Buck Gillikin, cook. Young Gillikin is making biscuits in a one-room cabin that served both as a kitchen and one of half-a-dozen bunkhouses at Brown’s Island. He has nearly filled a galvanized steel pan with biscuits and will soon place them in the oven.
A tin of baking powder sits next to his mixing bowl, in front of containers of other cooking ingredients, including what looks like a jar of pickles or peppers.
“When a boat doesn’t come from the mainland,” Charles Farrell wrote on the back of the print, “Buck may have nothing to serve but flour biscuits and black strap molasses.”
This is the 5th in a series of Charles A. Farrell’s photographs from Brown’s Island, in Onslow County, N.C., in 1938. An earlier version of this story appeared in Southern Cultures, a quarterly journal published by the UNC Center for the Study of the American South.
On this day, Buck is frying corned spots for the mullet fishermen, which he will serve with the biscuits and molasses. He is wearing cook’s whites, always reassuring to a fishing crew when kept as immaculate as Buck’s.
While cooking was his main job, he also had duties that took him out of the kitchen, much as cooks on sailing ships did at sea. Other photographs in Farrell’s collection show him helping to launch a mullet boat into the surf.
In this photograph, his coat hanging on the shelf has a worn place on the left sleeve that probably betrays wear from either the wooden beams used to carry the mullet boat or from the warps, the two heavy ropes that the fishermen used to haul the seine and fish ashore.
At such times, the crew captain needed every hand on the beach.
A mullet camp was a man’s world, at least at Brown’s Island, and making biscuits was hardly the fishermen’s only domestic duty that would have been women’s work back in Otway. Again much like sailors at sea, the fishermen scrubbed floors, washed laundry, mended clothes and did whatever else necessary to keep the camp tolerably livable.
Tomorrow- “the Paul Bunyan of the Carolina Fisherfolk”