New Bern-Craven County
Public Library

a member of the Craven-Pamlico-Carteret Regional Library System

Fire on the Steamboat Wayne, 1848

[From: The Daily Journal, June 25, 1882]

     A most singular accident occurred to the steamboat Wayne on Thursday, March 2d, 1848. As she was nearing the wharf on the Trent, nearly opposite the Deveraux buildings, about half-past 7 o’clock in the evening, she was destroyed by fire. The Wayne had just returned from a trip to Smithfield, and had on board among other freight a number of casks of spirits of turpentine. In passing between a vessel and one of the wharves, one of the casks struck against the vessel and was stove. The spirits ran upon the deck of the steamboat and over her side, and at the moment when the cask was stove the fireman was in the act of throwing overboard the fire from the furnace, which caught the spirits floating on the surface of the water, and in an instant communicated to the boat. The flames spread with great rapidity, and as the surest means of securing the safety of the passengers on board the boat was run alongside of the wharf. The alarm was instantly given, and every exertion made to extinguish the fire, but all to little purpose, and the boat and most of her contents were consumed. Many of our citizens will remember the destruction of the Wayne, and particularly of the old members of the fire companies Nos. 1 and 2, or Atlantic and Neuse. The fire engines were worked by side levers with hand, and consequently it put “the boys” up to all they could do to keep them going at a fire with such help as they enlisted from bystanders and loafers, such as ever have been and always will be found at fires to order and complain. But really the most of the duties of a fireman in this day is light work compared to the work imposed upon them in the time of hand engines. But there was great and spirited rivalry existing between the companies, and while no pitched battle was ever fought yet more than once they were on the eve when one blow would have caused a general fight.

     The writer of this happened for a number of years to be a fireman of the Neuse company, and considered throwing “the first water” equal in honor to a sword presented to an officer for gallantry on the battlefield. But to tell the whole truth the Atlantic was the favorite company, and but for running a little wild with excitement would generally have beaten us. Most of the young men belonged to it and at their turnouts and parades their “machine” would be covered with bouquets, the gift of the young ladies then, now the mothers of some of our firemen. The Atlantic was painted white and ornamented with gold and no piece of furniture in any parlor, however costly, could excel it in beauty. The Neuse engine was painted black and also ornamented in gold, and while we were proud of it, never considered it of equal beauty to the other. And woe be unto the individual for the hard words he would have poured upon him who had the temerity to soil either one with dirt or tobacco juice. For such an offense the Atlantic boys would never forgive.

     Yet “Hoge” Van Bokkelen the first and popular foreman could and would beat his trumpet to pieces over it under excitement and to encourage and excite his men and they would work their tongues out and love him as they would a woman. “Old Josh” Denby too, the successor of Van Bokkelen, a kind hearted and popular foreman, will also be remembered with kindness and pleasure. He was a brick mason and a number of the brick storehouses in this city bear testimony of his skill in his profession. “Billy” Jones that many of us remember with affection as well as respect, learned his trade of a mason with him, and the jokes he would often crack at Denby’s expense, would have caused one to laugh. Mr. Editor, perhaps more serious than yourself, Jones was really a fellow of infinite jest. We once enjoyed for a time the meeting of Jones and Asa Hartz McKnight. A gentleman I would mention if I were not afraid was, with me, and he, if his eye should catch this, will remember the meeting. Jones proved himself fully equal to McKnight and when they quit rubbing each other to the extent of their wit and ability he had not suffered the opinion of those around them in the contest. William H. Jones was not only the life and spirit of a fine company but he was also of a military company, and would crack as many pleasant jokes at the expense of the commander of one as the other. If I were not afraid again to give a name I would say Col. J.V. Jordon could testify to this fact when commanding the New Berne Light Infantry before the war. Jones being the Orderly Sergeant and the writer of this a private, yet no one knew better than Jones the duty of a soldier or when to cast out his wit, and no one knew better than our Captain when to allow it and when not; thus all worked harmoniously together, and there was no better drilled and disciplined company in the State than the Newbern Light Infantry. Now and then in those days we would visit different places and never with discredit to the company or our town. In his last moments Mr. Jones kept up his wit. His old Commander calling to see him, he threw a little out to him with a smile. If the world was filled with men like he was, we would all be happier and less selfish and less envious and better disposed toward our neighbors and friends. No one could long be morose with him or melancholy. He was always as bright as a spring day.

     The Wayne had been insured for $4000, but the policy [expired] about a month before her loss and was not remembered. The boat was nearly a total loss with the exception of some of the machinery. Nearly all her freight amounting to nearly $1500 was destroyed. Dr. John L. Moore, who had a few days previously removed from Hookerton, Greene county, to Newbern, had on board his library, medicine, furniture, etc., amounting in all to about $1000, all of which was destroyed. The balance of the freight, consisting mostly in value of spirits of turpentine to the amount of $4000 belonging to Messrs. J.C. and M. Stevenson of Newbern and W.K. Lane Esq. of Wayne, was also lost. There were other small losses of different persons. The Messrs. Dibbles with their usual energy and enterprise by this disaster started again with renewed holds and very soon had another boat on the Neuse, of which we will speak hereafter. D.

Return to Writings of John D. Whitford Home