Monday, February 26, 2018

Wreck Masters & Vendues

About a week and a half ago a reader left this comment on our post about the Life-Saving Service: "With all these ship wrecks and saved passengers and or sailors what happened to the cargo. Who on the island benefited the most when it came to salvage rights. That is the part I find interesting, stuff washing on shore. is it up for grabs because the insurance company pays for the loss and there it is and a free for all ensues??? If it washes on shore it is not theft to remove something that does not belong to the person removing the items??"

Cargo on Shore after the 1899 Storm
Carol Cronk Cole Collection, Outer Banks History Center

I have addressed this issue in the past, but the information is worth repeating.

In the nineteenth century and early twentieth century the federal government appointed wreck masters in coastal communities. These individuals were empowered to take charge of cargo and other goods thrown on shore after a shipwreck. Of course, for generations Ocracokers and others on the isolated Outer Bankers were accustomed to salvaging whatever they could before the sea reclaimed it.

Once wreck masters were appointed, their task was to contact the shipping agent who arranged for a vendue, or auction. The vendue (an old French word) was the occasion for much excitement in coastal areas. Residents and visitors would gather around for the entertainment as much as for the opportunity to purchase items at bargain prices.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter, a newspaper article published in 1923 titled "Quaintest Town in America," provides a fascinating glimpse of Ocracoke Island life a century ago. You can read it here: .

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