The simple cross reads only "Nance." More is said on a larger family monument nearby in Wilmington's historic Oakdale Cemetery. That family monument reads: "Nancy Adams Martin, died May 25, 1857, aged twenty-four years and twenty-one days. John Salter Martin was lost at sea, September 1857, aged thirty-four years. They were the eldest son and third daughter of Silas H. and Margaret Martin."
Even that, however, fails to tell the tragic story of Nancy Martin, who was buried seated in a chair, and John, whose body was never recovered from the sea. Silas Homer Martin was an antebellum businessman, shipper and captain in North Carolina's port city. Though a strong family man, he nevertheless enjoyed being at sea for long periods of time. In 1857 he planned an around-the-world voyage on his clipper ship, carrying freight from port to port. In addition to a crew including his son John, Silas Martin agreed to take along his daughter, affectionately called "Nance."
After three months of the voyage, however, Nance fell ill. With no medical help at hand, the young woman died on May 25, 1857. The grief stricken father and brother could not bring themselves to bury Nancy at sea; yet, they were on the high ocean, far from any port. Like most ships in those days, Martin's clipper carried large casks of whiskey, rum, and other alcoholic liquids. To preserve Nancy's body, the Martins decided to store her body in one of the casks. It occurred to them, however, that a body would be tossed around in the liquid as the ship reacted to the angry waves of the ocean, and this prospect was disquieting to the father and brother. It was then that they devised a plan to hold Nancy's body rigid, no matter how much the ship was buffeted by the seas.
They took a strong oak chair from one of the cabins and lashed the body to the chair in a seated position. The chair was then placed in an empty cask and nailed carefully so as to make it immovable within the barrel. After the container was filled with alcohol, it was carefully sealed and a memorial service was conducted. Now that the corpse could be preserved indefinitely, the elder Martin decided that the ship should continue its voyage, fulfilling its contract to carry freight to its destination. ...
This decision was to haunt Silas Martin, for in September, four months after Nancy's death, the ship ran into a violent storm, during which John Salter Martin was swept overboard. His body was never recovered. His father could go no farther; instead, he changed his course and began the slow, sad trip back to Wilmington. ...
After considering how to best handle the precious cask that had survived the rough seas, the family chose to bury the body of Nancy Adams Martin just as it had rested for many months. A large hole was dug in Oakdale Cemetery, and the cask, still containing Nancy's body, seated and lashed to a chair, the entire contents preserved in alcohol, was lowered into it.
Gravesite Details died at sea, Buried in a seated position in a cask of Rum and whiskey.