Thriller Thursday: John Culley Drowned

I ordered Newspaper Obituaries from the Kellenberger Room at the New Bern, NC Public Library, with the Culley/Cully Surname.  I believe that John Culley is a relative, and still looking for the full family line link. One obituary really had me questioning if the drowning of John Culley was really an accident, because the way the story was told.  I felt like it was a cover-up!  What do you think?

New Bern Weekly Journal 2/28/1905, pg 4 col 1


Well Known Colored Man The Victim of an Accident Thursday Night

John Culley, a well known colored man was drowned in Swift Creek near Vanceboro at about 8 o’clock Thursday night.  The news did not reach here until late Friday night when two of the young men who were with him arrived and announced the tidings.

The circumstances of the accident are that Culley was intoxicated in Vanceboro and the officer had threatened to put him under arrest.  His companions, Claude Gilerist and Tom White were anxious to get him into a boat so as to avoid having him arrested.  They had two boats, one a small row boat with which the went from a large flat anchored mid stream to the land.  They got Culley in the row boat all right but in endeavoring to put him on the flat, the smaller boat was pushed away and in their efforts to get back the boat was turned over.  All three men and the contents going into deep water.  Culley, although a good swimmer sank and was drowned.  The two men had hard work saving themselves.  A quantity of ammunition, one shot gun and two or three bottles of whiskey were lost.

The men spent all day Friday and yesterday in trying to recover the body but up to a late hour last evening they were unsuccessful.  A tug was sent up from this city to assist in finding him.

 John Culley was a cripple and was one of the best known colored men in the city.  He has followed the occupation of raising sunken logs from the river bottom and was very successful in it.  He often returned to the city towing a big raft of logs that he had taken in this way.  He was a very industrious man and had the respect of the entire community for his thrifty habits.

 There was an apparent court case surrounding John Cully’s death.  I am really interested in knowing how the jurors came up with their verdict.  Today’s technologies may have proved these two young men guilty of murder.

New Bern Weekly Journal 3/28/1905, Pg 4, Col 1


The verdict in the John Cully drowning was death by
accidental drowning.  The remains were buried at

When I have the opportunity, my next step to find out more about the investigation and the court case, is to request the information from the New Bern County Court House.  I am also interested in knowing if the men with him were White and what their actual relationship was.  Normally, I would not pose that question, but placing the incident in historical context as to what the racial environment of the day was, I believe it to be very important.

3 thoughts on “Thriller Thursday: John Culley Drowned

  1. I believe you must contact the NC State Library to gain access to the early court minutes, or even the complete court case file. I recently searched records about my grandfather-in-law (see:
    “Thriller Thursday: June 16, 2011”). While there were no charges filed in this case, there were other cases where his first wife, Estella (Canady) Carter had charged him with a criminal charge (unknown). I received emailed PDF copies of the court docket, but the complete court minutes & case files were rather costly. I may order them sometime in the future.

  2. Thank you Debra for the information. It would be quite interesting to see the case you are speaking about re: Estella (Canady) Carter's husband. I'd like to hear more about it from you. I will look into the on on John Cully.

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