Monday, January 21, 2019

Population 492

On August 3, 1940, the Saturday Evening Post published an article about the Outer Banks titled "Cape Stormy" by Aycock Brown. Here is an excerpt:

"Suppose you were looking for the most remote, least visited inhabited spot in the United States east of the Mississippi. My nomination would be the Carolina Outer Banks….

"…From [Roanoke Island] south there are no roads. You can travel by boat. The beach is one long landing field. You may even drive, if you know the trick of getting through deep and treacherous sand, or ride the daily station-wagon stage which struggles through the sand from Manteo to Hatteras, there connecting with a ferry to Ocracoke Island [Brown must have been writing about a passenger boat; the first car ferry I know about commenced operation about 1950]. You may, but very few do it, and so Hatteras and Ocracoke are what is known as unspoiled.

"There are half a dozen villages on Hatteras with 1154 persons in all, by the 1940 census, the one village of Ocracoke, on the island of that name, population 492. The only other settlement south of Roanoke Island is the dying village of Portsmouth, on Core Banks, which once was to have been a great port. The Banks are the only region in the United States where no license is required for an automobile, North Carolina never having spent any of its road funds there."


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Monday, January 14, 2019


My daughter, Amy, recently found these almost 43-year-old snapshots in an old photo album, and sent them to me. They were taken in April of 1976 aboard the 73-foot, two-masted clipper schooner, Mary E. Most of the people in the top picture are Ocracoke High School students. That is me, Philip Howard, in the bottom photo.

As part of the 1976 Bicentennial Sail jointly sponsored by the National Park Service and "Sea Ventures," a New Jersey-based educational organization, the Mary E (she was built in 1906) was being used as learning motivation for students in schools near various East Coast Parks.

In April of that year, bound for Manteo, the Mary E made a stop at Ocracoke and was detained by bad weather for several days. While on Ocracoke Meryl Silverstein, the onboard educator, first mate, cook and deckhand, made arrangements for Ocracoke students to inspect the ship. But instead of giving them the usual 20-minute program, Capt. Teddy Charles invited them to sail to Manteo, 70 miles north. Within two hours, 13 Ocracoke high school students, three adult supervisors, Silverstein and the skipper were sailing out of the harbor with excited parents, friends and teachers waving.

You can read the history (and current location) of the Mary E here:

And you can read about the skipper, Capt. Teddy Charles, sailor and influential jazz musician, here:

Maybe some of our local readers can identify the students in the top photo (I can only recognize a few!). Please leave a comment if you can.


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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Loaf, Swim, & Fish

The following is from a June 10, 1955, Collier’s article titled “20 New Budget Vacations” by Norman D. Ford:

 “If you’ve ever yearned for an escapist isle peopled by descendants of shipwrecked sailors, where life moves with the tides and time has stood still for the better part of a century, head for Atlantic, North Carolina. Garage your car ($5 a week) and take the daily boat to Ocracoke Island. Three hours later you bump alongside a jostling shrimp-boat fleet and clamber ashore in a new world of Elizabethan English, rolling porpoises, barefooted bankers, lighthousekeepers, skeletons of once proud ships and 16 miles of almost deserted beach.

Wreck of the Carroll A. Deering (Courtesy, M.R. Dixon)

"Beside the harbor, fishermen’s white homes rise picturesquely from the live oak and yaupon. Among them are small lodges, hotels and cottages. But there is no jail, no police officer, no bar, and you cannot buy a drink. What you can do is loaf, swim, fish (best channel-bass fishing in the Atlantic), clam, crab, slide down majestic sand dunes and explore wrecked ships. Don’t go with advance cottage reservations –accommodation is limited – and bring your own linen."

Friday, January 04, 2019

You Got to Go Out

I have frequently written about Outer Banks shipwrecks and the brave men of the United States Life-Saving Service.

The following excerpt from a 1941 Newspaper article relates one of the most widely acknowledged illustrations of the dedication of the US lifesavers.

“There are thirteen [Coast Guard] stations from the Virginia line to Beaufort; and there were twenty up to 1931. To be a great surfman, the natives agree, is the ultimate test of a man. In good weather and bad surfmen patrol the beach nightly, like sentries walking posts. It takes courage and knowing how, to walk this beach in a howling nor’easter with hissing storm tide threatening to sweep across the Banks into the sound, opening great gullies in their paths. It takes nine giants to launch a 3000-pound lifeboat through brawling breakers; brawn and skill, too, where the least hesitation might slam the heavy boat down upon their broken bodies.

“It was the Banks which gave the Service [formerly the United States Life-Saving Service, now the US Coast Guard] its unofficial watchword. One night when a vessel was breaking up on the outer reef at Hatteras and a crew was preparing to launch its surfboat, a rookie turned to the bos’n, saying: ‘I believe we can get out there, cap’n, but I don’t believe we ever could get back.’ “The bos’n spat away from the wind. ‘Don’t fret about that, Bub,’ he answered. ‘All the regulations say is we got to go out there. The regulations don’t say a damn thing about having to come back.’”

Friday, December 14, 2018

To All of our Faithful Readers

During the last fifteen years I have written and published more than 4,500 articles on this site celebrating Ocracoke Island history, culture, traditions, and people. It has been a labor of love for this special place. Now it is time to take a rest.

I will no longer be publishing blog posts five days per week. I may occasionally post stories or interesting island historical facts as they occur to me. To be notified when I publish a post simply add your email address in the box at the top right and click "submit."

Also, all past posts will remain in the archives. Simply click on any year in the archives to find posts that you may have missed or have forgotten about.

It has been a joy and a pleasure to share so many fascinating stories with interested visitors, Ocracoke residents, and native islanders. I extend my heartfelt thanks to all of our faithful readers. I hope this blog has enriched your understanding of Ocracoke Island, and helped connect you with the fascinating and colorful history that makes our community so special.

Be sure to follow Village Craftsmen on Facebook. Our Facebook page will continue to share island news, photos, stories, and information about storms and hurricanes as they unfold.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Richard S. Spofford

On December 27, 1894, the three-masted schooner Richard S. Spofford wrecked at Ocracoke. The 488-ton vessel was built in 1890 at Newburyport, MA. She had sailed from Boston, MA, on December 22, en route to Darien, GA, under the command of Captain Richard R. Hawes with a crew of seven.

On the day after Christmas, after passing Cape Hatteras, the Spofford encountered gale force winds that quickly increased to hurricane strength. At 3:30 a.m. the next day the ship struck on the shoals just offshore of Ocracoke village. When her centerboard became wedged in the sand, the schooner swung around like a weather vane, leaving the vessel at the mercy of the storm.

The Spofford was named for Richard S. Spofford, (1833-1888), Boston lawyer and sometime author

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a chapter from Philip Howard's book, Digging up Uncle Evans, about the 1837 wreck of the Steamboat Home, one of the most horrific wrecks ever on the North Carolina coast. You can read it here:

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Sheltering Cedar

Anne Runyon has a long and passionate connection to Ocracoke Island. Her father, Charles, discovered this special place in the 1950s, and Anne's mother, Robbie, and Charles bought an historic home some years later. They made Ocracoke their permanent home at retirement. Anne spent many pleasant times visiting her parents here.

In 2007 Anne wrote a delightful holiday children's book, The Sheltering Cedar, based on her love of Ocracoke. 

A sturdy tree shelters small animals during a storm on Christmas Eve, allowing peace and joy to reign as the tempest clears. Filled with beautiful illustrations of birds, animals, water, and sky, The Sheltering Cedar is a gift of nature, illuminating and delightful. For ages 3-7.

Eileen Heyes, author of the O'Dwyer and Grady mysteries reviewed the book: "To say The Sheltering Cedar is a lovely book doesn't do it justice. The spare, evocative text and warm, detailed watercolors bespeak Anne Runyon's love for Ocracoke Island. She knows this special place well, has studied its intricately balanced ecosystem with all her senses and now takes the rest of us there with all her heart. The quiet story of a coastal tree sheltering wildlife from a Christmas Eve storm will be bedtime favorite for toddlers, while the author's explanatory note and activities will make this a fun addition to school libraries and classrooms. 

Anne Marshall Runyon was born in Washington, DC. Quiet summers on Ocracoke Island nurtured a lifelong interest in the natural world. Anne studied printmaking at Carleton College, and design at the University of Minnesota. She and her family live in Garner, North Carolina. She belongs to the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Anne writes and illustrates articles for WILD Notebook, and the children's section of Wildlife in North Carolina magazine. Ms. Runyon's artwork is also featured throughout North Carolina, in many conservation publications, and in permanent environmental education exhibits. 

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a chapter from Philip Howard's book, Digging up Uncle Evans, about the 1837 wreck of the Steamboat Home, one of the most horrific wrecks ever on the North Carolina coast. You can read it here: