Last year I published a short account of Ocracoke Island burials gleaned from the notes of Rev. William Crow who served as the Methodist minister in 1936-1938. Rev. Crow was fresh out of seminary when he was sent to Ocracoke. Following is more of his story (slightly edited) that illustrates Ocracoke islanders’ straightforward manner, as told to his son, David Crow, in 1998.
I got to Morehead City and took the bus going to Atlantic…. The gear shift stick was held in place by a forked stick propped against the dashboard. And when we had to stop to pick up a passenger, the driver just took that stick out, and then when we started up again, he pulled the thing back in place and propped it there with his forked stick.
And after I left Morehead City I thought I had left the end of the world…but when I got to Atlantic I knew I had arrived. There was a mailboat at dock there, taking on passengers and some groceries and various things that people on Portsmouth Island and Ocracoke had ordered, and found myself on the deck of that mailboat.* It was a beautiful ride over there. We were up on that top deck, and it was flat and there was a railing around and a bench on either side where we could sit and look at each other and watch the seagulls.
In due time, three hours later, approximately, our boat docked in front of a store there [Willis’s store, now the Working Watermen’s Exhibit]…
I got off of the boat with my suitcase, and a man met me, and I said, “Are you Tommy Howard [1878-1972, grandfather of Betty Helen Howard Chanberlin, owner of Captain’s Landing Motel]?” He said, “No, my name is Homer Howard [1868-1947, grandfather of Philip Howard, owner of Village Craftsmen].”…
Mr. Homer Howard…took my suitcase and let me walk along by his side down to the post office [approximately where Captain’s Landing Motel is today].
You can imagine that the post office was a favorite gathering place for the arrival of the mail bag. The people would stand around there until Mr. Tommy Howard [the post master] had sorted out that mail, and then the people could find out whether or not they had heard from anybody. But when we got there to the post office, Mr. Homer introduced me to a lady that was sitting on a stump there, had a stocking on her head, and said, “Mamie, I want you to meet our new preacher,” and when she had attended to the matter of the snuff that was in her mouth, she said, “Howdy.” [The widow, “Aunt Mame” Gaskins Harris, 1876-1957, took in boarders and cooked at the Pamlico Inn.]
Then Mr. Homer took me on down to the parsonage.
I don’t suppose it was over a hundred yards down there…where four wonderful ladies had prepared my supper. They didn’t call it a dinner; they called it supper. There was a table neatly decorated with a tablecloth on it, one plate, cup and saucer, knife, fork and spoon, and on that table were some hot biscuits and some fish….
I went down to the church to preach my first sermon in my first church to a little congregation on Ocracoke Island.
Now I did try to look like very nonchalant as if I had been preaching all my life. And so I casually held on to the sides of the pulpit and talked to those good people and preached what was supposed to be a sermon.
And after it was over, I didn’t know enough about preaching at that time to know that you were supposed to go out and stand at the front door and let people come out while you would shake hands with them. So I just stood up in front and anybody that wanted to come up there came up, and several people came up and said nice things. But Mr. Tommy Howard, who I thought might meet me at the door didn’t come up there. He stood in the aisle about half way down, and he waited until I got to him, and this is what he said: He said, “Preacher, it looked to me like you thought the pulpit was going to get away from you this morning.” That was one of the best homiletic lessons I ever learned…. I never did hold on to a pulpit while I was preaching in all the years of my ministry after that.
Then there was another wonderful lesson in homiletics I got about a week or so later from Miss Bessie. Now Miss Bessie was Tommy Howard’s wife, and she invited me to their home for dinner after a Sunday morning service. And so we were sitting there in the living room and Miss Bessie was putting food on the table. It was a good dinner…some wonderful fresh fish and some hot biscuits….
She didn’t call us to dinner right away; she just came in and sat down where we were, and this is what she said to me: “Mr. Crow, we would like your preaching a lot better if you would stop making faces in the pulpit.” I said: “Miss Bessie, do I make faces in the pulpit?” “Yes, you do, and we would like it better if you would stop that.” So I said, “I’ll stop it.” What I had been doing was … screwing up one side of my face when I was supposed to be thinking. Now that was another good lesson in homiletics. Now it hurt me just a little bit to have Mr. Tommy tell me I ought to stop holding on to the pulpit, and it hurt me just a little to have [Miss Bessie] tell me in such a plain way to stop making faces in the pulpit, but I had enough sense to know that they were right, and so I never did make any more faces in the pulpit.
*Early motor powered mailboats that crossed Pamlico Sound from Beaufort, Morehead City or Atlantic included the Meteor, the Hero, the Viola, the Lillian, the Kitty Watts, the Ripple, the Morehead aCity, and the Ocracoke. According to the late Ocracoke postmaster Elizabeth O’Neal Howard, as quoted in Alton Ballance’s book Ocracokers, “the first [powered] mailboat service was …runned by two men called Mr. Gus and Mr. Pinter…. They had two boats. One would leave Morehead City early in the morning and the other would leave from Ocracoke at the same time.” The mailboat Aleta began the Atlantic – Ocracoke route in 1938 with Captain Wilbur Nelson, and Elmo Fulcher as crew.