The Mermaid’s Melody

In 1895 a young mother sang this lullaby to her children while she nursed them at a church in Kinnakeet, a village on the Outer Banks.  The rest of the congregation was singing “Come Thou Fount of Many Blessings,” but she must have stepped into the back of the church to soothe her two little ones. It’s not the kind of moment that usually makes it into history books.

A World Built of Oyster Shells

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.

Marines– The Last Days of a New River Fishing Village

On at least two trips to the North Carolina coast, a Greensboro photographer named Charles A. Farrell took photographs of the fishing villages near the mouth of the New River, in Onslow County.  His first trip was in the fall of 1938, and he visited again sometime in the first half of 1941. On the first trip, he may only have visited Sneads Ferry, a fishing village on the west side of the river.

Carrying Cornmeal Home—Photographs from the New River in the 1930s #1

In this photograph, we see a trio of fishermen carrying bags of cornmeal to the landing at Marines, a village in Onslow County, N.C., circa 1937. Behind them we can see the New River and gill nets drying on spreads. To the left, we can see a dory and the old oak that marked the landing. At least two of the men are part of the Midgett family. They came across the river from Sneads Ferry, a village on the west side of the river, and they are headed home.

The Color of Water, part 6– Juke Joints, Clam Fritters & Bop City

As I explored the history of Jim Crow on North Carolina’s coast, I discovered something else important: black and Indian people often found a way to the sea and our other coastal waters, despite “sundown towns,” despite signs that read “No N--- after dark” and despite oceanfront resorts that didn’t allow them to go swimming or walk on the beach.

Trent River, New Bern, ca. 1905— “One of the Finest Fish Markets in the World”

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.

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.

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.

Life on the New River: Ollie Marine’s General Store Ledger & Day Book, 1927-1941

My friend Melba McKeever’s daughter Mary Beth ran home to get two of her family treasures after I gave a lecture that she attended in Sneads Ferry, N.C. recently. They turned out to be account books that her grandfather, Ollie Marine, kept at his general store in the village of Marines in Onslow County, N.C., from 1927 to 1941.

At the Codfish Ball– Memories of Swansboro

Not long ago, I explored a wonderful collection of oral history interviews in Swansboro, N.C. In 2009 a group of a dozen volunteers from the Swansboro Historical Association underwent a special training in oral history research. Once completed, they interviewed some of the coastal town’s oldest residents and recorded their stories about Swansboro’s history in the early to mid-20th century.

Shark! Shark!

A book. While my daughter Vera and I were doing research on Cape Lookout, N.C. in the 1910s and '20s, we found a little known memoir by a big game fisherman who hunted sharks on the North Carolina coast. The shark hunter was named William E. Young, and his book, published in 1934, is called Shark! Shark! Shark! The Thirty-Year Odyssey of a Pioneer Shark Hunter.