A Shad Camp, Neuse River, ca. 1890– The Men Singing as They Fish

A shad fisherman’s camp on the Lower Neuse River, possibly at or near James City, N.C., circa 1900. Fishermen constructed their huts out of cedar limbs or another supple hardwood and thatched them with saltmarsh cordgrass or black needlerush. Typically they bound them together with yucca fibers. These round huts with conical roofs were a spartan home away from home for shad fishermen and, occasionally, for their families.

At Mystic Seaport

A memory. I am at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. It’s one of my favorite museums: 17 acres of maritime exhibits, historic boats, nautical trade shops, a planetarium, a working shipyard and wharves lined with the country’s largest collection of 19th-century sailing vessels.

Oyster Shells, Hound Dogs & a Rooster– Sonny Williamson’s Tapes

One of my favorite of Sonny Williamson’s recordings is with a gentleman named Pritchard Lewis. Pritchard was born in Sea Level, N.C., in 1906, and Sonny talked with him in 1986. At that time, Sonny was obsessed with the history of the Core Sound sharpie, which was a popular, flat-bottomed workboat that had its heyday … Continue reading Oyster Shells, Hound Dogs & a Rooster– Sonny Williamson’s Tapes

Herring Week, Day 12– The Last Seine Fisheries

Welcome to the penultimate installment of my special series on the history of the great herring and shad fisheries on Albemarle Sound. This is photograph of the the engine house on the east end of the Greenfield fishery in Chowan County, N.C., circa 1905. One of the great 3 and ½ inch thick warps (hauling ropes) ran from the sea-end fishing flat to this structure, where an engine with a steam drum hauled one end of the seine ashore.

Herring Week, Day 7– Draft Horses & Ships at Sea

Avoca fishery, Albemarle Sound, 1877. Welcome back to Herring Week, my special series on the history of the great herring and shad fisheries on Albemarle Sound. Up to now, we've been looking at another fishery, the Greenfield fishery down the sound from Edenton, N.C. But today and tomorrow I'm going to focus on Avoca,  in Bertie County,  where, as you can see in this photograph, teams of heavy draft horses helped to haul in the mile-long seine and tens of thousands of herring, shad and other fish.

Herring Week, Day 5– The Lay of the Land

Greenfield fishery, Chowan County, 1905. This photograph shows the eastern half of the Greenfield herring and shad fishery circa 1905. The fishery was located on a small bay on the Albemarle Sound, 12 miles east of Edenton and near the mouth of the Yeopim River. One of the fishery’s two fishing flats, the Sea Hawk, is steaming away from the shore.

Welcome to Herring Week

This week I am looking at historical photographs of the great herring and shad fisheries on Albemarle Sound and its tributaries. At this very moment, as has happened since time immemorial, river herring and shad here in North Carolina are moving out of the Atlantic and headed upriver to their spawning grounds. Historically, their arrival has been a time of celebration and a symbol of spring, hope and resurrection that is especially appropriate here at Easter.

The Navassa Guano Company

This is a photograph of the Navassa Guano Company’s factory circa 1905. The landmark fertilizer company was located 5 miles north of Wilmington, N.C., on the northwest branch of the Cape Fear River. The sprawling complex included, left to right, the main line of the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, which crossed the Brunswick River by the plant, a sulfuric acid factory and, behind it, the fertilizer factory proper.

Finding Edna Ferber’s Showboat

I don’t know how the great American novelist, short story writer and playwright Edna Ferber heard about the little river town of Winton, N.C. But I know she did. In a collection of her research notes that I found at Yale’s Beinecke Library when I was in New Haven, Conn. last summer, she scratched the following: Winton, N.C.—The Croatans, relic of the lost Roanoke Island settlement. Tar River. White negroes.

Pitch Pines and Tar Burners: A 1792 Account

I recently found an historical account that I think might be the best description of tar making in North Carolina that I have ever read. An English merchant named Holles Bull Way wrote it in his travel diary when he visited coastal North Carolina in 1792. He did not publish those excerpts from his diary until 1809, though, when the article that I found appeared in the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts, Great Britain's first monthly scientific journal.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. in Rocky Mount

Friday night, February 23. I am writing these words at the old Booker T. Washington High School in Rocky Mount, N.C. A very special event is happening here tonight. More than half a century ago, on November 27, 1962, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a historic speech in this school’s gymnasium, only a few feet from where I am sitting now.