north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



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      James Sprunt, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and historian, was born on June 9, 1846 in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1852, his parents, Alexander and Jane Sprunt, moved to Duplin County. They lived there two years before settling in Wilmington at their home at Ninth and Princess Streets. While his father was away, serving the Confederacy on blockade runners during the Civil War, young Sprunt shouldered responsibility for his family. He began working at the age of fourteen, attending night school to study navigation. After three years, he secured the purser’s berth on the blockade-runners North Heath and Lilian. Upon his return to Wilmington he brought with him ten barrels of sugar from Nassau. He sold the sugar and used the profits to invest in cotton. Sprunt was later captured and imprisoned at Fort Macon and Fort Monroe. After he escaped, he returned to Wilmington and became the purser of the blockade runner Susan Beirne until Fort Fisher fell in January 1865.

      After the war, Sprunt’s cotton was sold in England as the first transaction of the exporting firm of Alexander Sprunt & Son. Sprunt and his father exported cotton and naval stores to more than fifty agencies across Europe. Alexander Sprunt had served as British vice-consul, a position that James assumed when his father died in 1884. James Sprunt also served as Imperial German Counsel from 1907 to 1912.

      Back in North Carolina, Sprunt dedicated himself to philanthropic efforts, especially those related to education, and to preserving the history of the Cape Fear region. He served on the board of trustees of the University of North Carolina and Davidson College. In 1900 he established a fund at UNC for the publication of historical monographs known as the James Sprunt Historical Publications. Having lost a leg in a horse accident in 1883, Sprunt was compelled to send crippled children from the mill section of Wilmington to Baltimore for treatment and rehabilitation. His support of hospitals serving the maimed and deformed was renowned. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church and helped build several churches including the Church of the Covenant at Fifteenth and Market Streets in Wilmington. Sprunt was active in the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association and the North Carolina Folklore Society. In 1916 he published Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, still among the most consulted works documenting the region’s history.

      In 1904 Sprunt purchased Orton Plantation as a gift for his wife Luola, daughter of the previous owner, Colonel Kenneth M. Murchison, who had completed restoration of the house. The Sprunts were responsible for further developing the house and gardens into the regional attraction that it is today. James Sprunt died on July 9, 1924. He is buried in Wilmington’s Oakdale Cemetery.

James Sprunt: A Memorial Volume from the City of Wilmington (1925)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 417—sketch by Dorothy Fremont Grant
Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, XVII, 486
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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