Saturday, August 20, 2011


A reader asked about the six women listed as "head of house" in the 1810 Ocracoke census. This is what I have learned:

Abigail Howard Williams (c.1770 - c.1811) was the granddaughter of William Howard, Sr., and the widow of Robert Williams. One girl under 10 years old (almost certainly her daughter Comfort [b. 1805]), and one slave were living with her.

Susannah Howard Jackson (b. c.1835) was the daughter of William Howard, Sr. and the widow of Francis Jackson, Sr. Living with her was one boy under 10 years old (a grandson??), and one female 26-45 years old (a daughter or granddaughter??).

Elizabeth Jackson O'Neal (1756 -1813) was the daughter of Susannah & Francis Jackson, and the widow of John O'Neele, private in the American Revolution. They had eleven children. The four boys and two girls living with her in 1810 are probably her children and/or grandchildren.

Mary Salter Wahab (1780 - c. 1845) was the daughter of Henry Salter, and the widow of Thomas Wahab. Two boys and two girls (probably her children) and four slaves are living with her.

Elizabeth Scarborough (I am still researching this woman. I'm not sure who she is. If I find out I'll publish a comment.)

Ann Howard (1724 - 1841*) was the widow of George Howard (son of William Howard, Sr.). One boy 10 - 16 years old (perhaps a grandchild??), and five slaves are living with her.

*To the best of our knowledge these dates are correct. Her tombstone (in the George Howard graveyard near the British Cemetery) even reads "Aged 117 years."

I do not know how these women's husbands died. Some may have been lost at sea. That was all too common. However TB was a terrible illness that killed many people on Ocracoke in the 1800s.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is Lou Ann's story of the Night Blooming Cereus Cactus. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous7:15 AM

    Philip, thank you so much for taking the limited free time you have and researching my question concerning widows on Ocracoke Island.

    To be quite honest, I can't imagine how tough it must have been to be a widow hundreds of years ago, but then again, Ocracoke Island has such a spirit of "community" that I should think even all those years ago, folks assisted the widows....especially those who didn't have slaves to help. I would think the "slaves" were like family to the widows.

    Being a widow @ 51 (my husband, Scott, died from a very progressive case of MS) has been quite an adjustment. Even so, I am certain I have had it much easier than those women did back in the 1700's and 1800's.

    Hats off to the courageous widows of Ocracoke Island who demonstrated a "can do" spirit, keeping their families together, despite the sadness and hardships along the journey.

    I find their circumstances to be quite humbling.

  2. Anonymous7:20 AM

    Philip, one more comment (Anon 7:15 here)....after the Civil War was over and the slaves were freed, did the slaves remain with the widows or did some move on?

  3. All of the Ocracoke slaves left the island after the Civil War. Winnie Blount ("Aunt Winnie") and her husband Harkus (Hercules) were the only blacks to settle here soon after the war. Muzel Bryant (1904-2008)was the last of this family to live on Ocracoke.

  4. You can read more about Muze here:

  5. Anonymous9:43 AM

    Ann Howard 1724 - 1841 What?!

  6. Anonymous10:43 AM

    I find it interesting to learn of the prevalence of slaves on Ocracoke and also to learn, as you say, that all left the island after the Civil War.

    If you have any insight, would you mind sharing your knowledge of the history--and legacy--of slavery on Ocracoke?

  7. I have put "Slavery on Ocracoke" on my list of future Newsletter topics. It may take a while to research and write this article. Look for it "sometime in the future."

  8. Anonymous12:46 PM

    Philip-You really have to try a little be more boring. You make so much work for yourself. The more you teach me, the more I want to learn. Thank you for making me love history.

  9. Anonymous12:53 PM

    Fascinating stuff! THANKS!

  10. Anonymous5:21 PM

    If the civil war was anything like the Revolutionary war, that is women left back home to run the farm or eek out a cold Mountain like existence--- then widows or those left back on the farm with slaves to carry on the day to day activities... I mean did the slaves know there was a war being fought when the men folk were gone? I don't mean to sound naive but yes, slaves fought in the civi war and there are black daughters of the confederacy! where was I going with this-- oh if the slaves left how did they leave and well where did they go?? and what did they do when they left? Oh course these questions no doubt have been asked and perhaps some graduate student has researched this topic years ago and the dissertaion is gathering dust in the stacks of the University library -- only to be discovered by a resident in a community with a university such as davidson

  11. My GF was Robert Wms,his father John Henry Wms,his father Robert Wms was a Captain(ships). My GF was named after his GF and was said to sail ships to trade tupintine up the rivers of NC. He aslo was to have a child in Barbados? He was welch and his father was said to own fleets of ship.Along my journey of family discoverys, many wives have been found, some died young of dieases or childbirth, their are many children spread out over NC.

  12. obxerwoodser -- do you trace your family roots back to Ocracoke?

  13. Anonymous2:27 PM

    Loved Mary Lou's cactus story. One was given to us in the 80's-they used to have a Bloomin Party in the driveway. Ours has gotten too big to take it outside anymore and we often miss it (last year we were in Ocrakoke!) Sometimes it will bloom in the dead of winter-what a wonder. We've pruned and rooted and shared with friends. It seems like it takes a lifetime to get them to the point to bloom. Ours must be very old.