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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Zebulon B. Vance, USS

by Harry S. Warren, 2006

The USS Zebulon B. Vance being launched on December 6, 1941. Image from the Cape Fear Museum.The USS Zebulon B. Vance was launched in Wilmington on 6 Dec. 1941, one day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At the ceremony, North Carolina governor J. Melville Broughton proclaimed, "As we salute this ship and launch it today, we shall have a proud part in the overthrow of the aggressor who seeks to dominate the entire world." A few minutes later he and 13,000 other North Carolinians watched the ship splash into the Cape Fear River.

Named for the state's legendary Civil War and Reconstruction governor, the Vance represented the first of 125 Liberty ships built in Wilmington during World War II. The North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, a subsidiary of Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, began constructing a shipyard on the Cape Fear River's east side in February 1941. In 1944 the Truman Committee (created to study defense-related contracts) reported that the North Carolina yard produced vessels at "the lowest average cost per ship . . . of any of the 16 yards building Liberty ships in 1943."

The Vance measured 441.5 feet long and was 56 feet wide at the beam. Its gross tonnage of 7,177 drew 27 feet of water; powered by a 2,500-HP engine, the Vance could reach a running speed of 11 to 14 knots. The ship had quarters for 44 officers and enlisted men but "none for passengers." Construction costs were estimated at $1.5 million.

For most of the war the Vance served as a freighter. It survived floating mines and a near miss by a torpedo and took part in the invasion of North Africa. Near the war's end the Vance was converted into a hospital ship and renamed the USS John J. Meany. After the war it was transferred to the Army Transportation Corps and once again named the Zebulon B. Vance. The vessel was used to convey British and other war brides to the United States.


North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, Five Years of North Carolina Shipbuilding (1946).

Alan D. Watson, Wilmington: Port of North Carolina (1992).

Additional Resources:

Eugene, Chris. Historic Wilmington & Lower Cape Fear. San Antonio, Texas: Historical Publishing Network Books. 2007. p 54.

Vonstrahl, Joyce Bryan. "Horrors on board the Zebulon B. Vance." The American War Bride Experience.

Crabtree, Beth G. "The Zebulon B. Vance: A United States Liberty Ship." Raleigh, N.C.: State Department of Archives and History. 1956.

Image Credits:

Pennington, James C. ("Skinny"). "Launching of the Zebulon B. Vance by Pennington's Flying Service December 6, 1941." Wilmington, N.C. December 6, 1941. University of North Carolina Wilmington's William M. Randall Library and the Cape Fear Museum. (accessed October 11, 2012).



My father Karl Kahla was onboard the Vance and arrived on January 1st, 1947. His mother was Gertrude Longbrake and was on the same ship. Trying to get information when the ship actually left port, which port and how long they were at sea. They arrived at Ellis Island on 1/1 1947.
Thank you in advance
Renee Spencer


Dear Renee,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your question. 

I am referring you via the email address you included in your post to Reference Services at the North Carolina Government & Heritage Library.  A librarian will contact you shortly to help with this question, if you are still looking for information. 

Best wishes,

Marie Jones, NC Government & Heritage Library


My mother who was born in France and is now deceased arrived via the Zebulon Vance on April 2, 1946. Her name at that time was Madeleine C Wilhelm having married someone in France. I would like any information as to who she was married and would appreciate any leads or help. thank you. Suzanne Kaufman


Dear Suzanne,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your comment.

I am connecting you by email with reference services at the N.C. Government & Heritage Library.  A librarian will contact you shortly to suggest resources that might help with your search, if you are still looking for information.

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I am sure that my dad, James Berry Walls Andrew,Jr.,an Army Sergeant and I believe also an X-Ray. Tech(deceased 1969) was aboard the Zebulon B Vance with war brides as we have an album of photos of the war brides, all smiles,sunning themselves on the ship deck. I do not remember any horror stories vaguely similar to the accounts here. When I am back home with access to the photo album I will post some photos. In the meantime, if anyone remembers my dad, I would love to hear from you.


Hi Janet,
Although I don't have any information about your father. My grandmother was a war bride from England who arrived in the US on this ship. If you're willing to share, I would love to see some of the photos you have. Any idea what year your photos are from? Thank you!


Mother, born and raised Belgian/French in Liege met Father/ US Army paratrooper with 101st at a liberation dance in street, After whirlwind courtship and permission from Dad's commanding officer as well as from my grandfather (maternal) they were married in Liege in the Fall of 1945 . After an arduous journey by trains from Liege-to- Brussels -to- Paris -to- London she boarded the Zebulon B. Vance. Mom passed last Sunday Oct.4 2015 at the age of 92 and to complete her story we would like to know where she ported on US shores being fairly certain it was not at Ellis Island. Can you lead us to the information we need? Thank you in advance.


Dear Ann Marie,

We're very sorry for your loss.

By email I am connecting you with Reference Services at the NC Government & Heritage Library.  A reference librarian will contact you shortly to help you locate information to help answer this question.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


The _ZB Vance_ was also used to transport US dependents back to the States. I was on it in Sept. 1948. Sixteen and one-half days from Bemerhaven to NCY! But our experience on the ZBV was nothing like the account in the "War Bride Experience" on line. We had four to a cabin (yes, cabins) usually two fathers and two sons or two mothers and two daughters, waiter service in the dining room. No complaints except for the ship's slowness; old reciprocating engines. But happy memories!

Stanley Sandler


Hello Stanley, I just posted but it appears it is private. My dad, James Berry a Walls Andrew, Jr., Army, (deceased 1969) accompanied war brides on the Zebulon B Vance around 1946 or so. we have a photo album showing smiling, healthy war brides sunning themselves on the deck of the Vance. If you have any more info about the ship or my dad I would love to hear from you. Thank you. Janet Andrew Kimball

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