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.
A fish market crowded with fishermen, fish buyers and fishmongers at the bottom of Middle Street, on the Trent River waterfront, New Bern, N.C., circa 1905. A pair of fishermen in a sail skiff are culling their catch, while a boy, obscured by an older man, probably his father or an uncle, poles what is probably a log-built skiff around them.
The decoy carvers invited me to lunch last week. By the time I got to the Straits, they had finished carving for the day. They had put away their tools and paint brushes, and they had set out a big lunch—roast mullet, fresh tomatoes and cornbread with fig jam, just the kind of meal I like.
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.”
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.”
Today I want to share with you some of Sonny Williamson’s research on Core Sound sharpies. As many of you know, Sonny and his wife, Ginny, live just on the other side of the Straits in her hometown, Marshallberg. Retired from the Air Force, Sonny is one of Down East’s larger than life characters. He is a storyteller extraordinaire. He is the author of several wonderful books on Down East history and folk lore. For many years he wrote a popular local history column in the Carteret County News-Times.