Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Henry Pigott

Henry Pigott is a legend on Portsmouth Island. He was the last male resident of the island when he died in 1971. The US National Park Service has produced a brochure celebrating the life of Henry.

"One inhabitant," reads the brochure, "was Henry Pigott, born May 5, 1896. His ancestors first came to Portsmouth as slaves. However, after the Civil War when most people of color left Portsmouth, Henry’s ancestors stayed and made it their home. Henry’s grandmother, Rosa Abbot, was a jack of all trades. She was a midwife, doctor and nurse; she also worked in the gristmill, fished and oystered. Her daughter, Leah, had seven children: Ed, Ike, Henry, Mattie, Georgia, Rachel, and Elizabeth (Lizzie). Henry and his sister Lizzie remained on Portsmouth for most of their lives, while their other siblings, faced with the decreasing economy of Portsmouth, left to seek their fortunes elsewhere Lizzie served as the town’s unofficial barber. Many people recall going 'Down the Banks' to Lizzie’s for a haircut. While both Henry and Lizzie continued to fish and oyster for a living, Henry became the 'mailman.' Henry would pole out to the mail boat, retrieve mail and passengers, and give the Captain of the mail boat a list of items needed from Ocracoke. (By this point in history, the economy of Portsmouth no longer supported a general store.) The items needed would either be brought back to Portsmouth via the mail boat or delivered by a resident of Ocracoke who was coming over to the village."

Henry Pigott Meeting the Mailboat













The NPS brochure also relates the story of a reporter who thought Henry was crazy to live on nearly-abandoned Portsmouth Island with mosquitoes and no electricity or water. "Pigott thought for a moment," according to the brochure, "then replied that he had done some traveling. He had been to New York City. He had even seen all the modern innovations. Then he paused and added, 'And I’m not sure which one of us is crazy.'”

You can read the entire brochure here: https://www.nps.gov/calo/planyourvisit/upload/Henry2000.pdf.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a contemporary account of the December 24, 1899 wreck of the Steamship Ariosto. You can read the Newsletter here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news072117.htm

Monday, July 24, 2017

Where Civilization is an Echo

On August 12, 1984, the New York Times published an article by Joan Gould about the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was titled "Where Civilization is an Echo."

At that time Ocracoke had a population of 657 people, and fishing trawlers were a common sight in the harbor, especially when the weather turned nasty.

Photo by Megan Spencer
Courtesy Ocracoke Current



















Although Ocracoke has changed some in the last third of a century (not as many trawlers are to be seen tied up at local docks nowadays), Ms. Gould presents a rather thorough portrayal of the island.  "History," she observes,  "lingers here like old coins in the back pocket of a suit, forgotten until someone shakes it out and sends it to the cleaners."

Click here to read Joan Gould's article.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a contemporary account of the December 24, 1899 wreck of the Steamship Ariosto. You can read the Newsletter here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news072117.htm.

Friday, July 21, 2017

July Newsletter

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the 1899 wreck of the British Steamship, Ariosto.

We have published information about this wreck in the past. This month we are sharing a contemporary account of the disaster from the Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 98, Number 126, December 25, 1899.

Water Bucket from the Ariosto














You can read the Newsletter here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news072117.htm.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Shakespeare

The distinctive Ocracoke Island brogue is sometimes mistakenly described as Shakespearean. In fact the Ocracoke dialect has evolved considerably since the Elizabethan Age.


















However, islanders and visitors will have an opportunity to transport themselves to the 16th century this Sunday, July 23. At 3 o'clock at the Ocracoke Library attendees will be reading a couple of scenes from one of Shakespeare's plays. Discussion will follow. 

No previous study or knowledge required! Everyone is welcome to join in the fun! Hope to see you there.

For more about the Ocracoke Brogue and Early Modern English click here:
http://dialectblog.com/2011/07/07/ocracoke-brogue/.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a recording of Rex O'Neal telling about the time he fell overboard when he was gigging for flounder. The story was recorded for Coastal Voices, an oral history project about the maritime heritage of the Outer Banks and Down East region of coastal North Carolina. Click here to listen to Rex telling his story: https://carolinacoastalvoices.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/rex-oneal-gigging-flounders-2/.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

1944 Storm Story

Yesterday I shared a story recounted by NC journalist Lawrence Maddry. In his column "They Make 'Em Tough in N.C." he told this story about boat-builder Willie Austin of Avon:

"The worst storm Willie could recall was the hurricane of 1944. He pointed with a finger to the newel post inside his house, showing where the water had risen to 5 feet above the floor.

"'I'd say about 90 percent of the houses around here were knocked off their foundations during the 1944 storm,' he said. 'Houses were floating everywhere like boats.'

"He laughed recalling neighbor Clemmie Gray's experience during the storm.

"'During that blow Clemmie was sitting in his house talking to his wife and watching the hurricane's doings through the window. Then he turned to her and said, 'Look out! That house over yonder is moving right at us.'

"Willie slapped his knee in merriment. I didn't see the humor.

"'Only it wasn't the other house that was moving at all,' he explained. 'Clemmie's was floating, and the other house was standing still.'"

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a recording of Rex O'Neal telling about the time he fell overboard when he was gigging for flounder. The story was recorded for Coastal Voices, an oral history project about the maritime heritage of the Outer Banks and Down East region of coastal North Carolina. Click here to listen to Rex telling his story: https://carolinacoastalvoices.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/rex-oneal-gigging-flounders-2/.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Scuttle the Floor!

As you might expect, Ocracoke has a number of storm and hurricane stories. This one, told by islander Ike O'Neal (1885-1968) about the 1899 hurricane to Associated Press columnist Hal Boyle, was recounted by Lawrence Maddry, former journalist for the Virginian-Pilot.

"[Ike O'Neal] said as the tide rose around their home, his father handed him an ax and told him to scuttle the floor [to allow rising water to enter, and prevent the house from floating off its foundation].

"'I began chopping away and finally knocked a hole in the floor.' O'Neal recalled. 'Like a big fountain the water gushed in and hit the ceiling, and on top of the gusher was a mallard duck that had gotten under our house as the tide pushed upward.'"

Below is a photo of the Captain Bill Thomas & Eliza Gaskill Thomas house (more recently called the Barksdale Cottage). This house was built in 1899, soon after the hurricane mentioned above. It was the first house on Ocracoke specifically built with a trap door in the floor to allow the owners to let the tide in.


















This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a recording of Rex O'Neal telling about the time he fell overboard when he was gigging for flounder. The story was recorded for Coastal Voices, an oral history project about the maritime heritage of the Outer Banks and Down East region of coastal North Carolina. Click here to listen to Rex telling his story: https://carolinacoastalvoices.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/rex-oneal-gigging-flounders-2/.

Monday, July 17, 2017

New York Bills

On Friday I wrote about a vendue held on Hatteras Island in 1812. The Notice included this sentence: "[The] articles...will be sold for Dollars and Cents, or New-York Bills."

I wondered what a New-York Bill was. This is what I learned. "For most of the colonial period, trade consisted of bartering and using foreign money. But soon, the colonies began printing their own money, which functioned more like a gift certificate. The bill would allow the recipient to withdraw silver money from a bank" (https://www.littlethings.com/early-american-currency/).















The New York Bill pictured above says, "THIS BILL shall pass current in all Payments in this State for TWO SPANISH MILLED DOLLARS, or the Value thereof in Gold or Silver; according to the Resolution of the Convention of New-York, on the Thirteenth Day of August, 1776."

It also says, "Tis Death to counterfeit."

According to Wikipedia, "The Spanish dollar was the coin upon which the original United States dollar was based, and it remained legal tender in the United States until the Coinage Act of 1857."

Spanish Dollar, Photo by Coinman62












Even on the remote islands of the Outer Banks New York Bills and Spanish Dollars were still being used as late as the early nineteenth century. 

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a recording of Rex O'Neal telling about the time he fell overboard when he was gigging for flounder. The story was recorded for Coastal Voices, an oral history project about the maritime heritage of the Outer Banks and Down East region of coastal North Carolina. Click here to listen to Rex telling his story: https://carolinacoastalvoices.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/rex-oneal-gigging-flounders-2/.