The Cape Fear Furies: An Urban Legend


David Hume III, Contributing Writer

The indigenous peoples who lived along the banks of North Carolina’s Cape Fear River followed nature’s rhythm; the growing seasons were long, the winters were mild, and the supply of game, fish and shellfish was abundant. Their daily routine changed with the arrival of the European settlers. Some of the colonists saw the hunter-gatherer societies as noble yet primitive. The Europeans brought with them the legends and tales from their homelands that enriched the culture of all settlers, including a diverse group of involuntary immigrants; the enslaved Africans and indentured servants.

Slaves arrived in the “New World” with few material possessions except for a rich supply of myths and legends passed down from generation to generation in Africa and the Caribbean. Most inhabitants of the tidewater region of southeastern North Carolina explained their history and beliefs through storytelling. Their narratives dealt with the universal concepts of life after death, birth of the universe, and beliefs well marinated with magic, ancestor spirits and celestial beings, including an assortment of unusual legends pertaining to justice, vengeance and retribution—all accompanied by a moral lesson. Throughout the lives of these colonial settlers, life along the Cape Fear River presented challenges and difficult times.

During a wild period of American history known as the “Roaring 20s,” some areas of North Carolina became a place where the politically dominant could never be held responsible for the consequences of their actions. Here, many of the powerful were vaccinated at birth with privilege and a sense of entitlement creating an immunity available only to those of the ruling class and their political allies. Other inhabitants of the post-colonial North Carolina coast believed in supernatural beings that would protect them and their sacred environment. These spirits were the equalizers in the eternal battle between good and evil, and marked those for punishment who abused others or enabled the destructive actions of the powerful while hiding behind the shield of impunity. And those brazen barbarians began to attract the unwanted attention of the ancient spirits.

In Ricetown, a small community located on the banks of the Cape Fear River across from Wilmington, North Carolina, the urban legend of the Furies, the three goddesses of justice, vengeance and retribution, went viral when people reported seeing the black-robed figures in thunderheads and electrical storms, foaming at the mouth with sparks shooting from their eyes. Authorities blamed the bizarre sightings on mass hysteria.

However, those families who had lived near the Cape Fear River for generations weren’t buying these mass hysteria excuses made by reporters from cities located far away from Cape Fear. They had experienced the Furies’ wrath and knew they were monstrous to behold when they worked themselves into fits of rage. They knew the Cape Fear Furies were collectors of lost souls and hunters of evil who gave a new meaning to the oath, “There will be hell to pay.” And as the good folks of Ricetown knew, “justice can take years to arrive, but retribution don’t punch no time clock.”

As proof of the Furies’ reach and rage, Rooster Sump, psychopath and bully, whose specialty was hanging the neighborhood dogs from trees, striking them with a plastic bat until their howling stopped, was found after a fierce electrical storm, skewered through the chest by a shattered tree limb 25 feet above the ground. He was shirtless, wearing bib overalls and his Doc Martens boots, with a wide-eyed look of terror permanently etched on his face.

Image credit:  Dean Moriarty on Pixabay