1851: Elijah Willis to Alonzo J. Willis

The 1815 Capt. Elijah Willis House on Johnson Street in New Bern where Elijah and Alonzo were raised.

This letter was written by Elijah Willis, Jr. (1816-Aft1880) to his brother, Alonzo J. Willis (1819-Aft1880), a carpenter or “joiner” by trade. Alonzo married Nancy Bradley (1817-Aft1880) in 1842. Elijah and Alonzo were sons of Capt. Elijah Willis (1879-1829), a master mariner, who had a home on Johnson Street in New Bern, Craven County, North Carolina.

At the time of Capt. Elijah Willis’ death in 1829, we learn from Craven County Probate Records that he was survived by a wife and five minor children: William, Alonzo, David, Elijah, & Theresa Willis. Court records show that, in November 1834, 15 year-old Alonzo was apprenticed to Hardy B. Lane to learn the carpenter’s trade. Alonzo is reputed to have become a successful local builder and manufacturer.

DIED. On Tuesday last, after a protracted and severe indisposition, Captain Elijah Willis, in the 50th year of his age. Capt. W. had long and successfully prosecuted his profession in the merchant service at this port, and evinced throughout his useful career, great skill as a navigator. As a man, he was universally regarded as upright and scrupulously honest. In testimony of their respect for his memory, the several masters of vessels now in the port, caused their respective flags to be displayed at half mast; and the remains of the deceased were committed to the tomb by the brethren of St. John’s Lodge No. 3, of which he had long been a member, with masonic honors. — 14 March 1829. North Carolina Sentinel

Probate Record. New Bern 10th February 1835:

The annexed statement contains a true account of two notes which came into my hands as guardian to the minor heirs of Elijah Willis, deceased, viz: William, Alonzo, David, Elijah, & Theresa Willis. The said notes, above stated, came into my hands at November Term 1834 of Craven County Court, at which time administration of the said estate was granted me, and the guardianship to said minors as above stated… The only other property belonging to the said minors being a house and lot in the town of New Bern, on Johnson Street, in which the widow of the said Elijah now resides, which house, agreeably to the provision of the will of the said deceased is to remain in the occupation of said widow until the youngest child is provided for, then there is to be a division of the same. — Alonzo T. Jerkins

Stampless Cover


Addressed to Mr. Alonzo J. Willis, New Bern, North Carolina

Wilmington [North Carolina]
July 23rd 1851

Dear Alonzo,

Page 1

I received your letter a few days ago & would have replied before this but have been very unwell & am now badly troubled with dyspepsia. I suppose it must be for want of exercise. I intend hereafter to take more than I have done before for confinement just about uses me up.

I suppose you are all getting along after the old sort, tho’ from accounts it must be horribly dull in New Bern. I saw Capt. Sam a few days ago who is on a visit to his daughter in Brunswick County. He says that he never saw it so dull in New Bern & he don’t know what’s to be done to increase the business of your town.

I see by the paper that you have river conventions to improve the navigation of the Neuse. It is my opinion that it can’t be done, but if it can be done, it will be better than any railroad you can build. Write me in regard to it. What amount of subscription is taken & how much it will cost &c &c.

Page 2

How comes on [Edward W.] Stanly? Any chance of his being elected or not? I don’t think he will. His course in the last Congress has killed him politically & it should kill any man that took such a decided stand against the South as he did. But still his might have been the proper course to have pursued in the matter. If the fugitive slave bill is repealed, how will he rate, do you think?

I wish you would tell William to write me when he is going North as I wish to write him before he leaves. I want him to purchase me a coat. Hoping to hear from you soon. I remain your brother, — Elijah

My love to Ma’s family, to William & Davy


Congressman Edward W. Stanley

Edward W. Stanly (1810-1872) “was born in New Bern, North Carolina, on January 10, 1810. He was a son of U.S. Rep. John Stanly of New Bern and a cousin of U.S. Senator George E. Badger. Stanly attended New Bern Academy and graduated from the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy, Norwich University in 1829. He then studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1832. He settled in Beaufort County and began to practice law.

Four years later, he successfully ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives on the Whig ticket. He served in Twenty-fifth, Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh congresses from March 4, 1837 to March 3, 1843. Stanly earned his reputation as North Carolina’s greatest orator of his generation during his first term in Congress. Throughout his service in Congress, Stanly was a leader of the Southerners who emphasized the Union over states’ rights. He won the nickname the ‘Conqueror’ during his re-election campaign of 1839.

After an unsuccessful bid for re-election in 1843 due to unfavorable redistricting, Stanly returned to North Carolina, where he served as a member of the House of Commons from 1844 to 1846 and again in 1848. He was speaker of the State House from 1844 to 1846, and his impartial presiding was hailed by Commoners of both parties as returning dignity to the chamber in the place of the former political rancor. Stanly served briefly as attorney general of North Carolina in 1847.

In 1849, Stanly was again elected to the U.S. House, serving two terms from March 4, 1849 to March 3, 1853. He declined to run for a sixth term in the elections of 1853 and instead moved to California and practiced law in San Francisco. He was the Republican Party’s unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1857.

Abraham Lincoln appointed Stanly military governor of eastern North Carolina with the rank of brigadier general on May 26, 1862. Stanly resigned this office less than a year later on March 2, 1863, in a dispute with President Lincoln over the Emancipation Proclamation.

He returned to California and resumed his law practice. He died in San Francisco on July 12, 1872. He is buried in the Stanly family plot at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.

Stanly had a very colorful nephew who fought on the Confederate side during the Civil War, Brigadier General Lewis Addison Armistead. Armistead led the Boys in Grey at Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. Stanly and Armistead were born in the same house in New Bern, North Carolina. The home stands today, a pilgrimage stop for both the Blue and the Grey.” — Source: Wikipedia


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