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Interview with James Olin Coleman, April 17, 1995 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with James Olin Coleman, April 17, 1995
April 17, 1995
In this brief interview, James Olin Coleman discusses his grandmother, Mary Catherine Ruark, and her memories of the Civil War, which include watching the battles of Fort Fisher from the Southport lighthouse
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Coleman, James Olin Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 13 minutes

Interviewer 1: Can we... can you give us your name?

Coleman: My name is James Olin Coleman from Lenoir, North Carolina.

Interviewer 1: And what brings you to Southport?

Coleman: Well, we're doing a little research on my... the genealogy of my maternal grandmother who was Mary Catherine Ruark from Southport here and trying to discover things about our past...

Interviewer 1: Right...

Coleman: ...and people about our past.

Interviewer 1: What kind of ties did uh... she have... her family... that you know of, in Southport?

Coleman: Well, she was tied to the... [in the background, a woman's voice, "your mother's first cousin... your grandmother's first cousin"]... she... was tied to the Woodsides and the Anders. She was married first to a Mr. Kerr... and had children by Mr. Kerr and then she was married a second time, to Franklin Anders. And, she was raised here in Southport. I'd add that her father, Hanson Kelly Ruark was the Lighthouse Keeper here in Southport, during the Civil War. And, she told me as a child about her going to the top of the lighthouse and watching the two Battles of Fort Fisher which included the blowing up of a ship, right close to Fort Fisher... to supposedly damage the Fort, and then the actual Battle in 1865.

Interviewer 1: Did she... did she describe any of it to you... that she remembered?

Coleman: All I remember is her telling me about the explosion which was heard far and wide.

Interviewer 1: Right.

Coleman: And the only thing she describe a little more in detail was what it was like when the Yankees came through. And that was a little more graphic and stuck in my memory more.

Interviewer 1: Right. How did she describe that... what it was like here?

Coleman: Well, she said that it was... uh, it was bad... in that when they came through they tore up the floor boards of the house looking for valuables and took their bayonets and ripped-up the mattresses looking to see if they'd sown anything into the mattresses and generally tore the house up looking for valuables to carry off and the only thing that they saved was what they had buried in the mud, in the marsh. They'd taken their hams and their silver way out into the marsh and buried them there... in the mud. And, long after the Army had gone they went out and recovered those things.

Interviewer 1: That was terrible. (laughter) Uh, what else... how long was Hanson Ruark Lighthouse Keeper, did you... did she tell you that?

[Tape Break]

Coleman: ... Never went off to the battlefields, so to speak, during the War... but was here and at this point it seems to have been the important "blockade runner" place because of... it was the only one and the last one of the places to operate until the end of the War... or almost the end of the War.

Interviewer 1: Did he describe how the lighthouse worked to her or anything... did she describe any of that?

Coleman: No. I didn't... she didn't get into that. I often talked to her when she was bedridden and would go uh... uh ... sit by her bed and she would tell me stories and this was part of the stories that she would tell.

Interviewer 1: Did she describe any of the... what life was like in Southport, back then? Describe the streets the people... anything like that?

Coleman: That part, if she did, didn't stick in my mind...

Interviewer 1: Didn't stick... Yeah.

Coleman: Yeah, the more spectacular things were what stuck with me especially the things that seem to stuck have with people in that day... was the battles and the actual invasion when Sherman's Army came through this part of the country and the stragglers on... behind the Army, that followed the Army... then came through cleaning up whatever... taking whatever the Army left.

Interviewer 1: Right. Did um... now when the Union troops came in, did he stay as Lighthouse Keeper or did he evacuate with the townspeople or the Army or anything?

Coleman: I don't know.

Interviewer 1: Don't know that...

Coleman: No that didn't stick with me. I'm sure he stayed here, though. That wasn't... she didn't go into all the details.

Interviewer 1: Did he stay here and die here or did he move, eventually... that you know of...?

Coleman: I'm not certain, but I think he stayed here. I'm almost sure he did.

Interviewer 1: What about uh... any of the family members or relatives, descendants that you might have here... do you know anything about them?

Coleman: Well, several of the Ruarks are descendants, here.

Interviewer 1: Right.

Coleman: And, we're planning on looking up some of those descendants, here. And uh... well, the Ruarks and the Whitesides...

Interviewer 1: Woodsides?

Coleman: Woodsides, yeah.

Interviewer 2: Um... how long did the uh... it was your Great Grand... it was your Grandmother... how long did she stay in Southport?

Coleman: Um... I think until she married my Grandmother, uh my Grandfather, uh...

Interviewer 2: Uh... hmm.

Coleman: ...Frank... James Franklin Anders and uh... she had married Mr. Kerr before that, who was from New York and uh... had two or three children by him. And, then after his death she had married my Grandmother, my Grandfather. Then they moved to Ivanhoe, which is not too far from here.

Interviewer 2: Uh... Hmm.

Coleman: And that's where my Mother was born and raised, there in Ivanhoe.

Interviewer 2: (inaudible) What was your Mother's name?

Coleman: Her name was Annie Mildred Col... Annie Mildred Andrews.

Interviewer 2: Annie Mildred Andrews. Was she named after Annie Mae?

Coleman: Ah... I'm not sure... what she was... there... the Annie part could have been...

Interviewer 2: Yeah. Yeah.

Coleman: ...after her.

Interviewer 2: Very interesting. Did you know Annie Mae Woodside at all?

Coleman: Oh yes, I have a very vivid memory of her because when we came here visiting when I was seven years old, back in 1937 we visited Annie Mae in her home here. And, she had a Pekinese dog...

Interviewer 2: Hmm...

Coleman: ...and they told me not to get... not to play with it or get too close to it, to which I didn't pay any attention (laughter), and so I promptly got a bite on the lip, from that dog... so I remember Annie Mae very well there... but she... I visited with her twice in her home. And, then years later came back...

Interviewer 2: Well, we'd enjoy any memories you have of you visits and of her because that's our history, too.

Coleman: Yes, we saw the bell in front of the Baptist Church, that she had donated as well as the organ in the Baptist Church that she had donated... but uh... I ... we were beneficiaries of her estate and uh... and that we were distant relatives but the closest relatives that she had.

Interviewer 2: Uh hmm.

Coleman: But, I understood that it was divided among about fifteen or so or more people and that we were one of those beneficiaries.

Interviewer 2: That was very nice. Very nice.

Coleman: And uh... we came up from Florida in 1937 and visited with her then and I don't have too very many memories of details of then except the... except the bite on my lip (laughter) but uh... we've been right interested in learning more about it... especially through Mr. Prevatte...the attorney here...

Interviewer 2: Yes.

Coleman: ...who handled it... the estate (inaudible).

Interviewer 2: We're going to interview E.J. Prevatte, next week.

Coleman: Oh, good.

Interviewer 2: Uh... hmm. Yes, we are. What do you remember of Southport, at that time... when you came? Was it very different then it is now?

Coleman: No, it doesn't seem to be a whole lot different... at least the center of this town. The uh... the riverfront seens to be very similar and the home where Annie Mae lived seems to be very... very similar. And, the whole front there.

Interviewer 2: All right.

Coleman: Very similar to the town where I was raised in Florida, in St. Augustine, where they keep it historical. Here it seems to have sort of "frozen in time," so to speak.

Interviewer 2: That's what we like. (laughter)

Interviewer 1: Uh... hmm. That's what we're trying to keep. Exactly. (laughter)

Interviewer 2: It's very nice.

Interviewer 1: You said you... visited here twice in the Thirties and then?

Coleman: We came back in the Fifties, I think it was, when my Mother was still alive and came here.

Interviewer 1: Do you have any memories of the town then? Basically the same as it was in the Thirties?

Coleman: Basically, the same as it was in '37. Right. Yeah. And uh... my mother often spoke of Annie Mae and a number of the names that we're researching now come to mind as she referred to them... uh... in passing... about her childhood.

Interviewer 2: Uh... hmm.

Interviewer 1: How long have you been doing the research?

Coleman: Uh... Jean's been doing most of the research for me, at least the paper part. And uh... she ...her Father began the genealogical work, some years ago... and we have uh... he did it as well in his part of the family as well as my part of the family. But, it's a book about that thick (gestures... about 7" thick).

Interviewer 2: Do you recall the year that your Grandfather was born... your Great-Grandfather, no... its your Grandfather, no... your Great-Grandfather... the year that he was born? Or, the year that your Grandmother was born?

Coleman: My Grandmother was born in 1852.

Interviewer 2: 1852. So she was thirteen years old when Fort Fisher fell.

Coleman: Right.

Interviewer 2: She'd have a very good memory...

Coleman: Yeah, she uh... no doubt it was a very vivid thing to... a spectacular thing for her to remember... thirteen is a... in her adolescence. But, she was watching the Battle from the top of... what was evidently "Old Baldy" Lighthouse which my Grandfather was the Keeper, the Lighthouse Keeper.

Interviewer 2: Did she live on the island at that time?

Coleman: I'm not sure. I know her address was Fort... Southport. But whether she lived... I got the impression she lived at the Lighthouse. So she may have lived out on the island then.

Interviewer 2: Well, those are wonderful memories... we appreciate your bringing this to us and we'll help you all we can.

Coleman: Well, I appreciate your help.

Interviewer 2: And, we'd love to have you keep in touch with us, too.

Coleman: Thank you.

Interviewer 2: Very good. Thank you so much.

Interviewer 1: Thank you.

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