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Biographical Sketch of Ernest Norfleet (1851-1901)

by Phil Norfleet


Ernest7 Norfleet (Stephen Andrews6, Thomas Figures5, Reuben4, Marmaduke3, Thomas2, Thomas1 Northfleete) was born 03 February 1851 in Bertie County NC, and died 12 June 1901 in Ashville NC.  He was the son of Stephen Andrews Norfleet (1822-1910) and his wife, Frances Pugh (1822-1859).



The following is taken from "List of officers of the United States and the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900" (published 1901), edited by Edward W. Callahan, page 409:

"NORFLEET, ERNEST. Assistant Surgeon, 21 May 1874. Surgeon, 26 September 1891. Retired List, 31 October 1892."



I have compiled the following biographical information of Ernest Norfleet from two versions of typed genealogical manuscripts originally prepared by Stuart Hall Hill (1876-1948) of New York. One manuscript is located in the Wilson Memorial Library of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (from Volume 5 of the 10 volume set) while the other manuscript was found among the private papers of Commander Joseph Pugh Norfleet (1887-1978) of New Jersey:

Ernest Norfleet, fourth child of Stephen A. Norfleet and Frances Pugh, was born in Bertie County NC on February 3, 1851; he graduated in medicine from the University of Virginia in June 1872. In September 1872 he entered Bellevue Hospital in New York. Subsequently, in October 1872, he was appointed an intern of the Charity Hospital on Blackwell's Island, New York; he remained there until the end of march 1874.

In May 1874, Dr. Norfleet became an Assistant Surgeon in the United States Navy, receiving his appointment on May 21, 1874. He was on duty at the Naval Hospital in Washington DC from June 1874 to January 1875. He then was sent on an oceanographic survey to Columbia, South America, returning in May 1875. He was again on duty in Washington (at the Navy department) until September 1875. He then served eight months on the USS GETTYSBURG, when this ship was engaged in a survey in West Indian waters. In the Summer and Autumn of 1876 he was on furlough. In November 1876 he was ordered to duty aboard the USS HARTFORD at Hampton Roads, Virginia; in this vessel he again visited the West Indies in the Spring of 1877. In July and August 1877, Dr. Norfleet was attached to the POWATAN at Hampton Roads. From September 1877 to February 1878, he was attached to the Naval Hospital at Norfolk, Virginia. Subsequently, he was on duty at Chelsea Hospital near Boston from March top September 1878; he then was sent to the Brooklyn Hospital for a few months. Dr. Norfleet was then sent again to Washington and passed the examination for Past Assistant Surgeon, receiving the appointment in February 1879. He was then ordered to the receiving ship FRANKLIN at Norfolk, and in May 1879, he was ordered to the WACHUSETT. In the Summer of 1879 he went on the WACHUSETT to Vicksburg, Mississippi where the ship went aground and was obliged to return to Norfolk. Dr. Norfleet sailed for South America in October 1879, visiting the principal cities of the eastern and western coasts of that continent as well as the Hawaiian Islands and Alaska. He was detached from the WACHUSETT in April 1882 and returned home.

Ernest Norfleet was on duty at Mare Island Naval Hospital in California from August 1882 to November 1883. He was then ordered to the USS ALERT, bound for China and Japan. He arrived at Nagasaki, Japan in February 1884 and was on duty for a while at the Naval Hospital in Yokohama. He saw service in Japan and China till September 1886, and then returned home on sick leave. In February 1887 he was again posted to Mare Island, California, remaining there until November 1888.

Dr. Norfleet received orders to report on board the USS TRENTON at Panama. He proceeded to Panama on board the DOLPHIN and joined the TRENTON on 13 January 1889. The TRENTON left at once for the Samoan Islands where the TRENTON was wrecked by a hurricane.

The following newspaper article is taken from the Scotland Neck "Democrat: for June 18, 1889:

" ... The United States warship TRENTON, the flagship of the Pacific Squadron, was one of the vessels destroyed last week at Samoa by the storm, accounts of which have been published. Among those on board the TRENTON at the time of the wreck were Mr. Jehu Nicholls, a native of Scotland Neck, who was Paymaster's Clerk and Dr. Ernest Norfleet, of Bertie, Past Assistant Surgeon in the Navy. Fortunately, neither of these gentlemen was hurt, only one of the crew being lost. ... "

Dr. Norfleet remained in Samoa until June 22, 1889 and then traveled by mail steamer to San Francisco, arriving there on July 7, 1889. On August 13, 1889 he took passage in the CITY OF PEKING for Yokohama to join the USS MONOCACY. Dr. Norfleet arrived and reported for duty on August 31, 1889. He served in China and Japan until October 1891, when he was attacked by pleurisy and sent home to the United States.

On account of his poor health, Dr. Norfleet retired from the Navy in 1892. He died of Tuberculosis in Ashville, North Carolina in 1901. He is buried in the Norfleet Cemetery in the village of Roxobel, Bertie County, North Carolina. Dr. Norfleet never married.


Diary of Ernest Norfleet

The original of the two volume diary of Dr. Ernest Norfleet is available for review in the Manuscripts Department of the Wilson Memorial Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The diary, written during 1891-1892, describes Dr. Norfleet's last tour of duty as a U. S. Navy surgeon, in China and Japan; it includes descriptions of travel and social life in the Far East and references to Norfleet's interest in Eastern art.



On 13 February 1892, an American Navy Lieutenant named Hetherington (see photo on right) shot a British businessman named Gower Robinson in Yokohama, Japan. Dr. Ernest Norfleet knew both parties as well as Elizabeth Hetherington, the wife of Lieutenant Hetherington. The shooting created a major scandal among both British and American social circles in Japan.

The following newspaper article, provided to me by Joe Rogala of Yokohama, is taken from the Dubuque Herald (via the New York World, Dubuque, Iowa being the home town of Lt. Hetherington), dated Saturday, 12 March 1892, page 4:

Lieutenant Hetherington with his cats.  Photo was graciously provided by Joe Rogala of Yokohama, Japan.


Her Conduct in Yokohama Excited Much Comment.

Her Husband Found Letters to Her From Robinson -- The Lieutenant Invited Him to Return to Yokohama and Then Shot Him -- Mrs. Hetherington Disgusted the American Residents by Attending the Russian Consul's Banquet the Night After the Assassination.

San Francisco, March 8 -- (Special to the New York World) -- The murder of Gower Robinson by Lieut. Hetherington of the United States Steamer MARION in Yokohama has excited much gossip in navy and social circles both here and in the East. Hetherington was liked by his fellow officers, and although he had spent but a brief time on this coast a number of naval men who knew him on other stations said yesterday that they thought him a genial fellow and an efficient officer, and that so far as they could see he had only protected his honor in the recent unhappy affair.

DR. NORTHFLEET, who is absent on a sick leave from the United States Steamer MONOCACY, of which he is the surgeon, has a different version, however, and one which casts an entirely new light upon the assassination. He said yesterday:

I was in Yokohama at the time of the shooting and while I will admit that there was great indignation among the British residents of the place; I think the reports have been exaggerated in this respect. However, many of the naval officers and their families shared, to a certain degree, this indignation for the reason that Mrs. Hetherington's conduct during her two or three months' stay had been involved in so much folly as to be a cause for gossip.

Mrs. Hetherington arrived in Yokohama on the CHINA in the middle of October and from the first day of her stay in the Grand Hotel she seemed to lay herself out to fascinate the male guests. She would glance about the different tables at dinner time ogling the men and smiling with a self-conscious air. She amused most of the men whom she made her target.

At dinners and balls she would flirt desperately and her light shrill laughter could be heard in the piazzas and conservatories at almost all hours.

Gower Robinson was a man-about-town and flirted of course, as handsome men generally do. Still it is unjust to say that it was all on his side.

What Hetherington may have discovered in the correspondence between his wife and Robinson I do not know, nor do I think anyone else does, save the husband.

At all events, he had a meeting with Robinson, and the latter agreed to cease all attentions to the wife and leave for Kobe, in southern Japan. This he did, departing with his friend M. Piers.

He had been gone about ten days and all gossips about him had subsided, when he wrote a letter to Lieut. Hetherington of some length. In this letter, of which he retained a copy, he stated his regret at the previous unhappy occurrences and signified his wish to return to England should Hetherington consider such a move best for all parties concerned. However, he thought that there had been sufficient worry and turmoil over the affair and that certainly there would be no further reason for Hetherington's fears and that if the latter agreed with him he would at any time designated by Hetherington return to Yokohama.

Now Piers says that Hetherington at once telegraphed to Robinson that he might return to Yokohama and that it was immediately on his arrival that Hetherington waylaid and killed him.

Immediately after the funeral of Robinson, Piers left for Kobe to search for this telegram among the affects of Robinson there, but when I left he had not yet returned.

Mrs. Hetherington's conduct after the murder," continued Dr. Northfleet, "was most offensive to the American residents. It seems that the night following the affair had been set for a big dinner at the home of the Russian consul general.

On the evening of this dinner Mrs. Hetherington went to the wife of Admiral Belknap and said:

Mrs. Belknap, what shall I do about this dinner? You know the Judge (she always called her husband by that title) and I have been invited to the Russian consul's and, of course, he can't go because he's in prison, but I don't see how i can get out of going by myself. Don't you think I'd better go?

Most certainly not, exclaimed Mrs. Belknap, horrified at such a proposal; it would be perfectly indecent.

Indecent! I don't see why! replied Mrs. Hetherington, tossing her head.

Then I will explain it to you. Can't you understand that while you and your husband are resting under the cloud of this tragedy, it is better that you should keep to yourself in the utmost privacy?

Why should I? He killed Robinson; I didn't.

Mrs. Belknap says that she could not stand such nonsense any longer, but then and there made the foolish woman sit down and write a note of regret.

Mrs. Belknap departed for the dinner at 8 o'clock thinking that everything was all right. Imagine her horror, half way through dinner, to see the fickle, golden-haired beauty, Mrs. Hetherington come tripping in clad in white tulle and diamonds, smiling and greeting everyone with pretty speeches.

The guests were shocked and it was as if a wet shower had fallen over the banquet board. The lady remained there till late and departed as happy as if nothing had happened to mar her self-satisfied tranquility.

Mrs. Hetherington came from Wilmington, Del. to San Francisco, Sept. 23 of last year. She was accompanied by her infant daughter and a amid. During her journey across the continent she had fallen in love with millionaire Cummings of Chicago, who sold the Nickle Plate road to Vanderbilt. Mrs. Cummings' niece had been a schoolmate of Mrs. Hetherington, and the old friendship was renewed.

In the same party was Erskine Phelps, the well known democratic politician, and a handsome young man named Johnson, who was Cummings' secretary. Phelps and Johnson vied with each other in their attention to Mrs. Hetherington.

The entire party left San Francisco on Sept. 26, two days after their arrival there, on the steamed CHINA.

Statements that Mrs. Hetherington had trouble in a certain fashionable hotel here are entirely false, for she was only in San Francisco for two days and a half.


It appears, says a New York telegram, that Mrs. Hetherington is a very beautiful as well as a very foolish person, and that she had little sense of where the line should be drawn by a married woman in receiving attentions from a bachelor.

Even if she did not have the sense, said a naval officer yesterday, the man Robinson must have known. and when he set down in his own handwriting his love for a married woman and addressed it to her, he took his life into his hands. I think that Lieut. Hetherington showed great forbearance. The man persisted in trying to compromise Mrs. Hetherington, and Lieut. Hetherington, as her protector, could not in honor refrain from ending Robinson's career. He was probably one of that type of bachelor found everywhere, always poaching, and never happy unless endangering the good name of some married woman and the domestic happiness of two persons. I think that a well directed bullet or sword thrust is the only cure for such a person. Lieut. Hetherington did his plain and simple duty as an officer of the United States navy. His was the conduct most becoming an officer and a gentlemen.

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