Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Visitors to Ocracoke are often surprised to learn that many island families have connections with Philadelphia and the surrounding area. From the late 1800s through the middle of the 20th century most young men (usually at around 16 or 17 years of age) left Ocracoke to work up north on dredges and tugboats on the Delaware River. Initially, they worked with the American Dredging company of Camden, N.J., but soon they began joining crews on vessels of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Delaware Avenue, Philadelphia, 1905

The men reluctantly left their island home in the spring of the year, after the ice had melted on the river, and returned "as soon as they could write their name in the frost on a scow" (as Cecil Bragg reports in his book, Ocracoke Island: Pearl of the Outer Banks).

Some men married up north, and settled permanently in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Delaware. Some, like my father remained there until retirement, then moved back home to Ocracoke. Others continued to make the twice yearly trek, often working as fishing and hunting guides in Pamlico Sound in the fall and winter. A few stayed up north for only a year or two (or maybe even only a month or two) before returning home and eking out a living as best they could on the water.

By the middle of the 20th century Ocracokers witnessed many modern developments -- electricity, ferry service, paved roads, telephones, and eventually the Internet. Ocracoke was no longer an isolated community with limited economic growth. Now new opportunities were quickly opening up. The last Ocracoker I know of to go north to work in Philadelphia was born in the 1940s.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is Ellen Marie Cloud's first person account of the "Great Ocracoke Lighthouse Windows Heist." You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news012117.htm.


  1. Anonymous10:12 AM

    Visitors to Ocracoke are often surprised to learn that many island families have connections with Philadelphia ......who in the world would even bring this up??

    1. Every now and then a long-time visitor to Ocracoke discovers that many islanders have connections to the Philadelphia area. The visitors don't bring it up; it just sometimes comes up in conversation...and they are surprised. E.g. the grandmother of one of Ocracoke's native hunting guides (he is as much an O'cocker as you will find) was born in Philadelphia.

  2. Anonymous7:00 AM

    Who in the world would come to a well written, super interesting, free blog and constantly ask rude questions? If the posts bother you so much don't read them!

    Philip, you are a patient man. Thank you for the excellent blog. 99.9999% of us think its great!

    1. Thank you for the affirmations. It is nice, isn't it, that you're not assaulted by pop-up ads on this blog!