Entombed at Sea in a Cask

Martin’s grave at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington. Image from the New Hanover County Public Library.On May 25, 1857, Nancy Adams Martin died at sea. Her body was placed in a cask of alcohol to preserve her remains until the ship reached port.

Affectionately known as “Nance” by her family, Martin was the daughter of Wilmington businessman Silas H. Martin. A captain and shipper by trade, Silas planned a trip around the world, and his eldest son John and daughter Nance accompanied him on the voyage. It would be an ill-fated journey for the Martins.

Nance took ill about three months into the trip and quickly succumbed to the sickness. The only means of preserving her body for later burial was to store it in a cask of rum. The thought of her body sloshing around in a cask was too much for her father and brother, so it was decided that a chair would be placed in the cask, nailed in place and Nance seated and tied into the chair to keep her from swishing around.

The voyage continued and tragedy struck again. John was swept overboard and lost at sea.

Upon returning to Wilmington, Silas had Nance buried. Rather than disturb the remains they buried her in the cask in the port city’s Oakdale Cemetery.

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