A few years ago, a gentleman in Virginia, Walter Coles, Sr., invited my daughter Vera and me to visit his family’s private library of research materials related to his uncle, a world-renowned shark hunter named Russell J. Coles who did the large bulk of his shark hunting at Cape Lookout, N.C., between roughly 1900 and 1925.
Late one night in 1862, a slave waterman named Dempsey Hill slipped into the customs house in Beaufort, N.C., removed copies of the latest nautical charts and buried them in the local cemetery-- the one people now call the Old Burying Ground.
This essay originated in discussions with Dr. Makini Chisolm-Straker and Katherine Chon on the history of human trafficking in the American South-- and especially in eastern North Carolina.
In today's post, I want to reflect a little bit on our history and how we got here-- how we came to be such a divided people, why our racial divisions seem to run so deep and why our country remains the land that the great writer James Baldwin once called "these yet-to-be-United States."
What touched me most deeply in Maury York’s remarkable new article on the history of school desegregation in Franklin County, N.C. are the stories of the African American parents who first sought to send their children to previously all-white schools.
Far more than I usually do, I am noticing the beauty in even the smallest, most everyday parts of my world.
I always wonder what happened to them-- the men, women and children that fled Wilmington after the massacre in 1898. I thought of that again just a few days ago when I stumbled onto one of them in a place that I never would have expected-- a catalog for an art exhibit at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston.
The New York Times reported today that the great African American playwright Lorraine Hansberry was working on a play about the massacre of black citizens in Wilmington, N.C., in 1898 when she died, far too young, of pancreatic cancer in 1965. The news took my breath away.
A project called Last Seen—Finding Family after Slavery has been documenting the efforts of African Americans to find their families and other loved ones after the American Civil War. Most of the documents that the project has collected and put on-line are newspaper notices like this one about a family in Perquimans County, in northeastern … Continue reading “I Desire to find my Children”
As I wrap up "The Story of Shad Boats," I can’t help reflecting on how lucky we are to have Earl Willis, Jr. and Mike Alford to help us to appreciate these extraordinary workboats and their history .
Today in part 11 of my special series "The Story of Shad Boats," I'm exploring the life of Capt. Nal Midyette, the man that one Hatteras fisherman called "the champion shad boat builder."
Another lesson that I learned from Mike Alford and Earl Wynn Jr.'s research is this: fishermen used their shad boats for a great deal more than catching shad. In the words of Roanoke Island's old timers, they also did a whole lot of “proggin.”
In Part 9 of my special series "The Story of Shad Boats," I'm looking at the shad boat's sails and rigging-- everything from its lovely spritsail sailing rig to its "goose wing" that was unique among small watercraft anywhere in the U.S.
In this photograph we see the Dough family’s boatyard on the north end of Roanoke Island, ca. 1930. A shad boat is being “framed up.” One of master boat builder Otis Dough’s sons, probably Worden Dough, is working on a spar. All three of his sons—Worden, Horace and Lee—built shad boats.
When talking with Earl Wynn, Jr. and Mike Alford, Roanoke Islander Wynne Dough remembered that he, his father and his brothers went into the swamps along Mill Tail Creek, on the mainland of Dare County, in search of the juniper knees that were a crucial part of building shad boats.
Today in the 6th part of my special series, "The Story of Shad Boats," I just want to share a rough sketch of a shad boat’s interior arrangement that Earl Willis, Jr. drew in the 1980s, based on what Roanoke Island's old timers taught him about the boats.
In this 5th part of my series "The Story of Shad Boats," I am looking at one of the most groundbreaking parts of Earl Willis’s and Mike Alford's research on shad boats—Earl's compilation of a detailed registry of shad boats and shad boat builders-- and exploring what it says about where shad boats were built and used.
This is the 4th part of my special series "The Story of Shad Boats." The series features Earl Willis, Jr. and Mike Alford's extraordinary journey to document the history of North Carolina's "state boat"-- today we meet George Washington Creef, the man that built the first shad boat.
This is the 3rd part of my special series "The Story of Shad Boats." The series features Earl Willis, Jr. and Mike Alford's extraordinary journey to document the history of North Carolina's "state boat"-- a boat that is a remarkable window into a time, a place and a people.
This is the 2nd part of my special series "The Story of Shad Boats." The series features Earl Willis, Jr. and Mike Alford's extraordinary journey to document the history of North Carolina's "state boat"-- a boat that is a remarkable window into a time, a place and a people.
Today I’m excited to start a special series called "The Story of Shad Boats." Over a dozen posts, I'll be exploring Earl Willis, Jr. and Mike Alford's extraordinary research on the origins, construction and history of those legendary traditional workboats that once graced North Carolina's coastal waters.
In the 1870s and ‘80s, a group of ex-slaves called the Wilmington Jubilee Singers traveled throughout Great Britain, giving concerts in which they sang hymns and spirituals in a close harmony style, either a cappella or accompanied only by a pianist.
A 92-year-old gentleman in Chesapeake City, Maryland, recently sent me a wonderful message about his childhood memories of living on the North Carolina coast in the 1930s. His name is Mr. Harold Lee and when he was four years old he lived in a coastal village in Onslow County, N.C., that is no more.
I was delighted to open Michelle Lanier’s beautiful new children’s book My N.C. from A to Z and discover Abraham Galloway on the very first page! I helped bring Galloway’s story to light in my book The Fire of Freedom only a few years ago and now he’s starring in one of the most wonderful … Continue reading A is for Abraham Galloway
Today I am remembering a very special day just a couple months ago, before the quarantines and before the shuttered stores and empty streets, when Marion Evans and I explored a corner of the North Carolina coast that was completely new to me and seemed like an almost magical place.