Thursday, February 22, 2018

Quaintest Town in America

I recently discovered a short 1923 newspaper article about Ocracoke titled "Quaintest Town in America on a N.C. Island."

Island Scene from Digby the Only Dog, 1955

The article provides a fascinating glimpse of Ocracoke Island life a century ago. I have re-published it as our latest Ocracoke Newsletter. You can read it here:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Spring has Sprung!

Here is the photo many of our readers have been waiting for!!

It is sunny, and around 70 degrees. Perfect for a bike ride through the village or a stroll on the beach.

Unfortunately, Village Craftsmen is not yet open for the season. We are hoping to open just a few weeks.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter, a newspaper article published in 1923 titled "Quaintest Town in America," provides a fascinating glimpse of Ocracoke Island life a century ago. You can read it here: .

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

George F. Phillips

Yesterday I shared an article about Capt. Zora Gaskins. It was dated February 18, 1910. Almost one month later this article appeared with the good news:

"Friday, March 17, 1910


"Capt. Z.B. Gaskins and his crew of 5 men of the wrecked schooner George F. Phillips, arrived today from Hamburg, Germany on the Steamer Amerika and told the story of a struggle with the waves in which they all but lost their lives.

"The Phillips left Baltimore on January 23rd for Wilmington, N.C. with a cargo of phosphate rock. Nothing was heard of the schooner for several weeks and it was believed she had gone down with all on board. The first word that the men had been saved came from the Spanish steamer Aizkarai Mendi, which was passing.

"Captain Gaskins said today that the schooner on clearing the capes of the Chesapeake was headed by west winds when the weather became so rough that the vessel labored heavily. After 2 days of severe weather the schooner sprung a leak. The pumps were worked with little avail, the water in the well increasing to such an extent that the captain saw that his vessel was doomed. A flare was burned and it was seen by the Aizkarai Mendi. The steamer reached the schooner barely in time to save the men who left everything behind.

"The Mendi, which was bound from Brunswick, Ga. for Hamburg took the rescued men on to Hamburg landing them there February 26. The United States consul at Hamburg sent them here on the Amerika.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about Old Christmas in Rodanthe. You can read it here:    

Monday, February 19, 2018

Capt. Zora Gaskins

The following article appeared in The Tar Heel (Elizabeth City), Friday, February 18, 1910:

"NOTHING HEARD YET OF CAPTAIN GASKINS - Great uneasiness is experienced by the family of Captain Zora Gakins at his prolonged delay in reaching Wilmington, NC from Baltimore with the schooner George I. Phillips, laden with fertilizer.

"Captain Gaskins cleared 3 weeks ago, and since the date of his clearance nothing has been seen or heard of him or his vessel. It was reported several days ago that his vessel was sighted burning at seas, but this report was an error, since the burning vessel proved to be the J.S. Hopkins, whose crew was rescued by a Danish ship.

"Shipbrokers in Baltimore are of the opinion that Captain Gaskins has been blown offshore by the heavy winds and will eventually arrive in port safe and sound. They express no uneasiness at his long delay in arriving at his destination. Captain Gaskins' friends at Hatteras feel confident that he will eventually show up as his vessel is an able one and Captain Gaskins is an experienced seaman. A number of his friends in this city do not feel so hopeful of his safety and they greatly fear that the captain and his crew are lost."

When I first read this article I wondered if I would ever discover what happened to Capt. Gaskins, his crew, and their vessel. Look for a follow-up post tomorrow. 

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about Old Christmas in Rodanthe. You can read it here:    

Friday, February 16, 2018


Modern tourism on Ocracoke Island is a consequence of several factors:
  • Electrification of Ocracoke Village in 1938
  • Paving of the first roads in 1942, then again in the early 1950s
  • Establishment of ferry service in 1950
  • Various other developments including telephone service, a municipal water system, and internet access. 
However, people have been visiting Ocracoke for rest, health, and relaxation since soon after the establishment of a settlement on the island in the early-mid 1700s. Jonathan Price wrote this about Ocracoke 1795!: "[T]his healthy spot is in autumn the resort of many of the inhabitants of the main[land]."

In the nineteenth century well-to-do North Carolinians ventured to Ocracoke aboard steamships. They stayed at the large Victorian hotel in the village.

The Ponzer, or Ponder, Hotel ca. 1890

After the hotel burned down in 1900 hunters and anglers continued to visit Ocracoke Island, especially in the fall and winter months. Eventually many of them brought their families to the island in the summer. By the mid-twentieth century a tourist economy was well on its way to becoming the predominant economic force on Ocracoke.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about Old Christmas in Rodanthe. You can read it here:   

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Life Saving

For the last several days I have been writing about island occupations (inlet pilots, mariners, and fishermen). Another prominent occupation for Ocracoke men was surfman in the United States Life-Saving Service.

The Life-Saving Service was officially established in 1871. As a section of the Department of Treasury the USLSS exclusively targeted the systematic rescue of shipwreck victims. The first establishment of the Life-Saving Service occurred in North Carolina in 1874 when seven stations were built on the northern barrier islands.

The first station was built on Ocracoke Island, near Hatteras Inlet, in 1883. Capt. James Howard was the keeper.

Hatteras Inlet USLSS, Ocracoke

The original crew consisted of six surfmen who took turns scanning the ocean from the station's cupola during daylight hours, and patrolling the beach on foot during the night. Eventually, because of the great distance on Ocracoke, surfmen were permitted to patrol on horseback.

Earl O'Neal lists the following surfmen who were serving in 1900 (for more information see

  • George Lafayette Fulcher, Jr.- B. 04-19-1844 D. 09-30-1908 
  • George Lafayette Fulcher III - B. 1871 D. Unknown 
  • Robert W. Gaskill - B. 12-14-1846 D. 11-09-1918 
  • James Wheeler Howard Sr. - B. 12-04-1874 D. 11-02-1940 
  • Charlie S. McWilliams - B. 1871 D. Unknown (He became Portsmouth Island Station Keeper on October 8, 1903.) 
  • George W. Simpson Sr. - B. 12-08-1842 D. 07-25-1912 James Hatton Wahab - B. 01-31-1861 D. 08-08-1913 David Williams - B. 03-27-1858 D. 04-05-1938
In 1904 a second Life-Saving Station was built in Ocracoke village. Capt. David Williams was keeper. 

Over the years, the brave men of the Ocracoke Life-Saving Service saved the lives of many seafarers, sometimes in dramatic and life-threatening conditions. To read more click here:

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about Old Christmas in Rodanthe. You can read it here:   

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Visitors to the Outer Banks (and even residents) often refer to Ocracoke as a "traditional fishing village." Surprisingly, this was not generally true for the first 150 years of the island's settlement. Our posts for the last two days explored the island's primary early occupations, piloting and seafaring.

Following are the number of fishermen listed in the census records on Ocracoke for the years 1850 - 1880:
  • 1850............5 fishermen living on Ocracoke
  • 1860............1 fisherman living on Ocracoke
  • 1870..........16 fishermen living on Ocracoke
  • 1880..........32 fishermen living on Ocracoke
The figures for 1850 and 1860 are explained by our previous two posts: piloting and seafaring were the primary island occupations during those periods. Without ice to preserve fish, or gas boats to carry fish to mainland markets, large scale commercial fishing was simply not practical. Of course, small scale fishing to supply local markets and family, friends, and neighbors was a long tradition on the island.

But what accounts for the increase in fishermen in 1870 and 1880? The short answer is oysters. In 1858 the North Carolina state assembly, responding to an increase in harvesting oysters on a commercial level, passed a law establishing a procedure to create private oyster beds in coastal Carolina waters. Oyster harvesting became such an important economic enterprise in Pamlico Sound that it led to what became known as the 1890 "Ocracoke Oyster War" (see our account here).

The number of watermen remained steady for several decades. Census records for 1890 have not survived, but 35 fishermen are listed in the 1900 census. Again, harvesting shellfish accounts for this number.  In 1897 James Harvey Doxsee moved his commercial clam canning operation from New York to Ocracoke Island.  Local watermen were now harvesting clams.

In 1938 Ocracoke village was electrified, and an ice plant was established. At about the same time islanders began converting their sail skiffs to gas boats. Commercial fishing blossomed. Today Ocracoke is home to two fish houses and several dozen full- or part-time commercial fishermen and fisherwomen.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about Old Christmas in Rodanthe. You can read it here: