Wednesday, September 20, 2017


When talking of pearls most people think of oysters. Of course, any shelled mollusk can produce natural pearls, but they are not common, at least not in clams. Nevertheless, diners occasionally discover pearls in Pamlico Sound clams. These five pearls were found over several decades by one islander:

I did not measure the pearls when I took the photo, but I am guessing the largest one was close to one centimeter in diameter.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a brief history of Howard's Pub. You can read it here:     

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ocracoke's Fresnel Lens

Yesterday I wrote about Winslow Lewis' reflecting-illuminating lamps that were installed in the Ocracoke Lighthouse in 1823. These were used in spite of their inferiority to the Fresnel Lens which was invented in 1822 by French physicist Augustin Fresnel.

The Fresnel Lens was a technological leap in lighthouse lighting. With a precise arrangement of glass bull's-eyes and prisms the light was concentrated into parallel rays that produced a much brighter beam from a single light source.

1872 Diagram showing how a Fresnel Lens works

In 1854 the Winslow Lamps in the Ocracoke Lighthouse were replaced with a fourth order Fresnel Lens.

Ocracoke's Fresnel Lens

There are six orders of Fresnel Lenses, based on their size and focal length. First order lenses are the largest.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a brief history of Howard's Pub. You can read it here:    

Monday, September 18, 2017

Winslow Lewis

When the Ocracoke Lighthouse was built, in 1823, it was fitted with fifteen Argand lamps and an equal number of parabolic reflectors and glass magnifying lenses. This arrangement was the creation of Winslow Lewis, a New England sea captain, engineer, and inventor.

19th Century Drawing of a Lewis Lamp

The drawing above shows the Argand Lamp in the center. The Argand Lamp (invented by Swiss-born physicist Aime Argand in 1782) used a circular wick placed between two thin concentric brass tubes, and enclosed within a glass chimney. To the right is the thin, silver-plated copper reflector. On the left is the lens. A reservoir to hold the oil is situated behind the reflector.

Unfortunately, Lewis' parabolic reflectors tended to warp, resulting in a spherical shape. And the lenses were quickly covered with soot, greatly reducing the luminosity. 

In 1849 ten lamps and twenty-one reflectors replaced the original apparatus. In was not until 1854 that a much more efficient  fourth order Fresnel Lamp replaced the original reflecting-illuminating lamps.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a brief history of Howard's Pub. You can read it here:    

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hatteras Jack

In his book, Legends of the Outer Banks, Charles Whedbee opens his chapter on a famous North Carolina dolphin (also called a porpoise on the Outer Banks), with these words: "For as many years as there have been deep water sailors, man has been fascinated by and strangely drawn to porpoises."

According to legend, in the late 18th century a remarkable albino dolphin  made it a point to greet sailing ships as they approached Hatteras Inlet. Captains soon discovered that the dolphin was poised to guide their ships through the inlet, making sure to navigate in the deeper channels and to avoid the sand bars that made the inlet so treacherous.

You can read a condensed version of the legend here:

Also, a regular reader of this blog, Robb Foster, wrote the following poem about Hatteras Jack:

Hatteras Jack 

When chatting with other old briny blokes 
Folks, who rarely have sailed this way 
I sense their undeniable fear 
They dread the inlet that’s north of here 

I once, was one who held such dread 
Pled to Poseidon “Keep us us safe to the quay” 
Passing along this oft shoaling coast 
When safely home, we all offered a toast 

One day a dash of white was spied 
Eyed one single point in the low of a sway 
He danced in the water and was marking a path 
To save us all from the inlet’s wrath 

We mariners talk, and the word spread quite fast 
Last were the few who infrequent this caye 
 “Follow this dolphin, from the sea to the sound” 
“Jack knows the safest of routes to be found” 

Rare are the days, but I still find those folks 
Blokes still reluctant when anchor’s at weigh 
These days, I explain, we’ll be sure on our tack 
Now that Neptune protects us with Hatteras Jack

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a brief history of Howard's Pub. You can read it here:    

Thursday, September 14, 2017


In April, 1753, a bill "appointing and laying out a Town on Core Banks, near Ocacock [Ocracoke] Inlet, in Carteret County" passed in the North Carolina colonial assembly.

"The town, Portsmouth Village, was established as a transfer and storage site for goods passing through Ocracoke Inlet. A fifty acre plot of land was divided into half acre lots. The town was named after Portsmouth, England."

Frances A. Eubanks Photo from
Friends of Portsmouth Island website

The above two paragraphs come from a National Park Service web page documenting the history of Portsmouth Village. From artifacts indicating that the North Carolina coast was inhabited as early as 3,800 years ago, to the restoration of the Henry Pigott house in 2012, the web page documents the historic timeline of Portsmouth Village. 

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a brief history of Howard's Pub. You can read it here:  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Last Supper

In March, 2016, I published a blog post about Frank Treat Fulcher, with a link to a 2011 Ocracoke Newsletter of his autobiography.

Frank Treat was a colorful Ocracoke native, and a preacher, storyteller, mandolin player, and folk artist. This carved last supper scene is displayed in the hallway in the rear of the Ocracoke Methodist Church:

The carving is worth noticing. If the current pastor is in his office I'm sure he would be happy for you to step inside and take a look.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a brief history of Howard's Pub. You can read it here:    

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Quawk Hammock

In the past I have written about Old Quawk's Day (you can read about that here). Old Quawk is remembered in the names of several places on Ocracoke Island, especially Quawk's Point (also known as Quokes Point, Quork's Point, and several other variations in spelling), and Quawk's Creek (the road sign, now gone, said Old Quoke's Creek if I am not mistaken). There is also Quawk Hammock.

Quawk Hammock

Although the irreverent Old Quawk may have actually existed...and been lost at sea on March 16 many years ago, there are other explanations for the name Quawk (or Quoke, etc.). This is what Roger Payne has writes in his book, Place Names of the Outer Banks:

"Actually the name is a derivation of the spelling of the word quaking. A low wet marsh or hummock (hammock) is sometime referred to as a quaking hammock or a quake hammock. some sources indicate that if the marsh contains certain species of grass whose spikelets make a rattling or quaking noise in the wind, it is known as a quaking hammock. A quaking or quake hammock may also have its origin from the Middle English term quaghe which eventually meant quag or quake and referred to wet low marshes. The term quaking bog is a common reference in fourteenth and fifteenth century England."

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a brief history of Howard's Pub. You can read it here: