May 20, 2011
History of the Life of Frank Treat Fulcher [An Autobiography, 1965]
Born January 25,
1878, now 87 years old, who is the director of writing the Life of Old
People of ocracoke Island and the Outer Banks, some deceased
Frank Treat Fulcher Playing his Mandolin on Ocracoke:
(Click on photo to view a larger image.)
The son of
WILLIAM HENRY and MARY GASKINS FULCHER.
Born January 25, 1878, on Ocracoke
Island, North Carolina.
was a Coast Guard man and my mother was a daughter of a sea captain- JOHN D.
GASKINS, so you see it was perfectly natural that Frank Treat should love the
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
to the various ports of Eastern Carolina and
by that time I was seaman 1st-class, or what they would call A.B.
(able bodied seaman). Eight dollars per
month was my wage and the skipper thought me to be a bargain.
Rose, the mate, fell overboard a time or two and I rescued him each time, so
you can see just how my reputation grew.
skipper, Mrs. Rose, taught me the points on the compass, then 32 points, the
knew the time by the clock. I just can’t
remember when I learned that, Roman numerals and all. And then I shipped as cook on the schooner
BESSIE with Captain Till Williams.
passengers now and then and on this particular occasion we had two
that I had to fix breakfast for. If I
broke the yolks of the eggs I knew what I would get from the Captain,
not “cuss”, but would do worse. So I had
the hot grease in the fry pan and was holding the egg down, too, and
ship rolled and the hot grease hit my fingers and man! Did I cuss a
blue streak. I learned that from old man Rose, the mate of
the EMILINE. One of the preachers could
not stand that “lingo” so he set in on me. He said:
“Boy, who brought you up?” And I thought of another
boy that I had heard of, and said: “Nobody
brought me up; I come up by myself and brought a cow and a calf along
when I come.”
preacher said, “Let that boy alone. He
is doing the best he can.” By this time
we were out where the sea was rough and the preacher who had jumped on me got
sea sick, and then I had to clean the eggs he had had for breakfast from the
cabin floor. Then the preacher said:
“Boy, forgive me, I’ll never call you down again.”
Frank Treat is now
eleven years old
He joined up with a fisherman, Mark
Gaskins, and received one-third of the catch.
When the run of mullets was good, he would make more than when he was a
sailor or cook.
Now Captain Mark was a very
religious man. He had been blown off
across the Gulf Stream in an old schooner
loaded with lumber. No one on board knew
navigation, and he was the only one who could steer the ship so that
did not board her amidship. He was at
the wheel for forty-eight hours without relief. The angels were
flying around his head and he promised the Good Lord if
He would save him from the angry sea, that he would be a better man and
serve Him. Now that is the way that Mark
got religion. So he was a pious man for
a long time, but at last he fell from grace, and went back to a world
of “sin”. I just might have been the cause of his
I do not know. But he sure could cuss. He could out-cuss anyone
that I had ever been around.
There were three boats in our
fleet. A Captain J.W. O’Neal and Captain
William A. Jackson, so there were two other boys besides me, and after fishing
all night and not catching anything we boys decided to go after a loon which
was feeding on a sand bar which was not far from the camp. We caught the loon and brought it ashore, put
it down, and the old loon whipped the three of us, fair play. It was then we decided to take the loon to
the camp and put in on Captain Mark. We
reached the Camp and found Captain Mark asleep so we just turned the loon loose
and took to the marsh. Now you talk
about a time! I have never seen anything
in print like that. That “old loon” was
not a match for Captain Mark, so the old loon got cussed out and smothered with
a bed quilt.
Treat Goes to Sea
I had oystered in a boat that I
rented from my uncle, as my own captain, and would make four or five dollars a
day after paying a boy to cull for me;
but the greatest time in my life was when Captain Dan Tolson came to my
Mother to get her to let me go to sea with him.
The schooner was the ROBERT
BRATTON, of Cambridge, Maryland. She was a beautiful ship and I
was the cook. My first trip to sea! What a glorious
time. We sailed through Core Sound to the
Straights, where the mate came on board and he had the same name as my
except the Henry.
Fulcher – Mate
Treat Fulcher – Cook
Before the Captain and Mate went
ashore they put a negro sailor scraping the main topmast. He was hoisted aloft, and was scraping away
when a fish hawk lit on the truck just above the negro’s head. I had already learned where the captain kept
his shotgun, so I made a dash for it. I
stood in the companion way and let her go at the fish hawk, which fell on the
deck and flopped around and spread blood all over the deck. Well, the Negro was scared when I pulled the
trigger of that gun, but not as scared as I was when the Captain came on board
and found his beautiful deck spattered with blood. I got cussed out that time for sure, and I
spent the rest of the day cleaning up the deck.
We were anchored in “Poor Man’s
Hole” in Charleston, South Carolina, harbor for two months and
never got a load of anything.
Then we got a charter to take a
load of “Phosphate Rock” to Newbern,
North Carolina, and the center
board well had dried out and it leaked so that our ship began to sink. We had to get caulkers and shoveled the rock
out in the wing and caulked the well.
Bad luck followed this poor man
(Captain Dan) and I was sorry for him.
We reached Ocracoke without incident, and anchored off the Bar until
morning, and when we threw the anchor up, half of it was gone. That meant he must buy a new anchor, and when
we reached Newbern, we had to dig the cargo out with pick axes. What a time that was!
Frank Treat is now twelve years old
and is a salty old seaman. While in Charleston, South
Carolina, I met a Captain John Day in a fine little
schooner called CARRIE FARSON. He tried
to get me away from Captain Dan, but of course he must take me back to my
mother, as he had promised to do.
That spring, Captain Day came to
Ocracoke, so my mother let me sail with him, and this time I received a man’s
wages. The first time Captain Day went
around Cape Hatteras, I was with him, and we had a
fine time together.
This man was different from Captain
Dan. Everything he touched turned to money.
In other words, he was a success all around. I was with him quite awhile; however, I left
him that winter to go to school.
My mother wanted me to go to the Marshallberg Academy, where two or three boys were
studiously engaged in study of the ministry.
I said to her, “That is where they make preachers, and I don’t think
So I was off to sea again.
I had a real desire to get off the
land, so I shipped in a schooner UNITY R. DYER, a two topmaster. She was a fine old vessel with a finer
skipper, Captain John Beverage. I sailed
with this captain in another ship, as you will see later, for altogether nearly
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.
Here is another storm. Five sails went out of Ocracoke on October 2nd,
1893, and after hanging around south of Cape Hatteras
for two days, we finally made it around the Diamond Shoal. Then it came down on us from east
northeast. Well, only one of the fleet
reached Cape Henry. That was the LIZZIE S. JAMES. The GERTRUDE BROWNING went back around
Hatteras, and the EMMA J. WARRINGTON, and our schooner, the C.C. DAVIDSON, a
beautiful three-master of Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, George Howard Jr.,
was the captain, and the schooner APPLEGARTH of Baltimore, Maryland, all went
on the beach. Our 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. I
had been wishing for something like this to happen, so my wish was really
Then with Captain John Beverage
again in a larger three-mast schooner, the GEORGE A. HOWE of Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, and was with my good skipper for several months. Finally this fine vessel was hit by a
whirlwind and capsized off the New
Jersey coast and was a total loss. I was not there!!
I escaped several shipwrecks. The
IZAAK WALTON fifteen days; HETTIE J. DORMAN thirty days; HENRY NORWELL about
three months. So you see that the Good
“Lord had his eye upon me” through the prayers of my good mother.
Now Ocracoke was too small for me
so I took passage in a schooner to New
York and sailed out of that port.
I shipped in a Blue Nose downeaster
for Rockland, Maine.
This I kept up for about two years, and then I joined up in Rockland, Maine,
in a New York Barkentine HENRY NORWELL.
This was the hardest ship of all.
The Captain was the toughest and the most ungodly man I had ever seen. We sailed from Rockland,
Maine, to Brunswick, Georgia,
and after twenty-one days we put into that port. Now I fared much better than the rest of the
crew, because I was a better wheel man and I could steer the ship better, by
the wind. I had the advantage because I
had been brought up steering a boat.
We could not endure this hardship
any longer, so we all jumped ship, and this is where I signed up as 2nd
mate in the Russian ship, PAULINE bound for Hamburg, Germany. 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.
Being seventeen years of age and in
the possession of two good fists, I was sure that I could take care of myself. This is the time when I became twenty-one
years of age. A minor would have had a
hard time in a foreign country.
Tom Henderson, the carpenter, and I
were together one month in the City of Hamburg, Germany. The people there were very nice to us, so we
did not fare so badly after all. Seven
hundred sailors were on the bum, and we joined in with them.
My next voyage was to Sydney,
N.S.W. Australia. This was a full rigged
ship ACHILLES of Liverpool, England. I
had tried to ship in a steamer bound for Baltimore,
but when the mate who was signing on the crew saw North Carolina on my papers, he said, “No
sir, we can’t take you. You would not
stay with us five minutes after we got there.”
He was right. This ACHILLES was an old coolie ship, but was a good
ship. Captain John Henderson was the
Master. He went our via Cape Good Hope,
returned via the Horn (Cape Horn) 120 days going out and 143 coming back.
A storm we took off the New
coast carried us 69 degrees south of the Equator, down in the Antarctic
drifts. Man alive! It was below zero. We had a mixed
crew of German, English,
French, Swedes and Danes, and of course Tom and I were Americans.
We sailed out of Sydney NSW on Queen Victoria’s birthday, May
25, 1896. She was then around eighty
years old. The flags were all flying in
the celebration of this occasion. The
Queen lived about four more years. We
survived the great storm which I mentioned before and sighted the Horn
on the 4th
of August. We were bound for Rotterdam, Holland. We arrived
in that port without
I shipped out of Rotterdam
in the NEPTUNE LINE Steamer for Baltimore,
Maryland, my first
steamship. I was quartermaster on this
ship. We went into the Dry Dock in
and I was there on Christmas 1896.
My shipmate Charlie Johnson and I
went on shore where I mailed a letter to Mother, and I had put the letter in
the mail box, I said to Charlie – “There, I did not put U.S.A. on that
letter.” He said, “Vot you put?” I said “Ocracoke,
North Carolina.” He said, “Vel, den it vil go to New
I received the answer to that
letter when we arrived in Baltimore,
Maryland, and it had a $5.00 bill
for a Christmas present. This was the
last trip I made in that packet.
That five dollars took me to Ocracoke, North
Carolina, on my nineteenth birthday. My seagoing age would have been twenty-three
I was afraid that the “crop” of
pretty girls would play out and I would not get one of them, so I was married
on the 2nd of June the following year – 1897.
So a new life begins
I made one more trip to sea as 1st
mate of the three-masted schooner HETTIE J. DORMAN, with Captain Joe Sabiston,
a fine “old man of the sea”. The passage
was from Savannah, Georgia,
to Baltimore, Maryland, with a cargo of long Southern Pine
My young wife said, “You must quit
Now this young lady was the niece
of the Coast Guard skipper, Captain Ben B. Dailey, of Cape Hatteras,
who had been cited several times by the United States Government for his bravery
in the rescue of shipwrecked seamen.
She knew the perils of the sea.
So my new life begins, as a “pilot”
around Ocracoke Inlet, Diamond Shoals, Pamlico Sound
and its tributaries. I became an expert
in the oyster and fishing business and made a fairly good living. I was Assistant Agent for the NSRR Co. and
O.D. Steamship Company at Ocracoke, which was a flourishing summer resort with
a hotel of 125 rooms. I quit the agency to
run a ferry form the terminal – two miles out in the Pamlico Sound – to their
hotel “Ponder” run by George Credles of Hyde County. A very good thing until a hurricane in August
1899, known as the “August Storm” swept the whole building away.
Several years more of progging and
now at about thirty-two years old I find myself in the service of the
Lord. After this wonderful change in my
life, I became Superintendent of the Sunday School, Steward, and local preacher
of M.E. Church,
South, Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, and in 1908 was given a
charge by Bishop A. W. Wilson as pastor of the Pamlico Charge, which paid
$500.00 a year.
My appointment was at 3:00 P.M.,
Sunday, and one of my loyal members had asked a Mrs. X to go to church
afternoon. The answer was “That old
‘sailor’ don’t interest me”, so she did not
attend until Easter. I was down in the vestibule shaking hands
when I heard Mrs. X remark that our presiding elder had given us a fine
sermon. It was, of course, the “old
sailor” who had preached.
By this time it was cold weather,
so I had an appointment at a church called Hobucken. I dropped in
at a store, where several men
were sitting around a potbellied stove chewing tobacco and spitting on
floor. I said to them: “I’m not going to
ask how many of you are saved or Christians, but how many belong to the
Church?” There was a dead silence for a few moments,
when one man broke the silence by saying, “I did belong at one
time, but not
any more.” I, of course, asked: “Why?”
His answer was that the Church was a money
making scheme, so, said he, “I just pulled out.” I said,
“Brother, you should
not have pulled out. You should have
stayed in and paid in proportion to the amount of your religion, and it
not have cost you so much, after all!” I
buried that poor fellow just a short time after and was thinking how
had cheated that poor man out of the riches of glory.
The eight churches paid me $500.00
that year, but I had one consolation. My
friends on Ocracoke had warned me about this.
They said: “Frank, you know you can’t preach and you are going to be
stranded somewhere on the mainland; but if anything should happen to you, we
will take a subscription and bring you back home!”
That was a lovely promise and it
still lingers in my memory. Most of my
friends have passed on to their reward.
I’m still here, thank God, and He had never let me down! I made a vow when I left the Island on that
occasion that, sink or swim, drown or float, I would be the Lord’s, and the
Lord’s alone. I burned the bridge and I
would “not go back if the rivers dried up”.
My friends, as I said before, had warned me. They said that those charges would pay off
with ‘hawgbones and punkins’. Still, my
thought was not what I was to get, but rather what did I have to give.
I went on to Goldsboro, North Carolina, to Carteret Circuit and Rocky
Mount, North Carolina. Then
the First World War broke out, and I volunteered for the overseas
service. I took a course in navigation
at the University of Pennsylvania, but
Kaiser Bill perhaps heard about me getting ready to go and so he
quit. So I went into the ministry again. Now while in the
North I was affiliated with
the Methodist Episcopal Church. I had
always been a Southern Methodist. I had
two offers to take work in the South- one by Superintendent Parsons,
Episcopal Church. The other by Presiding
Elder Shanburger. I still did not ask
what I was to get. Well, I went with
Superintendent Parsons of the Methodist Episcopal Church on a $600.00
salary. This took Parmalee, North Carolina,
from there to about fifty miles above Winston Salem, North
Carolina. At a point called St. Paul’s Church.
My wife did not like either place,
because she was Southern Methodist, tooth and toenail. So when our first Quarterly Conference was
held, she would have no part of it. The
weather was severe, it was below zero. You did not have to use a palm leaf fan
at that meeting. My wife fixed dinner –
kidney beans and turnover cake cornbread – and placed it on the table. We had no stairway to the parsonage, so she
used a ladder, took the children and went up to the loft bed. When our meeting was over, of course, I
invited the District Superintendent over.
Now, was I embarrassed – no fire and everything frozen. Oh! Oh! What a time I had with the ‘old
A few days passed and I saw an ad
in The Virginia Methodist Advocate: “A preacher wanted in Virginia”.
That looked good to me. I learned
that three of us answered that ad; but I had the good fortune to get the
appointment. So that is how and why I am
in the Virginia Conference.
I was received very graciously by
Dr. Phifer, Presiding Elder of the Portsmouth-Newport News
District. The place was Whaleyville, Virginia. A lovely
place indeed. I was to receive $1450.00 per year. That was
quite a hoist - $850.00.
So, I left the Statesville
District, and Dr. J.M. Walls, District Superintendent. But before
I left, I must secure a release
from Dr. Walls. Well, he thought of that
zero day, the turnover cornbread, kidney beans and yaupon tea.
And he said, “Fulcher, old boy, I’m sorry for
you. I wish you could stay with me, but
under such humiliating circumstances, I’ll just have to let you
go.” So he gave me one of the greatest “To Whom it
May Concern” letters that I ever had, and when Dr. Phifer saw
Man! Oh! Man! He too gave a welcome that
has brought me through all of these years with the Great Virginia
and it all stemmed from kidney beans and turnover cornbread.
I left Whaleyville for Cottage Place
Church, Portsmouth, Virginia. I’m the first man to stay there four
years. I served four years, and then to
the Eastern Shore Pocomoke charge for seven years. This is the place where I learned that they
did not want a preacher in the first place, so they kept me on. I was there through the depression of
1929-36. My experience as a waterman
served me well at this point. I could
fish and oyster and boat along with the rest of them (natives.)
From there I went to Burkville, Virginia. It was there that I
lost my first wife. So I shopped around until I found just the
one who could help both the people and me. She was a church
woman, a preacher and singer.
I wanted to do all I could for the
people whom I served.
So here they had two preachers for
And now, with “life’s lengthening
shadows” at the age of eighty-seven years, I look back upon my past and can see
more clearly how much God had blessed me, through all of these years.
I passed my examinations with
eleven “Trinity College”
boys and then I graduated from the “Candler School of Theology”, Emory University,
Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. W. J. Young was the “Dean”.
Both of my two ordinations, Deacon
and Elder, by BISHOP COLLINS DENNY. The
first annual Conference which I attended was held in Norfolk, Virginia. I was given a room at the Lorraine Hotel and
$12.50 to buy eats. Mr. Southgate handed to me a $1000 paid-up Life
I had just begun to realize, “Give
and it shall be given unto you” again an hundred fold perhaps.
I reared a family of four children,
put them through school as far as they would go, and as you have seen above, I
went to school myself.
My greatest joy is the thought of
being the pastor of Dr. A. Purnell Bailey (who is now our District
Superintendent of the Richmond District) for seven years of his young life, and
perhaps our lives touched each other for that period of time through the
leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Frank Treat with a Collection of Model Ships He Built:
(Click on photo to view a larger image.)
I now dwell at the Hermitage, 1600 Westwood Avenue, Richmond, Virginia,
the dearest and most beautiful place in all the world to me! For eight years I have enjoyed this
The last twenty-four years of my
active Ministry, I had six appointments, and am now employed as Editor of the
“Berkeleyline”, which is writing the history of the Outer Banks.