1898 Wilmington Race Riot

Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell: Wilmington Redeemer

"You have nothing to be ashamed of, but everything to be proud of, and by your noble courage, wise and honorable guidance, you have immortalized your name and raised for yourself a monument more lasting than stone.

Your memory has been so indelibly written upon the hearts of your people that generation after generation will cherish the name of Waddell, the just and mighty ruler, who said "let there be order, and there was order, let there be peace and there was peace; and of the few names in history, yours is one of the few immortal names that were not born to die."

(Former Wilmington residents writing from Brunswick, Georgia)

(McDuffie, page 754)


Waddell Quells the Race Riot of the Early 1870's

(He) "achieved fame as a Congressman and politician, orator and essayist, and who, had he devoted himself to the law rather than to politics, would have been a very successful lawyer.

Colonel Waddell was the son of that very distinguished old lawyer, Hugh Waddell, the best type of the old school gentleman and lawyer I ever knew---the embodiment of courtesy and gentleness. While Hon. Hugh Waddell had retired from the Bar some years before the writer became a practitioner, he recalls him vividly, with his courtly bearing, as he walked the streets of Wilmington in his declining years, then beyond the age of eighty, hand in hand with his lovely wife and companion of his long married life. They were like two school children and sweethearts, attracting the gaze and admiration of passserby as a most remarkable instance of a lovable and companionable comradeship.

Colonel Afred Moore Waddell was a good lawyer, but did not appear to like the practice. As a member of Congress, he made a national reputation as an orator and campaigner, and was much sought in the North as a political speaker in presidential campaigns. Much of his life has been written by others. Colonel Waddell was a man of courage, and in trying times was a leader. Twice in his career he came under the personal observation of the writer.

In the early 1870's, when Wilmington and New Hanover County were absolutely under the control of a large Negro population, which had drifted there from South Carolina and other parts of the country, attracted by the Freedmen's Bureau, a national institution that gave rations and clothing to the newly emancipated slaves; a howling mob of Negroes, being led by a notorious white man by the name of James Heaton, seized and took possession of the town; several thousands of the mob smashing windows, ruining property, and were about to set fire to the town. The weak and puny carpetbagger government, which even the Negroes did not respect, could not quell the riot.

Alfred Moore Waddell, calling together a handful---hardly more than one hundred---of brave and fearless men, with a gun in his hand, led a charge on the large mob of Negroes, put it to flight, and in less than an hour drove the rioters to their homes and restored order.

The weak and pusillanimous government continued to function once more in peace. Colonel Waddell, at the time, was a writer, who dropped his books and responded to the appeal to have order restored.

Again in 1898, under similar circumstances, he called on and drove out of office the weakling, Mayor Silas P. Wright, an old time carpetbagger, and in a most skillful manner---under the form of law but in terrorem---made each officer resign seratim, filling his place with a reputable citizen and property holder, one by one, until an entire new board of aldermen and officers were placed in charge of the city government, and the former disreputable member expelled from town never to return again.

Colonel Waddell was elected Mayor; he made Wilmington a safe and desirable place in which to dwell forever. He was from time to time re-elected to that position, showing the confidence and esteem of his fellow townsmen. Colonel Waddell was a very entertaining writer and possessed great literary ability; he was the author of a number of biographies, and contributed to many of the literary magazines of the day. He was a good raconteur and very fine company."

(Memoirs Of An Octogenarian, John D. Bellamy, Observer Printing House, 1942, pp71-73)


Alfred Moore Waddell, lieutenant colonel of the 41st Regiment (Third Cavalry) was a scion of one of the old and venerated families of the Cape Fear.  He was commissioned lieutenant colonel in August, 1863, having previously served as adjutant.  His regiment was scattered over an extended field of operations, and operated as detached cavalry, or partisan rangers.  In August, 1864, Colonel Waddell resigned.  After the war, as long as he lived, he always used his brilliant talent and eloquence in behalf of his comrades and his fellow-citizens of the Cape Fear. (Chronicles of the Cape Fear, James Sprunt, Edwards & Broughton Publishers, 1916)


Col. Alfred Moore Waddell

The Story of the Wilmington, North Carolina, Race Riots, by Col. Alfred M. Waddell

"Leader of Reform Movement and Now Revolutionary Mayor of Wilmington."

(from Collier’s Weekly, November 26, 1898)

My active connection with what has been termed the Revolutionary Government commenced when the Campaign Committee called upon me to make a speech stating my views; and I would like to say, in this connection, that some of the daily press representatives who have given an account of my speech selected two paragraphs standing alone.

I said in my speech: “If there should be a race conflict here (which God forbid!), the first men who should be held to strict accountability are the white leaders, who would be chiefly responsible, and the work should begin at the top of the list.  I scorn to leave any doubt as to whom I mean by that phrase.  I mean the Governor of this State, who is the engineer of all the deviltry and meanness.”

That is one part of the speech.  I also said:

“We will not live under these intolerable conditions.  No society can stand it. We intend to change it, if we have to choke the current of the Cape Fear River with carcasses.

That is the other paragraph which some of the press representatives took out.  All the rest of the speech, which was chiefly a statement of facts, was omitted. Those paragraphs, disconnected from the text, were sent out as my speech.

When the crisis came, there was a universal demand that I should take charge.  Last week, at the mass meeting, they made me chairman by acclamation, and also chairman of the Citizens’ Committee of Twenty-Five.

Demand was made for the Negroes to reply to our ultimatum to them, and their reply was delayed or sent astray (whether purposely or not, I do not know) and that caused all the trouble. The people came to me. Although two other men were in command, they demanded that I should lead them.

I took my Winchester rifle, assumed my position at the head of the procession, and marched to the “Record” office.  We designed merely to destroy the press.  I took a couple of men to the door when our demand to open was not answered, and burst in.  Not I personally, for I have not the strength, but those with me did it.

We wrecked the house.  I believe that the fire which occurred was purely accidental; it certainly was unintentional on our part.  I saw smoke issuing from the top story.  Someone said the house was afire.  I could not believe it.  There were a number of kerosene oil lamps hanging around.  They were thrown down and smashed and the kerosene ran over the floor.  It is possible that some fellow set it afire with a match.  Immediately there were shouts when the fire occurred.  “Stop that fire! Put it out! This won’t do at all!”

I at once had the fire alarm bell rung.  We saved the wooden buildings next to the “Record” office, and soon had the fire out.  I then marched the column back through the streets down to the armory, lined them up, and stood at the stoop and made a speech to them.  I said:

“Now you have performed the duty which you called on me to lead you to perform. Now let us go quietly to our homes and about our business, and obey the law, unless we are forced, in self-defense, to do otherwise.”  I came home. On about an hour or less time, the trouble commenced in the other end of town, by the Negroes starting to come over here.  I was not there at the time, I was here in this part of town. But we began immediately to turn out and prepare.  And right here I want to say this about my part: I never dreamed the time would come when I would lead a mob. But I want to say too, a United States Army officer, a prominent man, was here and saw the whole performance. He said:

“I never witnessed anything like this before. It is the most orderly performance I ever witnessed.”

Then they got seven of the Negro leaders, brought them downtown and put them in jail.  I had been elected mayor by that time. It was certainly the strangest performance in American history, though we literally followed the law, as the Fusionists made it themselves. There had not been a single illegal act committed in the change in government.  Simply, the old board went out, and the new board came in---strictly according to law.  In regard to those men who had been brought to jail, a crowd said that they intended to destroy them; that they were the leaders and that they were going to take the men out of jail.

I ordered a force of military around the jail. I said to the people: “My position has been radically changed. I am now a sworn officer of the law.  That jail and those people must have protection.”

I went out an appealed to the people in different parts of the town. They realized the situation and realized I was right, and that they would stand by me.

I stayed up the whole night myself, and the forces stayed up all night, and we saved those wretched creatures lives.

I waited until next morning at nine o’clock and then I made the troops form a hollow square in front of the jail. We placed the scoundrels in the midst of the square and marched them to the railroad station. I bought and gave them tickets to Richmond, and told them to go and to never show up again.  That bunch were all Negroes. Then they had taken other fellows that they had sent out, and had them somewhere protected. They took them under guard to another train---there were three whites in that party---and sent them off also.

Rumors fly here and there that the Negroes are arming.  There is no truth in that. They are utterly cowed and crushed, and are not going to interfere with anybody.  I have sent messengers of both races out into the surrounding woods, where, it is said, fugitives are in hiding, begging the people to come back to their homes, and to rest assured they will be protected in their persons and their property. A great many have come in, and I expect more will come in tonight.

The Negroes here have always professed to have faith in me. When I made the speech in the Opera House they were astounded. One of the leaders said:

“My God! When so conservative a man as Colonel Waddell talks about filling the river with dead niggers, I want to get out of town.”

Since this trouble, many Negroes have come to me and said they are glad I have taken charge. I said:

“Never a hair on your heads will be harmed. I will dispense justice to you as I would to the first man in the community. I will try to discharge my duty honestly and impartially.”

No one knows better than I that this has been a serious matter, but it has, like all such affairs, its humorous side. After the crisis had passed, an old Negro came complaining to me about his jack-knife which he wanted me to get back for him.  It seems it had been taken from him during he fracas.  Then another Negro came, complaining that some cattle had been penned up, and he wanted them “”tu’nd loose.”

The pendulum swing, from the most tragic incidents, to the most trivial.  I have been bombarded with every kind of petition and complaint, both for protection against imaginary trouble, and for what I consider would be persecution---that spirit of cruelty that a revolution always develops; people who want to gratify their animosity and personal spite.

As to the government we have established, it is a perfectly legal one. The law, passed by the Republican Legislature itself, has been complied with. There was no limitation used in the establishment of the present city government. The old government had become satisfied of their inefficiency and utterly helpless imbecility, and believed that if they did not resign, they would be run out of town…

A.M.Waddell's Speech at the White Supremacy Convention,

Greensboro, 1898:

Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell’s speech, which was in line with Guthrie’s---they were the high-water marks of the convention---was mainly devoted to vivid word pictures of conditions in Wilmington.  He detailed the intolerable conditions which compelled even ministers of the Gospel to patrol the streets at night to protect their homes. “We are going,” declared Waddell, to protect our firesides and our loved ones or we will die in the attempt, and I don’t say that for the purpose of winding up in an oratorical flight. That determination is in the minds of the white men of Wilmington and we intend to carry it out.”

He declared that the Wilmington people would drive out the Manlys and the Russells and the horde of corruptionists ‘if they have to throw enough dead Negro bodies in the Cape Fear to choke up its passage to the sea.” In ordinary times Waddell was one of the most graceful and classical of speakers, but on that day he was an American Robespierre, as indeed he had been in the early seventies when he redeemed the Wilmington district and was elected to Congress.  He was the sort of man who in political revolutions and in war came to the front by sheer audacity and courage. But when things were moving quietly and smoothly, he was to be found in his library reading, and seemed more or less a dilettante. It required conditions such as existed in 1898 to bring him to the front. His speech electrified the Convention. Portions of it were printed and sent all over the State.  His defiant utterances were quoted by speakers on every stump.  The cause of Wilmington became the cause of all.

(Editor in Politics, Josephus Daniel, UNC Press, 1941, page 301)

Email: editor@1898wilmington.hypermart.net