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.

Tombstone Tuesday (Wendell Culley and Zara Cully Brown)

My Daughter Tori and I placing flowers on Wendell Culley’s unmarked Grave

Summer of 2010, My daughter and I went to locate my Great Uncle Wendell Phillip Culley’s grave and headstone.  Wendell was born January 8, 1906-May 8, 1983. Wendell was a jazz musician from Worcester, MA and played trumpet for Sissle Noble, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and played on over 200 recordings for many other singers and musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughn. Wendell was one of Zara Cully Brown’s from the “Jefferson’s” younger brothers.  Much to my surprise there was no headstone.  There will be some family efforts to get Wendell a marker on his Grave. Our loved one’s should never be forgotten.

Location of Grave:
Rose Hills Memorial Park
Los Angeles County
California, USA
Plot: Garden of Affection, Sec 9, Lot 3149 Grave 4

Zara Cully Brown, listed are her husband and two of her children.

Photo by Scott Michaels

Location of Gravesite:  Photos from
Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale)
Los Angeles County
California, USA
Plot: Freedom Mausoleum, Columbarium of Victory

Photo by A.J. Marik: Zara Cully Brown’s wall nitch

© Yvette Porter Moore-All Rights Reserved