Job Wahab (nearly everyone called him Jobie) had the sea in his blood. Born on Ocracoke Island in 1802, he was, according to one legend, descended from a shipwrecked Arab sailor. More reliable information indicates that the Wahabs descended from a distinguished Scottish family with records extending back to the 14th century. In 1759 Job’s great-grandfather, John Williams, an early inlet pilot, had purchased one half of Ocracoke Island from William Howard, former quartermaster to Blackbeard the pirate. Jobie was married to William Howard’s great-granddaughter, Eliza Bradley Howard. They had fifteen children.
Eliza Bradley Howard Wahab:
Jobie Wahab, with help from his brother-in-law, George Washington Howard, and slave labor, built the Paragon, the first of several coastal schooners constructed on Ocracoke, at his house on the south side of Silver Lake.
The Paragon was 62 feet long on deck, 19 feet at the beam, and had a depth of five feet. Her frame was made from red cedar and live oak cut on Ocracoke. Her white oak planking came from along the Roanoke River. She was calked with oakum, rolled up tarry rope fibers, that was driven into the seams with a mallet.
The Paragon had one deck and two masts. She had a square stern, and on her prow Jobie mounted a billet-head, a fancy, carved piece of scrollwork. Fully loaded with cargo, she weighed more than 34 tons. The Paragon was launched in 1838. She slid into Pamlico Sound on skids greased with oil from boiled shark livers. Jobie Wahab, 36 years old, was her master.
Artist’s Sketch of the Paragon:
Jobie sailed the Paragon up and down the east coast, from the West Indies to New York. By 1851 his son, Robert Pike (Rob) Wahab, was owner and master. They carried whatever cargo was available, including wheat, lumber, tar, turpentine, rum, and shingles.
In about 1857 Jobie Wahab gave up the life of a sailor and moved to Durham, North Carolina, to work for W.T. Blackwell, whose company eventually succeeded J.R. Greene’s company, manufacturers of Genuine Durham Smoking Tobacco (later known as Bull Durham). James Horatio Williams, Jobie’s second cousin, became half owner, and was made captain of the Paragon. Captain Horatio was 30 years old.
Capt. James Horatio Williams in 1887:
Four years after assuming command of the Paragon Captain Horatio Williams made a remarkable decision. It was at the outbreak of the Civil War. He deliberately sank his own ship. It is a story of determination, stubbornness, and bravery. And it is best told in this story which appeared in The News and Observer, Raleigh, N.C., February 13, 1949.:
“Capt. Horatio Williams of Ocracoke Island, of the schooner Paragon, was a long way from home and he was worried.
“He was in danger of losing his ship.
“He loved that ship, loved her almost as much as he did his wife whose way to his heart was by having a mess of chitterlings waiting for him when he came home from the sea.
“Horatio wasn’t ordinarily a cussin’ man, arguing that cussin’ was only biting a naked hook, but he cussed now. He spit a few salty words into the night, aimed them at both the Yankees and the Confederates.
“But his cussin’ didn’t make him feel any better. It didn’t ease his mind a smidgin.
The port authorities had told him in no uncertain terms the afternoon before that the Paragon couldn’t leave Charleston Harbor just then. A Yankee fleet was on the way to Charleston, they told him, and they might need the Paragon.
“’You’ll get her sunk,’ he shouted, ‘or captured by them damn Yankees! That’s what you’ll do. Let me get her out of here before it’s too late.’
“The port commander smiled. ‘You wouldn’t stand a chance of making a run for it,’ he said. ‘The Yankee fleet would be on top of you before your sails got filled. And then where would you be? Sunk or captured.’
“Horatio stalked off fuming.
“Now he stood on the Battery, looking out toward Fort Sumter. People jammed the wharves and the ships tied up alongside. They were waiting for the bombardment to begin, the bombardment that would plunge the South into war against the Union.
“A little group of men hurrying past jostled Horatio. He heard one say ‘Those Yankees won’t dare try to hold out. They’ll haul down their flag and up will go ours.’
“Above the clamor of mass-filled streets came a shout: ‘Blast ‘em out! Lincoln can’t insult us!’
“Somewhere along the battlements along the Battery stood old Edmund Ruffin, a frail little man with white hair hanging uncut below his shoulders, a violent advocate of Southern independence. He stood beside a cannon waiting for the word that would open up the bombardment. To him had been given the honor of firing the first shot into Sumter if the Yankee commander refused to evacuate the fort.
“It was long after midnight when Edmund Ruffin yanked the lanyard of the first gun in Charleston harbor sending the roundshot screaming upon Sumter.
“Other guns picked up the signal.
“Horatio stood there for a long time watching the flashes, listening to the boom of many guns, the pound of running feet, the rumble of wagons on the cobblestones, the shouts of jubilant men. His own tongue was stilled and there was no joy in his heart.
“Edmund Ruffin had yanked a lanyard of a gun and Horatio knew that the old man’s effortless gesture was destined to send the master of the Paragon into retirement for – well, he didn’t want to think for how long.
“Finally, Horatio turned from the Battery, shuffling off toward his room above the waterfront tavern where he could think things out. What with the worry that pricked at his heart and mind and the beat of the guns in his ears, a gray dawn was breaking over Charleston when he finally got to sleep.
“He slept most of the day. It was late afternoon when he came awake. Heavy rain clouds were forming. He dressed, not bothering to shave, and went below to seek food and drink and to think.
“When he had finished his meal, his mind was made up.
“He would take the Paragon out during the night. He would make a run for it up the coast. To Hell with the port authorities! To Hell with the Yankee fleet! He was going home to Ocracoke – or die trying.
“Horatio figured that maybe in the confusion of the cannonading that had been going on now for almost 18 hours he might have a chance of sneaking out of the harbor without being noticed.
“He began searching the crowded room for his two crew members. He knew they were there someplace. This was their favorite haunt, and when they were in Charleston they holed in here until he was ready to sail.
“Unable to spot either of them from his corner table, Horatio got up and began moving between the tables, looking here and there. Finally, he spotted Tom, who was just about to order a drink.
“Horatio moved over to the table, leaned down. ‘I say, Tom….’ A bearded face looked up. ‘Why, hello, captain. Sit down and join me.’
“The skipper of the Paragon slipped into a chair across from Tom. ‘There isn’t time,’ he whispered. ‘Now keep quiet and listen. Don’t raise your voice. I’ve decided we’ll make a run for it. Where’s Jeb?’
“Why, he was here a minute ago. He’s not gone far. He’ll be back.’ Tom looked across the room, then paused. ‘There he is, over there at the fire.’
“Get him and meet me outside.’ Horatio got up and made his way toward the door.
“A few minutes later the three had slipped aboard the Paragon. Sails were run up, the tow lines drawn in, and the anchor hauled up.
“Holding in close to the shore, the Paragon slipped through the harbor, seeming barely to move. Now and then there was a ‘b-o-o-m’ from the Battery, an answer from Sumter.
“The night was dark. There was a drizzle of rain. Fog swirled over the harbor. Horatio stood at the wheel, nursing the Paragon through the roadstead until the shoreline was no longer visible.
“Dawn came, gray and murky. The land had fallen away. He scanned the sea north and south, east and west. The Paragon was alone.
“’Tom!’ he yelled. ‘Tom!’ The bearded seaman, a good ten years Horatio’s senior, stuck his head out of the galley.
“’Take over,’ Horatio commanded. ‘The worst is behind, I’m thinking. Coffee’s what I crave.’
“Tom came up and took over the wheel. ‘Where’s we headin’?’ he asked.
“’Keep her running north. Past Ocracoke and Hatteras. Right to the Roanoke. We’ll go into Pamlico Sound at Ocracoke Inlet. Then up to Albemarle sound.’
“’But why the Albemarle? Why not run her home at Ocracoke?’
“Horatio grinned. ‘You’ll see, in time. We’re taking the Paragon where nobody’s going to lay hands on her. The damn Yankees will never get the Paragon.’ He turned and strode off toward the galley.
“Tom shook his head. He was puzzled. He wondered just what the captain had in mind. You never could tell about these young fellows.
“A week later Horatio ran the Paragon into Albemarle Sound. It was midmorning when he edged her past Bull Bay, keeping her headed due west toward the mouth of the Roanoke River.
“He was grinning. His gray eyes were sparkling. Jeb and Tom were puzzled. They talked among themselves. They didn’t have much to say to Horatio. When midafternoon came the Paragon was well up the Roanoke.
“’You can ease up on the sails,’ Horatio told them. ‘We’re just about at the end of our trip.’ The Paragon slowed down. On either side of the river there were oaks and cedar, thick underbrush.
“’We’ll sink her here,’ Horatio told them. ‘Let the anchor go. Down with the sails.’ Tom and Jeb looked at him.
“Horatio laughed. ‘Sure we’re sinking her. Nobody’ll use the Paragon ’til the war’s over. Now step to it.’
“The sails were taken down, folded and placed in a dingy. Horatio went below, into the hold that so recently had carried corn and rice and fertilizer. When he again appeared on deck, water was rushing into the hold of the Paragon.
“He and Tom and Jeb got into the dingy, Tom and Jeb at the oars. When they reached the river bank, Horatio said: ‘We’ll bury the sails. They’ll come in handy when we raise her.’
“By the time the canvas had been buried in the woods the Paragon had settled until only the tops of her mast were above water.
“’I reckon,’ said Horatio, ‘the Paragon couldn’t be in a safer place. She’ll be waiting there when it’s safe for her to sail again.’
“He stepped into the dingy. ‘Let’s go, mates,’ he said. ‘We’ll head for Williamston and overland to Washington. I reckon we can get a fishing boat from there to Ocracoke. I’m getting hungry for a mess of chitterlings.’
“Tom and Jeb bent to the oars….
“Horatio Williams, Jr. ran his hand through his closely-cropped white hair. It was midnight in the lobby of the Wahab Hotel at Ocracoke. The radio was turned up and a commentator was saying Dewey was a sure bet to beat Truman. But the white-haired man, sun-bronzed and weather-beaten, wasn’t listening. His thoughts were far away in time.
“’That’s the way it was,’ he said. ‘That’s the way my father told it. That’s how he beat the Yankees and kept the Paragon from falling into their hands. Not by a long shot. No, sir!’
“He stretched his leg, ran his hand through his hair again, looked over toward the radio that seemed so out of place.
“’No, sir,’ he said, ‘that’s not the end of the story. The Paragon sailed again. That she did. And my father sailed her. She was some ship right up to the time she went down off Frying Pan Shoals in ’85….
“’Well, now, after my father sank the Paragon up the Roanoke River, he came back here to Ocracoke. He reckoned he would take a rest until the war was over. He didn’t have no grudge against anybody and he wasn’t going to do any fighting. He didn’t either. He fished a bit, had a little boat of his own. He always managed to be away from home when the officers came over to get fellows for the army.’
“Horatio the second leaned back in his chair. He seemed to be thinking. Except for his white hair he didn’t look a man of 75.
“’When the war was over,’ he continued, ‘my father didn’t make no move right away to go get the Paragon. Meanwhile, Jobie had died [in 1860] and Henry, that was Jobie’s son, was over on the mainland running a cotton gin and sawmill, at Germantown. Finally, my father went to see him and they talked about raising the Paragon. It was 18 months after the war was over that they raised her.
“’It was quite a job, too. They had to pontoon her with barrels until her decks were above water. They pumped the water out of her with hand pumps. She wasn’t damaged in the least. She had been in fresh water. You know, in the old days when they built ships they docked them before they was finished, that is, they let them lie in fresh water for a while. So the Paragon, wasn’t hurt none. And the heart of red cedar, of which she was built, won’t rot. So she was just about as good as ever. And that canvas my father buried was still in good condition, too.
“’They sailed the Paragon right down the Roanoke to Ocracoke and put her in the trade again.
“’When I was a boy, I sailed with my father several times on the Paragon. I used to go with him to Swan Quarter to load grain.
“’I remember that then the Paragon had a crew of six…three sailors, a mate, cook and captain. She could carry 85 ton in her hold and she drew eight feet of water.
“’I remember on the trips south my father would order the cabin doors shut after crossing the bar at Ocracoke Inlet and have them sealed up with turpentine soap until he reached Charleston. It was rough sailing and that was the only way to keep water out of the hold.
“’I remember my father as a soft-spoken man, except when he was in a bad humor, and then he could let ‘em fly. But he used to tell me that cussing was only biting a naked hook, meaning there was no bait on it.
“’He wasn’t a big man. He was only five-foot-seven and he weighed only 145 pounds. He had black hair and gray eyes.
“’He wasn’t a heavy drinking man, either. He wasn’t a drunkard. But, he liked his toddy. He had a toddy every morning. Once I remember he brought a gallon of some kind of whiskey home in a demijohn covered with grass. He said it came from the Indies.’
“Horatio looked at his watch.
“’Reckon I’ve talked too much,’ he said, ‘Bout time to turn in.’
“He stood up. ‘If you’re ever over in Morehead City, come by to see me. I’ve been living over there for some time but I come back to Ocracoke now and then to look over the place. It does me good to come back now that I’m a landlubber. Revives a lot of pleasant memories.’ He started toward the stairs that led to his room, then turned and came back.
“’Just remembered something,’ he said. ‘Story my father told me. Had to do with cussin’. Seems back in the old days there was a preacher who’d never done any sailing but he’d been around a lot of sailors and he couldn’t understand why they were always cussing, particularly the captains.
“’Well, it seems this preacher was given a trip on a schooner one day. As the preacher came aboard, the captain was using some pretty strong language to his men.
“’You shouldn’t talk like that to your men,’ the preacher told the captain. ‘Cussin’ doesn’t do any good.’
“’The captain nodded. The preacher went below. The captain called his men to him. He told them, ‘I’ve got a little plan for when the preacher comes back. When I say to you, ‘My good men, take in the topsail.’ You sit still. Don’t pay any attention.’
“’Well, when the preacher appeared, the captain said in a calm voice, “My good men, take in the topsail.” The crew paid no attention. Three times he repeated the order in the same words. And three times he was ignored. Finally, he screamed. “Blast you —, take in the topsail!” The crew jumped to his order.
“’The preacher looked at the captain, shook his head and said, ‘Damn if I don’t believe a little cussin’ does help sometimes’”
Sometime around 1867 the Paragon, or at least Captain Horatio’s half interest, was sold to islander Tilmon Farrow. Horatio Williams then took command of the Annie Wahab, another schooner from Ocracoke. In 1873 Jobie Wahab’s son, Uriah Mason Wahab, was half owner of the Paragon with George Credle of Swan Quarter, North Carolina. By 1874 another son, Henry Wilson Wahab, owned the schooner with George Credle. Henry became sole owner and master a year later.
Several local seafarers served as master of the Paragon, including owners, Robert Pike Wahab, Uriah M. Wahab, and Henry W. Wahab, as well as Joseph O’Neal, George W. Wallace, and I.W. Silver. But the Paragon’s most colorful captain was without a doubt James Horatio Williams.
After sinking his schooner and returning home to Ocracoke, Horatio Williams supported his family by cultivating a small farm. He raised hogs, grew a few crops, and grazed several head of cattle. In addition to supplying islanders with pork, beef, and vegetables, he occasionally sent meat to the mainland.
For a time during the Civil War federal troops occupied Ocracoke Island. One day a Union officer approached Captain Williams and offered to buy a few head of cattle to feed his men. Horatio refused, saying he had no intention of selling anything to any “damn Yankees.” The officer explained that he was prepared to pay for the cattle, but that he was authorized to seize stock if Williams refused to sell. With that, the stubborn sea captain turned and walked away.
The officer then instructed his men to take whatever cattle they needed. As they were rounding up the livestock, Horatio’s wife, Martha, more practical than ideological, opened the door, and pointed to a ballast stone lying near the porch steps. She explained that the officer could just leave any money under the stone. The Union officer, a fair and honest man, left the banknotes for Martha.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century James Howard, first keeper of the US Life Saving Station at the north end of Ocracoke, circulated a petition to have free ranging livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, and horses) removed from the island in order to protect vegetation, and curtail erosion. Captain Horatio, never a supporter of Keeper Howard’s proposal, became incensed when Howard, a champion of horses and an accomplished equestrian, deleted horses from his petition before submitting it to authorities.
Zilphia & James Howard:
To make matters worse, Horatio’s eighteen year old daughter, Ann Mariah, fell in love with James Howard’s brother, Perry Coleman Howard. Perry Coleman, in his mid thirties, was a widower. His first wife, Elizabeth Williams, had died in childbirth, leaving him to care for their infant son. Horatio threatened to write his daughter out of his will if she married Perry Coleman, but Ann Mariah defied him. After she made her decision Horatio refused to speak to his daughter. Ann Mariah and Perry Coleman had twelve children.
Perry Coleman Howard:
Some time after the marriage Sue Howard, wife of James and Perry Coleman’s nephew Abner Bennet, approached Horatio about buying collards. He did not recognize her, and asked her who she was. When Sue explained that she was married to Bennett Howard, Horatio proclaimed “Not one damn collard!” and stomped away.
Although Horatio had a reputation for a fiery temper, his long-time crew member, Tom Franks Gaskins, claimed that he never went to his captain with a question that he didn’t receive a civil answer.
Horatio had a large, raised water tank installed on his property. Eventually it began to leak, and he decided to make the repairs himself. In the process he slipped and fell into the tank. His wife Martha crawled between the straw mattress and the feather comforter so he wouldn’t hear her laughing.
When Horatio neared the end of his life Ann Mariah learned that her father’s will designated a bequest of just one dollar for her in order to prevent his will from being contested. Ann Mariah vowed to lay the dollar on his tombstone. As it happened, the old sea captain mellowed some with age. Ann Mariah’s children received a sizable parcel of land when her father died.
During his career as a sea captain Horatio Williams became a local legend. It was told that on his way home from the West Indies his ship was becalmed within sight of Ocracoke. After two days in the doldrums Captain Horatio cursed his fate, laid a paper dollar on one of the spars, and challenged God to blow the bill off. In short order the wind freshened, a squall materialized, and it blew a gale. His ship was almost dismasted. Later the captain confessed, “if I’d know it was going to blow that hard I’d only have asked for a quarter’s worth of wind.”
Captain Horatio was master of the Paragon in 1884, but no one knows who was in command when the schooner wrecked on Frying Pan Shoal, near Cape Fear, in 1885. The 47 year old vessel was a total loss.