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Orange Street Landing on Cape Fear

WILMINGTON, North Carolina

As a major port city along the Cape Fear River, Wilmington presented itself as a prime location for intense Underground Railroad activities. Despite the vigilance of the local authorities, slaves still escaped. On September 21, 1862, one of Wilimington's largest known escapes took place just after nightfall. Twenty-two slaves commandeered three sailboats at the foot of Orange Street and successfully navigated the 28 nautical miles to the mouth of Cape Fear River. After passing the Confederate occupied Fort Caswell, they were picked up by Union blockading ships stationed near the fort, and as newly freedmen, enlisted in the Union Navy. One of the slaves, William Benjamin Gould, kept the only known Civil War diary of the black soldier and the former slave. "Diary of a Contraband: The Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor" preserves the legacy of the Underground Railroad and provides a rare look into the day-to-day life of a freedom seeker aboard the U.S> Navy Warship. The book was published by his great grandson, Stanford University Professor, William B. Gould IV.