Robert Andrews Sellers (1847-1905)
(Source: Contributed by Paula F. Kermon)
Robert Sellers’ childhood is very sketchy, but according to his widow, his father died when Robert was a young child. When his mother remarried, his stepfather bonded him to a farmer. The 1850 Census for Brunswick County listed him as a 3 year old living with farmers George and Mary Montgomery. The 1860 Census showed him as 12 and living with James Reynolds. Eventually Robert “ran away to the woods” and worked in a lumber mill. During that time, he taught himself to be a ship’s engineer and was allegedly the first licensed maritime engineer south of the Mason Dixon line.
Robert enlisted in the 3rd Company G 40th Regiment CSA on March 16, 1863 at the age of 17. He became part of the crew on the blockade runner The Venus off the Cape Fear River. The Venus was reportedly one of the fastest iron sidewheelers and under the command of Captain Charles Murray. She was returning to port in September 1863, loaded with salt pork, bacon, coffee, sugar, and armament for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia when she met Union resistance from a Federal gunboat. The Venus was trying to run the blockade when the Union’s Nansemond joined the chase attempting to disable The Venus. As The Venus was coming into the Wilmington inlet, The Nansemond came into range of Fort Fisher’s gunners. The gunners peppered the waters around The Nansemond, forcing her to fall back int the chase. The Venus was damaged but able to reach safety in the Cape Fear River. However, on her very next trip, returning to Wilmington in October 1863, The Venus again was attacked by The Nanasemond, and her hull was damaged by cannons and was beached at Carolina Beach. Attempts to refloat her the next day were unsuccessful, and she was set on fire to keep her out of enemy hands. With his ship now destroyed, Robert continued as a pilot for other blockade runners. (This account was told by family and supported by the account detailed in Gray Phantoms of the Cape Fear by Dawson Carr.)
Robert was captured at Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865 and was as POW in Elmira, NY (named Hellmira by the prisoners). During the 12 months that the prison was in use, 2,970 of the 12,100 Confederate soldiers there died of malnutrition, exposure, disease from poor sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care. Robert was released on June 12, 1865.
Robert Sellers married Sarah Matilda Bowers on June 5, 1869 in Brunswick County, and they had 9 children.
In the 1870 Census, Robert was shown as being employed as a seaman and living in Smithville, Brunswick County. He drowned on February 23, 1905 in Wilmington, NC under suspicious circumstances (family stated that he had $400 taken from him). He was then living at 722 Front Street in WIlmington and is buried in Belleview Cemetery, Wilmington (see article in file).
Some of Robert Sellers’ descendants continue to be pulled by the sea. His grandson, Robert Andrews Sellers, was a machinist mate in the engine room while serving in the US Coast Guar during World War II. His great grandson, Philip Van Sellers, was a chief engineer, and his great great grandson, Raymond Gordon Davis, was a captain, both with the Army Corps of Engineers.