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Elisha Ballance & The Historic Storm of August 1899…By Jack M. Willis


  It was summer of the last year of the 19th century.  The weather had been exceptionally pleasant for days.  Young Elisha Ballance and several other Ocracoke fishermen were out in the sound in their small skiffs.  Scanning the skies, they realized that a fierce storm was bearing down on them.  They sought refuge in the sand dunes about eight miles “down below” (that area of the island north of the village of Ocracoke).  As the weather deteriorated they scooped out a hole in the side of a small hill and covered it with their sails.  

  They endured the full fury of the hurricane in this primitive shelter, barely surviving the windblown debris and rising tide.  The storm continued relentlessly for three days (August 16, 17 & 18), covering the island with salt water, and threatening to drown the men with every tidal surge.  

  Elisha Ballance was only 17 years old when he was caught in this terrible maelstrom.  On the 19th he could endure the tension no longer.  Concerned for his family back in the village, and unwilling to wait for the tide to fully recede so the boats could be repaired and the sails mended, Elisha, along with two others, insisted on walking the eight miles back to the village.  It was a long and arduous trek fraught with danger along the way.  

  The island’s waterways were still swollen, and at times the men were forced to wade waist deep across creeks or trudge through saturated marshland.  Snakes that had been forced out of their habitat slithered past them.  Elisha and his companions were weak, hungry, and exhausted from the three-day ordeal. 

  Eventually Elisha made his way to his family home.  The scene was heartbreaking.  Alone in the house he found the lower level and all of the furniture soaked and coated with muck and sludge. Seaweed, sand, and mud covered the floor.  In the kitchen he slipped and fell.  The depressing sight before him, coupled with his weakened condition, left him with few resources.  He passed out.  

  In due time Elisha regained consciousness and began a search for his family .  As with so many others threatened by the rising tide, they had sought refuge with neighbors.  

  Elisha and his family recovered, as did the rest of the villagers, but memories and tales of the Old August Storm live on, more than one hundred years later.

  Following is a first hand account of the storm, as related by Mr. S.L. Dosher, official Observer with the Weather Bureau on Hatteras Island. 

Hatteras Devastated by Hurricane

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Weather Bureau
Office of the Observer

Subject: Hurricane
Station: Hatteras, North Carolina
Date: August 21st, 1899

Chief of the Weather Bureau,
Washington, D.C.


  I have the honor to make the following report of the severe hurricane which swept over this section on the 16th, 17th and 18th instantly.

  The wind began blowing a gale from the east on the morning of the 16th, varying in velocity from 35 to 50 miles an hour. During the early morning of the 17th the wind increased to a hurricane and at about 4 a.m. it was blowing at the rate of 70 miles, at 10 a.m. it had increased to 84 miles and at 1 p.m. it was blowing a velocity of 93 miles with occasional extreme velocities of 120 miles to 140 per hour. The record of wind from about 1 p.m. was lost, but it is estimated that the wind blew even with greater force from about 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and it is believed that between these hours the wind reached a regular velocity of at least 100 miles per hour.

  At about 7:30 p.m. on the 17th there was a very decided lull in the force of the wind and at 8 p.m. it had fallen out until only a gentle breeze was blowing. This lull did not last more than half hour, however, before the wind veered to east and then to south-east and began blowing at a velocity estimated from 60 to 70 miles per hour which continued until well into the morning of the 18th. During the morning of the 18th the wind veered to the south and continued to blow a gale, with heavy rain squalls, all day, decreasing somewhat in the late evening and going into southwest. This day may be said to be the end of the hurricane, although the weather continued squally on the 19th , but without any winds of very high velocity.

  This hurricane was, without any question, the most severe of any storm that has ever passed over this section within the memory of any person now living, and there are people here who can remember back for a period of over 75 years. I have made careful inquiry among the old inhabitants here, and they all agree, with one accord, that no storm like this has ever visited the island.

  The scene here on the 17th was wild and terrifying in the extreme. By 8 a.m. on that date the entire island was covered with water blown in from the sound, and by 11 a.m. all the land was covered to a depth of from 3 to ten feet. The tide swept over the island at a fearful rate carrying everything movable before it. There were not more than four houses on the island in which the tide did not rise to a depth of from one to four feet, and at least half of the people had to abandon their homes and property to the mercy of the wind and tide and seek the safety of their own lives with those who were fortunate enough to live on higher land.

  Language is inadequate to express the conditions which prevailed all day on the 17th. The howling wind, the rushing and roaring tide and the awful sea which swept over the beach and thundered like a thousand pieces of artillery made a picture which was at once appalling and terrible and the like of which Dante’s Inferno could scarcely equal.

  The frightened people were grouped sometimes 40 or 50 in one house, and at times one house would have to be abandoned and they would all have to wade almost beyond their depth in order to reach another. All day this gale, tide and sea continued with a fury and persistent energy that knew no abatement, and the strain on the minds of every one was something so frightful and dejecting that it cannot be expressed.

  In many houses families were huddled together in the upper portion of the building with the water several feet deep in the lower portion, not knowing what minute the house would either be blown down or swept away by the tide.

  Cattle, sheep, hogs and chickens were drowned by hundreds before the very eyes of the owners, who were powerless to render any assistance on account of the rushing tide. The fright of these poor animals was terrible to see, and their cries of terror when being surrounded by the water were pitiful in the extreme.

  The damage done to this place by the hurricane is, at this time difficult to estimate, but is believed that the total loss to Hatteras alone will amount to from $15,000 to $20,000. The fishing business here is the principal industry from which is derived the revenue upon which the great majority live, and it may be said that this industry has for the present time been swept entirely out of existence.

  A great majority of the houses on the island were badly damaged, and 5 or 6 are so badly wrecked as to be unfit for habitation and that many families are without homes, living wherever they can best find a home. The Southern Methodist church building was completely wrecked…All of the bridges and foot ways over the creeks and small streams were swept away. The roadways are piled from three to ten feet high with wreckage.

  The telegraph and telephone lines are both down. It is reported that several vessels are stranded north of Big Kinnakeet Life Saving Station.

  A large steamship foundered about one mile off Hatteras beach and it is thought all on board were drowned.

  The Diamond Shoals Light Ship which was stationed off Hatteras, broke loose from her mooring on the morning of the 17th and was carried southward by the gale. This vessel will probably prove a total loss.

  The damage to the instruments and property of the Bureau here was considerable. The office building was flooded with water to the depth of about 18 inches, and the rain beat in at the roof and windows until the entire building was a mass of water.

  I live about a mile from the office building and when I went home at 8 a.m. I had to wade in water which was about waist deep. I waited until about 10:30 a.m., thinking the storm would lull, but it did not do so, and at that time I started for the office. I got about one-third of the distance and found the water about breast height, when I had to stop in a neighbor’s house and rest, the strain of pushing through the water and storm having nearly exhausted my strength. I rested there until about noon when I started again and after going a short distance further I found the water up to my shoulders. I had to give it up again and take refuge in another neighbor’s house where I had to remain until about 8 p.m. when the tide fell so that I could reach the office.

  I started to the office against the advice of those who were better acquainted with the condition of the roads than I, and continued on my way until I saw that the attempt was rash and fool-hardy and that I was certain to reach low places where I would be swept off my feet and drowned. There has never been any such tide as the one here mentioned.

  The rainfall was as heavy as I have ever seen. It fell in a perfect torrent and at times was so thick and in such blinding sheets that it was impossible to see across a roadway 20 feet wide.

  Everything went before the fury of the gale. No lives were lost at Hatteras, although many narrow escapes occurred, several families being washed out of their homes in the tide and storm. At Ocracoke and Portsmouth, 16 and 20 miles south of this station the storm is reported about the same as at Hatteras, with a corresponding damage to property. Reliable details from these places however, being lacking. A pleasure boat at Ocracoke with a party of men from Washington, N.C., was lost and a portion of the party were drowned.

  There has been no communication with this place by wire or mail since the storm, and it is not known when there will be. It is therefore requested that so much of this report as may be of interest to the public be given to the Associated Press for publication in the newspaper.

Very respectfully,

S.L. Dosher

Observer, Weather Bureau

( Note )  Samuel L. Dosher  was born about 1862. He married  Cora D. Gaskins,  Daughter of George Washington Howard Gaskins & his wife Mary Elizabeth Styron

The Hatteras Weather Station photograph used in this blog was obtained from the Outer Banks History Center. It is part of the Carol Cronk Cole Collection.



LCRG – Nov 2012 Newsletter Part 2: The Dig

Lost Colony Research Group: Part 2 of their Nov 2012 Newsletter
Written by Roberta Estes

The 2012 Dig

For those of you who follow along, the Lost Colony Research Group has sponsored archaeological digs now on Hatteras Island in 2009, 2010, 2011 and now, 2012. This year’s dig was somewhat different since we feel we have located the original site of the colonists on Hatteras Island in previous years. Additionally, we welcomed to our project this year Dr. Charles Ewen at ECU as well as two additional professional archaeologists. We have been very blessed. Our new project archaeologist is Jennifer Gabriel.

As you also know, due to modern day pirates called treasure hunters, we have to keep the sites where we dig a well-guarded secret. Besides, the last thing a property owner wants to find is their yard looking like swiss cheese when they return home one day, meaning that someone with a metal detector has trespassed and not only stolen historically important items, but ruined the area for subsequent archaeology. So while I can’t tell you exactly where we were, suffice it to say that we are still on Hatteras Island and we are still pursing the colonists.

We actually dug in several location this year as our dig time in the field was expanded to two weeks. I will post two or three different blogs that shows some of our different activities and the group as well. We’ve never had a better group, or a better time. Were it not for the extreme heat, the massive number of mosquitos and ticks, it was almost like a vacation.

Refrains from the nursery rhyme, “The Old Gray Mare, She Ain’t What She Used to Be” played through my head every morning as I got my old, achy self out of bed to go and dig some more.

However, this dig was blessed from the beginning. Dawn found a lucky penny and we saw a beautiful double rainbow from the deck of the house that we rented on the first morning. Did I mention that there were 37 steps up and down. If not, I probably will mention that several times Houses on Hatteras are built on stilts so that the flooding doesn’t damage the contents. However, that means that the first floor is really the second floor, and so on.

Rental properties are often “ridden hard and put up wet,” so to speak, and this one was no different. The electricity didn’t work correctly, the AC worked only on the second floor and not on the third which is where we cooked (and where I slept) so we simply left the windows open. However, the windows had no screens, so suffice it to say that we had “visitors” in the night. I finally simply covered up entirely, regardless of the heat, as a form of protection from the mosquitos and whatever else I might wake up to discover crawling through my hair, like the creature below.

Anne, who camped in a tent under the house, actually had the best accommodations of all….until the storm…..but that story is for another day.

The good news is that we were able to dig on a property that is undeveloped. This translates into the fact that the land is likely much less disturbed than areas where there is development. The bad news is that it is also covered in forest and we had to hack and chop our way though it to create transits to dig test pits in a line across from one side of the property to the other. Suffice it to say that this took a couple of days and it was the hottest, sweatiest two days of my life. On day two, Alex showed up with a chain saw and he, indeed, was the hero of the entire dig. Hats off to Alex.

Here is a picture of part of our crew, flanking the woods we would be digging through shortly. Baylus, on the left, our map-maker and one of our historians, Dawn, founder of the Hatteras Island Genealogical Society, Andy Powell, our historian from England, Dr. Charles Ewen, head of the Anthropological Lab at ECU and our new project archaeologist, Jennifer Gabriel.

A few minutes later, after instructions were given, the clearing began. We quickly decided that indeed, the real impediment to the colonists survival was not hunger, not at all, but instead, mosquitos, brown recluse spiders, ticks and the diseases they carry, alligators and other critters, combined with dehydration and poison ivy. If you add in the clothes they were wearing, we figured that they either sweat to death in short order, or they stripped plumb naked and adopted the Indian way of life very nearly immediately. The Native people knew how to survive in this hot, humid environment. Somehow the word hot just doesn’t convey the gravity of the situation. You began to sweat walking down the stairs in the morning. Ice melted in the cooler, entirely, in half a day, and that cooler was in the shade. We bought bandanas as sweat bands so we could see. You had to peel your clothes off at the end of the day. You had to reapply insecticide constantly because you sweated and wiped it off continuously. To say this was “not fun” is the understatement of the year.

As an example, here is a transit that has been cleared. Notice the undergrowth beside he cleared area. That’s what we started with. You could not even begin to walk through it.

Let the clearing begin!! Dawn is wearing our group mascot, our pirate bandana.

The part of Hatteras Island that is not forested or developed is primarily swamp or beach. Keep in mind that the water table has risen approximately 3 feet since the time the colonists lived there. So some of the area now swamp may have been drier then.

One of the residents in the area allowed us to walk out on their “pier.” I’m not sure what a quarter mile long walkway built through swamp that eventually ends at the water is called. It surely is beautiful though. The local residents could not have been nicer or more accommodating.

One extremely important part of our day was “tick check.” Are you modest? Then check it at the door because, truthfully, you can’t see every part of your body. And let’s just say that ticks are very good at being evaded by people’s prying eyes. Yes indeed, we had “tick removal” every evening. We began checking several times through the day when we took breaks. In the tick check picture that follows, I want you to notice Andy’s ankles. Andy is the only one of us who has actually experienced Lyme disease. It went undiagnosed for 5 years or so and nearly killed him. He is extremely tick conscious and he taped his pants to his boots with duct tape. Now even the most determined tick can not get through duct tape. However, one did get through the weave in my socks, which were pulled up over the bottom of my pants, and down my boot. Some ticks are so tiny you almost can’t see them, and those are the dangerous ones, the deer ticks that carry Lyme disease.

At the beginning and end of each day, Cousin George cooked for us. That man has the stamina and patience of a saint. He also made us lunch. Often we needed rest as much as food at lunchtime. Some days he delivered to the site and others we went back to the house, and the AC in the house, such as it was, for an hour or so.

Andy brought us some English treats. One was called Marmite and it was, well, interesting. It’s either a love it or hate it kind of thing with a very unique, strong, savory, salty, taste. In fact, the company slogan is “Love it or hate it.” It is made from yeast extracts which are the byproducts of beer brewing. Well, now we know why Baylus loved it You can read more about Marmite here.

It was fun to experience something new culturally. Personally, I liked the strawberry and the chocolate covered ginger biscuits that Andy brought better. In the US, we would call them cookies, but by whatever name, they were yummy.

However, Anne Poole got even for the Marmite by introducing Andy to fatback and collard greens. Andy of course was a good sport, but he’s not convinced just yet about the collards. However, Anne neglected one critical component of collards and that is the pepper vinegar. How can one eat collards without pepper vinegar? For those who don’t know, it’s a southern thing where you take hot, and I do mean those tiny very hot peppers, put them in an old salad dressing bottle, cover with vinegar, let them set, and then enjoy. The vinegar preserves the peppers, the peppers flavor the vinegar and you can put it on many things, including but not limited to collards. I also like it on vinegar coleslaw. You can tell that Andy is unconvinced, below.

The ocean was just a block away and we were fortunate that the house we rented provided a nice view through an area that was undeveloped. The sand and the ocean are beautiful, except when having a storm, but that is a story for another newsletter, so stay tuned.

We were extremely lucky because we were afforded a stunning view of the sunset every night while we were there. By the time the sun set, we had rested for awhile, some took a nap after the days digging, had a wonderful “chef’s choice’ dinner and were relaxing in the Adirondack chairs on the deck. Yes, that third floor deck that was 37 steps up. Seeing sights like this almost made those 37 steps worthwhile.

Hatteras Measles

We were fortunate to have two British people with us on our dig. Andy Powell, of Bideford, is by this time an old hand at archaeology, but Alex, or Little Alex as we affectionately call her, isn’t. In fact, this is her first dig. I think this might have been a bit more than she was counting on – with the insects and such, but indeed she was a trooper. And what a lovely young lady!

When I asked them to stand together for a photo, little did I realize they both struck the British “pose” apparently, as they are standing in the same exact position. And they sounded quite a bit alike too when they spoke. We all know how the British love their hats too. What a wonderfully rounded, international, group we had.

I want to call attention to the their ankles. Most of us did what Alex did, pulled our socks up over our pants legs to attempt to preclude opportunistic ticks from attaching themselves to us. Andy, however, in a fit of ingenuity, duct taped his pants to his socks and boots. Now, he’s not just a worry wart, he’s a veteran, and a survivor of Lyme disease that he caught in England some years ago. So Andy is understandably concerned about creepy crawley things.

Duct tape, while apparently effective against ticks, is not so much so against what appear to be mosquito bites. We weren’t sure what this was, and he had it on his hands and arms as well. There were votes for poison ivy, but poison ivy never got near his skin through all that duct tape.

Andy is also apparently quite sensitive to our US insects as he had a much more pronounced reaction than any of us who live here. So, in honor of Andy, we’ve now named his crud the Hatteras Measles. Looked like measles, itched like measles, and we had numerous home “cures” we wanted to try on him. For some reason, after the first one where we made him walk in the ocean, he balked at the rest. I do think one had something to do with collards and grits…but I’m not sure. But judging from his expression, he looked somewhat doubtful as to the relative effectiveness of the various proposed home remedies!

Catch us Online
Our Lost Colony website includes more than 8000 pages of research, all free, at and
Our Project on Facebook –!/pages/Lost-Colony-of-Roanoke-DNA-Project/126053773239?v=wall – thanks to Janet Crain for this
Our Blog – – If you don’t subscribe to our blog…now’s a great time to do that…just click on over and sign up so you don’t miss anything!! Thanks to Janet Crain and Penny Ferguson for our wonderful blog.
Our Website – – Nelda adds to information to our website almost daily. Have you checked your surnames lately to see what is new? Please contribute something for your surnames, or a county of interest. Thanks to Nelda Percival for her untiring work on our website.

GenealogyWise – – Thanks to Andy Powell for setting this up.
Hatteras Island Genealogical and Preservation Society webpage – our sister organization -
Hatteras Island Genealogical and Preservation Society Blog –
Our DNA projects at Family Tree DNA:
Lost Colony Yline – (paternal surname) –

Lost Colony Mitochondrial – (maternal line) –

Lost Colony Family Finder – (autosomal)

Hatteras Island Fathers DNA project at

Hatteras Island Mothers DNA project at

Hatteras Island Family Finder project at
Hatteras Island Genealogy Society at!/group.php?gid=245433063719&ref=ts


LCRG Nov 2102 Newsletter : Part 1 – Bertie County Potential Fort Location

Thought our members would enjoy reading this newsletter written by Roberta Estes. She is a noted professional in the field of scientific DNA analysis and research. She is also co-founder of the Lost Colony Research Group, with Anne Poole. There will be two parts to this blog.

Lost Colony Research Group


Genealogy ~ DNA ~ Archaeology

October 2012

Bertie County Potential Fort Location

By Roberta Estes

In May, 2012 the now famous Bertie County fort icon on John White’s map was discovered at the British Museum . We covered this in two postings, one about the discovery and a second one that provided some historical analysis.

This image of the fort icon was exposed on John White’s map at the confluence of the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers in present day Bertie County.

During a recent trip to North Carolina, I had the opportunity to visit the area and was excited to do so.

On the map above, the red arrow points to the approximate location of the fort on White’s map. You can see the inlet above and the indention for current day Edenton across the sound.

A closer view shows the road from Plymouth, crossing the Cashie, Middle and Roanoke Rivers where they join to form Swan Bay which is part of Albemarle Sound. The Chowan flows from the north and is the body of water that separates Bachelor Bay and Edenton.

Crossing the rivers, I was surprised how undeveloped this region is, and I do mean totally undeveloped in most places. The next two photos were crossing the bridges of the three rivers. They all look exactly the same, tree lines and if you didn’t see the bridge, you would never be able to tell that it wasn’t 1585. This must have been exactly what the military expedition of colonists saw when they explored here in 1585-1586. The water is brackish here, not totally fresh water, nor totally saltwater. The key to survival in this location would have been fresh water, and of course, the ability to defend yourself, or being friendly with a tribe that would help. The Indians would probably have been all too willing to assist in trade for guns. They understood a competitive edge.

Let’s take a look and see what is there today. The area from NC45 to the Bachelor’s Bay development is a good candidate location. The road is about 2 miles long and this is just about the only place on that road where there is anything except forest until you get to the end where you find the Bachelor’s Bay development right on the sound.

You can see the other side of the Sound from here. The area does flood, as you can see, and probably significantly more so in times of heavy storms. Dr. Charles Ewen (ECU) tells me that archaeological digs have taken place in Bachelor’s Bay in the past, with no relevant results.

Driving on Sutton Road, we find more farming. The land has been cleared and is relatively flat. This would be a good fort location, assuming we can find a creek with fresh water.

Today on Sutton Road, literally in the middle of nowhere, is the Scotch Hall Preserve, a 900 acre gated golf community that includes sculpted grounds and a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer. This encompasses nearly all of the peninsula from where Sutton Road intersects with Sutton Road all the way to and including Avoca Farm Road east of Sutton Road. It’s a huge area. In fact, the reason it’s there is because it was entirely undeveloped. Below is a photo from their ads. You can see that the entire area is heavily sculpted, meaning little has been left undisturbed, and I’m not thinking they are going to welcome an archaeology dig in the middle of Arnold Palmer’s hole 7.

The front of the Scotch Hall Preserve is protected by gates and access only granted to residents and members, but in all developments, there is always a construction entrance. Below is what is left of Avoca Farm Road within the development.

This is the right area, but looking at the map, appears to be too far north, if the map is accurate at all, and if there was ever a fort. The photo below is along the front on Sutton Road.

On the Google Earth map below, you can see Bachelor Bay at the bottom and you can follow Sutton Road to the Scotch Hall Preserve.

So, are we walking in the footsteps of the colonists, or are we on a wild goosechase? Only time, research, and archaeology will tell, if that. In the mean time, whether indeed you believe it’s the footsteps or the goosechase, I think everyone will agree that what we are looking for is indeed a very small needle in a very large, very remote and very overgrown haystack, except of course, for where it’s the golf course.