it. We must not close
our eyes to the vital importance of the present struggle---a struggle with
the hope of rescuing the palladium of our liberties from the desecrating
hand of selfish partisanship. We cannot sit idly by, mute and uninterested spectators. We must cheer the faint heart and strengthen the feeble knees and make straight paths for our feet, or while we yet sleep the enemy
will sow tares among our sheaves of wheat. We live in times that call for wisdom in contemplation and virtue in action; but in which virtue and wisdom will not do without resolution."
©2006 Cape Fear Historical Institute