Winter Tea Party winners: Angela's book,THE SCARLET COAT, will go to: Print copy- Andrea Stephens; e-book copy - Catherine Wight!

LUCY REYNOLDS has a table topper quilt on the way, and winners of the Valentine Ebook Collection are: Deanna Stevens, Caryl Kane, Anne Payne and Winnie Thomas. With thanks to all who joined in!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Secret Colonial Tunnels Beneath Wilmington

While researching my next novel, For Love or Country, book 2 in The MacGregor Legacy, I came across some interesting information regarding real secret tunnels existing under the historic district of Wilmington, NC to the Cape Fear River. Some of these tunnels date back to before the American Revolutionary War made of brick with vaulted ceilings.

Lots of legends and rumors have surrounded these tunnels such as pirates stashing their booty, escaped prisoners, and the Underground Railroad. Most historians agree that none of these legends can be verified, but most likely the tunnels were used for sewage and drainage.


Burgwin-Wright House (Flickr, NCBrian)
The existence of these tunnels gave me the perfect opportunity to use them in my story during the Revolutionary War. One tunnel is known to be under the Burgwin-Wright House built around 1770 and is the location where General Cornwallis set up his headquarters for the British when he took command of Wilmington in
1781. According to one of the legends, Patriot soldiers escaped while being held as prisoners in the Burgwin-Wright House. Since the foundation of the house was built over an old jail, the brick basement was a perfect place for the British to hold Patriot prisoners. Therefore, this house plays a significant role as a setting for several scenes in my novel. To aide me in my research, I found transcribed descriptions written by the family that lived there when Cornwallis took over the house.

Of all the tunnels, Jacob's Run is the most famous named for Joseph Jacobs, a prominent merchant tanner. In 1775 he and his brother Benjamin built St. John's Masonic Lodge, now the Children's Museum of Wilmington. According to an April 28, 1967 newspaper article that appeared in the Wilmington Morning Star, contractors once again discovered the tunnel while digging the foundation of a new restaurant they were building in the former Theater Manor building. Fittingly, they named the restaurant, Jacob's Run. The tunnel ran beneath the building and all around it following the flow of natural spring water. City engineers state that there are no authentic records documenting when the tunnel was built or for what purpose--yet they obviously exist and can be dated back to the colonial period.
Mitchell Anderson House
Another setting that I used in the story was the Mitchell Anderson House built around 1739, the oldest surviving house in Wilmington. When Lord Cornwallis took over the Burgwin-Wright House in 1871, Major James Craig of the British Army was forced to vacate the premises and took over the Mitchell House.

Historic homes like this and real existing tunnels with lots of legendary stories surrounding them are great fodder for an author's imagination. Therefore, I used what real historic information that we have about them and took creative license with the rest to fit it into the storyline of my novel, For Love or Country set in 1781, Wilmington, NC





13 comments:

  1. That's really neat, Jennifer. I know some colonial era homes had escape tunnels for in the event of Indian attack and these usually led to the river. Looking forward to reading your novel!

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    1. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. These tunnels ran to the Cape Fear River as well.

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  2. Very interesting! I'm learning about Wilmington. I have a story set along the Cape Fear River, but quite a bit earlier, in the 1740s. I'll have to check out the Mitchell Anderson House. Finding research material for the area in that time period has been a real hunt.

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    1. Wilmington was created around 1739 so details for that time period will be limited. Be sure to check country records for that area. Here is an interactive map on NC county formation in genealogy records that I have found very helpful. https://www.google.com/search?q=formation+of+counties+in+NC+map&rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS511US511&oq=formation+of+counties+in+NC+map&aqs=chrome..69i57.8126j0j8&sourceid=chrome&espv=210&es_sm=93&ie=UTF-8

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  3. Sounds so awesome ! Can't wait to read this...
    Linda Finn
    Faithful Acres Books
    http://www.faithfulacresbooks.wordpress.com
    faithfulacresbooks@gmail.com

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    1. Linda, For Love or Country will not release until April 2014. Hope you enjoy it!

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  4. Interesting post, Jennifer. Most of the tunnels I've come across in researching South Carolina, Charleston and the back country, were made as a result of the French and Indian War. Lots of families were burned inside their homes during that war and during Indian attacks, so when homes and plantations were rebuilt, the owners remembered the stories and built escape tunnels.

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    1. Escape tunnels would make sense regarding the French & Indian War. I remember thinking I could dig a tunnel when I was a kid, but I didn't have the patience to see it through. Secret Tunnels have always fascinated me.

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  5. How exciting for you, and your story. There was something similar in Aurora Illinois, but from the 1850's to 1930's. They were used for bootlegging in the thirties. Most were blocked and covered, but were found when a bridge was tore down to be rebuilt.

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    1. Oh, bootlegging sounds like a good reason to have secret tunnels. Some of the ones in Wilmington have been blocked off as well. Several areas have collapsed throughout the years and so they keep discovering new wings to the tunnels.

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  6. Oh wow, I love the thought of secret tunnels! I have always dreamed of having a house with secret rooms or tunnels in the walls. :)

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  7. Oh, I LOVE secret tunnels! That show on TV 's History Channel, "Cities of the Underworld" or something like that--one of my favorites! So much fun! I can read about this kind of stuff all day long. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. What a fascinating post, Jennifer. I'm looking forward to reading your book.

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