Thursday, January 26, 2017

Branch Pilots

In 1715 the North Carolina Colonial Assembly passed an act to settle pilots at Ocracoke Inlet. The pilots' task was to guide ships through Ocracoke Inlet and across the bar in order to bring vessels safely into Pamlico Sound. Islanders who knew the waters well were granted licenses or certificates of competency, known as branches. These individuals (there was at least one woman) were known as Branch Pilots.

There was fierce competition among the pilots to be the first to reach a sailing vessel (and thus to receive payment for their services). Pilots operated in pairs. One would climb high up in a tree looking for a sail on the horizon. The other had the pilot boat ready to launch.

A depiction of the small settlement on Shell Castle Island (between Ocracoke and Portsmouth) includes an unusual object, a tall pole with steps carved in it, and a ring at the top. This was used by pilot lookouts since there were no trees on Shell Castle.

Once the ship was reached, and the islander's services secured, the vessel was piloted through the inlet and over the bar. After the ship entered the deeper water of Pamlico Sound the pilot was picked up by his companion in the pilot boat.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is Ellen Marie Cloud's first person account of the "Great Ocracoke Lighthouse Windows Heist." You can read it here:

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