Brown’s Island 15- Scavengers

Hogs grazing at Brown's Island, 1938.

Courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina

Our trio of hogs cleaning up after a fishermen’s oyster or clam dinner on the sound side of Brown’s Island. The fishermen left a pair of oyster knives stuck in the benches. The white belted animal on the right is a Hampshire, while the other two are mixed breeds. Hampshires are one of the oldest hog breeds in the U.S., popular for their easy temperaments, hardiness and foraging ability, all of which suited them well to life on Brown’s Island.

The Gillikins and Lawrences brought a small menagerie with them from Otway: cats for the mice and rats, a dog to scare away raccoons, snakes and the occasional bear, and the hogs and a goat to scavenge the great piles of fish guts and other offal left over from cleaning their catch.

If the fish weren’t running, the hogs ate anything they could get their snouts on: sea oats, live oak saplings and even wild bird and turtle eggs. The fishermen occasionally slaughtered their hogs at the end of the season, but most of the men found the pork too redolent of fish because of the hogs’ diet and instead carried them back home to Otway.

The days of hogs grazing on Brown’s Island were numbered. So was the future of the Gillikins and Lawrences on the island.

Three years after Charles Farrell’s visit, at the outset of WWII, the War Department confiscated the island for use as a bombing range. Brown’s Island has been part of the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base and off limits to fishermen ever since.

The state’s other mullet camps did not last much longer. Few, if any, survived hurricane Hazel in 1954.

Back home the “mullet blow” still stirs spirits and lift hearts, however. On a smaller scale, fishermen still pursue jumpin’ mullet, even if they no longer live in remote camps and often must work in the shadow of high-rise motels.

A mullet roast at a local church or community center is still an event not to be missed, and I bet half the people Down East would still rather have a jumpin’ mullet on their plate than any other fish.

So would I: for many of us who grew up on that coast, the autumn winds this time of year will always awaken a fierce yearning for the seashore and a taste of jumpin’ mullet.

The End

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