A little more than a century ago, a group of seagoing people from the “Down East” part of Carteret County, N.C., settled on the shores of Lake Erie and began commercial fishing.
In the autumn of 1938, the photographer Charles Farrell visited a gang of mullet fishermen from Varnamtown while they hauled their nets on Bald Head Island, down in the far southeast corner of the North Carolina coast.
Through the eyes of Sneads Ferry's oldest residents, I came to see Charles Farrell's photographs as a window into a time when most of the village's people still made their livings from the sea.
When I was in Southport several years ago, I carried Charles Farrell's photographs to an old menhaden fisherman named Charles “Pete” Joyner. At the time, Mr. Joyner was 93 years old.
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.
I love this photograph of fishermen at the Barney Slough Fish Camp back in the winter of 1905. They were shad fishermen and you can see them standing with their pound net stakes, just off Hatteras Island.
Russell Coles began to say good-bye to Cape Lookout in 1920. He was slowing down. The aging shark hunter, by then 55 years old, increasingly found it difficult to rise before sunrise and go out and do battle with sharks.
When I learned about Russell Coles and the shark factory in Morehead City, N.C., I thought immediately of the first pages of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, when all the fishermen have returned to shore in a Cuban port and are cleaning and packing their catches....
The first mention of the First World War at Cape Lookout in Russell Coles’ diary is dated July 28, 1916. On that day, he wrote that he had risen before first light and was “looking for the German submarine” by sunrise.
Teddy Roosevelt left his home in Oyster Bay, New York, on March 23, 1917 and headed south to join Russell Coles and his crew of fishermen from Morehead City, N.C. to fulfill his dream of killing a giant oceanic manta ray.
For many students of American history, the letters between Russell Coles and Teddy Roosevelt would be the most important historical documents that my daughter Vera and I found at Coles Hill.
Russell Coles first learned about giant oceanic manta rays in or about 1900, when he began to spend his summers on a houseboat at Cape Lookout and started listening to the local fishermen's stories.
Around midnight on the night of July 1st, 1916, Russell Coles and his crew were returning from Cape Lookout Shoals when what seemed to them to be a strange glowing specter rose up in the sea before them.
Now, only a century later, those who study sharks-- as with so much of the world's fauna-- seem to spend most of their time like me, a historian: chronicling extinctions and warning of coming extinctions, as if Russell Coles' lust for conquering nature had spread throughout the world.
Every summer shark hunter Russell Coles took the train to Morehead City, and the first thing he always did when he arrived at the depot was meet Capt. Charlie W. Willis in the Promise Land.
A few years ago, a gentleman in Virginia, Walter Coles, Sr., invited my daughter Vera and me to visit his family’s private library of research materials related to his uncle, a world-renowned shark hunter named Russell J. Coles who did the large bulk of his shark hunting at Cape Lookout, N.C., between roughly 1900 and 1925.
Another lesson that I learned from Mike Alford and Earl Wynn Jr.'s research is this: fishermen used their shad boats for a great deal more than catching shad. In the words of Roanoke Island's old timers, they also did a whole lot of “proggin.”
Today in the 6th part of my special series, "The Story of Shad Boats," I just want to share a rough sketch of a shad boat’s interior arrangement that Earl Willis, Jr. drew in the 1980s, based on what Roanoke Island's old timers taught him about the boats.
In this 5th part of my series "The Story of Shad Boats," I am looking at one of the most groundbreaking parts of Earl Willis’s and Mike Alford's research on shad boats—Earl's compilation of a detailed registry of shad boats and shad boat builders-- and exploring what it says about where shad boats were built and used.
Today I’m excited to start a special series called "The Story of Shad Boats." Over a dozen posts, I'll be exploring Earl Willis, Jr. and Mike Alford's extraordinary research on the origins, construction and history of those legendary traditional workboats that once graced North Carolina's coastal waters.
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.