Today– part six of my special series “`The Shrimp Capital of the World’– Charles Farrell’s Photographs of Southport, N.C., 1938”
In this photograph, we see Captain Leslie Day eating his dinner while minding the wheel of his shrimp boat, the Empress. When the photographer Charles Farrell visited Southport, Capt. Day, his father and a mate were staying there on the Empress and shrimping local waters for the fall season.
Capt. Day was from the Promise Land, a neighborhood of fishing people in Morehead City, in Carteret County, N.C. that I’ll discuss more later.
In those days, coming to Southport was an autumn ritual for many of Carteret County’s shrimp crews: the Empress was one of perhaps 50 or 60 Carteret County boats that made the 100-mile journey to Southport and stayed there for the fall shrimping season.
During the shrimping season, their crews tied up on the Southport waterfront. The men usually lived on their boats or slept on pallets in one of the local shrimp houses. They sold their catches to one of the local shrimp dealers.
In Farrell’s photographs, you can always recognize the Carteret County boats: built for gill netting in Core Sound and the Atlantic, not for shrimping (which wasn’t as important yet in Carteret County), they had rounded sterns like what we see here on the Empress so they could let out and pull in their fishing nets more easily.
The Southport boats, on the other hand, were built for shrimping and had square sterns.
Generally speaking, the Southport-built boats were also larger than the round-stern boats from Carteret County.
During the summer, Capt. Day and his crew set gill nets back home in Carteret County. Then they re-rigged the Empress in the fall when they relocated to Southport for the shrimping season.
Some years ago I talked with Capt. Day’s nephew, Ben Day, about his uncle Leslie and the Empress. Ben remembered his uncle as a handsome, easy going, hard-drinking man who knew the ways of the sea. He was also, Ben recalled, a “ladies man.”
Ben said that his uncle always relished the weeks that he shrimped out of Southport, though he left it to me to figure out if that was because he liked the good money he made when the shrimp were running or because of the local women, the liquor houses and the dance halls (or all the above).
Ben told me that the Empress and the Day family’s other boats weren’t just used for shrimping and fishing.
During the Prohibition Era, he said, some of his relatives also used their fishing boats to smuggle liquor.
No judgment: a passel of my great-uncles and at least one of my great-aunts was involved in making and/or smuggling liquor in Carteret and Craven counties at the same time!
Ben Day’s older relatives told him that some members of the family used to take their fishing boats out to the edge of the Gulf Stream and rendezvous with rum-running schooners from Cuba.
They’d take crates of rum off the schooners and load them onto their boats and then run into Rumley’s Hammock, on the backside of Cedar Island, where Leslie Day’s father and mother were from.
From Rumley’s Hammock they’d wait for a good night to run across the sound to Oriental.
Once in Oriental, they’d truck the rum to Philadelphia.
The Empress was probably one of those boats. According to his nephew though, Leslie Day swore that he never ran liquor during Prohibition: there was no point to it, he explained, because he was sure that his crew would drink up all the profits.
Next time– part 7– “A Waterman all his Life”