A second connection between Maine’s shipyards and the North Carolina coast is grimmer: quite a few ships built in Maine came to their end in the waters off the North Carolina coast-- "The Graveyard of the Atlantic."
I recently stumbled onto a New York reporter’s account of a journey to Cape Hatteras in 1890. He made the trip in a remarkable sailing vessel called a kunner and the captain was J. Clifford Bowser, a member of a legendary African American family of fishermen, sailors, pilots and surfmen from Roanoke Island, N.C.
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.
I recently visited with Gerret Warner and Mimi Gredy at a coffee shop in Durham, N.C. I had sought out the couple because I had learned that they were making a documentary film about two legendary collectors of American folk music who visited singers and musicians on the North Carolina coast beginning in the 1930s-- Gerret’s father and mother, Frank and Anne Warner.
I found Annie Hooper’s masterpiece in a warehouse in a small town in eastern North Carolina: thousands of hauntingly beautiful Biblical figures made out of driftwood, seashells, putty and plaster. All of them are part of large, elaborate scenes depicting stories from the Old and New Testaments. I had been hoping to see them for decades, and when I finally found them, they were together for probably the last time.
Thirty years ago, Lu Ann Jones and Amy Glass wrote one of my favorite books on the history of the Outer Banks: “Everyone Helped His Neighbor": Memories of Nags Head Woods. Long out of print, the book is now available again, thanks to its original publisher, The Nature Conservancy, and to its new distributor, the University of North Carolina Press.
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.
On yet another trip to New Bedford, Mass., I crossed the Fish Island Bridge and explored Fairhaven. It’s a lovely town, with broad, shady avenues and a long row of shipyards and fishing wharves along the Acushnet River. In 1841 Herman Melville sailed from the old seaport on the whale ship Acushnet. He later drew on his experiences during that voyage to write his masterpiece Moby-Dick.
A memory. Today I am remembering a trip to New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It’s an extraordinary place: a spectacular collection of exhibits and artifacts dedicated to the history of whaling and New Bedford’s role as the largest whaling port in the U.S. in the 19thcentury.
Today I am remembering a visit to the Outer Banks History Center on Ice Plant Island, which is part of the little town of Manteo, North Carolina. The OBHC is a relatively small branch of the State Archives of North Carolina, but it is home to a unique collection of books, manuscripts, and photographs that focus on the history of the Outer Banks and the coastal counties along the eastern end of Albemarle Sound.
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.
In the late winter or early spring of 1938, a photographer named Charles Farrell visited Colington, an old fishing village on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Today Colington is surrounded by condominiums and resorts, but at that time Farrell discovered only a quiet, out-of-the-way settlement with perhaps 200 or 300 residents divided between two small islands, Little Colington and Big Colington.
At the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection, I also found an even more surprising set of documents bearing on the history of the North Carolina coast— a collection of letters and maps from the 1930s that provide insight into the origins of some of our most beloved coastal wildlife refuges. I found them in a collection of papers that had belonged to John Clark Salyers, a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture biologist who is remembered as “the father of the national wildlife refuge system.”
I am at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. I’ve come to look at the field diaries of a Smithsonian biologist named Remington Kellogg. In the 1920s he visited and studied a bottlenose dolphin fishery on Hatteras Island, N.C. that I am researching.
This is a story about the passage of time and impermanence and what, if anything, lives after us. The setting is Portsmouth Island, one of the Outer Banks, and a village that was founded there in 1754, peaked at roughly 600 residents a century later and was abandoned in 1971. If you go to Portsmouth today, you have to take a boat from Ocracoke Island, on the other side of the inlet. When you arrive at the island dock, you will discover a half-dozen old homes, a school building, a Methodist church and a few cemeteries, all looking as if local residents might just have stepped down to the shore for an hour or two and might be back any time.