The Shark Factory

When I learned about Russell Coles and the shark factory in Morehead City, N.C., I thought immediately of the first pages of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, when all the fishermen have returned to shore in a Cuban port and are cleaning and packing their catches....

The Fate of Sharks

Now, only a century later, those who study sharks-- as with so much of the world's fauna-- seem to spend most of their time like me, a historian: chronicling extinctions and warning of coming extinctions, as if Russell Coles' lust for conquering nature had spread throughout the world.

An Ichthyologist is Born

In Russell Coles’ day, many ichthyologists—biologists that study fish—had never actually seen sharks in the wild. Coles offered such scientists the twin possibilities of studying sharks in their native habitat at Cape Lookout and of expanding their collections for study in some of the most prestigious natural history museums in the world.

A Wild Sea Life

In 1915 Russell J. Coles drafted an article on two kinds of manta rays that he had hunted at Cape Lookout. One was the lesser devil ray, and the other was the giant oceanic manta ray, a gentle, incredibly beautiful creature with fins that can be 18 feet or more across and which look like great black wings when moving through the sea.

“I Desire to find my Children”

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”

At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

In its thoughtful and deeply troubling new exhibit “Americans and the Holocaust,” the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum highlights Sen. Robert Reynolds of North Carolina because in 1939 he led a senate fight that prevented the U.S. from rescuing 20,000 Jewish children from the Nazis. At the time, Reynolds said that he did not want the Jewish children to come to America and take our jobs.

Portrait of a Rebel

John H. Scott was a free African American saddle and harness maker in Fayetteville, N.C. until 1856, when he left the town and settled in Oberlin, Ohio. Two years later, he became famous for taking up arms and liberating a fugitive slave that federal marshals had captured in Oberlin and were planning on returning to slavery.