Thursday, July 15, 2021

Unlocking the Mystery of a Local Ballad

Some of our long-time readers may remember the 1977 recording of traditional Outer Banks music. It was titled "Between the Sound and the Sea," and was produced by Folkways Records. The album includes several songs by Ocracoke musicians, including my father, Lawton Howard, Elizabeth Howard, Jule Garrish, Maurice Ballance, and Edgar Howard. (You can see Edgar's grave marker, with a banjo and "You ain't heard nothing yet," directly across from Village Craftsmen on Howard Street.)










One short number ("Tom Dan'ls") performed by Edgar Howard appears to be a fragment of a longer ballad recounting a late 19th century confrontation between Ocracoke fishermen and an invasion of fishermen from Core Sound. 

You can read more about the song and the 1890 Ocracoke Oyster War in our latest Ocracoke Newsletter:…an-island-ballad/

You might even want to purchase the CD directly from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (the Newsletter includes a link).

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

1718 Indictment of William Howard, Quartermaster

In 1718, William Howard, quartermaster for Blackbeard the pirate, was indicted by officials in the Virginia colony. In our latest Ocracoke Newsletter you can see a copy of the original document, and read a type-written transcription describing how "the Said Wm Howard not having the Fear of God before his Eyes nor Regarding the Allegiancy due to his Majesty nor the Just Obedience he Ow'd to the Laws of the Land did some time in the Year of our Lord 1717 Join and Associate him self with one Edward Tach and other Wicked and desolute Person...." 









You can see both pages of the indictment, and read the transcription here:…rd-quartermaster/.



Monday, May 17, 2021

The "Lost" Colony

Many of our readers are familiar with the basic story of North Carolina's "Lost Colony." This was the 1587 attempt by Sir Walter Raleigh to establish an English settlement on the coast of the New World in what is now North Carolina. The colony consisted of approximately 150 men, women, and boys that settled on Roanoke Island in July, 1587, under the leadership of artist John White.

On August 18, Virginia Dare, daughter of  White's daughter Eleanor and her husband, colony leader, Ananias Dare, was born, the first English child born in the New World. A few days after his granddaughter's christening, White sailed back to England to hasten and encourage efforts to resupply and reinforce the colony.

When John White returned to Roanoke Island in 1590 the colonists were gone, but White discovered the word "Croatoan" carved on a tree. Croatoan is the name of the island that, at that time, included a small section of the north end of Ocracoke Island, and the southern section of Hatteras Island, including the Buxton village area. (The present day Hatteras Inlet did not open until 1846.) Unfortunately, due to a storm, White was unable to search for the colonists, and his ships returned to England.







You can read a more complete account of the Lost Colony here:

For many years there has been speculation and research about what actually happened to the 1587 colony. An internet search will yield a number of links to articles and books claiming to unravel the tangled story of the "Lost Colony." 

In 1960, Eastern North Carolina native, Marshall Twiford, recounted an intriguing tale about the Lost Colony that had been passed down in his family and community for many generations. Although Ocracoke (Croatoan) is mentioned in Twiford's account, he claims a different story about where the colonists settled. You can read his account in our latest Ocracoke Newsletter:

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Beachcomber, the Exciting Card Game

In 1984, a colorful couple living on their historic 77' schooner in Silver Lake harbor created and produced a card game based on life on Ocracoke Island. Recently, a long-time visitor to Ocracoke came into possession of a rare copy of the 37-year-old game. She contacted me to learn if I knew anything about the provenance of the game. 











The story of the couple, their schooner, and their adventures proved to be more interesting than the game. You can read more in our latest Ocracoke Newsletter:

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Rusell L

In December of last year Blount Rumley, long-time visitor to Ocracoke Island, contributed this story about the historic Ocracoke to Washington (NC) freighters which included information about the "Russell L": Ocracoke to Washington Freighters.

Blount recently sent me this photo of the "Russell L":

The “Russell L” was a bugeye schooner, a type of sailboat developed in the Chesapeake Bay for oyster dredging. Bugeye schooners had two masts with a triangular “leg-of-mutton” mainsail, foresail and jib. As with other schooners, the mainmast was shorter than the foremast.

Ocracoke Island native, Capt. Ike (Isaac Freeman O'Neal, 1885-1968), owned and operated the "Russell L" between Ocracoke and Washington, N.C. He was also skipper of the "Relief", and the "Dryden," as well as a partner in Garrish and O'Neal's Community Store. In addition to this he did considerable commercial fishing.

The photo above shows the "Russell L" ashore on Ocracoke Island's sound side after a storm in 1922 or 1923. According to an interview with Ike in 1961, the "Russell L" could sail to Washington from Ocracoke in 5 1/2 hours at 12 nautical miles per hour.

The photo above was taken by Dr. Rhodes Tayloe Gallagher. His dog “Doc” is in the foreground.

Blount explained that one of his great aunts was married to Dr. Gallagher, a Washington dentist. Dr. Gallagher would vacation often at Ocracoke in the 1920’s, sailing on the "Russell L." Sometimes he would take his dental equipment with him (including a treadle-powered drill) and work on the Ocracokers while he was there.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Ocracoke, 1956

Some years ago I acquired a copy of a short 1956 article from the Junior Natural History magazine about Ocracoke and the Outer Banks. The article paints quite an accurate picture of Ocracoke in the mid-twentieth century. Several photos accompanied the article. Here is one: 










Today the Slushy Stand sits where the horse and the boy are running. The house with the dormers (the Murray and Elsie Tolson house) is behind the Slushy Stand and Island Ragpicker, in need of repair and barely visible because of the vegetation. The other house in the photo is the Marvin and Leevella house (Diabando rental cottage) on the corner of Lawton Lane and Howard Street. 

The 1956 article ends with these words: "What will [the construction of a paved road the length of the island] do to the free-living, closely knit, picturesque sea dwellers of the island? What will be the fate of the beautiful wild horses that claim this stretch of sand and sea as their own? Only Time will tell."


You can read the article here:

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The Mary Varney Revisited

 On April 5, 2018 I published this Hatteras Island story (continue reading for an update, below):

On this date in 1856 the bark Mary Varney wrecked and broke apart off shore of Hatteras Island. Although one sailor lost his life in the disaster, legend has it that another crew member made it to shore in an unusual fashion, and never left.

According to one version of the story, the people of Hatteras Island had been suffering that winter from a prolonged period of bitter cold and lack of supplies from the mainland. Shipwrecks, as tragic as they were, often brought much needed supplies (lumber, food, and more) to the bleak shores of the Outer Banks. In April, 1856, one local preacher even prayed, were a shipwreck to happen (and God forbid it would) that a barrel of pork would wash up on the beach to help feed his hungry flock.


As it happened, when the Mary Varney broke apart the people on shore saw a large pork barrel washing in from the stricken vessel, tossed about by the heavy seas. It looked like the preacher's prayer had been answered! A crowd gathered around as the barrel rolled in on a breaker, and crashed against the sandy beach. Almost immediately the top popped off.

To their amazement, Herbert Oden, one of the sailors on board the Mary Varney, climbed out of the barrel. As the ship began to break apart, Oden had emptied the barrel, and climbed in, using it as a makeshift lifeboat. Some claim Herbert Oden was the first of his family to arrive on the Outer Banks. He never left, and the Oden clan continues to call Hatteras Island home!


Yesterday I received this email message: "I'm living in mid-coast Maine. On Sunday I visited the grave of the first family I know of that owned my house. While there I noticed an interesting inscription on the family stone which led me to do some research and eventually to you."

The writer included this report in the Burlington Free Press, April 25, 1856 (page 1):

“Barque Mary Varney, Perkins, From Norfolk for Guadeloupe, was fallen it [in?] with, 7th inst., Lat 31 42,lon. 74, [35.2N, 75.5W is probably more accurate] with her masts and houses gone, and decks swept fore and aft, the sea breaking over her; she having been capsized on the 5th, when the wife of the captain was carried overboard and lost. The captain, two officers, stewards and four colored seamen were taken off by the barque Gallego, and carried to Baltimore. They had been without food or shelter for five days when rescued.”

(  fourth column, fourth paragraph from bottom)

The writer also alerted me to a photograph of the grave marker for the wife of the captain, Eliza Perkins, who was apparently the "sailor" lost when the Mary Varney wrecked. (Photo by Carolina Dutchman)










Eliza Perkins is memorialized with a cenotaph at the Pemaquid Cemetery in Bristol, Maine. She was 19 years and 8 months old. (


Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Homeplace

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a short article about the historic Williams-Tolson-Rondthaler House, known by the present owners (the Rondthalers) simply as "The Homeplace."








Although this house was damaged by flooding during Hurricane Dorian, the Rondthaler family is having it rehabilitated to historic standards. It is one of the oldest houses on the island, probably dating to before the Civil War. It is constructed, in part, from timbers salvaged from a sailing ship, and includes the island's only surviving nine-over-six window sashes. 

You can read about this historic house here: