A few years ago, I carried a box of Charles Farrell's old photographs of the state's great herring fisheries back to one of the communities on the Chowan River where he took them. They are poignant and beautiful, and the herring workers in them are unforgettable, but I also find them a little haunting because they remind me of all that can be lost.
A memory. I am at the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The museum's roots date to 1799. Though relatively small, the library holds one of the country's great maritime history collections, especially significant for understanding the period just after the American Revolution, when Salem was a thriving seaport that was growing rich in what was called the East Indies and Old China trades.
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.
A shrimp house in the 1930s was its own world. When the toil wasn't too wearing, some were almost festive. On some nights, in some shrimp houses, the women sang gospel hymns and popular songs to pass the time and to find the strength to keep going.
While documenting Southport's shrimp industry in 1938, Charles Farrell also visited Crattie Arnold. Crippled by spinal meningitis, Arnold had both of his legs amputated when he was 7 years old but still became a legendary fisherman and boat builder.
Part 4 of my series "The Shrimp Capital of the World"-- Today, the rise of Southport’s shrimp industry, Italian shrimpers and the days when most coastal North Carolinians were more likely to fertilize their gardens with shrimp than to sell or eat them!
Today-- part 3 of my series "`The Shrimp Capital of the World:' Charles Farrell's Photographs of Southport, N.C., 1938"
Today-- "`The Shrimp Capital of the World,'", part 2. I begin my look at Charles Farrell’s historical photographs of Southport's shrimp industry with a special pair of photographs that are full of youth and joy, beauty and innocence.
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.
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.
Few coastal visitors know that the secluded hammock of Davis Ridge was once home to an extraordinary community founded by liberated slaves. Nobody has lived at “the Ridge” since 1933, yet the legend of those African American fishermen, whalers and boatbuilders still echoes among the elderly people in the maritime communities between North River and Cedar Island that locals call “Down East.”