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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 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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Bridgers, Robert Rufus

by H. C. Bridgers, Jr., 1979

28 Nov. 1819–10 Dec. 1888

Robert Rufus Bridgers. From the "Occupation of Tarboro: Potter's raid" Civil War Trail marker courtesy of the North Carolina Digital Collections. Robert Rufus Bridgers, Confederate congressman and railroad official, elder son of Elizabeth Kettlewells Routh and John Bridgers, was born on a farm in southwestern Edgecombe County. Failing to apply himself during early education under Elder Mark Bennett at Town Creek Academy, he was put to work on the farm at age thirteen. Two years later, having acquired an appreciation for education, he attended Stony Hill Academy in Nash County. He was graduated from The University of North Carolina in 1841 with distinction, delivering his commencement speech on the science of law. Throughout his life he remained a staunch friend and supporter of the university. When the alumni association was organized in 1843, he was a charter member. He was a frequent donor to the university and a university trustee from Edgecombe County from 1858 to 1868 and from New Hanover County from 1879 to 1888.

Bridgers began law practice in Tarboro and soon entered the mercantile business and politics. He served as representative from R.R. Bridgers. Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of History.Edgecombe County in 1844 and again from 1856 to 1860. He was extremely interested in agriculture and acquired extensive landholdings in Edgecombe and Halifax counties and in Florida.

On 11 Dec. 1849, Bridgers married Margaret Elizabeth Johnston (26 Aug. 1832–29 Aug. 1907), daughter of Emily Norfleet and Henry Johnston of Tarboro. Their children were Emily, Robert R., Preston L., Mark, Luther, George J., Mary, and Frank W. Margaret and Robert Bridgers were Episcopalians, and both were substantial contributors to Calvary Church in Tarboro and St. James Church in Wilmington.

Bridgers was one of the organizers of the Tarboro branch of the Bank of North Carolina and in 1859 became its president, a position he held until the bank was forced to close in 1865. He was also instrumental in the construction of the Tarboro branch of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, becoming its president in 1865.

He was often called colonel, but no record of his military service during the Civil War has been found. Indications are that poor health precluded such service. However, his contribution to the Confederacy was substantial. He was a member of the Confederate Congress from 1862 to 1865, serving on the Military Affairs and Special Finances committees. He also operated the High Shoals iron furnaces, considered the second most important in the South for production of nails and rolled material.

In about 1871, Bridgers moved to Wilmington, because he had become president of the Wilmington and Weldon and the Wilmington, Columbia and Augusta railroads. Meticulous attention to detail and a thorough knowledge of civil engineering served him well during his distinguished railroad career. It was under his leadership that an association of railroads called the Atlantic Coast Line was formed, although it was several years after his death that these railroads became a company by that name. He was also an ardent proponent of the standardization of time, serving as president of the Southern Railways Time Convention.

Bridgers suffered a fatal stroke while testifying on railroad matters before the South Carolina legislature. Both he and his wife were buried in Wilmington's Oakdale Cemetery. A portrait of Bridgers hangs in the Philanthropic Society in Chapel Hill and another, by R. N. Brooke, is held by the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond.


Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, vol. 1 (1905).

Kemp P. Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, vol. 2 (1912).

Henry C. Bridgers, Jr., The Story of Banking in Tarboro (1969).

John Luther Bridgers, Jr., Papers (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

Court records of Edgecombe, Halifax, and New Hanover counties (North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh).

D. L. Grant, Alumni History of the University of North Carolina (1924).

History of North Carolina, vol. 2, The Federal Period, by W. K. Boyd (1919).

Jaquelin Drane Nash, A Goodly Heritage: The Story of Calvary Parish (1960).

New Hanover County Will Books F 238, F 244, and I 321 (North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh).

Richard E. Prince, Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (1966).

Raleigh News and Observer, 7 Jan. 1883, 11 Dec. 1888.

John F. Stover, The Railroads of the South (1955).

Tarboro Free Press, 15 Dec. 1849.

Tarboro Southerner, 30 Oct. 1902.

Wilmington Weekly Star, 14 Dec. 1888.

Additional Resources:

Wilmington and Weldon Rail Road. Annual reports of the president and directors and the chief engineer and superintendent of the Wilmington & Weldon R.R. Co., with the proceedings of the general meeting of stockholders. Wilmington, N.C. [N.C.]: [The Company],1878-(Wilmington, N.C. :Morning Star steam-power presses). 1880.|Full%20text&applyState=true (accessed April 18, 2013).

Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad Company. Proceedings of the... annual meeting of the stockholders of the Atlantic & North Carolina R.R. Co. New Bern, N.C. [N.C.]: William J. Williams, printer,1928.|AND&searchtypes=Full%20text|Metadata&applyState=true (accessed April 18, 2013).

Bridgers, R. R. (Robert Rufus). Speech of R.R. Bridgers, Esq. of Edgecombe, on the convention question, delivered in Committee of the Whole in the House of Commons of North-Carolina, January 14th, 1861. [Raleigh : State Journal Office]. 1861. (accessed April 18, 2013).

Iron Station (N.C.) Papers, 1852-1878 (collection no. 04073-z). The Southern Historical Collection. Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (accessed April 18, 2013).

Navassa Guano Company Charter , August 5, 1869, Cape Fear Museum, Wilmington, NC:

Robert Rufus Bridgers (1819-1888), (painting), Smithsonian Institute:

Bridgers, R. R. (Robert Rufus) 1819-1888 in WorldCat:

Chapel Hill Iron Mountain Company Records, 1828-1917 (collection no. 04201-z). The Southern Historical Collection. Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (accessed April 18, 2013).

Turner, Joseph Kelly; Bridgers, John Luther. History of Edgecombe county, North Carolina. Raleigh, Edwards & Broughton printing co. 1920. (accessed April 19, 2013).

Image Credits:

Civil War Trails, Inc. Occupation of Tarboro: Potter's raid. Civil War Trails, Inc. 2006.'s%20raid|AND&searchtypes=Full%20text|Metadata&applyState=true (accessed April 18, 2013).

"Photograph, Accession #: H.1914.347.29." 1900-1930. North Carolina Museum of History.