A Winter on Pine Island: Reading Lillie Baum’s Diary from 1904

In memory of Wilson Snowden, 1943-2023

Lillie Baum and her husband and children moved to Pine Island, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, on January 25, 1903. Soon after moving there, she began a diary.

For the next 46 years, Baum chronicled daily life on Pine Island. Now preserved at the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo, N.C., her diaries give us a rare glimpse at the long arc of a woman’s life on the Outer Banks in the first half of the 20th century.

Now a wildlife sanctuary, Pine Island is a marshy hammock on the sound side of Currituck Banks, the most northern of the long narrow barrier islands that we call the Outer Banks.

View of the National Audubon Society's Pine Island Sanctuary. The preserve includes a 2 & 1/2 mile-long nature trail that follows the old cart path that ran from Corolla to Duck. Photo by Mark Buckler. Courtesy, National Audubon Society

View of the National Audubon Society’s Pine Island Sanctuary. The preserve includes a 2 & 1/2 mile-long nature trail that follows an old cart path that ran from Corolla to Duck. Photo by Mark Buckler. Courtesy, National Audubon Society

Today that stretch of salt marsh and maritime forest is just a few minutes’ drive from the bustling resort town of Corolla. You can drive south to Nags Head and cross a bridge to Roanoke Island and then another bridge and you’ll be on the mainland in 30 or 40 minutes if you don’t get caught in the beach traffic.

But things were different when Lillie Baum first moved to Pine Island. At that time, Pine Island seemed like the far end of the Earth. There were a few small, scattered settlements on Currituck Banks, but no towns, no paved roads and no way to the mainland except by boat.

The nearest and largest settlement, Corolla, may have had a population of a couple hundred in those days. Many of the village’s residents were the keepers of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the crewmen of the local life-saving station and their families.

Currituck Beach Lighthouse, 1893. Courtesy, United States Coast Guard

Currituck Beach Lighthouse, 1893. Courtesy, United States Coast Guard

What struck me when I first opened Lillie Baum’s diary was the wildness of her new home and the way in which her life revolved around the sea, the weather and the great flocks of geese and ducks that settled along the marshes of Currituck Sound in the winter.

A bit at random, I picked up her diary from 1904 and began to read her entries in the first days of the new year.

Pine Island is located in Currituck County, in the far northeast corner of North Carolina.

Pine Island is located in Currituck County, in the far northeast corner of North Carolina. Map courtesy, Wikipedia

“Tonight is one bitter night”

That winter on Pine Island was a hard one. Currituck Sound froze around her family’s farm and it was bitter cold. It was so frigid that the family’s horses and livestock began to die off.

Jan. 19, 1904. It is so cold. Jule [her husband, Julius Cephas Baum] has bundled up and now gone to Brock[‘s] place to get up colts. Sheep are dying and colts too. Jule got 2 ducks this morning. Tonight is one bitter night.

She could not even dry her wash. She washed the clothes in the morning, but they froze before they could dry.

Jan. 18, 1904. I washed, but it is so cold, I did not put out any clothes. The clothes don’t suit me either. Some are not clean. Jule has gone ducking this afternoon. Got 13 ducks. He was almost frozen. We went to bed early tonight. My back aches from washing.

She struggled just to keep the children warm and fed, a job that was not made any easier when she was not feeling well herself.

Jan. 8, 1904. Part of clothes got dry. I have taken cold and can just keep up. Got goose of Simpkins.

Simpkins may have been one of the local market hunters. They made their livings by killing ducks, geese and other water birds and shipping them to New York City and other distant markets. I don’t imagine that they were averse to sharing a few with locals either.

I was so hungry for something I picked and cleaned and cooked him right away. I invited Mr. Baum [her husband’s father] to supper, but goose was tough. Mr. Baker brought some more wood.

Lillie struggled to overcome her family’s solitude and lift their spirits when it was too cold for them to go out.

Jan. 18, 1904. Dreary old day[.] we did not have any company nor did we have anything good to eat. I wrote one letter tonight. It is very cold. Children have not had S. S. [Sunday School] lessons for several Sundays.

I don’t know where Lillie typically carried the children to Sunday school. There was a community chapel in Corolla, but services were erratic, at best. She and her husband may have taken a boat to a church on the other side of the sound when the weather allowed a safe crossing.

A hunter from Boston and his local guide Sam McHorney enter a marsh blind at Pine Island, ca. 1916. From Sam Baum, "A History of Market Hunting In the Currituck Sound Area, Part 1," in Wildlife in North Carolina (Nov. 1968).

A hunter from Boston and local guide Sam McHorney enter a marsh blind at Pine Island, ca. 1916. From Sam Baum, “A History of Market Hunting In the Currituck Sound Area, Part 1,” in Wildlife in North Carolina (Nov. 1968).

Lillie seemed to get her feet back on the ground when the worst of the cold snap broke a few days later.

Jan. 20, 1904. I heated water and thawed out my clothes. Washed out few more pieces and rewashed some. They are all drying nicely. It has greatly moderated. Mrs. Baum [her mother-in-law] washed, too and stuck them in with mine. Everybody is budging outdoors.

The next day her husband and his father took advantage of the ice breaking in the shallows around Pine Island to go duck hunting.

Jan. 21, 1904. Still mild. Jule and father went ducking. Got 35. Jule was worn completely out tonight.

“We had quite a laughing spree last night”

Winter had not yet passed on Currituck Sound, but once the deep freeze broke, Lillie Baum’s spirits rose. From that point on, she seemed to find ways to find joys in the long dark days of winter.

At times, she mentions those joys and the hardness of winter in almost the same breath.

Jan. 28, 1904. It is such bad weather. The stock is faring badly. We played Flinch tonight. Pearl and Addie [her daughters, I believe] won two out of three. Midnight when we went to bed.

Jan. 30, 1904. We had chicken stuffed with oysters. —- brought us nearly half bushel. Raw and rainy still. Another colt dead. We are all getting on quite nicely. We had quite a laughing spree tonight.

The livestock are struggling, its bitter cold, and another colt has frozen to death. But she is getting her family through it—with the help of an oyster dinner, a card game and lots of laughter.

Flinch, by the way, was a popular card game at the time. Invented in 1901, the game was marketed by the Flinch Card Co. of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and is still available today.

Music also enlivened Lillie and her family’s winter nights. Pearl sometimes went to a neighbor’s home and played their organ. A neighbor, Henry Carter, was apparently a gifted musician.

Feb. 3, 1904. We all went over and heard Carter play tonight.

I suspect that Lillie means that they walked over to the Currituck Shooting Club to hear Henry Carter play. The club was a short way down a sandy cart path from her family’s home, on land that had once been owned by her husband’s family.

A group of wealthy businessmen had organized the club in New York City in 1856. During the waterfowl hunting season, the club’s members and their guests would travel south by train, usually to Norfolk, then take one of the club’s yachts out to Pine Island.

The Currituck Shooting Club's lodge was built in 1879. Photo courtesy, Currituck County Public Library

The Currituck Shooting Club’s lodge was built at Pine Island in 1879. Photo courtesy, Currituck County Public Library

The businessmen and their guests were generally very wealthy—the banker J. P. Morgan came at least once as a member’s guest—but the accommodations at the hunt club were in some ways no different than local people’s homes: kerosene stoves, chamber pots and no electricity.

Of course the hunt club employed servants that would never been seen in local people’s homes: cooks, maids, laundresses and a butler, at least, as well as boat crews and hunting guides.

On some nights, the hunt club also had music. At least occasionally after dinner, Henry Carter regaled the visiting hunters with his playing and Lillie’s family walked over and joined them.

I don’t know what instrument Carter played, but I would guess that it was a fiddle.

On some nights, Henry Carter also played at Lillie’s home.

Feb. 17, 1904. Killed hogs today. We killed two large hogs. Uncle Joe killed two sheep. Perl helped me cut up lard and meat . . .. Henry Carter came in at midnight and helped cut sausage meat, then played for us.

Carter visited Lillie’s family again the next night. He was no doubt a welcome sight after a long day.

Feb. 18, 1904. Stays cold as ever. I have been most all day drying up one pot of lard. Perl went to help drive up cattle. Jule washed up pot for me after supper. We had another [argument], but not an angry one. Carter came and played for us again tonight.

That is not the only mention of marital discord that appears in Lillie’s diary that winter. She and her husband were having a trying winter and nerves seem to fray a good bit.

I do not know if there was an underlying tension to their relationship that winter, but I can imagine that the move to Pine Island was difficult for her and quite likely for him as well.

Lillie may have expected a rather different life. She had been born in a comfortable home in Blackwater, in Princess Ann County, Virginia. She had attended Norfolk College for Young Ladies, an elite finishing school that operated in Norfolk from 1880 to 1899. And she had married a physician—Jules was trained as a medical doctor.

Advertisement for the Norfolk College for Young Ladies, Peninsula Enterprise (23 Oct. 1886). Courtesy, Saxis Island Museum, Saxis, Va.

Advertisement for the Norfolk College for Young Ladies, Peninsula Enterprise (23 Oct. 1886). Courtesy, Saxis Island Museum, Saxis, Va.

Nine years after his and Lillie’s wedding, Jules had given up medical practice and moved the family to Pine Island. His father, Josephus Baum, had asked him to come home and help him to look after the family’s farms there and near Grandy, on the other side of Currituck Sound.

Josephus Baum, Lillie's father-in-law. In his book Grandfather's Tales of North Carolina History (1901), R. B. Creecy wrote that Baum "has probably sent more ducks to their account than any other man living."

Josephus Baum, Lillie’s father-in-law. In his book Grandfather’s Tales of North Carolina History (1901), R. B. Creecy wrote that Baum “has probably sent more ducks to their account than any other man living.”

The Baums had held the deed to a large swath of Currituck Banks since the early 1700s. To the best of my knowledge, they largely used that land for livestock grazing—horses, cattle and sheep for sure, maybe hogs.

Livestock grazing was one of the most common uses of the lands on the Outer Banks and on the state’s other barrier islands from the 1700s all the way to the early 1900s.

“The wind is blowing a gale nearly”

At Pine Island, life went on that winter of 1904. The men went “gunning”—maybe they were doing a little market gunning on the side. Lillie kept busy in the kitchen.

One of their neighbors, presumably while waterfowl hunting, had a boating accident and was found dead in the salt marsh.

Feb. 19, 1904. It looks as if it may come on to rain. So much warmer. We stuffed sausage this afternoon. Jule, Uncle Joe and Carter gunned a little. Jule got out of patience…. I sent his lunch to him.

Feb. 24, 1904.It is so sad. [The neighbor’s death.] Uncle Joe gone to Bank woods after lumber…. Mr. Carter came in tonight. I took a bath. Jule is either down in mouth or sick— a little of both, maybe.

Her husband’s uncle may have been scavenging shipwreck lumber. Perhaps a lumber schooner had wrecked on Currituck Banks and scattered its cargo along the shore.

For a day or two, Lillie noted that the days were getting a bit warmer, but then a nor’easter came down out of the North Atlantic.

Feb. 25, 1904. … It is growing colder every minute…. The wind is blowing a gale nearly.

Three days later, the winds had settled down, but things were still soggy.

Feb. 28, 1904. Foggy, rainy day. Seems we never will have any more good weather.

Lillie occupied herself with the wash, a rather hopeless task in that kind of weather, and with other house chores. At night she played cards.

When she describes a black man who helps her husband with a job, she used a derogatory, racist term that I will not repeat.

March 2, 1904. Jule and John Gallop and a [derogatory racist word here] spent the day at Bank woods at work on wreck lumber. We hung out part of washing and had to take it in again. I finished [a] skirt for Addie. Jule brought some fish back and I cleaned them. It has been such a raw miserable day. Addie and I played a couple game of Flinch.

A few years earlier, white people on Knotts Island, just up the sound, had banished African Americans from their island. (See my story on that chapter in Knotts Island’s history here.)

That was during the white supremacy movement that swept North Carolina in 1898-1900. I do not know how the white supremacy movement was felt at Pine Island or the rest of Currituck Banks.

“Jule went to burn off marsh today”

The weather turned nasty again the next day.

March 3, 1904. Got clothes hung out once more…. It blew so hard we had a time keeping clothes on line…. It has gone on a storm of wind and raw tonight.

March 4, 1904. Froze again last night. Two colored men and two white stopped and came ashore out of the storm. Mrs. Baum [her husband’s mother] took care of them last night.

That was not uncommon in the days of sail. Many a sailor and fisherman met his future wife in just such a way.

The Outer Banks History Center in Manteo, N.C., has preserved all 46 of Lillie Baum's diaries. Photo by David Cecelski

The Outer Banks History Center in Manteo, N.C., has preserved all 46 of Lillie Baum’s diaries. Photo by David Cecelski

In the last days of winter, Lillie found that the nor ’easterly winds grew tamer and the weather more unpredictable, sometimes warm and sunny, other times as chilly as ever.

On the other side of Currituck Sound, the first new potatoes were being harvested. Somebody brought Lillie some.

Around the same time, her husband crossed Currituck Sound in search of corn, probably for hog feed. Lillie was cleaning ducks, sewing, starching sheets, milking, scrubbing floors, tending children, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Lillie had nearly made it through winter, but she was growing weary.

March 15, 1904. I suffered with heart yesterday and last night….  I have cooked breakfast and am keeping quiet. [Later in the day, she adds:] I sat in chair all day, except to cook the meals.

She kept on. Spring was just around the bend. Life at Pine Island was growing busier as the days grew longer. Spring showed itself, then went back into hiding.

March 16, 1904. Froze last night. Mr. Henry Carter came in and got all my letters this morning. We are running smoke now. [Smoking hams and probably wild game too.] . . . Jule went to burn off marsh today. We played Flinch tonight.

Burning salt marshes was a winter activity The new growth kept the marshes verdant. In the spring, coastal farmers would harvest the fresh green growth to use as fodder for their cattle and for other purposes.

The spring equinox had at last come. In her diary, Lillie made no big deal out of the end of winter and the arrival of spring.

March 22, 1904. Jule helped Mr. Carter kill his hogs. It has been such a warm day. I roasted coffee and nearly melted…. I took fat off chittlings [sic].

All that in a single winter. A great freeze, a shipwreck, a body washed up in the salt marsh, strangers taken in during a storm. Also hog killings, duck hunting, washing and sewing, card games and long nights of laughter and music. The stuff of life, at least at Pine Island in the winter of 1904.

14 thoughts on “A Winter on Pine Island: Reading Lillie Baum’s Diary from 1904

  1. Thanks for this great post. Seeing the beloved outer banks in a new light. Plus the hyperlinks have taken me down more paths of enlightenment about NC’s unflattering past.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wind’s blowing a gale and I’m out in it
    My thick skirts turned sailcloth
    And threatening to take me asea

    Where the clouds whirl
    And the four corners of the earth
    Blow out ancient breaths to skirl

    With such reckless wanton keening
    That I’ve no choice
    But to join in

    And take flight
    From my labors and pains
    Let the weather whip me raw

    Take me with you
    Take me away

    And yet, I stay

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Very interesting. You no doubt know the subsequent history of Pine Island which at some point became an Audubon Society sanctuary. I believe it was in the 80s that the Society swapped the ocean front acreage of Pine Island for a much larger tract of land on the mainland owned by a developer named Earl Slick. Slick had earlier created a major development called Sanderling on land that was just south of Pine Island. The Pine Island oceanfront which stretches for miles on the road to Corolla is now completely covered with large vacation houses.


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