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.
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”
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.
In those days many a shrimper led an itinerant life. When the season ended in Southport, they headed south to shrimp out of Fernandina Beach, St. Augustine, Key West, Everglades City, Punta Gorda and half a dozen other Florida fishing communities, often coming home on Christmas Eve with their arms full of gifts for their wives and sweethearts and children.
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.
In this photograph (above), we see the blackfish boat Margaret at an unidentified port probably in southern New Jersey in 1934. Standing in the bow is Capt. Einar Neilsen, a Norwegian immigrant. Capt. Neilsen was part of a largely forgotten enclave of Norwegian, Swedish and Dutch blackfish fishermen and their families that left New Jersey and made their homes in Beaufort, N.C., beginning in the 1910s.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
I recently found this map in an old book called The Williams History: Tracing the Descendants in America of Robert Williams, of Ruthin, North Wales, who Settled in Carteret County, North Carolina, in 1763. The map describes a largely forgotten group of Quaker settlements that flourished on the North Carolina coast more than 200 years ago.
This is the 9th part of my series on Susan Edwards Johnson's diary of her travels on the North Carolina coast in 1800 and 1801. I found the diary last spring at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford, Conn.
A memory. Today I am remembering a trip to New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It’s an extraordinary place: a spectacular collection of exhibits and artifacts dedicated to the history of whaling and New Bedford’s role as the largest whaling port in the U.S. in the 19thcentury.
A memory. As part of my research on the William F. Nye Co.’s bottlenose dolphin fishery at Hatteras Island, I visited Keith Rittmaster at the old mobile home trailer that he used as the headquarters for his research on stranded sea mammals.
A historian has to love the clerks at the Albemarle seine fisheries: they kept meticulous daily records of the weather and water conditions, and the numbers and kinds of fish caught and their sales. They also broke the sales down into categories: corned, cut, raw and “at the beach.”
At the Boston Athenaeum, I also looked at the shipping records of a Boston sea captain that traded in North Carolina in the 1770s. William Kent was the master of the sloop Polly. The records at the Boston Athenaeum concern the Polly’s voyages to ports along the Tar River from 1771 to 1775, as well as one other voyage in 1784.
When my wife and I visited New York City a few weeks ago, we stayed at a hotel next to the Jewish Museum. I had never been to the museum, and on the morning before my wife gave a lecture at Mt. Sinai Hospital (the reason for our trip), we visited the museum. The Jewish Museum's collections cover 4,000 years of history and include 30,000 objects of art, Judaica and antiquities from around the world. But I, of course, Iooked through the museum’s collections for anything related to the history of the North Carolina coast.
As impressive as I found Yale’s Beinecke Library, which is a modern, architectural wonder (more on that visit later), I found myself far more excited by the Whitney Library at the New Haven Museum. Maybe I just succumbed to nostalgia. Founded in 1862 and located next to Yale, the Whitney has spectacular collections on New Haven’s history but has made few concessions to modernity.
A curator at the Gallery Oldham, a museum in Oldham, England, sent me this portrait a few days ago. A local gentleman named William Thorpe apparently took the photograph in the late 1860s or 1870s. The unidentified object in the sitter’s lap resembles, and may have been, an iron slave collar.
I want to thank you all for inviting me to join in your celebration of this beautiful new museum’s opening and its inaugural photography exhibit, Ulrich Mack’s “Island People.”
In 2009 and 2010, an extraordinary community project, called “Raising the Story of Menhaden Fishing,” commemorated the central role that the menhaden industry played here in Carteret County, N.C, for generations. Inspired by the closing of the state's last menhaden factory, Beaufort Fisheries, in 2005, the project involved a series of community forums, school events and documentary projects. Led by cultural anthropologist and local fisheries activist, and my old friend, Barbara Garrity-Blake, the project’s organizers worked hand-in-hand with former menhaden fishermen and factory workers to create a unique community-wide period of reflection on the passing of a way of life.