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Chronicles of the Cape Fear River 1660 - 1916
By James Sprunt

This mammoth volume on Cape Fear in North Carolina is of more value to the local historian than to the general reader. It is an exhaustive account from the foundation of the colony to the State in recent times. To us the most interesting chapter is one by David Macrae, dealing with a visit to the Highland settlers in the 'Scotch County,' North Carolina having been a place of Highland emigration after Glencoe and the '45. Flora Macdonald joined this group in 1775 and was received with great honour and Highland music at Wilmington. We get pleasant glimpses of MacRaes and of the Highland Jacobite settlers who became British loyalists in America. [This taken from the Scottish Historical Review]

Here is the preface top read here...


There are what are called labors of love—when men turn from their work in the business world and at great pains seek to accomplish something for the benefit and advantage of others.

The present publication is the fruit of Mr. James Sprunt's desire to collate information of general interest concerning the Cape Fear River, because he has an abiding affection for the noble stream with which he is so familiar and is animated by a purpose to preserve in convenient form some account of local incidents that are worthy of being remembered.

In the years just before the war, when I first began to know the active men of Wilmington, none stood higher in public esteem than Mr. Alexander Sprunt. He was a thorough man of business, whose intelligence and sterling worth commanded admiration, while his brother, Rev. James M. Sprunt, who was teaching the Grove Academy in Duplin, added to the credit of the name. These two brothers had come to the Cape Fear some ten or fifteen years earlier and had won what is most to be valued in life—the good opinion of those who knew them. The passage of time has yearly added to the reputation of the name, until now it stands unexcelled in the business world.

The father of these brothers, Laurence Sprunt, a farmer near the famous town of Perth, in 1812 married Christiana McDonald, daughter of a Highland family, whose brother, John McDonald, was a prosperous planter in Jamaica, and whose cousins, the Menzies, in Scotland, were prominent and wealthy. After his marriage Laurence Sprunt occupied a small farm known as Viewfield, near Perth, and there were born his children, Alexander, James Menzies, and Isabella, all of whom were educated in Edinburgh.

After graduating, Alexander became a partner in the firm of Reed, Irving & Co., of London and Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and as junior partner had personal charge of the business at Trinidad, and in the conduct of his business often made trips up the Orinoco River, Venezuela. For a brief while he returned to Scotland and married there Jeanie Dalziel, a lady of rare personal and intellectual gifts, whose life was consecrated in its beautiful Christian devotion. In the biography of another it is incidentally mentioned that "in 1841 Alexander Sprunt was a ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church in Trinidad, a merchant of high standing, a Queen's Commissioner, or Magistrate." That he had already attained an enviable position and enjoyed a good name is easily apparent. But through the unfortunate consequences following the emancipation of British slaves, Mr. Sprunt was deprived of his accumulations, and after some ineffectual efforts in Scotland to repair his broken fortune, he removed to Wilmington, whither his brother, Rev. Doctor James Menzies Sprunt, subsequently a chaplain in the Confederate Army, had preceded him. An expert accountant, he soon found employment in the Commercial Bank, and later with T. C. & B. G. Worth. On the breaking out of the war he sailed in the Edwin with a cargo to Barbadoes, and loaded a return cargo of coffee, sugar, and molasses, but when almost in sight of Cape Fear, the Edwin was taken by a Federal cruiser and Mr. Sprunt was imprisoned at Baltimore until Lord Lyons, the British Minister, secured his release. It was, however, six months before he could succeed in crossing the Potomac and rejoining his family in Wilmington.

During those years his son, James Sprunt, after studying at various preparatory schools, one year in Mr. Muncie's school in Glasgow, one year under his uncle at Kenansville, four years at Jewett's Academy, one year at Colonel Radcliffe's Military Academy, and one year at Mr. Mengert's school, had made excellent progress; but while in his fourteenth year, under the pressure of circumstances, he was put to work with Worth & Daniel. This did not arrest his education, however, for he attended night school under Professor Tallichet in French and English literature, and, as he had a desire to serve the State at sea, he studied navigation under Captain Levy, a former United States naval officer. But disappointed in securing the appointment he coveted, eventually he sailed as a passenger on a blockade runner to Bermuda, with the promise of Captain Burroughs to give him a position on the North Heath, a vessel then building on the Clyde. When the North Heath arrived at Bermuda, Captain Burroughs appointed him purser of that vessel; but after sailing they encountered a terriffic storm, escaping shipwreck only by splendid seamanship and the most heroic exertions; and they had to put into Bermuda for repairs. There Mr. Sprunt was long ill with fever, and the North Heath sailed without him; but after a little while Capt. J. N. Maffitt appointed him purser of the steamer Lilian and on the Lilian he passed through all the dangerous and exciting experiences of a daring blockade runner. On the third outward voyage the Lilian was chased, bombarded for eight hours, disabled, and captured; and Mr. Sprunt, sharing the fate of his associates, became a prisoner of war. Subsequently he escaped, but met shipwreck on Green Turtle Cay, and it was eight months before he reached home, he having in the meantime served as purser of the Confederate steamer Susan Bierne of which Eugene Maffitt was chief officer; and he continued on this blockade runner until Fort Fisher fell.

On his third inward trip he had imported ten barrels of sugar, which his father sold, investing the proceeds in 24 bales of cotton. Sherman's raiders burnt twelve of these bales, but with great difficulty the others were saved, and after peace they were sold at 48 cents a pound. With the proceeds the firm of Alexander Sprunt & Son was founded in 1865-66, and although like others it has suffered the vicissitudes of changing conditions, it has successfully weathered business storms, repaired disasters, and surmounted most discouraging difficulties. Always adhering to the principles of its wise and righteous founder, who passed away thirty years ago, it has, under the masterful direction of Mr. James Sprunt and his brother, Mr. William H. Sprunt, prospered, continually increasing in strength and reputation until it has attained a unique position in the business world.

Upon the death of his father, who had represented the British Government in North Carolina for about twenty years, Mr. James Sprunt was, without solicitation on his part, appointed British Vice Consul, and from this appointment, May G, 1884, to tbe present time he has held that honorable post. During these thirty years he has been twice thanked by the British Government—once by the British Admiralty for his correction of its important aids to navigation, and again by Lord Salisbury, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, for his official report on the Cuba man-of-war incident

In 1907 the German Emperor appointed Mr. Sprunt Imperial German Consul for North Carolina and sent him his autograph commission, a very high compliment, which was not solicited by him nor by his friends. Mr. Sprunt acted in that capacity for five years, during which he was twice complimented by the Imperial Chancellor Von Bulow for his official reports, and when he resigned in consequence of impaired health, Emperor William very graciously decorated him with the Order of the .Royal Crown, which is only given for valor in battle and for distinguished services to the State.

During the years covering Mr. Sprunt's activities, Wilmington has made most gratifying progress. The facilities of commerce have been multiplied; the trucking industries have been largely developed; the jobbing business has attained remarkable proportions; the bank deposits have tremendously increased; and, with the removal of obstacles, the enterprise and capabilities of the Wilmington merchants have achieved splendid results. Indeed there has been progress all along the line, resulting in a general diffusion of prosperity.

But no other factor leading to these notable results has been so effective as the business inaugurated by the firm of Alexander Sprunt & Son.

The combined production of cotton in North Carolina and in South Carolina in a good season is approximately two and a half million bales, of which the local mills take by far the greater part. Of the residue, the principal export house in Wilmington, Alexander Sprunt & Son, buys from the producers directly through their local agents at a hundred and fifteen interior stations about half a million bales. These large exports, of the value of thirty million dollars, pay tribute to Wilmington to the extent of over a million dollars annually in railroad freight, in handling expenses, trucking, compressing, and storing; and besides, from fifty to a hundred thousand dollars are left by the trans-Atlantic steamers in the port of Wilmington for port charges and expenses. Indeed, the eight hundred employees of this company, white and black, contribute much of the money in circulation in Wilmington that supports the retail trade.

Nearly thirty years ago the present senior partner in this house foresaw that the sources of cotton supply and demand would ultimately be brought into closer relations; and he made a tour of seventeen foreign countries in which American cotton was used, and established direct business relations between the foreign consumers and the Wilmington firm. It was the pioneer movement, and the working details were difficult. Indeed, some of the obstacles seemed almost insurmountable. The depth of water in the Cape Fear and on the bar was not sufficient to float safely the most desirable class of vessels for the export trade, and shipowners were slow to trust their vessels upon a tortuous stream in shallow water with only three feet rise of tide. Moreover, the capital of the firm was limited, and their business was conducted strictly on the conservative principles laid down by the founder of the firm which still bears his name; but in the end caution and perseverance established confidence and brought success. It is a remarkable fact that from the beginning of the firm in 1865-66 up to the present time, although hundreds of millions of dollars have passed through the main office in Wilmington and their branches in Boston and Houston and Liverpool, Bremen and Havre, not on any occasion has their paper ever been dishonored.

As circumstances permitted, the requisite accessories were installed. The Champion cotton compress was put in operation by the firm, and the Wilmington Compress and Warehouse is chiefly owned and operated by them. The plant is among the best and most complete in the South, representing a large outlay in capital, and it is so conveniently arranged as to afford the most improved facilities for the loading and unloading of five large steamships simultaneously.

It is noteworthy that the partners in the Boston office, the Houston office, and in the Bremen and Havre firms were all trained from boyhood in the Wilmington office; Mr. William H. Sprunt, now the most active partner, having been born in Wilmington. It has been a Wilmington business, first and last, fortunate in its operations and beneficent in its results.

All through life Mr. Sprunt has had close association with the Cape Fear River and the bark bearing his hopes and fortunes has had its home on the bosom of that historic stream. Not only his business but the pleasures and happy incidents of his daily life have been so blended with its waters that he cherishes a warm affection for the river itself. Thus he has been minded to preserve its traditions and its tales—the preparation being indeed a labor of love, undertaken in a spirit of grateful return for the many blessings he has enjoyed both at his home in the city and at his home at Orton, which alike are redolent with delightful reminiscence.

S. A. Ashe.

You can download this book here in pdf format



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