Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Old Parker

In his book, Ocracoke Island: Pearl of the Outer Banks, Ocracoke native Cecil S. Bragg, tells the story of Wilson (Wilse) Jackson (1887-1974) when he shipped out on the William T. Parker, a three-masted, three-topmast schooner in 1907. Soon after departure, bound for New York City, Wilse said the wind "was blowing so hard it would take six old women to hold a sheepskin over a gimlet hole."

Wilse relates how the Old Parker "lunged and pitched and rolled in the heavy seas. Her bow would come up out of the water snapping the chains taut and threatening to tear out the hawseholes.
For five days they battled the sea.

"On the fifth day we thought the vessel was a goner and all hands with her. The wind was at its peak when the biggest wave began to make. It rolled toward us, gaining size by gathering to it the seas it overtook. It grew larger and larger as though intending to finish what the wind had begun.

"...Up, up and up it reared, until its crest towered above the 'old girl's' bowsprit in awesome green might.

"All hands were lashed to life lines. The ship had just buried her bow in the sea in front of the mountain of water that was rushing at her. She couldn't lift from the suction that had her under water to the cathead. The towering wave curled under and broke in a deluge of pent-up fury.

"The crippled vessel was swamped and helpless under tons of swirling water that swept her from stem to stern. We were nearly drowned before the sea cleared our decks. When we could see the vessel through the clashing water, a shambles greeted us."

In spite of the beating, the Old Parker survived, and made it to New York.

Wilse described his first visit to the city: "I went ashore with Captain Monroe, and gaped at the tall buildings, staring at the strange sights. I bumped into people. I felt the old navigator's eyes on me.

"'Dag-nab-it, Wilse Jackson.' he said, 'pull your eyes in. They're sticking out so far I could stand on one and saw the other off. You act so dad-blame green if there were any cows around they would eat you for grass.' He was glad to get me back aboard ship."


-- A gimlet is a small tool for hand drilling holes in wood (see photo below).

-- hawseholes are holes in the hull of a ship through which the hawsers (thick rope used for mooring) or chains are passed.

-- a cathead is a heavy wooden beam projecting from the side of the bow, and used to support the anchor.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of slavery on Ocracoke. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous9:25 AM

    Pure entertainment greeted me this morning when I visited your blog, Philip. What a marvelous and grand tale of the dangerous voyage taken by those brave passengers on the William T. Parker vessel over 100 years ago.

    My hands and feet started perspiring as I imagined the huge, unrentless waves battering the wooden boat. My heart raced and my body became tense just imagining the chaos. Of course, I had to chuckle at the description of the "six old women" and then once all arrived in NYC, Wilse's honest fascination with the tall city buildings.

    "Dag-nab-it" what a great story! This Person county, NC mainlander must read it again!

  2. great story

  3. Anonymous2:18 PM

    I guess he was telling him to take off his bedroom slippers and stop complaining --- put on your marching shoes

  4. Anonymous2:40 PM

    Stand on one, saw off the other? So green as to eat for grass. OMG, I HOL'ed (HAH!ed out loud!) What evocative writing. And what wonderful perspective on life, hardship, and simple wonderment.

    Always, ALWAYS a pleasure, Philip.


  5. Kevin6:38 PM

    "The Old Parker" would be a great name for a whiskey.

    A fine story!

  6. Anonymous8:36 AM

    Of my 4 years in the US Navy, 2 were spent on a wooden ocean going minesweeper, homeported in Long Beach, CA. The highlight of the second year was a WestPac cruise. Stops at Honolulu, Johnston Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Guam, Subic Bay, PI, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and back. We had a top speed of 13 knots, but usually cruised at 11 knots. We were chased by 3 typhoons on our crossings, and sailed into the teeth of one when leaving Hong Kong. "Green" water over the radar platform was not a wonderful experience, but like a good cork, we just bobbed up and kept on going. Don't want to experience anything like that again.

  7. Kevin9:45 PM

    More about the William T. Parker here:

    "A couple of other remains are squeezed in alongside the Dover and the Ashland.

    Foremost among them is the William T. Parker, the Flying Dutchman of Baltimore. The Parker, a three-masted schooner built in 1891, was stranded in 1899, disabled in 1908 and finally abandoned off the Outer Banks during a storm in 1915, according to Mr. Keith.

    From there -- without a soul aboard -- it drifted all the way to Maine and then back down the coast, before a tug finally corraled it and brought it in. It was rammed by a steamer in the Chesapeake in 1935. It was used as a watchman's house in Curtis Creek until another steamer rammed it again, practically breaking it in two."

  8. Kevin, thanks for the info about the William T. Parker! I didn't know that story. I'll add it to my collection.

  9. Kevin8:52 PM

    Philip, I am happy to be of service, but you know--this is just another instance of what you put out into the world coming back to you.

    One of the first things I did when I returned to Durham was look up the SS Home on the 'net. About six hours later I came up for air, in the South Pacific, near Guadalcanal, after exploring "Ironbottom Sound." One thing leads to another on the 'net!

    So you know, from here on out I think I will probably just make it a point to always follow up on the name of any ship, just to see where it might lead. That's what I was doing the other night when I discovered that story about the Old Parker. Ghost walk comes back to haunt!

    (BTW, Wikipedia has the Home running aground "off Hatteras," and lists coordinates that are just plain wrong.