Our Ocracoke Connection

23 Oct

HIGPS with tour guide, Phillip Howard.

I am home now from the island of Ocracoke. Today, was spent with several members of our genealogy society and our most gracious host and tour guide, Phillip Howard. Phillip, can trace his island heritage back to the time of Black Beard the pirate. If you ever meet him, ask him about his ancestor, William Howard. Or why his home was built with no closets. But better yet, just ask him about his life on the island. He’ll be happy to tell you about it. And you’ll be happy you asked.

Last night, as with most nights before a long awaited day, I laid in bed thinking about what might take place on our group’s genealogical excursion. Just two months ago, I had visited the Ocracoke Preservation Society’s Museum, while site seeing with two friends who were visiting from Virginia. We picked the hottest day of August to make the ferry ride over from Hatteras. It was nothing like what HIGPS found on this most near perfect Autumn day.

Our morning actually started with several of us stopping at the Dancing Turtle Coffee Shop in Hatteras Village, before heading to the ferry. So there we were, five caffeine induced women heading off to meet with Phillip and also to meet Jason Jennett and his parents, who drove all the way from Wilmington, NC., to be with us. Now that’s wanting to know your roots !

The ferry made it safely to the south dock. We unloaded and drove the fourteen miles into the village. First stopping at Island Rag Pickers. I love that place. Perhaps because of the smell of soaps and earthy incense, that drifts up to meet you as you walk through the door. Whatever the reason, we enjoyed meandering through the jewelry, wind chimes, and clay faces which looked like my Father, that were hanging on the wall. I really should have gotten one of those. Dad, immortalized in clay 🙂

Eleven o’clock rolled around and we found ourselves on the porch of the Ocracoke Preservation Society’s Museum. Upon arrival, we spotted Phillip, sitting on the porch rocking away in a white chair…quite a befitting scene to start our tour. I remember a past Village Craftsman (VC is the name of Phillip’s store) Blog, and it telling of how the people of the island call a porch a pizer. And OPS certainly has one that’s quite charming. It comes complete with a view of the Ocracoke/Cedar Island Ferry Dock and a huge antique ship’s rudder in the yard. Makes me think of all the ship’s timbers that Liz Browning Fox and myself have found in our “after storm” beach walks.

Right after Hurricane Irene hit, I became a member of the Ocracoke Preservation Society. Any group whose mission is to help preserve the past, is #1 in my book. As Phillip took us for a tour of the inside of their museum, he told us many stories of the the island’s people. I do believe my favorite part of that segment of our day was when we started to discuss the brogue of Ocracoke and how it compares to that of Hatteras Islanders. Yes, it is different in some ways…but very much alike in others. “Slick cam” was a phrase written on a poster that listed local dialect. But that is one of those phrases that I’ve heard my Father say many times. And I’ve used the words “mommuck” and I hate to admit it…but the very bad English word “weren’t” where it just didn’t belong. Perhaps I just have a little O’cocker in my blood. And there’s another term. O’cocker is short for Ocracoker. And Silver Lake isn’t really Silver Lake, it’s Cockle Creek. Who knew ?

We continued our museum tour that ended with a stroll through their gift shop. If you are ever there, check it out. They have quite a few local and NC history books for sale. And you really need to make a visit and help support their wonderful cause. It’s organizations like theirs, that keep our history alive…

After the museum tour, we had a change of plans and ended up going to Jason’s for lunch. None of our group had ever been there before except for Phillip. Think most of us were in a seafood mood. Crab cake and flounder sandwiches seemed to be the going thing at our table. But it was the conversation and good friends that made the meal. Once again, we found ourselves sitting on a pizer. I’m really starting to think that this pizer sitting on Ocracoke just might become an addiction. At home, we have a wrap around porch dotted with wooden benches that my Father has made. But I have learned that no true southern porch is complete without a rocking chair. And item I shall now add to my wish list.

Lunch lasted for about an hour. During that time, Phillip asked what our group was doing after the tour. We had planned on seeing some of the local galleries and playing the role of tourist. In which our day did end that way, but Phillip gave our little group an added bonus. He offered to take us on a tour of his historic home. A home in which I blogged about a little while back. So be sure and check it out. Anyways, mouths seemed to drop and hit the floor when our members walked through his door. I had the same reaction the first time I was there. I like old…old furniture, old photos, old homes. His house had all those qualities. But I will make you read my blog in order to hear more 🙂

HIGPS also took a tour of the Ocracoke United Methodist Church. Liz Browning Fox, stated that it reminded her of a church in the Caribbean. Perhaps there was influence in it’s design from the many contacts years ago with mariners who traveled back and forth to Barbados. Either way, the place is just beautiful. Just might try and make my way over for a Sunday service one of these days. My Grandparents, Gladys Jennette and James Washington Scarborough, were both very active in the Methodist Church. Grandmother was a Sunday school teacher and Granddad was a deacon. So our roots run deep when it comes to an association with the Methodist Church on both Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands.

Now anyone who knows me, knows that I absolutely love going to cemeteries. Many of the tombstones are nothing short of being amazing artwork. And of course a cemetery holds many clues as to one’s genealogical past. Phillip was kind enough to take us on a walking tour of the final resting places of his family, which is on Howard St. The street is lined with live oaks, cedars, white picket fences, and yards with old island homes. Many of those homes remind me very much of the one such as my Great Grandparent’s that used to stand in Buxton. Once again…there are many similarities between the two islands. But then again, we share common ancestors so why wouldn’t there be ?

Our time on Ocracoke was nothing short of wonderful. And that is probably and understatement. We ended our day with a trip to the Ocracoke Coffee Company which is located on the Back Rd. It has always been one of my favorite stops. Once again, our group had dwindled down to just we five women. I found us reminiscent of the ladies from the movie, Steel Magnolias. There we sat…in a coffee shop on and island. Surrounded by it’s heritage, history, and culture. As I twirled my straw through the whipped cream and sweet drizzle that topped the caramel mocha latte that I had purchased, I realized that life couldn’t get any better than that.

Dawn F. Taylor


8 responses to “Our Ocracoke Connection

  1. Liz Browning Fox

    October 23, 2011 at 3:32 am

    What a wonderful enjoyable day. Dawn, you have more energy than I do…….10 hours! Thanks for organizing it all for us.

  2. Roberta Estes

    October 24, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Oh Dawn, I wish I could have been there with you. Thanks so much for sharing it with the rest of us through your wonderful blog.

  3. Liz Browning Fox

    October 24, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Well written, Dawn……I enjoyed our trip all over again. I am going out on a limb here to make a suggestion for the origin of the name “Ocracoke”. We have all heard so many ideas, but having learned that Silver Lake was originally called Cockle Creek makes me think about where the village might have been described……Over Cross Cockle, or O’ cro cock. Now, I have enough Ocracoke blood in my veins I can make crazy extrapolations…..what do you think?

    • Ellen Fulcher Cloud

      October 24, 2011 at 2:27 pm

      Glad your trip was a success. Ocracoke is great this time of the year. Thanks for the photos.

      A little response to Liz’s suggestion for the naming of Ocracoke. The island was called Ocracoke long before there was a Cockle Creek. What Phillip didn’t mention or didn’t know was that before it was called Cockle Creek it was just a large very shallow fresh water pond. It wasn’t called Cockle Creek until the entrance was dug opening up the body of fresh water into the sound. making it a creek.

      Many historical events happened because of this change. This also explains why all the local people call the entrance a ditch.. When at Ocracoke you may hear statements like “the ferry is coming in the ditch now”. Or “We use to go swimming in the ditch.” We never thought it was strange because we had always heard it called the ditch..

      We never knew it was a dug ditch to open up the pond to make it a creek.. The creek still had very shallow water and boats were still anchored outside until 1939 when a narrow channel was dug through the ditch and to the CG Station and another channel to the area where fish houses were built and the mail was delivered.

      The digging of this ditch caused a murder to take place on the site. Jacob Gaskill and Willis Williams were auguring as to which one of them lost part of their property by the ditch being dug. Jacob Gaskill shot and killed Willis Williams because of this. A bridge was built across the ditch so people on the south side of the ditch could still shop in Willis Williams store on the North side.

      Because of this ditch being dug, the island was almost cut in two during one of the bad storms that hit the island. The water was forced into the creek and then out to the ocean opening up two water ways between the creek and the ocean. These were later called the “drains” by local residences. Two bridges had to be built to connect the “Creek Side” with the “Point Side.” Because of these drains the village was cut in half and the two sections given the names “Creek Side” and Point Side.” This also divided the people of the village and they were called the “Creekers” and the “Pointers” and on many occasions one group would stand at the bridges and dare the other group to cross to their part of the island.

      During WWII when the Navy Base was being built, the whole creek was dredged making it a harbor for CG Cutters and other boats. The sand was pumped into the drains and marshy areas of the village. The village of Ocracoke was once again connected but the names “Creekers” and “Pointers” still exist.

      • Liz Browning Fox

        October 25, 2011 at 5:08 am

        Thank you, Ellen, for a bonus of information. I know that there is strong evidence from old maps of the Native American origin of the name…….I just couldn’t resist, though, when I heard it had been called Cockle Creek.

  4. Jacque

    October 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I so wish we could have arrived here earlier, what an educational and just plain wonderful experience it would have been to have attended!!!! Unfortunately work schedules and distance did not allow us to arrive to the OBX in time.

    Thank you so much for sharing…what a great time!!!!!!

  5. Jason

    October 24, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    After the regular tour, Mr. Howard took my parents and I over to meet Blanche Joliffe, a VERY long time resident of Ocracoke (she’s 92). While she was not alive when my great grandfather was Minister at the Methodist Church, she remembered people talking about him. He was used as a “time marker.” “You know, that was back when Reverend Hocutt was here…”
    All in all I got a lot more out of the weekend than I expected, and oddly enough my parents have now decided they need to come back to the Island. Thanks, Dawn for arranging things!
    If anyone’s looking to visit the island and stay for a while, I have the scoop on ALL the hotels and most of the restaurants.

  6. Hatteras Travel

    January 21, 2012 at 5:09 am

    Hello Hatteras,
    I take your point, Going on a camping trip this weekend down to the island. First time visiting, what should I expect?
    Keep up the posts!


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