Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Elisha Ballance

Yesterday afternoon I stopped by Blanche's to sit on her porch and visit for about an hour. In the course of the conversation I asked her to share a story I'd heard before. It concerns her great grandfather, Elisha Ballance (ca. 1824 - ca. 1855).

Elisha was a schooner captain. One day he sailed home to Ocracoke after having delivered a boat load of lumber for a client. With his leather purse filled with money, he stopped at the local tavern for a few drinks. On his way home he walked down Howard Street (it was called the Main Road back then), stumbled into one of the graveyards and passed out. There he slept until morning.

At first light Elisha woke up and began crawling around on his hands and knees, searching through the grass and vines. Presently along came a black man (Blanche thinks he was one of the crew members). "Captain," the sailor said, "you don't look like you feel too good."

"No I don't," Elisha replied. "I had too much to drink last night, and passed out in this graveyard. Now I can't find my leather purse. It had the payment for that load of lumber, and now I've lost it. This is terrible."

The black man began to chuckle. "Captain," he said, holding up the purse so Elisha could see it, "I walked by here last evening and saw you lying there with this leather purse by your side. I thought someone might take it from you, so I picked it up for safekeeping. Here it is, sir."

I love this pre-Civil War story because it confirms what I understand about race relations on Ocracoke.

We know that Ocracoke was not immune to prejudice and racism. It was a southern state, after all. But, as I've written elsewhere (see, the institution of slavery, and relationships between whites and blacks on Ocracoke Island was somewhat different from the situation on large southern plantations. Coastal schooner trade led to new ways of thinking, and helped weaken the traditional boundaries between the races.

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


  1. Great story

  2. Anonymous10:31 AM

    It is a wonderful story.

  3. debbie s.10:36 AM

    great story and true to all the o'cokers I know - good, honest, hardworking folks ... then and now :)

  4. Anonymous11:41 AM

    Well, I find it interesting that the identity of the hero of the story is kind of fuzzy. maybe a crew member. Also, the captain died young, only 31 years of age-- or was this a function of a stressful job or a tendency to bend the elbow. A story about the captain's carelessness with the funds is curious. Was the crew member promoted to first mate or chief burser? Would the census data from that time period help to identify the most likeky candidates of who was on the ships crew or would it be the Captains log? Also please note the 1940 census data is now available 1940 yes the history carting folks are excited.

  5. Anonymous5:35 PM

    NC Mainlander says, in a word, OUTSTANDING!!!!!!