Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Village Craftsmen!

Last month I reported that one of the most common questions summer visitors ask us is, “What do you folks do here all winter?” I related that we often sit around after a family dinner or potluck, and retell some of the amusing comments and questions that we’ve heard over the years.

Quite a bit more goes on here, as well.  But mostly it involves local people just getting together to enjoy each other’s company.  As you might imagine, this time of year there’s not much commercial “entertainment” put on for the tourist trade.

However, it may be that someone has come into a couple of bushels of fresh oysters.  If we’re all lucky, they will invite friends over to sit around the dining room table (covered with newspapers, of course) to share jokes and stories while we shuck the slightly steamed delicacies, dip them in butter, and wash them down with cold beer.

On one warm November weekend Charles Temple organized a beach party to celebrate the “end of the season.”  Several dozen Ocracokers (young, old, and children) gathered to laugh, play frisbee, throw a baseball, and eat hot dogs & hamburgers.  As they say, “a good time was had by all.”

November Beach Party
Beach Party

Just before sunset we were all treated to the sight of a sun dog in the southwestern sky.

Autumn Sun Dog
Sun Dog

We built a fire not too far from the surf, and, after the sun went down and the air cooled, we sat in a circle roasting marshmallows and visiting long into the night.

Riley and the Beach Fire
Now and then I am fortunate enough to host a potluck for our local musicians.  Sitting around the living room after dinner I relax while listening  to familiar tunes played on guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin.

Ocrafolk Opry Performers at an Informal Jam Session:
Music Jam

Fiddler Dave and Miss Kitty Liven up my Living Room:
Music Jam

There is not much that is more rewarding than listening to friends strike up a tune for the pure pleasure of making music.

Many of us will be performing on Friday, November 29, for a local concert to benefit this upcoming year’s “Ocrafolk Festival of Story and Song.”  Look for more information about this delightful festival that is held each year during the first weekend in June.

Of course, the benefit concert is the day after Thanksgiving, and many of us will have just gathered at Gary and Kitty’s house for our annual Turkey Day get together.  Dozens of people fill the Mitchells’ home each year with casseroles, oysters, salads, homemade bread, cakes and pies — and the traditional turkey, stuffing, and gravy, of course.  After dinner,  we are usually treated to photography exhibits, music, or even storytelling.  What a feast!

Recently I learned of an interesting after-dinner parlor game for a large group of friends.  With a few slips of paper and a yen for fun you too can play Werewolf.  Just last week nineteen islanders got together for a potluck dinner and several hours of this newly discovered game.  It was loud and exciting, and once in a while the “villagers” were  actually successful in routing the lycanthrophic intruders from their midst.  One of the winter joys of living on Ocracoke is the sense of community and the ease of getting a large group of folks together for an evening of good fun.

Last month I promised a report on the first ever Howard Family Reunion.  Following is the article that appeared in our local newspaper, the “Ocracoke Observer:”

Howard Family Reunion

“Amateur genealogists are well known for seeking out the most noble and honorable members of their clans, although not a few actually revel in exposing the outrageous and colorful black sheep of the family.  The Howard family is little different from other families, boasting a wide assortment of the goodly and a few of the ignoble.

William Howard (1700-1795), the progenitor of at least three major branches of this prominent Ocracoke family, can count among his descendents successful musicians, writers, health-care professionals, judges, and four-star generals.  Nevertheless, William Howard himself, though possibly a rather well-to-do planter by 1759 when he purchased Ocracoke Island for 105 Pounds Sterling, may have been the very same William Howard who served as quartermaster to the infamous pirate Blackbeard in 1718.  Or perhaps he was the grandson of the villainous buccaneer.  We may never know.

In October, 2002, when the first Howard family reunion was held on the island, no fewer than 125 people descended on Ocracoke, from as far distant as New York, Arizona, and California.  Julie Howard of Ocracoke prepared an extensive, wall-mounted family tree that documented the hundreds of descendants of William.  Family members spent much time in front of the display identifying their branch of the tree, and penciling in the names of those not already included.

Family Members Trace Their Roots

Various members of the Howard clan placed books, photographs, and other memorabilia on view, while others shared information on their genealogical line.  Earl O’Neal from the island presented an exhaustive account of his research on the Howards of Ocracoke. Members of the family will be looking forward to the publication of his book sometime in the next year or two.

Martin and Jule Garrish, both descendants of William Howard, and accomplished island musicians, provided entertainment on Saturday evening.  Between sets, Philip Howard shared several stories about Ocracoke natives that illustrated their often not-so-straight-laced, and impish character.  Nearly everyone laughed heartily and seemed delighted to know that the family included a number of folks who were a little earthy, and who didn’t take themselves too seriously.

A highlight of the evening was a traditional Ocracoke square dance, complete with calls to “swing your partner,” “wring your dishrag,” “dance the star,” and “fall in line for the march.”

Howard Family Joins in a Traditional Ocracoke Squaredance

This reunion would not have happened without the dedication and enthusiasm of Teresa Howard Harrell and her extended family from Tarboro, NC.  Teresa spent more than two years planning the event. She invested much energy and not a little bit of cash getting the word out, planning the food and decorations, and making sure everything ran as smoothly as possible.

Descendants of Homer & Aliph Howard Share a Meal

During the weekend many family connections were identified or renewed.  Though little DNA may actually be shared by far-flung members from these various Howard branches, a meaningful bond was established among a wide assortment of people joined together by their relationship to their common ancestor, William Howard of Ocracoke.  We can only conjecture that William would be delighted to know that his descendants have been so prolific, and that they are justly proud of their heritage.”

We hope this gives you a sense of life on Ocracoke in the wintertime.  It’s quiet and there’s not much going on “out there,” but there’s plenty to keep us busy with family and good friends.

Again, we wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, and we will be back in touch next month.

Philip and the whole gang at Village Craftsmen (Dallie, Jude, Amy, Mary, and Leon)


Welcome back to another edition of our island newsletter!

Some of you may have heard about the fire scare we had last month.  A bottle rocket set off a blazing marsh fire just north of Jackson Dunes on June 8.  The wind was exceptionally strong and pushed the flames to the edge of a stand of tinder-dry cedar trees.  It was only by the quick action of local fishermen (who used their net stake pump to draw water from a nearby ditch), the Volunteer Fire Department (who responded immediately), and scores of worried citizens who struggled with hoses and shovels, that the fire was contained before it jumped the road and engulfed homes and more trees.

Everyone was concerned because the dry brush was fueling the fire and the gusty wind was driving it rapidly towards the village.  Residents and business owners were warned to gather valuables together in the event that the fire became an uncontrollable inferno.  And we all breathed a communal sigh of relief when the fire was finally reduced to smoke and charred vegetation.

Post-fire Marsh Scene:
Post Fire Marsh

One benefit of the conflagration was the passage of an island ordinance prohibiting fire crackers, bottle rockets, and other individual fireworks.  The ordinance calls for criminal and civil penalties so please remember to leave your fireworks at home from now on.  None of us can afford to let our beautiful village fall victim to reckless negligence.

The fire erupted late in the afternoon, during one of the final performances of the OcraFolk Music & Storytelling Festival.  In spite of the distraction the festival was a huge success.

For some time I have been chronicling local island history in these pages.  One of the most colorful characters to be associated with Ocracoke is Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard the Pirate.  I will recount some of his history and stories in a later newsletter, but right now I want to share some thoughts about Blackbeard’s quartermaster, William Howard.

As many of you know, William Howard was the fourth colonial owner of Ocracoke Island (and the first owner to make his home here).  Family legend suggests that William Howard of Ocracoke is the very same William Howard, quartermaster to Blackbeard.  At least that’s what some of the family think.  Others are not so sure.  Dora Adele Padgett, herself the great-great-great-great granddaughter of William, in her book, William Howard Last Colonial Owner of Ocracoke Island, discounts this theory.  She writes:

“And what of the old tales that William Howard, Blackbeard’s Quartermaster, was the same person as William Howard, who in 1759, 40 years later, purchased the Island of Ocracoke?  Evidence points to the fact that in 1718 William Howard Quartermaster, was an experienced ruffian, a seasoned villain and a seafaring man of wide experience.  He is described in the Virginia Court indictment against him as ‘a vagrant seaman, who did associate himself with wicked and dissolute persons.’  In 1718, William Howard who later lived on Ocracoke was a youth of about 18 years of age, hardly the seasoned villain of wide experience who had been Blackbeard’s quartermaster.”

For a different view consider the following.  After my father’s death in March I was going through his papers and discovered a ten-page type-written document entitled “History of the Life of Frank Treat Fulcher.”  Frank Treat, as everyone on the island called him, was a colorful character.  He was a folk artist who carved a number of boat models, as well as the last supper scene that can be seen in the vestibule of the Methodist Church.  His rendition of the Coast Guard vessel EAGLE is on display in the Maritime Room in the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum.  He left the island as a youth and eventually landed a job in Norfolk as a policeman.  Later in life he became a Methodist minister, explaining this change in occupation with the memorable statement, “I figured if I couldn’t beat the Hell out of people, I’d try preaching the Hell out of ’em.”

Frank Treat Fulcher (1878-1971)
Frank Treat Fulcher

According to Frank Treat’s autobiography he was “born January 25, 1878, on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.”  His father was in the Life Saving Service; his maternal grandfather was a merchant sea captain.  He writes, “At ten years of age my mother let me sail with a friend of hers, a Mrs. Rose, who was Captain….of the schooner EMILINE and I was seaman 3rd class.”  This was in 1888.  That is 170 years after Blackbeard was killed.  And boys were still leaving home to become sailors at ten years old!  Frank Treat “sailed to the various ports of Eastern Carolina” and rose to the rank of seaman first-class.  He recounts rescuing the first mate, who seems to have had a habit of falling overboard, more than once.  From the EMILINE he moved on to the schooner BESSIE where he learned both to cook and to “cuss a blue streak.”  He was not yet eleven years old.

Before Frank Treat turned thirteen years old he had sailed aboard the schooner ROBERT F. BRATTON which almost sank in the Atlantic Ocean on a trip from Charleston, SC to New Bern, NC.  In his own words, “Frank Treat is now twelve years old and is a salty old seaman.”  He met a Captain John Day and sailed on the CARRIE FARSON and then Captain John Beverage who convinced him to sail on board the “UNITY R. DYER, a two topmaster.”  Frank Treat reports “We were in several storms.  Once we were blown off the coast in a hurricane.  It took us fourteen days to sail back.  We lost our deck load and we came near sinking from open seams in the deck.  That was really the worst time I had ever seen.” In October of 1893 Frank Treat’s ship, the DAVIDSON “went ashore about three miles south of Cape Henry and was a total loss.”   ” I was pulled ashore through the breakers on a line,” he recounts.

After chronicling several more shipwrecks Frank Treat tells of his time aboard the Barkentine HENRY NORWELL, “the hardest ship of all.  The Captain was the toughest and the most ungodly man I had ever seen.”  Although Frank “fared much better than the rest of the crew, because I was a better wheel man and I could steer the ship better, by the wind…….we could not endure this hardship any longer, so we all jumped ship [in Brunswick, Georgia].”

After this adventure, Frank Treat signed up as mate on the Russian ship PAULINE bound for Hamburg, Germany.  He was seventeen years old, “in the possession of two good fists….and “could take care of myself.”  As he relates the story, “I helped shanghai the crew and when they discovered where they were, there was trouble in the air, but by this time I had become quite a man, so I talked them out of mutiny.  Fifty-seven days crossing the Atlantic.”  Others would recall that he ruled his crew with “fist, marlin spikes, and boot toes.”

From Hamburg, Frank Treat made a voyage on the “full-rigged ship ACHILLES” to Sydney, Australia.  It took them 120 days via Cape Good Hope, and 143 days to return (by way of Cape Horn) to Rotterdam, Holland.   Off the coast of New Zealand “a storm….carried us 69 degrees south of the Equator, down in the Antarctic ice drifts.  Man Alive!  It was below zero.”

In 1896, when Frank was 18 years old, he was quartermaster on the steamer, NEPTUNE, which left Rotterdam for Baltimore, Maryland.

Judith Levine, in her book, Harmful to Minors, in reference to the influential French historian Philippe Aries, points out that “Until the mid-1700’s….at seven, a person might be sent off to become a scullery maid or a shoemaker’s apprentice; by fourteen, he could be a soldier or a king, a spouse and a parent; by forty, more than likely, he’d be dead.”

No one can be sure at the present time if William Howard of Ocracoke was the same person as William Howard the pirate.  Family members are researching the archives for new clues.  But one thing is certain in my mind.  In 1718 a young man still in his teens was no doubt capable of the seafaring experience necessary for serving as quartermaster of any vessel, let alone a pirate ship.  If you have any doubt, just look at the record of Frank Treat Fulcher.

Until next time, all the best to you from the entire staff of Village Craftsmen.


Hello again from Ocracoke Island!

Community Gatherings:

Sunday was “Customer Appreciation Day” at the Community Store.  Ricky and Gaynelle Tillett staged a big sale, free hot dogs and drinks at noon, and a prize drawing at 4 o’clock. 
Community Store
The store was busy all day long.  In addition to the opportunity to save some money on groceries it was a good time to visit with neighbors, friends and family.  The day was warm so folks gathered on the porch and in the parking lot to chat and laugh and tell stories. 
Community Store
The parking lot was full of cars and bicycles.  But the hustle and bustle was not so much like a summer day of recent years as like mail time from several decades ago.

Back in the first half of the twentieth century, for instance, the mailboat (first the “Aleta” and later the “Dolphin”) ran from the mainland of North Carolina to Ocracoke once a day.  In addition to mail the boat carried other goods as well as a few passengers.  I was young in the late 1940’s, but I remember well the anticipation and the excitement of loading all of our luggage onto the boat for the 4 hour trip across Pamlico sound.

This was before most paved roads on Ocracoke and before the first ferries ran across Hatteras Inlet.  The mailboat was Ocracoke’s link to the rest of the world.

One of my most vivid memories is when the Aleta ran aground on a shoal.  I was too young to help but all of the men jumped overboard and pushed the boat out into deeper water.

When we arrived at the mail dock it seemed like the whole village was there to greet us.  The excitement was palpable as my grandparents and aunts and uncles offered hugs and greetings and helped us carry our bags to their homes down the sandy lanes.  (I had abandoned my socks and shoes when we boarded the boat!)  Before we departed from the Post Office, however, we visited with everyone who had gathered to welcome us back.  Stories were shared, as was news of relatives and friends.  Laughter and smiles filled the air.  It was so good to be home!

The villagers, of course, had also come to retrieve their mail.  After the mail bags had been carried down the dock and deposited on the floor inside the Post Office Mr. Tommy and his assistants sorted and posted the letters and packages (many of them from Sears & Roebucks, and other mail order houses). When they were finished the mail was “called over” (a term still in use today by the older residents).

So the gathering at the Community Store, though an annual event, is reminiscent of the daily arrival of the mail boat years ago.  The island sense of community lives on in this and other opportunities to enjoy each other’s company.


As usual, especially during the winter months, dolphins have been frequent visitors near the beach.  On some days it is virtually impossible to not see these wonderful creatures.  On one recent beach walk there never was a period longer than a half of a minute when at least one dolphin was not visible.  At times there were large groups swimming, jumping and cavorting.  What a show!  Of course there are days when none are to be seen.  On stormy days, or during periods of big swells they either stay farther off-shore or it becomes impossible to see them.  Nevertheless I always look and am often rewarded.

New Items:

On your next visit to the island please stop by Village Craftsmen and say hello.  We are adding a number of new items to the shop this Spring, including wonderfully detailed ship models (click on the photos below to see two examples).
Windfall Ship In Bottle Snapdragon

We have also added a new line of pins (Menopause Pins!):
Click on the photo above to see more of these.

Folk Festival & Arts Fair:

For those of you planning a visit to the island in June please keep the following in mind.  On Saturday, June 9 Ocracoke will host the ninth annual Howard Street Arts & Crafts Fair in combination with the second annual Ocrafolk Festival of Story & Song.

As in years past, parts of Howard Street (and the School Road also this year) will be the scene of a number of artisans displaying and selling jewelry, wooden items, pottery and other crafts.  Food will also be available.  In addition, two stages will be set up for musicians and storytellers.  We hope to see you there.

Complete information is available at the Ocrafolk and Howard Street Festivals Web Site.  Please check back often as the site will be updated as new craftspeople and musicians are added.
We hope you are having a rewarding and enjoyable winter.  We look forward to seeing you on your next visit to Ocracoke.  Until then, take care, be well, and celebrate life.

Philip and the entire staff of Village Craftsmen