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Are there any members of the DeRosset family still living in Wilmington?

Ben Steelman
City Club at deRosset

The DeRosset House at 23 S. Second St. is now home to the City Club at deRosset. (StarNews file photo)

Yes, a few. Although the male DeRosset line has died out in Wilmington, many area residents are descended from the family

A number of DeRosset descendants attended the centennial celebration this summer at Wilmington’s Church of the Good Shepherd, including Mr. and Mrs. Frank W. Gwathmey and Kathleen Fox, wife of U.S. District Judge James C. Fox. In 1867, Armand J. DeRosset III conveyed a number of lots in Wilmington for the sum of $1 to St. James Episcopal Church; these were used to found a widows’ and orphans’ home and a neighborhood mission which later grew into the Church of the Good Shepherd.

Another longtime Wilmington resident and DeRosset descendant, Mary Lou Rhodes, recently moved to Seattle to be nearer to children and grandchildren.

The DeRossets were one of Wilmington’s most prominent families for nearly two centuries. Many were physicians; at least one DeRosset or another was practicing medicine in the city from its founding until 1881. The study of the family’s genealogy has been a delight and headache for local historians, since so many of the male DeRossets were named Armand John.

Rooted in French Provence, DeRossets immigrated in large numbers to England in the late 1600s; the family were Huguenot Protestants and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (which granted religious liberties to Protestants) by Louis XIV in 1685 is usually cited as a cause.

The family was present in the Lower Cape Fear from the 1730s when Armand John DeRosset (1695-1760) arrived. One of his sons, Lewis Henry DeRosset (1724-1786) was a planter, merchant and  King’s Councillor for the Province of North Carolina; remaining loyal during the Revolution, he left the state in 1778.

His brother, Moses John DeRossett (1726-1767), a physician, was a justice of the peace for New Hanover County and mayor of Wilmington in 1766. In the French and Indian War, in 1754, he served as a captain in the North Carolina Regiment under Col. James Innes and saw action in Virginia.

Armand John DeRosset II (1767-1859) graduated from Nassau Hall (Princeton) and earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where he knew Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush. He was the longtime port physician for Wilmington, but had many other interests. For 35 years, he was a director of the Bank of Cape Fear. One of the initial investors in the Wilmington & Raleigh (later Wilmington & Weldon) Railroad) and was also a director in the Rockfish Co., one of North Carolina’s first cotton mills. His wife, Mary Fullerton, was a grandniece of the Scottish philosopher David Hume.

His son, Armand John DeRosset III (1807-1897) was (a bit confusingly) known as “DeRosset Jr.”) until his father’s death. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at the age of 17, “Junior” wrote in a memoir that he longed to go to West Point, but was opposed by his father. Instead, he entered the Medical College of South Carolina in 1826 and later transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his M.D. in 1828.

DeRosset III, however, wrote that he found medicine “quite distasteful” (although he liked surgery) and abandoned the practice after a few years. Instead, he ran a plantation in Brunswick County for a few years, entered into a partnership with Platt K. Dickinson to run the Phoenix Mill lumber business in the 1830s and in 1839, with John Potts Brown, launched a commission merchant and shipping business that prospered until the Civil War, even opening a New York branch.

He also invested in the Wilmington & Weldon railroad and was a director for many years. He later wrote that among his most satisfying accomplishments was serving as the railroad’s agent in Britain, exchanging bonds to buy iron rails for the line’s construction.

DeRosset III also was a Wilmington town commissioner. He was an original trustee and first president of Oakdale Cemetery; by a sad coincidence, his daughter Annie DeRosset (1848-1855) became the first person buried at Oakdale. According to biographer Mary Ellen Gadski, he held every post open to a layman in the Episcopal church, serving as a vestryman and senior warden at St. James Church and as treasurer of the North Carolina diocese.

Catherine Gabriella DeRosset  (1800-1889), the daughter of Armand John II and sister of Armand John III, somewhat scandalized her very Episcopalian family by converting to the Methodist Episcopal (now United Methodist) Church. In 1835, she married the Rev. William Magee Kennedy, a Methodist minister in the South Carolina Conference, and a former pastor of Front Street Methodist Church in Wilmington. Famed for her charitable work, she was a co-founder of the Ladies Benevolent Society of Wilmington in 1845, serving for many years as its treasurer and later president.

Among her projects was the Old Ladies’ Rest, a kind of nursing home for women, incorporated in 1852. After her death, the institution was renamed the Catherine Kennedy Home; it remained a notable Wilmington institution until its closing in 2000. (The home’s former facilities on Third Street were acquired by First Presbyterian Church.) Officers reorganized the trust as the Catherine Kennedy Home Foundation, which grants funds to groups aiding the elderly.

Armand John DeRosset III had 11 children. One of them, William Lord DeRosset (1832-1910), joined the Confederate Army and commanded the 3rd North Carolina until he was disabled by wounds at the Battle of Antietam. He then joined his father in a wartime blockade-running venture. Later, he worked for the reorganized DeRosset & Co. (which remained in business until 1881) and was an agent for the Navassa Guano Co.

Another son, Moses John DeRosset (1838-1881), generally known as John,  studied in Switzerland and earned a medical degree from New York University. During the Civil War he was an assistant surgeon of artillery under Stonewall Jackson’s command and later directed Hospital No. 4 in Richmond. After the war, he practiced in Baltimore for a few years before returning to Wilmington as the city’s first eye specialist; he was one of the founders of the North Carolina Medical Journal. In 1878, he joined the staff of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in New York. Among other inventions, he was credited with developing improved scissors for eye surgery and an improved anesthetic inhaler.

The DeRosset House at 23 S. Second St., Wilmington [Map this], built for Armand J. DeRosset III in 1841 and 1842, still stands. The sprawling mansion, expanded in 1874, remained in the DeRosset family until 1882, when the failure of DeRosset & Co. forced its sale. For many years the headquarters of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, the building is now home to the City Club at de Rosset.

User-contributed question by:
Craig Ellis

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2 Responses to “ Are there any members of the DeRosset family still living in Wilmington?”

  1. On October 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm Craig Ellis wrote:

    Thanks so much for the research.

  2. On October 26, 2011 at 8:49 am Carolyn Wells wrote:

    Great article! One question: I think I remember that several (15 or 20?) years ago the popular singer Emmylou Harris was in town and visited the de Rossett house. An article in the Star News reported that she was a decendant of the de Rosett family. Can you confirm that? If so, it is a pretty interesting sidenote.

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