It didn’t take long for the railroads to cut in on the steamboat business. The Wilmington and Roanoke Railroad Companies, for example, was maintaining its own steamboat schedules between Wilmington and Charleston by the summer of 1840. Using two fast steamboats, the North Carolina and the Governor Dudley, the company was able to provide overnight passenger service between the two ports. And in July of that year, business was booming.
The Dudley left Charleston for a northward run the evening of July 24, 1840. She was loaded with passengers and carried a considerable quantity of government mail. Soon after, the North Carolina left Wilmington and headed down the Cape Fear River. She also carried passengers and mail.
At 1 a.m. the next morning the mate of the North Carolina sighted a moving light to the south, almost dead ahead and about two miles away. It was the Dudley. The two vessels continued onward, moving at a steady rate of between 12-14 miles per hour, each headed slightly to the right of the other, as was custom. Weather conditions were perfect and there was no blowing of whistles as each was aware of the other’s presence.
A mile separated them … then a half mile … then a quarter mile. Still they came on … a thousand feet … five hundred … passing close and to the right, when suddenly the Dudley changed her course and swung over to the right. The mate, confused at the moment of passing, had thrown his wheel hard over, to pass to the left of the other vessel. It was too late for the mate of the North Carolina to avert disaster. He released steam, and tried to halt his ship. But not in time; for the Dudley drove on, straight at her sistership, and struck her amidships between the ladies’ and gentlemens’ cabins with a splintering bow that tore four feet from the Dudley’s bow and cut the Carolina almost in two.
Within ten minutes the North Carolina settled to her decks and soon disappeared. During that time every person on board the Carolina were transferred to the Dudley, which remained nearby for the remainder of the night, searching the sea for mail and baggage. Double-loaded with crew and passengers from her sistership, the she reached Wilmington safely the following day.