Friday, January 20, 2012

Shell Pile

John Williams purchased one half of Ocracoke Island in September of 1759. As late as the twentieth century it was said that you could still see John Williams' shell pile near where the Thurston House Bed & Breakfast is today.

Nearly everyone on Ocracoke has a shell pile, mostly of clam shells. Sometimes the shells are placed around the base of fig trees and other vegetation. The shells might also be used to harden a sandy lane, or line a drain field for a septic system. But mostly they are just tossed into a pile in the yard.

This is a photo of one of my shell piles:

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Ocracoke Joe Bell flowers. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous10:21 AM

    Speaking of shells...I have always wondered how Shell Castle Island got it's name. I could find very little on the web. Was it really composed of mainly shells--are there any remains--was there ever a castle? So many questions--perhaps in a future newsletter?

  2. Those look like they are mostly clam shells - at least they don't look like the oyster shells we shared last week!

  3. I often wonder, living in the Ohio Valley as we do, what future generations will think when digging on our property they find our huge stash of shells. Will the think our land was once near the ocean?
    Of course I know better but it kind of tickles my foolish side to think its possible that someone will.

  4. Anonymous9:46 PM

    Almost 9 hours from Ocracoke, high up on the first high mountain ridge since the Atlantic Ocean, is located a similar pile. Most of the shells are from Ocracoke, some brought up by our mutual friend David S. We have a pet cemetery, near by, couple of years ago when we were burying my nieces & nephew’s dog, I turned around and they had gone to the pile in the edge of the woods and brought shells to put around the grave. Like Toni from Ohio, 100 years from now shells will be found around here also. - Take Care, Nollie - Mtns of NC

  5. Anon 10:21 -- I think your basic questions are answered in my September 21, 2011 Ocracoke Newsletter, "Slavery on Ocracoke."

    The most thorough research on Shell Castle Island that I know of is a 2000 master's thesis (East Carolina University, Department of History) by Phillip Horne McGuinn, U.S. Naval Reserve, Public Affairs Officer, entitled, "SHELL CASTLE, A NORTH CAROLINA ENTREPôT, 1789-1820: A HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION."

    Unfortunately it is not in print, and I do not have a copy. It would be a wonderful addition to the Ocracoke Preservation Society library. Perhaps one of our readers can get a copy and donate it to OPS!

  6. Anonymous10:31 PM

    Philip--You really outdid yourself on that particular newsletter. Thank you for your response. It was well worth a second read. In fact I just bookmarked it.