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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.

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 Mother was a war bride, she traveled from France to New York at age 21 on the Zebulon B Vance. My Mom has passed, however; as a young child told me horror stories of her experience on this ship, finally, yet the happiness arriving to USA on May 20, 1946 as Mrs. Arie Sheperd.


After my father passed away, we went through a box of things he had from WWII. One of the items was a bible with a presentation page to "S.S. Zebulon B. Vance Officers Mess Club" from the Hallsboro Baptist Church in Hallsboro, NC. It also had a small piece of paper that had been taped over the ships name with "John J. Meany"; that little piece of paper has been lost. Is there any organization that might be interested in this bible? It really doesn't have any meaning to us and we feel it might have a better home in someplace like a museum.


Dear Mr. Dengler,

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

You may want to contact both the NC Museum of History and the State Archives of NC to see if they might be interested in the bible. Both institutions have military collections.

Here is the link for the “Donate an Artifact” page for the Museum of History: You will find contact information there.

And here is the military collections page for the State Archives: You’ll find contact information there as well.

Thank you again for reaching out with this.

And please let me know if you have any additional questions.

Best wishes,
Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library


Hi. I'm doing some researches for my estranged US Cousins. Their grandmother went from Le Havre to New York. I'm wondering if she was abroad the Vance in 1946, she has registered under her married name. Mrs Paulette Thibodeaux. I'd say between March and April 1946.

Thank you for your answer.


I arrived in the United States aboard the ZB Vance on July 17 1948. I was 2 years old so I have no memory of the crossing but I do have a couple of pictures that show me well dressed and smiling while playing on the deck. Is it possible to find the passenger list for that crossing?


Dear Mr. Sargent,

Thank you for your question. I'm afraid I wasn't able to find any passenger lists for 1948 crossings of the USS Zebulon B. Vance. If you can send other names that might have been on the list, I would be happy to inquire further.

Thank you.

Mike Millner, NC Government & Heritage Library 


Hello all,
My father-In-Law Bernard Phillips served on the Vance as an oiler in the engine room on the Murmansk run. Later he went to OCS and became an ensign on other ships. He passed away eight years ago, and was proud of his service till his dying breath. If there is anyone out there who knew him or has any information about him please contact me.
Merry Christmas.
Thank you


My Mother was in the Army Nurse Corps (Evelyn F. (Sherry) Sherick ) and met my dad, Bernal (Bill) C. Sell (marine engineer) aboard the Vance. If anyone has any remembrances of them, I'd be grateful. Mother passed away on July 1, 2017 at the age of 94. Dad passed away on October 18, 1995 at the age of 73. I'd be interested in any records of their duties.


MY Grandmother was a war bride from England and arrived in the US in July 1946 with a baby girl. I would love to see any photos that anyone might have from this trip as we don't have much in the way of pictures. I am also interested to know if this ship is still in existence and where it might be. THis is very important to me if anyone can help with information.


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

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