Herring Week, Day 5– The Lay of the Land

Courtesy, North Carolina Collection, UNC Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Courtesy, North Carolina Collection, UNC Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This photograph shows the eastern half of the Greenfield herring and shad fishery in Chowan County, N.C., circa 1905. The fishery was located on a small bay on the Albemarle Sound, 12 miles east of Edenton and near the mouth of the Yeopim River. One of the fishery’s two fishing flats, the Sea Hawk, is steaming away from the shore.

We can see a fisherman near the boat’s engine house, and another at the sweep oar in the bow. Since neither the seine nor the rest of the crew is aboard, the boat must be between hauls.

The fishing flats worked in pairs: they carried the great, mile-long seine out into the sound in tandem and then spread it out between them, on a perpendicular line to the shore. The fishing flat that worked closest to shore was called the “land-end flat,” and the great rope that hauled that end of the seine ashore was called the “land-end warp.”

Similarly, the fishing flat that carried the most distant part of the seine into the Albemarle was called the “sea-end flat,’ and its warp was called the “sea-end warp.”

The small boat behind the Sea Hawk is a “rope boat.” When the land-end fishing flat hauled the seine close enough to shore that men on the beach could wade into the water and drag it the rest of the way, a lone boatman used this boat to untie the toggles that connected the seine to the warp.

This is the most panoramic view we have of the Greenfield fishery, even though it only shows half of the operation, so this is a good place to pause and get the lay of the land.

On the far left of this photograph, we can see the main fishing shelter, where the seine was hauled onto shore and the catch sorted, cleaned, salted and packed in barrels and kegs.

To the right of the main fishing shelter, we can catch a glimpse of the “shad house” and the icehouse. The fishing hands in the shelter—which, as I mentioned in my previous post, were known as “Pioneers”—headed, gutted and salted the herring and packed them in kegs.

Only a few years earlier, they would have done the same with the shad, but the more recent availability of ice and the construction of railroads had opened markets in the north to fresh shad for the first time.

Consequently, instead of salting them, the Pioneers cleaned the shad and packed them in boxes with ice. The fishery’s sound steamer, the Sophie Wood, transported them promptly to the Norfolk and the Southern Railroad yard in Edenton, from whence they were sent north.

Mrs. Rebecca Wood Drane, who, I should probably mention again, was the granddaughter of Greenfield’s owner and lived at the fishing beach during the season, indicated that the ice was collected in the winter and stored in the icehouse, presumably covered in sawdust and pine straw.

In a cold winter, the fishery workers may have obtained some of the ice from local rivers. More likely, the ice came from a company in Norfolk or Elizabeth City. Mechanical ice making had recently started to reach into the Southern states and was increasingly available even in a place as remote as Greenfield for a price.

Mrs. Drane recalled that the ice used at Greenfield arrived at a nearby plantation, Somerset, which was located on the Yeopim River. Somerset had a deeper channel on its waterfront than did Greenfield, and was generally where shipments of ice, salt and other goods arrived.

The fishery’s “offal box” was located behind the icehouse. That was a pen in which the Pioneers tossed the cleaned fish’s heads and entrails. Periodically, Greenfield’s hands emptied the pen and carted the offal to the farm, where it was used to fertilize the fields.

Mrs. Drane recalled that those fields were rather redolent. She also remembered, as she told her daughter, “A beautiful hawthorn bush grew by the offal box.”

The sea-end engine house sits on the far eastern side of the bay, the last building on the right in this photograph. In the engine house, a steam-powered windlass hauled in the sea-end warp, one of the two 3 and ½-inch-thick ropes to which the seine was attached.

The other, “land-end” engine house sat equal distant from the main fishing shelter, but in the other direction, on the bay’s west end, which is not visible in this photograph. We also cannot see the Quarters, the fishing hands’ kitchen or the bake oven, all of which were located just west of the main fishing shelter, so also not in this photograph.

Mrs. Drane recalled that a bald eagle habitually sat at the top of a cypress tree overlooking that west side of the bay. A half hour before a shift in the wind to the east, she told her daughter, the eagle faithfully left its perch, flew over the fishing beach and settled on the east side of the bay.

Tomorrow– Herring Week, Day 6– The Fishermen

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