A Letter to
In our September, 2011 Ocracoke Newsletter, Slavery on Ocracoke
I observed that "[s]laves on the Outer Banks, especially pilots and
lighterers, were often in contact with sailors, both black and white,
from northern cities. Life at sea routinely blurred racial boundaries,
which led to looser relations between slaves and masters on the sandy
banks. And maritime slaves (pilots, fishermen, oystermen, and sailors)
were frequently allowed a degree of freedom and independence unheard of
Ocracoke native, Cecil S. Bragg, in his 1973 book, Ocracoke Island: Pearl
of the Outer Banks, mentions a letter written in 1921 by a
former slave, Harrison Williams, to Mrs. Martha Ann Howard Wahab of
Ocracoke. This letter illustrates a level of interracial acceptance and friendship typical of Ocracoke.
Harrison Williams was born into slavery in 1838, although Bragg does
not tell where he lived and labored. According to Bragg, Williams "ran
away from his master and reached Boston." Bragg also notes that, after
the Civil War, Williams "spent some time on Ocracoke and was well
From Williams' letter it is clear that he held fond memories of his
time on the island [in the late 1800s], and of his friendship with
Martha Ann Wahab, her husband James Hatton Wahab, and other Ocracokers.
Martha Ann Howard Wahab:
(Click on photo to view a larger image.)
Bragg includes, on pages 139-140 in his book, a transcript of Harrison
Williams' letter, which he describes as "brown...[and] split with age."
Below is the letter:
Boston, Mass. Jan, 1921
Mrs Martha Wahab
Dear Mrs: Martha Wahab,
Your letter received.
I was sorry to hear that Mr, Haton Wahab, is dead.
I am very thankful to you for answring my letter, and giving me so much
Yes, I do remember father [probably Martha Ann's father, Robert Howard
(1845-1878), or Hatton's father, William Howard Wahab (1830-1906)], and
I remember a young man by the name of Ames Howard [Amon Howard, Jr.
And I do remember a family that did live right in back of Mr. Wahabs
house, by the name of Williams;
The oldest brother was named Wid Williams [1840-ca.1895], He was a
fiddler The other two brothers names was Lamb [Lambert (1836-ca.1885)],
and Ambrust [Ambrose (1834-?)].
I remember a colored man by the name of Harkliss [Hercules], his wife
was named Winnie, she had a little baby girl [Annie Laura]. I
was converted while I was on the island, with Mr. Haton, When I came
away I did join A baptist church.
I did get married when I was very young; we had five children,
one died. All of them is grown up now;
My wif have been dead a long time; I wish I could see the old home on
the island. if, I had found Mr. Haton Wahab, living I would have made
it my business to come to the island because I would have found in him
Mrs Martha, Wahab I am not working now but I think I will get a job in
the spring and if I dont, I would be glad if I could get you to get me
a job with your son in Norfolk.
Do they have summer Hotels, on the island. and do the people hire
colored help. I have worked in hotels. I have waiter in Hotels.
I can do most any kind of work. I am just about 6 feet high, 40 inches
around the wast I way one hundard, and eath pounds.
Address Harrison Williams
17 Dartmouth St.
Boston, Mass; (cpo Mrs churchill