Today I’m looking at several historical photographs of fishermen, fishing boats and fishing gear on the Roanoke River. The photographs mostly date to the period from 1870 to 1910, though one that I'm especially fond of was taken in the late 1930s. That was an exciting period in the history of the river's fisheries. If you had launched a boat in Weldon, at the falls of the river, and drifted down those swift waters all the way to the river's mouth on the Albemarle Sound, you would have seen many fishermen and many different kinds of fishing gear, including weirs, bow nets, stake nets, drift nets, wheels, seines and slides.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A memory. As part of my research on the William F. Nye Co.’s bottlenose dolphin fishery at Hatteras Island, I visited Keith Rittmaster at the old mobile home trailer that he used as the headquarters for his research on stranded sea mammals.
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 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.
I love to walk around old graveyards. One of my favorite places to wander among the headstones is near where I grew up. The graveyard is called Oceanview Cemetery, and it’s in the little coastal town of Beaufort, N.C.
A final memory. I will never forget a day that I stood on a bluff over the Chowan River and talked with an old gentleman that used to be the head of the cannery room at the Perry-Wynns Fish Company in Colerain.
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.
Greenfield fishery, 1905. Welcome back to my Herring Week! In today’s post, we’re looking at the building that was called “the Office,” shown in the middle of this photograph. The fishery’s owner, Frank Wood, lived at the Office during the shad and herring season, along with his wife and children.
Welcome back to Herring Week, my special series on the history of the great herring and shad fishery on Albemarle Sound. Today I have just a brief scene that I want to describe that I hope will give you a sense of an important, but rarely appreciated part of the fishery.
A historian has to love the clerks at the Albemarle seine fisheries: they kept meticulous daily records of the weather and water conditions, and the numbers and kinds of fish caught and their sales. They also broke the sales down into categories: corned, cut, raw and “at the beach.”
Welcome back to Herring Week! This is part 8 of my special series on the history of the great herring and shad fisheries on the Albemarle Sound, once one of the largest fisheries in North America. In today’s post, I’m looking at a photograph from the Capehart family’s Avoca fishery in Bertie County in 1877.
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.
Greenfield herring and shad fishery, Chowan County, N.C., ca. 1905. One of the things that I most appreciate in Mrs. Rebecca Wood Drane’s commentary on these photographs is that she recited a list of all the names of the fishermen that she could remember.
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.
Greenfield fishery, Chowan County, N.C., circa 1905. This is a small, early season catch at Frank Wood’s fishery on the Albemarle Sound. A hinged board on the wharf has been raised so that the fish won’t slide back into the water.
Rigging the seine, Greenfield fishery, Chowan County, N.C., circa 1905. Here on our third day of looking at historical photographs from the great herring and shad fisheries on Albemarle Sound, I'm still focusing on what it took to get ready for taking the great seines and boats onto the fishing grounds.
Tarring the seine, Greenfield fishery, Chowan County, N.C., ca. 1905. Today I begin my weeklong look at one of the great fisheries in the history of North America—the shad and herring fisheries that flourished on the Albemarle Sound and its tributaries for more than two centuries.
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.
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.
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.