Saturday, January 07, 2012


On January 3 I mentioned the story of Ocracoke schooner captain Horatio Williams who sank his vessel, the Paragon, in 1861 to prevent her use by Confederate forces or capture by Union forces. A reader questioned the veracity of the story and doubted if any technology was available to allow Captain Williams to refloat his schooner after the end of the war, as I reported.

Captain James Horatio Williams, at the helm of a different schooner, in 1887 (60 years old):

On February 13, 1949 a lengthy newspaper interview with Captain Horatio's son was published in The News and Observer, Raleigh, N.C. After recounting in detail his father's ordeal in Charleston harbor when Confederate soldiers fired on Fort Sumter, his father's escape under cover of darkness, and the intentional sinking of the Paragon, the interview continues:

“’No, sir,’ he [Horatio Williams' son] said, ‘that’s not the end of the story. The Paragon sailed again. That she did. And my father sailed her. She was some ship right up to the time she went down off Frying Pan Shoals in ’85….

“’Well, now, after my father sank the Paragon up the Roanoke River, he came back here to Ocracoke. He reckoned he would take a rest until the war was over. He didn’t have no grudge against anybody and he wasn’t going to do any fighting. He didn’t either. He fished a bit, had a little boat of his own. He always managed to be away from home when the officers came over to get fellows for the army.’

“Horatio the second leaned back in his chair. He seemed to be thinking. Except for his white hair he didn’t look a man of 75.

“’When the war was over,’ he continued, ‘my father didn’t make no move right away to go get the Paragon. Meanwhile, Jobie [builder and half-owner of the Paragon] had died [in 1860] and Henry, that was Jobie’s son, was over on the mainland running a cotton gin and sawmill, at Germantown. Finally, my father went to see him and they talked about raising the Paragon. It was 18 months after the war was over that they raised her.

“’It was quite a job, too. They had to pontoon her with barrels until her decks were above water. They pumped the water out of her with hand pumps. She wasn’t damaged in the least. She had been in fresh water. You know, in the old days when they built ships they docked them before they was finished, that is, they let them lie in fresh water for a while. So the Paragon, wasn’t hurt none. And the heart of red cedar, of which she was built, won’t rot. So she was just about as good as ever. And that canvas my father buried was still in good condition, too.

“’They sailed the Paragon right down the Roanoke to Ocracoke and put her in the trade again.

“’When I was a boy, I sailed with my father several times on the Paragon. I used to go with him to Swan Quarter to load grain.

“’I remember that then the Paragon had a crew of six…three sailors, a mate, cook and captain. She could carry 85 ton in her hold and she drew eight feet of water.'"

I hope that settles the issue. The sinking and raising of the Paragon is a story that Ocracokers have passed from one generation to the next for a century and a half.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Ocracoke and the "Lost" Colony. You can read it here:


  1. Sounds legit to me.

  2. Anonymous8:32 AM

    Very nice of you to give your time to answer "doubting Thomas or Thomasina." As for me, I trust that you have thoroughly researched any information you give before you post it.

  3. Anonymous8:55 AM


    You and your readers might find the photos on really awesome go to fish reports and click cool photos from calo. They are from the mid 70,s and really nice shots.


  4. debbie s.3:01 PM

    ahhh before technology was ingenuity ;)

  5. Anonymous10:41 PM

    Paul Harvey would be proud ...

  6. Anonymous7:38 AM

    Appreciate the report, Philip, though the description "They had to pontoon her with barrels until her decks were above water,"while conjuring a vague sense of the process, still leaves one wondering, Just how the heck do you do that?!?

    Thanks, as always.

  7. Anonymous7:57 AM

    Anon - you evidently have not spent much time on Ocracoke or know many real islanders. To live there you must be able to make due with what you have at hand. Ingenuity was invented there!

  8. Anon 7:38 -- I am no expert on using pontoons to raise a sunken vessel, but the way I understand the process is that barrels were placed alongside the Paragon and submerged by filling them with water. The barrels on one side were fastened together with ropes or chains running under the boat to the barrels on the other side of the vessel. Or maybe, if it was not possible to get ropes or chains under the ship, the barrels might be fastened to cleats on the deck. Then air was pumped out of the barrels. Once the deck reached the surface, the vessel could be raised by pumping the water out of the hull. I am sure it was a difficult and time-consumning task (the pumping and other work was done by hand), but it would have been worth the effort.

  9. Anonymous9:41 AM

    For some more interesting stuff--just google- James Horatio Williams

  10. Anonymous10:24 AM

    The method of using pontoons is described in the book "The romance of modern exploration:
    with descriptions of curious customs, thrilling adventures and interesting discoveries of explorers in all parts of the world" by Archibald Williams, published in 1908. See this link: (at google books, so it's safe).
    Thanks, Philip, for your daily glimpses of life on Ocracoke, roaming through time. :-)

  11. I just re-read my 8:40 am comment. I meant to say "Then WATER was pumped out of the barrels," not "Then air was pumped out of the barrels."

  12. Anonymous12:01 PM

    Who is Paul Harvey?

  13. Anonymous3:07 PM

    Paul Harvey --

  14. Anonymous3:41 PM

    Hi Philip - your description of the raising of the Paragon was exactly the same as the story told to me by my grandfather, James Horation Williams, Jr. Please give my love to Blanche. I miss you and the island. Nora