Thursday, August 13, 2015

What Was I Thinking?

I met Katie & Kendall after our Ghost & History Walk two weeks ago. Katie's s great-great grandfather, William Toler (born 1830) had lived on Ocracoke. He was lost at sea in 1888. A grave marker was erected in the family cemetery. His daughter, Lettie, married a man from Swan Quarter, and the family soon moved off the island.

Katie and her daughter Kendall, who live in Currituck, NC, asked me if I knew where William Toler's grave was. After a bit of research I felt sure I knew where he was buried. I'd been there before. "It is back in the woods, far from the paved road," I told them, "but if you would like to see it, I will take you there." They readily agreed, and we met the next morning at 9 am.

The path to the graveyard was much more overgrown than the last time I had been there. There was hardly even a path. We stepped off the pavement, and almost immediately found ourselves chest deep in thick marsh grasses. Soon enough the path disappeared completely, and we entered a dense thicket of myrtles, vines, thorns, and other vegetation. Our way was repeatedly blocked by fallen trees, heavy, low-hanging branches, and lush patches of poison ivy. Eventually we stumbled upon a timy Scarborough family cemetery. There was no fence, just a few stone markers in what was once a small clearing. This was not the graveyard we were looking for.

I almost despaired of ever again finding William Toler's grave, but I persevered. Pushing through more tangles of vines and thorns, I made several false starts, only to find my way blocked. Finally I made a bit of headway, and spied a short portion of an old wooden fence. Other sections had rotted away at the base, and had fallen on the ground. Nearby were several stone markers. This was what we were seeking. I called back to Katy and Kendall who were making slower progress.

Gingerly stepping over roots, dead branches, sharp thorns, and poison ivy, the two women entered the graveyard. William Toler's gravestone was on the edge of a dense thicket, and badly weathered. We took a couple of photos since Katy & Kendall doubted they would ever venture back there again.















The headstone reads: "To the Memory of William Toler Born Feb. 28, 1830 Drowned at Sea Aug. 30, 1888  Our home is lonely without you."


















We couldn't find the same way back out to our car, so we struggled through more underbrush, thorns, wet bogs, tall grass, and thick vines. In spite of the difficulties, Katy and Kendall thanked me for leading them to their ancestor's gravestone (we didn't mention snakes or ticks until we were back to the pavement!). Katy and Kendall will return home with stories of an adventure And they visited a part of Ocracoke seldom seen by visitors or even residents.

Back home I wiped the dozens of scratches on my legs with rubbing alcohol, showered thoroughly to wash away the dirt, grime, and poison ivy oils, then re-treated my wounded legs with more rubbing alcohol. Next time I plan to wear blue jeans!

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter tells the delightful story of the 19th century "Stovepipe Hat" wreck. It has been told for years in books & magazines, but it probably never happened. You can read the story (and my research) here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news072115.htm.

17 comments:

  1. It would be wonderful for the OPS to find and clean these old grave sites.

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    1. It would take some serious dedication (as well as time and money) to clear the graves and repair the fences. There are more than 80 cemeteries on Ocracoke. I will bring it up at the next OPS Exec. Comm. Mtg.

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  2. You, sir, did an awesome thing! What a wonderful labor of love! One of my relations died on Ocracoke, though, he had been imprisoned there by the British during the war of 1812... and... I would need to talk to my Uncle regarding any more particulars. One day I think the 2 of us are going to try and get to the bottom of that story to add it to our family tree... I... won't request a traipse through the woods, though... ;-)

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  3. Anonymous9:24 AM

    Next time you need to weigh in with your readers before you do something like this--- we will encourage you and make helpful suggestions ie, long pants, bug spray, dust off your orienteering skills, put a geo- cache at the tombstone, take a GPS reading at the grave site with your app that you downloaded to allow for such things etc etc etc. Hope this helps.

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    1. Good advice...especially the long pants and GPS reading. What was I thinking?

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  4. Anonymous11:56 PM

    Perhaps my fact finding class... according to the Find a Grave web site-- if it is to be believed, the grave is located at Latitude 35.12201 Longitude 75.97939. Now with so many interactive maps and the like google Earth yadayada maybe you can somehow verify this. Now where are your blue jeans, and why not wait till it is a bit cooler and less bugs about. Hope this helps.

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  5. Anonymous12:07 AM

    oops. it is -75.97939 and there is a Lat and Long. site to show on a map. it even lets you move the red thing to generate new coordinates, my goodness the things people spend their time writing code for us to explore.

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    1. I can't find William Toler's grave on Find a Grave web site. What is the URL you were looking at?

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  6. Anonymous10:34 AM

    I went to the Find a grave official site. Then on the right hand list of choices-- search 132 million graves, then I clicked on that and a form popped up and I filled in the name and dates you mentioned -- now at the find a grave form , the url is www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi ----- hope this helps

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    1. Thank you. It was easy to locate. However, I did not see GPS coordinates. The photo on the site is the same picture as I have on this blog. William Toler's gr-gr-granddaughter, Katie, must have posted it.

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  7. Anonymous12:38 PM

    Now --once you are at the find a grave results-- it mentions O-Neal cemetery it is highlighted in blue so one clicks on the highlighted name--- it goes to a link which has a tab for a map so click on map tab and it brings up a link to a map hope this helps. May the force be with you, live long and prosper, don't be afraid to click on things in blue highlights, dare to click on where others have clicked. Hope this helps.

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    1. Thanks. I missed the "map" tab. The coordinates and the marker show the cemetery out in the Sound. I should have gotten the true coordinates when I was there. Maybe next time.

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    2. Anonymous10:29 AM

      Another method to consider, If one googles the LatLong.net page it is a bit of fun. I searched for OI and the 35 -75 coordinates-- a map with the red mark displayed, then one can move the mark and register new coordinates to correspond to the new location! Hope this helps.

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  8. Anonymous2:42 PM

    Philip--
    You mentioned Swan Quarter above so on that thin thread I will hang my question: why does Swan Quarter, the county seat, seem so, um, not lively?

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    1. The mainland part of our county (Hyde) is mostly farms.Swan Quarter is the county seat. There aren't many small businesses there, and, although there has been some effort to attract tourists, that appeal is mainly limited to camping, kayaking, and canoeing. Maybe folks on Ocracoke are more open to change and innovation (with a corresponding healthy respect for history and tradition). Just a thought.

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  9. Anonymous8:25 AM

    Why's Swan Quarter not so lively? Compared to Ocracoke? Two words: No ocean.

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  10. Anonymous2:31 PM

    Thank you again Philip! Kendall and I enjoyed our visit. What a great adventure! Thanks, Katy

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