Monday, October 17, 2011

History & Stories

I recently had the following question re. my post about the Spanish Raids in 1741-1748:  "Phillip, where do you get your information?"

My personal library includes more than 4 dozen books dedicated to history and stories about Ocracoke and the Outer Banks. In addition, I have accumulated numerous journals, pamphlets, doctoral dissertations, magazine articles, school yearbooks, newspaper stories, etc. I also have file drawers filled with snippets of paper, charts, maps, genealogical trees, and notes I keep while chatting with neighbors and relatives. Of course, I also have access to the Ocracoke room at our local library. It has many North Carolina reference books as well as old scrapbooks filled with photos, newspaper articles, letters, etc. The Preservation Society library also has an extensive collection of books, articles, and vintage photos.

Sometimes I use the Internet to research island history. This is especially useful when island history is part of a larger story (e.g. the Doxsee Clam factory, the life of Sam Jones, or the career of General Ira T. Wyche...see our Ocracoke Newsletters for more information).

Occasionally I discover mistakes and inaccuracies in my sources. Here are four examples:
  • One excellent book of local island history states that "approximately twenty-five surfmen" manned the nineteenth century life saving station on Ocracoke near Hatteras Inlet. In fact, life saving stations were manned by one keeper and six to eight surfmen. Because the surfmen typically brought their wives and children to live near the station there were probably about twenty-five people in a small community near the station, but only six to eight surfmen. This mistake probably resulted from a misunderstanding of a local informant.
  • A recently published book identifies the ship Blackbeard was captain of when he was killed at Ocracoke as the Revenge. Blackbeard's flagship was the Queen Anne's Revenge, but he scuttled her prior to his final battle. At one time another ship called the Revenge (originally captained by gentleman pirate Stede Bonnet) was among his flotilla. But Blackbeard's last ship, the one he was on during his final battle, was the Adventure.
  • The US Lighthouse Service specified a recipe for the whitewash used on lighthouses. A number of Internet sites list one of the ingredients as "one half pound of powdered Spanish whiting (fish)". Spanish makerel is a fish, as is whiting...but Spanish whiting is calcium carbonate (lime)...not fish!
  • My own book, Digging up Uncle Evans, includes a village map that shows the Big Gut, the Little Gut, and the old wooden bridges. I was relying on the memory and descripion of the guts and bridges by older residents. Just last year I discovered a 1939 US Corps of Engineers Survey map of Silver Lake Harbor. It clearly shows the configuration of the guts and bridges. I discovered that my map is close to being accurate...but not quite!
There are many vaulable sources for Ocracoke history, stories, and information...but be aware. Not all of the information is accurate. As you can see, we all make mistakes occasionally.

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


  1. Thanks again Phillip. You need to open up your own local library.

  2. Philip, care to make a recommendation or two?

  3. Anonymous12:47 PM

    A mistake is just one step closer to getting it right.

  4. David Stick's "The Outer Banks of North Carolina, 1584-1958" is a wonderful resource in spite of being more than 50 years old.

    Alton Ballance's "Ocracokers" is a well written collection of island history, stories, and personal observations.

    Other books are generally more specific. If you want recommendations for information about shipwrecks, the US Life Saving Service, Blackbeard, slavery, or any other subject, let me know. I'll help if I can.

  5. Anonymous3:11 PM

    Philip--Although I totally agree with your recommendations, you did neglect to mention "Digging Up Uncle Evans." I learned a good bit of OI history from that very humble author.

  6. Kevin4:28 PM

    Thank you, Philip. I just found the David Stick book at the used book store down the street. Also picked up a copy of _Ocracoke Wild_, as well as a copy of _Ocracoke Its History and People_, which you did not recommend, but heck, it was $5 and right around the corner. As a bonus, I also picked up a copy of Annie Dillard's _A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek_, which is one of my favorite books, but I am always giving it away and never seem to have a copy on hand.

  7. Thank you for the plug. I do have quite a bit of island history in my book...but I was trying to be humble. :)

  8. Kevin4:41 AM

    Had to order that one. You have not made it into the used book store circuit, Philip.