Two major hurricanes struck the North Carolina coast in 1806. On August 22 the “Great Coastal Hurricane” made landfall at the mouth of the Cape Fear River and did considerable damage in Bald Head Island and other locations in Brunswick County.

In late September of 1806 another hurricane struck “with excessive force,” this time at Ocracoke Inlet. At least three sailors died, and nine vessels were sunk, dismasted, or driven ashore. Among the ships sunk was the Governor Williams, which along with the Diligence, was participating in the nation’s first congressionally mandated survey of the U.S. coastline. The project was the brain child of President Thomas Jefferson, and the commission’s base of operations for the three-month survey of the North Carolina Coast was Shell Castle Island in Pamlico Sound between Ocracoke and Portsmouth.

Governor Williams Model by Jim Goodwin
Governor Williams Model by Jim Goodwin

The Governor Williams, under command of Capt. Alexander Henderson, and with eight crew members, left Shell Castle Island June 24 to begin the survey. Also on board were two of the survey’s three commissioners, Maj. Thomas Coles and Jonathan Price, a gifted cartographer. The third member of the commission, the brilliant Col. William Tatham, an acquaintance of President Jefferson, was left on shore because he was considered abrasive, and arrogant.

Col. William Tatham
Col. William Tatham

The Governor Williams was back at Shell Castle Island on September 28, presumably at anchor in anticipation of hurricane force winds.

The following article recounts the damage at Shell Castle Island caused by the September 28 hurricane, with mention of Col.  Tatham’s valuable “philosophical and mathematical” instruments and apparatus.

 

From “The Wilmington Gazette” (Wilmington, North Carolina), Tuesday, October 14, 1806 (slightly edited for ease of reading):

We have been favored with the following account of the last Storm.

SHELL CASTLE, Sept. 29.

About 12 o’clock last evening a gale at E.N.E. commenced and increased in its violence until about 4 A.M when it shifted to E.S.E. and blew the most tremendous storm, ever I believe, witnessed by a human being, until six o’clock, when it got further to the southward, and finally to W.S.W. where it still continues to blow with excessive force. The Cutter belonging to this station under the command of Capt. Henderson, upset and sunk at her anchors. – He, thank God, with five of the crew are saved, three poor fellows, belonging to her, are lost, their names are Frederick Cherry, Jacob (a Russian), and J. G. Romain.

Nearly all the lighters of the navigation sunk, ashore, or dismasted. In Wallace’s channel, the ship ______ Capt. McKeel of Washington, main and mizen mast gone, ashore. – the ship Connelia, Common, of Washington, ashore; the schooner ________Bracket, master, belonging to Messsrs.  Marshes of Washington, ashore & sunk, a sch’r belonging to Mr. Eborn of Washington, dismasted, ashore and sunk, schooner Mount Vernon, Fisher, of Newbern, lost entirely, but it is believed no lives lost. – A small sloop which arrived last evening from Jamaica, with rum, name unknown yet, upset on the east point of Beacon Island, the people are now seen on her bottom, there is some prospect of them and cargo being saved. —–Schooner Horizon, Jerkins, still at anchor above the Swath, main mast cut away. Sloop Union, Keals, ashore dismasted. In short but one vessel in the whole navigation afloat and all standing, and that a singular instance of preservation; it is a lighter belonging to Mr. James Jones of Newbern, who struck adrift with two anchors a head, at the Castle, and drifted two and a half miles to the Royal shoal, where she brought up, and rode out the storm —- only one small black boy on board.

I have now to add, to the tale of destruction, the total loss of the immensely valuable, philosophical and mathematical instruments of Col. Tatham, he yesterday put them on board the Governor Williams, for the purpose of having them conveyed to Newbern, and they are now buried with her, in two fathoms water: Altho’ there is no doubt, but Capt. Henderson will be able to get her up, we fear all the apparatus will be totally ruined, a loss which while it may be ruinous to the colonel, is to be sincerely, deplored by the lovers of science.

Description cannot paint, nor imagination conceive, the force of the sea. It was impetuous, and irresistible, it struck, and on striking, deluged, or dismasted, the unopposing victims of its mighty power.

During the gale, the oil in the lamp of the Beacon took fire, and blew out 36 panes of glass—the light of course will not be in operation for some days to come.

——We are happy to learn from Col. Tatham who arrived in town yesterday, that his loss stated in the above communication does not include his Philosophical apparatus, which was chiefly left in Virginia and sent up to Newbern before the storms commenced: His work for public account, a valuable assortment of Instruments, Books, Papers and clothing are, however, sunk in the Cutter, and cannot be replaced.

 

For more about the 1806 hurricane and Col. William Tatham, see this United States Coast Guard article.

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A few days ago a neighbor asked me why older islanders refer to the one-lane unpaved road between NC Highway 12 (Irvin Garrish Highway) and the School Road as “East Howard Street.” “Why not just ‘Howard Street’…….and where is West Howard Street,” she wondered.

The historic name for this picturesque lane shaded by ancient live oaks and bordered by Howard family cemeteries is indeed, East Howard Street. There is no West Howard Street.

East Howard Street
East Howard Street

Prior to 1835 island homes and businesses were concentrated on the southern side of Cockle Creek (now called Silver Lake). Early in its development a public road had been laid out on that side of the village, starting at the original sound-side settlement of Pilot Town at “Williams’ Point” (now, Springer’s Point), past the lighthouse (built in 1823), and including present-day School Road, then continuing north towards Hatteras Inlet. This was the only public road on the island.

According to a legal petition of 1835 this public road “served the purpose of all the inhabitants since [its establishment], however the population of Ocracoke have greatly increased,” and the petitioners were requesting permission to lay out a one-lane public thoroughfare on the north side of Cockle Creek from “just North of Thomas Bragg’s House” (near the School Road) to “John Pike’s garden” (in the vicinity of the Preservation museum), and then all the way to the Sound, about a half mile. Originally this was merely a foot path, but now it was to be widened to accommodate a horse cart, and would include what eventually became historic East Howard Street.

The northern side of Cockle Creek had, by 1835, “become thickly settled and the business of the Island both and Public and Private have become much divided and where formerly there was no store, there is now three.”

It seems that there was some strife surrounding the “passing and repassing” on this footpath, for James Taylor the attorney for the petitioners notes that “This track passes through the lands of not less than ten or twelve private persons who have it in their power at any time either for convenience, intrest or spite to stop all communication to the business part of this side of the Island and even to deprive those settled near this path from a pass way to the nabourhood church…..Unfortunately in most communitys there are to be found evil disposed persons who are always ready to meddle with every persons business but there own (which is generally neglected altogether).”

We can only wonder who the “evil disposed persons” were.

Ocracoke Map 1835

In due time the court, recognizing the importance of a public conveyance on the North side of Cockle Creek, ordered the road to be laid out. At one time it was known simply as the Main Road.

In 1957, the state of North Carolina began paving most of the village roads, including the road around the harbor. In the process they paved the western section of the “Main Road,” including that section that passes in front of the Community Store and continues to the Cedar Island/Swan Quarter ferry terminal. The eastern end of this road was left untouched. Almost immediately Mr. Stacy Howard nailed a homemade sign to a tree in front of his house and dubbed this “East Howard Street,” a privately maintained, though public, road. At that time at least eight Howard families, all descendants of William Howard, Sr., colonial owner of Ocracoke, lived along this street.

Until about thirty-five years ago, East Howard Street was deep, soft sand in many places. Residents would walk barefoot through the ruts left by horse-drawn carts, and later, automobiles. Today the road has been stabilized with shells and gravel.

Few people remember that more than sixty-five years ago this unpaved lane was part of a once longer road. Nowadays it is mostly only old-time Ocracokers who still call the road by its “full and proper” name, East Howard Street.

Maybe it’s time to revive the historic name.

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On September 7, 1959, The Raleigh News and Observer published a front-page article, with photo, titled, “Dock Situation Provokes Feud.” It concerned Robert Stanley Wahab and Sam Jones, both Ocracoke islanders.

Wahab, a native islander who had worked as an oysterman, sailor, accountant, and public school teacher, later became the owner of the Wahab Village Hotel (now Blackbeard’s Lodge) and the Silver Lake Inn & Coffee Shoppe (originally the Odd Fellows Lodge; later the Island Inn).  He has been described as a citizen “prominent in the political and economic life of the coastal region.”

Sam Jones was born in Swan Quarter, North Carolina, and made a fortune as owner of Berkley Machine Works in Norfolk, Virginia. He married Ocracoke Native Mary Ruth Kelly, daughter of Neva May Howard and a Maryland mariner. In the 1950s Sam built several large, shingled structures, including the Castle on Silver Lake and Berkley Manor.

The newspaper article included this photo (a line drawing is included for clarity):

Dock Feud Sept 7 1959
Dock Feud Sept 7 1959
Dock Feud Sketch
Dock Feud Sketch

Following is the article:

“Ocracoke—Ocracoke Island’s two millionaires are feudin’ over a dock situation that has a small boat owned by one of them cooped up.

“Stanley Wahab, owner of the penned-in craft, has filed a $10,000 damage suit against Sam Jones, the owner of neighboring property.

“He charges that Jones built a dock on the line between their properties so that the Wahab boat can’t get out or in except by being hauled over land.

“Wahab, an island native with extensive property holdings here, built his dock some years ago with a “T” on the end. When Jones decided to put his dock right on the property line, it closed in a boat Wahab usually ties alongside his dock, inshore from the “T.”

“Jones, who made his fortune in the iron foundry business in Norfolk, Va., has had large property holdings on the Island for several years. He [Sam Jones] built two large houses here, both fronting on Silver Lake, and recently was convicted in Federal Court in Norfolk of evading income taxes on the money spent for the houses. His case now is on appeal.”

A deposition from Mr. Neafee Scarborough to the U.S. Corps of Engineers, dated November 10, 1959, reads as follows:

“Dear Sir:

“Objection to the pier which was built on Silver Lake, in front of the property belonging to the Berkley Machine Works….

“The pier owned by R.S. Wahab is a T pier. Mr. Wahab had a boat tied up on the west side of the pier and when the pier, for which a permit is requested, was built Mr. Wahab could not remove his boat as it was entirely enclosed.

“The pier owned by Mr. Wahab is used by his friends to fish from, also by Yachts and fishing boats. Mr. Wahab always kept his boats moored alongside of this pier, keeping the end of the pier open so that boats could land at the end.

“Now that the pier mentioned in your public Notice belonging to the Berkley Machine works was built on the west side of Mr. Wahab’s his boat or any other boat cannot navigate to and from the pier. I cannot see why this pier was not built at least 50 ft. further to the westward both in the interest of the Berkley Machine Works and R. S. Wahab as both sides of their docks would be usable, as it is now there are two piers each having one side.

“Mr. Wahab’s pier across the end was long enough for a 100 ft. boat to tie up. Now only about a 60 ft. boat can tie up as the 100 ft. boat would extend over the Berkley Machine Works pier. Piers that are long enough for any size boat to tie up to are very few outside of the National Park Service piers and in stormy weather commercial fishermen come in for harbor and very often there is from 75 to 100 boats tied up in Silver Lake to make harbor until stormy weather is over.

“I reply to this notice in the interest of this beautiful harbor, the pleasure yachts small and large and commercial fishermen.”

To read more about Sam Jones, see our article, “Sam Jones, Island Legend.”

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