Earlier this year my friend Doug asked me about the 1977 Folkways recording of Outer Banks music, “Between the Sound and the Sea.” He only had the vinyl version (but no turntable), so I loaned him my CD. That was my incentive to re-listen to the album, especially since my father, Lawton Howard, was featured playing a few tunes on his mandolin.

I was familiar with all of the songs, especially the Outer Banks classics, “Charlie Mason Pogie Boat,” the “Booze Yacht,” “Paddy’s Holler,” and “Let’s Keep the Holler Alive.” But the ballad of “Tom Daniels” (sung and played by Edgar Howard on his banjo) was less familiar. You can listen to a portion of the song here: https://folkways.si.edu/between-the-sound-and-the-sea-music-of-the-north-carolina-outer-banks/american-folk/music/album/smithsonian. Unfortunately, the sample does not include the four lines of the lyrics (but you can download the track for .99, download the entire album for $9.99, or buy the CD for $16.98).

Edgar Howard (1904-1990)
Edgar Howard (1904-1990)

Here are the lyrics:

Now Tom Daniels bought him a breechloader, for hunting down on the Banks.

He asked his friends Dicky and Dexter to join with him in rank.

Quawk Hammock, Quawk Hammock, Quawk Hammock’s the place to be gay.

And just about night, sunk the skiff(s) out of sight, and drove the Core sounders away.

 

The song seems to be just a fragment of a longer piece, and enigmatic, as well. So, what does the song mean?

I’m not absolutely sure who Tom Daniels was, but oral history suggests he was Thomas Tolson (b.1856), a fisherman and the son of a Daniel Tolson (?-?). It was common on Ocracoke to refer to a son by his first name plus his father’s first name. Thus, he became Thomas [Tolson], Daniel’s son…or simply “Tom Daniels.” Dicky may have been Richard (Dick) O’Neal (1877-1944). Dexter is probably William Dexter Ballance (1876-1914). A breechloader is a rifle that is loaded with ammunition from the rear (breech) end of the barrel.  “In rank” is probably a military term, used primarily to rhyme with “Banks”. Quawk Hammock is a marsh 12 miles NE of the village.

Karen Helms, the collector of the music writes this about the ballad in her liner notes:

“The ballad of Tom Daniels is believed by many Ocracoke villagers to have been composed by [James] Horatio Williams II [1873-1958] in the later part of the 19th century and handed down via the folk musicians there. This tells the partial story of an incident (believed to be true) about a confrontation between some villagers and a group from the Core Sound region of the Banks. Quork [or Quawk] Hammock was once a fishing and hunting camp on Ocracoke Island. Since fishing was then their main source of income, the spot was very competitive. According to this song, some men from Core Sound came up to ‘firelight’ one evening and were promptly chased away in flat bottom skiffs. As in most folk songs, there is probably another version to be found there among Core Sounders.”

When I listened to the song (and read the liner notes) for the first time in many years, I realized that when I initially heard the song almost 35 years ago I had no clue what the song was about, but I was now reminded that I had discovered the last line of the song in 2015 while researching the “1890 Ocracoke Oyster War.”

The Oyster War erupted when Lt. Francis Winslow, Jr. (1851-1908), USN, (who had been paid by the government to survey the oyster beds in Pamlico Sound) used his influence and newly-gained knowledge to begin aggressively harvesting oysters with sail-powered dredge boats and a work force from Core Sound, rather than the traditional hand tongs.

Winslow had been warned by Ocracoke oystermen that they would defend their beds with weapons. The situation was volatile, and a rebellion erupted. The Wilmington [NC] Messenger, described the situation in an article titled, “Civil War in Hyde County,” published Wednesday, February 5, 1890.

Clearly, I thought, the Ballad of Tom Daniels, contains just a small kernel of the original song composed by Horatio Williams, who was 17 years old when the Ocracoke Oyster War broke out. It recounts the victory of the O-cockers when they drove the Core Sound oyster fishermen out of Pamlico Sound. I wish we had the entire song, but at least a fragment survives.

You can read more about the Ocracoke Oyster War here: https://www.villagecraftsmen.com/1890-ocracoke-oyster-war/)

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The following article by Ralph Pool was published in The Virginian-Pilot, Sunday, July 3, 1960:

The Lost Colony never was lost. When Governor John White searched abandoned Fort Raleigh in 1590, his missing settlers were safe, well fed and presumably happy, scarcely a dozen miles away.

This is the theory brought to light last week by Marshall Layton Twiford, 83, of Norfolk, in a story by Victor Meekins in the Coastal Times published in Manteo, N.C.

The theory isn’t Twiford’s. Rather, it is a tradition stemming from the remote past in the East Lake section of Dare County, a region of woodlands and tangled marshes and sluggish creeks, which won wide recognition for the high quality of the corn liquor it produced in prohibition days.

Not many miles from East Lake, and some 10 miles up Milltail Creek from Alligator River, is a wooded area of some 5,000 acres known as Beechland. This land is rich and somewhat higher than the surrounding marshes. For many generations, until about a century ago, it was the abiding place for a thriving community. Then plague struck, many died, and the frightened survivors fled.

Twiford grew up in the river community at East Lake, where his father, M.D. Twiford, a “hard-shell” Baptist preacher, was also a fisherman, farmer, postmaster and merchant. From his father, he learned the story of Beechland’s link with the Lost Colony.

When the English Colonist built Fort Raleigh, the Indians had a settlement at Beechland, with a woodland trail leading to the shore of Croatan Sound opposite Roanoke Island, the tradition says. They made friends with the whites.

John White left Fort Raleigh in August 1587 to bring back needed supplies from England. A year elapsed. With no sign of White, their fears of a Spanish attack from the sea increasing, and supplies doubtless at the vanishing point, the settlers abandoned Fort Raleigh and joined their Indian friends at Beechland, so the story goes.

When White finally returned in the summer of 1590, misfortune dogged him. The weather turned foul, and seven Englishmen drowned when their small boat capsized as they tried to land on Roanoke Island.

Finally reaching shore, White found Fort Raleigh far different from the settlement he had left three years before. He recounts that the houses had been pulled down and a strong enclosure built, with a high palisade of large trees. The place was deserted, but there was no sign of violence or of hurried departure. By agreement, the settlers were to have left crosses marked about the place if threat of danger forced them to abandon the area. There were no crosses. On a tree at the fort’s entrance, he found the word “CROATOAN” carved in “Roman letters”. Also, the letters “CRO” had been carved on a tree on the brow of a nearby cliff.

Croatoan 1870 Etching
Croatoan, 1870 Etching

White believed “Croatoan” to mean an island to the south, possibly the present Ocracoke. He planned to go there to continue his search, but the stormy weather continued and the expedition had to scurry out to the open sea to escape destruction.

White’s next idea was to sail to the West Indies, spend the winter, and return the following spring for further search. But the weather continued bad, the idea was dropped, and the expedition returned to England. There ends the recorded history of the Raleigh
settlements.

One tradition holds that the John White colony journeyed many miles to the south and finally settled in what is now Robeson County, on the South Carolina border. And now there is Beechland.

According to the legend related by Twiford, the word “Croatoan” actually referred to the mainland district across Croatan Sound from Roanoke Island, now known as Manns Harbor. Marshy islands dotted the sound and it was almost possible to cross from island to mainland on foot until about 150 years ago. Then an inlet at the present Nags Head filled up, the flow of water from Albemarle Sound was diverted, and strong currents washed the islands away.

Croatoan, Twiford said, was named for an Indian woman who lived and died there and who must have been in some way notable, though only her name comes down to us.

Beechland was a fair, fruitful and happy land, the story goes. Its deep, black loam produced a bounty of corn, cotton and other crops. Its orchards yielded abundant fruit, its hives produced plenty of golden honey, its herds grazing in the reedy marshlands supplied hides, meat and milk. The sounds and rivers offered fish and oysters for the taking.

In time, the Indian trail of Croatan faded away and the inhabitants of Beechland came to depend on stout boats of their own making for contact with the outside world. They built up a brisk trade with the West Indies, exchanging drawn cypress shingles and farm produce for sugar, spices, rum, salt and other products.

In this prosperous community, neighbors came to the rescue of anyone whom misfortune struck. None were permitted to go in want; and in time of death, neighbors hewed a coffin out of the rot-resistant cypress, dug the grave and otherwise ministered to the bereaved. There was no thought of taking pay. Graves were marked with rocks from ballast dumped by ships returned from the West Indies. Many of these graves are to be found in Beechland today, and it is possible that archaeological investigation might turn up new evidence of Beechland’s links from the far past.

“I saw one of those coffins opened,” Twiford recalled. “It had been dug up accidentally by a bulldozer. The top and bottom halves had been fitted closely together and fastened with pegs. All I saw inside was a little ashes or dust. It ought to have been examined for buttons or other objects, but it wasn’t. The men reburied it, and the bulldozer crew circled around the graveyard.”

For many generations, Beechland flourished. At long last, tradition says, there came a day when the people paid little heed to spiritual things, refused to listen to the pleadings of a minister in their midst to humble themselves before God. When they failed to build a church and meet for worship, he warned them to expect catastrophe. Not long after, the minister’s warning was fulfilled.

Calamity struck in the form of a plague, likely cholera brought from the West Indies. Scores died. A few packed their belongings in their boats and escaped to Currituck and elsewhere.

Beechland vanished as a settled, prosperous community a few years before the Civil War. In later years, a few families trickled back. Twiford remembers as a small boy accompanying his father to the district, not many miles from East Lake. Three families then lived there, he says, named Smith, Basnight, and Stokes. “After a few years, these families disappeared too,” Twiford added. “I guess they just moved away.”

A check of John White’s roster of the Lost Colony reveals a Thomas Smith, but the link to Beechland is tenuous, to say the least, in view of the multiplicity of Smith’s.

(The Virginian-Pilot – Sunday, July 3, 1960; Section B)

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Almost any time a group of musicians gets together to play sea shanties someone will break out with “The Drunken Sailor.” It is one of the best-known shanties.

Bob Bob Zentz Playing a Sea Shanty on his Concertina
Bob Bob Zentz Playing a Sea Shanty on his Concertina

Here is the refrain…and three popular verses:

What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
Earl-eye in the morning!

Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Earl-eye in the morning!

Put him in a longboat ‘til he’s sober
Put him in a longboat ‘til he’s sober
Put him in a longboat ‘til he’s sober
Earl-eye in the morning!

Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Earl-eye in the morning!

Shave his belly with a rusty razor
Shave his belly with a rusty razor
Shave his belly with a rusty razor
Earl-eye in the morning!

Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Earl-eye in the morning!

Give ‘im a hair of the dog that bit him
Give ‘im a hair of the dog that bit him
Give ‘im a hair of the dog that bit him
Earl-eye in the morning!

Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Earl-eye in the morning!

 

According to Wikipedia, “The shanty was sung to accompany certain work tasks aboard sailing ships, especially those that required a bright walking pace. It is believed to originate in the early 19th century or before, during a period when ships’ crews, especially those of military vessels, were large enough to permit hauling a rope whilst simply marching along the deck.”

The earliest mention of this song dates to 1841, but many researchers believe it is as old as 1820, or even earlier. The verses suggest various ways to punish a drunken sailor. Many verses are simply created on the spot as the song is performed. One particularly intriguing verse is “Give ‘im a hair of the dog that bit him,” usually attributed to Burl Ives in his 1956 LP “Down to the Sea in Ships.”

I was aware that the “hair of a dog that bit him” refers to an alcoholic drink taken to cure a hangover, but I wondered where that expression originated. Then, not long ago, I read this passage in “The Adventures of John Nicol [b. in Edinburgh, 1755], Mariner, During Thirty Years at Sea”:

“I was on shore for a good while at Wampoa [Pazhou Island, China], making candles, for our voyage home…. After the candles were made, I [proceeded] to repair the cooper work, and screen sand and dry it, to pack the tea-boxes for our voyage home. One day, a boy was meddling rather freely with the articles belonging to me. Neptune [Nicol’s dog] bit him. I was extremely sorry for it, and…dressed the boy’s hurt, which was not severe. I gave the boy a few cass [small brass coins] who went away quite pleased. In a short time after, I saw him coming back, and his father leading him. I looked for squalls; but the father only asked a few hairs out from under Neptune’s fore leg, close to the body; he would take them from no other part, and stuck them all over the wound. He went away content. I had often heard, when a person had been tipsy the evening before, people tell him to take a hair of the dog that bit him, but never saw it in the literal sense before.”

A little research led me to “Four Thousand Years of Concepts Relating to Rabies in Animals and Humans, Its Prevention and Its Cure,” published by the National Institutes of Health, where I learned that “the first edition of Medicina Curiosa, the first English-language journal wholly dedicated to medicine [published on 17 June, 1684], describes post-exposure prevention [of rabies]…after a [dog] bite [was] based…on applying hair of the biting dog (‘hair of the dog’) to the wound.”

Another NIH article notes that ‘[t]he widespread practice of using dog hair to heal wounds and to avoid rabies infection…has…been reported in studies carried out in [Spain and] other European countries: Albania , Italy and Portugal.

The NIH rightly describes this “’hair of the dog’ cure” as “fanciful” and “ineffective.”

Likewise, reputable health care practitioners describe drinking alcohol to cure a headache as “completely ineffective,” and “causing dehydration which may make some hangovers worse.”

Nevertheless, sea shanty enthusiasts continue to sing with gusto “What shall we do with the drunken sailor? Give ‘im a hair from the dog that bit him…give ‘im a hair from the dog that bit him! Earl-eye in the morning!”

Ocracoke Native, Edgar Howard, with his Banjo
Ocracoke Native, Edgar Howard, with his Banjo

It would be much better to “put him in a longboat ‘til he’s sober.”

 

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