Friday, April 28, 2017

NPS Visitors Center

I recently located this vintage photo of the NPS Visitors Center. I am wondering how many of our readers remember this building.

If you do, please leave a comment explaining where it was located. You might want to add what the building was originally used for, and tell a little about the boat in the photo. Also, does anyone have a guess about what year the photo was taken?

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the entertaining story of Calvin Wilkerson and his Condomed Nautilus. You can read it here:  

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Capt. Denis Daly & Augustin Daly

Few people today know the story of John Augustin Daly (1838-1899), but in his day he dominated American theater. In addition to being a playwright and critic, he was a prominent theater manager who founded Daly's Theatre in New York City in 1879.

Augustin Daly

Daly's father, Captain Denis Daly, was born near Limerick, Ireland, in 1797. He was well educated, and as a young man obtained a position in the British navy. In 1838 Capt. Daly emigrated to America and established a lumber business in Plymouth, North Carolina. Augustin was born soon thereafter.In September, 1841, Captain Daly set sail in the Union, a vessel loaded with lumber. Augustin Daly's brother, Joseph Francis Daly, in his 1917 book, The Life of Augustin Daly, recounts what next transpired:

"Three weeks later a letter arrived telling of [Captain Daly's] death. It came from Captain Pike of Ocracoke, a small settlement at the inlet of the same name south of Cape Hatteras and situated upon the long sandy breastwork which forms the Atlantic coast of North Carolina and separates the waste of ocean from the inner waters known as Pamlico and Albemarle sounds. When detained by adverse winds or calms quite a fleet of outward bound vessels collects at the inlet, The coast had an evil reputation for wreckers and many stories were told of vessels lured on the breakers by false lights fastened to horses which were led up and down the sands. Upon receipt of the distressing communication our mother hastily left for Ocracoke taking with her a captain and two seamen for the Union as she was advised would be necessary. She set out with her infant son and a nurse by coach at four in the morning for Little Washington on Pamlico Sound, found a sloop ready to sail to Ocracoke, and reached it the same day. Captain Pike and his wife showed her every attention and gave her full particulars of all that had taken place. It was owing to light winds and calms that Captain Daly was three weeks in reaching Ocracoke from Plymouth. When his vessel arrived at the inlet he was found prostrated with fever and was taken ashore. Doctor Dudley of Portsmouth, twelve miles distant, was sent for but could not save him. He was interred in a plot set apart for burials in Captain Pike's garden. The ravages of wind and wave have devoured the shore line and buried the little cemetery beneath the waters of the Sound."

Captain John Pike's home, store, and garden were located somewhere along the soundside shore in the vicinity of the present-day NPS Visitors Center and parking lot.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the entertaining story of Calvin Wilkerson and his Condomed Nautilus. You can read it here:  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bugeyes and WWII

During WWII the US Navy established a base on Ocracoke. Earl O'Neal has written a comprehensive history of this time in his book, Ocracoke Island, Its People, the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy Base During World War II.

On page 50 Earl includes the following photo of the Nettie B. Granville, a bugeye sailboat (a type of vessel originally produced in the Chesapeake Bay for oyster dredging) purchased by the Navy in 1942 for use as a freight boat.

Elizabeth O'Neal Howard Collection

The Nettie B had been owned by Ocracoke Native, Stanley Wahab, who equipped the sailboat with a diesel engine. During the war the vessel was captained by Thurston Gaskill, another island native, who used the boat to haul freight and supplies for the Navy Base.

After the war Stanley Wahab, Thurston Gaskill, and Wahab Howard purchased the Nettie B, and used her as a freight boat for several years, bringing needed goods to Ocracoke village.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the entertaining story of Calvin Wilkerson and his Condomed Nautilus. You can read it here:  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


From the Sacramento Record-Union, Volume 98, Number 126, 25 December 1899:

"CHICAGO, Dec. 24. —A special to the "Tribune" from Norfolk, Va., says: The British steamship Ariosto, Captain Baines, bound from Galveston to Hamburg, was wrecked at 4 o'clock this morning, six miles south, off Hatteras, N. C, and twenty-one of the crew were drowned. Captain Baines and eight of the crew were saved by the heroic efforts of the Ocracoke life saving crew, under Captain James Howard. Those who lost their lives attempted to reach the shore in a small boat, which was swamped shortly after it put off from the ship. Captain Baines and the eight men remained aboard and were landed by the life savers in the breeches buoy, but not until after a struggle which lasted all day."

Several weeks ago I was chatting with a neighbor about the wreck of the Ariosto, and he told me his wife's grandmother had come into possession of a wooden bucket from the ill-fated ship, and had passed it down to her granddaughter. A few days ago I stopped by to take a look. Here is a photo of the bucket:

If you enlarge the photo you can clearly read the name, "Ariosto," carved into the bucket. Look for more about the wreck of the Ariosto in a future Ocracoke Newsletter.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the entertaining story of Calvin Wilkerson and his Condomed Nautilus. You can read it here:     

Monday, April 24, 2017


Dorcas is a name not heard very often today. But it was popular in the nineteenth century, especially on Ocracoke Island. At least six women on Ocracoke were named Dorcas.

Dorcas, also called Tabitha (Dorcas is the Greek translation of the Aramaic word for gazelle), was a character in the New Testament who was devoted to good works and acts of charity (see the Acts of the Apostles, 9:36-42). Dorcas Societies are church-sponsored groups that provide clothing to the poor.

Below is a photograph of a stained glass window in St. Michael's Parish Church, Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire U.K. depicting Dorcas. (source: 

Photo by Alsto911

One of the last Ocracoke women named Dorcas was my cousin, born 1962. Although she does not live on the island, she traces her family roots directly to William Howard, colonial owner of Ocracoke Island.

Several years ago Dorcas and her husband were standing in line to purchase tickets for a recently released popular movie. The line was long, and moving very slowly. Impatient, her husband turned to her and said, "Do you really want to stand here any longer just to see this movie, Dorcas?"

Hearing Dorcas' husband's comment, but never having heard the name before, a woman in front of them turned around, directed her steely gaze directly at Dorcas, and admonished her firmly: "I would not tolerate him speaking to me that way!"

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the entertaining story of Calvin Wilkerson and his Condomed Nautilus. You can read it here:

Friday, April 21, 2017

April Newsletter

In April, 1996, Ocracoke resident Calvin Wilkerson entered the World Submarine Invitational, a human-powered submarine race in San Diego, CA, pitting design teams from around the world.

Calvin's quirky submarine, using paint rollers to force water through 42 condoms, and dubbed the "Condomed Nautilus," competed against MIT, the University of Massachusetts, the University of California, and the U.S. Naval Academy, among other notable institutions.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the entertaining story of Calvin Wilkerson and his Condomed Nautilus. You can read it here:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bus to Norfolk

The first bus service connecting Ocracoke island and points north, including Norfolk, Virginia, was established in the late 1930s or early 1940s. 

Van Henry O'Neal (right) and the Ocracoke Bus, ca. 1940

This is what Earl O'Neal writes in his book O'Neals of Ocracoke Island, their Ancestors and Descendants: "This bus was owned by Stanley Wahab to support his Wahab Village Hotel and other enterprises. It was operated by Van Henry O'Neal. Much of the time he picked people up at their homes, transported them to Hatteras Inlet Coast Guard Station [on the north end of Ocracoke], then carried the passengers on a small boat without the vehicle, to Oden's Dock in Cape Hatteras. From there you rode with the Midgetts, Anderson, Stockton or their dad to Manteo, NC, where they met the Trailways bus to Norfolk VA.... [T]here were no roads, only sand tracks, or if you were lucky and the tide was down, you got a smooth ride on the back of the beach along the edge of the ocean." 

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lifeboat Man

In the mid-1800s the term "Lifeboat Man" (a sailor qualified to take charge of a lifeboat or life raft) was introduced into our vocabulary by the United States Life-Saving Service. Below is a photo of Ocracoke native George O'Neal's (1890-1968) "Certificate of Efficiency to Lifeboat Man."

Image courtesy Chester Lynn

The certificate reads, "This is to certify that George F. O'Neal having proved to the satisfaction of the undersigned officer, designated by the Secretary of Commerce, that he has been trained in all the operations connected with launching lifeboats and the use of oars; that he is acquainted with the practical handling of the boats themselves; and, further, that he is capable of understanding and answering the orders relative to lifeboat service, is hereby rated an efficient Lifeboat Man."

The certificate was issued October 27, 1916 in the port of Wilmington, Delaware.  

During the first half of the 20th century most young Ocracoke men moved to the northeast to work on dredges and tugboats on the Delaware River. Hence the certificate was issued in that state. 

Current information re. US Coast Guard requirements for Lifeboat Man is available here.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sand Dollar

As I was walking along the beach a few days ago I noticed this beautiful and intact sand dollar that had just washed up.

Sand dollars are a type of flattened, burrowing sea urchins in the phylum of Echinodermata and order of Clypeasteroida. When alive they are covered in silky hairs called cilia. Sand dollars are fairly closely related to starfish. 

Sand dollars are rather common on our beaches. "The Legend of the Sand Dollar," which pairs various features of this echinoderm with the Easter story, is often sold along with sand dollars in coastal gift shops.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:  

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Ocracoke Brogue

Much has been written about the Ocracoke Brogue. On this blog I occasionally post examples of words, phrases, or grammar that are unique to the island.

Linguists Walt Wolfram and Jeff Reaser have been documenting the Ocracoke Brogue for some time. Although outside influences weaken and threaten this unique dialect, it persists into the 21st century. In addition, Wolfram and Reaser have preserved recordings of many Ocracoke natives. They also return to the island regularly to share their research with locals and visitors.

Just this month sociolinguistics students from NC State University accompanied Wolfram and Reaser to the Ocracoke School to present their findings, and interact with local students. Interestingly, one of the NC State student linguists was Ocracoke native, Katie O'Neal.

Katie O'Neal, photo courtesy Ocracoke Observer

You can read about their recent visit here:

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:   

Friday, April 14, 2017

Nags Headland

In November, 2016, I published a post about the origin of the Outer Banks name Nags Head. Although it is certain that the name does not derive from the activity of "wreckers" (unscrupulous bankers who would lure sailing vessels close to shore by tying lanterns around horses' heads or necks), I was uncertain where the name came from.

Recently I had an email from author Kevin Duffus (Looking Glass Productions), with this explanation:

"Contrary to the various urban legends, the name was first applied to the sand dune that is today Jockey’s Ridge. I discovered this some years ago and received David Stick’s endorsement that I was correct.... The 'Nags Head' was an abbreviation for 'Nags Headland' which appeared on a 1794 sea chart published by a Capt. N. Holland. On it you can clearly see the dune so identified. It was considered a headland because it was used as a navigational feature for coasting vessels."

"A headland (or simply head) is a coastal landform, a point of land usually high and often with a sheer drop, that extends out into a body of water. It is a type of promontory." (

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Charlie Mason

One of the Outer Banks' most celebrated pogey (or menhaden) boats was the Charlie Mason, a trawler which regularly supplied the Fish Meal Company in West Beaufort, NC, with menhaden.

On January 1, 1948, the Charlie Mason, was fishing offshore of Ocracoke when the weather deteriorated. After getting the nets tangled in the propeller, the captain called the US Coast Guard for assistance. Shortly after getting a hawser secured to the stricken vessel, the line broke, and the vessel came ashore on Ocracoke's beach.

Hatteras Islander, Charles Stowe, was among the Coast Guard crew who responded to the wreck. He penned a ballad, The Charlie Mason Pogey Boat, that tells the story of re-floating the trawler. Ocracoke native and musician, Martin Garrish, regularly performs this song.

You can listen to Charles Stowe sing the song on YouTube:

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Black Squall

The 2017 Ocracoke Student Arts Partnership and Arts Week will tell the Tale of the wreck of the Black Squall on Ocracoke in 1861. It's a fascinating story of a traveling circus that made an unplanned stop at Ocracoke Island.


The activities and classes with these two programs will culminate in a student community performance of The Wreck of the Black Squall at 7 PM, Thursday, April 13 at the school gym. Both the Arts Partnership and Arts Week will include elements of performing arts from juggling and steel drums, to singing and tumbling. Each group of students, will have opportunities to showcase what they have learned as part of a retelling of this fascinating Ocracoke story.

When the Black Squall wrecked off of Ocracoke Island in April of 1861, the storm washed ashore the remnants of a circus troupe, including giant tents, silk ribbons, dancing ponies, and a menagerie of animals. Walter Howard wrote an account of this wreck in the 1950s, as he learned it from Old Kade Williams, who was 17 in 1861. Nixon’s Circus, sometimes called Nixon’s Royal Circus and Menagerie of Living Animals, was en route from a performance in Havana, Cuba to Philadelphia, when it encountered a terrible storm. 

If you are on the island this week, be sure to come out to the school at 7 pm Thursday to see the performance. If you can't be there you might want to watch a video of Philip Howard telling the story.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:   

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ernst Haeckel

I just started reading Andrea Wulf's book, The Invention of Nature, Alexander Von Humboldt's New World. Although I haven't read very far yet, I noticed that Chapter 22 is titled "Art, Ecology and Nature, Ernst Haeckel and Humboldt."

I was reminded of the sea life drawings of Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), artist, biologist, and philosopher, who was inspired by the the works of Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), Prussian naturalist and Romantic philosopher. Although Haeckel's "Recapitulation Theory" (or "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny"), the idea that organisms' embryological stages mirror their evolutionary development, and his racial theory (that different human races developed independently and in parallel) are widely discredited, his nature drawings are held in high regard.

For visitors and residents of Ocracoke who enjoy searching for seashells along our beach, or who are fascinated with the profusion of life under the sea, Haeckel's drawings are a wonder to behold. Here is just one of many:

An internet image search will yield a fascinating selection of Haeckel's superb art. Enjoy!

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Makers Market & Clam Chowder

Beginning in mid-March the island is again abuzz with people and least a bit, compared with the winter months. As the days continue to lengthen, most businesses have re-opened, and fun activities are being planned.  Here are two coming up soon:
  • There will be a Makers Market on the shore of Silver Lake Harbor on April 15th from 9am - 3pm at the Wahab House Lawn, next to the Anchorage Inn. Local and regional vendors will be there, showcasing their products that include herb markers, coffee mugs, ceramic serving spoons, local coffee, leather purses, local watercolors, homemade granola, jewelry designed with porcelain made from china dinnerware, homemade soap, jams and local honey, and wall art. This is a free event. Bike or walk if you can, as there is limited parking. Parking is available at the NPS parking lot. 
  • In addition, island cooks are busy planning their best soups for the third annual Clam Chowder Cook-off Saturday, April 15, 2017, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Ocracoke Community Center. Individuals, businesses, restaurants and professional cooks are poised to create their best version of traditional and/or non-traditional Ocracoke clam chowder. All proceeds benefit Ocracoke Child Care, Inc. Click here for more information.
If you will be on the island be sure to check out the Makers Market and the Clam Chowder Cook-off!
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Friday, April 07, 2017


"Once I thanked God for my treasure, Now like rust it corrodes. And I can't help from blamin' your goin' On the coming, the coming of the roads"

The words above (from the song "The Coming of the Roads") were written by Billy Edd Wheeler (b. 1932). The tune was released in 1965 by Judy Collins (on Fifth Album). It is a sad song about loss of love and loss of a deep sense of place. Although the lyrics evoke images of "cool caverns" a "forest of green" and "the wild wood," the song has a more universal appeal. The coming of roads nearly always brings mixed blessings. Rural electrification, economic growth, improvements in health care, and greater educational well as traffic snarls, culture clashes, and environmental problems...often accompany the coming of roads.

The National Park Service's 2005 Technical Report, Ethnohistorical Description of the Eight Villages Adjoining Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Interpretive Themes of History and Heritage, addresses the coming of roads on the Outer Banks:  "The development of a paved road linking the villages of Hatteras Island preceded the establishment of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in 1953. The road was built in sections starting with Hatteras to Avon in 1948, Avon to Rodanthe in 1950, and Rodanthe to the Oregon Inlet Ferry in 1952. This road was a significant catalyst for change. For example, its development led to the 1955 consolidation of small village schools into the Cape Hatteras School in Buxton. When the Oregon Inlet Bridge was completed in 1963, Hatteras Island was fully connected to the wider world, and this ushered in an era of tourism and development."

The Navy paved the first road on Ocracoke in 1942. It was a one-lane concrete road connecting the Navy base to a series of ammunition dumps along present-day Cutting Sage Road and Trent Drive. The State paved most of the remaining roads in the village in the early 1950s, and laid down the road to Hatteras Inlet in 1957.

Photo courtesy Ocracoke Preservation Society

The coming of the roads has brought tremendous changes to Ocracoke, some positive, some problematic. As always, our community continues to address inevitable changes in order to nurture all those qualities that make Ocracoke a unique and vibrant place to live, work, and enjoy life.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Plains, Again

In the past I have mentioned the broad tidal flat, almost entirely barren of vegetation, that extended from the present-day Variety Store to the current NPS campground. Ocracokers called it The Plains. Today this area is thick with yaupons, myrtles, and cedars. Pines and live oaks have even sprung up there in recent years. When the Park Service acquired Ocracoke in the mid-1950s they began construction of man-made dunes on the ocean side of NC Highway 12. This protected the newly paved road from tidal overwash, and allowed vegetation to flourish there. 

Present day visitors have difficulty imagining what Ocracoke looked like more than three-quarters of a century ago. I am re-posting the following vintage photograph to help our readers understand.

This paragraph from MotorBoating Magazine, January, 1932, may help also:

"Ocracoke is a narrow island of beach sand, probably fifteen miles long and less than two miles across at its widest point. It is separated from the mainland by 30 miles of Pamlico Sound, and Europe lies 3,000 miles to the east across the Atlantic Ocean. The northerly half is covered with low sand dunes sparsely overgrown with a beach grass, a section south of the center is as flat and barren as a desert, and so low that the surf from the occasional severe storms washes over it into the sound."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Wednesday, April 05, 2017


Cecil Bragg, in his book, Ocracoke Island: Pearl of the Outer Banks, relates this story  of an island home cure:

"It has been mentioned...what curative powers the elderly women had with herbs...from which they made poultices, salves, liquids and what-not made up for fever cures and all miseries of stricken people....

"[T]here was one particular case of a man with curative powers that seemed absolutely silly and preposterous, but his method, whatever it was, worked.... To give just one instance, the island has a growth called the sharp pointed rush [Juncus acutus].

It grows in low wet ground either in fresh or salt water. It reaches a height of three feet and is round and green and has a very sharp point. It doesn't seem to have any use whatsoever, but Jackson, as we'll call him here, found a use for it for a man who used to vacation on the island every summer until his passing on. This well-to-do gentleman, a banker from Washington, N.C., had an unsightly wart on his nose that was more than a half inch long and still growing.

"The oddity of the rush is that the root end is white, round and soft, if you go close to the earth and pull the single rush out of its bed of roots slowly and easily, you have an all green growth except the white end. Jackson told the gentleman to pull a rush as mentioned above, and to rub the white part on his wart and place the rush back in the hole it came from and the wart would disappear before he'd realize what happened. The gentleman, Mr. Bridgeman, by name, pooh-poohed the idea but went through with the advice given him by Jackson, without telling anybody he had done so. Mr. Bridgeman was staying at the home of my uncle, Winslow Sanderson Bragg, at which as a child I was then living. Uncle Winslow was staring at Mr. Bridgeman so hard that he quizzed my uncle, "What are you staring like that at me for?" "Feel your nose, your wart is gone," said Uncle Winslow. Then Mr. Bridgeman told my uncle what Jackson had told him to do, and how skeptical he was about doing it.

"Mr. Bridgeman set out immediately to find Jackson and pay him for the favor he had done for him, but when he offered him money Jackson said "Oh my goodness, no; if I took money my gift would be gone."

As it turns out, many natural ingredients may promote the removal of warts (at least according to Readers Digest) including garlic, dandelion, birch bark, and banana peel. According to Wikipedia, juncusol, a 9,10-dihydrophrenathrene which is found in Juncus species has antimicrobial properties. The next time you are plagued with a wart, consider rubbing it with the root of the sharp pointed rush. And don't forget to place the rush back in the hole it came from!!

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Capt. Bill Gaskill's Pamlico Inn

In the past I have written about the Pamlico Inn on Ocracoke Island.  I recently discovered a January, 1932, article in MotorBoating magazine. The author writes about arriving at Ocracoke on the mailboat, and includes a description of the Pamlico Inn:

"We landed at the hotel pier and were shown a room. There probably isn’t another hotel like it in a thousand miles. Evidently starting with his little two story cottage, Capt. Bill Gaskill, by acting naturally and giving service to people who knew what they wanted has gradually expanded until he can now accommodate probably fifty guests. He specializes in sending out fishing parties, usually to the inlet with guide and bait and furnished bed, board and shelter for a fixed amount a day. Those preferring surf fishing are taken to the ocean beach on a truck. There are few formalities at Bill Gaskill’s – Bill is very apt to have a boat pulled up on the porch for repairs or painting at any time. For conventional or formal persons who cannot leave the rattle-bang of the city behind, who are unhappy without stiff white collars, and cement pavements, and who must be amused by the movies or dance halls or night clubs, the Pamlico Inn cannot be recommended. But, to those who wish to leave our so-called higher civilization behind and get out into the sunshine on clean salt water with blue sky overhead, or tramp the wide sand beaches, Bill Gaskill’s place will appeal."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Monday, April 03, 2017

National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month today we are publishing an original poem about Blackbeard and Lt. Robert Maynard by frequent Ocracoke visitor Robb Foster.

Teach's Light

With blackened beard and wild claim
Did Satan, sail the Spanish main
This demon’s sword that made men swoon
That Hades spat from Bristol’s womb

Upon the sea with evil’s wrath
Did Edward sail from little Bath
What spark did light this hellish beast
That rendered sailors to their least?

As William Wire, could once attest
This wicked warrior would not rest
Hell chased him to Honduras Bay
What next, these sailors cried, dismayed?

So mortified by old nick’s wrath
And knowing not one other path
"Abandon ship!", would be their rail
To spare them from his wanton gale

Beseeching loud amongst the land
And seeking justice on the sand
Impugn this Governor Eden’s fraud!
Who reigns our Carolina flawed!

Lieutenant Maynard took the seas
To answer honest planter’s pleas
Swift with sword and sure of shot
He bade the hellion to his lot

Lt. Robert Maynard

But as his soul took to the sky
This Edward Teach gave one last cry
“You mark my words as I retire!
I’ll send you all to hellish fire!”

Those final words leapt to the air
As darkening clouds, began to flare
The wind, it danced on wicked thoughts
Then dead, the calm, his evil bought

The prudent sailors, none can blame
Will turn their backs upon the main
If northern winds can tatter sheets
Lose your desire to jam the cleats

Scoff if you must, call quaint my verse
But stronger men show lips that purse
When on the water dances bright
The far off fire of Teach’s light

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Ocracoke Tram

Although I haven't mentioned it recently in this blog, I am guessing that most of our readers are aware of the NC Ferry Division's plans to establish passenger ferries from Hatteras to Ocracoke beginning in the spring of 2018. You can read more about this here and here.  

A crucial component of the plan is the addition of free tram service within Ocracoke village. However, the idea of a tram has raised numerous questions and concerns, primarily centered around logistics and traffic congestion, among island residents, . You can read more about that here and here.

The latest wrinkle in the Passenger Ferry/Tram proposal is an announcement that the trams will use the latest autonomous automobile technology. Because Ocracoke village is small, contained, and has a slow speed limit, the NC Ferry Division has partnered with Google to employ the most advanced iteration of their pioneering self-driving vehicles for the trams that will carry visitors (and residents) around the village. A Google spokesperson was quoted as saying, "This is a stellar opportunity to demonstrate the feasibility of our groundbreaking technology. The self-driving trams will provide a valuable service to Ocracoke Island, and show the world how efficient and safe autonomous vehicles can be."

Unfortunately, the recent accident involving an Uber self-driving vehicle, and Uber's decision to pull all of their autonomous cars off the streets, has concerned many Ocracoke residents. To read more about the latest developments in this plan, click here.
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Salubrious Climate

"On the Atlantic coast bordering on North Carolina and which constitutes her Eastern boundary and immediately facing the Ocean, is one of the most beautiful Islands of this hemisphere. The earliest [sic] name we find for it is Ocracoke."

So enthuses an 1890 advertisement for the old Ponder Hotel (1885-1900).

The advertisement continues with, "It has always been noted for its health and salubrious climate which is not surpassed by any Ocean resort, and has no equal, inasmuch as the breeze from the ocean is salt and if perchance the wind should come from the land, it must first be wafted from the bosom of Pamlico Sound, a salt water sheet, whose expanse is only commensurate with its life giving properties."

Who wouldn't be enticed to take the steamboat to Ocracoke Island!?

It is unfortunate that the hotel burned to the ground in 1900.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sue Dimmock

One of Ocracoke's early school marm's was Sarah Owens Gaskill (wife of Benjamin Decatur Gaskill) who ran a small private school near the lighthouse in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Sarah was a cousin of Susan Dimmock (1847-1875). Both women grew up in Washington, NC.

Susan Dimmock (1847-1875)

After Susan's father died (at the outset of the Civil War), Susan moved with her mother to Boston. She enrolled as a student in the New England Hospital for Women and Children, then applied for admission to Harvard. The faculty denied her request, noting that "this faculty do not approve the admission of any female to the lectures of any professor." No other schools in the United States would accept her, so she applied to the University of Zurich Medical School, where she was accepted.

After completing her studies, Susan Dimmock returned to the United States to practice medicine. In 1872 she became a member of the Massachusetts State Medical Society. She was the first woman member of the North Carolina Medical Society. Unfortunately, she was drowned when a ship she was on struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, and sank. Susan Dimmock was only 28 years old.

Although not ever a full-time resident of Ocracoke, Susan Dimmock's connection to the island and her legacy lives on. Several island children have been named for her.

For more information about Dr. Susan Dimmock, click here.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pirate Code

In the past I have written about Pirate Democracy. Today I list Pirate Captain John Phillips' (died 1724) code, the Articles on board his vessel, the Revenge.

Pirate Captain John Phillips

I. Every Man Shall obey civil Command; the Captain shall have one full Share and a half of all Prizes; the Master, Carpenter, Boatswain, and Gunner shall have one Share and quarter.
II. If any Man shall offer to run away, or keep any Secret from the Company, he shall be marooned with one Bottle of Powder, one Bottle of Water, one small Arm, and Shot.
III. If any Man shall steal any Thing in the Company, or game, to the Value of a Piece of Eight, he shall be marooned or shot.
IV. If any time we shall meet another Marooner [that is Pyrate,] that Man that shall sign his Articles without the Consent of our Company, shall suffer such Punishment as the Captain and Company shall think fit.
V. That Man that shall strike another whilst these Articles are in force, shall receive Moses’ Law (that is, 40 Stripes lacking one) on the bare Back.
VI. That Man that shall snap his Arms, or smoak Tobacco in the Hold, without a Cap to his Pipe, or carry a Candle lighted without a Lanthorn, shall suffer the same Punishment as in the former Article.
VII. That Man that shall not keep his Arms clean, fit for an Engagement, or neglect his Business, shall be cut off from his Share, and suffer such other Punishment as the Captain and the Company shall think fit.
VIII. If any Man shall lose a Joint in time of an Engagement, shall have 400 Pieces of Eight ; if a Limb, 800.
IX. If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, that Man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer present Death.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


When Ocracoke was first settled, in the mid-1700s, “cat-ball” or “cat” was a popular outdoor recreation in colonial America. It had evolved from an earlier English and Scottish folk game, “Cat and Dog,” which involved a piece of wood (a “cat”) that was thrown at a target, often a hole in the ground.

Opposing players defended the target by hitting the wood away with a stick (a “dog”). Two holes were used in some versions of this game that resembled cricket. A batter would hit the cat, then run between the holes while the opposing team would try to put the runner out by knocking the cat into the hole before the runner got to it.
In another version, the “cat” was carved from a piece of wood about six inches long and two inches in diameter. Each end was tapered. The cat was placed on the ground, and either struck with a stick or stomped on with a foot. This would “catapult” the stick into the air so it could be hit with a stick. In later versions, a ball was substituted for the piece of wood, and launched from a simple lever mechanism. Still later, a pitcher replaced the mechanical lever.

Other manifestations of “Cat and Dog” evolved into a stick and ball game that eventually evolved into modern baseball.

From A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744)
an early English reference to baseball

Because folk games had no official rules, they changed over time and from place to place. No one knows exactly how “cat” was first played on Ocracoke Island. but by the late nineteenth century Ocracoke boys played cat with a homemade ball, typically a core of string covered with old shoe leather. A stick of wood served as a bat. Baseball gloves were almost unheard of.

In most ways “cat,” as played on Ocracoke, was identical to modern baseball, with two teams, four bases (including home plate), a pitcher, a catcher, outfielders, and a batter. As in baseball, a batter would be “out” after three strikes, or if his fly ball was caught in the air. On the other hand, “cat” had no designated boundary lines. If a batter hit the ball, no matter how hard, or in what direction, it was considered in play. Sometimes a batter would just “snick” the ball. (“Snick,” meaning to hit the ball with a glancing blow off the edge of the bat, a term used in cricket, has survived on Ocracoke since the colonial period.) If the ball flew off to one side, or even landed behind the batter, it was still in play. Runners could be tagged out in the conventional manner, but generally the ball was thrown at the runner. If a runner was hit by the ball he was “out.”

Today Ocracoke has a fine new ball field and three stellar teams. Click here to read about the 2017 season opener.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Monday, March 27, 2017

A New Season

When Village Craftsmen, re-opened for the 2017 season Crystal Canterbury was there with her notepad and camera, along with several dozen other islanders. Crystal works for the Ocracoke Current, the island's original on-line "newspaper."

On Friday the Current published Crystal's article, "It's a New Season on Howard Street." Here are just a few excerpts from that article:
  • Walking along Howard Street will take you back in time. Shaded by the Live Oaks, the sand and oyster shell one-way street – with a speed limit that reads “Drive Real, Real Slow” – is lined with historical homes, wild flowers, and family cemeteries.
  •  At the end of the street sits the Village Craftsmen, a Howard family staple since 1970, where unique art, handcrafts, and jewelry are displayed and available for purchase. 
  • Now being managed by Amy Howard, Philip’s daughter, the Village Craftsmen has some changes for 2017. While not startling or drastic, the changes to the interior have opened up the front room area, allowed easier access to the back rooms, and have been organized in such a way to give the shop a gallery feel.
  • The Village Craftsman is now open for the season! Stop in and say hello! Spring hours are currently 10am–5pm Tuesday-Saturday, and 10am–2pm on Sunday. The shop is closed on Mondays. The times will change as the season progresses.
You can read Crystal's entire article here:

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Friday, March 24, 2017

Variety Show & Shells

Summer visitors frequently ask island residents, "What do you do all winter?" It may be difficult to believe, but islanders are often quite busy during the off-season. Yes, we do take our vacations in the winter, and there is more time to relax, read books, and spend time on hobbies...but it is also the time to volunteer, repair, remodel, paint, get our businesses ready for the new season, and catch up on all of those other chores we put off during the summer months. Island organizations (Civic Club, Library, School, Fire Department, Churches, and other non-profits) continue to function year-round.

Right now many island businesses are reopening (Village Craftsmen opened for the season last week).

Information about Ocracoke current events is always available at the Ocracoke Current and the Ocracoke Observer. Here are two events coming up today and tomorrow:
  • Ocracoke Spring Variety Show. Tonight at 6 pm at the Ocracoke School Gym. If you are on the island come on out to enjoy some local talent.
  • North Carolina Shell Club. Tonight, and tomorrow at 7 pm at the Ocracoke Community Center. Guests welcome. Village Craftsmen's Amy Howard is the special guest speaker at tonight's meeting. 
An Ocracoke Scotch Bonnet

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Last Will and Testament

In 1849 William Howard (1776-1851, grandson of William Howard, colonial owner of Ocracoke Island) made his last will and testament. His bequests provide some insight into his life and circumstances. They are as follows (recipients in parentheses):
  • The eastern part of the ridge where he lives, including his dwelling house and kitchens, stables, and other out houses. (to his wife Agnes)
  • Kitchen furniture,work horse, horse cart, cattle & sheep (Agnes)
  • Wild cattle & wild horses (to his son, William, and son-in-law Job)
  • One canoe and one drag net (Agnes)
  • One schooner, the remainder of his canoes, nets, & boats (William & Job)
  • Wind mill (Agnes)
  • Bank stock in Merchants Bank in Newbern, NC (Agnes)
  • Money on hand (Agnes)
  • Notes & bonds (William & Job)
  • The tract of land where he lives, along with all houses, out houses and "envolments" [?] (to William at the death of Agnes)
  • 28 acres of land (to Job after the death of William Howard's daughter, Nancy)
  • All of his land on the banks, not including Ocracoke (William & Job)
  • 1/4 interest in the schooner Paragon (William & Job)
  • Negroes: Doll, Hannah, Delila, June & Susan (Agnes)
  • Negro: Harry (William)
  • Negro: Betsey (Job)
  • Negroes: Old Hagen, Young Hagen & Mary, Lewis, Jack & Lem, and his interest in Negro woman Phoebee & her children (William & Job)
  • Negros: Kent & Cloe (to daughter Nancy; at her death to William & Job)
  • $30 cash (to his grandchildren by his daughter Thursa Chase, who with her husband Elisha Chase left the state)
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lawless Bankers

Ocracoke Island was not annexed to a North Carolina county precinct until 1770. At that time a member of the NC Colonial Assembly noted that, "those lawless bankers on Occacock Island are not paying taxes anywhere." The Assembly then included Ocracoke in Carteret Precinct.

Cartaret Precinct, which included Core Banks to the south, was established in 1722, having earlier been part of Craven Precinct. In 1845 Ocracoke Island (between Old Hatteras Inlet and Ocracoke Inlet) was reassigned to Hyde County, where it remains today...and where we definitely pay taxes.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March Newsletter

It is time for another Ocracoke Newsletter. This month's article is a fun-to-read first person account of what I call the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper.

If you've ever wondered what the view is like from the top of the tower, be sure to read the article.

Just don't try this yourself! We are not endorsing this behavior...just sharing the story.

Here is the link:

Monday, March 20, 2017


Late last month I published as one of our monthly Ocracoke Newsletters the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. Unfortunately subsequent blog posts included an inaccurate link (it directed to our home page; not our Newsletter page).

This is the correct link:

If you were not able to locate this Newsletter earlier you might want to read it now. It traces the history of electric power on the island from the installation of the first generator (salvaged from a wrecked ship) in 1936, to the latest installation of Tesla batteries and solar panels.

The Newsletter explains how electricity (and the ability to make ice) impacted the island's fishing industry, how natural and man-made disasters (the powerful hurricane of 1944, and the 1990 accident that collapsed nearly 400 feet of the Oregon Inlet bridge) left authorities scrambling to provide power to our village, and how vulnerable the submarine cable under Hatteras Inlet has been.

Be sure to read how Conch O'Neal and his nephew Bobby O'Neal dealt with troublesome cable issues in the 1970s. And notice the new armored submarine cable that has been much more reliable.

Again, this is the correct link:

Look for a new Ocracoke Newsletter tomorrow. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

He Hersheys

Not too long ago I was gathered around my kitchen table with friends when one person produced a Hershey bar and offered pieces to the rest of us. It is a "He Hershey" he said.

He Hershey & She Hershey are two expression from Ocracoke Island. I am not aware of the use of these terms anywhere else.

So, here is a fun game for our readers. If you think you know what an O'cocker means by a He Hershey send your answer to with "He Hershey" in the subject box. Please, only one answer per email address. All correct answers received by midnight, March 21, 2017, will be entered into a random drawing for this set of three beautiful note cards:

Sometime on Wednesday, March 22, I will publish the answer and the winner in the comment section of this blog post (March 17, 2017).

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Old Quawk's Day

Today is Old Quawk's Day! 

In case you aren't familiar with Old Quawk and the day Ocracokers remember him, I am reprinting a former blog post. Enjoy!

About 200 years ago there lived on Ocracoke Island a fisherman of indeterminate provenance. He was a reclusive figure, preferring to live in a small hut made of driftwood and bullrushes about 5-6 miles from the village. No one remembers his given name, but folks called him "Old Quawk" because, they said, he "quawked" like an old night heron.

Old Quawk was a fisherman, often venturing out into Pamlico Sound in his sail skiff when cautious islanders stayed in port waiting for more propitious weather.

On this date, March 16, many years past, Old Quawk made his last voyage into Pamlico Sound. Storm clouds were piling up in the darkening sky. Legend has it that Old Quawk defiantly disregarded the warnings of other islanders, raised his clenched fist to the heavens and dared the gods to thwart him, then set out in his sail skiff. A frightful gale churned the Sound into a wild turbulence and swamped Old Quawk's tiny craft. Neither Old Quawk nor his boat were ever found.

"Old Quawk" in July 4th Parade

For many years Ocracoke fishermen refused to go out in their boats on March 16. Even today it's best to be prudent on Old Quawk's Day. There's no telling what the weather gods will dish out on March 16.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Open House

This coming Saturday, March 18, from 2 pm to 4 pm, Village Craftsmen will be hosting our first Open House in 2017. We are excited about our fresh new look. In addition, our friendly and courteous staff will be on hand to answer all of your questions. Our gallery, established on Historic Howard Street in 1970, is bursting with an extensive selection of the finest craft items, all hand made in the United States!

We will be serving wine and cheese, and you will have an opportunity to enter your name in a drawing to win this beautiful pottery ocean wave bowl:

We hope to see you on Saturday. If you can't visit us then, be sure to stop by on your next visit to the island.
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


In his 1974 book, Blackbeard the Pirate, A Reappraisal of His Life and Times, Dean and Professor of Law Emeritus at Wake Forest University, Robert E. Lee, writes that "[e]ach pirate was expected to furnish his own cutlass and pistols, the latter thrust in a sling of leather or ribbon across the chest...[and] the cutlass swung from a belt at the hip."

Lee continues by quoting George Woodbury, author of The Great Days of Piracy in the West Indies, explaining that the cutlass had its origin in "the medieval curtal axe [the word is derived by folk etymology from earlier coutelace, curtelace, cutlass, from Old French coutelas], a short, wide-bladed weapon more like a cleaver than either axe or sword. It had gradually evolved from this into a yard-long, wide-bladed sword, slightly curved like a saber, but a good deal heavier. A rounded brass guard...protected the hand and wrist."

Cutlass, ca. 1812: Photo by Rama

Lee points out that Blackbeard was a "strong advocate of the use of the cutlass on the high seas" and "had taught his pirates how to manipulate this weapon, lethal when used with skill and brutal strength. Wild;y swinging pirate cutlasses were a fearful thing to behold; few sailors on merchant ships failed to surrender within minutes of exposure to the sight."

 More about the origin of the word "cutlass": Wikipedia explains that "[t]he word cutlass developed from a 17th-century English variation of coutelas, a 16th-century French word for a machete-like blade (the modern French for 'knife', in general, is 'couteau'; the word was often spelled cuttoe' in 17th and 18th century English). The French word is itself a corruption of the Italian coltellaccio, or 'large knife', a short, broad-bladed sabre popular in Italy during the 16th century. The word comes from coltello, knife', derived ultimately from Latin cultellus meaning 'small knife.'"

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Village Craftsmen Opening

Village Craftsmen will re-open for the 2017 season this Wednesday at 10 am.

If you live on Ocracoke, or are visiting the island this week, walk, bike, or ride down historic Howard Street and stop by to say hello. Our new manager, Amy Howard, has been working hard, along with family and friends, to create a fresh new look for our gallery.

Amy Howard, Manager of Village Craftsmen
Philip Howard, owner

Village Craftsmen has been the proud purveyor of fine quality American handcrafts for nearly half a century. This winter Amy applied her artistic vision to help create a brighter, more open space that highlights and features our superb selection of the finest pottery, glassware, metal items, kitchen utensils, and so much more, all made by North Carolina, regional, and nationally acclaimed crafters.

Frequent shoppers at Village Craftsmen will be pleased to find the work of many of our long-time suppliers, as well as exciting new additions. We feel confident that first time visitors to our gallery will be pleasantly surprised by the extent and quality of the art and crafts displayed. We represent more than 300 of the finest craftsmen and craftswomen in the United States.

An added treat on Howard Street is passing some of the island's oldest homes, several small family cemeteries, and three of Ocracoke's largest live oaks. While visiting our gallery, Amy, a ninth generation islander and former Administrator of the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum, will be happy to answer your questions and share stories about our unique island heritage and culture.

You might even see her father Philip now and then.

We hope to see you whenever you are on the island!

Look for information about our up-coming Open House later this week. 

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:

Friday, March 10, 2017

In the Bathtub

I shared this story about ten years ago, but think it is worth repeating.

As much as we enjoy the natural beauty of Ocracoke, many islanders will tell you that it is the community that we treasure most. It is common for us to loan & borrow tools, clam rakes, ladders, and even automobiles. We are quick to volunteer when a neighbor needs a helping hand. But sometimes even we are surprised and amused when friends turn to us for a little assistance.

Some years ago I came home in the late afternoon. I was taken aback when I discovered a neighbor lying on my bed, leisurely reading a magazine.

"Oh, hi K____," I said. "What's up?" trying not to betray my astonishment.

"I'm just relaxing here for a few minutes," she said. "I am waiting for D_____. He's in your bathroom, taking a bath."

As I learned, their bathroom was being repaired, and I was happy to provide mine.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Up Trent

Visitors to Ocracoke may notice a section of paved road called Trent Drive. It connects the eastern ends of Sunset Drive (known as Ammunition Dump Road by old-timers) and Middle Road.

Click to view Full Map

Trent Drive is located in a small section of the village historically known as "Up Trent" or "Upland Trent." Nearby is an area called Trentwood.

Interestingly, several other geographical areas in eastern North Carolina bear the Trent moniker. For example, there is the Trent River in eastern North Carolina (its origin is near Kinston, and empties into the Neuse River at New Bern).

The small village of Frisco, on Hatteras Island, was at one time called Trent or Trent Woods. Although Algonquin Indians had established a village there centuries earlier, the first European settlers called the area Trent. In 1898 the U.S. Post Office renamed the village Frisco to avoid confusion with another town on the mainland called Trent.

Because the majority of early Outer Banks settlers came from the British Isles, I am guessing that the name Trent originally indicated a connection with the small English village of Trent in northwest Dorset. Unfortunately, details of that connection have been lost over time.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Banker Ponies

For many years historians have speculated about the origin of Ocracoke's semi-wild ponies, actually small horses. The general consensus is that they are probably descended from Spanish mustangs.

In 1524 Giovanni da Verrazzano explored the Outer Banks but made no mention of horses. In 1584 the account of Captains Master Philip Amadas and Master Arthur Barlowe (of Sir Walter Raleigh's first expedition to America) mentioned reports by natives  of "of a ship cast away" "five and twenty years past" from which "white people" were rescued. Perhaps that ship was a Spanish Galleon that also transported mustangs. 

In 1585 English explorer Sir Richard Grenville made his first voyage to "Virginia" for Sir Walter Raleigh. In June his expedition anchored at Isabella, on the north side of Hispaniola (the Caribbean island shared today by the Dominican Republic and Haiti).

After enjoying a banquet and sport provided by the Spaniards, Grenville writes that "many rare presents and gifts were given and bestowed on both parts, and the next day we placed the Merchants in bargaining with them by way of truck and exchange for diverse of their commodities, as horses, mares, kine, bulls, goats, swine, sheep, bull hides, sugar, ginger, pearl, tobacco, and such like commodities of the Island."

On the 26th of June Grenville's account indicates that they "came to anchor at Wocokon [Ocracoke]." Since Grenville's ships now had horses on board it is not without merit to speculate that these might be the ancestors of today's Banker ponies.

No doubt other horses were introduced to the island over the next two hundred years, both more shipwreck survivors as well as animals brought by early European settlers. The smaller, hardier strains were able to survive and flourish in the island's salt marshes.

Today, a remnant herd of Banker Ponies is confined to a large pasture, and cared for by the National Park Service and island volunteers.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Oyster Tongs

Before the widespread use of outboard motors, and even still sometimes today, Outer Bankers harvested oysters in Pamlico Sound with the use of oyster tongs. Oyster tongs work much like post hole diggers, but the handles (or shafts) are much longer (as long as 12 or 15 feet), and the "working end" consists of two wide rakes. The following photo was published in the Spring, 1978, issue of Sea Chest, a non-profit educational project of the students of Cape Hatteras School. It shows Mr. Walton Fulcher holding his oyster tongs.

The tongs are lowered over the side of a skiff, and into the water. The handles are spread apart and moved around to feel for oysters. Then the tongs are shut together, and the oysters pulled to the surface. The following photo is from the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

According to the Sea Chest article, "the money wasn't good back then [in the early 20th century] because they only got 50 cents to 75 cents a bushel. In the summer time [fishermen] depended on fishing but in the winter they depended on the oysters very much.... After we got out-board engines they got oyster scrapes [also called dredges] and started scraping for oysters."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:

Monday, March 06, 2017


Last week I published a post about the wreck of the schooner Florence Shay. I included a typed transcript of my great-grandfather's official hand-written report about the disaster. A reader left this comment:"I suppose this journal entry was composed with a pen dipped into an ink well"

Indeed it was!

My great-grandfather, James Howard, was keeper of the Ocracoke United States Life-Saving Station which was located at the north end of the island. He wrote detailed reports about all of the shipwrecks the station responded to. The photo above is his journal entry re. the schooner Carolina which wrecked April 16, 1889.

Although his spelling and grammar are idiosyncratic, his penmanship is a pleasure to look at. If you enlarge the image you may be able to read his full report.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:

Friday, March 03, 2017


Visitors to Ocracoke are often struck by the number of cats on the island. "Why are there so many cats and where did they come from?" people sometimes ask.

A little book by Pat Garber, and published by the Ocracoke Preservation Society, Ocracoke Island: Your Questions Answered, provides some insight:

"The first cats probably arrived on ships, along with the rats on which they fed. Some may even be the descendants of pirates' cats. One cat, known by the name of 'Sam Salt' was a survivor of the Carroll A. Deering shipwreck in 1921. Other cats were brought to the island by newcomers. Unless neutered, they continue to reproduce and grow in number. According to a 1923 newspaper, hundreds of cats roamed the island at that time.* This is still true today."

* From The Deming Headlight (Deming, New Mexico), Friday, October 5, 1923, ·Page 5:  "There are no dogs on the island, but cats have multiplied until there are hundreds. Having rid the village of mice and rats, the felines have almost eradicated the many snakes which once thrived in Ocracoke."

Pat Garber goes on to answer another question, "Does anyone take care of the cats?"

"Many island residents feed the island cats, and there is a non-profit organization, Ocracats, which collects money to feed, neuter, and provide veterinary care for them."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:

Thursday, March 02, 2017


In the Fall, 1979, issue of Sea Chest, a former non-profit educational project of the students of Cape Hatteras School, Steve Roberts (born October 1, 1901 on Portsmouth Island) shares his memories of growing up on Portsmouth.

"Now when I was a right little thing, they did a lot of bartering...back and forth across the sound. They'd catch a red drum and side him off, take the backbone out of him, score him down the flesh, and salt him. After they dried him, they'd trade him for corn which they had ground into meal at one of the mills across the sound. They would trade the geese, too.

"It didn't take anything to live. You didn't have to buy anything except sugar, coffee, and flour. You had everything else you needed to eat right there. There were gardens, but the people didn't have them very long. You planted in April and what they called the 'sheepstorms' -- because of the great amount of sheep drowned when the water washed over the island -- came in May and saltwater came all over the place and killed the gardens. The storms didn't do that every year, just some years. There were a lot of sweet potatoes there because they were put out later on and came off between the storms."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Electrification of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here: