Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Basket Making

A reader recently posed an interesting question about traditional basket-making on Ocracoke and the Outer Banks.

An article in NCpedia asserts that “Although the fragility of basket materials means that few related artifacts still exist, the Native Americans of North Carolina's Paleo-Indian period (13,000 B.C. to 8000 B.C.) probably used baskets that they constructed from native materials for transporting items and gathering food. Archaeological evidence confirms that Indians used baskets widely in the early archaic period (8000 B.C. to 6000 B.C.)…. 

“Once crucial to the agricultural and fishing economies of North Carolina, basket making diminished in importance during the twentieth century as inexpensive and readily available galvanized buckets, plastic containers, and paper bags became popular for gathering, transporting, and storing household items.”

Although handmade baskets were surely a mainstay of the early European households on the Outer Banks, I am not aware of any Ocracoke basket-making tradition, or surviving examples of colonial Ocracoke baskets.

Unlike South Carolina, whose distinctive sweetgrass basket-making tradition came to the state in the 17th century by way of West African slaves, North Carolina’s Outer Banks never developed that tradition. Although some of the materials for South Carolina baskets (sweetgrass, bulrush, pine needles, and palmetto palm) are available along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the West African technique was never established. The dearth of other available basket-making materials, such as white oak, probably means that baskets were brought to the islands from England, other colonies, or the North Carolina mainland.

Another indication is the Last Will and Testament of William Howard, 1776-1851, (see https://villagecraftsmen.blogspot.com/2017/03/last-will-and-testament.html). It lists kitchen furniture, livestock, boats, money, and land…but no baskets.

The only island handmade basket from earlier than the twentieth century that I am aware of is the one carried by midwife Esther Gaskins O’Neal (“Aunt Hettie Tom,” 1822-1899) and nurse Elsie Garrish (1915-2003) but I do not know if it was woven on Ocracoke or elsewhere. Perhaps one of our local readers has more information. 

Elsie Garrish with Basket

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is my analysis of a sentence penned by surveyor Jonathan Price in 1795. The sentence reads, "Occacock was heretofore, and still retains the name of, an island. It is now a peninsula; a heap of sand having gradually filled up the space which divided it from the bank."  You can read my analysis here: https://www.villagecraftsmen.com/description-occacock-1795/

1 comment:

  1. Debbie Leonard10:52 AM

    I don't know about the past history on the island but I know that now island basket makers use grasses and native cedar in their baskets.