Nelson M. Ferebee Papers

1822-1848, 1849-1898
Manuscript Collection #404
Ferebee, Nelson M.
Physical description
0.055 Cubic Feet, typewritten transcript, copy. Also included are copies of miscellaneous papers consisting of letters, a sketch, and grade school reports.
Preferred Citation
Nelson M. Ferebee Papers (#404), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

Papers (1822 [1849]-1898) including typewritten transcript, copy, letters, sketches, grade school reports.

Biographical/historical information

Nelson Ferebee was born on April 16, 1849, into a well-established Camden Co., North Carolina, family. His father, a lawyer, maintained a substantial plantation with a large population of enslaved people.

Scope and arrangement

The earlier part of the memoir, covering approximately the years of 1850 through 1860, is a valuable source of information concerning the plantation life of that era. Of particular interest are Ferebee's detailed descriptions of the life and work of enslaved people (pp. 3-11), including accounts of their morals and customs (pp. 4, 7). Also relative to this period are Ferebee's accounts of the value and status of enslaved people in the 1850s (p. 7) and problems with runaways (pp. 1-2), as well as the role of slave traders (pp. 3-4), slave catchers, and night patrollers in society (pp. 7, 10). The role of the mistress of the plantation, her obligations to the enslaved people (p. 5), and her work at harvest time (p. 11) also are discussed.

In January 1858, the Ferebee family moved to Norfolk, Virginia. Of significance during this period are Ferebee's accounts of his schooling (pp. 13-14) and living conditions in pre-war Norfolk (pp. 14-16).

During the Civil War, the Ferebee family lived both in Norfolk, and Oxford, N.C. Of interest during these years (1861-1865), are Ferebee's accounts of the economic hardships caused by the war (p. 19). Also of significance are the accounts of his mother smuggling goods through Union lines situated around South Mills, N.C., and Norfolk (p. 18), as well as references to his father's cavalry career, including his pay scale and the conditions at winter camp near Garysburg, N.C. (pp. 18, 20).

Of importance during the post-war years are Ferebee's accounts of the cruel punishment inflicted upon freed slaves by officers of the Freedmen's Bureau in Oxford,N.C. (p. 22). Also of interest during this era are the descriptions of civil unrest, his opinion of the carpetbag government, and his brief mention of Ku Klux Klan activities (pp. 23-24).

In October, 1867, Nelson Ferebee entered the University of Maryland medical school. After graduating in 1871, and finding the practice of a country doctor intolerable, he enlisted in the Navy in September, 1872, as an assistant surgeon (p. 26). His first assignment worth of note was on the USS PORTSMOUTH in 1872 and 1873. As the PORTSMOUTH was a ship of the old line, Ferebee's descriptions of the vessel enables the researcher to visualize the living conditions of the nineteenth century sailor (pp. 26-34). Also of significance during the Portsmouth cruise are Ferebee's accounts of the Neptune ceremony performed while crossing the equator (pp. 35-37). Ferebee also describes the social life and customs of Hawaiians encountered during an 1875 cruise on the PORTSMOUTH (pp. 58-61).

Other cruises of research value include Ferebee's duty on the USS PENSACOLA in 1873, during which time he traveled the Peruvian countryside and observed Peruvian bullfights (pp. 38-51).

From the PENSACOLA, Ferebee was transferred to the JAMESTOWN at Sitka, Alaska (pp. 65-78). Topics of interest include Ferebee's descriptions of the native villages, the customs and social life of the Alaskan Indians, and his impressions of the Alaskan countryside (pp. 65-78). Ferebee also includes an amusing poem concerning Thanksgiving, "The Jamestown's Proclamation."

From the JAMESTOWN, Ferebee was ordered to the USS TRENTON and was stationed in the Asiatic Squadron at Chemulpo, Korea. Ferebee relates his impressions of the Korean natives and their reaction to U.S. Naval personnel (pp. 83-88).

Ferebee's last major duty was on the USS INDIANA during the Spanish-American War. Comments concerning this period give an excellent day-to-day account of the war, including the destruction of the MAINE in Havana Harbor (pp. 157-158). Also of interest are Ferebee's impressions of the performance of the Army (pp. 192-193), the Navy (pp. 157-231), and the Marines (pp. 192-195, 207). Also worthy of mention is his brief statement concerning the rescue of the Rough Riders by the 10th Cavalry, a regiment of all-Black troops also known as the "Buffalo Soldiers" (p. 193). Of particular significance are the accounts of the U.S. blockade, the ships captured by American vessels (pp. 158-217), and captured communiqu├ęs of the Spanish fleet (pp. 189-191). Important battles discussed include the Battle of Santiago Bay in which the Spanish fleet was destroyed (pp. 199-217) and the fall of the town of Santiago (pp. 199-217).

At the end of the Spanish-American War, Ferebee was transferred to Washington Naval Yard where he remained until his retirement in 1904.

This collection also includes copies of letters (1822-1884) from several members of the MacPherson, Gregory, and Ferebee families. Of particular interest is Nelson Ferebee's letter (June, 1884) describing the clothing and poor housing of Koreans at Chemulpo. Also included are a sketch of Ferebee's room aboard the JAMESTOWN (1879-1881); his grade reports from Oxford Classical, Mathematical, and Scientific School (1865, undated); the grade report of Miss Mary Ferebee at Oxford Female Seminary (December, 1887); and Bible records for the Ferebee and MacPherson families.

Administrative information
Custodial History

April 3, 1980, 232 pp. typescript, 18 items (copies); Memoir (1849-1898) of Naval physician. Gift of Miss Mary Howard, 506 St. Patrick Street, Tarboro, N.C.

July 30, 1981 (unprocessed addition 1), 25 pp.; Bible records for Ferebee and McPherson families.

Source of acquisition

Gift of Miss Mary Howard

Processing information

Processed by L. Durham, February 1981

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Descriptions updated by Jennifer Overstreet, July 2020

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Key terms
Personal Names
Ferebee, Nelson M.
Family Names
Ferebee family
MacPherson family
Corporate Names
Jamestown (Sloop of war)
Portsmouth (Sloop of war)
United States. Navy--History--Spanish-American War, 1898
United States. Navy--Sea life
United States. Navy--Surgeons
Plantation life--North Carolina--Camden County
Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877)--North Carolina--Oxford
Slavery--North Carolina
Slaves--North Carolina--Social life and customs--19th century
Alaska--Description and travel
Hawaii--Description and travel
Korea--Description and travel
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Economic aspects