Monday, April 27, 2009


We all know that Ocracoke is isolated, and that it was even more isolated in years gone by. But there was always a connection with the outside world. In the 1800s schooners were the main source of information about other places, but various itinerants also frequented Ocracoke. Here are a few I know about:
  • M.L. Cummings, Evangelist, visited Ocracoke in the 1920s. He held meetings in a large grassy area near what is now called Creek Road, close to Suzie's hair studio. He sold a 32 page booklet, Avenues Leading to Crime, and Blackie of the North Woods, His Life and Conversion, for 25 cents. The chapbook, which told of a life of vagrancy, crime, alcohol, drugs, sex, and conversion, relates details of southern jails and chain gangs, and was probably autobiographical. From what I can gather, he attracted quite a crowd with his stories.
  • Traveling salesmen occasionally found their way to Ocracoke. Older folks remember one who carried a leather satchel on his back from which he sold bed spreads, pillow cases, and other sundries. He also brought news from the mainland.
  • In the nineteenth century an itinerant photographer went from house to house making photos of islanders in their parlors. (I wonder, could this be who took the photograph of my grandparents that hangs in my living room?)
  • The old Toothbrush Man was quite a character who came to the island periodically (you can read his story here).
  • The nationally known evangelist Billy Sunday and his song leader Homer Rodheaver held revivals in the old Coast Guard Station about 1913 or 1914.
  • My grandfather told of the man with the trained bear who came to Ocracoke (how did he get the bear here??), and made it perform tricks for donations. He must have been quite a sensation!
In our latest Ocracoke Newsletter I share information about our many local cemeteries, with examples of some of our more interesting epitaphs. You can read it here.

To read about Philip's new book, Digging up Uncle Evans, History, Ghost Tales, & Stories from Ocracoke Island, please click here.


  1. Anonymous8:41 AM

    I remember the lady that lived with my Granny always made twig toothbrushes for dipping her snuff.

  2. Anonymous2:14 PM

    Goodness the sensibilities of people have advanced. We would not sit for a chained and muzzled mangy bear performing pathetic " tricks" today. how awful, such mistreatment of one of Gods creatures being denied the chance to live life as a wild animal for the amusement of uneducated buffoons. honestly, oh that's the way it was -- well, that the was it was because people were stupid.

  3. Anonymous6:55 AM

    The thought that bedspreads would be an item to sell. Strikes me as odd. I hope he did not insist on seeing the bedroom to see if a sample was the right size!! Was there not a strong evidence of rafts on the island-- the old Yankee ingenuity. Did not women quilt? Seminole Indians developed there trademark patchwork and through the use of hand powered sewing machines made colorful costumes? Did not the early inhabitants of Ocracoke Island have a " costume " of sorts--- men in billowing linen homespun shirts? Women in dresses sewn of flour sacks perhaps?? Have you seen photos of everyday clothes-- in most photos people are in their Sunday best as it were and therefore a skewed impression is left of the everyday ho mum.

    Lily Pulitzer created a sensation in Palm Beach with a simple shift that women sought-- especially after trendsetter Jackie K. wore one!!

  4. Anonymous6:59 AM

    That should be CRAFTS not rafts. But Did people build rafts I would think that would be a folly as one could drift out to sea and not be heard from again. How about surfing or Longboarding has there been any interest in that riding a board and using a pole. was there not talk of that on this blog at one time ?? I visit sooo many blogs can not keep the topics straight.

    My Bad bro!!

  5. coastal cranberry8:41 AM

    Does anyone have a copy of M L Cummings' book?

  6. Blanche had told me about M.L. Cummings a year or so ago. Just this past week she told me she had uncovered the booklet stashed away with a pile of other papers. She loaned it to me and I scanned the front and back covers. I looked on line and couldn't find that it's ever been digitalized and posted. Blanche may have the only copy in existence (??). It's only 32 pages long, so I suppose I could scan the whole book if it's that important. Mostly it's predictable early 20th century evangelical literature.

  7. coastal cranberry9:11 AM

    I'd love to have a copy. Moses L Cummings was my husband's great grandfather :)

  8. Here are a couple of links to past Newsletters about quilting (the second one even has a photo of Jude wearing my Aunt Tressie's sun bonnet [wasn't Jude a good sport!]):

    Old Arcade Williams (who told Walter Howard about the wrecks of the Home [in 1837] and the Black Squall [in 1861]) -- I've recounted these stories in past newsletters -- was said to wear underdrawers made from flour sacks. The young people back then made up a rhyme:

    "What kind of drawers does Katie wear?
    "Haven brand, that will not tear."

  9. I'll be happy to scan the whole booklet by M.L. Cummings. And would love to know more about him, particularly would like to know if the story of Blackie of the North Woods was autobiographical.

    Anyway, please email me at this address: piphoward at embarqmail dot com.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

  10. Anonymous6:30 PM

    About Blackie from the North Woods:

    I saw Blackie once, when he came to my great-grandfather's print shop to purchase copies of his pamphlet. Blackie would order 30,000 to 50,000 at a time. Then Grandpapa would dole them out to Blackie a few thousand at a time when Blackie would show up with some cash.

    Blackie's story was true (with a few colorful embellishments). He was a drunk (excuse me, had an addictive personality). He had been a lumberjack - hence 'North Woods.' I don't remember what Grandpapa said about why Blackie was imprisoned at Caledonia Prison in Halifax County, NC. Some of the photos are obviously staged.

    -Richard Parsons, New Bern

  11. Richard, I wrote a longer story about Blackie for our monthly Ocracoke Newsletter in February, 2010. You can read it here:

    Thanks for the new info.