Far more than I usually do, I am noticing the beauty in even the smallest, most everyday parts of my world.
Today I am remembering a very special day just a couple months ago, before the quarantines and before the shuttered stores and empty streets, when Marion Evans and I explored a corner of the North Carolina coast that was completely new to me and seemed like an almost magical place.
The other day Ed Pond in Davis Shore got in touch with me. Ed grew up there in the 1940s and ‘50s and my recent series on the history of Southport’s shrimping industry had set him to remembering.
Today-- the conclusion to my special series '`The Shrimp Capital of the World'-- Charles Farrell's Photographs of Southport, N.C., 1938" Charles Farrell’s photographs chronicled Southport’s shrimp industry in its heyday, but those days did not last forever. In fact, they came to an end suddenly, on the 15th of October 1954. On that autumn day, … Continue reading Hurricane Hazel: “Nothing left but piling”
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.
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.
More than two decades ago, I interviewed Capt. Leslie Day’s brother, Gordon Day, for a research project on the Second World War. We mostly talked about the war, but he also had a great story about how the family earned enough money to build their shrimp boat, the Empress, in 1930.
This is Benjamin Howard Day, Capt. Leslie Day’s father, with his hand on the wheel of the shrimp trawler Empress in the fall of 1938. You can't see them in Charles Farrell's photograph, but his son and the mate are wrestling the trawl aboard on the other side of the boat. The three men made up the crew of the Empress while she was shrimping in Southport.
In the 1930s, coming to Southport was an autumn ritual for many of Carteret County’s shrimp crews: Capt. Leslie Day's drop-netter Empress was one of perhaps 50 or 60 boats that stayed in Southport for the fall shrimping season.
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.
In today’s post I'm introducing a 10-part series looking at Charles A. Farrell’s historical photographs of shrimpers and shrimp house workers in Southport, a village at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, in Brunswick County, N.C. As a local woman named Leila Pigott told me years ago, “Southport used to be known as the shrimp capital of the world.”
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.
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.
Earlier this week, I wrote about the historic use of oyster shells for constructing roads on the North Carolina coast. But coastal people didn’t only use oyster shells for road building. Particularly before the Civil War, they also used oyster shells as an important source of lime. Burnt down in kilns, an incredible tonnage of oyster shells was used in making cement, mortar, bricks, wall plaster and whitewash.
Susan Johnson arrived at “Mr. Mallett’s rice plantation opposite Wilmington” on the 9th of January 1801. Here her diary’s entries began to give me a dark, foreboding feeling like that in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, as Susan entered a part of the North Carolina coast where most of the people were enslaved and her route followed what was called “Negro Head Road.”
The more I looked, the more I got the impression that the period from 1947 to 1953 was one of considerable labor unrest throughout the fishing industry on the North Carolina coast.
My conversation with folk singer and social activist Guy Carawan had gone in surprising directions. When I called him, now almost a decade ago, I had really just wanted to know more about his pilgrimage to his father’s homeplace in Pamlico County, N.C. in the summer of 1953.
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.
Today I’m in Denver, Colorado, and while I’m here I’m visiting the Western History Collection at the Denver Public Library. I wouldn’t usually expect to find manuscripts about my special interest—the history of the North Carolina coast— in a collection that’s devoted to the Rocky Mountain West.... But this library also has Edwin R. Kalmbach’s field diaries. I was interested in Kalmbach because one of his diaries describes an 11-day trip that he made to an especially interesting part of the North Carolina coast—the old rice plantations along the Lower Cape Fear.
An exhibit on local connections to slavery at the Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council Archives in Oldham, England, has brought to light an American slave narrative previously unknown in the United States. Titled The Life of the Late James Johnson (Colored Evangelist), an Escaped Slave from the Southern States of America, the pamphlet chronicles Johnson’s youth in Brunswick County, North Carolina, his escape to a Union vessel during the Civil War, his passage to Liverpool as a sailor and a sobering, if picaresque, journey through England and Wales.