Monday, August 31, 2015


Within living memory, Ocracoke Island supported a variety of free-ranging livestock. Not only horses, but also cattle, goats, and sheep roamed the island. Charles T. Williams, in his book The Kinnakeeter, writes about sheep and sheep penning on Hatteras Island. The situation on Ocracoke was similar, and I quote from Williams' account:

"Hundreds of sheep roamed this free range.... There were...large sheep pens and during the early days the word was passed 'sheep penning today' and everybody left their work and helped the sheep owners corral their sheep. [On Ocracoke the sheep pen was 'down below,' about midway of the island, so the day of sheep penning was announced days ahead. That gave everyone enough time to plan ahead, and to make their way to the pen, often by sail skiff.)

"This was the day to mark the lambs and shear the sheep. The wool was shipped to wool markets in Elizabeth City, or Norfolk, Virginia. The sheep owners reaped a handsome profit from the sale of their wool.

"Many families owned no sheep and had no wool. During the night, sheep roamed and nipped the tender leaves from low bushes and shrubbery, and would leave a large quantity of wool entangled in the shrubbery. In the early morning, the families that had no sheep would send their children through the woods picking wool from the bushes that the sheep had left during the night.

"Some older women owned old-fashioned spinning wheels. They would card and spin this wool into yarn thread on a fifty per cent basis."

Ocracoke Spinning Wheel at OPS museum

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of whale and porpoise fishing on  the Outer Banks. You can read the story here:


  1. Anonymous3:42 PM

    This is the first I've heard about sheep and wool. When you say "within living memory", are you saying your cousin Blanche remembers this?
    I'm curious, are there other living Ocracokers older than 95?

  2. I remember cows grazing on Ocracoke, and sheep too (probably there were goats, but I'm not sure about that).
    Blanche is the oldest native-born islander, but there are at least two other residents older than Blanche.

    1. Anonymous4:50 PM

      Thanks so much for your time.