In our September, 2011 Ocracoke Newsletter, Slavery on Ocracoke (http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news092111.htm), 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 on plantations.”

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 liked.”

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:

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
Ocracoke N.C.

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 information.

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. (1853-1892)];

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 a friend.

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

Yours truly

Harrison Williams

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Captain Elisha Chase, born March 13, 1790 in Swansea, Massachusetts, was descended from a long line of New England sea captains and businessmen. Elisha’s great-great-great grandfather William Chase, had emigrated to Massachusetts from Sussex, England in the mid-17th century.

During his sailing career Elisha Chase occasionally anchored his vessel at Ocracoke. There he met Thurza Howard (1803-1849), daughter of William and Agnes Mason Howard. She was the great-granddaughter of William Howard, Sr., colonial owner of Ocracoke Island. On February 14, 1821 Elisha and Thurza were married.

In 1828 Elisha Chase purchased, from the heirs of Thomas Wahab, an Ocracoke parcel of “3 acres more or less” with a commanding view of Pamlico Sound. Shortly thereafter he and Thurza had a large 2-story, double-pile (two rooms deep), gable-roofed frame house built on their property. Nearby they added a horse stable and outbuildings.

The Soundfront Inn Today:
The Soundfront Inn

Soon after his marriage to Thurza Howard, Elisha Chase entered into a business partnership with his father-in-law. They operated a retail store known as Howard and Chase, purveyors of dry goods and other merchandise.

Elisha and Thurza had four children: Eliza Ann Chase (she died in 1824, when she was less than two years old, and is buried on Ocracoke Island), William Howard Chase, George Howard Chase, and Thurza Chase.

In 1834 Elisha and Thurza Chase sold their property to Thurza’s brothers, William Hatton Howard and George Washington Howard. With their three remaining children, Elisha and Thurza left Ocracoke to join a wagon train heading west. Somewhere in Tennessee both Elisha and Thurza fell ill, and lay unconscious or in delirium for several days. When Elisha awoke he learned that his wife had died. Distraught, he claimed to have medicine in his satchel that would have cured her. Thurza was buried alongside the trail.

In March of 1835, seaman Tilmon Farrow of Ocracoke wrote a three page letter to Boston attorney William Davies Sohier in regards to suspicious dealings in dry goods “sold uncommon cheep” at Howard & Chase’s store. There was also a question about “uncurrent” (outdated or illegitimate) bank bills passed by a Capt. Weeks, and the “robbing” of a vessel. Elisha Chase was sought for information about these affairs, but as he “left this state some time last spring…and not yet been heard of as we can find out” he was unavailable. He left behind “two letters” and “a considerable amount of money.” He seems not to have been a fugitive, however, since his destination, Boonville, Missouri (Cooper County), was known to Farrow.

Eventually Elisha and his three children settled in Callaway County, Missouri, not far from Boonville. He soon became a merchant in the town of Portland, Auxvasse Township. Elisha married again, this time to Anne (surname unknown), and they had one child, Henry L. Chase. After Elisha died in 1844 his estate was divided equally between his son William Howard Chase, his daughter Thurza and her husband John R. Seal, Elisha’s widow and her new husband Lewis Bolton, a trust for his minor son George Howard Chase, and a trust for his minor son Henry L. Chase.

In 1866 a connection was established between the H & L Chase company of Boston (“importers, manufacturers and dealers in bags & bagging,” Henry S. Chase, H. Lincoln Chase, and William L. Chase, proprietors) and St. Louis, Missouri, suggesting a possible tie between Elisha Chase’s family and their New England relatives.

In 1867 George Howard purchased the former Ocracoke Island property of Elisha and Thurza Howard Chase from the court. A year later he sold it to Captain Samuel Dudley Bragg (1836-1902). Capt. Bragg and his wife, Mariah Styron Bragg (1847-1917), lived there with their seven children.

Fearing that he would be lost at sea, Capt. Bragg immediately sold the house and land to “his wife and all his children and children to come.”

In 1892 Samuel Dudley Bragg, Jr. (1870-1892) and his brother Maltby (1877-1892) were on the mainland, having sold a catch of fish. As they were preparing to sail back to Ocracoke the weather deteriorated. They were advised not to attempt to cross the sound in such weather, but the brothers insisted, saying they knew the waters and they would be alright. They cast off and were never heard from again.

In 1902 a schooner captain brought his vessel to an Ocracoke anchorage because his ship was leaking. Not being able to make the repair, he left his vessel at Ocracoke under the care of Capt. Samuel Dudley Bragg, Sr. After Bragg finished the caulking a tug arrived to tow the schooner to Norfolk. Capt. Bragg and his son, James, accompanied the schooner. After rounding Cape Hatteras they encountered high winds and rough seas. The captain and crew of the tug, fearing that the heavy seas and strong wind would pull the bowsprit out of the schooner, decided to “cut her loose.” The schooner disappeared in the storm and sank.

Mariah Bragg is buried near her home. Her marker reads “She hath done what she could.”

Eventually Capt. and Mrs. Bragg’s son, Gary (1881-1954), became sole owner of the house and land. He remodeled the house with a hip roof, made several other changes, and named his property the Cedar Grove Inn. As Ocracoke’s first innkeeper he catered primarily to hunters and anglers. Later he built several small cottages which were rented to Navy personnel during World War II.

In 1951 Gary Bragg sold his property to Warwick and Margueritte Boos who moved to the island from Illinois. They operated the business as the Soundfront Inn until the early1970s.  Today the house is a popular rental property owned by retired Ocracoke school teacher, David Senseney.

For more information about this rental house click here. As David says, “You are invited to return to a simpler time. The Soundfront Inn retains much of its original charm. Antiques and local decor combined with tasteful remodeling add to the ambiance of your stay. Take a vacation to ‘yesteryear.'”

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Ocracoke humor runs deep in islanders’ veins. Whether on the deck of a sailing vessel, on the porch of the general store, at the Coffee Shop, or around the kitchen table, Ocracokers can often be heard telling stories about their neighbors, their kinfolk, and themselves…and laughing heartily.

Below is a sampling of tales I have heard. Some are funniest when shared orally, and maybe you had to know the people to fully appreciate a few of the stories. Of course, some of them will be funnier than others…but they all will give you a glimpse into Ocracoke Island humor. I hope you enjoy the following stories.

Ocracoke men are sometimes called by their first name plus their father’s nickname. For example, Robert Dozier Tolson (son of Benjamin Henry [Hank] Tolson) was routinely called Rob Hanks.

The following story has been told on Ocracoke for several generations.

Ocracoke native, Captain Thomas Franklin Gaskins (Tom Franks), was approaching a draw bridge in his schooner. The bridge tender, in his role as river sentry, called down, “What’s your destination?”

“Pasquotank,” was the reply.

“What’s your name, captain?”

“Tom Franks.”

“Who’s your mate?”

“Rob Hanks.”

“And your deckhand?”

“Ben Franks.”

What are you carrying?

“Pine planks.”

The bridge tender, it is said, thinking the captain was being insolent, cussed out Capt. Gaskins and threatened to not open the draw for him.

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This story is told about a group of teenagers in the early 1960s. Five or six boys and girls had driven a car down to Springer’s Point (in those days there was a sandy lane from the edge of the village to the sound shore). The car soon mired down in the sand and mud. The teenagers’ efforts to push the car out were unsuccessful. It wouldn’t budge. Finally a boy asked one of the others to pray. “That’s the only way we’ll ever get out of here,” he said.

His friend obliged. “Dear God, please help us get our car out of this god-damned mud,” he intoned.

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Jake loved to mess around with cars, trucks, and engines. As a result he was always begomed* with grease and oil. His mother-in-law remarked, “Jake will never have aches and pains in his joints. He’s too well oiled.”

*begomed is an island term meaning smeared or covered

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A Hatterasman was separated from his wife while visiting Morehead City, and became anxious when he couldn’t find her. He contacted the police. “What’s your wife’s name?” the officer asked. “Her name is Nel-wee [Nellie]…and she has a big bel-wee [belly],” he reported.

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The same Hatterasman was once accused of stealing an anchor. The judge addressed him: “Sir, will you please take the stand.”

“I might as well, your honor” he said. “I’ve been accused of taking just about everything else.”

When questioned about the missing anchor, which had been found in his possession, the accused answered, “Your honor, I do have the anchor, but I didn’t steal it. I found it floating in the sound.”

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Some years ago a “Camp Meeting” and revival were being held on Hatteras Island. Sails were improvised to create a tent, and crude wooden benches were built. Several of the young men from Ocracoke decided to take their skiffs to the meeting. One man arrived at the shore, prepared to climb into the skiff already “three sheets to the wind.”

“What?” asked one of the others, “You’re going to a camp meeting, and you’re drunk already? You need to repent and ask to be delivered from drunkenness.”

“Well,” he replied, “I believe if I’m going to do something, I ought to be well prepared, and I should make an early start of it.”

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An Ocracoker was traveling by bus down the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the 1930s, on his way home after working months in Philadelphia. As they approached one stop, a decidedly unattractive woman was standing on the steps of the general store. “My oh my,” the Ocracoker murmured, “that may be the ugliest woman that ever drew a breath.”

His seatmate turned to the islander and uttered only three words: “That’s my wife.”

Trying to recover, the Ocracoker corrected himself. “I wasn’t talking about the woman standing on the steps. I was talking about that younger woman behind her.”

“That’s my daughter,” was the icy retort.

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Two sisters were known throughout the village for their obsessive house cleaning. Whenever they could, they enlisted their husbands to help them. The women were even accused of getting their men to back out the screws on the kitchen cabinets so they could clean behind them!

In the springtime major cleaning was more a formality than a necessity since both houses were always immaculate. One husband wandered down to the docks in the afternoon to take a break from spring cleaning. “Well,” inquired a fishermen, “how is it going?”

His terse reply: “I found one fly wing.”

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Many years ago a Hatteras native was stationed at the Portsmouth Life Saving Station. His wife came with him. The surfman was given a few days leave, and he and his wife decided to take their sail skiff back to Hatteras.

In Pamlico Sound the man’s wife fell overboard, but the husband didn’t realize what had happened until he looked back. The woman was wearing a hoop skirt, and she was floating on the surface, hardly even damp from the waist up. Her husband said she looked just like a buoy!

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Three brothers were accustomed to “nipping” and playing poker now and then. All three attended a revival, and two got religion. They began testifying. “I am so glad I gave my heart to the Lord,” one brother offered.

“Jesus is coming soon,” the other brother testified, to which the first brother added, “He has one foot in the sound, one foot on land, and the other foot in the ocean.”

The third brother got laughing so hard he fell on the floor and had to crawl out the door.

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One mama decided to order a new pair of shoes for her young son. She wrote a letter to the mail order company. “Dear Sears,” she penned, without any mention that she wanted to order shoes, “He don’t want black, he wants brown. He don’t want 9s, he wants 11s.”  


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Ocracoke got telephone service in the 1950s. A representative from “Ma Bell” came to the island to promote the new technology. “You can connect with your neighbors and friends just by picking up the receiver” he told one islander.

“Then you’d better connect me to heaven,” she replied. “This one over here has died, and that one over there has one foot in the grave.”

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