Following are the number of fishermen listed in the census records on Ocracoke for the years 1850 - 1880:
- 1850............5 fishermen living on Ocracoke
- 1860............1 fisherman living on Ocracoke
- 1870..........16 fishermen living on Ocracoke
- 1880..........32 fishermen living on Ocracoke
But what accounts for the increase in fishermen in 1870 and 1880? The short answer is oysters. In 1858 the North Carolina state assembly, responding to an increase in harvesting oysters on a commercial level, passed a law establishing a procedure to create private oyster beds in coastal Carolina waters. Oyster harvesting became such an important economic enterprise in Pamlico Sound that it led to what became known as the 1890 "Ocracoke Oyster War" (see our account here).
The number of watermen remained steady for several decades. Census records for 1890 have not survived, but 35 fishermen are listed in the 1900 census. Again, harvesting shellfish accounts for this number. In 1897 James Harvey Doxsee moved his commercial clam canning operation from New York to Ocracoke Island. Local watermen were now harvesting clams.
In 1938 Ocracoke village was electrified, and an ice plant was established. At about the same time islanders began converting their sail skiffs to gas boats. Commercial fishing blossomed. Today Ocracoke is home to two fish houses and several dozen full- or part-time commercial fishermen and fisherwomen.
This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about Old Christmas in Rodanthe. You can read it here: https://www.villagecraftsmen.com/old-christmas-rodanthe/.