Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On This Date...

...in 1889 the steamship "Pioneer" wrecked on Ocracoke beach.

It is an interesting wreck because, unlike most commercial vessels of the time which hauled lumber, molasses, rum, or some other single commodity, the "Pioneer" was carrying general cargo. The following (unattributed) article was written some years later:

"It was like manna from heaven when the vessel 'Pioneer,' a heavily loaded wooden freight steamer, was wrecked off Ocracoke in a violent storm back in August, 1920 [actually it was October 14, 1889, as I know for certain from my great-grandfather's shipwreck report, and from other reliable sources].

"Everything from Bibles to cabbages floated ashore. Hams, bananas, barrels of flour, casks of alcohol, bladders filled with snuff and a great deal of canned food came into the Island, which was flooded by the tide, and everywhere folks were knee-deep in water sweeping up valuable debris as things washed by them.

"One old fellow threw away his old shoes when he spied a new pair drifting toward him, only to find the new ones were both for the same foot. One woman gathered up enough bladders of snuff to fill a barrel which she proudly kept upstairs in her house for all to marvel at. She happily contemplated a future with a plenteous supply of snuff.

"The entire crew of the 'Pioneer' was saved, and they joined the islanders in rescuing the cargo. 'Come on over to my house--there's plenty to eat' was the cry of the generous native to any stranger around, for the wrecked cargo had yielded more than enough to supply the island with a day's rations.

"The late Theodore S. Meekins, prominent Manteo real estate and insurance man, saw the wreck of the 'Pioneer' and remembered these incidents concerning it. He believed the 'Pioneer' was the last wooden steam vessel seen in these parts, and when it hit it went into pieces and sank almost immediately. The ship struck during the daytime and was plainly visible from the shore. The observers on shore could see the boat break into pieces and disappear into a raging sea.

"Mr. Meekins recalled the auction held in connection with that part of the cargo not taken by the natives during the storm. There were only two magistrates on Ocracoke and both were fighting each other for the privilege of selling the cargo. A 50-gallon container of alcohol to be auctioned off had been considerably decreased by the frequent visits of natives down to take a little drink or two.

"Finally, a few days before the auction, Captain Jim Howard stopped them by planting himself firmly on top of the barrel and guarding it with his life. When the barrel was brought up for sale at the auction Captain Jim was astride it, and he was sold with the barrel. He bought it himself for five dollars.

"So keen was the auction that one barrel of flour brought six dollars. And after the sale the strangers who had come down to Ocracoke for the auction were treated grandly by the natives before time to depart."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is about the Unionist North Carolina State Government established at Hatteras in 1861. You can read all about it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news092114.htm.  


  1. Anonymous5:41 PM

    speaking of storms...did anyone claim responsibility in leaving the sail on the Wilma Lee during the July storm. This is basic seamanship 101...sails left out on a boom is a major NO. I was just wondering if anyone owned up. It seems like this event has been whitewashed.

    1. My understanding is that the damage to the Wilma Lee, which belongs to Ocracoke Alive and is the responsibility of their Board of Directors, has been thoroughly investigated. Even the Hyde County Emergency Management Team did not anticipate a storm of that magnitude, which is why they did not call for an evacuation. I am sure that the officers of Ocracoke Alive have learned from this experience, and preparations in the future will certainly reflect that learning.

      Ocracoke Alive hopes to have the Wilma Lee back in Ocracoke in a couple of weeks, repaired and ready to sail. They greatly appreciate everyone's concern and the support they've gotten from the community.

      I am sure the Board of Directors of Ocracoke Alive (http://www.ocracokealive.org/) will be happy to answer any further questions.

  2. Anonymous4:55 PM

    gee, my original comment above sounds kinda rough. sorry it sounded that way..that's what happens when you are in a hurry and type before you gather your thoughts. besides the story sounds different on the news here, (charlotte) than it is locally. as Paul Harvey use to talk about - thanks for the rest of the story. THANKS PHILIP.