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.

Jack Kerouac’s Chickens– Kinston, N.C., 1951

I found Jack Kerouac’s ode to Kinston, N.C.'s old-fashioned chicken coops in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library.  The Berg Collection holds the letters, original manuscripts and other personal papers of some of America’s greatest writers, including Kerouac, the Beat Generation's godfather and the man that wrote On the Road.

On Cotton Mill Hill

I found these photographs of child mill workers in eastern North Carolina at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.  I think they mostly speak for themselves. A photographer named Lewis Hine took them on at least 3 visits to the state between 1908 and 1914. He was employed by the National Child Labor Committee to document the exploitation of children in factories and other workplaces across the U.S.

The Wreck of the Nomis

This is a photograph of villagers on Ocracoke Island, N.C., salvaging lumber from the shattered hull of the schooner Nomis in the summer of 1935.  At the time of her grounding, the Nomis was carrying 338,000 feet of lumber from Georgetown, S.C. to New York City. She came ashore just north of the current location of the island’s pony pens.

The Scalawag’s Tale

I’ve been reading an old memoir about Pitt County that I hadn’t thought about in years until yesterday. A UNC-TV reporter was interviewing me, and he asked me if I could think of any white Southerners in eastern North Carolina that had stood up against slavery and racial oppression during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era.

A Civil Rights Milestone– Pamlico County, 1951

Today my Black History Month tour of eastern North Carolina’s civil rights history concludes with a look at Pamlico County and a historic civil rights lawsuit that was filed in 1951. Few people today remember this part of our history, but African American citizens in the little coastal village of Oriental filed one of the first lawsuits in the U.S. calling for black and white children to go to school together.

Freedom Days– Halifax County, 1964

Tonight’s Black History Month post is about another forgotten moment in eastern North Carolina's civil rights history: a historic voting rights movement in Halifax County, N.C., in 1964. It was called the Halifax County Voters Movement. I stumbled on it when I was going through some of my old notes from The Carolina Times, the African American newspaper that has been published in Durham, N.C., since 1921.

Joan Little: Summer Nights

Today my Black History Month tour of eastern North Carolina's civil rights history continues with a look at Washington, N.C. in the 1960s and '70s and the words of Joan Little, a young African American woman at the center of one of the most controversial human rights trials in 20th-century America.

Portraits of Roanoke River Fisheries, 1870-1910 —Bow Nets, Slat Weirs, Fish Wheels, Slides & Seines

Today I’m looking at several historical photographs of fishermen, fishing boats and fishing gear on the Roanoke River. The photographs mostly date to the period from 1870 to 1910, though one that I'm especially fond of was taken in the late 1930s. That was an exciting period in the history of the river's fisheries. If you had launched a boat in Weldon, at the falls of the river, and drifted down those swift waters all the way to the river's mouth on the Albemarle Sound, you would have seen many fishermen and many different kinds of fishing gear, including weirs, bow nets, stake nets, drift nets,  wheels, seines and slides. 

Those that Stay– A Civil Rights Pioneer in Martin County, N.C.

When it comes to the history of the civil rights movement in eastern North Carolina, my deepest sympathies and respect have always been with the local men and women that stayed in their hometowns, come hell or high water, and worked to make this a better world. One of those people is the topic of my “Black History Month” feature today. His name was William Claudius Chance, Sr., and he was born in Parmele, in rural Martin County, N.C., on the 23rd of November 1880.