Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Frank Treat Fulcher, Seafarer & Preacher

According to the unpublished autobiography of native Ocracoke islander, Frank Treat Fulcher (1878-1971), he was “born January 25, 1878, on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.” His father was in the Life-Saving Service; his maternal grandfather was a merchant sea captain. He writes, “At ten years of age my mother let me sail with a friend of hers, a Mrs. Rose, who was captain and cook, her husband was mate, of the schooner Emiline and I was seaman third class.” Frank Treat “sailed to the various ports of Eastern Carolina” and quickly rose to the rank of seaman first class. He recounts rescuing the first mate, who seems to have had a habit of falling overboard, more than once. From the Emiline he moved on to the schooner Bessie where he learned both to cook and to “cuss a blue streak.” He was not yet eleven years old.

By the time Frank Treat turned thirteen-years-old he had sailed aboard the schooner Robert F. Bratton which almost sank in the Atlantic Ocean on a trip from Charleston, South Carolina, to New Bern, North Carolina. In his own words, “Frank Treat is now twelve years old and is a salty old seaman.” He met a Captain John Day and sailed on the Carrie Farson, and then Captain John Beverage who enticed him on board the “Unity R. Dyer, a two topmaster.” Frank Treat reported, “We were in several storms. Once we were blown off the coast in a hurricane. It took us fourteen days to sail back. We lost our deck load and we came near sinking from open seams in the deck. That was really the worst time I had ever seen.” In October of 1893 Frank Treat’s ship, the Davidson, “went ashore about three miles south of Cape Henry and was a total loss….I was pulled ashore through the breakers on a line,” he recounts.

Frank Treat Fulcher
After chronicling several more shipwrecks Frank Treat tells of his time aboard the Barkentine Henry Norwell, “the hardest ship of all. The Captain was the toughest and the most ungodly man I had ever seen.” Frank “fared much better than the rest of the crew,” he reports, because he “was a better wheel man and…could steer the ship better, by the wind.” He continues, “we could not endure this hardship any longer, so we all jumped ship [in Brunswick, Georgia].”

After this adventure, Frank Treat signed up as mate on the Russian ship Pauline bound for Hamburg, Germany. He was seventeen years old, “in the possession of two good fists” and “could take care of myself.” As he relates the story, “I helped shanghai the crew and when they discovered where they were, there was trouble in the air, but by this time I had become quite a man, so I talked them out of mutiny. Fifty-seven days crossing the Atlantic.” Others would recall that he ruled his crew with “fist, marlin spike, and boot toes.”

From Hamburg, Frank Treat made a voyage on the “full-rigged ship Achilles” to Sydney, Australia. It took them 120 days via the Cape of Good Hope, and 143 days to return, by way of Cape Horn, to Rotterdam, Holland. Off the coast of New Zealand “a storm....carried us sixty-nine degrees south of the Equator, down in the Antarctic ice drifts. Man Alive! It was below zero.”

In 1896, when Frank was eighteen years old, he was quartermaster on the steamer, Neptune, which left Rotterdam for Baltimore, Maryland. He later became a Methodist preacher.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Ocracoke Lodge No. 194, Independent Order of Odd Fellows. You can read the Newsletter here:


  1. Anonymous10:23 AM

    Is this unpublished autobiography available somewhere for reading? Sounds like it would be very interesting to read the whole thing...

    1. Although the autobiography has never been published in print, I have posted the complete text as our May 20, 2011, Ocracoke Newsletter. This is the address: Enjoy!