The Ghosts of Springer’s Point
© Philip Howard, 2003
With 42 acres of maritime forest, Springer’s Point remains one of the last undeveloped treasures in Ocracoke village. Although that will likely change somewhat with the construction of homesites on two large lots in the southwest corner of this tract, and the potential development of eight additional acres on the edge of existing development, the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust has succeeded in purchasing the core 31 acres of this remarkable area.
(Click here to learn how you can make a donation to help preserve Springer’s Point.)
The preservation of a substantial portion of Springer’s Point highlights the natural and historic significance of this area of Ocracoke village. For some years, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the island was used chiefly by mainland colonists for raising cattle, sheep, and other livestock. In addition, a navigable, deep water channel passes close to the southwest shoreline, near Springer’s Point.
It was in this area that some of the first permanent residents built modest homes. As early as 1715 the colonial assembly recognized the need for establishing pilots on Ocracoke Island. The pilots were to be responsible for seeing that vessels bound for the mainland were guided through the narrow channels between the numerous shoals. The assembly therefore passed an act for “settling and maintaining Pilots at.….Ocacock Inlett.” The settlement was dubbed “Pilot Town” but there is no evidence that pilots actually settled there until sometime in the 1730’s.
Although much of the low-lying shoreline has succumbed to significant erosion over the years, today Springer’s Point is thickly covered with ancient, gnarled live oak trees, English Ivy, and numerous other trees and plants indigenous to Ocracoke and the Outer Banks. Standing underneath the canopy of branches and year-round foliage, especially at daybreak or dusk, leaves one with a sense of quiet awe and timeless wonder.
Live Oaks at Springer’s Point
Following one of the narrow paths through a tunnel of thick growth leads onto a narrow, sandy beach where gentle waves from Pamlico Sound lap against the seaweed-strewn shoreline. The sky is bright here, as one looks out towards the distant horizon. Just under the breaking waves lie numerous pieces of broken shell.
Tunnel Through the Woods at Springer’s
Sometimes a stroller is rewarded by spying a piece of broken crockery, or other man-made artifact. I once retrieved a small, primitive clay pipe bowl from the water along Springer’s Point. Others have reported finding arrowheads left behind by Ocracoke’s earliest adventurers. No evidence exists to indicate that Native Americans ever established a permanent settlement on Ocracoke Island. However, they must have frequented the island, especially the area around Springer’s Point, gathering clams, oysters, crabs and fish, all of which are abundant in the nearby waters
Old Stone Pipe Bowl
Just offshore, hardly more than a clamshell’s throw away, is “Teach’s Hole.” This channel connects the Atlantic Ocean and Ocracoke Inlet with the deeper waters of Pamlico Sound. Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard the Pirate, frequented these waters during his brief career. This was, in fact, Blackbeard’s favorite anchorage. From one of the higher dunes, or from one of the trees on shore, it would have been possible to spy any ships approaching Ocracoke Inlet.
In October of 1718, in the vicinity of Springer’s Point, Captain Blackbeard hosted one of the largest gatherings of pirates ever to be held. Teach, along with pirate captains Israel Hands, Charles Vane, Robert Deal, and John Rackham, partied for “some days,” along with their motley crews. Rum flowed freely and hogs and cows were butchered and barbecued on the open beach.
It was also at Teach’s Hole channel, only one month later, on November 22, 1718, that Blackbeard met his fate in a fierce battle with Lt. Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy. The decks were running with blood and the air was thick with gunpowder smoke. Blackbeard, himself, was wounded twenty-five times. Towards the end of the battle, Blackbeard nearly dispatched his adversary. A mighty blow from Teach’s cutlass severed Maynard’s sword at the hilt. As Maynard stepped back to regain some advantage, Blackbeard moved in for the kill. At that fateful moment, one of Maynard’s sailors, a Scotsman, approached the villain from behind and, with a mighty slice of his sword, severed the buccaneer’s fearsome head from his powerful body.
Blackbeard’s disembodied head was tied to the bowsprit of Maynard’s sloop. The gruesome trophy was carried to Williamsburg, Virginia, where it was stuck on a pole at the entrance to the harbor, a grim warning to Teach’s “Brethren of the Coast.” Before departing from Pamlico Sound, however, Maynard and his men tossed Blackbeard’s body over the side of his boat. Legend has it that Teach swam around the vessel seven times as an eerie reminder that he was bigger than life itself.
Even today, the spirit of Edward Teach lives on in the consciousness of those brave enough to visit the area near his watery grave, especially after dark. It is not uncommon for visitors to Springer’s Point to report seeing unusual lights on the water, or among the trees and bushes nearby. Rustling of the tree limbs and other odd movements and unidentified sounds often seem to emanate from within the otherwise protected confines of Springer’s Point. More than one person has reported feeling the presence of the ghost of Blackbeard, searching in vain for his head.
View of Teach’s Hole
The existence of a graveyard at Springer’s Point only adds to the uneasiness people feel there. Although this area was quite busy during the early history of Ocracoke Island, today it holds mainly memories. Other graves are likely located in the area, but only one stone marker remains from the early period, that of Daniel Tolson who died in 1879. Located on a narrow ridge, the gravesite is extremely difficult to find. After trudging through wet, marshy lowland and then pushing through thorns, briars and thick underbrush one is finally rewarded with the sight of a single, prominent marble headstone on the edge of a small grassy clearing.
Grave Marker for Daniel Tolson (1816-1879)
William Howard, Sr. purchased Ocracoke on July 30, 1759. He was the last person to own the entire island, and the first of the colonial owners to make his residence there. Less than two months later, on September 26, 1759, William Howard sold one half of the island to his friend, John Williams.
John Williams’ portion of Ocracoke included what is now known as Springer’s Point. In June of 1787 John Williams sold a sizeable section of his holdings, including Springer’s Point, to his son, William Williams. William Williams (born 1745/50) died in testate in 1799. At the time of his death he owned land extending from the mouth of Cockle Creek (now known as the “Ditch”), around the western edge of the Creek (now known as Silver Lake), and from there, south, all the way to the ocean and back around the Sound shore to the Ditch.
During the period of Ocracoke’s colonial history the north shore of Ocracoke Inlet was much closer to the area referred to as the First Grass. It was only later, after William Williams purchased the land from his father, that the South Point built out in the vicinity of the present-day inlet.
In 1801 William Williams’ holdings were divided among his heirs by court-appointees. Six plats were designated, one each going to the following:
- Comfort Williams, daughter (and her husband, George Dixon from Portsmouth Island)
- Elizabeth Williams, daughter
- William Williams, son
- Delancy Williams, minor daughter
- Thomas Wahab, guardian to Delancy Williams (Thomas Wahab was William Williams’ first cousin, the son of Job Wahab and Jane Williams, William Williams’ sister.)
- Six and one half acres of Comfort Williams’ portion was conveyed for the use of the public pilots. This was set aside to compensate for the loss of other land due to erosion..
As mentioned, many of the earliest permanent settlements in Ocracoke Village were situated there, on the southwest side of Cockle Creek (Silver Lake). According to a legal petition and map from 1835 only one public road had by then been laid out on Ocracoke Island. It began at the Sound (near Springer’s Point), went by the lighthouse (built in 1823), then continued past where the present-day Methodist church and school are situated. From there it passed the original Methodist Church (which was established in 1828, and was located near the present day firehouse), all the way north to Hatteras Inlet. The petition averred that this one road, from its establishment until 1835, had “served the purpose of all the inhabitants” of the village of Ocracoke.
The map below shows the approximate location of Ocracoke’s first road (in red). Springer’s Point is shown on the left. (The two present-day churches and the US Coast Guard Station are indicated for reference.) The blue line shows the new road that was laid out in 1835. This eventually was called the Main Road and included present-day Howard Street and that portion of Highway 12 that runs past the Community Store to the Cedar Island/Swan Quarter ferry landing.
According to the tax lists from 1802, 1805, 1806, and 1814, we know that William Howard, grandson of William Howard, Sr., and son of George Howard, owned 28 acres, 78 acres, 103 acres, and 183 acres, respectively.
William and Agnes Howard
It was not until after 1814, however, that he acquired any land in the area now referred to as Springer’s Point. On May 25, 1820 William Howard purchased a house on Ocracoke, situated in a part of the village known then simply as the “Point.” He purchased this two-story dwelling house, along with a storehouse, from a Mary Cabarrus who acquired the buildings from her uncle, Augustus Cabarrus, one of the early pilots. These individuals owned only the structures, not the land, as this six and one half acres was an expansion of Pilot Town and was set aside for public use.
The Old House with Tower
Another deed from July 23, 1820 indicates that William Howard purchased one half of an additional store house and lot adjoining the public lands.
By 1832 William Howard was ready to sell part of his real estate to his son-in-law, Elisha Chase. According to a deed dated May 13, 1832, William Howard sold to Elisha one half of an additional piece of land which he had purchased from Comfort Dixon on January 15, 1831. Although the description of this parcel of land is somewhat unclear, it includes the area of large live oak trees commonly known today as Springer’s Point. William Howard mentions several buildings on his property (including “two old kitchens,” a “smokehouse,” a “new kitchen” an “old stone house,” a “wharf,” a “new wharehouse,” a “store,” two other “houses,” a “blacksmith shop,” and even a “windmill,” as well as his own home, which he describes as “two dwellings attached together” ). All of these, he says, “are now, and have long been the property of the said William Howard.” Most of these structures, however, were built on the six and one half acres of Pilot Town, which was not private property.
Outer Banks Windmill Similar to the One at Springer’s Point
William Howard’s dwelling place was the two-story house purchased from Mary Cabarrus in 1820. This house, as previously mentioned, was actually two houses joined together. Constructed sometime before 1800, part of it may actually have been built John Williams or his immediate heirs. Legend suggests that this building may have originally belonged to Edward Teach himself, although this is highly unlikely. The pirate captain probably had nothing more than a temporary campsite on Ocracoke Island.
For many years this large tract of land was called Williams’ Point, and later, Howard’s Point. At William Howard’s death on August 30, 1851, his son, William Hatton Howard, inherited a sizeable portion of the property, including the “Point.” Fours year later, in 1855, he sold his inheritance to Daniel Tolson, and moved to Florida where he died after being thrown from a runaway horse. The Howard family had owned the Point for only twenty-four years (1831-1855).
Daniel Tolson made his home on the Point. He was married twice, first to Cynthia Williams, Thomas Wahab’s granddaughter, then to Sidney Ross (widow of Abner Bennett Howard, Sr.).
A prominent feature of the house at the Point was a distinctive observation tower that rose above the tops of the trees. This tower was a later addition, possibly built by Daniel Tolson, and from there the occupants of the house had a commanding view of the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound. Any ships approaching Ocracoke Island would have been easily spotted by a lookout in this tower. If pirates had ever inhabited this dwelling their spirits would have welcomed the addition of the tower.
After Daniel Tolson’s death, Sidney Ross inherited the property and then married John Small McWilliams. Before her death in 1883 from complications of childbirth, Sidney McWilliams sold her land and buildings to E. D. and Clara Springer, from South Creek, North Carolina. Although the Springers enjoyed spending time on Ocracoke they never made this their permanent home.
Old House with Tower
My father, Lawton Howard, was born in 1911. As a young boy he remembers his parents taking him down to Springer’s Point to visit “old man Springer.” In 1923 the elder Springers sold their property to their son, Wallace. He was the last person to live in the house, but only for a short while longer.
Wallace, who never married, continued to stay on Ocracoke for some years. Instead of remaining in the old house, he eventually moved in with Mr. Jamie Styron and other island friends. Wallace Springer died March 13, 1963. My father left the island in 1927, but he remembers exploring the abandoned house with playmates, and hearing strange noises inside.
In 1941 Sam Jones purchased Springer’s Point. By then little was left standing that was not badly in need of repair. Ocracokers remember the dilapidated old house and a smaller structure (a smokehouse or jail) with barred windows, as well as a long-abandoned stable.
When I was a small boy, in the very early 1950’s, the house was nothing more than collapsed walls and piles of old lumber. Sam Jones contracted with Mr. Walter O’Neal to dismantle the old dwelling. Mr. Walter used some of the lumber when building “Miss Dicey’s” house on Howard Street. Other timbers were taken by Sam Jones for use as sills in “Berkley Castle” and a small house for Eleanor Gaskins. People familiar with the “Castle” claim that five ghosts — two women and three men — wander the halls and rooms there. Could they be the spirits of the Williamses, or the Howards, or the Tolsons, or even some of the pirate crews?
Sam Jones died September 27, 1977, and is buried at Springer’s Point, next to his favorite horse, Ikey D.
Sam Jones’ Grave
No remnant of any of the structures remains, with the exception of the base of an old brick cistern, now overgrown with ivy. Few people visit this area of the village anymore. Those who do often report strange phenomena there.
Old Cistern at Springer’s Point
Roy Parsons worked for Sam Jones for many years. For a while after Sam’s death, Roy would visit his grave periodically to pay his respects. Today, gesturing with his thumb and forefinger as if measuring a think stack of banknotes, he opines, “If someone offered me a pile of one hundred dollar bills this thick to go down there to Springer’s of an evening after dark, I’d tell him to keep his money.”
Roy remembers fishing from his skiff near Teach’s Hole one evening. It was near sunset and the western sky was on fire. “It was then that I noticed five men standing out in the water. I wondered what they were up to. They each had broom handles, buckets, and lanterns. They seemed to be gigging for flounder, but they were acting mighty peculiar. Then, without warning, they walked up onto the shore and headed straight through the woods towards the grave. Í don’t know who they were, or what they were up to, but I didn’t want to stick around and find out,” Roy says. “For all I know, they could have been ghosts!”
On another occasion Roy was visiting Sam’s grave just before daybreak. He had run his skiff up onto the shore, and walked through the underbrush into the protective enclosure that is Springer’s Point. The sun was just beginning to lighten up the sky out on the water; under the canopy of trees Roy could barely see to find the path. No sooner had his eyes adjusted when he noticed a figure standing near the grave site “He had on a white shirt,” Roy offers. Then Roy runs his open palms along the sides of his head; his eyes open wide. “His hair was all slicked back,” he adds. “The oddest thing about him,” Roy continues, “is that there weren’t nothin’ to him below the waist! I could see him fine from the waist up, but that was all. I high-tailed it out of there, I did.”
Roy ran back to his skiff as fast as he could, tripping over roots and scraping his arms and legs against the thick undergrowth. ”I jumped right into my skiff,” Roy explains. “I never even tried to pull that string to start the motor. There weren’t enough time. I just pushed off with my oar.” Once out into the safety of the channel Roy ventured a look back. He was just in time to see the figure moving out onto the water. “He just disappeared. Went right on down like smoke,” Roy relates, obviously still spooked by his encounter.
Once more Roy ventured down to Springer’s. This time it was dusk again. He was approaching the abandoned cistern, not far from Sam Jones’ grave. Like before, Roy noticed another figure standing by the graveyard. “It was a tall man,” Roy explains. “He was wearing a black straw hat, a white shirt, a necktie, and sunglasses. I turned around and started to walk back out.” Roy felt a presence behind him, and he turned back to look. The figure was walking toward him, not saying anything. Roy turned around and began to walk faster. The figure matched Roy’s pace. “By that time I was running,” says Roy. “But he was like a vapor. I turned around again and he just faded out. I never saw him again.”
Roy shakes his head from side to side, raises his eyebrows and looks me straight in the eye. “I’m telling you,” he says, “there’s a difference between imagining something in your head and seeing it with your own eyes. I saw these things I’m telling you about just as surely as I see you right now.” Roy insists that he will never go back down to Springer’s Point again, especially after dark. “And,” he continues, “you’d be wise to take my advice and stay away from there yourself.”
Ancient Live Oak at Springers
Special thanks to Ellen Marie Cloud; Earl O’Neal, Jr.; Mildred and John O’Neal; Roy Parsons; Ward Garrish; Blanche Howard Jolliff; Chester Lynn; and Julie Howard for sharing their research and recollections.
Additional funds are needed to help pay for the purchase, to fulfill a financial obligation to Hyde County, and to manage the site for future educational and environmental purposes.
For more information about their work, you can read the Coastal Land Trust’s Campaign to protect Springer’s Point.
On-line donations can be made through “Network for Good.” For more information visit the NC Coastal Lant Trust site at http://www.coastallandtrust.org.
Once on their site click on the “Join Us” link and then the “Donate Now Through Network for Good” button. You can designate your donation specifically for Springer’s Point.
Donations can also be mailed to North Carolina Coastal Land Trust
3806-B Park Ave