Escape through the Dismal Swamp

The most exciting historical source I found in coastal Maine this week was an old tintype portrait of an African American man named John H. Nichols who escaped from slavery on the North Carolina coast and settled in Lewiston, Maine, after the Civil War. In a 1921 issue of the Lewiston Journal Illustrated Magazine, I also found the life story of John H. Nichols....

The Ice Trade

On our drive to Down East Maine a few days ago, we stopped and took a hike at the Lobster Cove Meadow Preserve in Boothbay Harbor. After walking a little ways down the trail through the lovely fall colors, we soon arrived at Appalachee Pond. To my surprise, there we got a glimpse at another historical connection between the Maine coast and the North Carolina coast: the ice trade.

Farewell Ferris Wheel

Another documentary film that really excites me is called “Farewell Ferris Wheel.” Written and directed by Jamie Sisley and my sister Elaine’s incredibly talented nephew, Miguel ‘M.i.G.” Martinez, it’s the story of the Mexican workers that legally come to the U.S. for 8 months every year under special temporary visas to work in the traveling carnival and fair industry.

A Sociable Time with the Rebs

While exploring coastal Maine's archives and museums this week, I’ve also found quite a few letters from Maine soldiers that served in the Union army or navy on the North Carolina coast during the Civil War. Those letters highlight a different kind of historic connection that ties coastal Maine and coastal North Carolina together.  

Down-Easters

This week I’m in Down East Maine. It’s a beautiful part of the world and I’m not really here to do historical research. All the same, I am visiting some local maritime museums and historical societies and I am curious to learn if this far corner of the New England coastline has historic ties to the coastal world where I grew up in North Carolina.

Ocracoke, 1899—The Floods Last Time

A few years ago Ocracoke natives Philip Howard and his cousin Blanche Howard Jolliff gave me a typewritten manuscript of one woman’s account of the great 1899 hurricane on Ocracoke Island.  The woman's name was Irla Bonner Litchfield Ticknor and she was 19 years old when that devastating hurricane swept across the North Carolina coast.  

Admiral Ross’s Lighthouses

Linda Garey, a teacher I met some years ago, recently sent me copies of some remarkable historical images of North Carolina lighthouses and lightships that were taken in and around 1899.  They are from her great-grandfather Rear Admiral Albert Ross’s extraordinary collection of magic lantern glass slides that he made while serving in the U.S. Navy. 

A Portrait from Down East

This is a portrait of an African American fisherman and saltwater farmer named Proctor Davis. He was born a slave on Davis Island, in the Down East part of Carteret County, N.C., ca. 1839. He escaped from slavery during the Civil War, but he and his family returned after the war and made a new home at Davis Ridge, a marshy hammock just north of Davis Island.

Admiral Ross’s Journey, part 6: Steamers & Fish Barrels

In Rear Admiral Albert Ross’s next magic lantern glass slide, we find his vessel, the lighthouse tender Violet, approaching a rear paddlewheel steamer on one of the rivers that make up the Albemarle & Chesapeake (A&C) Canal-- either the Elizabeth River, North Landing River or the North River. We might just barely be able make out the captain and mate in the boat's pilothouse.

Admiral Ross’s Journey, part 5: The Land of the Blueberry Bogs

In Rear Admiral Ross’s next glass lantern slide, we see a steam tug towing a raft of logs by the village of Coinjock, N.C. This was a very common scene on the Albemarle and Chesapeake (A&C) Canal at the turn of the 20th century. Held together by spikes and chains, the logs in this raft are headed south toward the North River, a tributary of the Albemarle Sound.

Admiral Ross’s Journey, part 4: The Lighthouse Tender Violet

In our next glass lantern slide, we can see Commander Albert Ross’s lighthouse tender Violet at the Albemarle and Chesapeake (A&C) Canal’s lock in Great Bridge, Virginia. This was the only lock on the canal and served to compensate for the different water levels in the canal and the Elizabeth River caused by the canal's wind tides and the river's lunar tides.

Admiral Ross’s Journey: The Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal in 1901

Several years ago I gave a lecture at an NEH-funded teachers workshop in New Bedford, Mass. The teachers came from all over the U.S. and one of them, Linda Garey, who teaches in California, later shared with me a group of remarkable Magic Glass lantern slides of a part of the North Carolina coast that is little known to most people: the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.

The Turpentine Trail

North Carolina’s dominance of the nation’s naval stores industry began to change drastically in the decades after the Civil War. By that time, the industry was destroying the region’s longleaf pine forest. In a frenzied half century of exploitation, the state’s longleaf pine forest fell from an estimated 4-5 million acres to less than 60,000 acres. Travelers began to describe train trips through eastern North Carolina’s pine forests in which they did not see a single tree that did not have the V-shaped scars that were characteristic of tapping.

“A Legal Way to Steal Land”—A New Yorker Exposé Hits Close to Home

Yesterday The New Yorker magazine published an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism on Melvin Davis and his brother Licurtis Reels and their struggle to hold onto their family’s land in Merrimon, a historically African American fishing community in Carteret County N.C., not far from where I grew up.  

Ocracoke and Philadelphia– An Outer Banks Village, a Great Seaport and the Bond between Them

“This used to be an island where the men went to sea.” That’s what 95-year-old Blanche Howard Jolliff told me a few years ago, when I visited her on Ocracoke Island, one of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. I was the guest of her cousin Philip and his family next door, and Philip took me by to see her.

“I am Omar ibn Said”

Last winter I visited the New Hanover County Public Library in Wilmington, N.C., to see a rare and extraordinary group of historical manuscripts: a collection of four inscriptions written by Omar ibn Said, an enslaved Muslim scholar, teacher and trader from West Africa. He wrote them while he was being held captive on the North Carolina coast two centuries ago.