Nancy Martin

The Girl in the Barrel
Birth Name:
Nancy Adams Martin
Birth Date:
May 4, 1833
Birth Place:
Castine, Maine
Death Date:
May 25, 1857
Place of Death:
Cardenas, Cuba
Cause of Death:
Yellow Fever
Cemetery Name:
Oakdale Cemetery
Claim to Fame:
The Odd and the Interesting
Silas Martin was a successful sea captain and trader. The one thing he hated about his job was missing his family for long stretches of time. So when his son John and daughter Nancy (Nance to her friends) asked to accompany their father on his next voyage he did not hesitate to add them to the crew. When they set sail in early 1857, Nance took ill about three months into the trip. Silas detoured and sailed into Cardenas, Cuba in search of medical care but it was too late - Nancy succumbed shortly upon arrival. Rather than having Nancy buried on foreign soil or buried at sea, Captain Silas was determined to return to Wilmington for a proper burial with her family. The issue was how to keep the body preserved for the voyage home. They decided on a large rum barrel as a makeshift coffin filled with liquor to preserved the body. The thought of her body sloshing around in a cask during rough seas 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 secure. Rather than disturbing the remains, upon returning to Wilmington, Silas had Nance buried in the cask in the port city’s Oakdale Cemetery.

The Rest of the Story

Earlier versions of this story claim that, on the return trip home, John was lost at sea, presumably washed overboard during a storm. However, more recent scholarship has suggested that John made it home to Wilmington with Nance’s body but was lost at sea during a later voyage on his own ship. Regardless of which is true, John was lost at sea, and his body was never recovered. His name was engraved on one side of the obelisk that also bears his parents’ and sister’s names at the family’s grave plot. Either way Captain Silas lost two children to the sea. It was said that when the Captain was home he visited her grave every day.

Some believe this is an urban legend, however cemetery records show Nancy was buried in the barrel. Furthermore in recent years ground-penetrating radar has shown the body beneath Nancy Martins memorial is not horizontal, but rather slumped over as if in a sitting position.

Cemetery Information:

Final Resting Place:

Oakdale Cemetery

520 N 15th Street

Wilmington, North Carolina, 28401


North America


Map of Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina
Map of Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina

Grave Location:

Section B, Lot 75

Grave Location Description

As you enter the cemetery take the first right and drive all the way around the perimeter of the cemetery. When you come to Section B on your left, stop at the second lot surrounded by a fence. Here lies the Martin family and their daughter, Nancy “Nance” Martin.

Grave Location GPS

34.24696881039717, -77.93139728668437

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