At the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill, I found a remarkable collection of oral history interviews from the North Carolina coast during the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The Barney Slough Fish Camp, 1905
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.
Goodbye to Cape Lookout
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.
Cape Lookout’s War
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.
The Last Shad Boats
As I wrap up "The Story of Shad Boats," I can’t help reflecting on how lucky we are to have Earl Willis, Jr. and Mike Alford to help us to appreciate these extraordinary workboats and their history .
A Proggin’ Life
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.”
Root Knees and Juniper Swamps
When talking with Earl Wynn, Jr. and Mike Alford, Roanoke Islander Wynne Dough remembered that he, his father and his brothers went into the swamps along Mill Tail Creek, on the mainland of Dare County, in search of the juniper knees that were a crucial part of building shad boats.
Shad Boat Country
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.
A Grand Old Soul
This is the 4th part of my special series "The Story of Shad Boats." The series features Earl Willis, Jr. and Mike Alford's extraordinary journey to document the history of North Carolina's "state boat"-- today we meet George Washington Creef, the man that built the first shad boat.
From Harkers Island to Rockyhock– More Photographs from the National Fisherman
The Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine, has recently made available more than 20,000 photographs of America's commercial fishing industry that originally appeared in the pages of National Fisherman. Last week I highlighted several of the magazine's photos from Beaufort, N.C., in the 1930s and '40s. Today I want to share photographs that take us to Hatteras, Buxton, Harkers Island, Wanchese, Belhaven, Rockyhock and several other parts of the North Carolina coast.
On the Kennebec and Penobscot
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."
Sailing to Cape Hatteras
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.
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.
Songs on a Nags Head Porch
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.
Annie Hooper’s Vision: From Hatteras Island to the Smithsonian
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.
Memories of Nags Head Woods
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.
The Color of Water, part 7– From Ocean City to Rainbow Beach
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.
The Town Where Moby-Dick Began
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.
The Ties that Bind– The New Bedford Whaling Museum
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.
Remembering Portsmouth Island
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.
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.
Colington Island: An Outer Banks Fishing Village in the 1930s
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.
The Birth of N.C.’s Coastal Wildlife Refuges
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.”
Wonderful Labyrinth: A Great Museum’s Hidden Archives
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.
Playing Croquet Until Dark: Voices of Portsmouth Islanders
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.