Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Most of us, when we hear the word "distemper," think of an infectious disease that afflicts dogs. Canine distemper is caused by an unidentified virus that manifests in lethargy, fever, excessive discharge of mucus in the nose & throat, intolerance of light, and vomiting.

But, if you happen to pay a visit to the Ocracoke Health Clinic, you may hear an older island native in the waiting area comment that he or she is there to see the doctor for distemper. Knowing the local doctor is not a veterinarian, you finally figure out that the person sitting next to you is talking about his/her own illness.

"Distemper" is an eighteenth century word that simply meant any illness or disease. While the definition of the word has been narrowed today to refer almost exclusively to an illness afflicting dogs (and sometimes cats and horses), a few old-time Ocracokers still use the word in its older, more general sense.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is an article by island resident, Crystal Canterbury, about her very first visit to Portsmouth Village, on the last day of 2014. You can read Part I here:


  1. Anonymous8:51 AM

    would any of these folks inclined to use the word distemper have any childhood recollections of the stories told regarding the hub bub about the Wright bros. and their visit to Kitty hawk?? Is there any oral history recordings of locals recalling the historic vsitt to Kitty Hawk? . Was Kitty Hawk a world away back in the day on OI?

    1. I have never heard about any contemporary Ocracoke islanders' reactions to the Wright Brothers' first powered flight in 1903. I think you are right...Kitty Hawk was a world away. However, back in the 1970s the Ocracoke school principal mentioned to me that he knew an old-timer in Kitty Hawk, one of the five people who had witnessed the flight. I asked him if, at that time, the person realized the significance of what he was seeing. The principal said he doubted he fully realized the significance seventy years later!