The most exciting historical source I found in coastal Maine this week was an old tintype portrait of an African American man named John H. Nichols who escaped from slavery on the North Carolina coast and settled in Lewiston, Maine, after the Civil War. In a 1921 issue of the Lewiston Journal Illustrated Magazine, I also found the life story of John H. Nichols....
On the other side of Union River Bay, just west of where I am staying on Mount Desert Island, in a village called Blue Hill, the menhaden oil and scrap industry was born, if one can say it was born anywhere.
On our drive to Down East Maine a few days ago, we stopped and took a hike at the Lobster Cove Meadow Preserve in Boothbay Harbor. After walking a little ways down the trail through the lovely fall colors, we soon arrived at Appalachee Pond. To my surprise, there we got a glimpse at another historical connection between the Maine coast and the North Carolina coast: the ice trade.
Another documentary film that really excites me is called “Farewell Ferris Wheel.” Written and directed by Jamie Sisley and my sister Elaine’s incredibly talented nephew, Miguel ‘M.i.G.” Martinez, it’s the story of the Mexican workers that legally come to the U.S. for 8 months every year under special temporary visas to work in the traveling carnival and fair industry.
While exploring coastal Maine's archives and museums this week, I’ve also found quite a few letters from Maine soldiers that served in the Union army or navy on the North Carolina coast during the Civil War. Those letters highlight a different kind of historic connection that ties coastal Maine and coastal North Carolina together.
A second connection between Maine’s shipyards and the North Carolina coast is grimmer: quite a few ships built in Maine came to their end in the waters off the North Carolina coast-- "The Graveyard of the Atlantic."
This week I’m in Down East Maine. It’s a beautiful part of the world and I’m not really here to do historical research. All the same, I am visiting some local maritime museums and historical societies and I am curious to learn if this far corner of the New England coastline has historic ties to the coastal world where I grew up in North Carolina.
Tonight I watched a powerful documentary on an important but little known chapter in North Carolina’s history: the 1978 sanitation workers strike in Rocky Mount. In a generous-hearted, thoughtful and sincere way, the sanitation workers tell their own story in this public access TV documentary that deserves a much wider showing.
A few years ago Ocracoke natives Philip Howard and his cousin Blanche Howard Jolliff gave me a typewritten manuscript of one woman’s account of the great 1899 hurricane on Ocracoke Island. The woman's name was Irla Bonner Litchfield Ticknor and she was 19 years old when that devastating hurricane swept across the North Carolina coast.
Linda Garey, a teacher I met some years ago, recently sent me copies of some remarkable historical images of North Carolina lighthouses and lightships that were taken in and around 1899. They are from her great-grandfather Rear Admiral Albert Ross’s extraordinary collection of magic lantern glass slides that he made while serving in the U.S. Navy.
This is a portrait of an African American fisherman and saltwater farmer named Proctor Davis. He was born a slave on Davis Island, in the Down East part of Carteret County, N.C., ca. 1839. He escaped from slavery during the Civil War, but he and his family returned after the war and made a new home at Davis Ridge, a marshy hammock just north of Davis Island.
Chef Ricky Moore's new cookbook is out and I think he's written the finest seafood cookbook you’ve ever seen and probably ever will see if you’re like me and love the flavors of the North Carolina coast.
I recently stumbled onto a New York reporter’s account of a journey to Cape Hatteras in 1890. He made the trip in a remarkable sailing vessel called a kunner and the captain was J. Clifford Bowser, a member of a legendary African American family of fishermen, sailors, pilots and surfmen from Roanoke Island, N.C.
This is the last of the 7-part series I’m doing this week based on an extraordinary collection of glass lantern slides that a teacher named Linda Garey shared with me. Her great-grandfather, Rear Admiral Albert Ross, took the images on a trip down the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal in 1901.
In Rear Admiral Albert Ross’s next magic lantern glass slide, we find his vessel, the lighthouse tender Violet, approaching a rear paddlewheel steamer on one of the rivers that make up the Albemarle & Chesapeake (A&C) Canal-- either the Elizabeth River, North Landing River or the North River. We might just barely be able make out the captain and mate in the boat's pilothouse.
In Rear Admiral Ross’s next glass lantern slide, we see a steam tug towing a raft of logs by the village of Coinjock, N.C. This was a very common scene on the Albemarle and Chesapeake (A&C) Canal at the turn of the 20th century. Held together by spikes and chains, the logs in this raft are headed south toward the North River, a tributary of the Albemarle Sound.
In our next glass lantern slide, we can see Commander Albert Ross’s lighthouse tender Violet at the Albemarle and Chesapeake (A&C) Canal’s lock in Great Bridge, Virginia. This was the only lock on the canal and served to compensate for the different water levels in the canal and the Elizabeth River caused by the canal's wind tides and the river's lunar tides.
This is part 3 of a series I’m doing this week based on an extraordinary collection of glass lantern slides that a teacher named Linda Garey shared with me. Her great-grandfather, Rear Admiral Albert Ross, took the images on a trip down the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal in 1901.
In our first lantern slide, we see the steam tug Dauntless pulling a lumber barge through the Albemarle & Chesapeake (A&C) Canal’s “Virginia Cut.” Commander Ross—he was not yet a Rear Admiral in 1901— took the image from the bow of the lighthouse tender Violet as it steamed east toward the North Landing River.
Several years ago I gave a lecture at an NEH-funded teachers workshop in New Bedford, Mass. The teachers came from all over the U.S. and one of them, Linda Garey, who teaches in California, later shared with me a group of remarkable Magic Glass lantern slides of a part of the North Carolina coast that is little known to most people: the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.
North Carolina’s dominance of the nation’s naval stores industry began to change drastically in the decades after the Civil War. By that time, the industry was destroying the region’s longleaf pine forest. In a frenzied half century of exploitation, the state’s longleaf pine forest fell from an estimated 4-5 million acres to less than 60,000 acres. Travelers began to describe train trips through eastern North Carolina’s pine forests in which they did not see a single tree that did not have the V-shaped scars that were characteristic of tapping.
Yesterday The New Yorker magazine published an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism on Melvin Davis and his brother Licurtis Reels and their struggle to hold onto their family’s land in Merrimon, a historically African American fishing community in Carteret County N.C., not far from where I grew up.
“This used to be an island where the men went to sea.” That’s what 95-year-old Blanche Howard Jolliff told me a few years ago, when I visited her on Ocracoke Island, one of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. I was the guest of her cousin Philip and his family next door, and Philip took me by to see her.
Last winter I visited the New Hanover County Public Library in Wilmington, N.C., to see a rare and extraordinary group of historical manuscripts: a collection of four inscriptions written by Omar ibn Said, an enslaved Muslim scholar, teacher and trader from West Africa. He wrote them while he was being held captive on the North Carolina coast two centuries ago.
I never grow tired of looking at them: the faces in these old photographs. They are immigrants that settled in eastern North Carolina in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They came from Russia, Syria, Lebanon, Norway, Greece, Poland and many other far-off lands.