MIKE WAGONER

MIKE WAGONER

The “original” Atlantic Hotel was built in Beaufort in 1851, overlooking Taylors Creek on the waterfront between Pollock and Marsh streets.

In the mid-1850s, Josiah Solomon Pender of Edgecombe County, relocated to Beaufort with his wife, Maria Louise Williams Pender, to establish a shipping business. He purchased three steamships to transport cargo among the ports of Beaufort, New Bern, Bermuda and New York City.

He “just had to have” his favorite hotel, so he acquired the Atlantic Hotel in 1856.

As a lodging establishment, the 100-room hotel was grand and glorious – “three stories high, with triple porches and numerous windows to catch the breeze...supported on pilings out over the water,” wrote author Virginia Pou Doughton.

Josiah’s primary place in American history, however, is not as a hotelier or a shipping magnate. Rather, his primary claim to fame is the “capture of Fort Macon” for the Confederacy in 1861.

Paul Branch, a Fort Macon State Park ranger and historian, noted that “on April 13, 1861, the day the U.S. garrison at Fort Sumter surrendered to the Confederate forces, a group of 17 Carteret County secessionists formed a militia and selected Josiah S. Pender, 42, as its captain.

Another source said Josiah outfitted the entire unit – named the “Beaufort Harbor Guards” numbering about 50 men and boys – at his own expense.

Josiah’s troops didn’t exactly storm Fort Macon on April 14. They walked right in through the open front gate, greeted by Union Sgt. William Alexander, 50, an unarmed caretaker. By his side was his wife, Ann L. Livesay Alexander, 21, of Morehead City. They had only recently been married, Paul Branch said.

(Ironically, the sergeant had formally requested that he be issued a government revolver. His superior officer replied no revolvers were available.)

“Sgt. Alexander received Capt. Pender courteously,” Paul Branch said. “Their entire conversation was punctuated with the utmost kindness, courtesy and respect on both sides. Thus, Fort Macon was seized without bloodshed.”

The first order of business for the Beaufort Harbor Guards was replacing the Stars and Stripes with “an improvised flag showing a green pine tree with a coiled rattlesnake at its foot.”

On April 15, North Carolina Gov. John Willis Ellis announced the state would fight along with its southern brethren to repel the invasion by Union troops. He sent the “Goldsboro Rifles,” under Capt. Marshall D. Craton, to take command of Fort Macon.

Josiah was quickly relieved of leadership duties. He was formally dismissed from service in December 1861, the same month that his wife, Maria, died from yellow fever. She was 33.

Josiah and most of his children returned to Tarboro for a time. (The kiddos were distributed to next of kin.) Josiah later married Laura Melvine Pender, a distant cousin.

He took her with him as he embarked on a “new adventure” to help the Confederacy, setting up operations in Hamilton, Bermuda.

Using his steamships, Josiah became a blockade runner, smuggling goods into the Port of Wilmington for the Confederate cause. Laura returned to Tarboro to deliver the couple’s first child in October 1863, while Josiah chose to continue his life on the high seas a tad longer.

In 1864, Josiah contracted yellow fever. He made it back to Beaufort but passed away in October 1864, at age 45.

Josiah Pender is buried by his first wife in Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground. Their tombstones are Number One on the self-guided tour.

The Yankee soldiers did their best to trash the Atlantic Hotel in 1862, but miraculously, the structure survived to serve a “higher purpose,” becoming a military hospital. The Sisters of Mercy slept there.

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