AUTHOR: JC Knowles (edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter)
Nancy “Nance” Adams Martin, the daughter of businessman and ship owner Silas Martin and his wife, Margaret Crawford Martin, took ill and died while at sea with her father. In 1857, Silas took twenty-four-year-old Nance and his thirty-four-year-old son, John, with him on an around-the-world voyage, carrying freight from port to port. After several months at sea, Nance became ill, likely with yellow fever. On May 25, 1857, Nance died, much to the dismay of her father and brother. It is believed that they made it to Cuba before Nance died and that she was seen by a doctor there who eased her discomfort but, unfortunately, could not save her.
Not wanting to bury his daughter at sea, Martin had Nance’s body tied to a chair and placed inside a cask of rum for preservation during the long trip back to Wilmington.
Earlier versions of this story claim that, on the return trip home, John was lost at sea, presumably washed overboard during a storm. However, more recent scholarship has suggested that John made it home to Wilmington with Nance’s body but was lost at sea during a later voyage. Regardless of which is true, John was lost at sea, and his body was never recovered. His name was engraved on one side of the obelisk that also bears his parents’ and sister’s names at the family’s grave plot.
Once Martin returned to Wilmington, Nance was buried at Oakdale Cemetery in that keg of rum. Local storytellers claim that her father visited her grave every day for the rest of his life, regardless of the weather.