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Written by Robert Maffitt; edited by Cheri Todd Molter

John N. Maffitt was born at sea on February 22, 1819. His parents, Rev. Maffitt and Ann Carnicke Maffitt, were traveling across the Atlantic from Ireland to New York at that time. They eventually settled in Connecticut.

When John was about 5 years old, his uncle, Dr. William Maffitt, visited him and his parents. Finding the family in financial straits, Dr. Maffitt asked if he could adopt John. They agreed, and Dr. Maffitt brought his nephew to his home in Fayetteville, NC. Once of age, John was sent to a school in White Plains, NY, to be educated. The young lad traveled to New York via the old-time stagecoach with his ticket attached to his jacket. He remained at that school until he was 13 years old.

On February 25, 1832, friends of his father obtained a Midshipman commission in the US Navy for John. That was the beginning of his lifelong naval vocation. His assignment was on the Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) for a three-and-a-half-year cruise. Luckily, he was appointed as an Aide to Commodore Elliott, which gave him many advantages and opportunities. By 1843, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant while serving with the superintendent of the US Coast Survey, Professor Alexander D. Bache, who was a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point. Much of their coastal survey work was completed in the south—in the waters around Charleston, SC, and Wilmington, NC—and around the Cape Fear River. A channel in Charleston Harbor still bears the name Maffitt Channel. This knowledge and experience served him very well as a Confederate blockade runner.

With the onset of the Civil War, Maffitt resigned his US commission to become 1st Lieutenant in the Confederate Navy. He became an aide to General Robert E. Lee, preparing coastal defenses for Savannah, GA. During the early days of the war, Maffitt commanded Confederate privateers, rendering a valuable service to the Confederacy as a blockade runner. He commanded the Owl and other vessels during his career, bringing in much needed supplies and munitions for the Confederate war effort.

After the war, Maffitt’s home in Wilmington was confiscated by the US Government. He decided he would live in exile and applied for a command in the English merchant service. Maffitt was given command of a fine steamer, the Widgeon, running between Liverpool and Rio de Janeiro. Maffitt remained in that position until he received an urgent request from the family to return to Wilmington after about eighteen months.

After he returned to North Carolina, Maffitt used the money he earned in the British merchant marines to purchase 212 acres that bordered Wrightsville Beach. The family had 51 acres of it cleared and had a seven-room house built and started a farm, producing fruits, vegetables, flowers, and peanuts. Maffitt named this property the “Moorings.” Residents of this area still refer to it as the Moorings.

By the early 1880s, Maffitt suffered a series of losses that caused him physical and mental anguish. Unfortunately, he suffered an accident that led to the loss of his thumb. The wound caused him great pain and greatly reduced his writing ability. Also, his friends had nominated him for a position in the Customs House in Wilmington; however, President Cleveland refused to confirm the nomination. That was a great shock to Maffitt. Furthermore, Maffit was suffering from Bright’s Disease (now known as nephritis) and was unable to supervise the farm and adequately provide for his family.

Maffitt declined over time, even spending 3 months in the state mental hospital in Raleigh. On Saturday afternoon, May 15, 1886, at the age of 67, Maffitt passed away in Wilmington. His funeral was held at St. James Church. He was buried at Oakdale Cemetery, Lot 25. Maffitt’s great-grandson, Robert Maffitt, is a member of the Brunswick Civil War Round Table.

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