Far more than I usually do, I am noticing the beauty in even the smallest, most everyday parts of my world.
A 92-year-old gentleman in Chesapeake City, Maryland, recently sent me a wonderful message about his childhood memories of living on the North Carolina coast in the 1930s. His name is Mr. Harold Lee and when he was four years old he lived in a coastal village in Onslow County, N.C., that is no more.
Francis Asbury, the first Methodist bishop in America, feels old and worn down tonight. He is sore from having ridden a gimpy nag all day through swamps and forests. His arthritic joints ache. His legs have swollen from tick and chigger bites. A chronic diarrhea has weakened him. "I die daily," he mutters to himself.
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.
This is part 7 of my special series called “The Color of Water.” In this series, I’m exploring the history of Jim Crow and North Carolina’s coastal waters, including the state’s forgotten history of all-white beaches, “Sundown towns,” and racially exclusive resort communities. Today-- African American and Indian beaches.
Today I am remembering a Saturday morning at St. Thomas AME Zion Church in Swansboro, N.C. The old church rests on a hill overlooking the historic seaport’s downtown, which today is full of antique stores, seafood restaurants and souvenir shops.
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.
I can’t tell from Benjamin Labaree’s journal with total confidence, but the incident of the runaway slave and the miller in Trenton that I discussed in my last post may have been part of the white panic that spread across the North Carolina coast in the summer of 1821. Historian Guion Griffis Johnson discussed the panic in her classic book, Ante-bellum North Carolina: A Social History.
Our trio of hogs cleaning up after a fishermen’s oyster or clam dinner on the sound side of Brown's Island. The fishermen left a pair of oyster knives stuck in the benches. The white belted animal on the right is a Hampshire, while the other two are mixed breeds. Hampshires are one of the oldest hog breeds in the U.S., popular for their easy temperaments, hardiness and foraging ability, all of which suited them well to life on Brown’s Island.
A Sunday visitor. The nearest villages to the Brown's Island mullet camp both lay 12 miles west at the mouth of the New River, a long haul anyway you made it in that day. “Yet most Sundays the girls arrive,” the photographer, Charles A. Farrell, noted. This young fan of Mickey Mouse was Elizabeth Turner (later Taylor). She lived on her aunt’s farm on the other side of Browns Sound and often visited the fishermen with her aunt and sisters. “Every fishermen on the island wanted his picture made with this charming lass,” Farrell wrote on the back of the original print.
Mullet roe drying in the sun, Brown's Island, 1938. The salted and sun-dried egg sacs of jumping mullet were a local delicacy and at least occasionally brought high prices in the New York market. The big roe mullet usually began to appear in local waters in late October or early November. After slitting open the fish’s belly and removing the roe, the fishermen washed and salted the roe and let it soak in the salt for two or three hours.
Two fishermen, brothers Carroll Lawrence and Lloyd Lawrence, salting spots on the sound side of the mullet camp at Brown’s Island. Carroll is coating the fish in salt in the big tray, while Lloyd is packing the fish in kegs. Once packed in salt, the fish will keep throughout the winter and well beyond.
The Gillikins and Lawrences carrying their surfboat, loaded with the mullet seine, to its resting place above the high tide line. Two rows of fishermen lifted the boat holding strong beams across their shoulders fore and aft, secured to the boat by a pair of heavy lines that ran stem to stern.
Briant Gillikin leaning on a mullet boat by a dune on the ocean side of Brown’s Island.
An interior view of one of the mullet camp’s bunkhouses. Capt. Briant Gillikin, the number two man in the camp, rests in the bunk on the left. The man in the other bunk is unidentified. The pine board walls are reinforced with wooden crates, some of them probably containing canned goods.
Young fishermen in camp at Brown's Island. A pair of heavy ash push-poles or long oars rests against the tar paper-and-slat roof of one of the camp cabins. On the far left, behind the young man in bib overalls and a pith helmet, a line of cork floats dangles from a nail. A cooking pan hangs on the wall behind him, and a washbasin sits on a shelf next to the cabin door.
Buck Gillikin, cook. Young Gillikin is making biscuits in a one-room cabin that served both as a kitchen and one of half-a-dozen bunkhouses at Brown's Island.
Leonard Gillikin posing with pipe on the ocean beach at Brown's Island. He is leaning on a tripod, presumably one that Charles Farrell used to support his camera. Though relatively young—he was born in 1913— Gillikin was the lead man on the mullet gang at Brown’s Island.
Bedford Lawrence on the ocean beach at Brown’s Island.
A view of the mullet camp from the ocean dunes facing the sound side of the island.
In the autumn of 1938 a photographer named Charles A. Farrell visited a seasonal mullet fishing camp at Brown’s Island, in Onslow County, N.C.
While the Klan’s public rallies and cross burnings brought to mind a county fair or a church revival, the soul of the Ku Klux Klan revealed itself most plainly later in the night, after the children’s games had finished and the burning cross extinguished.