Thursday, December 06, 2018

1837 Controversies

On November 7 of this year I wrote about Ocracoke Island resident John Pike (he is listed in the federal census in 1830, 1840, and 1850). Although a prominent citizen during his residency on the island, he seems to have been involved in several controversies. In 1837 Pike was the Notary at the Port of Ocracoke, Justice of the Peace and Wreck Master.

On March 1, 1837, Ocracoke's former Justice of the Peace, and upstanding citizen, Jacob Gaskill, was involved in an argument with his neighbor and first cousin, Willis Williams. In the ensuing altercation Jacob Gaskill shot and killed Willis Williams. It was Ocracoke's first murder. In the spring of 1837, in Hyde County, Jacob Gaskill was tried and convicted of “felonious slaying.” He was not found guilty of murder. Nevertheless, as punishment he was branded on the palm of his hand with the letter “M”. He was never sent to prison. (See for more information.)

Just months later, in October, the steamboat Home wrecked on Ocracoke during "Racer's Storm" (see......). William Howard appears to have been the acting Wreck Master at that time. In a dispute with John Pike over their respective actions during rescue and salvage operations William Howard accused John Pike, “through his influence and money” of rescuing “a murderer from the gallows merely for the sake of gain.” Presumably this refers to John Pike’s involvement in the murder trial of Jacob Gaskill.

At the same time John Pike petitioned the court to have William Howard release money and personal articles found on the body of James M. Rolls who lost his life when the Home wrecked. Howard buried Rolls' body, then claimed the money and personal belongings that were recovered from Rolls' trunk as payment for "washing, dressing and giving him a decent burial."

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a chapter from Philip Howard's book, Digging up Uncle Evans, about the 1837 wreck of the Steamboat Home, one of the most horrific wrecks ever on the North Carolina coast. You can read it here:

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