It was 172 years ago yesterday that Justice of the Peace, Jacob Gaskill, and his cousin & local tavern owner, Willis Williams, were involved in an altercation on a foot bridge that spanned the "Ditch," the narrow channel that connects Cockle Creek (Silver Lake Harbor) with Pamlico Sound. When it was over Williams lay mortally wounded from a musket ball to his neck. Gaskill was tried on the mainland and convicted of "felonious slaying." His punishment was the letter "M" branded in the palm of his hand.
Many of the details of this event are lost to history, but one can't help but wonder what the dispute was about, why it escalated as it did, and what the jury learned that kept Jacob Gaskill from the gallows, convinced them to return a verdict of less than murder, and led them to impose a relatively light (light, considering the alternatives...but admittedly barbaric) punishment. We will probably never know.
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is Lou Ann's story of participating in the 2008 Christmas Bird Count on Portsmouth Island. You can read it here.
To read about Philip's new book, Digging up Uncle Evans, History, Ghost Tales, & Stories from Ocracoke Island (which includes the story of the Jacob Gaskill & Willis Williams), please click here.