A few things you might not know about Washington

Published 4:31 pm Friday, January 13, 2023

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As a change of pace, here are a few short tidbits of history about the Port of Washington.

Cup of Joe

It is rumored that referring to a serving of coffee as a “cup of joe” stems from the banning alcoholic beverages aboard U.S. Navy vessels. Josephus Daniels, a teetotaler, was Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1921 in the Cabinet of Woodrow Wilson. Daniels banned alcohol from United States Navy ships in General Order 99 of June 1, 1914. Sailors quipped that coffee was a substitute for the banned liquid refreshment and started calling it a “cup of joe” in his honor. Daniels served as Franklin Roosevelt’s Ambassador to Mexico from 1933 to 1941 and editor of the News and Observer newspaper in Raleigh. Josephus Daniels, the son of a shipbuilder, was born in Washington, NC, on May 18, 1862, two months after Federal forces occupied the town.

One of the First Ports of Entry

In 1790, Congress passed several acts to authorize the collection of customs, a tax imposed on goods transported across international borders. In response to these laws, the Federal government established ports of entry and appointed officials to collect customs. Washington was chosen as one of these ports. In addition, the construction of 10 revenue cutters was authorized for the new Revenue Marine Service, the ancestor service of the U. S. Coast Guard, to enforce the customs laws. Washington was chosen as the location for the construction of one of the first cutters, the Diligence.


Among Washington shipping firms, losses in life and property were numerous and substantial. An early such loss was that of Captain Thomas Smith, who wrecked his ship on the rocks off Bermuda in December 1796. Four married men from Washington were on board and lost their lives.

Josiah C. Fowle, age 31, of the Washington Fowle shipping firm, and his bride Mary Carr, age 22, of Tarboro, were aboard the schooner “Henrietta” returning from their wedding trip to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands on about September 25, 1822. The “Henrietta” never arrived in Washington, and the couple was never heard from again.

Another Fowle schooner, “Friends,” sailed through Ocracoke Inlet on June 12, 1855, laden with naval stores and cotton bound for New York. Three days later, she encountered strong winds and high seas. The log stated, “Vessel leaking fast, two feet water in hold, pumps working continuously. Threw over deck load, thought best to run vessel on beach for preservation of life and limb.” The “Friends” was a total loss but the crew was saved.

Upriver Steamboats

The arrival of steamboats opened upriver communities to the rest of the world and expanded trade. Beginning in 1836, merchants in the interior communities of Tarboro and Greenville benefited from the ability of steamboats to carry cargo from Washington against the current upriver.

The term “upriver” is noted in an article by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. Daniels describes the “upriver steamboat” as a known ship class on the Tar River.

Ray Midgett is a Washington resident, local historian and the past president of the Historic Port of Washington Project.